Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Making Coffee ... Without a Pot

We haven't had an electric coffee maker for a very long time. We have been using a French Press, which I very much love. The problem is that we have the usual type with the glass beaker, and glass breaks. We've replaced our beaker twice, now, and yesterday, we broke our third beaker.

Over the years, Deus Ex Machina and I have stopped rushing out to replace whatever thing gets broken, because, typically, when we do that, we don't get what we want. We have to settle for what we can find, and I've gotten to the point that I hate settling. I want what I want, and I'm willing to wait for it.

But no coffee? Not an idea my family is going to be happy with for very long.

At times like this, I put on my thinking cap, and I start thinking of ways to improvise what we need from materials I know we have at home.

Today, it was improvising a coffeemaker.

I knew we had some coffee filters leftover from something - not sure what - but clearly we've had them for a while. We also have jars ... lots and lots of jars ..., and we had this funnel which was the top of a wine bottle that we cut using our glass cutter to make a glass.

Basically, I attached the coffee filter to the funnel using a rubber band, added some grounds, and (slowly) poured water through. It took a little longer than using the French Press, because the water passed through the grounds and filter more slowly than just adding the hot water to the press, but it didn't take that long. And clean-up with this jar method is a bit quicker than with the French Press, because it's just a matter of taking the filter and grounds out of the funnel and dropping all of it into the compost urn.

If I didn't have paper filters, I could even use cheesecloth as a reusable filter.

The best part is, if we opt not to replace the French Press, we don't have to worry (as much) about breakage, because we
have dozens more glass canning jars ... and plenty of wine bottles to use as funnels, also.

Speaking of ... if we cut the bottle just right, we could probably just use the bottle with its own inverted top and make a repurposed wine bottle coffeemaker.

Hmm ...? I wonder if I can patent that idea?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Herbal Remedies - The Answer to Modern Medicine's Mistakes?

In my book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Trivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil, two chapters stood out as causing the most controversy among the readers.

Chapter 18 is entitled "Schooling", and in that chapter I talk about alternatives to our current education model. Most people who read my blog or follow me on Facebook or know me in real life know that I homeschool, and so, naturally, there will be this assumption that I think homeschooling is the end-all and be-all of education. For my family, yes, I do, in fact. Homeschooling is not an educational choice for us, but a lifestyle choice, and the fact of our homeschooling simply follows the natural, organic flow of our lives. I don't know if everyone should homeschool, and in fact, that's not, at all, what I say in the chapter.

Taken in the context of the book, (which is a thought experiment based on the notion that in twenty-one days something will happen that will change the world as we know it) one can understand that I'm not attacking schools. In the preface, I talk about several possible scenarios - things that are happening right now in our real world - that could herald TEOTWAWKI, but the fact is it could be something as simple as losing a job, and if you don't think life as you know it would be significantly changed by a job loss, then, you're one of the lucky ones who is still working in today's economy.

The point I'm trying to make in that chapter is not that our educational system is bad (although I do, truly, believe it is), but rather that, if we do experience a larger collapse, one that affects entire communities or regions, then maintaining our very expensive educational infrastructure (providing heat, water, and electricity to the buildings, bussing kids long distances to a central school, maintaining the buildings and grounds, etc.) will not be possible. In short, if our communities become short of funds, we won't be able to pay for the schools, and in Chapter 18, I offer some alternatives - including homeschooling, but not only that.

Unfortunately, I think some of the people who reviewed the book didn't really understand the premise of the book, and so they took my commentary on schooling as an attack on our educational system.

In fact a lot of the criticisms about my book came from people who didn't really seem to get the premise, as evidenced by the backlash from the chapter in which I discuss health care. Because the book is also very anecdotal, based on the real things my family has been doing to lower our personal impact (as an example of how easy it really is for a suburban family to live a lower energy life), it seems like a lot of people forgot the original premise.

