Wednesday, May 30, 2012

View From My Window

CG had a great post a few weeks ago - all about choices and the ones we make about how we choose to live.

This weekend, Deus Ex Machina was helping me (I say he was helping me, and the truth is more like he was doing most of the digging and I was doing most of the helping, but I did all of the planting, and so I guess it was cooperative) fill our third barrels with compost. A third barrel, before anyone asks, is a 55 gallon barrel that was cut into thirds (because of the way the barrel was made, cutting it that way seem most logical) and then is being used as a container garden on the periphery of our leach field, where we can't plant anything in the ground, but we can plant movable containers.

He was all decked out in his grunge jeans and work boots (because he had been planning to split wood, and my plea for help interrupted his plan), going shirtless and looking yummy, and as I followed him into the backyard for, yet, another wagon-load of compost, I thought, this is exactly the life I want ... this is exactly how I want to spend my days.

So, when I read CG's post (and the subsequent one about slavery, and how we're all part of it, whether or not we wish to be), it hit home a in big way.

With the recent celebration of Memorial Day, I heard a lot about freedom, but the scary truth is that none of us are truly free. The only ones who are close are those who do for themselves, living outside the system, not dependent on others to meet their basic needs.

I am part of the problem, but I like to hope that I'm also part of the solution. It's a very odd place to be - to see so clearly what's wrong with this world, but to also be so very steeped in the culture that's causing the wrongness.

This morning, I looked out my front window ... and I saw self-sufficiency at work. It looks wild and unkempt, but it's food, and that's freedom.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Making a House a Home

My mantra for the life of this blog has been stay where you are.

It's been our houses are homes, not ATMs.

It's been about defining the "American Dream" not as a pursuit of wealth, but as the pursuit of independence, and in my definition, that independence comes from being self-sufficient - that is, being able to take care of one's self with regard to basic human needs: food, water, and shelter.

It was with great interest that I read this article entitled Real Homes: Small, Frugal and Green and is about the growing trend toward shrinking - the size of our homes and the overall size of our footprints on the earth.

What I loved best about the article is that it was a validation of all of the things I've been saying for so many years, in particular, that we've been fed a pack of lies, and we've eaten those lies like little Edmund eating Turkish Delight with no less the avaricious appetite or willingness to betray than he showed.

The main points of the article are that the economic downturn has forced people to downsize their living quarters. The result of the housing bubble burst has been that McMansions are out and Tiny Houses are In.

And we're starting to better evaluate need versus want.

So many people have been negatively affected by the last few years, and I have no desire to minimize the difficulty they are experiencing, but if the ultimate result is that we start to live more simply with a more realistic ideal of what will make us happy, then I'm thinking it might not be such a bad thing.

Many years ago, I read this article on Mother Earth News entitled Live on Less and Love It!. The author, his wife, and their son have a smaller - per person - annual income than the average American spends on Starbucks coffee per year - which was, in 2005, less than $4500, and no, I did not leave off a zero.


It wasn't his list of 75 things that were important to me. What struck me, and what stuck with me, was the income on which they lived, which is one-third the income that a person making minimum wage for 40 hours a week would earn, and we spend so much time, in this country, talking about the need for a higher living wage ... and here is this man, and his family - three of them - living on a third of the income on which so many people struggle to just survive. His article is not about surviving, but rather a thriving - without money.

What's interesting, also, is that none of the things he mentions as "money-saving tips" are terribly imaginative or would be difficult for the average person. Amy Dacyczyn, the Frugal Zealot, has a lot of other, less-intuitive, money-saving ideas, and hers often require a much larger commitment - both in time and in habit-breaking.

But mostly, the best advice that anyone can give, the single piece of advice that we're all offering, is that the way to financial freedom and "happiness" is to be shelter-secure, which means:
1. downsizing our homes to something that's manageable, both in the size and cost of the structure; and
2. redefining our houses as "homes" and not as "investments."

