Friday, September 30, 2011

100 Reasons to Eat Local - Reason #1

... because what you don't know (about where your food is grown and/or processed) can kill you.

I haven't been following the news of the latest foodborne illness breakout. I say the latest with a touch of sarcasm, because it seems like the news is full of such reports on too regular a basis these days.

At the same time, I know it's not a situation we should make light of. It's serious and horrible ... and not something I ever want to experience.

Right now, it's Listeria in cantaloupes. I can't imagine feeding my daughters something like a cantaloupe - fresh, sweet fruit, which they love - and having them sickened because of it. I can't imagine what that would feel like,

Which is why, I'm too much like the author of this article when it comes to purchasing our food ... and I've heard those same things come out of my mouth when talking with my daughters about why we make the food purchases that we do.

... because what we don't know about where our food is grown and who grows it, can, indeed, kill us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If Only the Cows Would Stop Farting

I spent too many hours yesterday afternoon debating the whole climate change conspiracy ... and I use those terms purposely - not because *I* believe it's a conspiracy, but because the people with whom I was discussing the issue believe it's a conspiracy.

It started with a comment that went something like: If you want to get those global warming cultists to shut the hell up, ask them what's the ideal temperature of the earth and at what temperature is it "too hot" or "too cold."

Me, being me, I just had to comment, and I did, and it was a very long, drawn out (I know, so surprising, right?) explanation that included a couple of facts ... or at least truths that some of us believe at this point in time.

Scientists seem to agree that the average temperature of the earth - right now - is 59°F, which seems to be an ideal temperature, as most of the earth is currently able to sustain human life. Climatologists seem to agree that if the earth were to warm only 12°F on average, that would be enough to make significant areas of the world unhabitable for humans.

In response to those truths, one woman wanted to debate how we knew. She asked things like how do we know the "average" temperature and how do we know what the "average" temperature was 100, 150, 300 years or more ago, and is it possible that temperatures have always fluctuated wildly, and were we measuring the temperatures when the dinosaurs were here?

Her, not terribly articulate questioning, was really to point out, that perhaps, we humans are not responsible for the increase in temperature, and of course, that's a very common argument. The follow-up being that since we're not responsible, then we can do nothing about it, so shut the hell up and pass the Doritos.

The problem is that those arguments are, kind of, unsupported, and in fact, there is some body of research to suggest that, maybe, humans are responsible. So, no we haven't had continguous documentation of global temperatures for the earth's entire history, but we have been documenting temperatures for the last 150 years, and there are, what are believed to be, some pretty accurate temperature readings from as long ago as the fifteenth century.

But all of that aside, scientists have been able to take ice core samples from places that have been iced-over for a very long time, and based on these samples, they are able to determine what the C02 levels for the last six hundred thousand years have been. Based on these samples, they are able to mark on a timeline the beginning of the industrial revolution and are able to map the increase in CO2 levels. We're assuming that these increases are due to an increased use of fossil fuels, which, when burned, release CO2 into the atmosphere.

In response to that data, one person wanted to discuss cow farts, and how those are the real culprit in the increase in CO2 levels. I replied that it wasn't really the cow farts, but the sludge lagoons, which are mostly poop, which, as it biodegrades, releases methane, which is, indeed, a greenhouse gas, and yes, has been implicated in the increase in average global temperatures, but it's not CO2. The primary culprit in the increased CO2 levels is the burning of fossil fuels.

**Of course, *we*, humans, ARE directly responsible for the "cow-farts" - are we not? - thanks to breeding programs and the millions of beef cattle living (if you can call it that) in feedlots. So, if cow farts really are the cause, and it's not burning coal or driving cars, we can, simply, stop eating CAFO beef and using dairy products. Fewer cows = fewer farts and less methane in the atmosphere. Easy-peasy. Problem solved.**

Accompanying the cow-fart argument was the statement that since the 1970s we've been making significant changes in reducing the amount of CO2 we've been pumping into the atmosphere. In fact, I'm told, there are no more "home-based coal burners" in use any more. Really? Perhaps that's true here in the US, but there are places in the world where coal is still being used as a primary fuel for cooking and heating.

The bigger issue, though, is food production and the fact that if the world's temperatures increase - even by a measly 12°F - what once grew, here in Maine for instance, would no longer survive. I used maple sugaring as my example.

In order for the sap to flow, the maple tree has to go dormant - we call that "winter" here in Maine ;). In the very late winter/early spring, when the days are above freezing, but the nights are still below freezing, and snow around the base of the maple trees melts, the sap will run up from the roots into the trunk and then, branches of the tree.

Anyone who's ever seen a maple tap will note that there is a hole in the bottom of the tap. What happens is as the sap flows up from the ground, some of it goes into the little hole in the tap, and drips out into the bucket. During the day, when it's warm and the sap is running, we can actually hear the sap dripping into the bucket. At night, when the temperature drops, the sap goes back down into the roots, and the next day, if it's warm, the sap will run again.

If the temperature were to rise too much, we wouldn't have maple syrup anymore, and one woman suggested, "why not just tap earlier?"

