Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gratitude - Day 27

I am thankful that I can listen to these old songs that I used to love, because they meant something to me ... they had a message that was relevant to my life at the time, and the message was change something, now, before it's too late.

I heeded that message, and here I am today, listening to these old songs, and playing them for myself on the ukulele, and they are just songs I like ... just songs.

I am thankful for the music, and that today, it's just music.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Planning to Steal and Kill is not "Prepping"

It's always pretty incredible when events in my life complement each other - even when they aren't related to me, specifically. That's what happened a couple of days ago - two things that just fit together and got my wheels turning.

The first was a discussion I heard about a recent episode of the National Geographic television show Doomsday Preppers. I will not link to the show - first, because I think it's a typical example of sensationalist television that does a disservice to people who are concerned and wish to be prepared for emergencies; and second, because this particular episode is particularly offensive to me as a person in the former category. Regarding the television show, in general, let me say that I'm surprised it's still on the air at all, because it's a silly, stupid show ... wait, maybe I'm not surprised. Because the show is still on the air, I guess I'm not surprised that the featured "preppers" are getting more outrageous. It is, after all, entertainment.

Preppers are already on the fringe. The average prepper does not have much faith in our culture. We're pretty well convinced that we're in some sort of overreach, and that something is going to happen, because ... well, it's kind of like we feel we're teetering on the edge, and there's really no way to get back our balance. At some point, we're going to tip. So, we try to be ready, for something.

Most of us are working at making sure our basic needs will be met, including food, water and shelter ... and maybe other supplies, like toilet paper and toothbrushes. Preppers have become, kind of, notorious for storing weapons and ammo (in fact, in those "How prepared are you?" quizzes, anyone who doesn't have the usual security preparations will have a shorter life-expectancy than those with a wide assortment of weapons and "bug-out" options).

A recent featured prepper was a guy who isn't hoarding or storing, and his supplies consist, mostly, of weapons and armor. If he's learning any skills, most of them are combat related (from what I've been able to find out - not having watched the show), because his plan is not to be a survivalist prepper living in a cabin in the woods, but rather to attack those who have stored provisions and take what they have. He doesn't plan to do it alone, however, and he is - according to reports - amassing a small army of fellow marauders.

I know you have thoughts, but hold on and let's fast forward a few days ...

... and I'm having a lovely conversation with a new friend about homesteading and what led us to this lifestyle. I didn't get the chance to share my whole story with her, but our reasons were very similar and had to do with personal economic situations. I've never been the sort of person who just trusts that because things are good now, they will always be so. Anything can happen, and it usually does.

The reality is that TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) happens all of the time. We just don't recognize it as such when it's happening, and so we tend to think that TEOTWAWKI only means those less likely events that we read about in novels, like the EMP strike from "One Second After" or the comet hitting the earth in "Lucifer's Hammer." Fantasy is all well and good, but the reality is that TEOTWAWKI will happen to us, whether we're prepared or not, and while it may not look like Mad Max, it won't be all that much easier.

I'm a huge history buff, and I tend to read a lot about extreme situations. When we watch old WWII movies or read stories based during that time, we don't think of it as being a TEOTWAWKI event, but if war is not the end of the world as we know it, then what is?

In addition, world-wide economic collapse, which happened as recently as the 1930s (and didn't end until the whole world was, again, at war) is pretty life-changing, too. While there hasn't been another world wide economic collapse (yet), there is a long list of countries around the world that have completely collapsed over the last fifty years, and some of those survivors look at the state of affairs here in the United States and see similarities between where they were pre-collapse and where we stand today.

Even mundane events, like winter storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes - things that happen all of the time all over the world - can be considered TEOTWAWKI for those who live through them.

Or how about a very simple, very personal life-changing event that is affecting millions of Americans ... nay, billions of individuals worldwide ... as I write this? What about a simple loss of one's job? For those accustomed to having a certain amount of income, suddenly not having that income anymore can very much be the end of life as they knew it.

When I first started on the idea of prepping, I was reacting to the fear of a global catastrophic event resulting from either climate change or peak oil, but the more I delved into the topic, the more I learned about how our world works, how interdependent we are, and how ill-prepared the average person is for just minor upsets, the more I realized that the best reasons to be prepared have very little to do with the potential for an EMP strike, solar flares, a massive caldera volcano explosion, a comet hitting the earth, or a zombie-virus pandemic. Sure, these things could happen, but they simply are not as likely as one of the more locally concentrated catastrophic events.

So, back to the doomsday prepper whose plan is to attack and pillage those who are prepared - if that's his plan, he is really wasting his time, his energy, and his money, because he's more likely to end up homeless and living in his in-law's basement, because he's lost his job, than he is to be performing an emergency C-section on his wife and battling the neighbors for a 5 gallon bucket of wheat berries.

A real prepper's goal is not to be ready for THAT event, but rather to become as self-sufficient as possible, because things happen - things happen all of the time that throw us into a tailspin and bring an end to our comfy, secure lives. But if we have a secure place to shelter ourselves, and if we can feed ourselves, and if we can provide for most of our basic needs without depending on the government or some other fragile system, we can consider ourselves prepared. Anything other than that, and we're just playing games ... which can be entertaining, but isn't very useful otherwise.

DISCLAIMER: I did not watch the television program I reference, and so I have no actual first hand knowledge about what was said or done during the program. My thoughts about this person's "prepping" are based on other's comments and pictures and commentary on the show's website.

Gratitude - Day 26

Fellow blogger at Wandering Quail Road posted a link to a program through Meyer Hatchery.

