Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaching By Example

Of all of the roles I play in life, of all of the titles I carry, and of all of the hats I wear, the most important two are that I am a wife to Deus Ex Machina and a mom. I spend a lot of time talking about our homesteading efforts and our attempts at powering down our lives, and these are very important to me. In fact, in the beginning, I was the only one who cared at all, which has been the interesting part of the challenge to live a lower energy life - how to convince my family to join me.

Initially, the problem, for me, was that Deus Ex Machina is a Taurus, and whether or not one believes in the efficacy of astrology, in many ways, he carries the traits attributed to the Taurus sign. In particular, he doesn't like change (and I'm talking even small changes, like rearranging a room or painting the walls a different color), which makes it particularly difficult for me, because I'm a Gemini, and as an air sign, change is what I do, like the direction of the wind. Mostly, we balance each other, and he keeps me from flying off in some crazy direction which might end up being a bad way to go, and I think I've helped him to understand that change doesn't have to be a bad thing, and sometimes, being stuck in a rut is much worse than making a move without a stone tablet map, a compass and three increasingly more high-tech Global Positioning Systems. Sometimes it's okay just to grab a good pair of shoes, start walking and see where one ends up.

Of course, with Deus Ex Machina it has often been just a matter of showing him the logic in making the changes (unfortunately, as a Gemini, the logic sometimes escapes me, as I'm more about knowing the right thing to do based on feeling), and for many of the changes I've proposed over the years, the logic is that it saves money, and it has. Our overall consumption (espcially in the areas of electricity, gasoline, propane, heating oil, food, and water) has decreased significantly over the past several years, which has resulted in a significant savings, which, in turn, has enabled us to decrease our cost-of-living, which as allowed us to consider the possibility of living without regular jobs.

Once Deus Ex Machina started supporting me in the changes I was making, it got much easier, and if it were just the two of us, we'd grow more of our food than we buy, we use half the wood, because the heat would stay off until the middle of November, the TV would be gone with a long before it, we use half the electricity, and we might even have the house paid off. In short, if it were just the two of us with all other things being equal, we'd be a lot further along in our journey toward self-sufficiency than we are right now, because we'd have a lot more money to spend on things like PV systems and classes for ourselves.

When one throws children into the mix, things get a bit more complicated, and given that we started this journey with our kids in tow, we might just have set ourselves up for a tougher time from the beginning.

The problem, for us, was that we weren't living a low energy life-style when our children were born, and as we started awakening to some of the facts of what our world was/is becoming and realized we had to make some changes or suffer, we had to convince these beautiful, intelligent, aware beings that they really didn't want another Polly Pocket, at the same time that they were very convinced that they most definitely DID want another Polly Pocket. The issue became, how does one go from a completely consumptive life to a low energy life with kids who've always had absolutely everything they ever needed and most of what they wanted, on demand?

*Please note, though, that my children have never been prone to things like temper tantrums, and I say this, because mentioning that they've always had what they need and want might have led some people who don't know them to believe that there was a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth. There hasn't been. It's been a lot more of things like disappointment pooling in those big, blue eyes, which is much worse - trust me on this one ;).

Storytelling in Native traditions was simply a part of life, and Natives used stories to impart wisdom and share lessons of how to live. Similarly, I like to use stories of my childhood as teaching tools about what life was like for me when I was growing up - like, I did such-and-such, and this is what I learned from that mistake. I tell these stories in the hopes that they will see the parallels and avoid my pitfalls. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it horribly backfires. My younger girls all love to hear my stories, and Precious will even ask me to tell the story of the time I did one thing or another. She's funny.

What's interesting, though, when I'm able to stand back and look around me, is to note how similar life today is to life back when I was Little Fire Faery's age: a long, drawn out and increasingly unpopular war; rising gas prices; economic woes; high unemployment; renewed interest in alternative energies; government telling us that we need to decrease our dependence on foriegn oil; the constant fear of foreign threats; increasing civil unrest. Today, we even have our version of protest music (great band, by the way - amazing voices and a very sobering message).