I didn't answer that we have been tapping earlier - every year. It used to be well-known that maple sugaring season was in March. In fact, the traditional "Maple Syrup Sunday" here in Maine is the last weekend of March. However, we have been tapping our trees in February, and by the second week in March, the tapping is over. It's too warm to tap anymore. We might have three, good weeks, of sap running.

Perhaps this isn't unusual, and certainly a couple of years is too short of a time to prove the global warming theory, but my point is that if the right conditions don't exist - a period of dormancy, warm days combined with freezing nights - there will be no maple syrup, because the trees simply won't be able to produce the product.

But it's not just maple trees. Apply that same logic - that plants need certain conditions in order to grow and produce - to other crops, and then imagine what happens if we don't have those conditions in the places of the world where most of the crops are grown.

Global warming doesn't just mean that it will be a little hotter. It also means that the weather patterns will change, and places where hurricanes are unheard of, will start to experience them, and places where there was always enough rain will not have any, and places where there is a lot of snow might not have much, but places where there's never been snow will start to get it. But it also means that there will be places where we, humans, can no longer survive (check out this discussion on wet bulb temperatures).

Of course, then, the argument was that the Global Warming cultists are in it for the money, but I have to wonder how true that is. Perhaps there will be some money to be made - in particular by people in the alternative energy industries, but after many decades, the alt. energy purveyors are still struggling, and most of us "cultists" know that there is no equivalent energy source to fossil fuels. We know the real answer is to reduce rather than replace. My hunch is that the people who are the most staunchly opposed to the changes that would need to be made stand to gain a lot more than those who are in favor of making changes.

To wit:

Most of the changes that must be made would involve the "using of less." We'd have more farmers, because they'd all be local, and they wouldn't be using as much gasoline or oil-based fertilizers, because they'd also be raising the cows and pigs, and the manure would fertilize the crops rather than chemical fertilizers. We'd be doing a lot more by hand, which means less electricity, which means less coal burning. We'd be buying fewer "new" consumer goods (although all bets are off with regard to how much people would be willing to spend on thrifting ;).

Under the label of "global warming cultist", I will include such people as those who have organized and participated in projects like Riot4Austerity, the goal of which is to reduce by 90%, our overall consumption, which means getting down to using 10% of the average electricity, gasoline/oil, natural/propane gas, water, garbage, and consumer goods. If their project were successful, we'd all be using only 10% of what we (Americans/Westerners) use today.

If we're buying and consuming less, that means we're spending less, which means there is less money. So, my question is, how are the "Global Warming Cultists" making all of this cash?

I didn't go into all of that, except to say that there are often dollar signs somewhere near the bottom line of any political movement, and this global warming issue has become very political.

Of course, the bottom line for the people who were discussing this issue with me was one of freedoms and rights, and being a completely conservative, right-wing bunch, their primary concern was with regard to forced austerity measures that would require them to change their lifestyles. In short, they could not care less about whether the world really is warming, but they will fight to the death to keep the "liberals" from taking away their televisions and incandescent lightbulbs.

What struck me as kind of sad and rather narcissistic, though, was how very egocentric their arguments were. I talked about the global implications of climate change, in particular how certain areas would be unhabitable - like coast lines, and one woman quipped that migration away from the coastlines would be a good thing - would keep people from being "blown to smithereens by hurricanes."

Okay, true, sort of ... except when Irene came up into New England, it wasn't the people along the coast who were most affected, but rather the people who were many miles inland, and would never, not in a million years, have believed that they needed to prepare for a "hurricane."

It's just not that simple.

There are 98 million people living on the US east coast. If the coast floods and people can't live here, where should those 98 million people migrate? I wonder if she wants all of us to be her neighbors (as she obviously doesn't live on the coast). When Hurricane Irene came up the coast a few weeks ago, low-lying areas of Manhattan experienced some flooding. Over a million people live in Manhattan which has a population density of 70,000 people per square mile. For reference, Maine's largest city, Portland, has a population density of about 3000 people per square mile. One square mile is around 650 acres. Most resources suggest that one acre of land is needed to feed one person.

That said, perhaps, her argument has some validity. The US is a VAST, largely uninhabited continent, and the there is still enough land available that if we wanted to move inland, we probably could - especially if we keep the highways open and the trucks running - i.e. we don't need waterways or railways to transport goods.

Unfortunately, climate change won't just affect us, here in the US. Global warming is just that - the whole globe, the WHOLE earth. Every continent, every person, every plant and animal, will be affected. So, we can have a very cavalier attitude about a mass migration of a paltry 98 million from the US east coast, but it's not just us.

Sixty percent of China's 1.6 BILLION people live in the 12 coastal provinces. If predictions about rising water levels come true, where should those nine hundred and sixty million people go? I'll tell you where many of them are going - at least the ones who can afford it ... they're coming here. I wonder how that woman feels about that.

Of course, if global warming predictions come true, we'll have simultaneous coastal flooding AND increasing wet bulb temperatures in many of the interior States. In fact, places like Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia will be too hot for humans during much of the year, when the temperatures rise above 100°F on average, and the humidity levels make it impossible for our bodies to cool themselves (see, again, the discussion on wet bulb temperatures.

