Monday, February 24, 2014


Today was Little Fire Faery's moment of Kiah. She went outside to tend the animals, and when she came back into the house, she wrote a short passage about the half dozen birds she'd seen and heard while outside in that brief moment. Her final statement was 'Tis spring.

In our book, Browsing Nature's Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Foods in the Suburbs, Deus Ex Machina and I talk about our Kiah. In one of the many languages on the African continent, Kiah is that moment when the seasons change. Today, Little Fire Faery had her kiah moment, while feeding the chickens and ducks, and noticing all of the birds - lively and active - and looking for sustenance at the close of our Maine winter.

Deus Ex Machina have had our kiah, too.

We've tapped the maples.

We've seen the bees flying in and out of their hive (Yay! At least one of our hives survived the winter, and YES, we are so thrilled!).

We've started planting for this summer's garden.

I'm hoping to use up most of the extra seed I have this year, and then, to save seeds from what I've grown ... and I should really work much harder at labeling them correctly ... or at all. This year, we've planted a "mystery melon" from seeds we saved last fall. Can't wait to see what we get ;).

Have you had your kiah yet?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Tapping Wasn't a Raven

Yes, as a matter of fact, there was, yet, another snowstorm that dumped another several inches (at this point, we've stopped counting how many) of snow on us last night.

But that doesn't matter, because the maple trees are telling us they are ready for spring, and we listen.

Today, Deus Ex Machina and Precious headed out into the front yard, wading through knee-deep snow, to tap the test maple.

The sap is flowing!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

100 Books to Read ...

Everyone has his/her favorite books, and it is a common practice to make-up lists of the [fill in number] Books to Read Before You Die. Recently, the online mega-bookseller Amazon published their list of 100 books to read. I enjoyed Jay Parini's opinion piece about the list, especially the observation, "are these the 100 books you must read before you die or the 100 books Amazon will probably sell you before you die? The latter, I think." I also liked his advice about looking elsewhere, but I think the place to look is, probably, a lot closer to home than some arbitrary list compiled by someone who probably has some sort of agenda.

If I were going to make a list, for instance, I would be stupid not to include Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil and/or Browsing Nature's Aisle: A Year of Foraging for Wild Foods in the Suburbs ... except, when we talk about the best books to read, the point is to choose ones that have life-affirming or life-changing messages. Either of my books might fit that definition ..., but are they literary masterpieces?

Maybe I shouldn't go there, right?

Certainly, if one is just coming to the topic of self-reliance in an energy depleted society, Surviving ... is an excellent title to get the pump primed - so to speak. Likewise for those who are new to the idea of foraging. Browsing ... is a great title to get one thinking about the possibilities.

And I guess that's what makes a good book, a book that one should want to read, because it opens up the mind to possibilities.

I don't think I could make such a list, because, first of all, "the best of literature" is very subjective. I have no love for either Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling, but I thought Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy was brilliant, both the concept of a dystopian future that is all too plausible and the descriptive and gripping writing style. I really, really didn't like Stephanie Meyer's simplistic writing style and third-grade vocabulary (and I feel the same about Edward Cullen that I do about Nabokov's Humbert Humbert - both are child predators and neither should be celebrated. What makes Lolita a classic, though, is that not only is the writing much better, but that in the end Humbert recognizes the damage he had done and repented, and Edward never does. We're supposed to believe Twilight is a *love* story. Gag!).

Of course, I prefer dystopian fiction to vampire fantasy and whatever genre Lolita falls into (some sources call it erotica). I've read several of dystopian novels (enough that I taught a class on the subject), and, certainly, if I were going to make a list of the 100 Books to Read ... at least one or two of them would be included (like Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and A Handmaid's Tale - two frighteningly possible futures, neither of which I hope to see). Not everyone would agree that those types of novels should be on the "to read before you die" lists, but one of the reasons I'd include them is that if we don't open our eyes to the worst case possible scenarios, we might find ourselves in that worst case (witness Orwell's 1984, which is very much too real today - was he a prophet, or are we just all too apathetic?).

