Thursday, March 29, 2012

The New Dozen

We picked up our first batch of meat birds today. They're about two weeks later than we expected, but that's okay. We have about three weeks until we will be picking up the next dozen.

Day old chicks are cute, no matter what kind of birds they are, and these guys are no exception.

Which, unfortunately, makes my girls want to immediately name them. I said they could, as long as they picked from the list below:

Nugget, Pattie, Roastie, Pie, Dinnah, Suppah, Entree, Fricassee, Cacciatore, Buffalo, Ginger, Barbie-Q, Cordon Bleu, Teri-Yaki, and Parmesan ;).

It's important to keep things in perspective.

Health Care Reform: Is This Deja Vu?

Three years ago our Congress passed a law that, essentially, laid the foundation that would require every American citizen to purchase a private health care plan. Yes, there were choices, including the option of signing up for the government subsidized plan, and those who couldn't afford any plan at all, would be given (the same) State/Federal Aid (they have now).

In the text of the law, the onus for providing health insurance was placed in the laps of employers (which may result in the unintended consequence of increasing unemployment). As for those with no job, please see above re: government subsidized plans.

I came out against the plan. I read the document (Yes, Justice Scalia, I read the entire document, and as a Supreme Justice, is YOUR job, especially if you intend to pass judgment on the constitutionality of this law), and there were a lot of things in it that made my hackles rise.

The line that was fed to the public was that this law would reform health care by making it more affordable, but that's not what the law would do, at all. The truth is slightly different. From what I read, the only thing it did was require that every American have some sort of health insurance coverage.

**Please read this very carefully**: The law didn't change the cost of the care that would be provided. It would still COST the same to get an MRI as it does now. The difference is that the hospitals and health care providers wouldn't have to deal with uninsured patients, because no one would be uninsured. It also didn't change how doctors treat patients. It didn't change the pharmaceutical companies' financial influence on the health care providers (check out the link to find out which pharmaceutical companies are paying your doctor ... and how much. Then, ask yourself which drugs your doctor has tried to prescribe for you, and who manufactures them).

As I said from the beginning, the Health Care Reform didn't change anything about our current health care practices. It only changed who paid for it.

Perhaps the goal of Congress was to force the health insurance companies to play ball, but in our corporate-centric, money-ruled society, it's not possible to force these guys to do anything they don't want to do, and somewhere in the drafting of this new law, our leaders realized that they are not as in charge as, perhaps, they thought they were.

So, in order to compel insurance companies to agree to change their existing practices (i.e. premium prices for those who are healthier and the pre-existing condition clause that prohibits some people from getting insurance at all), Congress had to promise the insurance companies some sort of quid pro quo. This was it, and the agreement went something like: if you agree to have some sort of policy for everyone, at a reasonable price, we'll agree to make it mandatory for everyone to have a policy.

So, the x million of very healthy Americans who currently don't pay for health insurance (because they don't feel they need it, and even if they had it, wouldn't use it, because they are healthy and don't need to go and see a doctor) would be funneling thousands of dollars into the pockets of the insurance companies so that this other person who is chronically ill would now be eligible to get insurance coverage regardless of her pre-exixting conditions ... and it wouldn't cost the health insurance companies anything, extra.

And guess who is paying for all of this?

Well, you are, if you're healthy ... and employed.

I don't think there will ever be a perfect system, and no law will ever make health care completely equal. Those with money will always be able to afford premium care, and those without money will be stuck with what they can get.

But let me be completely clear: I'm not against health care for everyone. I'm not even against a free-for-all government-run program. I could even be okay with system that was based on a sliding-scale for ability to pay for services. What I'd most like to see is a complete transformation of our system so that pharmaceutical companies are prohibited from giving doctors free samples and back-door payments in exchange for dispensing - often not fully tested, but FDA-approved nonetheless - drugs to their patients, and a system that stresses preventative care in the form of lifestyle changes rather than a concentration on curing diseases after they occur.

What I'm NOT for is a LAW that forces me, as a private citizen, to pay a private company for a service.

The law was passed in 2009, but wouldn't take full effect for a few years. Since its passing several States have determined that it is unconstitutional and are challenging the Federal government's right to impose this sort of broad-sweeping requirement (because it will also affect the States' budgets - and many of them simply do not have the money to spare for this program).

The Supreme Court is, now (took long enough), reviewing the law, and it's back in the news.

Personally, I hope the whole thing is scrapped, and that lawmakers are forced to start again. Maybe, this time, they'll come up with something that can be enforced and is fair to the majority instead of pandering to the monied corporations.