I don't read paid economist reports, and I pay even less attention to the news articles that declare we're coming out of this recession. In fact, I've said for years that we're just in the beginning of a major economic DEpression, and it's not that I think I know more than people who analyze financial data and trends for a living, but rather that from my objective viewpoint and as a student of the 1930's Depression, what I'm seeing doesn't look like recovery, but rather like a slow slide.

I don't pay a lot of attention to the American news media, but I do read a lot of writers online (who are not financially benefitting from writing their opinions about world events), and for the past five years, they have mostly been correct about where our world is headed - especially when their thoughts contradict the news media (which does financially benefit from saying what people want to hear - rather than reporting the reality of what's happening).

They say that collapse is here, that we're in the firm grip of resource depletion, and any hopes of mitigating the ill effects of catastrophic climate change were dashed several years ago.

It's not a pretty picture, for sure, and while we may not save the world, there is hope that we can make a better life for ourselves where we are. As Roosevelt is quoted as saying do what you can with what you have where you are - and that is the Thrivalist motto.

For me, it's not been about having for a very long time. Rather, for me, it's about doing, and my ultimate goal is to live - happily, healthily and harmoniously - on one-third of the income most people consider inadequate to satisfy their basic needs.

I'd rather go there voluntarily, while we still have other options, but whether by choice or by force, chances are really good most of us will find ourselves there ... probably sooner than we thought possible.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"I'm homeschooled," she confidently declared.

The other day Little Fire Faery (who is a 'tween and obviously old enough to be in school) and I were out and someone asked her, "What? No school today?"

As a life-long homeschooler, she's been confronted by this question many, many times. In the past, it is usually I who answer, but as my girls have matured, I've found that I need to speak less often for them. This day was one of those times when I was silenced.

In fact, that was exactly what happened. She answered so quickly and with such confidence that I was stunned to silence.

He looked at her and asked, "No school today?"

She stood a little taller and confidently replied, "I'm homeschooled."

He smiled and said, "That's why you're so smart."

I just smiled, hugged her close, and kissed the top of her head. She is amazing, and incredibly smart, and it was a wonderful moment of validation to believe that this stranger had seen her intelligence in those few minutes. Maybe he was just being nice, and it's very likely that he does not know how true his words were.

It was a priceless moment, and even more so, because this was a member of my community - a community, like most communities, where the general consensus seems to be that children belong in school, that there's something odd about (perhaps wrong with) homeschoolers. Too often I see homeschoolers characterized as lacking social skills or fantically religious, but that's very rarely the case with homeschoolers I know.

I think, when we talk about home schooling, in general, we’re continually comparing ourselves to the “school” structure, which is perfectly logical, because we live in a world culture that promotes “education” as the only means to success, and the educational model is pretty much the same worldwide. But I think we’re not using “education” in the right sense of the word – especially when it comes to the classroom model of education.

I love the Wikipedia definition which states that education is: “in its broadest, general sense ... the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next.” And I’d say, that’s pretty accurate - sadly.

For most of us, education has come to represent some arbitrary set of milestones to be achieved, i.e. identify the letters of the alphabet, learn to read, calculate higher math equations, know the Kings of England and quote the fights historical. Which is a little sad. Really? Are these trivial types of information the “aims and habits” we wish to pass on to future generations? And will being competent in algebraic equations and knowing historical names and dates really help us understand the culture that molded us to be who we are and believe what we believe?

In bending to this model of educating our children, I think we are stripping ourselves of our heritage. My three daughters are hardy, straight-forward, no nonsense New Englanders, who are being raised by a southern-born and raised Army Brat with strong ties to the mountain people of southeastern Kentucky and the farmers of the mid-West. If I homogenize their education, they will lose the best of what *I* have to offer, which is who I am – grits and all – and by association, *who they are*.