They call it the Meyer Meal Maker, and basically, they will give each person who orders chicks, either for meat or for eggs, an extra chick for free, if that person agrees to raise the chick and donate the products to a local family or charity.

I think it's a pretty awesome idea. Like the hatchery says, image if all chicken-keepers kept one extra meat bird and one extra layer. One meat bird is three to four meals for my family (and could be more if I really got creative), and a dozen eggs can be stretched into a pretty impressive number of meals, also. With some milk, vegetables and cheese, a dozen eggs could be four quiches. That's four, easy, nutritious meals.

Even better, one of my favorite meals when I was a poor college student with not a lot of time, was microwaved egg scramble. Basically, I scrambled an egg in a bowl and microwaved it, stopping every few seconds to stir the egg. Easy. Fast. For those with limited cooking facilities (which often include a microwave, but little else), eggs are a great choice - inexpensive, easy to store (will keep at room temperature for up to three weeks), and incredibly nutritious.

I have a couple of extra laying hens we raised this year, and I'm thinking, I might know a family who might like to have a dozen eggs from my backyard flock each month.

I'm thankful for programs like this, that give the power to make positive change back to the grassroots level. Neighbor helping neighbor is the way we were meant to live.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gratitude - Day 25

I have over 900 published posts on this blog right now. That's a lot, I think ... or perhaps not so many, considering how many years I've been blogging.

I also have three years' worth of archived posts on my computer that are no longer on this blog, but I don't know how many posts are there.

I've been blogging since 2005, and for the most part, my topic hasn't significantly deviated from the topic of self-sufficiency. This blog has been a chronicle of my family's changes in lifestyle, and it's been quite a ride, really.

What's very cool is to be able to go back and see what we did. Specifically, it's fun to look back at previous years' posts for things like: our first fire, the first snow, home-made gifts, when we started sugaring, when we planted the garden. It's a record of what was happening on that day, at that time, and more times than I can count, having this record has been incredibly useful.

I am thankful to my friend, Judy, who got me into blogging way back in the day, and I am thankful to all of those of you who read my posts, and I am deeply grateful to those of you have left comments and shared your stories and have become friends of mine over the years.

I often comment about how blessed I am, and this part of my life, this blog, and those who have shared in our adventure, even just virtually, are part of my enchanted life. Thank you for being there.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gratitude - Day 24

I am thankful for our lifestyle.

In truth, it wasn't much fun to have put off doing all of those winterizing chores we've been needing to do, and then, be forced into the frigid day to get them done, because we waited so long, but I'm thankful, because even though we waited as long as we did, we didn't wait "too long", and everything got done.

And even though I (might have) complained (a little) about being sick and feeling like I should get a pass to lay around all day, the reality is that, being outside, in the fresh air (and wicked cold! No lie. It was like 27° out there!) probably did me some good.

I'm incredibly thankful for productive days.

Now, we just need to fix the gates.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gratitude - Day 23

I really needed a day to stay home and sleep, uninterrupted. I am thankful to Deus Ex Machina for his willingness to give that to me today.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Gratitude - Day 22

If you've been reading my blog or following my life (via my books, interviews or magazine articles) for any length of time, you know that I can be pretty passionate about certain things. Topics related to lowering our dependence have become regular fodder for this space, and much of what I discuss is actual life experience - not just theory. We do have a, mostly, local and seasonal diet. We do raise some portion of our own food. We do line-dry our laundry - all of it, all of the time (because we don't have a dryer).

And the reason we don't have a dryer is that it uses a lot of electricity. Really. Don't believe me? If you have an electric dryer, try not using it for a month, and then, use it as per usual, and note the difference in your electric bill.

At some point, I decided to attack our usage and reduce it as far as we can. I'm sure there are things we could still do much better. Like, we could be a lot more careful with turning off computers every time they aren't being used. We could replace every electric clock. We still have some light bulbs in little-used light fixtures that probably aren't the most energy efficient varieties.

Mostly, though, we have picked all of the long-hanging fruit, and our usage is just about down as far as we can get it, without making some HUGE and drastic changes. For instance, I'd love to replace our electric stove/oven with a gas model, but then, there's the whole fact that we'd simply be trading one non-renewable energy for another, and that's not how we like to do things around here.

So, the alternative is to not use the electric stove, unless we have to, and this time of year, we don't have to. We have an alternative that costs us nothing extra, and really, depending on how we've acquired the fuel, costs nothing. This time of year, we have the woodstove, and make no mistake, I take every opportunity to use it for cooking, rather than relying on electricity.

My daughters are participating in a class sponsored by the Maine Energy Education Program (MEEP). It's been very interesting. A portion of the last two classes has been an opportunity for the kids to explore their household's actual energy usage, and what's really cool is that they can see graphs that show usage by month, week, and day, and they can see when the usage spikes and try to figure out what happened on that day, at that time, to cause the spike.

I'm probably liking it a lot more than they are.

And it's made me want to work even harder to cut our usage.

What's disturbing, however, is to note how much electricity we're using, even when we're sleeping, and that's what I'm attacking right now.

We're using around 14 kwh/day on average. We use less than a kwh per hour, except when I'm cooking with the electric oven, and so we know what the biggest user in the house is, and it's something we will have to address, because, at some point, we want to make all of our own electricity, but doing so, with an electric stove, will be unrealistic, unless we cut our usage during the day significantly. My original goal was to reduce our usage to 6kwh/day, and we're using just over twice that now.

While it's frustrating trying to figure out how to reduce even further, when we've already come so far, it's exciting - like a logic puzzle - trying to figure out things we can do to get those numbers down even further. During the month of December, I'm planning to cook more on the woodstove and see what a difference it makes - and if it goes well, that might just been all the incentive we need to really work on a summer kitchen.