In fact, it wasn't just the stuff on the outside that makes my life very similar to theirs. I had two sisters and so there were three girls. I lived in a racially and ethically uniform, middle class, suburban neighborhood. My family was significantly and negatively impacted by the economic downturn. Technology was advancing at the speed of light, and we were all being assured that technology would save us.

And it might have ... if, back then, the people in charge had believed in and invested in the alternative energy technologies, but they didn't, and it doesn't look like the response from our current leaders is going to be much different.

Because I lived through the life and times my girls are experiencing now, I think I definitely had it easier than my parents, who really only wanted for me what they never had. Unlike my parents' wish for me, I want my girls to have everything I had ... and none of it. I want them to have better, but not in the same way as my parents' generation wished for mine.

And that's where we are, and here I mean a collective "we" as in the citizens of the world.

As Lea and Chloe (Rising Appalachia) say in their song Stand Down,
Stand up, look around, and then scale that down too ....
Everybody's got a lot to say about everyone else ...
[But] take a long hard look at you(rself)
We are trashing our own birthday cake ....
[and it's] None but ourselves to make this thing last ....

In other words, we are all culpable for the mess that our world is in, and we are all responsible for making the change, and those of us with children are responsible for making sure our children know what to do.

I feel like I must be making some progress, though, as my daughters regularly tell me their plans for off-grid living on a subsistence farm out in the middle of nowhere ... just like their grandparents lived ... and so very different from how their mom grew up ;).


  1. Hi Wendy,

    Great post! It's nice to hear other's experiences in the "spouse is/was not on the same page" arena. Acontinula work in progress, but good to see your success. Keeps me from throwing in the towel! And, I completely agree about the addition of kiddos to the mix!

  2. marygee - oh, my (offline) blog archives are full of laments about how I couldn't get any support ;), and I often felt very frustrated. So, in a lot of ways I feel it's a well-deserved and hard-won progress we've made ;).

    At the same time, though, I've come to recognize that Deus Ex Machina and I, even back when I felt like I was all alone, have always been on the same page. He knew, and he was very patient with me while I figured it out ;). The problem is that we weren't always speaking the same language, and I just needed to learn to intrepret what he was saying ;).

    Don't throw in the towel, though. Every muck-sucking step is so worth it - if only for the incredible sense of empowerment in realizing your own strength ;).

  3. I agree. I think what you write really resonates since our husbands are in the same field. I had a long talk with him the other night after watching "Collapse" from netflix. There's a recent excerpt from the Post Carbon Reader about Personal Resilience that also was timely. Basically, no matter what we do, it's never going to be completely enough, but it's better than doing nothing. Way better.

    Plus, that's what community is all about. :) We're in this together!

    My 4 year old, bless his heart, is helping me to work on him. The other day, he said "Mommy, we need a horse!" Why? I asked. "For the good manure for our garden! Well, that, and chickens and a cow, of course!" Gotta love how they think.

    On this 0.5 acres...chickens, yes. Horse...nope. :)

    And now that Dover allows "barnyard animals for residential use"....I gotta come see your chicken set up!

  4. As in most endeavors the journey seems to be what the trip is all about. We all want our kids to have better than us. The trick, the adult part, is deciding what that better is to be. I am pretty sure your children will appreciate the effort you are taking.

    I am very interested in your library. I have several queries out in the ethernet about the books we would want to have if the end of the world as we know it comes to pass. What would the essential reading resources be if computers and industrial production got Stuxneted to death and we couldn't google how to butcher pig..

  5. Art - interesting that you mention libraries. I've actually posted about building a library before, and for just the reason you say - there may come a point when the Internet is no longer a resource, and we'll need to find alternatives.

    I have a fairly extensive library right now that includes half a dozen wilderness survival-type books including almost everything Tom Brown has written. I think these are good overall resources for finding stuff we'll need if there aren't stores and trade to depend on (like how to make burned-out bowls and how to build a fire from a bow-drill - not an easy thing to do).