We are homeschoolers, but that's a very broad brush, and in the finer tuning of our personal philosophies regarding education, what learning/education means and how we should go about it, there are dozens - perhaps hundreds - of little nuances. We consider ourselves "unschoolers", but we're not "radical unschoolers". Deus Ex Machina and I believe in a very hands-on approach when it comes to our children. We are very involved in their lives. We give our girls a great deal of freedom to make choices within a set of parameters. The fact that we've set boundaries means that some unschoolers would question the validity of us using the "unschooler" title.

Unfortunately, sometimes it ends up being a little like the Scotland as depicted in the story of William Wallace. We, homeschoolers, are like those clans, and we're at odds with society, as a whole, because we want the freedom to make our own choices, and while we'd like to be a united front, there's so much in-fighting and bickering about who homeschools the best, that we've ended up as this fractured entity.

The other day someone said to me that if the indigenous people who lived in the Americas had been able to put aside their tribal differences and be united against the European invasion, the western migration would have stopped at the Mississippi River.

Regardless of the individual philosophy, all homeschoolers have to agree that homeschooling (and, especially, unschooling) is not a hands-off approach to educating our children. When we're trying to define unschooling, I think we’re very limited by language, because unschooling isn’t a noun. It’s a verb (maybe a gerund ... which is a verb pretending to be a noun). It requires action.

Even the words we use limit our ability to explain the philosopy. "Un” is a prefix, which means “not”, and, yes, “un”schooling is “not” schooling in the traditional classroom sense, but it’s not “not” teaching. It’s not “not” educating, and it’s not “not” doing things with our children.

It’s not “lack of structure”, either. We can be unschoolers and have a very structured day/week/year. For instance, we are unschoolers here at chez Brown, but we have a pretty structured lifestyle, because Deus Ex Machina has a job with set hours, and I work from home and need to be able to work, and my daughters are involved in several outside classes that have set times. So, in that way, we are very structured and limited by the constraints of hours-in-the-day.

Learning though is totally unstructured and free-range. They’re like chickens, because they can pick up whatever looks appealing, and if they get a hold of it and decide it’s not so tasty after all, they can leave it on the ground. That’s “un”schooling.

In the end, I think we, homeschoolers, can all consider ourselves explorers – even “not” schoolers, if we wish - because, while there’s always been “homeschooling” (in the sense that for most of history children were taught at home and not in a formal “school” environment), this is the first time in history that people have made a conscious choice to consider homeschool superior to a “formal” education. What we do is going to have an impact on future generations, especially if we take Wikipedia’s definition that education is our way of passing on our philosophies to future generations.

Personally, I’m excited, from a historian point of view, to see where we are twenty years from now, and how much this homeschooling movement has shaped our future. At very least, I hope things like playing an instrument, knowing how to knit, being able to cook a meal from whole ingredients, planting a garden, and making maple syrup become common knowledge again – and I also hope that all people, who are able, know how to read. Everything else, is just gravy ... which is and can be a nice complement, but is trivial when compared to the rest of the meal.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Another Book Giveaway ...

I love doing giveaways. Some people don't, and some blog readers, I understand, don't like them. I just like to share. I guess I learned my lessons in Kindergarten pretty well :).

This time, it's kind of a quid pro quo, though, and I'm giving something away, but I'm asking for something in return. As a birthday gift, I'm asking that people "like" my facebook page.

To wit:

"Like" Surviving the Suburbs on Facebook, leave a comment, and be entered to win your choice of a copy of Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: The Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil or a copy of Doris Jansen Longacres Living More With Less.

The caveat is that Surviving the Suburbs has to reach 100 "likes" by my birthday at the end of May.

And I still haven't heard from the winner of the last giveaway - Back to Basics. If I don't hear from the commenter firecracker by my birthday - at the end of May - I'll pick a new winner ;).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spinach Chia Tower

I dream of gardening. Not in an idyllic I'm outside planting while butterflies flit and birds chirp kind of way, but in an I-have-to-grow-a-lot-of-food-on-a-quarter-acre kind of way, and so during Maine's long winter months, I often find myself gazing out of my windows and imagining what will go where and how I will manage to grow more the next growing season than I've ever grown before.

