Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow Day

... or how we spent our Sunday afternoon.

I love bandying about "old sayings", because mostly they're true. Like the one about a penny saved or the one about birds of a feather.

Then, there's the one about the family that plays together staying together, and I'm really hoping that one is true.

Last weekend, while I stayed home and worked, Deus Ex Machina and the girls went through the woods for some cross-country skiing. This week, I worked more wisely and I was able to go and play, too :).

What? Well, who do you think is taking the picture?

After a short jaunt through the woods, we came to the hill. From the pictures last week, I was expecting more of a hill than what I saw.

All I can say is looks can be deceiving.

See? This is why they invented ski-lifts. Pay no attention to those three little smarty-pants ... er, highly skilled girls on the skis behind me. It was tough going. I swear it.

Going down was much easier than going up.

Then, I took the camera away from Deus Ex Machina ... er, the camera batteries died, and we didn't get any more pictures (ahem), but we had a blast playing, and I got better at climbing the hill without using my hands ;).

While we were out in the woods, I realized some truths about dealing with cold that I thought I should share.

Lesson #1: When we started out, we were all pretty well bundled up. About halfway through the woods, I realized that my big ski coat zipped up over top of a sweater with a scarf and a hat and those awesome gortex-lined wool mitten-gloves were too much when the temperature is 35° and we're trekking through the woods. When we're sitting in the house, 60° can seem cold, but when we're skiing through the snowy woods and the temperature is in the 30s, we can work up a sweat.

I had to take off my hat and unzip my coat. At one point, most of us had taken off our coats.

I think this is an important lesson, because we hear so much about how dangerous cold weather can be, and it can be, but only if we don't know how to deal with it, and one way of dealing with it is to get moving. I was comfortable in a pair of jeans (with no long underwear), a thin sweater over a tee-shirt, and gloves ...

Which brings me to Lesson #2: Gloves! Gloves! Gloves! I can't overemphasize the importance of covering ones hands when there's snow on the ground. In fact, on some warm days, when the temperature gets in the upper 40s (okay, that's warm for us - *grin*), we'll be outside working in short sleeves, but if there's any snow involved, our hands are always covered. The fastest way to get cold and uncomfortable is to allow one's hands to get wet - which is what happens, rather quickly, when dealing with snow and above freezing temps. And, believe or not, snow is cold, and cold hands are painful.

My advice to those of you who live where it doesn't normally get cold, but who are now experiencing that weather phenomenon we call "snow" is to enjoy it, move around in it, and get gloves (and not those crappy, thin knit things, either. You need something thick and absorbent ... or best, yet, is leather. Even unlined leather gloves, which keep the wet and wind off one's hands are better than those thin, cotton-yarn knit gloves or mittens that are so popular for children, and basically useless after five minutes of being in wet snow.

The absolute best moment, though, was when we were heading back home. What you can't see in the pictures, especially the ones with us in the woods, is how deep that snow really is, because our skis allow us to glide, basically, on top. We sink a couple of inches, but we're not even close to the bare ground. I found out how deep it was on the way home, when I fell backward onto my rather ample anchor.

Deus Ex Machina, Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery were a little ahead of Precious and me, and I fell. There I am, floundering on the ground. I'd put my hand down and try to push myself up (which is not, by the way, how to stand up on skis ... just so you know), and every time I did, my hand would sink further. I was, quite literally, up to my elbows, when I felt the dormant plants under the snow and was still no where close to being able to stand up.

I was growing increasingly frustrated and more tired. I was covered in snow, and it had even gotten in between my coat cuffs and my glove cuffs and my wrists were burning from it.

Precious starts instructing me: "Mom, roll on your back and put your skis in the air!"

When I stopped struggling and listened to her instructions, I was able to get up. That's one smart little girl ;).

Before we left for our jaunt through the woods, we put a pot roast on the woodstove, and when we got home, I boiled some potatoes, and we had dinner - whipped potatoes (with potatoes from Flaherty's farm in Scarborough) and Yankee pot roast (beef from the cow share, onions from Snell Farm, and tomato sauce from tomatoes we grew and canned last summer).

It was an amazing day. Good fun, good food, and if it's true that a family who plays together, stays together, then I imagine a future for myself that's full of similar days ;).

Friday, January 28, 2011

{this moment}

A 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.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

As Seen on Freecycle: WANTED: Going Green Items

What people are willing to request on Freecycle remains a constant source of amusement and surprise for me. I've talked about it before, because sometimes it surprises me that someone would ask for certain kinds of things on Freecycle - especially given the mission statement of the group as a place to find new homes for still usable items to keep them out of landfills. By definition, it's not a charitable group, and any Wanteds that have a "please help me" undertone are really violating the spirit of the group.

Still, I had to laugh when I saw this recent Freecycle request:

I'm trying to go green and would love some help so I can accomplish this without spending a bundle. Looking for Solar panels, low-flow shower, solar battery chargers, etc.

What makes it funny, to me, is the whole idea that in order to be "green" we need "stuff", because that sort of consumerist mindset is really what the whole "green revolution" was trying to change. It's all of this excess that's causing the problems, and so to say that one is desiring to "go green" with the implication that to do so requires a bunch of stuff is just ... well, wrong.

Undoubtedly, it's easier to be "green" if we don't have to make any real changes, and we can still watch our televisions and have electric lights, but the greenest people living on earth don't have any of those things. They are "green", because they've learned to live in concert with the earth, with the seasons, taking advantage of day light and sun light - not to power their solar powered electricity-generating equipment, but to passively warm their homes, grow and cook their food, bleach their clothes, purify their water ....

With that in mind, I have some advice for "WANTED: Going Green Items" on ways to go green that will cost him nothing.

  • Throw away the clothes dryer ... or better find a way to repurpose it into something useful that doesn't use any electricity, and then, hang-dry the laundry. This is how clothes were dried for THOUSANDS of years, and it's only in the last hundred years that we've decided that we need electricity to do what the sun and wind has done for free for millenia.

  • Toss out the television. We discovered that not having the television actually saved us a significant amount of electricity. We still watch videos - on the computer and through our Netflix subscription, but we watch a lot less and do a lot more these days.