I'm thankful to the mom who organized the MEEP class, because she got me back to thinking about this issue in a more action-oriented mindset than I've been in for a long time, and I'm very thankful for the tools the class has given me that will allow me to really monitor what we're using, and to see where we're making gains, and where we're failing miserably.

It's going to be fun ... and we'll probably be eating many fewer baked goods ... unless we (finally) build or buy an oven to go on top of my woodstove.

I wonder if I know anyone who knows anyone who works with sheet metal ....

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gratitude - Day 21

Not feeling so great, but ever so thankful for soup cooked on the woodstove ... and a hot toddy before bed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gratitude - Day 20

In 1995, I PCS'd to Fort Hood, Texas. For non-military people that means the Army moved me there, where I would live and work until the Army decided to move me someplace else. The hard part about being in the military is all of the moving, because, often, people who were influential are left behind ... or they leave sooner than you do.

Before I lived in Texas, I lived in Germany, and while there I met this amazing female sergeant. She was smart and sassy, a single mom and an E-5 in an MOS (military occupational specialty) that didn't do a lot of promoting. Promotions in the military are based on a numbers system, and basically, the Department of the Army figures that it needs a certain number of people in a certain military specialty and of those people x need to be each rank. From E-1 to E-4, promotions are based solely on time in grade and time in service. The highest rank possible without earning points is E-4, which is a Specialist in non-combat specialties and a Corporal for combat arms MOSs.

In order to be promoted beyond E-4, one must earn promotion points. Points are earned a number of ways: basic readiness training (APFT scores and weapons qualifications); awards received; military training courses; and civilian training. Because I had a college degree when I entered the military, I had maxed out my civilian education points. I always did pretty well on my physical fitness tests (usually maxing out the two mile run and the push-up portions), and I earned points for weapons qualifications. PLDC (Primary Leadership Development Course) was worth points and was a requirement before a promotion would be considered.

A certain number of points was required before soldiers could even be considered for promotion and that number of points was determined by the number of people needed for that MOS in the next rank. For most of my military career, promotion points for my MOS remained at the maximum level, which was nearly impossible to achieve. I never did, and by the time the points dropped, I knew I wasn't reenlisting, and so I didn't even ask to go to the Promotion Board.

All that to say that getting promoted in my MOS was no easy thing, and the fact that she, a fairly young female soldier, had done it, spoke volumes as to the kind of driven and motivated person she was.

At any rate, I had this sergeant in Germany who was an E-5, and she was everything I wanted to be in a soldier - hardcore, but fair, and smart and savvy. She never shirked her duty, and she knew her job. I really admired her.

We both moved around the Battalion to different jobs, and I lost contact with her, and then, I left Germany, and figured I probably wouldn't see her again.

Fast forward two years, and I'm at my new duty station in Texas. We're having a company party, and there she is, with another sergeant I remembered from Germany. They had dated, and finally (apparently) tied the knot. She had ETSd (which means she got out), and they had a new baby. She was a stay-at-home mom.

I didn't grow up in a generation of women who stayed home. We went to college so that we could get jobs and have careers and be those Super Moms who "brought home the bacon, fried it up in a pan ... yada, yada." And, indeed, as a young adult, that's what I did, but it wasn't good for me. I was always good at my job, and I am a very good mother, but I wasn't very good at doing both - at the same time - with any level of proficiency.

So, after I met and married Deus Ex Machina and we started talking about a family, I became reacquainted with my former boss, and she was a stay-at-home Mom. I considered, probably for the first time in my life, that being a stay-at-home Mom could be something I could do. I could.

A year or so later, I did, and sixteen years later, I still am.

I have been a stay-at-home/work-at-home Mom since 1998, and I'm not sure I would have even considered it a possibility for me, if it hadn't been for that NCO, who had made a huge impression on me as a soldier, and an even greater impression on me as a woman, who chose to be an at-home mother, even though she could have been anything she wanted to be.

I am so grateful that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be home with my children and to work at home doing what I do for the amazing people I work for, because if not for those two things, I might not be homeschooling (and from everything I read about what's happening in schools these days, I can't imagine my children there); without this reality of my life, I might not have discovered my desire to homestead my property, and I would not have felt the need to write my books, thus, missing the opportunity to satisfy my life-long goal of being a published author.

I am thankful for such amazing opportunities ... and to that sergeant in Germany who showed me what's possible.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gratitude - Day 19

She's been planning it for weeks, but things were kind of crazy at the beginning of the month. Today is the day. Precious is having a sleepover with her two best friends. One takes horseback riding lessons with her, and the other is her dance buddy. The three of them get along beautifully.

They are here today, and then, there's an extra - Little Fire Faery's friend is hanging out today, too.

We have a full house, and there's lots of music and laughter and dancing and just kids chatting it up with each other. It's wonderful and magical ....

And I am incredibly thankful today for my daughters' friends. My girls have chosen well, and we're blessed to have them in our lives.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gratitude - Day 18

I am thankful that I have never known true hunger - that even when the pickings on the pantry shelves were slim, and there was nothing I wanted to eat, there was always something I could eat.

There is plenty of food to go around in this world, and we - all of us - waste an enormous amount of food ... even when we think we're being very careful. When it comes to hunger, the problem isn't scarcity, but rather that there are too many people for whom food is simply too expensive to buy. I've been reading about the Irish potato famine and the great horror of the tragedy was not that the potato crop failed and left millions of people with nothing to eat, but rather that in the midst of this food shortage, hundreds of thousands of pounds of grains (barley, rye and oats) and livestock were being exported out of Ireland and to other countries. Millions of Irish people died because the food they were growing was sent somewhere else to be eaten.