Like the reviewer who accused me of being a luddite, because Deus Ex Machina and I prefer to do things by hand. It's not that I don't like technology (hello! I'm writing this on a computer ... oh, and there is a whole chapter in which I discuss why we might want to be able to continue powering our computers - that has nothing to do with the Internet, by the way), but rather that I think too much dependence on it can lead one into trouble (oh, like when the electricity goes out during a winter storm, and people don't have a back-up system for staying warm ... like that?). Embracing a lifestyle that enables me to enjoy modern conveniences (like cars and computers) and live without them at the same time makes me more resilient when systems fail. It doesn't make me a luddite (although, in truth, I may actually be ... but that's for a different day).

In the health care chapter, I open with a story about how we went to the doctor, and the doctor and I had a discussion about vaccines. Not to open up the whole vaccine debate, but FOR ME, there is enough of a question about the efficacy and safety of vaccines for me to want more information before I allow them to be pumped into my daughters' bodies. I just have questions, and I haven't had one doctor, yet, address my concerns. The doctor I'm talking to in the book just tells me that she believes the risks of getting the illnesses outweighs any potential risk from using the vaccine. I disagreed.

Reviewers accused me of believing some study by some guy in Europe, whose study was later discredited, when the fact is I had to look him up, because I didn't even know who it was. For the record - I don't have a Disciple personality. I tend to be wary of truly enigmatic personalities, because history has provided too many instances in which people have been duped by guys on white horses, and I like to question commonly held beliefs, anyway. My grandmother used to call me contrary.

It's true that I started seeing some articles questioning vaccines, and so I started researching vaccines - what they were supposed to prevent, and what those diseases were, and how those diseases were treated if one contracted them. I also looked at the fatality rates, and I found some interesting stuff that seemed to show the incidence of the diseases were on the decline BEFORE the vaccines were put into use.

And I started to wonder. I started to look for more information, and what I found just made me question more, and so I put off vaccinating - not because I'd been duped by some flawed study, but because I started paying attention to the fallacy of Doctor = God, and the notion that our modern medicine has significantly improved our health and longevity - neither of which is true.

We are not healthier than our forefathers. And, with the exception of infant mortality, we are not living longer, on average, either.

But in the context of the book, my personal opinions about vaccines and modern medicine are secondary and that three paragraphs where I mention my discussion about vaccines with my family doctor was just to introduce the topic of medicine in a powered down society.

In the context of my book (preparing for a catastrophic event that will herald the end of the world as we know it), modern medicine, including medication, and YES, vaccines, might not be available. And then, what? My answer to then, what is to suggest ten herbs that are both culinary and medicinal and can be easily grown in most temperate climates.

The fact is that many modern medicines are highly toxic and have numerous side effects (don't believe me? I've been working in the medical industry for more than a decade, and while I only need to know how to spell the drugs to do my job, I have access to the complete information about what those drugs do, how they're used, and what to avoid if one uses those drugs). The same is not true of herbal medicines (although any medicine improperly used can be dangerous - including herbal remedies).

In addition, modern medicine has created some pretty horrific diseases, like MRSA, which is caused by a bacteria that is naturally occurring and almost always present on our skin. It's when this bacteria gets out of control that it becomes a problem, and the most serious problem with it is that the newest mutations of this bacteria are now immune to the medicines we have (i.e. antibiotics). The reason these bacteria have developed an immunity is that the antibiotics have been overused and/or used in ways they were never intended to be used.

Sometimes things happen, and I get to feel a small sense of vindication. Reviewers accused me of failing to grasp the (apparently infallible - Ha! Ha, ha!) "science" behind modern medicine (I understand science) and blasted me for promoting herbal remedies as an alternative to (costly and questionably safe) professional medical care, and then, a few years later, a study using essential oils to combat those antibiotic resistant bacteria strains is conducted and proves the efficacy of the herbs against those germs.

Hmm .... Herbal remedies can be a substitute for modern medicines ... ? ....

Isn't that what I said?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

More Snow

... and next week the temperatures are supposed to plummet again to below 0°F at night and in the teens during the day.

I am incredibly thankful for this snow, even as little as it was, to provide a blanket for the tender perennials from the frigid cold we're expecting. I wish so much of the last few storms hadn't melted in the January Thaw.