  • Unplug the alarm clock. I like the snooze as much as the next guy, but there are alarm clocks out there that don't cost very much and which use NO electricity. The bottom line is that, while it's not a lot, anything that has an LCD readout uses some amount of electricity all of the time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days per year. Even if the usage is really small - say 28 watts - if it's left plugged in every day, all day long, all of that electricity used can add up. I think I figured something like $3/month just to power the LCD alarm clock. I have a wind-up alarm clock for which I paid $12 at the hardware store. It paid for itself in four months, and now, in what it's saved me over time in the cost of electricity, the alarm clock will wake me for free.

  • Turn off the electric hot water heater and heat water on the woodstove (if you have it) or on the stove top in a pan or a kettle. Use this water for doing dishes and for bathing (a really crude "camp" shower can be made using an old gallon-sized bleach bottle. Either drill several holes in the cap an then suspend it on a pivot so that when you need to rinse, you turn it upside down to allow the water to flow, and when you're soaping up, you turn the bottle upright to keep the water in. Or drill a hole in the bottom and use a stopper to keep the water in except when it's needed). I'd heat the water to boiling and bring the pan of boiled water in the shower with me. Then, I'd mix the boiled water with cold water from the tap, as I needed, to make it the right temperature for my shower. That way, I could boil a gallon of water and end up with several gallons of tepid bath water ;).

  • Use candles instead of electric lights. Candles are much cheaper than light bulbs, even ones made from beeswax (non-petroleum based), and if one saves the wax from burned down candles, new candles can be made from the old ones, and I probably wouldn't blink an eye at someone who posted a "Wanted" for candles and candle holders on Freecycle stating that he was trying to go green.

  • Develop a fire-less cooking method. Simple solar cookers can be made with free cardboard boxes. Free materials can be acquired for a fireless cooker, which could save a lot of fuel.

There are a lot of ways to "go green" that don't cost a dime or that are very inexpensive and don't require high-tech gadgetry. In fact, the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) strategy applies. Reducing is always better when it comes to being green.

Some day we hope to generate our own electricity to power those few things we want to keep, but there are many more things we've decided to just do without or find other ways to accomplish that don't require electricity. The result has been that in the past four years, since we started cutting back, we've reduced our electric bill by two-thirds, and last months' electric bill, in the middle of a Maine winter, was $50. We used less than 400 kWh for the whole month, which is still more than we want to use, but much less than we were - even this time last year.

Ultimately, the reason we want to reduce is so that we can afford to produce our own electricity, and the less we use, the less we have to produce and less expensive it will cost when we're ready to buy whatever it is we decide to use to generate our power. Like "WANTED: Going Green Items" we want to "go green" without having to spend a fortune.

It can be done very inexpensively, but only if we first concentrate on reducing, and perhaps "WANTED: Going Green Items" is doing all of those things, too. I hope so, but more, I hope that if he really wants to "go green" he won't allow the lack of those items to prevent him from finding green solutions for his every day activities.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Visions of the Future

In 1979, John Ritter (best known at the time for his role as Jack Tripper, the *not* gay roommate on the ABC sitcom "Three's Company"), starred in a movie called Americathon.

The film was supposed to be a satire, and so they made some outlandish predictions:

  • The People's Republic of China embracing capitalism and becoming a global economic superpower.

  • Cliques of Native Americans becoming wealthy (although in reality much of their wealth would come from the gaming industry, mostly from tribal casinos).

  • Nike becoming a huge multinational conglomerate (In 1979, their "Tailwind" running shoe was just starting to gain popularity).

  • Vietnam becoming a major tourist attraction among Asia's wealthy and powerful.

  • The continued existence and popularity of The Beach Boys in 1998.

  • The collapse of the USSR.

  • The depletion of US crude oil production, which, according to Hubbert's Peak theory, was already underway for several years at the time the film was made.

  • Jogging suits becoming fashionable as "casual wear".

  • Reality television reaching absurd limits. (The telethon includes a boxing match between a mother and son. The son is played by Jay Leno).

  • An America with a devalued dollar and heavily in debt to foreign lenders.

  • The United Kingdom relying heavily on tourism for income (In the film, England is the 57th state with London turned into a theme park named "Limeyland" and 10 Downing Street turned into a discothèque).

  • Network television dealing with previously taboo subjects accepted as normal. (Monty Rushmore stars in the sit-com, "Both Father and Mother", and plays a cross-dressing single father in the titular role. The film's narrative also mentions "The Schlong Show", a game show where contestants are judged by their reproductive organs).

  • Smoking being banned.

It was a joke. None of those things were supposed to be taken seriously. I mean, the USSR collapsing?!? Inconceivable! The writers and producers thought of the most outlandish scenarios, the most implausible outcomes. It was supposed to be funny.

Looking around me today, and looking back at their predictions, I'm not laughing.

I added the links to articles where the satirical prediction has come true. Some of the other predictions are fact, now, as well, but are so prolific and so much apart of our world today that there were too many articles to even pick one that was relevant. It's become universally accepted, for instance, that the US oil production peaked some time in the 1970s, and what's happening now, i.e. world oil production peaking, makes our US peak oil look like a walk in the park.

Another example is the first item about China embracing capitalism. We all know that it's true. Even as we try to think of China as some back-water, Third World country, experiences like the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing show us how industrialized and how capitalistic they have become. Their cities aren't so very different from ours, really, with the exception of the pollution, but, perhaps that's not so very different from our cities, either.

The other two that really stood out were the references to Reality Television getting utterly ridiculous (Real Housewives are "real"? Really? And my dad says that in the "real" world Chef Ramsey would get his ass beat if he treated people the way he does on his television show), and television airing formerly taboo subjects accepted as normal (and here, there are just too many to even list, starting with the above-mentioned Three's Company in which a heterosexual man professed to be gay so that he could share an apartment with two women - and the show pretended like being "gay" was more socially acceptable than unmarried men and women co-habitating).

The burning question, for me, is, what utterly ridiculous predictions are we making today that are being pooh-pooh'd as completely implausible?

Followed by: is it fiction imitating life ... or are we creating these realities for ourselves, and life is imitating art?

Either way, what's absolutely clear that what we're doing now, the way we're living, is not sustainable.

I just believe we can take control, and instead of ending up with The Road, we could have something closer to Good Neighbors (without the ultra-consumeristic Margo and Jerry next door ;).

And, really, is tending a garden, raising some animals, producing our own electricity (and Tom Goode does it with a methane digester running on pig manure ;), mending/repairing instead of discarding/replacing, and not commuting to an office job such a bad life - even if it means we might have to walk a little more, turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater in the winter, or give up cable television?

Personally, I think the rewards of a slower, simpler life far exceed the sacrifices, and this living without a dryer ... really, not so bad ... even in the winter ;).