On the one issue, we all agreed - the changes that need to be wrought should be on an individual, grassroots level rather than by governmental decree, and I was careful to stress - numerous times - that the changes really are very simple ... and cost-effective.

But my main point was this: what do we have to lose by making the changes? What do we have to gain?

If the global warming "cultists" are wrong, and we have voluntarily simplified our lives by making some very easy, and ultimately cost-saving changes, we have a little more money to spend on things we might like, rather than spending it on gasoline and electricity.

If they are right ....

So, the question remains - what do we have to lose by living differently? There's certainly a lot to gain by voluntarily simplifying our lives.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Yes. No. Repeat the Question?

The phone rang. I picked it up and inquired, "Hello?" It was a recording - Survey 2011.

The first question was: Do you believe gasoline prices are too high?

I answered "no."

Before anyone gets in a snit, though, I should clarify that even at $3.75/gallon, we're still paying less than half what we were paying per gallon for gasoline when I lived in Germany in 1994.

Further, given what I believe about Peak Oil and about the changes that will be wrought over the next decade in response to energy depletion, I think the cost of gasoline needs to be a LOT higher to get us to change our lifestyles. I live on the corner of what is one of the busier roads in my community, and day or night, rain or shine or driving blizzard, there are always cars on the road, on average one every ten seconds.

So, too much? Absolutely not. It needs to go a lot higher before most people will start making changes, which is a real shame, because those who wait too long to start weaning themselves will find the process a lot more difficult and a lot more painful.

The next question was: Do I think unemployment is too high and do I think we need to do more to create jobs and improve the economy?

I had no answer for this one. First of all, it's not a yes/no question, really. There are a lot of nuances to what's being asked, a lot of things that need to be clarified, before I could give an accurate answer.

Yes, unemployment is pretty high - so I hear. I don't see it, much, at least in my community. People, in my community, who want a job, find a job. They don't always find a job making what they were making before or what they'd like to be making or even what they need to be making to maintain the average American lifestyle, but not having a job and making less than one wants are not the same thing.

As for do I think "we" need to create jobs, I can't answer that one. I mean, it really depends on the "job", right? "We" could build and staff more retail centers, and that would be creating jobs, but to what end? Are people really better off working for that store?

Worse, if we do invest in continuing to build those suburban retail centers, aren't we also encouraging the car-centric lifestyle that will be negated by question one? It becomes one of those vicious cycles - we build the stores to create the jobs but the jobs are in areas that encourage/require automobile transportation, and in the end people are working to pay for gasoline.

Perhaps we would be better off if more people became gainfully employed in the "informal" economy. In fact, my guess is that a healthy number of those who are being counted as "unemployed" are probably already making a decent living doing things that simply aren't counted as "employment" for government purposes.

And as for doing something about the economy, personally, I think our belief of what makes a healthy economy is based on some outdated ideals that are no longer supported by our available resources, and rather than trying to fix what can not be mended, we simply need to let it die so that the new economy - one that is more local - can be born.

We need to give up the idea that everyone should have unlimited access to megawatts of power - and do more than simply change a lightbulb or two.

We need to give up the idea that everyone (well, everyone in the Western world, that is) is entitled to a car and a full tank of cheap gasoline.

We need to give up the notion that a well furnished household must include a 32" screen plasma television.

We need to give up the idea that a college education is the only path to success, and indeed, we need to redefine what "success" means.

Do I think unemployment is *too* high? Please define "too high", and then I can answer.

Do I think "we" need to improve the economy? Absolutely, but I suspect my ideas of what is meant by 'improve' would be a little different than what the poll writers mean by 'improve.'

I answered the first question, but I didn't respond after the computer posed the second question. I stayed silent, thinking, "What do I think?" After a few seconds, I was told that I would have to answer yes, no, or repeat the question. I hung up the phone.

I'd love to chat about what I think with someone who might actually care to hear my answers, but that machine can only understand "yes", "no" or "repeat." And my answers are a little more complex than that.

I'm pretty sure that the phone call was a political ploy. I don't know, or care, by whom, as I think both sides are pretty well entrenched in an ideology that is faltering, badly. I'm sure there was some important message by Senator Somebody or at the end I would have discovered that the poll was sponsored by Republicrat Party.

If they use my answers, at all, I'll be in the 5% who doesn't think gasoline prices are too high. I'll be the one everyone hates, because it will be my fault that the government isn't doing something about the high price of gaoline, and I'll be in the minority of people who know that the government is not in control of those prices.

In retrospect, maybe I should have stayed on the line and answered their questions: No, gasoline prices are not *too* high (when there are still cars traveling down the road every ten seconds regardless of time of day or the weather, the price isn't "too" high). No, unemployment isn't *too* high (when people can still find employment, the rate isn't *too* high - try living in Zimbabwe where the unemployment rate was 94% in 2009). No, *we* shouldn't try to restore the economy (when there are still people out there buying televisions and children's toys, the economy isn't in nearly as bad shape as we'd like to believe).

But my answers would have fallen into the +/- 5% accuracy :).