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink ....

We produce plenty of food in this world, enough to go around, and yet, there are millions of people who spend the day wondering about and worrying about food.

Food stamps could be a step in the right direction, but they are woefully inadequate at addressing the real issue, which is that there is no security in depending on others for one's sustenance, and we have to stop giving people fish, and switch to helping them learn to get their own, to become more independent.

I don't have an answer, except that we, as a culture, should work very hard to give people a place to live where they can grow some food, and if that means an apartment building with a community garden ... well, at least that would be a start.

Wouldn't it be very cool if our towns would purchase a few of those "foreclosed" homes - ones that have sat empty for six months or more - reclaim them from the banks and use them as low-income housing? Dozens of families would, not only, have a place to live, but since many of those homes include a yard, they'd also have a place to grow a garden, or raise a few chickens.

I have never known true hunger. I've been hungry. I've been, by definition, impoverished and homeless, and I've even been the thankful recipient of food stamps, but I've never been starving, I've never gone a day without food for myself or my children.

I know this makes me incredibly fortunate, and I am very thankful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gratitude - Weekend

I don't think I was even on the computer at all on Saturday. My day was that filled with other activities. We're marking an event this week - a wonderful, family event - and so this weekend was spent with friends and family in celebration.

And so, for Days 16 and 17 - I am incredibly thankful for the people in my life who give me something to celebrate, and who make the celebration so much fun.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gratitude - Day 15

I was recently witness to an incredible act of kindness. Without going into details, I just want to say that it was an amazingly selfless thing I saw one person do for another, simply because the one person couldn't imagine wanting to be able to do a thing but not having the tools to do it.

It makes me misty just thinking about it, because I see too many people grumbling about how horrible people are, and I read so many horrible stories, but the reality of my life is that more often than not what I see of people is that people are good and kind and generous and thoughtful.

I am so thankful that the people I know in my real, everyday life are, mostly, good people, who strive, always to do, mostly, good things for themselves, for others and for the world.

I am humbled by them and incredibly thankful that I can be witness to their acts.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grateful - Day 14

So often, when I hear about people stocking up/prepping and I see what they are buying for their stockpile, I cringe. Most of those things, I won't eat now, because they are hazardous to one's health in the best of times. Perhaps, not worse than the effects of starvation, certainly, but couple long-term systemic damage from toxic food with half starvation, and it's a really bad combination.

I saw a suggested list for building food storage on $5 a week. The problem is that I wouldn't eat the kind of food that was suggested on the list now, because most of it, we just don't like. Things like cream of chicken soup. Bleh! In addition to the several canned soup varieties (lots of salt and the plethora of unpronounceable ingredients), the list was very carb-centric with a lot of sugar and things like macaroni. There were no fruits or vegetables and very little protein (no meat, eggs, or cheese, although there were cans of tuna and peanut butter), which is okay, if we assume that the people storing the food would be supplementing with wild foods or a garden and some hunting.

The other suggestion, which seemed incredibly unrealistic and impractical and probably not a real smart way to invest one's money, especially if that $5 is going to be tres cher and difficult to part with, is wheat berries. The problem is that unless one has the equipment and/or the knowledge to use them, in a TEOTWAWKI situation, wheat berries are going to be kind of useless. How many people really know what to do with 500 lbs of wheat berries (which is what one would have after a year of spending $5/week on stored foods)?*

The problem is that, while we could get a general understanding of how to use those wheat berries, there is always a learning curve when one goes from theory to application. I can explain how to use the wheat berries, but if one isn't already using them regularly, an emergency is a piss-poor time to start learning how to use the food one has stored up over the course of several years. Also, the $5 per week storage list has yeast as one of the items, and I should point out that bread made from ground wheat is very different from bread made from that lovely unbleached white flour that we all love. Just sayin'.

Let me stop right here, though, for a qualifier. Storing food is never a bad idea. Not ever. There are too many real-world, real-life examples of people going through significant hardships. In fact, as most of my regular readers know, I'm a voracious reader, and one of my favorite genres is historical fiction - especially dealing with extreme situations, like the Great Depression or war-time survival stories. Right now, I'm reading The Siege by Helen Dunmore, about the Siege of Leningrad during WWII - and yes, people died. If more people in Leningrad had had a three or four month supply of food, lives would have been saved. If the only stored food one can conceive of having is wheat berries, by all means, store wheat berries. Absolute worst case scenario, it would be an excellent barter item, and/or it could be used for animal feed.

That said, let me emphasize, if the things on the suggested food storage list are not things one would normally purchase and use, don't store them. At best they'll be unfamiliar in an emergency situation. At worst, they'll be a $260 mistake that sits and is wasted - like a lot of the food people stored for Y2K. One would be better off with the grocery-store sized plastic bag full of Taco Bell seasonings we jokingly referred to as our Y2K soup base.

There's a second list that's been developed - actually in response to the $5 one mentioned above. It's the Real Food Storage on $10 a Week list, and I really like most of the items on the list. What might give some people pause is the need to further process some of the food, like week 24 is "cabbage to turn into kraut." For me, though, it would be an issue of time of year. For instance, if I started the food storage this week, by the time I got to week 24, it would be the end of April - a bit too early to find cabbages here in Maine ... well, except for the ones grown who-the-hell-knows-where and shipped here on trucks. I'd have to juggle the schedule a bit to fit our local foods diet.