Monday, January 24, 2011

If Wishes Were Fishes ... I Wouldn't Be Shoveling

I know, given my {this moment} only a few short days ago, it seems like I'm contradicting myself, but let me explain.

I love the snow. I do. Really.

I don't even mind shoveling ... much ... although, if wishes were fishes, I could do it in my own time ... whenver I wished ... or not at all, if that was my desire. And I'd never have to shovel that horrible, chewed up, hard-packed ice, sand and salt mound left behind by the snowplows, because ...

... if wishes were fishes, we'd have only one vehicle, and it would be a four-wheel drive, and we would just drive it over the snowplow bank and never have to shovel, because ...

... if wishes were fishes, both Deus Ex Machina and I would be sitting here in this room that is "our" office, and we'd be looking outside at the newest round of winter wonderland. I'd reach over and grab his hand, giving it an affectionate squeeze, and he'd smile at me in his goofy special way, and we'd both express our deepest gratitude that neither of us had to be out driving, that we could just stay home and enjoy looking at the beauty of our beloved Maine in winter.

If wishes were fishes, every day it snowed would be a "snow day", because both Deus Ex Machina and I would earn what money we needed/wanted working from home, and we wouldn't have to leave the house to go to work. We could enjoy the view from the coziness of our wood-warmed house, and later, we could grab our skis and head back into the woods with the girls and, after a brisk jaunt through the puffy, white landscape, return home to enjoy a cup of hot coffee or tea or hot chocolate, because, thanks to our careful planning and stocking up, we always have plenty of all three.

If wishes were fishes, we would dance to our own internal circadian rhythms instead of being forced to march to the beat of society's drum. So, when nature decides it's going to dump a half of a foot of snow on us over the course of about ten hours, and the natural thing to do is to stay where it's warm and dry, that's what we'd be doing. No one would be going out for something as trivial as earning a few dollars.

Unfortunately, on those days when I'm dreaming my version of the "good life", for all my wishing and wishing, the only flounder is me, trying to postpone the inevitable.

And back in the real-world, where wishes aren't granted by an Ish, who simply waves his hand over his dish and produces that proverbial fish, I put on my coat (or my pretty red sweater ... purchased second hand at the local Goodwill Store ;), grab a pair of gloves (because while I may not be cold enough for a coat, bare hands and snow do not go well together ;), and shovel out the end of the driveway so that when Deus Ex Machina comes home from work, he'll have a place to park his not four-wheel drive car.

And while I'm at the mundane task of digging out, I'm sending a telepathic postcard to Deus Ex Machina, stating simply wish you were here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

{this moment}

A 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.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

OARS: Challenge #1 - Organize

When I saw Gavin's OARS challenge, my first reaction was this will be easy. I mean, I've been a "prepper" for a long time, right? I was pretty sure that I had everything down, and it would be an easy ride (unlike that Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge ;).

Then, Monday morning, I opened up his blog and saw the first challenge: get organized.

What? Just kill me now.

Organization is not one of my strong points, as evidenced by the nearly complete disarray of my living quarters. **That bunk about a messy desk being evidenced of a messy mind is so not true, by the way.**

My first reaction was I can't do it. I have a teeny, tiny kitchen, and it's just full. There's just no where that I can clean out and designate a special place "just" for disaster preparedness supplies.

Or so I thought.

Then, I decided I needed to clean out and organize my pantry cabinet anyway, and so ...

The top shelf is grains. The second shelf is baking supplies, cereal, and beans. The third shelf is sweetners and nuts. The fourth shelf has dried fruits, vegetables and mushrooms. The fifth shelf is kind of a mishmash of a couple of things that perhaps would be more appropriate on another shelf, but will stay there for the time being (like the crackers). The bottom shelf is the "salad" shelf, or where the oils and vinegars are kept ;). Our dehydrator is on that shelf, too, and perhaps, it's time to find it a home with the rest of the "appliances" and move it out of the food cabinet. The five gallon bucket in front of the cabinet holds flour.

What's funny is that when I started reorganizing and going through the cabinets, and clearing stuff out (like the filter for a dehumidifier we haven't had in ... oh, six years or so !?!), I found that there was plenty of room. In fact, with a bit of shuffling, I'm sure I could fit a lot more stuff.

What's even cooler is that while I was clearing out and reorganizing the pantry, I also neatened up the tea cabinet, and on top of the freezer.

Round the corner, just off the kitchen is a little alcove that we call "the dog room", because it's where our dogs' food dishes are. There's a built-in shelf in the room where I store the food I can during the season. I was able to straighten up the "canned" food shelf, too.

There are a couple of things being stored there (like the Patchouli and the incense supplies) that won't always reside in that area, but that's where it is right now, and even with those things, there was room for things like extra condiments, the few cans of tuna we keep on hand as emergency rations, and peanut butter - which used to live in the pantry cabinet (and may end up back there).

In my house when one of us is right and the other wrong, we always sing the "You were right and I was wrong" song, and so, Gavin,

You were right,
and I was wrong.
And this is my
I was wrong song ...."
:) .

I can organize ... even if I don't want to ;).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Back-to-the-land Road to Success

I've been trying to get a copy of Eleanor Agnew's book, "Back from the Land" for a couple of months. It's on my PBS wishlist, and I even ordered a copy from a local bookstore, but they told me that they might have trouble getting it. As it's been a couple of months since I first placed the order, and I haven't heard back from them, I'm thinking their trouble means they haven't been able to get a copy, and I just need to try elsewhere.

Yesterday evening, I was sorting my PBS wishlist, and I went to to have a look at a couple of the books I had listed, including Agnew's book. I often read the reviews, because sometimes they're actually good. One of the reviews of Agnew's book was really long, and as I was also doing a transcript of a town hall meeting, I decided to copy and paste the review, print it, and read it later.

The printed copy of the review was seven pages long. I read it this morning with my second cup of tea.

What a great article! Insightful, interesting, well-written and well-thought out arguments. I just wish that instead of putting her article on an review for a book that not enough people are going to want to read, the author, Alice Friedemann had published her article someplace where the average Joe could find it.

I think her message is one that more of us need to read - the most important point she makes is that we need to revive and succeed in a "new" back-to-the-land movement, because our current way of life is unsustainable.

I loved her compare/contrast of the 1970s back-to-the-land movement and how we should be working toward those same goals today. Perhaps she didn't mean to, but as I was reading the article, I kept nodding, because what she said fully supports my premise that we can (and should) survive in the suburbs.

