Sunday, May 30, 2010

Now It's Official

This has to be a farm.

I have a "farm" table ;).

Thanks, Gar!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Maple Brew

Deus Ex Machina took some of our maple brew** to work to share with a couple of his colleagues. One of them told him that it was not beer, but rather champagne - because it's sparkling.

I'm still going to call it beer, and it's very beer-like in flavor, although I do have to agree that it's a wee-bit sparkly.

But it's not fruity (not surprising as it's made from maple sap and there's no fruit in it ;)

There's really no completely accurate comparison. It's maple brew. It tastes like maple brew, and to try to say it tastes like [insert beverage name] is like saying rabbit tastes like chicken. It does, but really, it doesn't. It's different, but there's no way to say how or why. It just is.

Maple brew tastes like maple brew, and to know what that means, one has to taste maple brew.

I will say that it's delicious ... and pretty potent* ... and next year, if we have a short season and our stored sap starts to ferment, we'll have some more maple brew.

It's definitely worth the effort ;).

**Please note that our maple brew is not the same as beer that has had maple syrup added. It is fermented maple sap that has been boiled down, but not all the way to syrup. We didn't add any sugar, but we did add brewer's yeast, and fermented in the same way as we do our cider.

So, it doesn't taste like maple syrup, either :).

*The other evening we went out to eat, and I had two (very) large (and expensive) margaritas. I didn't feel it as much as I'm feeling this half glass of maple brew. Guess it's pretty potent ;). Apparently, I'm not a cheap date ... unless you're like Deus Ex Machina, and you can brew your own ... free, from maple sap ;).

{this moment}

A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm a Chicken Lady*

We just counted it up. We have thirty chickens: five laying hens, three pullets, and twenty-two broilers ... not-raised-for-eggs chickens.

Here's Little Fire Faery with the not-raised-for-eggs flock number two.

Not-raised-for-eggs flock number one is outside in the tractor, and lovin' it.

We'll get one (or, maybe, two) more dozen by the end of the summer.

Back a few years ago, when I first started blogging about my adventures in suburban chicken farming, I would have never thought that my quarter acre would be big enough for thirty chickens. Certainly, if we were talking about thirty full-sized laying hens, we'd probably be correct.

Here are four of our twelve year-round "fowl" residents (eight chickens + four ducks = 12 birds):

For their health and well-being, I would never try to keep thirty chickens year-round in my yard. It would be especially difficult for them during the winter, when they can't get out of the coop. There's a reason why the term cooped up carries negative connotations, and the chickens know that reason.

I'm fortunate that I can keep chickens, and I'm incredibly thankful, because as John Michael Greer pointed out in his most recent post having a garden and a few chickens means food security, which was kind of the point for doing all of the stuff we've been doing - security.

As a culture, we've grown complacent and fat and lazy when it comes to our food, and if something happens (and it's very likely that *something* will happen in the not-too-distant future - i.e. increase in prices, shortages) to our on-demand food delivery system, if we don't have a back-up, we're going to be hurting. Lots of people have lots of different suggestions, but for me, the best solution is being as self-sufficient as possible, which means raising my own food.

But what if? What if I lived in a place where the powers that be wouldn't allow me to keep chickens in my backyard, but I wasn't prepared to flout the law?

That's the question I've often pondered, because I have a "what if" kind of personality, and it's the question that has caused a lot of people to mass exodus out of the suburbs in search of (literally) greener pastures.

I think buying a little piece of rural suburban land is great, if one can get it, but my premise has always been that it is not possible (and probably not preferable) for everyone to move out of the suburbs and into the country. There just isn't enough country land available, and what's happened and is still happening in some places, is that that former rural, pasture land is being subdivided into the very same suburban neighborhoods we're all trying to escape. Certainly, the rural suburbs have more land and fewer restrictions, but how long will it take before the stereotypical suburban mindset invades those rural suburbanites? And, okay, it's rural, but it's still a suburb, which makes it only a shade better than what I have.

Being the rebel that I am, I declared that if I couldn't keep my chickens outside, I'd keep them in my house (by Gawd and thunder!), but rather than dealing with the mess of having full-grown laying hens inside, I actually have a better option.


I'd read about quail before, but recently, I actually made the acquaintance of another suburban farmer. She has chickens, has recently added rabbits, and has been raising quail.

I visited her nanofarm, and it was fascinating. I didn't count her birds, but there were a lot of them. Quail do not need as much room as chickens. An adult quail needs less than one square foot of space, which means three quail can fit in the space that one chicken needs.

Quail are also a lot quieter than chickens, sounding not much different than a typical backyard bird. The male birds make a kind of chirping sound when they're happy. It sounds a little like peepers, which is my favorite spring sound.

The only downside to raising quail for meat and eggs is their size (which, ironically, is what makes them perfect for suburban homesteaders). Their eggs are slightly larger than a really big marble, and it takes four eggs to equal the size of one chicken egg (but the eggs, poached and served over bread, have a tender, delicate flavor - and are quite delicious). Depending on the breed, the birds are also quite tiny, and if the desire is to keep the birds for egg and meat production, a larger breed is probably better (according to some seasoned quail farmers, for beginners the Cortunix breed is recommended).

We haven't plunged into quail keeping, yet, but next year, when we're evaluating our space and what we might want to add (if anything), we may decide that we'd like to keep quail.

One thing's certain, though, if I had anti-chicken neighbors, I'd be keeping quail.

And if rabbits were verboten, I'd have guinea pigs ... but that's a different post.

*Anyone remember Kids in the Hall? I love Canadian comedy ... ayy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

For Deus Ex Machina - the Lyrics

Keep Holding On

You're not alone
Together we stand
I'll be by your side
You know I'll take your hand
When it gets cold
And it feels like the end
There's no place to go you know I won't give in
No I won't give in.

Keep holding on
'Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through
Just stay strong
'Cause you know I'm here for you, I'm here for you
There's nothing you can say, nothing you can do
There's no other way when it comes to the truth
So keep holding on
'Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through.

So far away I wish you were here
Before it's too late, this could all disapear
Before the doors close, this comes to an end
But with you by my side I will fight and defend I'll fight and defend yeah yeah.