But it's a much better list and is, quite frankly, more representative of the kinds of foods everyone should be eating. It's also a much more balanced diet, and really, if we end up in a worst case scenario and find ourselves eating our food stores, I want this kind of food in my cupboards. I loved all of the spices (a total of $20 worth, which, depending on where and how it is purchased, could be quite a lot). I was particularly intrigued with the idea of waxing my own cheese, and as soon as I read it on the list, I started looking for information about how I can do just that.

The first list I wouldn't even start, because the diet is bland and not very nutritious (in fact, one of the storage items is vitamins, but if the food stores were of higher quality, vitamins wouldn't be necessary), but with some modifications, I could see the second food storage list as being something we all could benefit from starting.

How is this related to being grateful? I mentioned, above, that I'm reading The Siege by Helen Dunmore. I recommend it. The writing is good, and it's a gripping story. One of the best things about reading a very good book is when that book really makes me think. This is one of those books.

What if? What if we were completely cut off from the rest of the world, and we had only what food was left in our community and/or in our house to live on? Starting in 1941, the German army encircled the city of Leningrad for almost three years. In the book, the siege starts in the fall, and three months in, they are starving ... to death. They are given a ration of two pieces - not loaves - of "adulterated" bread (that is, mixed with "cellulose", which is wood pulp). They are starving, and they are freezing, because there's no electricity, either. Pipes have frozen, because there's no heat in the buildings, and so there's only the water from the river for drinking. Forget about bathing or other cleaning, as they are too cold and too weak from hunger to even think about that. Imagine winter, in Russia, with no heat. Imagine.

I read about what the main character had stored at the beginning of the siege, and I read about how they are - just barely - surviving, and then, I see lists like these, and I think, even if I had nothing, right now, and I started storing tomorrow using the Real Food Storage on $10 a week list, by the new year, having spent only $60, I would have dry beans, oats and chicken, some salt and coconut milk, and about six pounds (or three kilos) of raw cane sugar, which, in the book, becomes more valuable than gold - quite literally. Six pounds of beans would be 72 servings, and stretched could be at least a week's worth of food for my family. For $10, we could have enough food for a week.

I am incredibly thankful for my full freezer and cupboards. I don't know if we could survive for three years without access to the outside sources of food we enjoy, but I know that our diet would be incredibly flavorful and varied, at least for a couple of months ... and probably into next summer, when I could plant some seeds I happen to have stored.

*What to do with wheat berries:

Grind them into flour for: pancakes (leavening agent, egg and water); dumplings/biscuits (butter, leavening agent, salt, milk or water); noodles (egg and water); crackers (water and salt for flavor); and bread (yeast, water, honey, salt).

Boil them for porridge.

Sprout them.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gratitude - Day 13

This evening, Deus Ex Machina and I were invited to do a book talk about our recently published Browsing Nature's Aisles. In addition to just talking about the book and our adventures in foraging, we also offered some foraged foods (the soup turned out really good, by the way).

It was such an amazing event - a small gathering of friends and new friends. We made some wonderful connections, which I hope will be maintained. Community is so important, paramount, even. And I feel incredibly blessed each time we are able to strengthen and expand our circle.

It's not abut selling books or whatever. It's not about my being someone who knows something ... but about sharing, and that's what this evening was. Yes, Deus Ex Machina and I were standing at the head of the class, but the amazing part of it is when others start to share their stories, too, and there was that, as well.

I am so, incredibly, thankful for wonderful times, like this was, whether I'm standing up there or whether I am sitting and listening to someone else sharing their stories and knowledge. We all have so much to give. The challenge is to be open to those gifts.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gratitude - Day 12

It's just a test. And they're not going to actually knock-out the grid. I think.

It's a simulation - like those field exercises that we did when I was in the Army. You know. Practice. Just in case.

We do all sorts of practices for all sorts of things that probably won't ever happen, right? And the fact that our government is working on the potential problems, and how they plan to respond should (probably) be a relief. I mean, I just read the book they mention One Second After that describes an EMP attack on the US and what happens. It was disconcerting - mostly because people were (are) incredibly short-sighted.

Of course, I think most people would be short-sighted, in a case like that, because, for the average person would not believe that things wouldn't go back to normal fairly quickly. When the power goes out following a storm, for instance, there's never any question that it will be coming back. It's not "if" that we question, but "when", and of course, the longer the power stays out, the more irritated we get, and the more thankful we are when it's restored.

This planned simulation is in response to that understanding - the understanding that our society needs the power grid to keep operating smoothly, and without it .... Well, just say that One Second After paints a pretty bleak picture of human nature and the response to a catastrophic event that makes life a lot less comfortable. What surprised me most, probably, were the food issues and the fact that no one did enough early enough to mitigate the eventual starvation (which, considering that it takes place in the spring in North Carolina, really bothered me, because they could have started planting things and subsequently harvesting things a lot sooner - at least I want to believe that, with better planning and preparation, it wouldn't have been so bad).

I'm not really concerned that this simulation will go bad, because I don't think the intent is to really shut down the grid, but if it does, I'm thankful to know about it ... and to also be comfortable that we are, kind of, prepared. I mean, the reality is that one can never, truly, be prepared for a change that happens instantaneously - kind of like becoming a parent. We think we know what to expect, but the reality is that we don't have a clue, until we live it, and even with five children, each one was different, each time was different.

I'm not concerned, but just in case, we're making sure everything is charged ... and we'll probably make sure to fill up our vehicles so that, worst case, we'll have a bit of gasoline for the generator. I'll probably fill up the water filter systems.