I'm also very thankful that we didn't tap the trees - even though the last week and a half the temperatures have been perfect for sugaring ... and in years past, we have tapped this early. This year, it just doesn't feel like winter is done with us, yet, and if next week's temps are an indicator, she's not ready to let go her icy hold, just yet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Learning Curve

I predict a very large learning curve in my future ;).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Back-to-the-land: a Self-Serving Adventure

I have been fascinated with the Back-to-the-Land movement for years.

Back when I was in junior high school (or elementary school - can't remember, exactly when it was or how old I was), we lived in a very suburban neighborhood just outside of the third largest city in Georgia.

Diagonally across the road from my house was a typical split-level with a fenced back yard, and it was in that yard that I first discovered zipper spiders and a backyard corn field. I was hooked ... although I didn't know it, yet.

Fast forward several decades and one night, after everyone else is in bed, I'm awake (mostly), sitting on the couch, nursing my youngest and channel surfing. PBS is playing the BBC television program called The Good Life about the upper middle class couple, who decided to turn their home in a London suburb into a farm. I was fascinated. Really? In a suburb? Hmmm ....

From there, I read Dolly Freed's Possum Living - another story about suburban back-to-the-landers, and then, I started reading stories from the real back-to-the-landers, starting with the Grandfather and Grandmother of the entire movement, Helen and Scott Nearing.

The thing that kept niggling me, though, was that for every one person who went back-to-the-land and stayed there, hundreds more came back-from-the-land. I wanted to know their stories, because I felt in their experience was the key to making the movement a success.

Recently, I was reading this article. In the last decade, or so, we've seen a resurgence of the back-to-the-land ideologies, with more and more people rushing to buy up small acreages (and 40 acres isn't "small", but compared to the 300 acres the settlers back in the 18th and 19th centuries felt they needed to subsist, 40 acres is pretty darned small for a farm) and learn to live off the land.

What they are discovering is the same thing that the original back-to-the-landers discovered. Indeed it is what many of the settlers who pushed their way across the continent toward the Pacific discovered: it's hard work, and living completely in concert with the land in a society that values money above all things is nearly impossible. Even those settlers, the original pioneers, needed some money (as we saw in the PBS series Frontier House), and also as we were told in that PBS series, most of the people who left city life to try their hand at homesteading didn't succeed.

I wondered, why so many people fail? It is a good life, or it can be, but one needs to be very willing to make sacrifices. They touch on that subject in a few episodes of the television show The Good Life, and in their writings about The Farm (the communal settlement founded in Tennessee by Stephen Gaskin in the 1970s), Ina May admits that one of the requirements of taking up residence in the commune was a willingness to sign a declaration of poverty. Stephen knew that to live the back-to-the-land lifestyle so many were envisioning would require a shedding of all money-centric ideologies and conveniences.

It was a wonderful goal - to live like the Natives, completely off the land - but it was unrealistic, as so many people discovered, and are still learning in their attempts to truly go back. The unfortunate reality is that there is no place to go back to, and if we hope to live differently, perhaps, more kindly on our Mother Earth, we need to modify our ideas of what that will look like. In essence, we have to go forward - push through the ... whatever this life is that we've created ... and make something else.

Perhaps the answer is to compromise, to live where we can have an income, but also where we can move ourselves further away from the money-economy for our basic, daily needs. Maybe we need to pare-down and simplify and figure out what it is we can live without ... and what we feel very strongly we need to live happily.

The question in the article, and the one that probably plagues anyone who is living a lifestyle with the goal of making a difference, is what wider good is being done by my living like this?. It's a valid question, and I'm sure there are days when I think about that - what good is my not having a clothes dryer doing the rest of the world? And it's especially confounding when I look out the window, on days like today, when a load of towels was left on the line and it is raining on the clothes, which are, now, too wet to bring inside to dry. I'll probably have to wash them again. How are my wet towels saving the world?

The answer is they're not. We, back-to-the-landers in the suburbs, aren't going to save the world. I'm not sure any of us even have that lofty of a goal.