Keep holding on
'Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through
Just stay strong
'Cause you know i'm here for you, i'm here for you
There's nothing you can say, nothing you can do
There's no other way when it comes to the truth
So keep holding on
Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through.

Hear me when I say, when I say I believe
Nothing's gonna change, nothing's gonna change destiny
What ever is ment to be
Will work out perfectly yeah yeah yeah yeah

Keep holding on
'Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through
Just stay strong
Cause you know I'm here for you, I'm here for you
Theres nothing you can say, nothing you can do
Theres no other way when it comes to the truth
So keep holding on
Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through.

Keep holding on
'Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through
Just stay strong
Cause you know I'm here for you, I'm here for you
There's nothing you can say, nothing you can do
There's no other way when it comes to the truth
So keep holding on
Cause you know we'll make it through, we'll make it through.

And here's another song, same name, by an artist with whom you are more familiar ... *grin*.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Judgment Day

I asked Deus Ex Machina this morning what the definition of passive-aggressive is.

Last night, after everyone had gone to bed, and I was just surfing around, reading my favorite blogs and looking at the news, I came across this article about a very frugal young lady (she's nineteen), who had been entering 4-H contests since she was four years old and had been saving her winnings all of those years. She'd intended to pay for college, but her parents made an agreement with her, and she found herself with all of this money. When she pondered, aloud, what to do with the money, her father suggested she buy a house ... which she did. She's still living with her parents and earning $450 per month from rent for the house for which she paid cash and owns outright.

I think hers is a great story, and so I printed it off ... and I left the printed copy on the table so that other people who live in my house and might not be quite as frugal as she, might see the story and, maybe, take a lesson about what's possible if one is careful and thoughtful rather than wreckless and spontaneous.

When I was her age, I wish I'd had someone like her as an example. I wish I'd known about The Tightwad Gazette, too, because I could have used that advice. So, yes, leaving the article on the table is a not-so-subtle hint, but it's also a reminder to me about the kind of habits I wish to cultivate in myself.

I asked Deus Ex Machina if leaving the article on the table as a not-so-subtle hint was passive-aggressive behavior on my part. He said it wasn't.

I was concerned, though, because of a different incident.

By way of pre-explanation, it has been shown that people tend to most hate the characteristics we see in others that are most like the characteristics we hate in ourselves. That is, maybe I am passive-aggressive, which is why passive-aggressive people bother me so much.

What sparked my concern was having some dinner guests recently.

The fact that I'm a hardcore, staunch, and vocal locavore isn't a secret. I make no bones about how I feel about certain foods. In particular, soda is on my black list, along with any non-local meat (but especially pork and beef, which unless I know the farmer who raised the animal is almost assuredly from a CAFO - and I won't eat CAFO meat, and so, unless I know where it's from, I don't eat it), any out-of-season fruit that will grow in Maine, but which we find fresh, in the grocery, in December (and I won't buy strawberries, blueberries or apples, unless I know they're from Maine), and anything that has high fructose corn syrup or any sort of benzoate ... which pretty much cancels out any processed food.

I've developed quite a reputation for the foods I won't eat, for the places I won't shop, and for the appliances I won't use. It's gotten so bad, in fact, that I'm often ridiculed, often openly ... well, not openly, but rather passive-aggressively by people who feel that my philosophies are a wee-bit stringent and my stance on certain things is a little too rigid.

So, we had some dinner guests recently, and one of them was standing in the kitchen as I was preparing the main dish, which consisted of eggs from my chickens, the last of last year's garlic and sauteed greens from my garden, and rice. I was adding the cooked rice to the frying pan full of eggs and greens, and my guest said, "So, does rice grow in Maine?"

I had to pause for a second, and I looked up at this guest who was sporting as innocent a look as possible, but I knew that under that look was the "see, you're not so perfect" attitude that I know this person has, especially when it comes to believing that I have been caught with my philosophical pants down.

Never mind that the meal had local eggs, local greens, and a meat side dish - all of which were local and much of which was grown by me, but the fact that it had rice, which doesn't grow in Maine, made me hypocritical in my guest's eyes.

What bothers me most about the incident is that I've never claimed that we have a completely local diet. I have always been very up-front about the fact that we still eat bread, about the fact that we eat out a lot, about the fact that we're still (too) dependent on coffee, tea, and sugar. I didn't think I was coming across with a holier-than-thou attitude, but I guess I have been.

But, in my defense, the people who are quickest to point out where I'm failing in our quest for the perfectly sustainable lifestyle are those who have made no changes at all, or who believe change isn't necessary. I guess if I were living their life, but claiming to live the life I am living, and I got caught in a lie, then I would deserve it, but that's not the case. I really do use my clothesline - every time. We really do eat eggs from our backyard flock, and we really don't buy eggs from the grocery store - even when our flock isn't laying (we do without eggs during that time). I really did make my own laundry detergent, which I use. I really do make my own deodorant and haven't bought commercial deodorant in more than two years. We really do forage and eat the food we find. We really don't have cable. I really don't watch television (although I do watch Grey's Anatomy on DVD). I really don't shop at Wal*Mart.

Unfortunately, those who would judge me can only see the non-local food and the new things from Cabelas or the take-out leftovers (from the locally-owned restaurant, even if the food isn't locally sourced). Those people can not or will not see where I succeed, but only where I fail ... and that's a shame.

My guest didn't read the article about the frugal girl. If my guest were to read the article about that frugal girl who bought a house, I'm sure the response would be, "Yeah, but she lives with her parents, and they pay for all of the stuff she needs."

I would want to reply that's true, and the frugal girl is an adult now, but the bulk of her house-money was earned and saved when she was very young, but instead of buying a toy or new clothes or candy or ice cream or any other consumable, she saved her money, and now at the age of nineteen, she owns a house with no mortgage. I think that's pretty impressive.

I'd want to say that, but my guest would be too busy finding the tiny flaws to understand how amazing a story it is.

It's too convenient to look for the faults and seeming inconsistencies, and then dub all of the efforts void because of that one, little imperfection. I've been thinking about it all day, and it reminds of the admonition, "Don't point out the splinter in your neighbor's eye when you have a 2"x4" in your own."