I know it sounds like not much to be thankful for, but I am thankful that we've been moving closer to self-sufficiency, because while nothing probably will happen, if it does, I'd rather be where I am today than where I was seven years go.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gratitude - Day 11

Every year there comes a day when it's just cold, and we've dealt with the chill in the house long enough that we just don't want to deal with it any more. It's usually when the night temps drop below freezing. That day we start a fire in the woodstove, and that fire stays lit - usually being rekindled in the morning using coals from the previous days' flames - until the spring.

We held out, this year, until almost Hallow'een. Our first fire was October 25, and we thought that would be the day that it stayed lit until next year.

It's been a weird season. The days are actually warm - relatively. Today, I don't have a fire in the woodstove. It just doesn't make sense to use that fuel when it's not terribly cold in here. It's not terribly cold out there, actually.

My girls found a short video, called a "Vine". It has two guys talking, and goes something like,

Guy One: "Temperature check."

Guy Two: "It's 60°. You know what that means."

Guys prop their booted feet up on coffee table and in unison declare: "Ugg boot weather!"

Personally, I think 60° is a bit warm for Ugg boots, but I'm certain that I would have been happy for the lined warmth of them when I was in junior high and living in the deep south.

Now, though, I am thankful that, after a decade and a half of living here in Maine, I am finally acclimated to the environment enough that I can live in a house with no heat when the temperatures outside dip into "Ugg-Boot" weather ... and I'm too warm to consider putting those Ugg boots on ... unless I'm not wearing any socks.

Google Translate

My comments are moderated, because I started getting a lot of spam messages.

Here's one, and it's a wonderful example of what happens when someone who does not speak the language uses a dictionary or computerized translator.

Wow, marvelous weblog layout! How lengthy have you been running a blog for? you made blogging glance easy. The entire glance of your site is wonderful, let alone the content!

Being a native speaker, I know what was intended, but I'm amused by the results.

I wonder what language the writer speaks.

**The comment won't be approved, because it's obviously an attempt to boost the author's website ranking, and I don't think the author really reads my blog ;).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gratitude - Day 10

I am incredibly thankful for the abundance in our lives.

A week or so ago, we learned that the undeveloped area behind our house, which has been on the market for a very long time, was finally sold. We're disappointed, because (very selfishly) we would have preferred that it stay unsold, or at least, undeveloped, forever. It is such a beautiful piece of land, and over the years we have strongly connected to its wildness.

But it's not ours. It never has been, and as much as we would have liked to have owned it, our pockets just aren't deep enough - and even if we had been able to buy it, the taxes on that much land in our community would have been too much for us to maintain without selling off bits and pieces of it ourselves.

We knew it would, eventually, happen. We adore the woman who owned the land and certainly do not fault her for selling it. It's what she needed to do.

While it remains undeveloped, we hope to still enjoy walking the paths. Today, we walked back through and were greeted with some wild life we don't always see. We also harvested some wild carrots and Staghorn sumac for a wild food tasting party we are having next Wednesday.

I've looked at satellite pictures of the subdivision where I lived in Alabama as a kid and am disappointed by how much the area has grown and developed since my family moved away more than three decades ago. I was very sad to see the Wal-Mart within shouting distance of my old haunts.

While there really is no place for a Wal-Mart - or any other mega shopping center - in my current community, I don't doubt that a lot of great big houses on half acre lots will, someday, surround my little suburban paradise. I don't know how those people will feel about our homestead. Most likely is that most of them won't care, since we're just far enough away from where the closest house will be that they won't see, smell or hear us. Even if some of them do catch wind, I'm sure there will be more than a few who end up doing what we do themselves. I've seen plenty of McMansions surrounded by lush edible landscapes and a few urban chickens.

In the meantime, we will be incredibly thankful for the bounty of the land around us. We found a bagful of wild carrots and are very excited that our "wild soup" will be a lot more wild than we had originally thought.

We harvested our last three roosters today. One of them went into a pot and slow cooked on the woodstove until the meat, literally, fell off the bone. We had chicken noodle soup (with homemade egg noodles) for dinner.

For that, I am incredibly thankful.

Today was my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. We weren't able to be there in person to celebrate with them, and so we bought them dinner and had it delivered to their house. We found a restaurant called Hugh Jass Burgers.

Try to say that out loud ... without giggling.

My parents have been married and endured a lot of really difficult times for five decades, including two very difficult pregnancies (because my mother is Rh- and my father is Rh+) two daughters who ended up hospitalized because of vehicular accidents, a twenty year military career including two tours in Vietnam and numerous long-distance moves, RIF, near poverty, several recessions, and a lot of those little every day shit happens life events, and yet, they endured, through it all. There aren't a lot of people who can say that.

I am so humbled by their commitment to one another, and inspired to learn what they know about how to keep a relationship honest and growing - as theirs must be. One doesn't simply stay with a partner, not in these disposable times - without there being some reason to hang out. They are pretty amazing people.

They called to let us know that they enjoyed their Hugh Jass Burgers and all of the side dishes, and that we bought them way too much food.

I am thankful that giving them this tiny recognition of their great accomplishment was possible.

Gratitude - Day 9

Deus Ex Machina and I spent the whole day Saturday with our two granddaughters. Our girls were in dance class all day, and my older daughter and her husband had to work. So, the grandbabies came with us on some errands. We returned bottles to the redemption center, went to a local restaurant for brunch, and then, zipped over to Smiling Hill Farm to return the couple of dozen half-pint bottles we had built up ... and get some ice cream.

At the restaurant, an elderly lady was sitting in the booth behind us, and as she was leaving, she made a point of stopping at our table to compliment the grandbabies on their behavior. She was surprised when we told her that they were our grandchildren and not our daughters. We look a bit young to be grandparents - although I'm sure we look too old to have such young children.