Speaking of dystopian futures, I would *not* include Cormac McCarthy's The Road on the "must read", although it's a very good book, simply because it's more about human struggle to survive under extreme duress, and I think there are a lot better books about the struggle of being human in an inhuman world. Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place (not fiction) is an excellent example of the indomitable human spirit, and for the survival of the fittest, I prefer Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear (and the research that must have gone into this novel is daunting!)

I think I'd also include The Red Tent by Diamant and The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver.

Interestingly, the Amazon list includes Stephen King's The Shining, which was both a great book and a great film, but I don't know why it was included. For the record, I am a long-time Stephen King fan. I picked up my first King novel when I was a teenager (The Dead Zone) and from there I was hooked. I read The Stand when I was sixteen, and read the unabridged version - all 1700 pages - (the one he wanted to publish originally, but couldn't, because his publisher said it was too long) when I was in college.

King had some better books than The Shining, I think. Pet Sematary and Cujo, while not better, per se, are the same sort of psychological study of what happens when a person is thrust into an extreme situation. What makes the two latter better than the first, in my opinion, is that the implication in the first is that Jack has been possessed by the spirits of the hotel - he's completely lost his senses, and he is not in control. In the two latter stories, that's not the case. If I had to include a King novel in my 100 best, I'd pick The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, because it's truly about survival. Or I'd pick his serial novel The Green Mile, because it was such a good story and so well done. I read it as a serial novel, and I loved it!

I'd also pick The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and Sister Carrie by Dreiser. I read both of those novels in college ... a lot of years ago ... and both of the stories have stayed with me. I often make reference to both novels, in fact, and I believe that they have both helped guide me to where I am. Both novels were deeply moving for me at a time when I could have, so easily, ended up in the kind of situation in which the characters found themselves. I read about their lives and knew I wanted better for myself.

I'd probably include The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, because we do need to read about other cultures - non-European cultures - and even though Ms. Buck is a European, and it's likely that the story is colored by her Western slant, it is a good story to give us a clue as to values that we don't see much here. I'd also include Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdman or Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood by Robyn Scott. The first is a memoir written by a Peace Corps worker stationed in Africa. The latter was written by an African woman of European descent about her life growing up in the southern part of the African continent. Both were wonderful memoirs and great stories. And as long as we're looking at other cultures, The Kite Runner was also a really good story, and kind of gives a tiny glimpse of the political and social struggles in the Middle East (but only a glimpse, and again, probably with a Western bias).

The main point of such lists seems to be to preserve some societal ideology or, perhaps, to warn us, or, perhaps, to open our eyes. Maybe the lists are an attempt to boost the egos of a few bibliophiles into thinking they (we) are some intellectual elite, because we've read most of them. I know, I often get a strong sense of self satisfaction when reading through the list of what someone else deems are the best and discover that I've read a significant number of them.

Like all lists, the Amazon list includes books I'd never include, and many books I haven't - and probably won't - read.

I won't make a list of the 100 best, but I will make a suggestion on how one can ensure that one has read the "best" books, and my suggestion is find ten books for each of the following categories:
  • Explain a hobby you enjoy and/or would like to learn;
  • Tell a story about someplace else (can be fiction or non-fiction);
  • Tell a story about a lifestyle you hope to avoid (again, fiction or non-fiction. I read a lot about homelessness and poverty so that I can better understand the issues people in those situations face);
  • Best sellers in the decade in which you were born and/or books written about where you're from (either where you were born, if you have a family history there, or where your family originated. I read a lot of books about the Appalachian region of Kentucky);
  • Books that someone else says are "the best" (but don't get too bogged down by this category. It's not more important than the others);
  • Books that highlight issues about which you are passionate;
  • Contemporary fiction (that is novels written about the times during which they were written, and not necessarily current fiction. Huckleberry Finn was a contemporary novel in Mark Twain's time, for instance);
  • Historical fiction (books written in the present about a time in the past, like The Red Tent)
  • Memoirs or "A Year in the Life ..." story (I love fiction, but the real stories, well-written, are so much better);
  • Speculative or dystopian fiction(because sometimes the worlds they describe are where we end up).

When it comes to books, we should read what captures our attention, but we should read.