My concern is, who has the splinter in this case, and who has the 2"x4"? Is it that I hate that passive-aggressive attitude, because I see a little of me in there? Or is it that I hate that passive-aggressive attitude, because I feel judged by someone who has no business judging me? And by saying that I feel judged by someone who has no business judging me, am I guilty of judging my guest, whom I have no business judging?

For lunch today, we had our first salad of the season from our garden. I've missed my homegrown salads ;).

We also had pan fried rice, eggs and greens ... again. And I'm still drinking green tea,too ... with sugar.

But, I swear, that tea and sugar are on the replace list, as soon as I find a replacement that's all local ... and I suppose rice will be added, too. Maybe we could have corn ... or potatoes ..., instead.

Friday, May 21, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

By Way of Explanation

I've been taken to task on several occasions when I write about how I'm trying to learn to do without certain food items - tea, sugar, wheat - and I thought it was time that I talk about why I think it's important that I eliminate (or at least, reduce) these items from my diet.

Tea, wheat, coffee, cocoa, and spices have been staples in the world's diet for hundreds of years. They've been traded around the globe. In fact, according to the history lessons I learned as a child, the whole point of Columbus' voyage, the one that had him landing on an island off the coast of what is now the United States of America (thus, starting the whole westward migration across the Atlantic Ocean) was to find a passage to India that did not entail going around the Cape of Good Hope, which was originally dubbed Cape of Storms, which can give us an idea of why finding an alternate route was desired.

The difference between that time and this can be summed up in two words: fossil fuels.

We have them, and they didn't.

In fact, we are wholly dependent on them. Without fossil fuels, in particular, oil, we will find our lives very difficult.

So, what's that got to do with wheat and tea?

Well, most of the tea we consume in the world is grown in southeast asia, India, and China (for the record, the tea plant, camellia sinensis can be grown, successfully, in the United States. It is hardy to zone 8 ... and if any of my readers in zone 8 would be interested in growing tea for me, I might be convinced to trade you some real, honest to goodness maple syrup :).

The tea leaves are usually hand-picked, but then, they are dried, and I don't know if they use electricity to dry the leaves or if they just allow them to dry in the sun, but I can be pretty sure that the tea leaves are transported to a packing facility using trucks. Then, they are sealed up in little tea bags and put into boxes and shrink-wrapped in an automated factory that runs on fossil fuels. To get to my local grocery store, they are flown or shipped (both airplanes and modern cargo ships run on fossil fuels) to a distribution center, and then trucked to the store and then stocked on the shelves. After the leaves are picked, every step from the field to my cup is heavily dependent on oil.

Yes, it's true that tea has been traded all over the world for hundreds or thousands of years, but five hundred and eighteen years ago when Columbus was sailing across the Atlantic, they had an infrastructure in place that allowed them to travel all over the world without the use of coal or gasoline or oil.

We may have some way cool gadgets, and we may be able to get further faster, but without oil, we're not going anywhere. They lived in a low energy world and could move things from point A to point B. We don't and can't.

Our world no longer has a low energy transportation infrastructure in place, and in the event that fossil fuels become scarce (which I believe is happening right now), the tea trade will be slower, tea will, likely, become more expensive, and it's unlikely that I'll be able to afford to drink ten cups per day ... using a fresh tea bag every time.

It will take time to rebuild a lower energy infrastructure, time and money, and right now, the world is in short supply of both. Even after having at least three US Presidents (Nixon, Carter, and GW Bush, I know for certain) in the last forty years tell us that we need to reduce our dependence on oil, we are still no closer to being able to live in a world without oil. We haven't taken any steps to rebuild systems that can get us from point A to point B without cars, and all of the recommendations (i.e. biofuels, hydrogen, etc.) still concentrate on automobile transport.

So, while I do understand that these things have been traded for hundreds, and possibly, thousands of years, and it's possible that we will continue to trade these items, it is my belief that in the world we live in, once oil becomes scarce, getting those things to Maine will be very difficult, and the likelihood that I will have them in the quantities that I have them today are slim.

As for wheat, there was a time when the work of growing the grain was done by hand. For the vast majority of the world's wheat crop production, this is no longer true. Wheat is grown in huge monoculture farms using tractors, and probably lots of petro-chemical fertilzers. Just growing wheat is heavily fossil fuel dependent, but also harvesting, processing, milling, packaging, and transporting the flour from one point to the next is done with fossil fuels.

Without oil, we will experience a steep decrease in the amount of wheat that is produced, at least initially. We may be able to rebuild production, once we get more people in the fields doing the work of growing our food, but the transition is likely to be very slow and very painful - especially for those people for whom wheat is a dietary staple.

So, I've made the decision for myself and my family to try to reduce our dependence on those foods that don't grow where we live, except as a treat. Appetite fatigue is a real threat, especially for the very young and the very old. The more familiar, every day foods that we have that are grown in our local food shed (especially ones that either naturally occur and can be foraged, or that we grow ourselves) the better off we will be.

We celebrated another birthday today. I made the birthday boy's favorite - pineapple upside-down cake. It's a once a year treat, because pineapples don't grow in Maine.

And because it's something we don't get every day, it really is a special something and worthy of marking the forty-first year in the life of the most amazing man in the world ;).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This Old Dog Keeps Learning New Tricks

When I decided that we were going to transition to a local diet, suddenly I found that I needed to learn to cook ... and more than just learning to cook, I had to learn to cook with local ingredients.

At first, there were so many things we couldn't have. It was like this neverending list of "Oh, that's not local. Can't have that." Looking through recipe books was frustrating and disappointing.

Eventually, though, I started learning to adapt recipes to my local ingredients, or leave out ingredients and make up stuff as I went along. I did that with one of Deus Ex Machina and my favorite foods from our days in Germany - Doner Kebabs. Real Doner Kebabs use lamb, but I didn't have lamb. I had venison. But my version was just as good as I remember from Germany, and much better than anything I've found around here.

My version of the cajun classic, red beans and rice, is the same way. I don't usually have chorizo sausage, and I'll substitute whatever I do have. I suppose that a real Cajun cook could argue that what I make isn't authentic red beans and rice, and that would be fine, because we're not looking to enter any Cajun cook-offs. I'm just looking to feed my family some good food.

