Monday, October 31, 2011

Learning to Love My Dish Pan Hands

On August 29, 2011, Hurricane Irene made its way into Maine causing severe damage and widespread power outages throughout the Northeast.

Fast forward two months and a freak Nor'easter dumps several inches of snow across New England causing some damage and widespread power outages.

Preparedness isn't just about getting ready for the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. It's also about being prepared to live without some of the modern conveniences we take for granted ... when stuff just like what's happened twice now (in as many months) happens.

At my place, we lost power for a very short duration - both times. In fact, in this recent weather event, we lost power during the middle of the night, and I didn't even know it was off until Big Little Sister told me the next morning. I just quipped, "No wonder I slept so well."

For my family the initial issue during a power outage is the loss of our computers, (but since we now have the ability to generate a small amount of electricity, that's no longer an issue). The big issue, however, is the loss of our freezer, where a lot of our food is still stored.

Neither of these two things are life-threatening losses, however, because we don't need the computers to survive, and we wouldn't, necessarily, lose all of the food. Worst case, we'd build a fire in the pit outside and start pressure canning the food that's in the freezer.

Living where I do, losing power seems to not be such a rare occurence, and I don't know how it is for other folks, but because it seems to happen (even just for short periods of time) with such frequency, I've tried to make changes to my life to make me less dependent on having electricity.

And it's not just less dependent in a "we can get through this" kind of way, but less dependent in a "we don't use that in every day life anyway" kind of way. I've tried to take as much of the electricity-dependence out of our lives as possible, and replacing those things with non-electric options - like the woodstove for heating and the clothesline for drying our clothes.

I was talking with a friend yesterday, who said she'd stopped using her dishwasher, but found that doing dishes was a huge chore. I don't disagree with her. In fact, the reason we have a dishwasher at all (and ours is an apartment-sized portable dishwasher, because our kitchen was too small and too quirky - the counters aren't standard height - for a built-in dishwasher) is that when I was pregnant with Precious, and we had four other children here, for a total of six, almost seven, people living in our house, I decided that keeping up with dishes for that many people, plus a cloth-diapered baby, would be too much of a chore for me. My friend said the same thing - that she felt like she was always doing dishes.

Now, several years later, we no longer use cloth diapers, and two of my children are grown and out of the house. We're down to just five of us ... all of whom are big enough and old enough to help with the dishes, and so in my house, it was time to let that appliance go.

To cut down on the number of dishes and the time-consuming task of trying to keep them all clean, we've designated a special cup, bowl and plate for each person, and when it's time to eat, we use only our special cup, bowl or plate. If it's dirty, we wash it, instead of getting a clean one from the cabinet.

Recently, my girls and I visited the York Museum and had the opportunity to share in the responsibility of preparing and then eating a hearth-cooked meal - like what would have been prepared back during Colonial times here in New England. At the end of the meal, a large metal bowl was filled with hot water, and we all brought our plates up one at a time, scraped what food (if any) was left on the plate into a compost bucket and then washed our plate and cup - with just hot water and a stiff-brush scrubber.

Even very young children can be taught to do this task - if the plate is non-breakable. We used metal (probably tin) plates at the museum. In her book, Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life, Jean Hay Bright describes having dinner with the Nearings the first time they met. Jean and her companion were instructed to pick from the wooden bowls hanging on the wall, and with some degree of trepidation, they did as they were asked. The question "how clean is that bowl?" was looming in their minds. After dinner, in answer to their question, they observed Helen Nearing simply scraping and rinsing the bowls in hot water ... and then, putting them back on the wall.

What Jean and her companion discovered later, though, was that wood is naturally anti-bacterial. A further study (aimed at the food service industry, but the results of which are applicable to a home setting) showed that ceramic dishes are also less likely to harbor harmful bacteria *compared to steel eating utensils and plastic dishes.