And, maybe, the new law could be very clear and very concise, and about one-tenth its current length, so that the average Joe (and Chief Justice Scalia) could actually read it and know what he's being forced to do.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Surprised Myself

It's amazing what one can do when one takes the can't out of the picture.

I told Deus Ex Machina this morning that I couldn't split the wood, but then, we ran out of split wood for the fire in the house.

Guess what I CAN do?

The Oven Broke? Make Apple Pie

It was 8:00 PM. Dinner (roast chicken, baked potatoes, homecanned pickles and home-canned peaches) had been cooked and enjoyed, and all that was left was to do the dishes.

Big Little Sister said, "I want pie."

To which Deus Ex Machina quipped, "Three-point-one-four-one-five-nine-two-six-five?"

"No," she says. "Pie. Like apple-pie."

Ordinarily, even at eight o'clock at night, that wouldn't really be so much to worry about, especially in our on-demand culture. We had all of the ingredients, and it was just a matter of putting them together and popping the pie in the (electric) oven. But the other day, when I turned on the oven to preheat it for granola, the heating element caught fire, and then, we saw blue sparks. The oven was toast. So, no baking.

Except ...

We have the kind of lifestyle here in our house where there's often another option when the stuff of "modern-life" fails us. The piece-of-crap electric stove fizzles out? Use the castiron dutch oven on the woodstove!

And that's what we did.

Big Little Sister cut up apples and filled a pie shell, and then, we put the pie into the dutch oven. It cooked overnight, and they're having apple pie for breakfast.

And, then, we went one step further. We made whipped cream for the pie.

Little Fire Faery scooped the cream off the top of the raw milk. I added the powdered sugar that Deus Ex Machina made the other day and whipped it. Yes, in fact, you did read that correctly. Deus Ex Machina made powdered sugar. Using a mortar and pestle, he ground the cane sugar we buy into a fine, white powder.

It's a misconception that preparedness means getting ready for some catastrophic event. Every day, there are little things that happen that throw the balance of our days off-kilter - like the heating element going out on our oven.

The stove top still works, and there are a lot of options for cooking food on the stove. Or, in a pinch, we could pick-up take-out, but the oven is going to be out of commission for at least a week, and it's comforting to know that it doesn't have to be a hardship. Last night, for dinner, we roasted chicken on the grill outside (over woodchips - so it was "smoked" flavored ... yum! yum!), we "baked" potatoes in the woodstove, and we opened a couple of jars of last summer ;).

And, then, Big Little Sister made pie ... on the woodstove ... in the Dutch Oven ... and with a dollop of fresh, homemade whipped cream, it was a breakfast fit for Kings ... in a little house ... in the suburbs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Well, there's at least one "economist" who gets it.

In an interview that appeared in Spiegel's online magazine, Czech economist Tomas Sedlacek is quoted as saying, economic policy that only pursues growth will always lead to debt. Those who don't know how to handle it ... end up in a medieval debtor's prison, as the Greeks are experiencing today.

I just found it interesting, because it seems like our world mantra for a very long time has been bigger, better, faster, more, and, perhaps, we're finally figuring out that in the real world a thing can only get so big before it explodes. Perpetual growth and infinite wealth are not possible in a finite world.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Local Eating Elitist? Hardly

People make me think. On the one hand, I hate having my ideas challenged, because I hate feeling like I have to defend myself, but on the other hand, when it happens (and it's more often than one would think), it gives me the opportunity to take a very close look at what I have said or what I'm doing and decide, for certain, if it's true for me.

The question I was left pondering recently has to do with the local foods movement and whether or not this lifestyle choice is elitist, as has been asserted on more than one occasion by more than one person. In fact, there's been quite the negative stirrings around the practice.

The complaint regarding the local foods movement has to do with cost and availability of local food, and the supposition is that local food is more costly than imported food, which means that the average poor person can't afford the more expensive local food.

What I found interesting, though, about the above referenced article is the map developed by Department of Agriculture, that shows the value of agricultural products sold directly to consumers. Maine has a lot of dots, which means that there are a lot of foods, here in Maine, that are grown here in Maine and consumed here in Maine.

I guess I find it kind of funny or ironic or just plain unlikely that any elitist movement could take such a strong hold in a State that is in the bottom third for income levels in the US. In a 2009 survey of the biggest welfare States, Maine was #2 with 2.37% of the population (or 31,148 people) receiving some sort of public assistance, which costs our State $61.73 million per year. The unemployment rate that year was 8.3%. An estimated 12% of Maine's citizens live below the poverty level.

Maine is a very poor State. We have a higher-than-average percentage of our population on assistance programs, and yet, we've found ourselves in the forefront of the Local Foods Movement.