No one wants to believe that *we* can't make things better (i.e. like they were before - although, depending on where one was, "things" weren't so good back then, either) if we complain loudly enough. Right?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Net Zero

We have some friends who are, for the most part, off-grid. They live in a rural suburb north of us. Their house is completely solar-powered, and while they have a grid-tied system, most days, they have net zero - which is to say that they are using everything they are producing - nothing goes out to the grid; nothing comes in from the grid.

The one caveat is that they still use propane for cooking and heating ... and drying their laundry ;).

They gave us a tour of their amazing property a few weeks ago. It's a gorgeous set-up, and if I said that I wasn't a little envious I'd be lying.

That said, we're actually in the same place, when it comes to complete self-sufficiency, and that's the middle. They just started at the other end - the technology end.

Deus Ex Machina and I started on the food end, and in that area, we are mostly self-sufficient. Five out of seven dinners per week include food we have grown and/or preserved (by canning, not freezing), and at least one meal each week consists entirely (except for things like seasoning) of foods we've grown on our quarter acre. We even hosted a dinner party with thirty guests in which a quarter of the food was grown here, and over half was locally sourced (the dessert - S'Mores - was not local ... or homegrown ;).

Our friends are, now, working toward their food security.

And we are, now, in a position to begin working on the technology side of things. Our first purchase: the bicycle generator.

Although it's not (and never will be) grid-tied, reckon if I pedal long enough, I could get to net zero?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Canning Mis-Steps

I want to preface this post by saying that home canned food is perfectly safe. Canning is not hard, and preserving food is not some mystery or scary activity that should only be relegated to the "experts." To believe that is to believe that we're children and incapable of self-care. For most of my readers, I do not believe that to be true.

Canning at home is no more dangerous than buying canned food from the grocery store, and it carries with it the same risk for the same reason. Food that is not properly sealed can be incredibly dangerous, and even the best, most careful canners will end up with a bad jar or two, not often, but every now and then.

The very cool thing is that if one is only minimally observant (like me), it's pretty easy to figure out that a jar of canned food might be unsafe.

On the kids' show Sesame Street there used to a segment where there would be a group of things lined up and one of them was different. The characters would sing: One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn't belong.

I should have taken a picture of more than two jars of peaches, which I didn't, but one of these jars is not safe to eat. The contents of one of these jars will be buried in the backyard.

Can you tell which one?

On a canning jar lid, there's a little "button" in the middle of the lid. When the jar is sealed, the "button" collapses. If the button doesn't collapse, the jar isn't sealed.

Both jars appeared to be sealed. So, when Deus Ex Machina grabbed one of them to open for dinner the other night, the only thing that tipped me off was how the contents looked, and what I noticed was that the peaches weren't floating.

See the jar on the left, the peaches are sitting on the bottom of the jar? It looks more full than the jar on the right. The peaches in the jar on the right are pushed right up against the lid, and there's liquid on the bottom of the jar. This jar is sealed, and when we open it, and air gets into the jar, the peaches will drop.

I don't know for certain that anything has actually grown in the peaches on the left, and I don't know why the jar didn't seal properly. It could be that there is a small crack in the jar that I didn't notice. That happened once with a jar of pumpkin bread that I discovered had molded inside the jar. We didn't eat the pumpkin bread either ;).

Canning is perfectly safe, and done properly results in food that is delicious and usually a lot more wholesome than what comes in the BPA lined cans at the grocery.

Sometimes things happen, though, and the jar doesn't seal - even when we're sure it has. Paying attention will prevent any problems.

My only regret is that we have one less quart of peaches ... and when we were at the farm last weekend picking apples, they told me that all of the peaches are gone for the year. Good thing we have more jars ;).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Homeschooling the Key to Educational Reform??

One of the members of my homeschool group shared a link to an article by contributor Chunka Mui that was recently published in Forbes magazine (online edition). The article, entitled To Reform Education, Outsource It to Parents addresses the issue of homeschooling and brings up some very good arguments for why homeschooling works where traditional schooling fails. I felt like it was a good follow-up to my article on how education can be free.

In the article, the author states that, while homeschooling may not be the panacea of the problems with our current educational system, it's certainly an option that should be looked at more closely, and for many children and their families, it could be the panacea.

Mr. Mui and I are coming from different philosophies. I don't think our educational system, as it is today with its massive buildings and overblown infrastructure, is sustainable. Mr. Mui writes about the failure of the system to keep his child engaged.

We're coming from a different place, but our conclusion is the same: homeschooling while not *the* answer, is *an* answer and is a good place to start looking for a better way to educate our children.

As with most things, there won't be a one-size-fits-all solution. Homeschooling may not solve the problems of our nation's standing, compared to other countries, in the areas of math and science. It many not boost up the slipping scores on standardized tests.

But, as Mr. Mui points out, homeschooling doesn't require deficit spending, union busting, social transformations, management revolutions, or paradigm shifts on the part of teachers, administrators, politicians and other entrenched stakeholders.

What it does, though, is provide the opportunity to have a tailor-made educational program for each child.

Mr. Mui ends his article with a quote from Erasmus who is also credited with my favorite quote When I get money, I buy books. If any is left over, I buy food and clothing. :).

Mr. Mui's Erasmus quote states learning should be adapted to the ability of the child and should be taught with sympathy and tenderness.