It wasn't until I changed my mindset to "Oh, that's local. We can eat it!" and finding ways to cook the things we could eat that I started to see the possibilities rather than the limitations.

It was such a small thing, really, just changing from a "no" mindset to a "yes." Changing my focus from what we couldn't eat to what we could eat.

And once I started looking for all of the can haves, I started finding more can haves, and I realized that our diet, even here in Maine, with our short growing season and no oranges, can be incredibly rich and varied.

I've learned to make some really great dishes that sound complicated, but are really, actually, very easy. Like Yankee Pot Roast, which is one of my favorite things, and it's my favorite way to cook venison roast.

Then, I found that the more I changed, the more I wanted to change.

And we've change a lot!

But I don't miss one of the foods that used to be such a huge part of my diet, because the things we eat now are so good and so flavorful (learning to cook using fresh and dried herbs has really been key).

The next food I'm trying to take out of our diet is wheat flour, but I'm trying to find ways around using wheat flour without sacrificing flavor or comfort food. I mean, who doesn't love bread and pasta, right? But I'm afraid there might be some gluten sensitivity in my family, and also, wheat isn't one of those things that's widely available where I live. Like tea and coffee and sugar, we might still be able to get wheat, in limited quantities at a high price, forevermore, but not being confident that they will always be available, those things are not something we want as a foundation in our diet. So, bread and other wheat-based products are good for an occasional part of a meal, but not as a staple.

We celebrated a birthday the other day, and as I was contemplating what I was going to make for that special dinner, I remembered this book from the American Girl Series. It's Rebecca's birthday, but it's also Passover, which for Rebecca's family, means no flour, and she's afraid there will be no cake, but using lots of eggs, her grandmother makes her one, and I thought, "Eggs ... we have eggs!"

So, I googled flourless cake, and I found this recipe. Oh ... my! The name is perfect, and it was, indeed, Chocolate Delirium. It's almost fudge-like, but not quite. And it's not quite a custard, but that's kind of exactly what it is. It actually had the texture of a cheesecake, now that I think about it.

There are three ingredients: eggs, butter, and semi-sweet chocolate.

And it was delicious. The birthday girl enjoyed her non-traditional birthday cake, almost as much as I enjoyed making something new and very cool. In truth, I think I may have enjoyed making it more than she enjoyed eating it, and I almost had to call Deus Ex Machina at work to tell him what I'd done, because I was a little giddy that *I* had managed to make something that was so exotic ;). As a girl who grew up believing that I was cooking dinner when I made pizza from a kit, and for whom garlic was an exotic ingredient, the fact that I could make a torte just blew my mind.

Okay, I'm a little simple sometimes ... and it's quite possible that I'm easily amused ;).

So, I managed a flourless cake, but unfortunately, chocolate isn't local, either. Next I have to figure out how to make a flourless cake without chocolate.

Raspberries and strawberries are local .... Hmm? Strawberry Delirium??

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rotating the Flock

The broilers spent their first night outside. They did fine, and when I checked on them today, they seemed very happy with their new, larger accommodations.

Deus Ex Machina and I are discussing some redesign plans for our chicken tractor to make the roof more secure and weather-proof.

The next set of broilers will be here on Friday :).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Giving It Up

Prodigal son left to drive back home on Sunday morning, while we headed south for (yet, another) dance competition.

It was an interesting week with him here and the nine of us sharing space. MamaDaughter really enjoyed hanging out with her brother, and it was good for Miss Cheevus to meet Uncle Prodigal Son, about whom she has heard so much over the years, but only just saw for the first time since she was a day old. It's always good to have a face to put to the name.

During the week he was here, I was reminded time and again why I chose to force ... er, gently prod my family onto a more sustainable life path, and it got me thinking about some of the posts I have done in the past that I have, since, archived. It seemed like an appropriate time to bring some of them back.

So, from May 2008 here's my post entitled:

Giving It Up

Tonight is the second Wednesday of the month. That means from 7:00 pm until 8:30, I was at the school board meeting typing the minutes.

As it's the end of the school year, the budget for next year has been a main topic for a couple of months now. This year's budgeting process has been complicated by state budget cuts, which amounted to a substantial reduction in subsidies to the school - not just my local school but across the state, everyone is feeling the squeeze.

After several minutes of one person after another getting up to state why he/she felt the Board should keep one position or another, one board member hit the nail pretty squarely on the head when she told those in assembly that she'd like to give everyone everything he's asking for, but there just wasn't enough money.

Then, she stated that she felt half our tax dollars should go to our schools - with which I completely disagree, but that's another matter entirely.

The issue is that everyone wants his piece of the pie. The question is, what are they willing to give up?

It's a lesson I've been trying to teach my children. I give them $5 and then I take them to the biggest candy store in town - Len Libby's, and I say, "You have $5. You can have anything you want that doesn't cost more than $5."

Not the best example, but it's a similar idea. They could make arguments - my children I mean - why they should be allowed to purchase any number of items, but if they only have $5, they only have $5, and they have to make-do with what they have.

The question is, for all of us today, what are you willing to give up?

And that's also a question I've posed for real - for real-life stuff.

What are you willing to give up?

Another blogger thought my question should be modified to "what ARE you giving up?" and certainly that is the ultimate goal of the question - to task us with evaluating those things we need so that ultimately we can part with those we don't need.

And the issue really is need, because it enriches my life in very meaningful ways versus want to keep because it's mine and I paid for it and have the money to continue paying to operate it. What things truly do enrich your life, and what things are just nice to have, because, well, they're nice to have?

But we have to start at square one, right? And before we can even start giving things up, we need to evaluate what our boundaries are. At some point it may all be gone, but for now, for just this moment, maybe we can empower ourselves by CHOOSING what to give up and what to keep, with the understanding that we can't keep it all. Something has to go - like decluttering. We can't keep ALL of our 1960's vintage Barbie Doll collection. Some of it has to go. The question is, which ones? And once that question is answered, the action is to actually part with them. Give.Them.Up.

The question is: What are we willing to give up? Those people at the school board meeting were apparently unwilling to give up much of anything. They wanted it all. They want to go before the Town Council and say, "We want our $10 million, and you can cut somewhere else."

Well, where?