Which leaves me wondering how one can claim that it's an elitist movement.

I guess what bothers me most about the whole elitist argument is the assumption that food must be bought, and I think what has given the locavore movement such a strong hold here in Maine is that most of us, Maine locavores, do not believe that our local food must be purchased.

In the 1990s the United Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR, a.k.a. Russia) crumpled under a mountain of bad policies and inescapable debt. The dozens of countries that made up the former USSR were left to fend for themselves, and the USSR retreated to its former landholdings and became, once again, "Russia." Initially, the biggest concern was with regard to food security, and if one talks to anyone who lived there during that time, there will be stories of widespread food shortages and bread lines to rival those of the 1930s Depression-Era US. What surprises many people is that the hunger issue wasn't more widespread, and it wasn't more widespread, because people ate what was locally available - most of the time from their own gardens. They embraced "local foods", not intentionally, but out of necessity, because their only other choice was to starve.

When I talk about eating local, it is with the same goal - to encourage people to eat what's available in their local food shed, and the menu is not going to be the same for every person. It's not that I think local food is healthier (although, overall, I do believe it is), or because I want to support local farmers (although, that's true), or because I think we all need to reduce our carbon footprints (although, that is also true), but rather, at the very bottom of all of the rhetoric regarding the American diet is the simple concern that our days of being able to afford to import food to Maine from across the continent and around the world are waning.

We're getting poorer - not just in Maine, but worldwide-, and while the whole idea of making dietary choices based on some morally-superior ideology is pretty elitist, the practice of eating local food, especially during hard times is not.

The fact that I'm being accused of being "elitist", because I promote the idea of growing one's food and/or sourcing it from local farmers is kind of funny to me, because it's such a bass-ackwards way of veiwing things. In very poor countries, store-bought food is an elitist practice. Eating from one's home garden is what poor people do.

During the 1930s, the people who were most successful were those who had a little plot of land with a garden. They may not have had money to buy things, but they, at least, ate.

And, for me, that's the bottom line when it comes to why I have chosen to feed my family foods that grow in our local environment.

We're at the end of the Age of Cheap Energy. We've used up more than half of the world's oil supplies, and while there are a few decades left of oil still in the ground, getting that oil is becoming more difficult and more costly.

As the price of oil increases (it's at $107/barrel today), so too will the cost everything that we transport using that fuel - including food. Some people accuse me of having an elitist attitude about my food choices. I say that in the not-too-distant future, eating local will no longer be a movement, but rather the way we do things around here - if not by choice, by the fact that we can't afford to buy Hostess Twinkies any more.

There are other reasons related to food security that have prompted me to focus on sourcing local food. One has to do with availability. In 2008, the world wheat crop was devastated due to unsetttled weather patterns, drought in the Middle East and flooding in the Mid-West. The price of flour doubled that year. The price of flour has, since, decreased a little, but it never went back down to it's pre-2008 price.

If I'm dependent on most of my food to be imported from around the country and/or the world, then I am prey to things like weather and war over which I have no control.

By contrast, if my diet consists, mostly, of foods that I can grow or source locally, I can adjust for seasonal anomalies (like the very wacky maple syrup season) that make some foods more prolific than others. For instance, two years ago, because of a late frost the apple season suffered, but that same year, the berry season was awesome. Because I eat locally, I knew I could eat more berries, and I knew that I needed to be sure to get what apples I could find while they were available and store them.

... And that's the other thing. If my diet is local, it's also in season, so by the very nature of what's available, my body is also getting what it needs to survive in this climate. In his very dense tome, Healing With Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford explains that our bodies need different types of food at different times of the year. In the summer, we need cooling foods (like leafy greens and raw fruits and vegetables), and in the winter, we need warming foods (like root vegetables and dried fruits and nuts). It seems intuitive, but the availability of whatever we want whenever we want it has made us insensitive to what our bodies are craving. Eating seasonally gives me these things, because there are no leafy greens in the winter, and most of the roots aren't edible in the summer as they're preparing for fall's crop.

It may be true that there are people who don't really understand my motivation behind the local food movement, and frankly, when they can get a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese for $0.33 a box at Wal-Mart or California strawberries in December for $2.50 a quart at Hannaford, don't understand why I would discourage them buying either of those items and suggest instead purchasing the 5# bag of Maine potatoes or the 3# bag of soft, mealy-tasting Ricker Hill Orchard apples.

But that's exactly what I do, and will continue to do, even in the midst of accusations that I'm being elitist, because the reality is that strawberries from California may not be available this year, peaches from Georgia may be scarce or very expensive, and peanut butter may be a luxury item.