We still wash our dishes in soapy water and rinse in hot water, but it's nice to know that I don't have to spend all day long doing dishes, and neither do I have to rely on a dishwasher to make the task easier for me. I can fill a sink with dishwashing water and have my girls wash a couple of dishes each, and then, finish up the rest of them myself.

Or we can do, like the Nearings, switch to all wooden dishes, just make sure all of the food (where the bacteria would grow anyway) is off the dishes, give them a good rinse, and leave it at that.

The learning curve for living without time-saving appliances can be a little steep. It certainly has been for me, but at some point, it becomes just the way we do things, and then, when the power goes out, not having that appliance isn't a big deal, because we didn't use it anyway.

In the end, that's what preparedness really is about - not storing up a bunch of really cool gadgets, just in case, but rather knowing that one's life and comfort isn't dependent on something that can simply wink out without so much as a by-your-leave.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Going Off-Grid - A Little At a Time

Today's Wyvern Academy project included doing some rearranging. The bookshelf needed to be on the other wall so that this:

could be powered by this:

And then, just so that it seemed more like an actual "school" project, the girls alphabetized all of their DVDs ;).

*Edited to add*: We're still figuring out all of the quirks with the bike generator and haven't set it into full use, but we received our most recent eletric bill. We used 305 kwh - down an average of 3 kwh/day from last month. What changed? We started using an electric tea kettle to heat up water for tea instead of using the burner on the stove-top. Such a little thing - such a huge difference.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spinning Back the Clock as We Move Forward

To say that I'm a history buff would probably not be entirely accurate. I love historical fiction - always have (in fact, when I was a youngster one of my favorite novels was Calico Captive), but I don't study history for the sake of studying history, and I am not the very model of a modern Major-General and I do not know the Kings of England, nor can I quote the fights historical.

Of late, I've become fascinated even more with historical stories - not because I like living in the past, but rather because I am fascinated by how people lived. How did they manage to survive without grocery stores and cars? What did people do before there was Dancing with the Stars on television for entertainment?

Last week, my girls and I visited the York Museum in York, Maine. It is a restored 18th Century Tavern, and they demonstrated such skills as hearth cooking, sewing, and carding/spinning/weaving wool (and, now, Little Fire Faery wants spinning equipment for Christmas ;). They also showed us some 18th Century games (Nine Men Morris, which I actually mention in my book ;), and finally, we went out to the graveyard for story time.

What was fascinating (and revealing, if we let it be) is the fact that adults didn't really die young back in those days. The infant/child mortality rate was fairly high, and childhood - as we think of it today - was essentially non-existent, but as one of the museum personalities told us, if one lived to adolescence, the life expectancy was then pretty high, and if one looks at older gravestones, one sees that three out of five people lived to be older than 70. Because the life expectancy for a child under the age of twelve was so low, the overall life expectancy during that time seems low to us.

Today, most of us expect to live into our seventies, and most of us probably will, but I think a lot more adults are dying a lot younger than was true back in the 18th Century.

A few years ago, PBS aired a program called Colonial House. The goal of the experiment was to show what life was like back in colonial times starring people who were accustomed to 20th Century luxuries.

After the program aired, the houses the producers had built at their Maine location were dismantled and moved to Plimoth Plantation - which is a historic reproduction of a 17th Century Village in Massachusetts.

I haven't had the opportunity to visit Plimoth Plantation (yet), but looking at the pictures, I was struck by how similar that little village is ... to my modern suburb.

The houses were a little (okay, a LOT) less flashy and considerably smaller, and the furnishings are a lot more sparse and not so lavish, but the houses are built fairly close together with small "kitchen gardens" (where herbs and greens would have been grown - with the main food crops grown in a community garden just outside of the village proper). Small livestock, like chickens and pigs, would be closer to the homes, in the "yards", and larger livestock would be on communal pastures.

The colonists would have made good use of what nature provided, including what was in the ocean or nearby streams, or in the woods, and (at least in the beginning) they would have been heavily dependent on the local Natives for food and skill-building.