Roads? The town pays to plow the roads during the winter. As of March 1, 2008, my area had received something like 90" of snow. That's about seven and a half feet. Okay, not much compared to some other areas of the country, like Alaska, and that amount comes in increments of six inches to a foot spread out over several months with some melting and freezing happening in between snow storms, but after the first month of real winter, we typically have an average of two feet of accumulation on the ground until spring thaw. It's enough of an accumulation to make driving in anything except a truck with a snowplow attachment or a four-wheel drive impossible. I'm not thinking that most people who want to drive cars during the winter would be willing to give up snowplowing.

And road maintenance? Anyone who wishes to drive at all won't give this one up. Between the frost heaves and the snowplows ripping up the roads, driving in the spring is like running a slalom course from trying to avoid potholes.

What about the sewer? I don't, personally, use the municipal sewer system. I have a private septic system. I pay for town sewer, because that's the way our town's tax system works - everyone pays for everything. I'd be happy, personally, to funnel the money I spend on the town's sewer system into the school, BUT if I lived downtown, I'd certainly have a different opinion. And, frankly, the municipal waste disposal system isn't all that great to begin with. Without regular maintenance and careful monitoring ... well, suffice it to say that our downtown area might be a bit more like Dickinsian London than a 21st Century coastal Maine tourist trap ... I mean resort town.

What about the streetlights, which the town pays to keep lit?

What about the fire department, the police department, the emergency response crew ...? Should we cut those areas?

Oh, I know. We could cut the Public Library to keep the school librarian on staff ... but then, people like me, who homeschool, or the older year-round residents who pay taxes, but don't have children in the school system (and many who never have), won't have access to that wonderful resource for community togetherness.

Or the wonderful new playground they just built downtown? We could always use the one at the school ... except when school's in session.

I don't know where my town might be spending money unwisely, where they could make cuts so that the school department could have the money they are requesting.

I don't know where the school might be engaging in superfluous spending that they could trim.

What I do know, however, is that everyone has his hand out saying, "Gimme, gimme", and at some point, there is not going to be anything left to give.

So, the question remains, what are these people willing to give up?

I don't have children in the school system, and I can't make that decision for other parents. That's the question they need to ask themselves, and maybe, if everyone would be completely honest about the answer, we could all enjoy a little of what we really want to keep, at least for a little while, because as Kunstler points out in his book The Long Emergency
(which I'm reading for GreenBean's May reading challenge), at some point, we're likely going to be giving it all up. It's not a matter of "if" anymore, but when. Now would be a good time to be empowered and make decisions about what to keep, instead of whining about what we can't have.

My children do well at Len Libby's, by the way. They might want the 15 lb chocolate Moose lollipop, but usually choose the priced per pound candies that offer them a much larger and varied selection - a little of this and a little of that. The funny thing is, that when we leave, they're always happy with their choices, and they never lament the thing they saw and didn't choose. I don't know what that says, except that, when given the opportunity to make a choice, even if the choice is a compromise, they always - my children, I mean - seem happy with the outcome.

I'm pretty sure it works that way with most folks.


Two years later, it's still a good question ... what are you willing to give up, and what can you not do without? Answer that question, and your survival in a lower energy world will be a lot easier.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Deus Ex Machina's account of our adventure installing the bees.

Freak Out!

I'll admit it. I was a wee bit freaked out to be out there "helping", sans protective gear, while Deus Ex Machina was installing the bees. Although, at least initially, the girls didn't seem phased at all ;).

He was the picture of calm, cool and collected.

We only lost three bees to stings - one to Deus Ex Machina's lip, one to his arm, and one to Little Fire Faery's ear (at which point she wailed, "I didn't do anything to the bee! Why did it sting me!?!").

And the camera batteries died before I could get a picture of the bees in the hive ... or one of me "helping" ... hey, someone had to take pictures and man the sugar water bottle** :).

**Most beekeepers use a smoker to "calm" the bees, but we've opted to use a spray bottle full of sugar water. With the smoke, the bees go into survival mode, because they believe there is a fire, and they are trying to save the hive. Spraying them with sugar water makes them stop and clean themselves. We only had three stings, and so it must have worked pretty well, but it was still a little nerve-wracking to have bees flying about my head ;).

What's the Buzz? Tell Me What's Happening.

The other day Vinnie emailed the YouTube link for Part 1 (of 6) of the movie Blood and Oil to Deus Ex Machina, who forwarded it to me.

I watched Part 1 this morning, and started watching Part 2. I think I've seen it before. It seemed familiar, but then, it's possible that I've just heard it all before on different sources in the several years that I've been paying attention to the Peak Oil news and information. As I mentioned to Deus Ex Machina, if one is prone to believing in conspiracy theories, then this film will solidify all fears. The problem is that there's no conspiracy. It's all been right out in the open.

According to the film, back in 1945, then President, Roosevelt made a pact with the King of the Royal family of Arabian Peninsula, whose name is Saud (the Arabian Peninsula is named after this family and the country is called Saudi Arabia). The meeting between our President and the absolute monarch, King Abdullah Assisi (who arrived with his entourage which included slaves ... and that's okay with us??), was not recorded, and so the exact nature of the contract is not known, but every President since Roosevelt has upheld the contract.

A contract for oil with a nation that is notoriously oppressive of its people - especially women (among other things, women can not drive or go to the doctor without a male family member's permission). Don't we, usually, invade countries who openly, continually, and remorselessly trample basic human rights? How is what the King of Saudi Arabia does different than what Saddam Hussein and the Taliban did in Iraq and Afghnistan? How is this guy different than Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, King Alexander of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, or Mikhail Milosevic?

The difference is that the King of the Sauds is our buddy and allows us to purchase his oil, but the others either had no oil or weren't interested in sharing with us.

Interestingly, our biggest enemy in recent years, who was the founder of the group that has been implicated in the terror attacks in New York City in 2001, is a Saudi national, and a member of a prominent Saudi family, and the guys on the planes? They were citizens of Saudi Arabia. That fact has always puzzled me and has amplified my propensity toward believing in the conspiracy theories.

Also according to the film, we have been supplying Saudi Arabia with weaponry and training for decades (and we also trained the Afghanis and supplied them with weapons in their war against the Russians. Guess that came back to bite us in the ass).