And what better way to ensure that is happening than to have the parents play a more prominent role in the process.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How An Education is Really Free

In most places kids are either going back to school soon or already have. Yesterday, Facebook was lit up with the back-to-school discussion. I even saw one person comment that it was her "favorite day of the year", I assume because her children were back in school, and she didn't have to worry about what to do with them anymore.

I don't talk a lot about our homeschooling. It's just a part of our every day life, at this point - one of those things that we just do - like our local diet.

If my girls went to public school, Big Little Sister would be starting high school this year. She has never gone to a regular school, and her two younger sisters haven't either. All three girls have enjoyed all sorts of classes, both indoors and out, both formal (with worksheets and homework) and informal, and they are, of course, familiar with the whole school concept, because they have friends in school, or because they've streamed some television series on Netflix and the kids on the show go to school. Interestingly, the only part of school any of them have ever expressed interest in is riding the school bus, and so when they were very young, we took to calling our SUV our "home"school bus ;).

The general demographic of homeschoolers, at least here in Maine, is a two-parent, one-income, mid-to-upper middle class family with at least one parent who has a college degree. The decision to homeschool can be motivated by religious ideals, but more often, it's not. More often the decision to homeschool has more to do with a very strong dissatisfaction with the public school system. I see a lot of parents concerned about issues like bullying that their children have experienced, and so those children are pulled out of school and homeschooled.

As parents we want the best for our children - obviously. Unfortunately, a lot of the opportunities that school kids get as part of the school offerings, we, homeschoolers have to pay to get. Paying for classes and supplies can be incredibly expensive ... but it doesn't have to be.

Over the past few years, the common theme among many of the homeschooling families I know has been the "money" issue. Classes for homeschoolers can be rather pricey, especially if there are multiple children in a family. A ten week science class can, easily, cost $160 per kid. When one considers that's only $16 per child for a class that's two or three hours long each day it meets, it's not such a bad deal, but when one realizes that the payment in full is expected at the start of the class and one has three children who will be in attendance, it can be a lot all at once. We've had more than our fair share of sticker shock ;).

Classes are a popular choice among homeschoolers, but sometimes the cost (and/or scheduling difficulties) sends the parents looking for alternatives.

One alternative some parents choose is a packaged curriculum, of which there are, quite literally, hundreds to choose from (a Google search for "homeschool curriculum" yields 2.2 million hits). And the choices can be overwhelming. Do I want a "cover school"? Do I just want the materials? Do I want a religious-based curriculum or a secular curriculum? Do I want just math or science or reading ...? It can be a lot, and in the end, even the materials for one single subject can be rather expensive (one popular math program homeschoolers often use costs $70 for the "starter set", and that's only good for one year. The Algebra II set for just the teacher materials and the student books is almost $100).

What's a homeschooler to do?

Like all parents, homeschoolers really do want the best possible education for their children, which is why we decided to homeschool, but we don't do it without a great deal of trepidation and questioning of our ability to impart all of the wisdom our children may need to gain over the span of their "school years." Ask any homeschooler. She'll tell you. It was a tough decision.

And these leaner times don't make it any easier. As more people turn to homeschooling as an option, the first thing they'll need to know is that homeschooling doesn't have to be expensive. It doesn't require lots of classes, and most states don't require a packaged curriculum.

Homeschooling for free is possible, but it also takes some work to find the resources.

The Internet is an invaluable resource for homeschoolers. Everything ... I mean E.V.E.R.Y.THING ... can be found on the Internet, and there is a plethora of free lesson plans, worksheets, whole books (many of the "classics" are available for free online, as they are not subject to "copyright" laws that prohibit scanning because of their age - check out Project Gutenberg), audiobooks, free online courses for everything from herbal beauty (my teenage daughter took this course) to foreign language. A homeschooler could cover every subject for free just from doing an Internet search (and wading through the millions of potential websites ;).

There are other products useful to homeschoolers that are also free. One of my favorite "free" online resources for homeschoolers is this record keeping software called Homeschool Tracker, and I've been using it for eight years. The Basic Edition is still free.

True, neither computers nor the Internet are "free" ... although, through freecycle free computers can be found, and access to the Internet is "free" at any place that has a WiFi connection ;).

But what if one does not have unlimited access to the Internet?

The most obvious free resource, and one that's already heavily used by most homeschoolers I know, is the library. There are all sorts of treasures to be found there from books and magazines to videos to books on tape ... to free (with a time limit) Internet access using the library's computers. We've also found that our librarians themselves are wonderful - free - resources. In fact, our Juvenile Services librarian agreed to do a class for us on the Dewey Decimal system. I just asked, and she was thrilled to help out. She organized the class, provided most of the materials, and did all of the work. I sat back and enjoyed myself ... and actually learned a little about the Dewey Decimal system.

The community, at large, is also an incredible resource, and most of the businesses I've dealt with have been pleased to be asked. We've toured the fire station (in two different communities), a local restaurant's kitchen (which was way cool!), the local newspaper facility (and we were given a bunch of really cool stuff, too), a grocery distribution center, two local dairy farms (one small family owned and the other a "corporate" facility), a nursery/greenhouse/family-owned vegetable farm, a marine animal rescue facility, and our local water treatment facility. These were all free, and all we had to do was call and ask. Most of them were eager to show us around.