We can't continue to depend on farmers thousands of miles away from us to feed us, but we can depend on ourselves. Maine farmers and fishermen can feed 40% of the population here in Maine without any imports or any help. If the rest of us had a small garden and, perhaps, some livestock, the whole State could be thriving on what grows, right here, where we live.

For me, the local food movement is about empowerment and the sense of security that comes from knowing that no matter what happens in the world at large, I can still feed my family on what will grow where we are.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saving Apple Pie for the Future

I live in this very well-defined little world where most of the people I meet or at least those who care to talk to me about such things also believe that we have reached the End of the Age of Cheap Energy. We may not agree what to do about it, and we certainly have different reactions, but most of the people I know would never suggest that we are under a moral obligation to pump whatever oil might still be in the ground and use it all ourselves.

So, it was with a great deal of surprise today that I actually had someone tell me - in not so many words - that enough oil to last the next two hundred years has been discovered here on American controlled soil, and that it's a crime not to go and get it.

First, I think any reports that claim we have 200 years of oil left are misleading. We use 20 million barrels per day. There are two major oil fields. The first is not an oil field, but a shale oil field, and as we all know, it's much more costly and difficult to extract oil from shale than from, say, an oil gusher in South Texas. In fact, the Bakken oil fields aren't "newly" discovered. It was discovered in 1951, but because it was so hard to get the oil out, it was left untapped until now ... when we've run out of other options.

The other is in ANWR. According to a 1987 report, there is a 95% chance that it is a super field, which would contain 500 billion barrels of oil. So, now it's time for some math.

The US used 20 million barrels of oil per day ... in 2003. It's probably more now, but we'll go with that number.

20 million barrels/day x 365/days in a year = 7.3 billion (or 7,300,000,000 - lots of zeroes) barrels/year.

500 billion barrels in ANWR ÷ 7.3 billion barrels/year = 68 years of oil in ANWR.

The Bakken oil field could produce 24 billion barrels, which is enough for about three years.

So, between the two oil fields, we have about 71 years of oil left - if no other discoveries are made.

Remember the Bakken oil field is not a new discovery. Neither is ANWR. In fact, the land area that constitutes the United States of America is, quite possibly, the most explored land mass on the globe. In short, we know where all of the oil is, but even if we started setting up the infracstructure we would need to extract it all, we'd still only have seventy-one - not two hundred years of oil, at our current rate of usage (oh, and the wrench in the works is that our usage is increasing at an estimated 2% per year - so, really, we don't even have that long).

But let's pretend for a moment that we do have two hundred years of oil left. The question is, should we use it all, just because we can?

I say no. Absolutely not. I don't want to be the generation that is remembered for using up this amazing resource. If we conserved what's left, just what's left here on US soil, we could still have an amazing lifesytle - even one that's very similar to what we know today ... with one, very important change.

I found this graph to be very enlightening. According to the graph (which is a little old, admittedly), we use somewhere in the neighborhood of 13,000,000 barrels of oil per day for transportation. 9,000,000 of those barrels are motor transportation, i.e. cars and trucks (with 2,000,000 barrels/day going to jet fuel).

So, let's cut out the transportation. Let's revamp the train system to move goods across the country, and why not take advantage of that canal I think we helped build, or at least helped fund, that goes through Panama, and move some stuff by water?

Let's localize our lives a bit more so that we can bike or walk, or carpool or something other than having millions of us alone in our cars driving twenty miles - one-way - to make a quick trip to the grocery store for the milk we forgot. I mean, do we really "need" that milk that badly at that moment? Is it something we could get later, when we're going to be out anyway?

Here's a startling figure. Ready? There are 300 million people in the US. If we all waste one gallon of gasoline, per day, doing something like going to the grocery store when we don't really need to, we've wasted, squandered, burned-through SEVEN MILLION barrels of oil (one barrel of crude yields about 42 gallons of gasoline).

If we cut the 13,000,000 barrels per day we waste use on transportation, we'd be down to 12,000,000 barrels per day, effectively cutting our usage in half, and doubling the number of years' supply we have.

Just that one thing.

But I know it's asking too much, because we don't want to give up our cars. They are too much of how we identify ourselves, as Americans. Cars are as much a part of our American identity as ... well, as the proverbial "apple pie." I just wonder if we really want that to be our legacy.

I guess I'm just not comfortable with telling my future kinfolk that a Sunday drive in my SUV was more important than their ability to have even a tiny taste of the sort of pampered lifestyle we enjoy today. I'm not comfortable with the whole "to heck with the future. Drill, Baby, Drill!" attitude that was completely and blatantly obvious in the conversation I had.