There were things about life back in those days that were, admittedly, difficult, and I'm not trying to romanticize what life was like. It was tough - cold and gritty are two words that come to mind.

My goal, therefore, is not to say that their life was better than the lives we have today, but rather to point out that it probably wasn't as bad as we think. Further, if we take some lessons from them, our chances of surviving into a future where we find ourselves with a lot fewer choices ... a lot LESS than we have ... are better.

We have something here in the suburbs that no civilization before us has had, and I don't think that most of us realize how incredible it is. For the first time, in history, we can all be "Lords", or landowners. We may only have this tiny piece of land, but it's ours, and never before has this been true.

We have, for the first time in human history, the opportunity to create communities in which we are all, by virtue of the fact that we are all landowners, equal.

But it's only possible, because of the suburbs.

As we slide further into resource depletion, one Peak Oil expert tells us that we have two options - find a way to purchase a rural parcel of land or live in an urban area, more likely than not, a slum.

I submit that we have a third option, the option most Peak Oilers want to discount, and that is, we stay in the suburbs and we make our suburbs like our colonial towns - (mostly) self-sufficient collections of interdependent homesteads.

My family and I are continuing to learn colonial, pioneer, homesteading (whatever you want to call them) skills. We do more by hand. We grow/raise and forage more of our food. In fact, my girls are now compiling their gift-giving lists for this year, and nothing on the list is a "bought" item, but rather they are planning what they can make.

I went to some friends' house the other day. They live in a very modern suburb and have a beautiful home. The yard was a gorgeous spanse of green grass - just begging for a couple of fruit or nut trees, and along the border of their yard, would be a perfect place for a split rail fence on which a grapevine would trail nicely, and there was still plenty of room for a couple of garden beds. Worstcase, their very long driveway was perfect for a few growing containers.

The huge, two-car garage could easily house a home business.

Inside, they had wide-pine flooring (I swooned!). Their fireplace had an honest-to-goodness hearth - perfect for cooking -, but they were already set-up with an efficient cooking system - a propane cooktop with an energy-efficient convection oven ... certainly not "low" energy, but lower in overall energy consumption than, perhaps, the average suburban range (and during a power-outage, assuming they had propane, they could still cook - even if it were too warm for a fire in the fireplace).

As for the layout of their home, they could easily close off access to the upstairs bedrooms in the winter to conserve heat, especially if they ended up having to sleep near the fireplace.

Retrofitting the suburbs to a lower energy future is really no more complicated than thinking beyond what they are to what they can become. When I look at pictures of colonial villages, I see a suburb, and when I look at pictures of our modern suburbs with the huge houses and wide expanses of grassy lawn, I see a future village.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One Potato, Two Potato

Deus Ex Machina was telling me the other day that he read an article stating that Congress was contemplating a bill to ban all potato products from school lunches. The concern is that our school children are obese and that the culprit is potatoes.

The Senators from the few potato growing States (including Maine), of course, took umbrage with this proposal and fought against it (I think Deus Ex Machina said they won and the Bill was overturned).

I don't think potatoes are the culprit in our country's health problems, and in fact, at least where I come from, potatoes have been a dietary staple for hundreds of years. While there have been some recent attempts to vilify the lowly potato, there's a lot more evidence to suggest grains, like corn (see The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan), or an overuse of wheat-based products (see any discussion on gluten sensitivity), are actually much worse, and much more culpable in the growing obesity epidemic that is sweeping our country.

This Bill is just one more example of the federal government overstepping its bounds. It's a mistake, and we, our farmers, our schools, and our children will suffer if laws like this are permitted to go through.

In fact, we should be looking the whole school lunch program, and if we think it was some effort to make sure kids are eating nutritious meals, I think we're grossly mistaken (does anyone remember the attempts to label ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches?). It was, and is, and will always be, about money.