In addition to area businesses, chances are really good that the area where you live is ripe with "historical" sites. Every place is, and everything you ever wanted to know (and some stuff you probably could have lived without knowing) is available at your local Chamber of Commerce or the Visitor's Center. There are many small, local museums that are free, but because they're free, they don't do a lot of advertising, and many times the "locals" don't know they're there. Go find them. Afterall, why should the tourists have all of the fun?

And speaking of businesses, did you know that many corporate entities offer "educational incentive" programs to schools ... and many of these programs are also available to homeschoolers? For example, General Mills has a "Box Tops for Education" program. Homeschooling cooperatives are eligible to participate in this program (the coop must have at least fifteen students to be eligible). Pizza Hut also has an educational incentive program called "Book It!". It's available to individual homeschoolers. Read some books, get a free pizza. If you're not a rabid locavore and you eat Pizza Hut pizza, it's a great deal :). Other corporations offer "rewards" programs. For example, Staples has a Teacher Reward program that is open to homeschoolers (buy supplies, "earn" points, get a coupon, use it to get free stuff = good deal).

My area has a lot of natural resources, as well. There's the beach, the saltmarsh, and all sorts of lovely trails through the woods. In the past we've been avid geocachers (which, admittedly, kind of costs a little at the beginning ... for a GPS, but after that, it's free :). If buying a GPS isn't in the budget, letterboxing might be more your style. Depending on the "stamp" you chose, it can be costly or free, but it offers all of the fun of "treasure" hunting that geocaching offers without the purchase of high-tech electronics.

The best free resource, though, is other homechoolers. We have organized half a dozen classes with other homeschoolers: art, science, reading/literature, history, etc. The classes are free, because they are parent-taught, and we all share the "teaching" duties. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination, education, training and experience of the other community members. In addition to providing information, though, classes with other homeschoolers provides that one thing that is, as one homeschooler put it, "the bane of all homeschoolers" - socialization.

Patti Moreno, a.k.a. Garden Girl, started a discussion forum on her website a few years ago. One of the topics open for discussion back then was homeschooling. Patti stated, "I think homeschooling is going to be the most important challenge for humanity in a post peak [oil] world." In our not-too-distant future, I don't disagree that homeschooling will become the norm rather than the exception. In fact, a few years ago, when I was serving as the local School Board secretary, it was been interesting listening to the budget talks - interesting in an objective kind of detached way, but if I were dependent on the school system for my children's educations, I would have been terrified.

It's likely that we will be forced into homeschooling our children as municipal budgets get tighter and tighter, and frankly, if I have to choose between a fire department and a school, I'd rather have the fire department. In that uncertain future time, community will be what enables us to provide our children with a solid "academic" background. It will require lots of people with lots of different talents being willing to donate a little time and teach a class to a group of kids in someone's home or in donated "public" space (many churches provide space to homeschoolers, but as fuel prices soar, this may also come to an end).

In the meantime, for those people who are already out there homeschooling, it doesn't have to break the bank. Homeschooling can be free AND enriching. Finding those free resources isn't as easy as pulling out the packaged curriculum study guide or signing up for Math/Jr. Engineering, but if free is the goal, it can be done.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

With Thine Own Hands

I did it - just as I said I would ;). Deus Ex Machina had doubts that I could keep it under the maximum 7500 words, but I did it, with room to spare (coming in about 900 words shy of the limit ;).

In response to John Michael Greer's recent challenge, I've written and published to my (other) blog a piece of short fiction - a vignette of a post peak oil world.

I hope you enjoy my story.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

... Apples Up On Top ...

Look! Ten apples up on top! We are not going to let them drop! Theo Lesieg

Ten Apples Up on Top was one of my girls' favorite Dr. Seuss books, and one of the few that he published under his other Nom de Plume.

I thought of that book a lot today, as we went to the PYO apple orchard (I had to go to the farm anyway, to return the crates in which I brought home all of the peaches).

We picked a bushel - which is about 40 lbs, and when we got home, we canned - Deus Ex Machina and I together. It was a rare and wonderful day (usually I'm canning by myself).

In the end, we (mostly Deus Ex Machina) canned 15 quart jars of applesauce.

I made two apple pies, and Precious helped me make a turnover.

We still have a few smaller apples for eating ... or perhaps for adding to the wild apples we will be harvesting for hard cider. While we were out, we also stopped at the brewing supply shop and picked up a wine yeast, and expect to get a batch of hard cider in the fermenting bucket - hopefully this week.

There is still a lot of harvesting to do, but apples are the last crop for us here. When we start picking apples, we know it's fall - it's truly fall, like when we start making maple syrup, it's really spring.

It's fall, and it's already chilly enough, especially at night, for jackets and wool socks. Winter is fast approaching, and like the old childhood hide-n-seek chant, I hear her calling, Ready or not, here I come!


And speaking of "harvesting", my friend Lisa Marie, came over a couple of weeks ago.