It was such fun, very low key, nothing fancy or spectacular. Just mundane errands and dinner out with grandpa and grandma - but I know they had fun, too.

In our very mobile, very spread-out culture, where children leave home, and often never go back (not necessarily by choice, but just by happenstance), it's not unusual for children to grow up never really knowing their grandparents. I'm thankful that those girls know us, and know us well enough to joke with Deus Ex Machina in the manner he jokes with them. Ask the oldest, and she'll tell you - he's a "rotten grandpa" - said with a sparkle in her eye and a chuckle in her belly.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Gratitude - Day 8

Homeschooling doesn't mean that we are isolated from the real world. In fact, because we don't spend our days holed up in a classroom, but rather out in the world, even if just virtually, we get a lot more "real" world than the average kid, I think.

I say that, because my children see things and know things and are able to process things in a very safe environment, where they can ask questions or formulate opinions about the things they see and discuss these things with someone who is (probably) a bit more experienced than they are, but who won't pass judgment. Yeah, that's me.

I'm making these observations, not to say our way is the best way, or to make any disparaging comparisons between our homeschooling and public schooling, but rather, because our very different lifestyle gives my children the opportunity to view peer behavior a lot more objectively. It's not unusual for us to have a discussion about how someone they know behaves - badly - and sometimes those who are the most ill-behaved are the ones who should know better. It's interesting to hear their thoughts when they've witnessed an adult have, what is basically, a tantrum, or worse, when an adult supposes some superiority over them and treats them with the unwarranted disrespect that some adults feel is their right, solely because they are adults and my children are ... children.

I also love how they are able to express themselves - at least to me - without fear, and I love that I can have thoughtful conversations with them. They're smart, and I don't have to work hard to remember, because they are really, very smart - not in an arrogant I know more than you teenager-angst way, but in a I've thought about this, and read some stuff about it and have a fairly well-informed opinion kind of way. I've learned to listen to them. I mean, really, really listen.

I have never been an authoritarian parent with them. Once, when we were hiring a new doctor, I had to fill out a questionnaire. One of the questions regarded how we discipline. I answered honestly. I don't. We don't discipline. Today, we were standing in line at the coffee shop. It was the middle of the day, right around lunch time, and they were really busy. We waited, chatting amicably about what we wanted, or some other silly thing we were discussing ... oh, wait, it was the clothespin game, I started with them, and so we were laughing and joking with each other - not raucously, but just having fun and waiting our turn - no hurry. The woman in line in front of us commented, mostly to my children, "You're being very patient", and she had observed that three or four people had, essentially, skipped line in front of us and gone to the other register. We hadn't noticed or didn't even think about it, actually. We were just waiting and laughing about being tagged with the clothespin.

That's the way it is for us, most of the time. I get a lot of compliments about how well behaved my girls are, and if I said that I don't discipline, that they don't throw tantrums, that they don't get out of sorts, like I hear of other children doing, most parents wouldn't believe me, but it's true. Yes, they get angry, and so do I. We're not perfect, but never could I honestly complain about my daughters' behavior or call them "bad." Never. They are never bad.

We are unschoolers, and what that means is that I have had to let go of my need to control and trust. The paradox is that the more I trust them, the more trustworthy they become. The trust had to come first. It was never something I expected them to earn, but rather, like believing that all people are innocent until proven guilty, I just always assume that they are being honest, and they don't disappoint me.

I am thankful that, when Deus Ex Machina and I had a decision to make, we were in a position to choose homeschooling, and that we took the time to explore our options and found unschooling, because unschooling just flowed so naturally from where we were as parents. I am so thankful for our lifestyle and that my children have blossomed as intelligent, thoughtful, kind (mostly) and conscientious young women. I couldn't wish anything more for them than what they have.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gratitude - Day 7

I am on cloud nine right now ... and it's not the coffee, I swear.

Deus Ex Machina and I are doing a book reading/wild food tasting event next week, and I've been mulling over what to serve for the past few weeks. There are so many options, but this time of year, so many things are unavailable. We have some stored things, like maple syrup and some jams we made from wild foods. There are acorns and wild apples.

'Round and 'round the little wheels have been turning, and I've thought about and then discarded several ideas.

Today my friend, Julie, from Windy Field Farms posted a recipe on Facebook from her friend, Meadow Linn's new cookbook.

I read the recipe, and I'm just over-the-moon ecstatic, BECAUSE this recipe can be easily adapted to wild foods, and it sounds amazing! I'm a huge fan of squash-type soups, and this one looks just like pumpkin soup. I'm drooling just looking at the creamy texture, and imaging how delicious it must be.

In fact, I think I'll make it for dinner tonight, to try it out ... and I'm so excited to offer it to our guests at our upcoming Literary Snack Party.

I am so thankful, right now, for this blog and even for Facebook, where the recipe was posted, and I was introduced to Meadow Linn, the creator.

Yay! For soup! Life is good :).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gratitude - Day 6

I am thankful for the opportunity to take a nap when I feel like it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gratitude - Day 5

Gratitude is a practice. It's like learning to play an instrument or cooking. The more one does it, the better one gets at it, but even better, the more one does it, the more one learns to hear those very subtle tones in the music, or to blend different flavors - both producing a sensory explosion of delight.

In doing this month of gratitude over the past several years, I've always strived to find very simple things for which to express gratitude, not to focus on the obvious, big things for which we are all grateful.