It has its origins in a program that wasn't, necessarily, about feeding kids, but rather the program was established as a way to prop up food prices by absorbing farm surpluses. In essence, the food served to school children since the National School Lunch Act was passed back in the 1940s is the extra stuff that farmers couldn't sell to the general public, and so to keep farmers in business, the federal government bought the food and served it to our children. It's not good enough for the grocery stores, but plenty good enough to feed our kids ... and our soldiers, because it's the same food they serve in the mess halls.


I like to think that the federal government wanted to start controlling the potato growers and the potato growers told them to stick a hot one up [edited for family friendly content] ... ;), and so in retaliation, some [edited for family friendly content] in Washington decided to pass a bill that would prevent that one crop from being served in school lunchrooms.

I don't know that that's how it happened, but what I do know is that I'm a potato eater. I like potatoes. They're easy to grow. They're incredibly versatile. They store well.

And they're actually pretty good for us - high in Vitamin C, with Vitamin A, calcium and iron, and contain protein and dietary fiber. Compare that to wheat. Worse, wheat requires a good deal more energy to process to make it edible for humans, and it requires a good deal more land to grow an equivalent amount.

If I had to choose between wheat and potatoes, I'll take my potato - thank you very much.

In fact, for lunch today at the Wyvern Academy (our "exclusive, all-girls -home- school"), we had potatoes in a show of support to the potato growers of Maine. There is at least one *school* where the lunch program isn't dictated by government surplus.

And my girls relished every bite.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Living Local - Green Tea Substitute (finally!)

Deus Ex Machina and I attended a workshop on "Natural Healing with Medicinal Teas." It was a great lot of information, and I was very impressed with the presenters.

I came away with some very exciting information, though - not because I now have the outline for "curing" just about whatever ails us using herbs (many of which I'm already growing, or have access to in my local area), but because I was given an ingredient that can be used as a substitute for the green tea I so love, but have been trying to wean myself from.


They grow prolifically - everywhere, and, unlike some mushrooms, are easy to identify. None of them are poisonous - although it would be tough to eat most of them (because they're so *tough* ;)).

So, we came home and made a blend of chaga, sage and lavendar. It's delicious, and while I'm using it today medicinally, because someone gave me a cold, it's a keeper and could be my every-day-substitute-for-green-tea.

The best part: it's 100% local - right down to the sweetner, which is honey ;).

Oh, and free, because I don't have to buy chaga. I can go and find it ;).

Monday, October 17, 2011


The thermostat in the hallway says the temperature in my house is around 65°.

We haven't started the woodstove, yet. Those of you who've been following my blog for any length of time know that we heat with wood, and that even though we still have an oil-burning furnace in the house, it hasn't been used in more than three years, and we haven't had an oil delivery since 2008. The oil tank is still half full.

I would be lying if I said that I didn't feel cold, because I am chilly most of the time, and some days I don't warm up until I go to bed. In fact, as I'm sitting here writing these words, I'm wrapped in a fleece blanket. The dog is snuggling under my daughter's hoodie on the couch. Even the cat has been looking for a warm place to snuggle, and he's discovered that the Internet router and WiFi are warm. He's been sleeping there a lot over the last few days.

We feel a little chilly, sure, but 65° - even the low of 60° we had the other day - isn't cold enough to do any damage to either us or the house. So, until the house temperature gets and stays below 60°, I don't plan to fire up the woodstove. There's no need.

Some time last year, I started participating in John Michael Greer's Green Wizard project. Much of what he recommended, I'm already doing, and so the project really has just been a continuation of the way we live anyway.

The one homework assignment I most enjoyed, though, was the one where we had to take a very close look at all of the ways heat comes into and goes out of our houses.

My house is a bit quirky. It's not an "old" house, although there are some parts of it that pre-date World War II. It started much smaller than it is now, and has been expanded several times. In the more than a decade we've lived here, we've discovered some rather unsettling things about the house with the worst being that we had lived here for eight years, never realizing that there was no insulation above the kitchen nor above the room where the furnace was located, and that the uninsulated duct work went right up into the uninsulated ceiling. Goodness knows how much oil and electricity we burned over those eight years trying to make a Maine winter day outside warmer :).