I don't know if I have a point ... or maybe my point is what I also said to Deus Ex Machina. In addition to continuing to publicly support the Saudis for the past six decades, many, many of our Presidents have come out and said, in almost these same words, "Americans are addicted to oil. *WE* need to wean ourselves and find alternatives." Nixon, Carter and G.W. Bush all said it.

But we didn't listen. And, worse, every time there's an increase in the price of gasoline, we complain, and the government says, "Okay, we'll fix it", which means having our leaders prostrate themselves in front of an oppressive dictator who has little or no regard for the people under his boot heel.

It strikes me a little too much like the French Royal Family (and something about the people starving and the monarchy not caring so very much, as long as he had the money he needed to build his palaces).

Or perhaps, it's a bit like King George III, who was not a tyrant or a horrible ruler, by contrast, but who simply didn't understand what life was like across the ocean and levied taxes that the colonists could not or would not pay, especially considering that they had no voice in how they were being governed.

In this country, our ancestors fought against that sort of oppressive monarch, and our government was set-up so that we couldn't have such a person running our country.

And, yet, here we are paying homage to that very same type of tyrant so that we can burn a few more miles of rubber on that ribbon of a highway.

Okay, I know that it's more than just driving our cars, but when we consider that 80% of the oil used in this country is for the transportation industry, a good lot of it is being used so that we can transport things from one coast to the other - mostly food and goods, many of which can be ... could be ... should be! ... manufactured or grown locally.

My circle of influence is relatively small. In short, I can't control what our government does. What I can control is how much gasoline I burn, how much water I use, and how much electricity I use. I can control how I heat my house. I can control what's for dinner. I can grow (some of) my own fruits and vegetables, raise my own meat, and now, even sweeten my own tea.

Please bid welcome to the newest members of the Wyvern Heath:

10,000 Maniacs ... er, honeybees ;).

And that brave little soul, Little Fire Faery, rode home with them on her lap.

I can't control what our government does, but I can listen beyond the words they are saying and take an example from their actions.

Raising bees is just one more step on our path to self-sufficiency.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Full House

... and I wish I were referring to that 90's sitcom, but I'm not. I'm referring to my house.

There's me, Deus Ex Machina, Big Little Sister, Little Fire Faery, and Precious, the two dogs and ten chicks (who will be heading outside in another week with the eight chickens, four ducks and nine bunnies who are currently in the backyard).

There's Mama Daughter, Mr. Field-and-Stream, Miss Cheevus, and Herman, the guinea pig.

And now, my son is visiting, too. But he's just visiting for a couple of days.

It makes one think, though, about the what-ifs.

Deus Ex Machina and Mr. Field-and-Stream are at work. Mama Daughter, Miss Cheevus and Prodigal Son are out and about. So, it's just me and the girls, which is usual. We were talking about how many people are here in the house right now. In a few months, if nothing changed and Prodigal Son had to stay here, we'd have ten people living here, including the new baby.

I told them that there are places in the world where the houses are smaller, and it isn't unusual to house multiple generations and a large number of people in a house half the size of ours. The way we're living right now, with the three generations and two families under the same roof, is the way most people live. In fact, our "normal" life is abnormal compared to the rest of the world, and even compared to the way my parents grew up. My mother's uncle lived with them, and my father had nine siblings.

And in the above-mentioned 90's sitcom, the household consisted of a single-dad, his three children, and the "uncles" (I don't recall their exact relationship to the father).

So, my girls and I talked about how we'd have to arrange things to accommodate us all, and it wouldn't be easy. Perhaps Mama Daughter and Mr. Field and Stream would need a little more space than just that one small room they have, and certainly, Prodigal Son would end up with a day bed or a pull-out couch (he's sleeping on the cot set-up in the living room). I'd, almost certainly, lose my "office" space, which would be turned into our common area, or perhaps, what is, currently, our "living room" would be divided and half would be Prodigal Son's space and the other half an office space for Deus Ex Machina and me.

A couple of years ago when the economy took its serious nose-dive, I read a blog article about the exact thing we're living with right now - the brother-in-law on the couch or the fact that as our economy contracts and we all get poorer, we will, by necessity, end up sharing our houses with extended family. At the time, I fantasized about how I would change my space to accommodate a relative in need of a place to crash, or how I could rearrange things to take in a Boarder, or two (kind of like what Kit's family does in the American Girl series that is set during the 1930s).

I've long asserted that we should take every step necessary to keep our houses, especially those of us who live in the suburbs and have the extra space to spare. Taking in a couple of roommates who could help us pay the mortgage is a no-brainer.

Reality is never exactly like the visions in our heads, though.

That's not, necessarily, a bad thing, because sometimes even less idyllic is okay.

What I've learned through this process is that we do, indeed, have enough space for more people. We thought we'd be overcrowded and tripping over each other, but that's not the case.

Ideally, Mama Daughter and Mr. Field-and-Stream will be able to get a place of their own -- sooner rather than later -- and we'll get our space back so that we can continue our work of powering down (building a cold closet, getting rid of redundant electronics, replacing carpets, digging a well, et cetera).

But if they have to stay a little longer than we'd all anticipated, we know that it will be okay, if not perfect.

And, in the meantime, we've been given this opportunity to learn from each other ...

... maybe some of what Deus Ex Machina and I have been learning for the past four years will rub off on them, and they'll put their feet on the preparedness path a little more firmly so that they'll be better prepared for what's coming ...

... and maybe their more conventional lifestyle and attitudes will help keep Deus Ex Machina and me a little more grounded in reality, because when it's just us, it's easy to forget that not everyone lives (believes) the way we do.

Perhaps we'll provide a balance for each other.

But it would probably still be better if they find their own place -- sooner rather than later -- :).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dreaming It Real

Big Little Sister and her friend choreographed a dance number for competition this year, and as the choreographers and performers, they also needed to come up with a costume. Unfortunately, they were never really able to articulate to themselves or to anyone who could help them buy or make the costumes what it was they wanted, and while there are thousands of wonderful costumes for all sorts of dance numbers, finding something appropriate for two pre-teens to wear for a tap duo to the song Stray Cat Strut isn't as easy as one may think.