As we sink deeper and deeper into energy depletion and as global climate change makes our weather more and more unsettled, we will start to see things like massive crop failures. The only way to mitigate food scarcity is to learn to grow (or forage for ... or both!) our food.

Additionally, as Friedemann points out in her review, there is no substitute for oil that will allow us to continue living as we are living. She says that the oil reserves we now have should be allocated to continue shoring up government-based, community-wide programs (like infrastructure maintenance, water purification and delivery, and garbage collection and disposal). I won't disagree with her, but what that means is that we all need to be responsible for cutting our own usasge, finding alternatives for things like electrical appliances, and/or generating our own energy on an individual level. The fact is that when we take away some of the unnecessary appliances (like the clothes dryer and the television), the amount of electricity we actually need is significantly reduced.

The foundation of the 1970s back-to-the-land movement (e.g. the thing that sent the "hippies" running into the wild) was the disillusionment of a whole generation of young people with the status quo (which was too starkly similar to our current status quo) and their desire to be self-sufficient and remove themselves from the money economy.

What they found, as they went back to the land, was that they were sorely ill-equipped to handle the rigors of primitive living. They had very high ideals, but no practical skills. Heck, there's even a learning curve for somethiing as simple as learning to cook with whole ingredients (versus cooking stuff from cans or boxes), and growing 180 lbs of hubbard squash is all well and good, unless one doesn't know what to do with it once it's harvested. What caused most of them to fail was the stark contrast between their idyllic vision and the reality of subsistence farming.

I think the real problem, though, was that they never really did "go back to the land." They wanted to farm and be self-sufficient, but too many of them lacked the basic skills, experience and training necessary to manufacture even the simplest of the goods they needed. In fact, how many of the back-to-the-landers even had the skill to do something as rudimentary as planing a log using hand tools? And I say it's "rudimentary", because in that wonderful series of books compiled and written by Eliot Wigginton and his students only four decades ago, old-time mountain folk teach those kinds of skills. It's not been so very long ago that such skills were commonplace, and we've lost them.

Simple things like: how to make lye, how to render fat, how to make soap from lye and rendered fat, how to weave baskets, how to make a simple quilt using discarded/stained/irreparable clothing, how to split a log, how to make barn boards out of a cut log, how much cord wood is needed to heat a house for the winter, how to butcher a rabbit/chicken/deer, how to preserve the harvest, how to find spring greens, how to process acorns for flour, how to make grits, how to shoe a mule, how to dig an outhouse, how to ....

These are skills that my grandparents (perhaps even my parents) simply took for granted, and things they knew how to do, because knowing how to do those things made their lives easier.

I think Friedmanne's article brings up some very important points, and I think Agnew's book, and the similar Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life, should be primers in how-not-to. In fact, I don't think we should be striving, today, to "go back" to the land, rather I think we should be bringing the land to us.

The back to the landers were given an apple, and they smashed the apple on the ground, stomping it into a juicy pulp. Then, they carefully took out the seed and replanted it someplace else, not knowing if that someplace else was even a place the seed would like.

We, twenty-first century back-to-the-landers, need to take a different approach, and instead of having apples, we need to have onions. We need to carefully peel back each layer, wait until our eyes stop stinging, and then peel back the next layer, until we reach the core. By then, it's likely that our onion will have started to sprout, and we can take the sprout, put it into the ground in the spring and have a new onion in the fall.

Perhaps we don't have time to get down to the core of the onion, perhaps it's too late to be taking our time, but using the onion as our guide, if each layer is one more skill we learn or one more thing we learn to live without that takes us closer to being self-sufficient where we are, then we are that much closer to the ideals that the original back-to-the-landers were trying to achieve - freedom, independence and self-sufficiency.

We may not have time to achieve total self-sufficiency, and, indeed, that may not even be possible on quarter-acre suburban lots, but we definitely don't have time to fail and hope that there's something to come back to, if we, like our 1970s predecessors, discover that living primitively without any prior skills or training is just too hard.

Funny. I just realized that going forward, we should be moving backward ;).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kneading ... er, Needing Wheat?

Back in the 1940's, the US government published a set of guidelines for healthy eating. It was based on the early twentieth century "food guide" developed by an early nutritionist to outline the kinds of things (and amounts) that children should be eating. It has gone through many modifications over the years, and most of us learned all about these wonderful recommendations when we were in school. The "USDA Food Pyramid" has permeated our culture.

The problem, according to Harvard scientist, Dr. Walter Willett, is that the original food pyramid is flawed and misleading. Much research regarding nutritional recommendations has been accomplished over the past hundred years, but the original recommendations haven't kept up with the new information. Additionally, it has been shown in some cases that a diet high in carbohydrates, as recommended by the food pyramid, may actually be the culprit in our current problems with obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

In short, according to some significant research, it's the wheat in the cake, and not the sugar. In fact, if we believe Dr. Atkins we can have our cake and eat the whole thing by ourselves, as long as it's half cake (Deus Ex Machina calls it "half cake", because it uses a half-pound of butter, a half bag of chocolate chips, and a half dozen eggs ;).

Working like I do, kind of in the medical field, I spend a lot of time thinking about and hearing about medical issues, and on the forefront, right now, is the whole gluten argument. Like fat in the 1970s gluten has been implicated in all manner of diseases (see above), and really, the evidence seems pretty neatly stacked against our daily bread.

The issue (and the unfortunate fact) is that American food is drenched in wheat-based products. I challenge anyone to come up with a meal plan that does not include a wheat-based carb, either as a side dish or an entree. It's not easy, and many of the "quicky go-to" meals (like pasta) are out if one is trying to eliminate wheat. Compound it with trying to eat local, which means that most quick-cooking grains (like rice) are out, and the dilemma becomes more clear.

Still, I was (and am) determined to make wheat-based products something other than the base of our meals, and so I refused to buy flour ... and then, we ran out.


For a week, my pickiest eater in the world ate nothing but the granola (which is little more than a flour-less oatmeal cookie, which is why she likes it so much ;) I make ... with yogurt, though, and so that was better, in my opinion than a bunch of bread.

And while there was no grumbling, I could see that my family wasn't happy. I came up with some creative solutions to our usual wheat-based choice (like adding pumpkin seeds to soup instead of crackers - which I actually, now, prefer), but they really would have preferred the bread ... or pasta.