    Of course, things may not degenerate that quickly, and the biggest concern may be just how to butcher one's pig. Tom Brown talks about butchering, but for just all around homesteading-types of skills, I'd recommend Back to Basics. It's a great resource and has information about most homesteading skills from how-to build a root cellar to making braided rugs and everything in between. It's a great resource. If I were just starting to build my library, that's the one I'd get (and, yes, I do have it ;).

    That said, I am not shy about printing off articles of interest from the Internet. In fact, if there's something I look up on the Internet, I'll usually print off what I find, because I'll often want to refer back to it at some point. Several years ago, I printed off the plans for building a solar window heater. I still have those plans, and as far as I know, they aren't printed anywhere except on the Internet, and I also printed off the plans for Mother Earth News' all-in-one outdoor kitchen ... oh, and I have a recipe for making cheese out of powdered milk ;). I know one of the draws of the Internet age is being able to go paperless, but I haven't quite made it there, yet ;). I'm still really liking having paper resources ... like books ;).

    By the way, all of the books listed in my side bar are ones that I have and that I recommend for building one's 'survival library' ;).

  6. I'm not familiar (yet!) with Tom Brown. To start, is there one book in particular that you would recommend?

  7. Mary - Of Tom Brown's books, Living With the Earth is the one I would recommend first. It provides a lot of information about how to make the things you'll need/want. It's not totally and completely comprehensive, and after you've read through his book, you may find that you need more information about individual topics, but as a good overview, that's the one.

    But really, it depends on what it is you're wanting to accomplish, and if you're looking for homesteading-types of skills, you might want to get something like Back to Basics first. If you're looking for back to nature kinds of skills where you, basically, eschew all modern amenities (except a knife) and learn to live totally off the land (as much as you can from a book), then Tom Brown's book will be a good guide.

  8. I understand the balance between you and Deus. Lee is Aquarius and I am Sagittarius. It just takes a little practice of getting in sync with each other.

    I'm also in the same position.I was the first to jump on the green and frugal living. I learned real fast that it wasn't something that I could shove down my family's throat. I just had to do what I "had" to do, and eventually through example the rest followed.
    So even though we are all on board and conscious about what we spend our money on, unfortunately my daughter wasn't originally brought up that way. Where as my son tends to not ask for things, Sis does constantly. Even if I wanted to give her everything that she wanted, I cant. It is hard to help her understand "too much of a good thing".
    -Great post I can relate A LOT! ;)

  9. Wendy, Thanks so much for your reply. A great resource. Amazon here I go!

  10. I enjoyed this post in particular because it's flipped in my household -- I'm the one who is resistant to change, and my wife is the one who pushes the envelope for new things. Typically I eventually come around to her way of seeing things, but (annoying for her) it takes awhile. For example, when we built this house five years ago, she wanted to talk with a solar technology company about solar hot water and photovoltaic installations. I said no, it was too much to worry about (perhaps even more so because I was GC'ing the construction), and it wasn't worth it. Well, we just had a rep out from the local solar company, and it turns out both hot water and PV can be done on our house without much trouble -- except it would have been slightly cheaper to do it when the house was constructed instead of a retro-fit now. And she's been after me for years to turn our back balcony into a greenhouse, which I've resisted. Until finally this spring when we built greenhouse frames and turned it into an early spring greenhouse, and I loved it. Yeah. I should listen to her, the agent of change, more often. We're both Libras, if case you want to do a little astrological analysis. ;-)

    I agree about the responsibility we have for our children understanding the issues we face, and helping to solve them. My five-year-old keeps talking about compost, chickens, chicken poop, and our gardens, and I have hope. :)

  11. @ Steve: I should listen to her, the agent of change, more often.

    Deus Ex Machina hasn't said this to me ... in so many words ... but there came a point when he started telling me that we should do the things I'd been telling him we should do for years, and I knew, then, that he was hearing me. It felt good ;).

    So, yes, listen to your wife. After all, you know that saying about what's behind every great man ;).