I don't think we have two hundred years left, but let's, for just a second, pretend we do and play a little game. It's the 200-years-isn't-that-much time game. In fact, it's conceivable that in 200 years, there will a person alive who knew someone who knew *me*. You know that theory that says there are only 6° of separation between you and any other person on earth? Well this is that theory, only it's one person separating you from another person 200 years into the future.

To illustrate this point, I made a chart.

1967 – Year I was born
1988 - Year my daughter was born (21)
2007 – Year my granddaughter was born (40)

The numbers in parentheses are my age.

Now, let's make some fiction, and we'll imagine that every twenty-one years, another of my heirs is born. In 2049, I will be 82 years old, and I will have a great-great granddaughter. We'll call her Lillith. We'll pretend that, not only, will I still be active and lucid, but that she spends a lot of time at great-great Grandma's house (where she plays with the chickens and ducks in the backyard ;). And, let's assume, that I die when she's ten. Eleven years later, her daughter will be born. It will be 2070.

2091 – Lillith’s granddaughter (42)
2112 – Lillith’s great granddaughter (63)
2133 – Lillith’s great-great granddaughter (84)

My great-great granddaughter will live to be 94 years old, and she will be just as active and lucid as I was. She'll meet her great-great granddaughter, named Betsy, who will be born in 2133.

Betsy loves stories, and her favorite story is Lillith's account of visiting her Great-great Grandma Wendy, who lived on a suburban homestead and had chickens and ducks and spoke a pidgin language she made up called "Fremanglish", which Lillith taught to her children, and so Betsy also learned to speak it.

As Betsy grows older, she learns to share the stories she heard as a child with her children and grandchildren, and they all grow up learning Fremanglish, too.

And in 2217, when Betsy is 84 years old, she, too, becomes a great-great grandmother, and tells her great-great grandchildre the stories of Wendy and Lillith and calls them all her les petite kinderen - even the ones who aren't so small.

In two hundred years, I will have lived and died, but I will have met the generation that will be alive when the oil runs out.

How can I tell my great-great granddaughter that my generation couldn't conceive of giving up one little piece of their comfy lives so that she could be more comfortable in her waning years, and pass on our family legacy to her great-great granddaughter?

That we have 200 years of oil left is not likely, and even if we do, it's not our God-given right to use it all before we die. We can't take it with us, for sure, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't leave some behind when we go.

If nothing else, leave some for Betsy so that, perhaps, when the ships come into Portland from the tropics, she might know what a banana tastes like, and perhaps, be able to purchase some cinnamon and sugar with which to make apple pie.


I read this very interesting article.

It's what the Peak Oil/ASPO people have been saying for years, and while I'm not, really, part of that crowd, over the last half decade I've been following their writings and watching as prediction after prediction comes true. At this point, I believe they know of what they speak, and they say, get ready for less.

But this isn't an I-told-you-so post, because *I* never told anyone anything. I simply regurgitated what people who are far smarter than I am have been saying - and that is, we should be getting ready to be a lot poorer. We should be getting ready to have less oil, which means supply lines will be either slower - or for some things, perhaps completely severed.

It doesn't have to be some gradiose, stock-piling of floor-to-ceiling canned goods, though, and it doesn't have to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The first step is not buying stuff, but rather changing one's mindset.

Imagine, for instance, that a winter storm is approaching, and predictions are that it's going to be a doozy. What do we do?

I go outside and check to make sure that my animal enclosures are secured, that all of my feathered and furred charges have plenty of hay and water. I make sure the snow shovels are where I can reach them. We load up the woodbox inside, and .... Well, that's about it. We already have back-up lighting, a woodstove and plenty of firewood, a supply of food, and know where we'd get water if the lines freeze.

That's the mindset change. Deus Ex Machina and I are not preparing for TEOTWAWKI, but rather we're making sure that in the event of an every day emergency (which, incidentally, a snowstorm where we live, is *not*), we know that we'll be okay.

And we'll be okay, because through our preparations, we've made ourselves a little less dependent on an infrastructure (the oil-drenched infrastructure that is our American society) that can, and does, fail us.

I was part of a conversation the other day. A friend was blaming the President (and the EPA) for a pending increase in the cost of electricity. I understand (and agree to an extent) that it's very frustrating to see these increases in cost-of-living, and it must feel like every time we think we're going to break even (or get ahead, if we're lucky), we end up falling ever so slightly behind. And right now, especially, I know it feels like the cost of everything keeps increasing when no one has any money to pay for it (one of my favorite Peak Oil writers is fellow mom, Sharon Astyk, who's been saying, for years, that it won't be a shortage of electricity that gets most people, but rather, the inability to pay for it). I understand the frustration, because I've been there, and a big part of the frustration is this feeling of impotence - like I have no control.