I liked the exercise, because it made me think, and then, as I made my lists, I had one of those "duh!" moments where something I've always known suddenly became abundantly clear.

What I've always known is that electrical appliances give off a great deal of heat - I mean a LOT of heat, but because their purpose is not to provide heat, we don't usually think of them in that way.

I've done a lot of posts over the years about heating our homes in a lower energy society, and my suggestions and comments have always been based on the assumption that having no heat in our house is a direct result of having no electricity, but what if that weren't true? What if, we didn't have heat, because we couldn't put oil or propane in the tank, and we had no wood burning stove?

According to the Portland Press Herald website, it's 52° outside right now. Before the sun rises tomorrow, the temperature will dip into the low 40's, but the temperature in my house will not drop below 60°.

We have two things going for us. The first is that our house, after years of taking corrective action, is pretty well insulated. There are certainly some areas where we could do a lot better, and that's definitely the plan, but compared to what it was (and compared to some of the stories we hear about other people's houses in our area), our home is in pretty good shape.

Because our house is pretty well insulated, the temperature tends not to fluctuate too wildly. In the summer, the temperature inside tends to stay right around 75° - that's without air conditioning. This time of year, when the days are in the 60s and the nights are in the 40's, our home stays right in the 62° range. That's without any heat.

But is it?

The thing is, like most modern American homes, we have a few heat producing appliances. In fact, anything that plugs into an outlet will throw off some heat.

I already mentioned the Internet router and WiFi that the cat sleeps on. It doesn't put out a lot of heat, but if it and I were in a small room, we would raise the temperature of that room, compared to a room next door that had no appliances or people.

So, let's imagine that we're getting ready for winter. We have suddenly realized that we can't afford to completely fill our oil tank. We might be able to afford some oil, but, at best, the thermostat will be set at its lowest setting, which for us is 50°.

It will be cold at that temperature, for sure, but it will be warm enough to keep the pipes from bursting (and in a cold climate, in a modern home, the biggest worry when it comes to facing a winter without heat, should not be that *we* will get cold, but rather that no heat, means that we might end up with burst pipes, which would be a very bad thing), and despite what we might think when we're sitting at the computer in a house that's only 50°, we can't freeze to death at that temperature - as long as we're dry and out of the wind.

There are a number of things we can do to keep ourselves warm. The first is the same advice I've always - and will always - give: Get Smaller! When we were taking our survival skills classes the first thing we learned was how to build a debris hut. A debris hut is a very small, one-person cover. It's, basically, a stick frame that's covered with "debris" - i.e. leaves and twigs, etc. A properly constructed debris hut will keep the person inside warm and dry, even on the worst weather days, and, yes, even in the coldest temperatures. It stays warm using the person's own body heat.

If we take that example into our homes, the first thing we'll do when facing a winter with no or with very little heat is to move the family into as few rooms as is possible, and close off the rest of the rooms. It's much easier to heat a small space than it is a large one.

Second, insulate. Insulate. Insulate. Insulate. Yes, go to the home improvement store and buy that pink stuff - or the eco-friendly stuff, or whatever. But make sure, at least, the ceiling has the minimum R-value for the region where you live. If possible, double the R-value recommendation.

Of course, if the reason one is looking at a heatless winter has to do with the cost of oil, buying insulation is probably not likely either. In that case, the fastest and easiest way to get some benefit from insulation is to put heavy blankets over the walls, windows and doors.

And let me just say that I know how effective the very simple, blanket over the door trick is. In my house, we have rather leaky doors, and during the winter, after the sun goes down, we drape blankets over the doors. These aren't, necessarily heavy blankets, either, just blankets. One morning, after a particularly frigid night, when Deus Ex Machina was getting ready to leave for work, we took the blanket down, and there was a thin crust of ice on the door.