One of my goals for this year is to eliminate wheat from our diet, and I still want to do it, because I think we're too dependent on a thing that might be difficult to find in the coming years. Perhaps, though, there's some wiggle room, and maybe I don't strive to "eliminate", but rather put it where it belongs, as a supplement to, and not a base of our daily intake. If we truly get wheat products into the supplemental category (at the top of the pyramid rather than the bottom), then, if/when we actually do find that we don't have wheat to enjoy, it won't be such a hardship on us, and we'll have discovered a plethora of alternatives.

This weekend was one of those experimental moments. Deus Ex Machina made, what Big Little Sister said tastes like "bread pudding" (a favorite of hers) without even a crumb. We've been wanting to make half cake with something that is locally available for a long time, and finally, this weekend, we did. Deus Ex Machina made it with blueberries. It was delicious! It didn't have the texture of half cake (which has a fudgy, cake-like consistency), which didn't surprise me. It was more like a souffle or a quiche. The important thing is now we know that we can make a bread pudding-like substitute using a half pound of butter, a half dozen eggs, a half cup of sweetner (we used raw sugar) and some blueberries and it bakes up quite nicely.

We kept the experiments going. I caved in and bought more flour, but I still R-E-F-U-S-E to bring home any store-bought bread product. Forget it, people. No more Hannaford brand English muffins for you!

But it's okay, because I'm learning that just about anything bread has six basic ingredients (flour, water/milk, yeast, salt, sweetner, oil/butter/lard), and the difference, most often, lies not in what's in it, but how it is cooked. Regular loaf bread goes through a couple of rises (one in an oiled bowl and one in the bread pan), and then is baked a low-temp oven - around 350°F. My favorite French bread (because it only takes an hour from start to finish, including baking time) takes only one rise, but bakes at a much higher temperature.

I've even made flat bread, and the first time I made Pitas, and they actually rose up like pita bread and we could actually cut them in half and stuff them, I thought I was in Disney land! It was like magic!. Naan is one of the coolest breads I've ever made, and it cooks on the grill (bread? on the grill? Oh, yeah, baby!), which is awesome during the summer or during a power outage, when the kids want bread, but we don't have time to wait for a regular loaf to bake.

My favorite new bread discovery is English muffins. The basic recipe is the same as for other breads (the recipe called for shortening, and I substituted lard, because I don't use shortening). I actually liked rolling out the dough and cutting them like biscuits (it's the southern girl in me ;). To make it that much better, though, they aren't baked or grilled. It's fried bread. Awesome!

I cooked them in our iron skillet on the woodstove.

Deus Ex Machina tells me they're as good as (the girls say better) than the store-bought ones, and at this point, I guess I'm not as concerned with the taste as I am with ... *I* did it!

I'm still working on lowering our wheat consumption, but if I can't get the pack to go cold turkey, at least I can limit how much they put into their bodies by how often I knead.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ease on Down and Cuddledown

In the comments section of a post I did a couple of days ago regarding down comforters being "out" (according to fashion experts), a link to a YouTube video showing how some down is collected was posted. The video showed live geese being plucked for their down. Some purveyors of down products were interviewed to determine if the sales people knew where (and how) the down was harvested. Mostly they didn't, and when they were told, by the videographers, that the down may have come from live plucked geese, the sales people were appropriately horrified.

Similarly, I had to admit that I had no idea how the down in the comforters I was promoting was harvested and felt a little ashamed at not being more aware of all of the issues surrounding the products I use in my home and discuss on my blog.

This morning, after reading this article, I feel a little more comforted in my stance. Down may be "out", but in my opinion, if I can only have one blanket on my bed during Maine's cold winters, down is still my choice.

And if/when I need new down bedding for my home, I will not hesitate to patronize this Maine-based company where the down is from farms where the geese are raised for meat and not live plucked.

Plus, it's a Maine company, and we all know how that makes my little heart go pitter-patter ;).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Be Prepared Challenge

Global Weirding is rearing its ugly head, and too much of Australia is dealing with flooding right now.

In response, Gavin is hosting a preparedness challenge. We all know I'm all about being prepared, and so I've decided to accept his challenge. He will be posting, each week for the next four weeks, tasks to be done for the challenge, and each task will be based on one of the categories represented in the acronym O.A.R.S.

If you'd like to join, head over to Gavin's blog and find out more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

{this moment}

Eagerly awaited ...

A 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.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Improvising ... Not Just for Comedy - It's a Life-Skill, too

I was watching this video about Mark Boyle who is living without money in the UK and has been, reportedly, doing so for over two years.

Mark makes some great points about stepping totally outside the money economy, and it is something Deus Ex Machina and I have been striving to do ... although we hope to "adapt in place" rather than shuttling our family off to an undeveloped piece of land and live, like Mark, in a camper - not that I would have a problem with that ... just that we already have the house, and moving just sucks.


So, keeping in mind the "moneyless" lifestyle, I'm always trying to come up with ideas of ways to keep living *our* life without having to buy "new" stuff, so when my tea ball decided it was done being a tea ball and desired, instead, to be garbage (you just gotta love something that breaks after a few months of using it as it was intended ... sheesh!).

We already had the little mesh strainer which fits perfectly in a cup and sits low enough that I can put a teaspoon of looseleaf tea in the bottom of the strainer, fill the cup with hot water, and in a couple of minutes, have a perfect cup of tea.

Sometimes, though, I steep the tea for too long, because I get busy doing something else, and, then, I have to make it not quite so strong. That's when I use the teapot. I pour the extra-strength tea into the teapot and add an equal amount of hot water, and voila! Two cups of tea for the trouble of one.

Unfortunately, the tea gets too cold, too quickly. I kept hearing about tea cozies, but neither knew where to find one nor wished to spend money acquiring it. So, I improvised.

I hope to make something at some point that looks a little prettier, but for the time, it's fun in a silly kind of way, to tie a towel around my teapot ... and it works :).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Down with Comforters??

I'm going to go way out on a limb here (with the disclaimer: I am not a fashion designer) and scoff openly and loudly at the recent proclamation that down comforters are out.

Perhaps if I were Esme Squalor I would give a shit what's in and what's out, but here in the real world, where it gets cold and our wood-heated house gets chilly at night, I want a cover on my bed that's, as one detractor put it, "hot."

Don't you?