After several months of them thinking about what they wanted with no progress made toward actually putting a costume together, and only two weeks before their first competition, I started getting nervous and decided to intervene.

At first, we tried to buy something. We knew we wanted to attach ears to a hat, kind of like the cartoon alley cats, and so we went looking for hats - and found them! We also found a really great zippered hoodie, that was sort of orange (okay, sing with me, ... black and orange stray cat sitting on a fence...). Well, really more salmon, but close enough, given there was little else to choose from.

Then, we went to the fabric store to find material for the ears. Once there, we ended up ditching the whole salmon hoodie, and I made something completely different using some awesome material we found.

It was my first, and I was really nervous, because, while I can sew, and I like sewing okay, it's not something I'm really good at. I'm not meticulous enough to be a good seamstress, and frankly, I just want to get it done.

But this wasn't play clothes for my girls. This was a dance competition. That's serious business.

In competition, everything matters - the choreography, the music choice, the appropriateness of the number for the dancers' skill level, the costumes, hair, make-up, and even facial expressions. And each thing can affect their overall score. So, if the dance is flawlessly executed, but the dancer has a flat facial expression all the way through, the score might not be so great.

So, I was nervous that it wouldn't be good enough.

As it turned out, they did really well, earning a High Gold at one competition and a Platinum at the second. Big Little Sister and her partner loved the costumes, and when they were on stage, they seemed to be having a blast. They had even incorporated part of the costume into the dance (they flip their tails ;).

For the dance recital this year, Big Little Sister is doing a dance number to several songs from Hair. For recital, the school usually orders costumes, but for this particular number, the teacher asked that each dancer come up with appropriate attire.

When she told me that she needed a "hippie" costume, the little wheels started turning. I knew this wouldn't be something that we could just go out and buy. I mean, there just aren't any Hippie Clothing stores in the mall, and frankly, while I probably could have found something at the party store, I didn't want some hokey, plastic, sad imitation of a fashion style that was more than just a mere fad. It was a statement, and one that needed (and wasn't) heard by those with the power to make the changes that needed to be made. What I wanted was to do justice to the times, and to have something that looked like clothes someone might actually wear.

Using only materials that we had here at the house, I made a costume for her.

Deus Ex Machina made the leather headband, and she'll also wear a pair of big gold earrings.

The pants were a pair of her pants that were too short, and so I added the lacy material that was gifted to us by Deus Ex Machina's mom. The "tank top" is actually a black leotard that is just about too small for her. I attached the lacy material to the ribbon that had a former life as one of those ribbon toys (a ribbon attached to a stick and used by girls for dancing - yes, it's loads of fun!).

It came out almost exactly like it looked in my head, and for that I am very proud. In fact, I think the costume looks great.

Big Little Sister says she likes it, but even if she didn't, she probably wouldn't tell me, because she wouldn't want to hurt my feelings. She's very sweet like that.

What's cool about making the costumes, though, is not seeing my vision come to life. It's not that I started with nothing, except a vague idea, and created something - although both of those things are pretty cool. The part that pleases me the most is knowing that I can turn my thoughts into reality, and if I can do that with just a silly costume, it's possible that my vision for my home - for my self-sufficient home - can, someday, become a reality, too.

So, other people may just see a couple of costumes, but what I see is dreams made reality. I see potential.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Just Say No to Drugs - Thanks, Nancy

Not long ago, and then, again today, someone in my homeschool e-list posted the most recent recall warning. It was for Tylenol, specifically the infant formula suspension drops.

Food recalls are bad enough, but, as a parent, the medicine recalls really terrify me. Most of us are so out of touch with our bodies that the first thing we do when we feel bad is to pop some pill. When my children get sick, I end up feeling completely impotent, and need to do something to make them better, but what happens when the 'cure' makes them sicker ... or worse, when the thing I've given my babies to make them better, doesn't make them better ... ever (which is the case with this recall. Apparently, there have been some deaths attributed to the recalled batch of Tylenol)?

It's too awful to even contemplate.

There are certain things I like to stock-up on when I see them on sale. Medicines are not one of them, because:
1. We just don't use a lot of medicine around here, even pain killers, which is the only one we usually have in our cabinet; and
2. Too often these medications are subject to recalls (this is the second recall for children's medicines recently), and I'm always afraid that I won't know. I mean, I don't watch television or read the papers, and I didn't see anything about the recall on the news headlines I read regularly (including the New York Times, the Wallstreet Journal, the Guardian, NPR news, and Yahoo news), although I know when a celebrity dies or buys something odd even though he's bankrupt.

I never did finish (or really even start) the Medicinal Herb course I signed up for, but I have been engaging in independent study for years.

I know that Jewel weed, which grows prolifically in my back yard, is effective for treating poison ivy, but it's also good for insect bites (or really most skin irritations).

I know that comfrey is good for sprains and has reportedly fixed broken bones and it's useful as a compress following child birth (and my rabbits like to eat it ;).

Hemlock tea is good for colds.

Garlic has antiseptic properties and is good for stauching infections (we use a bit of warmed garlic oil to sooth an earache).

Sage is good for sore throats, as is honey. In fact, the other day Precious had a sore throat and asked for a spoonful of honey. I didn't hear anything else from her regarding pain in her throat. So, either the sore throat just went away, or the honey did something.

For most of us, though, we tend to trust the drugs more than the plants, which is just crazy given the fact that most of the drugs that we can buy without a prescription - and even most of those for we need a prescription - are derived from plants. For example, the chemical used in flea and tick preparations (and is, incidentally, the same chemical used to treat head lice) comes from the chrysanthemum flower. Who knew?

I am far from an expert, and I would never recommend a course of treatment for anyone not living in my house, but for those who live with me, my first choice for treatment is something that is growing in my yard or that I can forage from the nearby woods, because most of the time, I've used it myself before, I know the history of the plant, because I planted it, and I know the treatment won't kill me, because somebody, inadvertently (or on purpose) added something in the process of making the medication that shouldn't have been there.

We still have aspirin and (generic) acetaminophen (next to the arnica lotion, clove oil, lavendar oil and tea tree oil ;) in the medicine cabinet, and for general aches, those OTC pain relievers are what we use after we've tried heat/cold, rest and fluids.

But I'm looking for an alternative for store-bought pain relievers.