So, get smaller, and put layers of blankets over doors and windows.

Next would be to move as many as possible of those heat-producing appliances into the rooms/areas where the family will be spending most of their time. A small room with several computers will be a few degrees warmer. An enclosed kitchen with a fridge and an oven (that's recently been used for baking would be even better!) will be pretty warm.

If there's a basement, it might just be worth it to move everyone down there. The basement will always stay 55° - even without heat.

Last month, Deus Ex Machina and I took the girls up the coast to visit one of the sites where natives in this part of the country spent part of their year. We had a tour of the area and saw some of the kinds of housing structures they lived in. It was one of those chilly, rainy fall days that Maine (and Scotland) are famous for, and standing in the rain, looking at those flimsy structures, one of the kids asked, "How did they stay warm?"

Which is a totally logical question, given that the natives in this area lived in wigwams, which were, essentially, bark covered, chinked, wood-framed structures with no insulation.

Our guide talked about how they had a fire in the wigwam and the fact that the doors were really tiny, "But really," he told us, "They just got used to the cold."

And that's the part that we simply can't seem to do - acclimate ourselves to the changing seasons.

Deus Ex Machina and I have discussed on several occasions recently the best timing for our first fire. We're trying to make sure we have enough wood to get through the whole winter. Last year was a hard lesson - and we were really lucky. So, in the interest of conserving our wood supply, we've decided that our first fire will not be until the night temperatures are below freezing for three consecutive nights.

According to the weather forecasts, the next several nights will be in the 40's. Looks like Mr. Pumpkin is going to be cuddling the router for another week, at least ;).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Holy Cow! I'm On TeeVee!

I was honored this past summer with an opportunity to chat with local television anchor, Lee Nelson. Our interview appeared as part of the Morning Report today and is available for viewing on the WCSH Channel 6 website.

Many thanks to Lee for taking time out of his busy day to chat with me; to his co-anchor Sharon Rose, who helped me set it all up; and to the Morning Report producer, Michael Kmack, who made it all happen!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

With a Twinkle in His Eye ...

While I was fixing our Sunday Brunch, Deus Ex Machina was standing in the kitchen with me discussing his plans for the day. He said, "I need to dump the ash in that bottle and if there are crystals, I'll save them."

I said, "You didn't pee in that bottle of ash, did you?"

He just grinned - with a twinkle in his eye.

For those who don't know, woodash + urine = salt peter, which can be used to make matches ;).

Productive Days on the Old Homestead

It was a gorgeous and incredibly productive weekend here on our homestead.

Deus Ex Machina and I (finally) foraged wild apples - something we've been talking about doing for weeks, and it was starting to look like we were all talk and no action. Saturday, while we were doing errands anyway, we made a special trip to a local nature preserve that was once part of a farm. Former Maine farmland always means there are apple trees, and this place is no exception.

And there's a lot of former farmland in Maine. When we're driving from here to there, on our regular rounds, we started noticing, along the side of the roads, apple trees - EVERYWHERE! Our favorite, though, has to be the ones behind the Goodwill drop-off, and those were, in fact, the first ones we ever foraged from, and the ones that gave us the idea to forage wild apples for our cider this year.

At the end of the day, we had foraged (in about two hours' time) thirty-three pounds of apples. It was a good day.

The best part is the reminder of what an amazingly bountiful place we live in.

Unfortunately, we didn't get around to turning the apples into cider, but we were able to accomplish a few other preserving sorts of things.

And we started cleaning up some of the garden beds and getting them ready for winter.

I harvested the last of my bucket potatoes. We harvested the scarlet runner beans and the field corn.

We're planning to use the old chicken coop as a greenhouse this winter for growing some winter greens. Our first attempt will be growing just a few things in the EarthBoxes. It'll be fun to have fresh greens during the winter, and if it works well, then, we'll have fresh salad greens earlier in the spring.