The fact is that in my house, our bedroom does double-duty as cold storage for our winter stores ;), which is why you'll find us snuggling under not one, but two, down comforters. The reality for many other people, however, who heat with oil, gas or electricity, is that the cost of heating their homes is becoming increasingly more expensive every year, and sometimes the increases are dramatic spikes that throw household budgets into a tailspin.

In the real world (as opposed to the "fashion world"), doesn't it, therefore, make sense to save some energy and some money, turn the heat down and throw a couple of extra down comforters on the bed?

When word of this gets out, the good news for those of us who are more realistic than fashion conscious is that we're likely to find a lot of cast-off down comforters free for the taking in those curbside give-aways or on freecyle ... or for very cheap at the thrift store.

Either way, when the price of gasoline and heating oil sky-rocket and all of those people (who eschewed their down comforters as too "common" and opted instead for thin, cotton blankets) are shivering in their beds, I reckon I'll have the last laugh from my cozy and warm, but too lumpy bed.

My mom used to say that comfort was more important than fashion. I don't know that I've ever told her, but "Hey, Mom. You were right! :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top 5 Things You Should Never Pay For

The title was provocative, and so I clicked on the video link to watch it. The tagline claimed that these five things were free, and that we should never pay for them. Really? Cool! Sign me up!

But as I listened to their list, I realized that their claims of these things being "free" was, at best, misleading.

1. Water.

Free? Really? Perhaps, if I run out back and scoop it out of the brook, it's free, but in most places, the luxury of having water in our houses means it's definitely not "free". Even those with a well, pay for the eletricity to have it pumped into their homes. The point of this particular portion of the article was to discourage the practice of buying bottled water, and with that, I do not disagree. We shouldn't pay for bottled water, but with very few exceptions, we are paying and will continue to pay for water.

2. Cellphones.

Wow! Really? I perked up my ears on this one, because over at Homegrown Evolution they had a debate about whether or not to get a cellphone, and for me, the real issue is paying extra for a service I'm already getting elsewhere.

Saying that cellphones are free is like saying that my landline is "free." What they mean is that one can get a "free" phone headset IF one pays for a cellphone plan, but the fact is, without the plan, the cellphone is kind of useless. So, free cellphone? That's little more than a sneaky, little lie.

3. Credit report/credit counseling.

We are all entitled to one free report from each of the three credit reporting agencies per year. But seriously? Is this something that really has any significant value? The fact is that the only reason to be worried about credit scores is the hope of getting financing, but if one is living within one's means and saving up for the things one needs, then, there isn't any need to worry about this one. It's free, true, but it's not like ... it's a free cellphone or anything.

At this point, I know that this particular "news" article is just a bunch of useless fluff, but I might as well continue watching.

4. Grocery Staples.

I'm thinking Score! I love to save money on groceries, but very quickly I realized that their suggestion was exactly what everyone else suggests, and it's really ... well, it's not really getting anything for "free". Like all of the others there's that caveat.

Groceries can be free IF one has a coupon, it's a really good coupon, the store is offering double coupons, AND the manufacturer has a cash back rebate. In the perfect storm of bargain shopping, grocery staples could be free, but seriously, how likely is this to happen? The average coupon user saves a few dollars, at best, and more often ends up spending a lot of money on things that would never have been purchased were it not for the coupon. In my opinion and experience, coupons are just one more manipulative tactic used to get my money out of my hand for stuff I don't really want or need.

5. Boxes.

This is, perhaps, the only really free item on the list, and this one I actually liked, but by the time they offered this little tidbit, it was like they were really stretching to find "free" stuff. Buying boxes to move is silly given that people are often throwing them away, and the idea of reusing boxes from the local convenience store speaks to the eco-star in me ;).

Overall, I think the article is a fail. Of the five items, only two were really free. There was no really useful or new information in the article, and it was a little like what I've come to expect from the mass-media, which is superficial ideas that really do nothing to enlighten us or help us to live better.

So, I made my own list of 5 Things That You Shouldn't Pay For:

1. New furniture.

Between Freecycle, free signs on the side of the road, junk yards, yard sales, estate sales, salvation operations, and thrift stores, there's enough furniture still in usable shape to furnish every home across the world.

Besides, much of the new stuff, even in higher end stores, is poorly built particle board that will disintegrate after only a few years. Some (not all) of the older stuff is sturdier, but even if what's found is the more modern poorer quality stuff, we can, at least, be comforted by the fact that we really did get what we paid for rather than paying big $$ for something that's not worth the gasoline it cost us to visit the store.

2. Commercial cleaning supplies.

Simple is often better. For years we tried to find something to clean the shower. I tried dozens of caustic cleaners that didn't do the job and were, potentially, harmful to our septic system. After replacing the system once, I resolved to be much more careful about what went in. For cleaning, I, finally, struck on the perfect combination: a stiff scrub brush and baking soda. Our shower has never been cleaner. Baking soda and vinegar are simply the best cleaning products around, and they're wicked cheap.

We no longer purchase commercial cleaners, and we've even stopped buy laundry detergent and make our own, instead.

3. Deodorant/antiperspirant.

Our society is obsessed with eliminating odors, and as a result we've developed this willingness to smear all sorts of chemical concoctions on our bodies in an attempt to eliminate them. The key problem with antiperspirants, though, is not that they are toxic chemicals masquerading as flowers, but what they do. Humans are supposed to sweat, which is why we have sweat glands. Our sweating enables us to cool our bodies so that we don't suffer from things like heat stroke. Why, then, would we want to use a product that takes away that functionality? And for what? So that we don't smell bad to other people? Phew! Talk about trying to be a people pleaser. We're willing to risk our health so that we don't offend someone else's olfactory senses. Dude. Get a grip ... and put a hanky over your nose, if you don't like Essence de Wendy.

The irony here is that our bodies emit odors that are unconsciously pleasing to the opposite sex, and we cover up those natural odors with perfumes ... to make ourselves pleasing to members of the opposite sex. People are so odd.

Of course, if one just really wants to not have an aroma, there are some things that work just as well as chemical deodorants to eliminate odors without the toxic side effects. The best is probably baking soda and corn starch, which most people have in their kitchens. Equal parts of each mixed with an anti-fungal essential oil (tea tree, lavendar, patchouli ... to name a few) and dusted in the armpit area takes the place of deodorant (and smells just as nice, and infinitely more natural). If it's also blended with just enough coconut oil to make a paste, it can be used as a deodorant stick. You'll still sweat, but is that a bad thing?