Of course, I'm thankful for my family - shouldn't we all be? I have an amazing partner. In spite of flaky Gemini-ness (which must be very difficult for his solid Taurusness to endure), he stays. I don't deserve him, and I'm well aware of that fact, but the truth is that he seems to feel the same as the author who penned the "Marriage Isn't For Me" story that's floating around Facebook right now. It's not about him. It's about us, and for that lesson he's taught me, I'm eternally grateful.

And my children .... They are all amazing, and they surprise and delight me Even my older two, who went through some pretty significant shit being raised by a couple of people who should never have been entrusted with two innocents ... and, yet, they have both matured into a couple of pretty remarkable people. I'm not proud, because pride connotes that I have the right to take credit for who they are, and I don't. They did that all by themselves. I am humbled, and I'm awed, and I'm thankful that they have chosen to allow me to be a part of their lives. Both of them allowed me to perform their wedding ceremonies, and my son even let me plan it. So much trust. I don't deserve it, but I am eternally grateful.

Regularly, Deus Ex Machina looks at me and says, "We have a good life." The fact is that we do. We have an amazing life, and yes, shit happens. The roof leaks. Our cars break down. Jobs often suck. People get sick. Our pets die. The garden doesn't produce. The washing machine breaks. The freezer door is left open. Shit.Happens.

But through all of that, there is this practice. This practice of feeling how amazing and wonderful LIFE IS, in spite of the stuff that happens.

Perception. It's all in how one looks at it.

And what practicing gratitude - not just here, for a month, publicly expressing these things, but in my daily life and practice (because I do express gratitude on a daily basis - even for those days when I'm not publicly proclaiming my thanks) - has done for me is to give me a different outlook, to change my perception.

I'm not thankful in a at least it's not X happening to me kind of way, or in a I have it better than so-and-so kind of way, because to me, that would be insincere. That kind of gratitude means finding ways to make myself feel better by making another person seem worse - you know, looking at someone who seems to have everything going for him/her, and then, looking very, very closely to find that flaw so that we can feel better about ourselves by making them seem not so perfect.

I'm not thankful that I have it better than someone else.

I might have been at first, but practicing gratitude every day has shown me that I don't have to be thankful for my life because it's better than. I can just be thankful because it is what it is, and it's good, even when it's not.

I am grateful, extremely grateful, that I can be grateful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gratitude - Day 4

I love books, and I'm very grateful to live a time where books are abundantly available ... and I'm very thankful for reading glasses that allow me to continue enjoying those books.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gratitude - Day 2

In October a community organization hosted a haunted hayride. We took our girls' dance team over there, and while we were there as guests, we learned that they needed volunteers to help out. So, my family volunteered.

And had a blast being the "actors" who did the scaring.

Whether we were scary or not, we had fun, and while I wasn't able to go back for a second time, my girls and Deus Ex Machina volunteered several more times, and in the end, Big Little Sister told me she had a blast, and that she wanted to do more stuff like that.

While all of that was happening, I had also contacted our local theatre to inquire about volunteer opportunities, and I learned that they needed folks to help out as ushers and in the concessions stand.

Tonight, Big Little Sister and I volunteered and were ushers for the show, Rumors. We helped people find their seats, we assisted in the concessions stand, and when it was all over, we did a sweep of the theatre to pick up programs that were left and water bottles and other trash.

For all of that, we got to see the show, and it was so funny! And so much fun!

I don't need or want to be on a bunch of committees or to be a power player or decision maker, but I very much love the opportunity to do little things, like usher at the theatre or wear a costume and try to be spooky. I love my little community, and I am incredibly thankful for these volunteer opportunities.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Gratitude - Day 1

My very good, real-life friend reminded that I've been neglecting this space in favor of Facebook. Which is really a shame, because I held out on not joining Facebook for a very long time, and I still have this reluctant commitment. I don't enjoy Facebook, not in the same way that I enjoyed blogging and reading other people's blogs. It's just different, and there is a lot more of the kinds of stuff that I would filter out of my blog experience that tends to capture and hold my attention in not terribly positive ways.

I've found myself fixating on some things I see on Facebook, and sometimes I'll spend hours (the whole day!) arguing, trying to make my point, about things I really should just let go.

Which is why, when I saw on Facebook this morning a reminder of the Thirty Days of Gratitude, that I knew I had to do it, and so I posted over there, that I was. I forgot to come to my friend, my blog, and post my intent here. My very good, real-life friend reminded me ;). So, thank you, T-Jo.

And I do have so much, so VERY much, to be thankful for. I have an amazing life, and every day is a gift. Over the next thirty days I will remember and count those gifts.

This morning, I finished reading William Forstchen's One Second After. It is about how a small town in North Carolina struggles to survive following an EMP burst. I'm planning to write - a lot - about what I thought about the book (and I do recommend it, because I think it's a good thought exercise, even though there was a lot I didn't like about the book), but for the moment, I just want to say that I'm thankful to my friend, Laura, who recommended it.

I especially thankful for writers, like Mr. Forstchen. I am extremely grateful to those visionaries, who have considered the possibilities and written about them - as a warning or a challenge to us to do better than we are.

One Second after is definitely in the warning category, and both the foreword (by Newt Gingrich) and an afterword warn that such a strike and the events described in Mr. Forstchen's book are all too possible. I think it would be easy to be really scared about the possibility of something like that happening, and it would be really easy to play the ostrich and just pretend that it would never happen here, because our government will take care of us ... or to play Scarlet O'Hara, and just decide to worry about it tomorrow, although we'd probably never face it, until we had to, in either case. A much better reaction, however, is to take control. We may not be able to stop something like that from happening, and we can't ever be truly prepared, but we could take steps to empower ourselves.

I'm incredibly thankful for all of the doomer writers, because they force me to ask the question: What would I do? And then, to find some answers.