And when I consider my lifestyle choices, I know that what I'm doing should not, and can not, be about saving the rest of the world. I don't have to make a difference in the world.

But I am making a difference in my own life, and really, it's the only one I have control over anyway.

So, in the end, that's why. I'm doing this stuff for me, because living this way is what makes me happy ... wet towels and all.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Crystal Ball ... Or Something

It's become a fun, little, project each year to write out my predictions. I'm certainly no expert, but when it comes to fortune telling, who is? And, really, how does one qualify for such a title? Is there a PhD of fortune telling?

Anyway, I'm not trained in fortune telling, but I don't do too badly at looking at current events and making predictions about what the future might hold based on current trends.

This time last year, I predicted:
  • We hadn't heard the last of the OWS movement. I totally missed on this one, although while they are not longer "occupying" anything, they are still somewhat active. They're, at least, trying to make a positive difference. This article on why the movement fizzled was interesting.
  • We would start seeing government cuts. I totally nailed this one, and it was worse than I would have thought. The sequester and subsequent shut-down resulted in cuts that will have a more far-reaching effect that most of us will realize. My family is not dependent on food stamps for any portion of our dietary needs, but there are a lot of people who are. We will - all of us - come to feel some of the bite, either with higher taxes at the local and State level as our smaller government bodies try to take up the slack left by the cutting of these federal food assistance programs, or in other, perhaps not so obvious ways (hungry people are desperate people).
  • The price of oil per barrel will remain close to $100 per barrel. This one, I nailed. The price of oil per barrel stayed above $90 for almost the entire year (there was a week or two where it went as low as $85/barrel).
  • We'd love our second-hand stuff even more. I'm going to say I nailed this one, too. I don't have any concrete examples, but the thrift shop industry is booming, and I can think of half a dozen thrift stores within shouting distance of my house that aren't Goodwill. I've also seen a bunch of fix-it places pop up. Two years ago my daughter dropped her iPod and our option at that time was to buy her a replacement. This year, my daughter dropped her iPod, and we found no less than three places where we could get it fixed for half what it would have cost to replace it.

I'm almost afraid to make any predictions this year, because, with regard to our government's behavior (especially at the federal level), the economy, the environment, our food/water supplies, and energy resources, I just see more of the same.

By now, anyone who is paying attention knows that the US hit Peak Oil in the 1970s, and there seems to be a lot of evidence that the world has peaked as well. That doesn't mean we're out of oil, but it does mean that there is less to be had. The good news is that there does seem to be a decrease in overall usage, but the question is, are we using less because we're making conscious choices to do so, or are we using less because there's less to use? The latter is certainly true, and I'd like to think that the collective consciousness is trying to make wiser ecological choices.

Usually, my predictions are dire. Instead, I'm going to try to put a positive spin. So, here are my 2014 predictions:
  • There will be a bigger trend toward going small, especially with regard to energy consumption. I predict more households will be opting for residential-sized power generation and more communities will be finding ways to make their power generation local rather than region. In short, I think people will begin to realize how fragile and cumbersome our grid system is, and instead of waiting for someone to fix the aging system, will do it for themselves.
  • In that same vein, I think we'll see a lot more innovation with regard to localized power generation systems. I think more people will be exploring the best option for their particular location, and we'll see a lot more of things like biogassification, methane digesters, and, perhaps, some water wheels (using rain run-off from roofs, for example).
  • We will see a lot more news about front yard gardeners being harassed by their local municipalities for alleged illegal gardens, but every story about garden oppression will create a dozen new gardeners. I think more people will jump on the self-sufficiency wagon, especially with regard to their food.

It's really the same stuff I've been saying for years. I guess the bottom line is that I don't think anything is going to change drastically this year from the trend that we've been seeing for the past five years. More people will be using less; more people will be realizing that the government is unstable and is NOT going to take care of them; and more people will be engaging in quiet, civil disobedience - like gardening and raising chickens, in spite of local ordinances.

Here's to a happy and abundant 2014!