4. Out of season foods.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized all produce has a "season" and even those things that don't grow in Maine have a season. Meat has a season, too. Buying out of season for one's area results in a significant cost increase over buying in season and stocking up. For instance, we purchase a couple of bushels of apples in the fall, when they are fresh, and make applesauce. If we had cold storage, we'd put them in the storage to keep until they started to get mealy, and then, we'd make them into sauce. Because we buy at the height of the season, we're not subjected to those price fluctuations. Overall, we pay a much lower price than we would if we bought apples all year long just when we wanted them.

Not enough convincing?

Okay. How about this?

During the "season" (from April to October), we spend, an average of $280/week on food, between the grocery store, the Farmer's Market, the meat we raise, and buying quarter portions of large, hoofed animals (beef and pork). During the off-season, after we've spent six months stocking up, we spend an average of $50/week on food (including eating out). In terms of both money and time saved, buying food in-season and stocking up is way more frugal than using coupons.

5. Heat.

I can hear the backlash now, because we all do, so, need our electric space heaters and our oil-burning furnaces. We so need our 3000 sq foot homes to be 70° throughout the structure, because, because ... well, we might not be comfortable.

The other day, I was talking to my son, who lives in Kentucky. It's been unseasonably cold in Kentucky for the past few weeks with the average day-time temperature being around 40°, and he was telling me that he didn't really feel too cold. Those around him, knowing that he lived in Maine, tell him it's because he's acclimated to Maine weather. Nevermind that he was born in Kentucky, lived until he was eleven years old south of the Mason Dixon line with a not insignificant number of years in southern Texas, and hasn't lived in Maine since 2006. He scoffs when people tell him he's not bothered by the cold because of his association with Maine, and he tells me, it's because he knows how to dress - in layers.

It's important, because knowing how to dress for the weather can be life-saving, and realizing that one doesn't have to keep one's house warm enough for summer wear in the heart of winter can significantly reduce the cost of heating one's house. During the winter, I'm always wearing wool socks, and I usually wear a sweater or a sweatshirt in the house.

There are some places in the country (even with the weird weather we're having) where one could live without whole-house heat. I won't rehash all of the past heating advice I (and others) have given, but I will say that it can be free by first changing our attitudes toward the amount of heat we think we need and second by making some changes in our housing infrastructures, which isn't free, but could result in not needing to heat.

  • Install a heating system that uses a renewable resource, like a woodstove, or a biomass generator. In her book Possum Living, Dolly Freed talks about heating her suburban home with pallets and cardboard boxes, but they weren't trying to heat the whole house. Rather, they moved into the main room of the house and spent the winter near the woodstove, and closed off the rest of the house. Sounds just awful, doesn't it? Spending time with one's family members. So unAmerican!

  • Insulate, and when you think you have enough, if there's room for more, add more. The best dwelling is earth-bermed with south-facing opening, because the earth provides natural insulation. Most of us don't have the option of earthberming our homes, but we can insulate and close off the north-facing sides of our homes to take advantage of solar passive heating.

  • Allow yourself to become acclimated to the changing weather by living with it, instead of working against it.

Some things actually are free without having to spend money to get them. Some things are free, after we've invested money in them.

The real question is not what we can get for nothing, but what we're willing to invest so that those things we need or want become free, and that's where the article and I differ entirely. I'm not willing to spend four or five hours per week looking through coupons in the hopes that I can get a good deal, and maybe walk away with a free bottle of hair conditioner. I'm not interested in paying $100/month for two years so that I can get a free cellphone.

But I am willing to spend extra money and time canning summer produce so that I can eat (mostly) free all winter. I am willing to purchase a woodstove and spend the summer gathering and collecting wood so that my heat is free.

And in the end, these "free" things improve the quality of my life. I'm not sure that coupons can be said to do the same thing ;).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review: Gone With the Wind

When Deus Ex Machina saw that I was reading Gone with the Wind, he said "You're reading a romance?"

I suppose Margaret Mitchell's epic novel of our time could be considered a mere romance, but it's more ... so much more. It's about struggle and survival and overcoming ... and yes, absolutely, about adapting. For people with a Doomer mindset, who are convinced that we are in the midst of TEOTWAWKI Gone with the Wind should be required reading.

The first half covers the characters' experiences as they deal with the privations of southern civilians during the Civil War. I loved how innovative the novel describes the southerners being. In the midst of the war, when the Northern blockades cut-off the southern shipping ports so that nothing is going in and nothing is coming out, the civilians who live in the south and are affected by the severed supply lines, have to find creative solutions. Heavy velvet drapes became a dress. Acorn caps covered in cloth were sewn on clothes in place of buttons. Old carpet pieces were made into shoes. Rags soaked in bacon fat took the place of candles.

What's important to understand is that the South did not manufacture much. The south exported cotton, and perhaps sugar, and maybe sorghum, but everything else from cloth to needles to much of their food, was imported.

Sound familiar? Guess we all forgot, when we decided telemarketing is better than farming, what it might be like when the supply lines that bring us the goods we need to survive are severed.

The second half, which kind of, sort of, just a little, starts to take on some shades of Harlequin, is about Scarlet's bucking of every single southern convention and her success at embracing the new order. Scarlet is a survivor - and in her own words, "As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!" She pulls herself, and anyone who'll come with her out poverty, and she thinks she's winning. Unfortunately, because she is unscrupulous and often doesn't care on whose toes she is stepping, she ostracizes herself from the very community in which she was raised as a young Southern belle. She does anything (and everything) to make money and have fine clothes, while her community, the former Southern Aristocracy, who'd lost everything during the war, and then were thrust into an impossible existence due to laws that were meant to keep them from rebuilding their former lives, relished in their poverty and wore their patched rags like badges of honor.

On the surface, the book is all of the above, but underneath, it's an amazing history which offers some insight into what life for the dying southern aristocracy must have been like, and in that regard, we, the dying American middle class, can learn some lessons.

In the book, southern gentlemen, like Ashley Wilkes, realize that life as they knew it, the life for which they were born and raised, is gone, and Ashley, in particular, has no idea how he is going to survive in the new world into which he has been thurst. He has no marketable skills, and his classical education is pretty worthless for finding a job. He realizes pretty quickly that he's not a farmer, and if not for Scarlet's browbeating, he would never have been a businessman, either.