I'm limited in how far I can spread out - by the shape of our lot, by our animals (including the dog who has to be tethered out and needs some yard space), by the need to have places to stack our wood supply, and by other lot features, like our septic system.

The next best option is to have portable garden beds - i.e. container gardens, which, in my case, usually take the form of buckets, but sometimes we use other things to hold soil and grow food.

For a few years, I've tried growing potatoes in a tower. I used hardware cloth to hold the growing medium, and I had mixed results. The big problem - for me, being the lazy farmer that I am - was that the soil in the towers dries out pretty fast. Potatoes don't do well in drought conditions, and so I didn't have as large a yield with the potatoes as I do in buckets - which don't dry out as fast.

Still, I like the idea of using the towers as a planting bed, and so over this past winter or sometime into spring I decided I'd try growing my early, cold-hardy greens in the tower.

Introducing, what I have dubbed, the Spinach Chia Tower!

In the top, we planted broccoli and carrot seeds. Then, we poked spinach seeds all over the sides through the holes of the hardware cloth. I was thrilled to see that some of the spinach seeds have actually germinated and are growing, just as I hoped they would, through the wire. It will be fun to see this later in the season with a huge broccoli plant (or two) sticking out of the top, and little spinach plants growing out of the sides.

Since I have nothing to lose but a few seeds, we'll probably reseed the sides throughout the summer and into the fall - and, maybe, this will be my banner spinach year.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


It was December 1997. Deus Ex Machina and I had been living with Gar (Deus Ex Machina's mother) for five months, since we'd moved north after ETSing from the military (which is the Army way of saying that we'd met our contract, and we'd been honorably discharged from our term of service).

As I tried to fall asleep that night after an exhausting day of driving hither and yon, working out all of the details necessary to close on our new home, the enormity of what we'd just done overwhelmed me. We were homeowners! Oh ... EM ... GEE!

As I lay there, I thought about the house, remembering all of the particulars, the little nuiances, and I suddenly realized. There were no drawers. Not anywhere. Not in the kitchen. None.

And, then, I thought. Ridiculous. I must be remembering incorrectly. The kitchen had to have drawers. Who builds a kitchen without drawers?

Having, thus, assured myself that my recollection was false, I fell into a peaceful slumber, and the next day, when I arrived at my new house to await the truck that would deliver our household goods, which had been held in storage since July, I discovered the truth: there were no drawers!

For fourteen years, we lived with our drawer-less kitchen. We've talked about various solutions, but all of them always took a backseat to other projects that needed to be done, including: the roof, the septic system, a complete bathroom remodel, and the slow building of our farm (including actually building raised garden beds and animal housing). We've just never had the time or the money to remodel the kitchen.

But it's always been one of those things that bothered me, always in the back of my mind just niggling there.

As part of his job, Deus Ex Machina has often been sent out of town for business purposes. In the early days, I would spend the time he was gone in a depressed stupor, and when he would call, I would whine and complain for the duration of the phone call. After a few years, when I finally understood that none of my whining, complaining, pleading or cajoling would make him choose to *not* go (because I believed, however erroneously, that he had a choice in the matter), I decided that I would make better use of my time, and I started using those trips as an opportunity to remake my environment and tackle projects Deus Ex Machina had no interest in completing. Usually, it involves paint. Sometimes, it's moving furniture around.

This week was the latter, but in addition to moving a lot of stuff to a lot of different rooms, I also, finally, have drawers in my kitchen.

And I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.

This unit cost me less than $60. I bought it used from the indoor Flea Market. It's a beautiful piece, and I think it lends an air of provencal to my kitchen, that is repeated in the armoire and farm table in my dining room.

My next big project involves wood and floors. Hopefully, the next trip will be on a weekend when I don't have a lot of other outside commmitments :).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Syllabus for Dystopian Lit Class

A couple of people have requested that I post a list of the books we read for the Dystopian Lit class I organized for folks in my local homeschool community. The class was advertised as a "Teen Lit Class", because some of the books had very "adult" themes, and because the topics we would be discussing could be disturbing for younger students.