That's the mindset change we need to make. When I started looking at ways I could change my lifestyle so that we didn't *need* to be dependent on this infrastructure, I no longer felt like I was being controlled. I'm not delusional enough to believe that I'm still not as much under the control of our system as the next guy, but when things go bad, my family is not negatively affected.

When there's no power, worst case scenario is that we can't access the Internet.

When food prices increase, worst case scenario is that we eat out less.

When gasoline prices increase, worst case scenario is that we walk to the library instead of driving.

When heating oil prices increase(d) ... well, this no longer effects us, as we use alternative heating methods (and for the past four days, with the temps in the 50's and 60's, we haven't even had fire in the woodstove - which is the other part of necessary mindset change - redefining need versus want :).

When the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that oil production worldwide has peaked (and this group wouldn't make such a claim lightly), validating what bloggers and writers have been saying for years, and what M. King Hubbert predicted back in the 1950s, perhaps it's time we start listening.

The world is getting poorer. The Age of Cheap Energy is over, and we're all going to get a lot more self-sufficient, or we're going to have a very difficult time.

In the end, it's not about getting ready for a one-time catastrophic event, but mentally and physically preparing ourselves and our spaces for a world with less.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Picking Up Speed

I planted peas today...

...And then, my daughters and I went into the woods to gather wood for what may be the last maple sap boil we do this year.

It's been a very bad sugaring season, and I feel a bit sad for the people who count on the sugaring season for their livelihood. Either they won't make it until the next season, or those who are interested in real maple syrup will be paying a premium for it.

We're looking at our maple syrup right now like it's gold. Word to the wise: if you like maple syrup, buy it now, and buy a lot, because it's going to be in short supply by Christmas.

We did some general cleaning, organizing and rearranging of the yard today, too, and when Deus Ex Machina got home from work, we opened the beehive. The bees did not survive. Deus Ex Machina thinks they froze to death. They definitely didn't starve, as there was a ton of honey. We haven't decided, exactly, what we want to do with it, yet.

A Sacred mead is a possibility - or we may just store it for eating. It has a very dark color and a very interesting aroma. I can't wait to taste it. Looking around my yard and at my neighbor's yards, it looks like they certainly had a very interesting and varied diet. The flavor of the honey will reflect that, I'm sure.

It was sad looking into the hive and seeing the devastation. So sad. We're going to try again with bees that were raised in this area instead of imported from an aviary down south. We're hopeful that they will stand a better chance of surviving winter here.

We might have two pregnant does. We'll know in a couple of weeks. EJ, our buck, is a happy bunny tonight ;).

We've been living this homestading lifestyle for a long time. It's what we do, and I share our adventures freely here on my blog. I talk about other stuff, too, but mostly it's planting this or growing that or raising this other thing.

I read a lot of homesteading blogs, but I read many others as well, and some of my favorite blogs are focused on the slow decline of our economy and our current way-of-life. Most of them are edgy and dark, but mostly the things they have been warning us about for the past six years are, indeed, happening.

James Kunstler is one of those - edgy, and usually right on the money. His usual commentary is full of raw wit and keen observations about the State of our Union and our world. His prose is often biting, no-holds-barred, and when he really gets going, nothing in the political or socio-economic realm is safe from his scathing remarks. I'm not usually offended, but had to take a step back the one time he talked about visiting Maine and had nothing complimentary to say about the people he encountered in my home State.

He usually posts once a week - on Monday - and I look forward to reading what he has to say each week. I was late this week reading his blog and didn't get to it until a day later. Boy, was I surprised!

Instead of his usual political bashing, his post was about his preps - what he's growing, how he's preparing his property for what's-to-come.

All I can say is that it was a little unsettling to read James Howard Kunstler's gardening post, and I'm thinking he must believe things are headed much faster down the slope than he's been predicting. Given his sudden interest in prepping, it seems, perhaps, that he believes the crash is accelerating.

I planted peas today, and tomorrow we're going to boil down all of the sap that we've collected. Deus Ex Machina says he's going to leave the taps in for another few days, but if the sap isn't flowing (and looking at the weather forcast for the next two weeks, it probably won't), he's going to pull them.

We cleaned up the yard, harvested quite a bit of honey, have two potentially pregnant does, and pick-up our first dozen broiler chicks on Friday.

The Johnny Seed order arrived in the mail the other day, and as soon as it warms up a bit more, we'll start planting seeds.