We should definitely read.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Not Being Powerless

This graphic so completely captured what I've been trying to say in this space, since I started this space, and the feelings that were stirred when we, recently, watched Les Miserables. It's a wonderful story, set in early 19th Century France.

In the preface to the book, Hugo says of his work: ... so long as ... the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night are not solved; ... so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.

In my experience there are very few books that I would deem "useless." More often there are stories that need to be told, because someone, somewhere needs to hear that story. In the case of Les Miserable, more of us than are really hearing - and I mean REALLY hearing - the story, really need to hear the story.

It's a deeply moving story ... at least it was for me, and my daughters were amused by how much it affected me, but it wasn't just a movie. It seemed to me that it epitomized the truth of the above graphic, too. When we think we have no power, we tend to not take responsibility for ourselves, either. If we believe that someone else has control over our lives - as Fantine was certain that she had absolutely no control ... and hers was the most tragic of all of the stories in the entire work. One might argue that Gavroche was more tragic as a youth cut down, too soon, by the French Army, but he made the conscious choice to do what he was doing, and he was happy to be where he was, even though, in his naiveté, he couldn't possibly know what lie in store for him.

It doesn't take grandiose displays to exert one's power. We don't have to blockade the streets and die for a cause, but we can, quietly, live the lives we wish to live, even as society tells us that we can not have those things or want those things.

I don't know that Fantine's fate could have been different, even if she had made different choices - certainly in the interest of building the story, Hugo could not have made her choices different. I just know she didn't make any decisions, and so her life ended tragically and quickly, and to the society in which she lived, she was little more than the human detritus that littered the streets of Paris, much like most poor people are all over the world, even today.

I guess, if I could wish for something, it would be that people who believe themselves disadvantaged could find that inner strength to take back their power.

Speaking of taking back, too often I hear comments like, "I can't stand Wal-Mart, but I don't have any other choice." For the record, I live in a typical suburban area, and I'm surrounded by the same sorts of stores that everyone who complains about no options sees. There are four Wal-Mart stores within a twenty-five mile radius of my house, and fast food restaurants so numerous that I couldn't spit without hitting one. In fact, one area of the main thoroughfare through a neighboring town has been dubbed "Hamburger Alley", because of all of the fast food joints. Hamburger Alley is just down from the "Automile", so named because of the mile or two stretch of just car dealerships.

There's a mall nearby, and the several miles between the mall and my neighborhood are dotted with shopping centers with more than my community's share of Crapplebee's, Rite Aids, Walgreens, Starbuck's, Books-A-Millions, Payless Shoes, Toys R Us, Targets, and Old Navys. What was it I said about spitting and hitting one of those stores? I live in an area that is just as much about Kuntsler's "Happy Motoring" as anywhere else in these United States, and all of the same stores others have in their neighborhoods are in mine, too.

My community is not the treasure-trove of Mom & Pop establishments I think people must think it is because I talk so much about buying local and not shopping at chain stores. To not shop at chain stores takes a great deal of effort on my part. It's about making choices, and it's worth every second of effort it takes. I also don't save money shopping at the Mom & Pop store instead of ducking into Wal-Mart for a quick shopping spree. I do, however, save money by shopping less often, and when I do go shopping, doing so with specific intent (I need to get X, Y, or Z) rather than as a past-time, like playing cribbage.

Edited on 2/15/13: Thanks to Anonymous for pointing out that, if we want to really be conscientious shoppers, we need to do our homework. Too often, the companies that we're trying to avoid own the companies we think are better - like Amazon owning Quidsy, which owns So, I won't recommend that online vendor, and I'll go back to the shop local mantra. Surely there are some local vendors who aren't owned through a chain of smaller LLCs by some big conglomerate.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Drugs versus Supplements

I just wanted to share a link to this article on Dr. Mercola's website about supplements, written in response to a recent interview on the Dr. Oz show, where Dr. Mercola was discussing the merits of supplements versus prescription drugs with a Dr. Paul Offit, who apparently believes that the supplement market is not regulated enough - with the implication being that since vitamins and supplements haven't been regulated by the FDA, they may not be safe. As Dr. Mercola points out, Dr. Offit is mistaken.