We read eight novels over a nine-week period (there was a "school" break in there during which the location where we were holding classes would be closed, and so we didn't have class that week). It was a very ambitious schedule, and most of the kids rose to the occasion. I was completely impressed with them, and even those who hadn't read or who had only partially completed the novels, added a lot to the conversation. In short, the point of the class was not to have the kids reading a bunch of books, because as homeschoolers, most of them are readers already, but rather to get them thinking about the themes in those books - and how what's happening in our real world lends credence to the authors' warnings.

There were four themes with two novels in each theme.

Theme I: Does popular culture influence the laws and rules by which we are forced to live?

Week 1: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Week 2: Harrison Bergeron (short story), Kurt Vonnegut and The Long Walk, Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman

Theme II: What happens when human beings start trying to manipulate nature?

Week 3: I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Week 4: Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

Theme III: What happens when governments try to control and regulate reproduction?

Week 5: The Giver, Lois Lowry
Week 6: Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1), Margaret Peterson Haddix

Theme IV: What might life be like if civilization were to collapse?

Week 7: Into the Forest: A Novel, Jean Hegland
Week 8: Last Light, Alex Scarrow

If we were to view each of these stories as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”, they could be said to be a warning of things to come. Students are asked to bring in an example each week of a real-life news story that illustrates the author’s caution.

I knew, going in, that some of the books would be really tough. There were several adult fiction titles, but I chose them, because they followed the themes, and in preparing and advertising the class, I was very careful to warn parents and potential students that the topics might be difficult - especially for younger readers.

I had a blast teaching the class. The kids were amazing and incredibly insightful, and really, if they are the example of the kinds of people who will be running things in the future, I'm feeling a little better.

On the other hand, if any one of those authors is correct ... let's just say we hope it's not Matheson ... or Atwood ... or Scarrow ... or ... ;).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Winner of the book - Back to Basics

I figured it was about time to draw a name for the April Giveaway of the book Back to Basics.

So, without further adieu, by random number drawing, the winner is ...

firecracker who said... My latest "return to skills almost lost" are making moccasins. Trying a few different patterns, as well as materials (next up is a hair-on deer hide - built in insulation). Thanks for your inspiration!

Please leave your contact information in a comment.

Friday, May 11, 2012


After Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: The Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil was published, I was accused of being a luddite. I will admit my ignorance. I didn't even know what that was and had to look it up ... and then, I had to laugh, outloud ... tears streaming, jaws aching, belly laugh. I'm married to an electrical engineer! I couldn't be further from a luddite if I dug a hole to live in.

It is true. There are things - many, many, many things - that I prefer to do by hand. There are power tools (in particular, sharp ones) that I don't enjoy wielding, and I would prefer to do it the slow way rather than the fuel-sucking way.

But contrary to criticism, I don't think that makes me a luddite. Rather, I believe it means that I make conscious, thoughtful choices, about things on which I am willing to expend what little fuel we have left. Drying clothes, splitting wood, kneading bread - those are things that I feel are better accomplished in different ways. Other people would choose other things, and that's fine. This is about me.

It's also a matter of practicality and the unfortunate fact of our modern lives - which is that we are just so busy. Deus Ex Machina enjoys splitting wood by hand, a little at a time over the course of the spring, summer and fall, rather than trying to find a free weekend when he can exhaust himself using a woodsplitter to split the (minimum) SIX cords of wood we'll need for the winter. Isn't it easier to just take an hour here and an hour there over the course of several months to split and stack what we need? Isn't that how our ancestors did it - a little at a time?

And that's how we approach a lot of the things we do - little increments. The fact of our lives is that we do live in this modern world, in the suburbs, which means there are certain aspects of our lives that are just like everyone else. Both Deus Ex Machina and I still have jobs we do for money, because we still need to earn some sort of income - that is, until we can take our house as far off the grid as we can get it ... and like splitting wood, that's being accomplished a little at a time.

