Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Misleading Headlines

I'm laughing at myself.

I saw a headline today, Fed just amassing ammo for next recession with summer hike.

At first blush, it seemed to be saying that the federal government was stockpiling ammunition in preparation for an inevitable recession. I further read it to say that the feds were expecting a recession this summer!

That's not what the article meant, though. The article was an explanation as to why the Federal Reserve is increasing interest rates right now, and according to the article, it is to prepare, in the event, that there is another recession in the near future. It's a precautionary move on the Feds' part, according to the article.

What I take from the article is that:
  • The government is expecting a recession ... this summer!
  • The interest hikes now are so that when (not if) the recession hits, the Fed can, then, lower interest rates

There are a lot of really noteworthy events happening these days with regard to our country's economic health, and while they will tell us that we've recovered from the 2008 Recession, I don't see it. I don't see that anything has improved, and in fact, what I see is the frog in the pot syndrome, where we're just becoming accustomed to the new norm - which is that we're making more money than ever and getting poorer at the same time. Our dollars just don't stretch very far these days.

The fact is that when stores like, Walmart, are doing mass lay-offs, we know that it's bad out there. Walmart used to be the place to get a job when all other job opportunities were dried up.

We're heading into the summer tourist season here in my part of the world, but local Inn keepers are already worried that this will be a bad year for them.

The Feds (probably) aren't stockpiling ammunition for the expected recession, but they are getting ready for what might be a bumpy financial future.

I don't like being a Debbie-Downer with only ever sharing bad news, but I think it is important that we don't look at these headlines and events in fear, but rather as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If they are accurate and something is coming soon, we have the opportunity, now, to better prepare ourselves for economic upheaval.

But even if nothing happens, being prepared is never a bad idea.

Gas in the News

Ten years ago there was a lot of talk in certain circles about Peak Oil. At the time the rest of the world ignored the whispers, because life was just so damned good! It was very much similar to the Climate Change debates. A group of people who were heavily invested in the lifestyles that copious use of fossil fuels created wanted to hear nothing about resource depletion or environmental destruction (potentially) wrought by our continued use and dependence on fossil fuels.

Having grown up in a coal mining part of the world, I saw, first hand, how destructive using coal is. It doesn't just kill the environment. It also kills the people and the communities who depend on coal as an economic base. The only people who get rich in the coal industry are the people who own the mineral rights to the coal. The people who actually work in the industry are struggling to just make ends meet while their health continually deteriorates. Many end up broken and disabled before they turn 50.

For many decades the oil industry boomed. We had a glut of the black gold and a lot of people got very rich. We've known now for many years that the oil industry in the US is waning, and we also know (at least those of us who'll admit it) that the oil industry is waning worldwide.

In the 1950s, geologists discovered the Bakken Tar Sands. Nothing was done for more than half a century to attempt to extract that oil, because it wasn't profitable to do so. When the price-per-barrel for oil topped $80, investors suddenly became very interested, and fracking the tar sands started. It was a boom for the communities around the tar sands ... for a couple of years.

The problem with tar sands oil, other than it being difficult and costly to extract, is that it's not sweet and light, like oil from a well.

In response to the tar sands mining, oil rich countries, like Saudi Arabia, began flooding the market with their oil, and the prices went down. The price of gasoline at our pumps here in the US dropped ...

... and everyone gave a big cheer.

But, perhaps, that cheer was misplaced, and a thoughtless return to our gluttony was irresponsible, because it won't last.

According to this article, Shell is cutting over two thousand jobs because of weak oil prices.

What does that mean, you ask?

As Saudi Arabia continues to pump more and more oil out of their wells, they are depleting what they have, and it is only a matter of time before their well is dry. There are only so many oil wells out there, and once we've used up what's available, we either learn to live without it or we end up like curs fighting over the scraps out in the dirt yard.

Here at Chez Brown, the peas are a couple of inches high. Baby lettuce is ready to harvest. The apple trees are in full bloom and beautiful, promising a bumper crop this year. The first batch of ten broiler hens is ready to pick-up at the butcher, and we have two dozen more growing out in the yard.

The other day a friend was laughing, incredulously, as I recounted the story of my shirt. "It used to be yellow," I said. "Then, I washed it, and it ended up with a red splotch, and so I dyed it blue. Now, it's starting to fade, because I dry it on the line." She said, "You get a lot of wear out of your clothes, don't you?"

Life would be tough, if the economy buckles. The world won't just go away, and there will still be things we have to pay for, but because we have food, because I know how to get a lot of wear out of my clothes, because we're learning to be more frugal with everything - including our Internet usage (more on that another day :)) - we might be able to stay somewhat comfortable - even on our tiny quarter-of-an-acre.

In another post, my friend, Contrary Goddess reminded me that people are often limited more by what they perceive as limits than actual physical restrictions. There's a lot we can do, where we are, with what we have. The key is to see the possibilities rather than the limits.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tips and Tricks on Saving Money

Mavis over at One Hundred Dollars a Month challenged her readers to share their tips on how they save money. She had twelve questions and asked that participants answer five to seven of them.

I decided to take the challenge, but as I said in my response, "most of the time we don’t feel like we’re saving any money. Most of the time, it feels like we’re right on the edge, and so I don’t, often, feel like I have any great how-to advice when it comes to pinching pennies, but when I read articles on money-saving tips, I realize that my family also does a lot of the things that other people do, and in some ways, we go a step beyond. So, I thought I would give it a shot."