While we were in the woods, we saw a flock of wild turkeys. That was odd, too, as I've often seen their prints, but never the birds themselves. We also saw deer tracks.

I think it's going to be a wild summer, and while we won't step-up our preppig effort any more than usual, we'll certainly be looking to expand our knowledge base.

I'm thinking, I might learn to fish from the beach ... and maybe take advantage of the law in Maine that allows individuals to own a lobster trap for personal use (i.e. non-commercial).

Me, lobstering. Heh. Could be fun.

Edited to add: Lobstering in Maine is a heavily regulated fishery, but lawmakers have expanded the law to allow RESIDENTS to catch lobster non-commercially. It's not as simple as throw a trap, and like all hunting/fishing in Maine requires a license, but if one is looking for food security and one has the time and motivation, it would not be a bad hobby. It still requires a license (and one must take a test), but then a recreational lobster-er can own *UP TO* five traps. The license is $65, and there are requirements for minimum size and gender (can't take egg-bearing or v-notched lobsters, for instance), but it looks like it could be a year-round hobby (unlike hunting, which has a "season"). One lobster per week would more than cover the cost of the license.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mops and Other Kitchen Tools

I bought into the hype. I had five kids living at home, two of whom were under five and two of whom were teenagers who didn't do much more than eat, sleep, and grumble when they had to do a chore. My only goal in life, at that time, was to be able to do those things around the house that needed to be done quickly and easily. So, I bought into the hype around the Swiffer, and I coveted one. I was pretty well convinced that it would make my floor cleaning chore so much easier and more efficient, and I'm one of those people who needs a clean floor - some people like neat counters, I like clean floors.

My wish was granted, and I was gifted a Swiffer Wet Jet. It takes six AA batteries, some cleaning solution (custom sized to fit the little dispenser ... and not refillable), and little pads that velcro to the bottom of the handle.

I was so excited. I had my Wet Jet, and I was cleaning my floors and life was good.

Until, one day, I realized that my, formerly white, floor was starting to look a little gray. No matter how much cleaning solution I sprayed and how many times I used the Swiffer, the gray was there. I knew it hadn't been there before, and I realized that the Wet Jet wasn't really cleaning the floor. Actually, it was just spreading the dirt around. Instead of getting the dirt off the floor (like a regular mop), it was just distributing it more evenly on the floor, and the dirty "water" (the solution) was drying to the floor and leaving a dull gray appearance.

I didn't like that.

But worse, I started to look, very closely, at the product and what it was costing me, and I realized that I was pretty well being taken to the cleaners ... although my floors were no longer very clean.

And to use the solution, I needed to have batteries. Don't forget the batteries to power the motor that squirted the solution onto the floor.

Between the pads, the solution, and the batteries, I was spending a whole lot of money for dirty floors.

I stopped buying the solution and putting batteries into the swiffer, and I started just getting the pre-wettened pads that were made for the other kind of swiffer (the one without the sprayer). It worked okay, although my floors weren't any cleaner, and I found that I needed to get down on my hands and knees and actually scrub the floor every couple of weeks, using the Siwiffer just for cleaning up the inevitable daily spills from a family of five with young children and a dog.

And then, one day, I thought, "Why?" Why was I spending $4 every two weeks to purchase pre-wettened swiffer pads when a wet rag would do just as well?

In fact, it actually works better than the Swiffer pads, and it's considerably less expensive. I was using up to five pads every time I cleaned the floor, and with the wet rags, I can actually rinse them out when they get too soiled instead of throwing them away.

As long as the handle stays attached to the head, I'll never have to replace my mop. My swiffer "pads" are an old cut-up terry cloth towel ... it used to be white ;). If I want to get fancy, I sprinkle some essential oil, like Tea Tree or Geranium, on the cloth each time I rinse it.

I keep telling myself that I'm going to sew up some better looking swiffer pads, and I have actually seen something like it for sale online, but mostly, I figure why bother. It works just fine, as is, and as with a lot of other things in our culture, there's really no need to get fancy, because fancy may look better, but it doesn't, necessarily, work better. Besides, there are a lot of other things I could (or should) be sewing that aren't so frivolous - and as long as the towel square does the job of cleaning my floors well enough, there's little incentive to spend the energy ... that could be spent doing something really cool ... like harvesting the blue oyster mushrooms and cooking "all-local" beef stroganoff to spoon over homemade egg noodles....

... or bottling the lavendar/chaga kombucha (which is delicious and tastes like a Margarita - so far, it's my favorite).

Friday, March 2, 2012

Getting It Hot ... Without Wood

I live in a heavily wooded area. In fact, we can gather enough standing dry wood in an hour's foray into the woods for an all-day (eight hours) sap boiling session. And this wood is "seasoned" - not green wood. In short, for the past several years we haven't cut any trees to boil maple sap, and we haven't used any of our firewood, either.