Part of accomplishing our move off-grid entails a whittling down of stuff - in particular things that use a lot of fuel. So, we got rid of the television/DVD/VCR, and, instead, when someone in our house wants to watch a video or a television show, we do so on the computer ... and we have several of those, believe it or not. Making that transition saved a lot on the number of kilowatt hours we were using. All five of our laptop computers, combined, use less electricity than our television used.

For us, it's not a matter of jettisoning technology. It's never been about that. But it is about whittling down our consumption, and about clearing out some of the clutter, which makes my admitting that we just bought a new toy seem contradictory.

The toy is a little USB cassette tape player/recorder.

I was slow to convert to CDs. I had a cassette player, and it still worked. I thought, why replace it with a costly piece of equipment, and then, have to replace all of the cassettes so that I could still have the music I'd grown to love? It just seemed like a waste of what little money I had to spend on such things. And then, there was the fact that as cassettes were being phased out, they started being offered at ridiculously cheap prices. In the end, it was the cheap me who won out, and while I haven't been buying cassettes for a long time (Deus Ex Machina discouraged it ... although we never have had a CD player to equal the cassette player ... ;).

My new USB cassette player allows me to play cassettes over my computer, but it also allows me to record that music to digital format, which means I can put it on an iPod or whatever.

Perhaps, the luddite in me, prefers the mechanics of a cassette player, but I also appreciate having this music neatly stored on the computer, instead of having dozens upon dozens of dust-collecting cassette tapes lying around the house.

I'll spend a few weeks doing the conversion. We'll giveaway the cassette player (that still works, by the way), donate the cassettes, and clean out the corner where they all lived.

And, probably, I'll put a bookshelf there to hold the books that keep piling up around the house. And, no, a digital reader isn't something I've considered as an alterative to books.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Green Homes

Some friends of a friend are in the process of trying to sell their amazing property here in Maine.

It's an off-grid solar home and looks like a dream come true for anyone looking to move into sustainable living. In the case of this home, most of the work has already been done for a potential buyer.

If you're looking for a really nice piece of property, check it out.

Thank you to everyone who let me know the link wasn't working. It should be okay now. The home is in Knox, Maine.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When Reality and Fantasy Converge

I'm teaching a literature class entitled Dystopian Futures in Literature. It's an eight week course for teens, and we're reading a novel a week. There are four "themes" with two books in each thematic group, but what I'm finding as we go along in the course is that there is, often, a lot of overlap among the books, and when it comes to "dystopian" futures, there seems to be some commonality among what authors say.

But it's not just a study of the works, themselves. We do discuss the books, but we're also discussing the books within the context of what's happening in the world at large and how do (or not) world events support the concerns these authors raise regarding where we're going as a species.

These kids, my students (and I use the term lightly, because I really do believe there might be some overlap in the student/teacher relationship), are incredibly smart and intuitive, and they have some amazing insights. We should never dismiss out-of-hand what our children are saying, because they see the world differently than we do, and while their innocence and/or lack of experience may inhibit how well they are able to interpret those things they see, if we hear what they're saying, perhaps their vision coupled with our experience will help us see more clearly where we need to go.

Over the past two sessions, we've been discussing population. It's pretty clear that the world is overpopulated. The estimated carrying capacity of the Earth - without inputs from fossil fuels - is about one billion people. We're six times that now.

We've talked a lot about population control mechanisms - in particular how they don't work, and both the real-life examples of legislation to limit population growth and the fictitious examples we are reading seem to prove pretty clearly that no amount of government control over the number of people born will slow the human population overshoot.

The other thing we've discussed is how populations have been migrating away from rural areas and into urban areas - in search of ways to make money.

The irony is that fewer people in the rural areas means there are fewer people who are growing food, and as one person quipped, "A lot of tightly packed, very hungry people is not going to be a good thing." Very astute.

It continually amazes me to have these conversations - especially with kids, whom our society has deemed as having little or no ability to logically piece together events and see the real inside the illusion. They know, without really knowing, what's happening.