Now just to set aside time to get it all done ....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Eggs from my backyard chickens and potatoes from my bucket garden ... fried.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Final Countdown?

Three years ago, in the fall 2008, I participated in a twenty-one day challenge. The object was to pretend that we had twenty-ones days to prepare for the end of the world as we know it. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because last year, I embarked on a writing project that would result in my recently published book, in which I imagined that we knew the world as we know it would end in twenty-one days, and I discussed what I thought we, suburbanites (in particular), could do to mitigate the damage that would occur to us when the economy and our way of life ceased to be.

A few days ago I met a man who has been a reader of my blog for a very long time, and he picked up a copy of my book, which he asked me to sign for him. We had the opportunity to chat for a bit before Deus Ex Machina and I had to run off to our acting class, and he said something to me that was a little disturbing.

He was trying to imagine what it must be like for me to see my predictions come true.

I'd never quite thought of things that way. In fact, I don't think I ever really make predictions. Mostly, what I've done is connect dots. I read an article here, and an article there, and watch a few news clips or video clips, read a few blogs, read lots of books, and then, I put it all together and see how it's all connected.

Some people believe in the use of divination tools, like Tarot cards. I think such things are fascinating, but what I think most people don't understand is that these tools don't predict the future. What they do is to provide a glimpse of a possible future if the person who is asking continues to make the choices that he/she has been making.

That's what, I think, I do. I just point out what I see happening based on the picture that's formed from all of the stuff I read, and then, I imagine what will happen if people keep making the same choices.

In the case of TEOTWAWKI, I think people make it too easy to make predictions, because most people simply don't wish to change - or worse, they see no reason to make any changes, because *someone* will make things better. I just like to question that supposition. Maybe someone will, but what if no one does? What are we to do, then?

This gathering, sorting and reorganizing of information is a skill I learned in college, when I had to write papers. I had to come up with a thesis, and then, I had to prove my thesis using resources that supported my ideas.

This time, though, there are too many resources and a vast sea of information in support of my thesis that our way of life is coming to a crashing halt. In fact, for many people, the world as [they knew] it has already ended, and they're living in ways they never envisioned themselves as living.

But, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Fast forward to just recently, and Deus Ex Machina and I and our girls had the good fortune to be able to take a class taught by a native Passamaquoddy in our area. It was fascinating, and we even learned to etch designs on birch bark. This man told us that when he was in school and his guidance counselor asked him what he wanted to do, he said, "Build birch bark canoes." The counselor told him he was crazy, that his dreams were impractical, and I imagine that this thoughtful, articulate, and charismatic man was encouraged to do something that was more "culturally" responsible. I imagine that he was encouraged to do something, like, go to college and get a degree that would help him make money so that he could support himself.

I don't know what he did in those early days, but what I do know is that he is, now, a master birch bark canoe builder, and all of his canoes are hand built using the old ways.

Sometimes what we imagine is *the* best way to live is, in fact, not where we really want (or need) to be at all, but we've bought into the whole notion that we have to do A, B, and/or C.

I saw a facebook status recently in which the person said, in essence, "if the Occupy Wallstreeters had their way, we'd all be living in mud huts." I almost commented that it's not what they wish, but what they fear, if things don't change. In fact, there will be many of us who will be lucky to have the warmth and security of a mud hut. Others won't live in such luxury. Cardboard is a lot easier to come by, but not nearly as insulative or sturdy.

Gerard Celente, who is making predictions and who has a very good track record with regard to his predictions coming true, believes that the crash will happen *this month* - as in October 2011. He says we are (and have been for some time) in a Depression - the likes of which have never been seen before, and that this Depression will be far worse than anything anyone experienced in the 1930s. He says the reasons are that in the 30's the debt to income ratio was much lower, and very few people had a mortgage, and no one had credit cards. The combination of rising fuel prices (resulting in rising food prices), increased unemployment, and high debt will force us into depths we never thought possible.