I think that's where a lot of us are finding ourselves, today. How many of us only have training and education that would be useful in a society that runs on cheap fossil fuels? The life into which we were born - one in which a good education would lead to all of the richness life has to offer and money enough - is over. Everything we've been told about what constitutes the good life, every piece of what we've been told is the American dream is false. The easy life we all sought where cheap fossil fuels did most of the work for us is kaput, gone just like the easy life of the nineteenth southern plantation owner.

The best truth in the novel has to do with the fallacy that acquisition of money will make us happy. I don't know if that was her intent, but Mitchell is almost blatant in her anti-consumerist commentary. In fact, Rhett tells Scarlet outright, "Even with all of my money, you're not happy." And Scarlet has to admit that she is not, a revelation that actually surprises her.

The characters in the novel hit the bottom. Many of them fell just as far as they could get, and given the height from which they started (financially speaking), it was a very hard landing.

But they pulled themselves back up out of the pit. They repaired. They used up. They made do. And when all else failed, they helped each other.

Gone with the Wind was a remarkable novel. It's one of those that has been in my TBR (to be read) pile for years, and I'm not sorry that I read it. I only regret that it took me so long, but like so many things in my life, when the time is ripe, I find what I need. I don't think I could have picked a better time to have opened the book, and I don't think I would have appreciated it as much as I did if I had read it when I was younger and too full of the American dream to understand the important message Mitchell was sending. My regret is that it took me so long to read the book, and that it took me so long to really understand that message. I get it now, which makes the story that much richer.

As a follow-up, I'm now reading The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane's masterpiece about a Yankee soldier. It should be an interesting contrast.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sobering Predictions

I didn't make any predictions this year. I made predictions last year, although I kind of cheated, because they were all about what I thought would happen in my family. I was probably 50/50 with calling it right.

Economically, We did have some job change stuff going on, but our income went up as a result rather than down. We don't have more disposable income, however, despite what Deus Ex Machina claims. We have about the same. We're just not putting stuff on credit like we used to do, and we're being much more conscientious of where we buy when we buy. We've become quite the thrift store afficionados ;).

As I predicted, prices did go up, and also, as I predicted, the price increases were so subtle that we didn't even hear a peep about them until just recently. Now, the price per barrel of crude is over $90, which nearly anyone who has an opinion on such things says is the price at which significant economic problems will occur.

Our living space did contract, but then, it expanded, again, and over the past week or so, we've been moving things around and doing some serious decluttering (in fact, we took several bags and a couple of boxes of books and DVDs to a local shop that buys such things and now have $35 worth of store credit ... for stuff that we would have discarded or given away. Score!). As such, it's expanding again ;).

We didn't make any changes to our infrastructure, and we didn't add our own power generation equipment (hopefully, this year!), but we did reduce, even further, the amount of electricity we use, and we broke some habits that were wasting energy (like the television, which is no longer in the house, and the dishwasher, which is now a drying rack ;).

We did add bees, but lost the colony, and we did harvest a bunch of mushrooms (which was very cool!) and have several jars worth of dried Shi'take in our cabinet.

We made some progress in foraging, although we're still not getting any significant amount of food from the wild. We harvested several pounds of blackberries, we brought home and ate Japanese knotweed, several greens, and some wild edible flowers. We also identified a couple of tree mushrooms and wintergreen, which we made into tea ;).

As for breaking deeply entrenched food habits, we've made more progress in this area than my family even realizes, and the amount of bread/pasta/wheat-based foods we eat has been significantly reduced over the past few months :). The goal, for me, is to reduce our grain consumption to only those things we can grow, and so it will be popcorn, for the most part, which we can grow, and which is delicious :). This year, I hope to cut wheat completely out of our diet.

I don't have any predictions for 2011. It's going to be a wait and see year for me. On the one hand, I believe all of the scary, horrible things other people are predicting will happen if we, as a species, continue on our present trajectory, but what's just as likely is that those things will happen, just as has been predicted, but rather than being these catastrophic, life-altering events, they will happen so insidiously that we will adapt at the same time that it's happening, and the result will be that most of us won't really recognize that TEOTWAWKI is now. As John Michael Greer observed in a recent post, the things that are currently happening in the world were unthinkable ten years ago, but from where I sit, life isn't fraught with misery and despair.

I just don't see a single sh*t-hitting-the-(proverbial)-fan event that will bounce us into the depths of hell-on-Earth (like a nuclear holocaust or a caldera eruption).

There was a movie a few years ago, based on a true story, about a fishing boat from Gloucester, Massachusetts that went out and didn't come back. The movie was based on Sebastian Junger's book and in doing his research, he spoke with a meterologist who described the phenomenon:

  • warm air from a low-pressure system coming from one direction

  • a flow of cool and dry air generated by a high-pressure from another direction and

  • tropical moisture provided by a hurricane.

The phenomenon was dubbed a Perfect Storm, and that's, what I think, we have right now:

  • Peak oil/resource depletion;

  • Catastrophic climate change, increasingly more severe and violent storms, and widespread natural disasters (including droughts leading to crop losses);

  • Worldwide economic disasters.

One is feeding off the other and making each seem much worse than, perhaps, one of them alone would be. For example, if we had a stronger economy, we could invest in alternative energies, and then, the problems associated with energy depletion wouldn't be so dramatic.

But we don't have any of the "ifs." What we have is that perfect storm, and all we can do is to get ready to live more simply, more quietly, more closely with the Earth with fewer gadgets, traveling fewer miles, and having far fewer things.

And we need to change our lives, now, voluntarily.

I'm a doomer. I believe we're in a for some serious challenges in the future, and I waffle between believing that Alex Scarrow called it in his doomer novel Last Light (and that Grandfather Stalking Wolf, Tom Brown Jr's mentor and teacher, is, also, therefore, correct) and thinking that the more likely scenario is something closer to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

Either way, for most people, the future won't be terribly comfortable, if we don't make some drastic changes to our lifestyles and our expectations.

I won't make any predictions about the coming year. All I will say is that, regardless of what happens, lowering our cost of living (and by "cost" I mean the burden our existence here places on the Earth, i.e. our "footprint") is a win/win situation for all of us, and perhaps, in the process of learning to tread more lightly, we'll save the planet ;).

It can't hurt, right?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Flint and Steel

Learning to use older technologies carries with it some degree of learning curve.

The younger one starts, the easier it is to learn.

We don't call her "Little Fire Faery" for nothing ;).

**And, while there may be the desire to believe that the pictures are doctored and that she didn't actually start the fire, she did it ... by herself ... using flint and steel. Incredible!

Our chances of surviving the apocalypse are looking better every day ;).