This links to my full response.

Here's a sneak preview of part of one of my answers.

Tip #2: How do you save money on entertainment costs without ending up like a shut-in?

My answer: We volunteer! It's a great way to become involved with our local community, get out and meet people, AND see a show. I love my community theatre and becoming a volunteer there was probably one of the smartest moves I've made.

My daughter as the door-greeter (one of the usher staff) at our local theater

It was a lot of fun doing the exercise. I know a lot of my readers have some great habits for simple living, which often results in money saved. Let me know if you decide to submit your savings story. I'd love to read it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What If You Could Only Choose Five ...

The best vegetables to grow in any area are the ones that thrive in that particular hardiness zone. My hardiness zone is 5, but there are parts of Maine that are zone 3 – much colder. While that allows for a wide range of possible food plants, a very short, often very cool, growing season means that many types of food plants have to be abandoned, or require special equipment (like heated greenhouses) at the beginning and/or end of the growing season.

But let’s make the situation even more tenuous. Let’s imagine that the gardener has a very small space in which to garden, but desires to grow most of the food her family will eat. A short, cool growing season plus a tiny piece of land could mean that the gardener would just be SOL for having a good food crop, but it doesn’t have to.

For gardeners in cold climates with limited space, the solution is to pick plants that have a short growing season, have a long storage life, produce a lot of food per square foot, are calorie dense, and contain a lot of nutrients. There are many plants that might satisfy all of these criteria, but the top five are: beets, potatoes, garlic, pumpkins and beans.

The chickens love hanging out under the squash vines

Short Growing Season

My growing season in Maine is, roughly, from the end of May to October. That said, plants have different quirks and so while the general rule of thumb for gardeners in Maine is to wait until Memorial Day to plant the bulk of the garden, there is some wiggle room. Garlic seed can be put into the ground in the fall and harvested in the summer. Beets can be sown as soon as the soil can be tilled, and for the savvy gardener, the beets aren’t just the red part underground. In addition, to their energy-packed roots, which are ready for harvest about sixty days from planting, they also provide tasty greens. Potatoes, pumpkins and beans prefer to spend most of their growing time in warmer temps, and they won’t be ready for harvest until the fall, but they have no problems producing prodigious amounts of food in the few short months they have to develop.

Long Storage life

With such a short growing season, it is important to have vegetables that can be stored for a very long time. Potatoes and pumpkins, properly stored, will last until the next spring, and beans and garlic can both be dried for long-term storage, as well. Beets can be stored, like carrots, in cool, dry areas, but they can also be pickled, and the greens can be dried to add a nutritional boost to winter meals.

Lots of nutritionally and calorie dense food on this one ... AND it stores for months

A Lot of Food in a Little Space

One clove of garlic can produce a fist-sized bulb. One pound of seed potatoes will produce about five pounds of spuds. Beets do not need a lot of space to grow and because they like cold weather and can be planted early, they will provide two or more crops per season with subsequent plantings. One pumpkin vine, depending on the variety, will produce three small or two large pumpkins. Pole beans can be grown vertically on trellises, thus saving ground space for other plants, and one plant will continue to flower and produce bean pods from early summer until the first frost. In addition, pumpkins and beans can be paired in a much smaller planting area with corn (which provides a trellis for the beans) in a companion gardening technique often referred to as the “Three Sisters.” The corn stalk provides a support for the beans, the squash/pumpkin vine provides shade and weed control for the beans and corn, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, which feeds the other two plants. It’s one of the most popular companion planting techniques, especially in the northeast, but knowing what grows well with your intended crops can be both beneficial to the success of the garden and to one’s food storage endeavors.

Dried beans have a long storage life

Calorie Dense

According to the Positive Health Steps website kidney beans, which are an easy to grow, pole bean, have 100 calories per 100g, four slices of beetroot contains 30 calories, 1 clove of garlic provides 5 calories, one baked potato boasts 175 calories, and 100g of baked pumpkin provides 120 calories. With the exception of garlic, which is best grown for its health and flavor benefits, there are very few other vegetables that provide the power-packed punch and do well in the cooler climes of the northeast gardens. As such, if one is growing a garden with the intent of providing most of one’s food, giving space to beans, pumpkins, beets, and potatoes is a good investment.

Nutritional Value

Of the eleven essential minerals listed at this website, nine of them are found in one or more of the vegetables listed. Additionally, seven of the twelve important vitamins listed on the same website are found in one or more of the vegetables that grow well in the northeast. Of the other five vitamins, vegetables are not a good source for three of them, and perhaps adding a few meat animals to the garden space would be beneficial for all of the reasons above (calories, nutrition), but also because animal manure provides a powerful source of nutrients for any garden.

Garlic can also be used to stop a cold in its tracks

In my many years of gardening small spaces with the goal of self-sufficiency, I have found that the best vegetables to grow in my area are ones that have a short growing season, have a long storage life, can be grown in small spaces, are calorie dense, and have a high nutritional value. After considerable trial and error, I have found that the best five plants to grow so that I can feed my family without depending on too many outside food sources are: potatoes, pumpkins, beans, beets, and garlic.

If you could only choose five vegetables to grow in your small garden, what would they be ... and why?