Lisa Marie is a former, long-time vegetarian. Some of the same concerns about food security, food safety and nutrition that motivated my own transition to a local diet, prompted her to consider her own diet. In an attempt to gain control over her food, she has reevaluated her non-meat eating stance. She talks a lot about the kinds of things her family has and is doing on her podcast "Sweet Peas", which include sourcing her food locally and attempting to garden - something she never, ever, thought she'd be doing.

In addition, since she decided that she was, indeed, going to eat meat, she figured she should know more than just animals are where meat comes from. She wanted to learn more about the process of how the animal becomes the meat. She asked us to help.

So, a couple of weeks ago, she came to our house to learn how to harvest rabbits. She recorded the experience on her podcast.

I think she did a really amazing job - both on the podcast, and on the learning of what, has become for most of us in modern America, a rather alien skill. As a society, we've moved so far away from our food that most of us don't even have any idea what it is we're putting into our bodies.

After that day at my house, Lisa Marie knows one thing - it's not easy being so close to one's food, but the fact is if we're going to eat, something has to die (as Deus Ex Machina says, everything eats, and everything gets eaten), and to not acknowledge that fact is either grossly naive or incredibly cowardly.

My brave, brave friend, Lisa Marie, is neither, and when she decides to cook the rabbit she took home, I'm sure she'll think much differently about the meal.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Calling All Writers

John Michael Greer, author of the blog, The Archdruid Report, and several very informative and very important books, is hosting a fiction writing contest.

For more information, check out his latest blog post.

And, yes, I will be jumping right on the wagon and writing my own post-peak oil story ;). The quesiton is, can I keep it between 2500 and 7500 words ...?

Eatin' Good

It's been a really long time since I talked about our local foods diet. I guess it's become so ingrained in just our that's-what-we-do life that it doesn't seem terribly interesting or noteworthy anymore. Perhaps it's neither of those things, but I'm going to talk about it anyway.

Because I can remember, not so very long ago, when I had to actually plan, and sometimes go out of my way, to have an all local dinner. Recently, as I was chopping stuff and frying stuff and stewing stuff for dinner, I realized, the meal I was preparing (and of which I didn't get any pictures) was local - all local - without really trying or going out of my way. It was just stuff I had on my counter, in my garden, in my cabinet, in my fridge, and in my freezer - all of which was sourced from local farmers and produced within 100 miles (or so) of where I live.

The most remarkable part of that revelation, though, was that what I was cooking was just part of our (now) usual, every day, fare.

The meal started with dried beans from this farm. I boiled them (because I didn't think to pre-soak them), and then, turned the heat down and just let them simmer. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them, but before I could do anything, I had to cook them. And so, that's where I started.

Looking around in the freezer, I found a jar of tomato sauce from last year's tomaotes, and I put it on the counter to thaw. It was a cool-ish, rainy day, and something soup-like seemed fitting.

Later, I browned some ground beef (from the cow-share we bought in January). I added some onions from the farmer's market to the beef as it was browning and to the beans that were just about to that soft-enough-to-season stage. I also added some chopped up tomatoes from my garden and a big jalapeno pepper that one of our friends gave us.

When the beans were cooked, I divided them, filling two pint-sized canning jars for later, and to what was left in the pan I added half the browned ground beef, the thawed tomato sauce, and a bunch of spices.

Big Little Sister grated some Pineland Farm cheddar cheese, and we had chili with cheese, and, for those who wanted it, a dollop of Cabot plain yogurt.

I saved out some of the browned ground beef and asked Big Little Sister to run out to the garden and clip some of the lettuce. It's doing better now than it did in the spring, and I have a beautiful crop, at the perfect ripeness, in my garden. Sometimes I have to be a little like a cafeteria cook and offer a couple of different options for dinner. So, for those who didn't want chili, the option was "taco salad" - seasoned beef over lettuce with grated cheese and yogurt.

It was really good, and the best part was realizing how close to home the ingredients were.

If our on-demand grocery supply chain were to stop tomorrow, there would be a lot of things that I would miss: sugar, Newman's Own chocolate bars, tea; but I'm confident that we would be able to find most of what we need/want for food right here, where we are, and every time we sit down to a local meal, it's with a smile, because it's good food, and good company, and truly, the good life.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Door Swings Both Ways, My Friend

I was talking with my friend, "Maude", this morning.

She said, "You inspired me."

"Really?" I asked. "What do you mean?"

So, she tells me that this weekend her sister was visiting, and as family members will do when they get together, they start reminiscing about the good old days. Maude said she had been reading my book and was showing it to her sister, when she just flipped open to a section of the book where I just happened to be talking about canning.

Maude said that the section reminded her of the gift her mother had bought her and her sisters in 1976 (the US Bicentennial) - a case of "Bicentennial" pint-sized, wide-mouthed canning jars.

"I think I still have that case, unopened, in the basement," she told her sister.

Sure enough, she went downstairs and came back up with an unopened case of canning jars.

"Mom paid $1.87 for those jars," her sister comments, pointing to the price tag that's still attached.

I'm calculating in my head - a case of canning jars, on sale, today costs $5. At their regular price, I've seen them as much as $10.