I was watching a YouTube video yesterday entitled Growing Up in the First Great Depression. It was an interview with Rowena Donaldson on PeakMomentTV. Rowena is host Janaia Donaldson's mother. Rowena was six years old when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. I loved her commentary. It was very enligthening, and as Janaia said more than once, her mother's experiences are what a lot of people today will be living in the next decade. We'll all get poorer. We'll all need to know how to do things.

That's another thing one of my students said about the characters in the most recent book we read. He said, "They can't do anything", and his point was that their lives have been so controlled and so dictated that they are unable to make any decisions for themselves. They haven't had to, and so they don't.

I'm concerned that our lives have been similarly controlled. There is so much we simply don't know, and there are so many of us that are all too willing to allow someone else to make those decisions for us. It's easier to sit back, flip on the television and escape for a while, and let someone else do the work of ruining running our lives, and then, to complain when things don't go the way we would have liked. I'm a Trustee on the Board of a local non-profit organization, and we follow Robert's Rules for parliamentary procedure. According to Robert's Rules silence is to be construed as acquiescence. Even if we speak up, things may not go our way, but if we fail to at least say one way or the other what we want or how we feel, we've, inadvertently agreed to whatever they deem is appropriate.

In the interview, Rowena talks about the food they ate, and it was a combination of what they could afford to buy (bread and butter) and what they could find. She describes eating watercress and butter sandwiches, because her mother was able to find watercress growing wild.

How many of us, today, know what's out there for food?

This morning Deus Ex Machina was packing his lunch for the day. He made a couple of wraps, and then ran outside to pick some greens ... not from the garden, because we don't have any growing, yet, but from the "wild." Dandelion greens, plantain,chives, and violet leaves and flowers are in his lunch box for today.

Most people I know would be aghast that he is eating what basically amounts to weeds, but they're edible. People back in the early day knew those things could be eaten. Seems a little arrogant and short-sighted not to accept the gifts nature is offering us.

In the books we're reading, all of the protagonists are faced with difficult decisions. They can choose to support the status quo through their thoughts and actions, or they can buck the system and do what they believe is right. Very few of the main characters in these books are heroes. In fact, in one of the novels we talked about the blatant human-ness of the main character - that is, how fallible he was and how very much like every man were most of his actions. He wasn't making any grandiose gestures or seeking a moral high-ground. That he found himself in his particular situation was more a matter of chance than of his own doing, but he was trying to fix what he had not broken.

I think a lot of us, these days, find ourselves in exactly that situation. I have no desire to be a heroine or a martyr. I just want to live my life, quietly, peacefully and fully.

But neither can I sit back and pretend that I don't see what I see, and I can't pretend not to hear what my students are saying and not work to make things better for them.

Arguably, we are making some of these dystopian futures a reality. Orwell warned us, and rather than alter our course, we headed straight for the cliff he was warning us against, and here we are, today, with the Patriot's Act and surveillance cameras on every corner and a news media that pretends it's giving us news.

One of the lessons in the books we've been reading (and it's not one that we've highlighted quite enough, yet) is that we, humans, are driven by our needs. In particular, when food is in question, there are a lot of things we are willing to do that are perhaps not great choices. In the first novel we read, for instance, the government successfully destroyed the family unit by teaching the children that parents were unable to provide for the family unit, but kids could make sure the family, at least, had enough food (not good food, but food to fill an empty belly).

In the interview on PeakMomentTV, Rowena Donaldson echoes this need for food. In fact, she says food is, pretty much, "the" thing that her family most needed during those hard times. She says shelter is good, but for her, the issue was food - and not having enough of the kinds of foods they wanted to eat.

In my class, we're reading some pretty stark future scenarios. Any one, or all, of them could happen. Something is defintely happening. We can't stop it, but we can stop is our pretending that we have no control.

At very least, perhaps knowing what watercress is and where it grows, is a step in the right direction.