For me and others who live in my climate heating and cooking with wood is a very simple matter of knowing what wood will burn right now, and what needs some time to dry and season, and it takes very little energy (in the form of fuel) to get wood from its place of origin to my house - i.e. no gas-powered vehicle needs to even enter the equation. For us, it just a simple matter of walking into the woods and picking up sticks - and those sticks are sometimes not sticks, but rather sapling-sized deadwood that would simply rot. In my area, we could gather a whole winter's worth of wood, one wagon load at a time. It would take every spare moment we had all spring, summer and fall, but it could be done without dependence on fossil fuels.

I'm not so naive as to think that my particular circumstance is true of everyone everywhere. Wood is the best fuel source in my area, but not everyone lives half in the woods, like I do, and I'm well aware of that fact.

There are many options for heating and cooking that don't require much - or any - wood, and I touch on most of the known ones in my book.

For those people who have a few trees that could be coppiced (or would need annual pruning anyway), a rocket stove might be the best choice for cooking. Rocket stoves use very little fuel, but can reach extremely hot temperatures. Coupled with a cob oven, which also uses little wood, one would be able to cook just about anything with just a few twigs. If I lived in a suburb more south of where I live, and I didn't have very many trees, I wouldn't want to cut down all of my trees to cook my food, and I'd certainly be looking into building a rocket stove and/or a cob oven.

Rocket stoves aren't just tiny cookers, and in fact, aren't just for cooking. The technology was being developed in the 1970s, but today's volatile fuel prices have seen a resurgence in the interest in low-energy heating options, and I'm seeing a lot of articles and stories about people designing and building rocket mass heaters, which are an incredibly ingenious marrying of the rocket stove and the age-old European masonry heater, which I think are just beautiful. If I could retrofit my house for a masonry heater, it would have been done already.

I like the super fancy, aesthically pleasing masonry heaters, but they don't have to be fancy to work well. When I was doing my own research on different heating options, I found a story about how those living in extremely cold environments where there were very few trees, like north central Asia, and basically, their heating solution amounted to building a fire on a masonry shelf. The idea was, at its core, the same idea that has created the rocket mass heaters, and that was to heat up a thermal mass. In this case, the fire was built on a stone shelf. When the fire had burned down to coals, the ash and coals were scraped off the shelf (and the coals were probably buried in the ash to save for lighting the next day's fire), and the people slept on the warm shelf.

For those of us in our suburban homes, where we don't have thermal mass heaters or wood to burn, other options will need to be explored, most of which I've previously discussed, as well.

For those with no wood, solar ovens are very popular - and one doesn't have to purchase a commercial model (spending hundreds of dollars). Dan and Beth Halacy's book Cooking with the Sun gives some great instructions on DIY solar cookers - and not just ovens, but also a solar hot plate.

I've researched other options for cooking and heating that don't even require wood. My favorite is a methane digester, which uses organic waste (could be yard waste, kitchen scraps, chicken manure, humanure) to create an anaerobic reaction and produce methane, which can be burned and used to cook or heat a space.

For cooking or heating very small, very well insulated spaces (like with a kotatsu), something as small as a sterno can might be enough.

There's one other heating/cooking option that I've, since the publication of my book, discovered. It uses the sun and a very simple, fairly inexpensive fresnel lens (it's pronounced /frā-něl'/ - long a, s is silent).

The most popular, current, application for the fresnel lens is a steam generator, but the basic concept is to heat water - which means, it could be used to cook, also.

Check out this video. There are several other videos, too. I recommend watching as many of them as one can.

Michael Douglas, who is a teacher at the Maine Primitive Skills School, recommends perfecting as many methods of making fire as are available to us, and I agree. In fact, I would apply that logic to other things, as well. It's wise to know several ways to preserve a certain food item, and it's valuable to know many ways of cooking a thing - in case one of those methods fails or is unavailable.

We use wood for all of our heat and for much of our cooking during the winter, because wood is what we have. We also use matches to light fires, because they're available, but we also know a lot of other ways of making fires ... and we know a lot of other ways to cook food and heat our home.

If I lived in a less wooded environment, I wouldn't be relying on wood for heating or cooking, and I'd be exploring some of the other options I've mentioned in my book or here on my blog. If I lived in a warmer climate, even if I had access to as much wood as I have here, I'd be looking at a methane digester, and if I lived in a very hot climate, without wood, I'd be getting myself a fresnel lens ... taking extreme care where I pointed it.