If he's right, perhaps we have twenty-one days to prepare.

The question is, what will you do?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

100 Reasons to Eat Local - Reason #2

... because time may heal all wounds, but it also allows foodborne pathogens to be fruitful and multiply.

I hadn't intended for this to be a series, and really, the first time I posted this title it was just, kind of, me being silly. Two things happened. The first was that some of the people who commented on the first post brought up a really good point: all food is local to somewhere and even local food can be contaminated with potential pathogens - and that's absolutely true.

The second thing that happened was an article I found entitled The Long Road from Farm to Fork Worsens Food Outbreaks. As the article points out: local food can be contaminated, but what's also absolutely true is that the likelihood of getting sick from those pathogens is significantly reduced the fresher the food is.

Let's take eggs for example.

Salmonella is a bacteria that is naturally occurring in a chicken's intestines. What that means is that if you have chicken poop, you probably have salmonella. Those who are more educated on chicken anatomy know that the egg exits the chicken's body in, roughly, the same region as the poop. As such, there is a chance that the egg will come in contact with the feces, and thus, the bacteria.

Salmonella can not survive in high temperatures, and so thoroughly cooking the egg is usually enough to kill the bacteria and prevent illness.

What isn't discussed enough, however is that the older the egg, the higher the concentration of bacteria. In the US, we refrigerate our eggs, which retards bacterial growth, but it doesn't stop it. Every day that the egg sits in the refrigerator increases the number of bacteria that may be in the egg.

The US standard for handling eggs is that it's "fresh" for up to forty-five days if it's been refrigerated. In Europe, the standard is twenty-one days, unrefrigerated.

Eggs also have a protective coating when they come out of the chicken. This coating helps to keep the bacteria from entering the porous shell. Washing the egg removes that protective coating and increases the likelihood that bacteria will get into the egg.

In the US, all eggs are washed. In Europe, they are not.

We live with bacteria and potentially lethal pathogens all around us. It's a fact of life, and we're not going to be able to sanitize the entire world. In fact, there is a significant amount of research to suggest that being "too clean" is just as unhealthy as not being clean enough. Like most things, there's a happy medium.

With our food, the happy medium is to consume it or preserve it when it is at its freshest, which means we want to use it as quickly as we can after it has been harvested. Doing so reduces the amount of time the pathogen has to multiply, and when it comes to foodborne pathogens, more is defintely NOT better. A few bacteria might not kill you, but thousands may, and the longer it takes that spinach (or pepper or tomato or cantaloupe or [fill in the name of recently contaminated produce]) to get to us, the higher the bacterial count and the more likely we will get sick.

In short, while it may be true that my local farmer is just as likely to have potentially harmful pathogens in his fields, if I buy and use that produce quickly, the chance that it will make me sick is significantly reduced.

By contrast, if I purchase spring mix that was grown in California, trucked to a processing plant where it is rinsed and bagged, and then trucked a distribution center where it's put on refrigerator trucks and transported across the country to Maine, any pathogen that made it into that bag has now had the ideal conditions under which to multiply.

The most virulent of foodborne pathogens - and the home canners nemesis - is Botulism. Ideal conditions for this pathogen to grow are low oxygen and low acid, and so even if the jar seems tightly sealed, the pathogen may be growing in the jar. This is why home canners have to be extremely vigilant and careful - to make sure the jar is sealed, to make sure the food that's canned is fresh to begin with, to make sure that all of the jars, lids and utensils are clean, and to carefully label all of the jars so that they can be used in a reasonable time frame.

My local farmer may not be any more careful than some commercial farmer out West when it comes to ensuring that the food is contaminant free, but when I eliminate miles, extra processing centers, and time, I reduce the likelihood of getting sick from a foodborne pathogen ...

... which makes eating local a safer option, even if the farmer uses composted sewer sludge on his field.