I just have to figure out how to identify, harvest and store willow bark (from which the active ingredient for aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid ;), is derived.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Frugality the New Norm?

Deus Ex Machina and I still have a steady income. We weren't heavily invested and didn't lose money when the market crashed and the economy plummeted, but we also started voluntarily simplifying our lives a couple of years before the big plunge, because we didn't trust that everything's alright and we should just go back to life as usual. There is no usual anymore.

And it sounds like a lot more Americans are agreeing.

It's just too bad that it took something like the Great Recession (as it's being called) for us to decide that the consumerist lifestyle was not the best choice for living the good life;).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Simple Rain Barrel Set-up

There's a man in my area who sells food grade plastic barrels for $25 each. We bought three. When we first got them, they smelled like pickled jalapenos.

A spigot costs about $4. We bought two. Deus Ex Machina drilled a hole about a foot up from the bottom of two of the barrels, and then, attached a spigot to each one.

The barrels came with a two-part lid - kind of like a canning lid. The inner lid comes out. We had a sliding screen door on our French doors leading into the backyard, but it's never worked quite right, and then, the screen just started disintegrating. So, we hadn't used it in quite some time. We ripped the screen out and using the ring, we used it to cover the top of the barrel to allow the water into the barrel, but to keep out bugs and debris.

We don't have gutters on our house. The roof is not a typical roof (actually nothing about our house is "typical", but that's a different topic). Part of our roof is flat-ish, and we're plagued with ice dams. Because of the way our roof is configured, gutters simply wouldn't work. So, when we set-up our rain barrels, attaching them to the typical downspout system wasn't one of our options.

After having lived in our house for so many years, however, we knew where the rain came off the roof the heaviest, and we simply set up a rainbarrel in these places.

We have two rain barrels, and last year from March (when we set them up) to November (when we emptied them, because we didn't want them to freeze), the rain barrels provided all of the water we needed for our animals and the gardens.

We have three barrels, but one of them is used to store sap between boiling sessions. Our plan is to purchase two more barrels, because one of them is almost always overflowing after a good rain, and we'd like to connect an overflow barrel to it. There's also another place I think we should put a barrel to capture more rain water.

From November to March, rain barrels are not a good choice for us, because when it gets cold here, it stays below freezing, day and night, for about four months. We'd need another option, but right now, in the middle of the warm season, I'm thankful for our rain barrels, and if we end up having a situation like what happened in Boston, I won't be one of the people fighting at the BJ's for a case of bottled water. Instead, I'll be the one looking for a water filter system.

And, perhaps, in the meantime, the book A Year of Drinking Berkey Purified Rainwater might not be such a bad addition to my doomer library.

Monday, May 3, 2010

We Interrupt This Water Supply

With everything else that's happening in the world, I suppose that, it's possible that, I tend to pay closer attention to news stories like this one.

I'm planning to install a well - either hand dug or driven - with a hand pump, and maybe, eventually, a windmill pump that would pump the water into a solar hot water heater on my roof.

But I haven't done it, yet. It's one of those when-I-get-around-to-it projects.

This sort of story, though makes me a little antsy to get the project underway.

This line from the story ... police in Revere had to be called into a BJ's Wholesale Club after crowds clamoring for bottled water turned unruly was a little too close to what Alex Scarrow describes in his doomer novel, Last Light.

I've always thought that we wouldn't degenerate so quickly into the violent hoards that the doomer fiction writers predict. After reading that story, I'm not so sure anymore. If this sort of thing happens when it's just a water main broken, what would happen if the infrastructure really broke down?

What happens if the trucks stop delivering food to the grocery store, because the the price per gallon for gasoline gets too high AND a water main breaks?

Perhaps it's time to invest in a Berkey water filter or at least the DIY version ... and, perhaps, if we had another rainbarrel ... or two ... we wouldn't need to dig a well.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Two New Additions to the Thrivalist Library

With a huge thanks to Richard P.

The Backyard Homestead has been on my Wish List for a while now. I'm really looking forward to reading both books, and I know that I'll glean a lot of great information from them!

Pollinators ... the Next Dance Craze

When Little Fire Faery and I went out to take care of the animals this morning, I looked up into the peach tree and saw a bumble bee.

"Look!" I exclaimed, "A pollinator!"

She looked up into the peach tree she was standing under and said, "A honey bee! There's a honey bee over here!"

So, I ran over to her tree, and asked where. She pointed, and we ooh'd and ahh'd over the bee, and then, we saw another honeybee and giggled with delight.

Standing under the tree, we both did a little dance while chanting, "We've got pollinators. We've got pollinators."

Is that weird?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Book Giveaway - And the Winners Are ...

Using my highly technical random name selector ...

... twice, because there were two books ...

... without further ado, and with a hardy thanks to everyone who participated, the winners in the Retro-Literature book giveaway are:





Please email me with your snail mail address, and I'll get those books out to you ASAP ;).

Both of you indicated that either book would be a welcome addition to your libraries, and so I will put them both in an envelope and then just attach a name and address. That way, none of us will know who gets which book until it arrives on your doorstep.

Thanks to everyone who responded. I had so much fun with it, that I'm looking through my collection and contemplating another giveaway ... maybe, this time, some survivalist fiction :).

If I Were the Paranoid Type

We're sitting the waiting area of the dance school this afternoon. Big Little Sister and Precious were taking their in-between-class lunch/snack break. The school is right on Main Street, and traffic is pretty much constant.

Big Little Sister pointed to the window that looks out at the street and said, "Hey, look! An Army truck just went by. There were people in the back."

We don't live in a military town. In fact, I don't think there are any "military towns" like the ones I grew up in and the ones I lived in/near when I was enlisted in the whole state. Maybe Brunswick, but that's a ways from where we live.

So, when we see soldiers in uniform or military vehicles (not military surplus comme civilian vehicles, but actual vehicles with the military bumper numbers), we notice. It's weird.

One of the kids said that they see them all the time passing their house on weekends, and we surmised that there must be a Guard training area out where they live.

Ah, mystery solved.

But if I were paranoid, I might think that this is the beginning of getting us accustomed to seeing the military hanging around ... in preparation for some martial law/population control scenario.

Glad I'm not paranoid.