Out of curiosity, Maude says, they go on eBay to see what these jars, now a potential collector's item, would be worth, and they find a similar set listed at more than $40.

And then she tells me that she was inspired. She is not planning to sell these jars. Neither is her plan to return them to the basement and leave them unopened and preserved for another decade in the hopes of a greater profit down the road, but rather, she has decided to make some canned treat to put in the jars, to give as gifts to her family members, with a note that the jar was purchased for her, back in 1976, during the US Bicentennial, by her mother.

I suggested this canned pumpkin bread, because she said it would be a gift, and the holidays make me think of pumpkin bread for some reason ;).

I'm touched by her compliment - giving me credit for the idea - but I know this woman needed no inspiration from me. Just the fact that she had the canning jars means that she knows a thing or two about the things I discuss in my book, and in fact, she inspires me to strive to be better, to take myself and life a little less seriously, to enjoy the little things - like a late morning walk through Central Park with a couple of minutes spared for a photo-op.

And just for the sake of showing true scale, this is the rock we're standing on:

In the course of our conversation, I'm reminded that, for me, this blog, my book, the changes to our lifestyle, have never been about changing people's minds or about trying to convince others that *my* way of doing things is the *best* way of doing things, but rather, to share that this is what we're doing, and that these things have given greater meaning to our lives.

As I've said, on many occasions, there has to be more to life than just working for money (which is the predominant mind-set in our country). Maude could have sold those jars for a nice profit - or at least enough to buy her husband his quintennial pair of jeans ;). Instead she's going to make something a lot more precious - a memory in the form of some edible treat encased in a jar that was given to her as a gift during the 200th anniversary year of the birth of this country.

Someone has been inspired by all of this ... and despite her assertion, I don't think it was Maude ;).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Greening of Gavin Podcast

Friday evening I called Australia on Skype and spoke with Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin. Of the things we discussed, one was how amazing the Internet is. I told Gavin, that of all of the modern luxuries we enjoy (and which most of us take for granted), if I could keep only one thing, I would choose the Internet - yes, even over indoor plumbing with my on-demand hot water ... well, maybe I'd have to think about that one a little ;).

Regardless, though, I had a really amazing chat with Gavin, even with the whining dogs (mine, not his), and the telephones ringing in the background (again, mine, not his ;). I learned some cool stuff about how similar, and yet, different our lives are, and Gavin is going to try pressure canning, and perhaps, I should be working a little harder on honing my cheese-making skill ;).

Gavin posted the podcast of our chat on his blog. If you're interested, hop over and have a listen, and while you're there, be sure to check out what he's doing. He just built a masonry pizza oven to-die-for, and his Cluckingham Palace is pretty darned cool :).

As for me, I just want to say a hearty THANKS! to Gavin for taking time out of his Saturday morning to talk to me ... and keep an eye on the mailbox ;).

Great podcast by Chris Martenson Featuring Joel Salatin

In this amazing podcast, Chris Martenson interviews Joel Salatin. Mr. Salatin states exactly what I've believed for some time - that much of our modern "illness" is a direct result of the food we are putting into our bodies.

Mr. Salatin quotes Sir Albert Howard, who said in 1943, that when we start using artificial manures (chemical fertilizers), we get artificial plants, which creates artificial animals, resulting in artificial humans who need artificial substances (drugs) to keep them alive. Mr. Salatin goes further to state that with our massive pharmaceutical industry we have reached that point.

One of my favorite quotes from the interview was We live in strange days when Coca-Cola, Cocoa Puffs and Twinkies are considered safe food, but raw milk, compost-grown tomatoes and Aunt Matilda's pickles are considered hazardous substances. It's very sad, to me, that home-canning is considered radical and dangerous and there are all sorts of cautions against it, but there are no warning labels on the processed food from the grocery.

And, worse, even with all of the food poisoning that so often makes headlines, we still believe that our industrial food complex is safe and that the USDA and the other "food safety" governmental regulatory agencies will keep us from getting sick. I actually laughed, out loud, when Mr. Salatin was describing how, for thirty years, he and farmers like him, were wined and dined by the government organizations that presented volumes of scientific data to show that feeding livestock the by-products of the butchering industry was perfectly safe. Mr. Salatin says he never believed it, and never did it, because there is no natural model that shows herbivores eating carrion. Thirty years later, we have diseases, like Mad Cow, and the scientists are saying, "Guess we shouldn't oughta've done that." It was the irony of that statement that made me laugh. Guess we shouldn't oughta've ....

The most stark and frightening proclamation he makes is to question whether a culture that has more prison inmates than farmers can even survive - especially as our cheap energy resources are depleted.

What's wonderful is that Mr. Salatin has a solution to our energy woes, and it's all about community, but it's also about doing what you can with what you have where you are. He says that there is no one-size-fits-all, and that we need to be able to work within our own, individual infrastructure.

Which is exactly what I've been saying about our suburbs, and what works for me, in Maine, may not be what works for someone in Alabama or Arizona - but the fact is that none of us have to be tied to or dependent on the grid.

It's a great podcast, and I'm looking forward to getting a copy of Mr. Salatin's upcoming book: Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

Friday, September 2, 2011

{this moment]

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