I'm not a daily vitamin kind of person (although, living in Maine, and because I don't eat nearly enough fish - the best dietary source for Vitamin D - I do take Vitamin D during the winter), but as most of my regular readers know, I am a huge advocate for use herbal medicines over their manufactured counterparts.

Herbal remedies can take longer to work effectively, and they also need to be used more consistently - often before the symptoms become severe enough to warrant medication - and so many people don't think they are effective, but where prescription drugs target *a* symptom, herbal remedies work to boost the overall immune system. In effect, herbal remedies work to make our whole bodies stronger - not just to attack one isolated portion.

As Dr. Mercola says, though, supplements and vitamins are regulated and approved safe by the FDA, and as the linked article points out, there have been zero deaths attributed to vitamin use in 27 years and counting. I guess the question is, do we want to take the time to allow our bodies to fight off whatever it is battling and offer it only a few tools, or do we want to risk side effects from using the prescription drugs? It's six of one and a half dozen of the other**, right?

Personally, I like to err on the side of caution** and as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger**. In the case of supplements, which have a pretty good track record with regard to fatalities, this seems to be absolutely true.

** Please forgive all of the clichés ;).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Spring ... Fast Approaching

Yes, I realize that we just had another doozy of a snowstorm. And?

When Deus Ex Machina and I were in the feed store the other day, we noticed that they had chick order forms.


Order forms.

It's time to place our annual chick order - a sure sign that spring is just right here, and it's time to start getting ready for next winter.

That's the life we lead, though - happily preparing, learning, planning, and doing.

Life is good.

In his most recent post, the Archdruid argues that our future might look something like Steampunk - with regard to available technologies.

Oh, I hope so, because I really love the clothes :). In fact, I think I could make this dress.

Picture from

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

More Snow ... It's Just Life As Usual Here on the NanoFarm

It's snowing again today. Predictions are for 8" to 14". The part of Maine, where I live, averages 70" of snow per year (which is, actually, 20" more snow than is average for Homer, Alaska - just sayin':)). I don't know how much snow we've already gotten this year. It doesn't feel like that much, but snow is just part of our winter. In fact, for most of the winter (an average of 90 days), we have at least one inch of snow on the ground all of the time.

For me, it's a welcome part of our four-season year. I don't, so much, enjoy the clean-up following the snow storm, and I much prefer when Deus Ex Machina stays home and helps with the shoveling, but during the storm, life is slower and more quiet.

I'm incredibly thankful that we have the lifestyle we have, because, even though we would ordinarily be heading out in an hour to our music class, we can opt not to - we could reschedule or just cancel. It's our choice. We don't have to wait for someone else to make that call.

We didn't go to the store last night. We already had both bread and milk in the house ... and if we run out of bread, I have flour, yeast, honey, salt and water. I could make more - even if the electricity goes out. If we run out of milk ...? No worries. We don't drink a lot of milk anyway. In fact, I'm more concerned about running out of cream for coffee, although I'm not, really, worried about that, either.

We did do some preparations for the storm.

I filled up the wagon with firewood. It's not necessary, really, because the woodpile is less than 50' from the door, just around the corner of the house. Worst case, there's another woodpile less than 20' from the other door next to the driveway. The snow would have to get really deep to keep us from being able to reach our woodpile, and if that happened, we wouldn't be able to get to the wagon, either.

Filling the wagon isn't necessary, but it is more convenient to just reach out the door for the wood.

We also filled up our filtered water pitchers. It's also not necessary, probably, because it would have to be a real worst case scenario for the water to stop flowing through the taps. But if it did, we have several gallons of filtered water ... and in a pinch, it is snowing. We could melt snow ... on the woodstove.

Rechargeable electronic devices are also fully charged, but, again, probably not necessary - it's just a little thing, just in case.

Tomorrow, the storm will be over, and everything will be back to normal.

For today, we'll sit back with a cuppa and enjoy the smoothing out of lines as the snow gently blankets our world.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Browsing Around the Internet

This article on is excerpted from our book, Browsing Nature's Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs.