Saturday, October 31, 2009

Break the Chain - The Last Day

We participated in the Great American Halloween tradition of Trick-or-Treating, which is always said as all one word and turned into a verb. It is an action, after all, walking around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and saying "Trick or Treat" with an open hand waiting for candy.

Like the candy-filled Easter basket, though, it's such a pervasive tradition, and so much a part of what our culture does, that it's really hard, even for someone as on the fringe as we are, to let it go - or to convince my girls to discard in favor of developing new traditions - something not quite so ... commercialized and sugar-laden.

But I'm working on it ....

As we were walking over to the trick-or-treating street in the subdivision across the road from where we live, I joked that we should have gone to the mall (when the girls were younger, we used to go to the mall, but not since 2001 - I was joking about it, because it was supposed to rain :).

Little Fire Faery said, "We can't go to the mall. It's a chain store!"

Success comes in small increments.

Today is the last day of the challenge. I was going to wait until tomorrow to post my wrap-up for the challenge, but it's going to be a busy, busy day tomorrow ... what with all the shopping I have to do ...

Seriously, though. I did learn a few things over the month of not shopping at chain stores.

I started the month confident that I had a very good handle on the types of things I might need over the month, and I was pretty sure of where I'd get them.

I discovered that was not exactly true. I didn't anticipate needing to get office supplies. There is no place, except a chain store, to get those sorts of things, and even if I had ordered the very specialized paper and labels online, it would have been from a chain supplier, and I didn't have time to wait from them to get to me.

The other thing I didn't figure on needing to buy is diapers. I don't have any diaper-wearing children of my own (my youngest is six), and when I did, they were in cloth diapers. But I babysit my granddaughter several days per week, and I will usually buy diapers and clothes and shoes to use when she's at my house. It helps my daughter, and it really is better for me to just have those things, because sometimes in the rush to get out of the door and over to Grandma's house so that Mom and Dad can get to work on time, things get forgotten. It just happens.

This week, I ran out of diapers, and I had to stop at Hannaford.

I also learned that there are just some things that local stores don't carry. Like diapers. I could not think of any place in my area that was not a chain or supplied by a chain (IGA) that would carry diapers.

The other issue is that very little manufacturing is done in the United States anymore, which means that most of the things we're going to buy anyway are shipped across the world.

We have a salvage store in the area, and I went there last week looking for yarn. It's a Maine-only chain, but none of the stuff is they sell is "local." It's all reject stuff - probably from Wal-Mart :). Unfortunately, they didn't have the yarn I was looking for, and worse, the store is in the same plaza as Joanne's Fabric (where they do have the yarn I needed), and I didn't succumb to temptation, but I did look longingly at the windows as we walked by.

The worst part about the challenge, though, was that I seemed to spend a lot more time driving around to the different stores. I live in a small town, surrounded by small towns, but only one of the towns where I spend a lot of time has a walkable downtown area, and the shopping centers they have are occupied mostly by chain stores.

We didn't buy a lot of stuff this month, though. Mostly it was food, and unfortunately, because we were shopping for just our regular things (like the same sugar we can get at Hannaford for 50 cents less per pound than we paid), we probably spent a little more money than we would have in an ordinary month.

The flip-side of that is that because we weren't going to the grocery store, we weren't doing much impulse grocery shopping, and so we saved money. Maybe in the end, we actually broke even.

The really awesome thing I learned was that my food stores are phenomenal! We ran out of coffee, tea, sugar! and dog food. Other than that, we only purchased fresh items, like produce and diary. Everything else we still have plenty of.

Ultimately, the lesson I learned is that when it comes to food, we could source everything we need from local vendors (not 100% local food, though, as some products we buy regularly, like sugar and flour, are not Maine-based products usually), and much of it from local producers.

When it comes to other goods, like office supplies, we're less successful. The pervasiveness of chain stores and shopping centers filled with them have all but stamped out most general store-type businesses.

Starting tomorrow, the challenge is over, and we will go back to Hannaford. But, maybe, Deus Ex Machina will continue to drive the extra couple of miles to visit the tattoo girl at the local coffee house in the morning, instead of visiting Mike at Tim Horton's.

I know that I will always prefer my local booksellers, who may not have what I want in stock, but who will always, willingly and ably, order any book title I request.

The locally-owned feedstore will always trump Tractor Supply for my business, because everyone who works there knows my face (if not my name), and I don't ever expect to get that at Tractor Supply (plus, the products at the local place are a better quality, in my opinion).

Today was the last day of the Farmer's Market for the season, but one of the vendors will be opening their farm store over the winter, twice in December and twice in January, and I will make a point to be free on those Saturdays so that I can stock up. In the spring, I'll be back at the Farmer's Market on opening day, and I will buy something from everyone who is there, and inquire about their winter ... and many of them will probably remember me - enough to ask how my winter went, as well.

Until they close for the season, the farm store (different from the one mentioned above) will be a regular stop, because they do know my name, and that's just a nice feeling.

We visited a local consignment shop today, where the clothes are a bit more expensive than Goodwill, but a much superior quality. I found everything I was looking for there, and saw a bunch of stuff I didn't know we might need, until I saw it. I'm thinking if I buy any gifts for the holidays, that's where I'm going first.

I am glad I challenged myself and my family, thus, this month. It was actually kind of fun, and as evidenced by my daughter's comments, I think they may have actually gotten something out of it. In the end, it was me who was waffling and ready to break the challenge, but they (especially Deus Ex Machina, who was just a super trooper through the whole month!) pulled me back and helped me think of alternatives.

Last night, Deus Ex Machina and I went to the World Premier of the stage adaptation of An American Werewolf in London. It was an incredible show, and as a long-time fan of the movie (that came out in theatres when I was a teenager, and I saw it in the theatres - very cool on the big screen!), I have to say that they did an amazingly AWESOME job! I can't praise the show enough.

With the exception of the community theatre that is associated with my girls' dance school, we've never really participated in local stage productions. At the beginning of the show, the director came out on stage and gave a little intro/instructional speech. In closing he said, "Support community theatre. Let's help each other through these tough times."

And I agree. Support local ... support all local. Let's help each other through these tough times.

And that's what I learned from this project.

How about you?

If you have been participating, please leave a comment and I will do the drawing for the winner of one of my (very precious and sacred) books :).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Angry Elf

Disclaimer: The following video contains strong language and violence as he mutilates a fax machine with a baseball bat.

The commentary, while laced with profanity, is sobering for its unadulterated presentation of the truth as it is, not as our corporate media tells us it is.



What's very sad about this video is that this average Joe gets it. Our economy is in shambles, and the news reports are simply lying - plain and simple - and this guy, who, let's face it, doesn't really fit the stereotype of the intellectual elite, sees what our esteemed and (supposedly) more learned and experienced leaders (either) cannot see (or are simply hiding from us).

Predicting the Weather

The Farmer's Almanac predicted a really tough winter for the interior states.

If this is any indication of what's to come, they were right.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

HiStory, HerStory ... Our Story

Today, I thought I needed to know more about the Pre-Civil War US, and so I've been doing some reading.

I found this information:

1859 AD Oil Well Started - Until Edwin Drake drilled his well, oil had been collected from whatever had seeped out of the ground. This oil was used for medicinal purposes. Drake, who had been a railroad conductor, was convinced that large quantities of oil could be found by drilling. Just as his money dried up and investors called for an end to the drilling, Drake struck oil. Before long, the area around Titusville was full of oil wells and the commercial use of oil began.

I did not know that oil was so important so early in our history. I guess I always thought that it wasn't until the late 1800s, after the Civil War, that the Industrial Revolution began.

Boy, was I wrong, and I guess this falls into the category of things my teachers never told me.

American History, as presented to me in school, goes something like: America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, and then the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and had Thanksgiving with the Indians. Then, the colonists got sick of the King of England and signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, when we won the War of Independence, or the American Revolution, and became a new nation.

Skip about 100 years to:

Abraham Lincoln was President, and the Civil War was fought to end slavery. Then, President Lincoln was shot while he was at the theatre, but the good news is that the North won, ending slavery and saving this great nation.

A few years later, the United States entered World War I after a German U-Boat sunk a passenger ship carrying some Americans. We won.

Which caused us all to celebrate through the Roaring Twenties, during which everyone was drunk on life, because alcohol was prohibited, which is why the Stock Market Crashed on Black Thursday in September 1929, causing the Great Depression of the 1930s, that ended when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and we entered World War II, which we won in 1945.

The 50s were great, but we don't really learn all that much about them, because when I was in school, we could just watch Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days, or the movie Grease and learn all we needed to know. Right?

We usually skipped right over the twenty years following the end of World War II, and did a quick skim of the Vietnam War (a very quick skim).

And then it was summer time. This was in the late 70s/early 80s, and so there wasn't really much else to study, because we were still making that history.

Since I've left school, I've learned so much I had no idea had happened. The Industrial Revolution didn't start in the late 1800s. It actually started before the United States had even declared her Independence.

Which means we, as a nation, have no idea how to live without technology.

And we're completely dependent on a substance that wasn't even widely used until 1859.

And without electricity, our homes are too unsafe to be habitable.

It's amazing how far we've come.

Got No Power

I was reading this article this morning. It's about a couple (as in two) of apartment fires this summer (one ending very tragically) that were caused by candles used in apartments when the tenants' power was cut due to non-payment of the electric bill.

The authority figures (the city government and the landlords) featured in the article are all adamant about how dangerous it is to live in an apartment without electricity ...

... because of the risk of fire ...

... because electricity has never been implicated in an apartment fire.


And it makes me bristle ... just a little.

The discussion centers on safety, and the way the city of Lewiston combats it is to condemn the individual apartment until the situation is rectified. So, these people, who can't afford to pay the electric bill, are now out on the streets, because their apartment has been condemned, and they can't move back into the apartment until their electric bill is paid.

Maine law prohibits Central Maine Power (CMP) from cutting power during the winter, because of the heat issue. Which means that during the winter, CMP customers could just not pay the bill, racking up hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars. When the weather warms enough to not be dangerous, their power is cut, their apartment is condemned, and they're on the streets.

I just don't see that as an answer.

People really only need *in order* shelter, fire, water, and food (we'll assume that we all have air) to survive. I don't see electricity on the list, and when I hear stories like this, I'm always left wondering, what did people do before there was electricity?

But we do need shelter, and it seems to me that condemning the apartment and kicking the tenants out until they pay the electric bill is compounding the problem. Maybe, instead of kicking them out of the apartment, the city (or the landlord) could provide "emergency lighting" so that they don't use candles. Or all of the lighting in the building could be wired into one breaker with the bill paid as part of the rent, and the outlets could all be wired to individual apartments and paid for by the tenants. That way, individual apartments would always have light, which would eliminate the risk of fire due to using candles.

Maybe the city government and landlords in the Lewiston area could talk with Colin and Michele Beaven about how they survived in a New York City apartment sans electricity, and then there could be a back to basics movement that teaches some off-the-grid living-in-the-city survival skills. So, when tenants have been identified as being without electricity, instead of condemning the apartment and kicking them out, the city could give them some tips on ways to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.

I don't know what the answer is, but kicking people out on the streets and exposing them to the elements, when they've paid the rent, but didn't have enough left for the electric bill, isn't it.

And there is likely to be a lot more of this sort of thing in the near future.

The question is, will *we*, as a society, start moving toward finding ways to make our lives comfortable without all of the luxuries we take for granted, or will we jealously hold onto what we have and hope that things get back to normal?

In Lewiston, the city and the landlords are doing the latter.

I don't know what the tenants are doing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fall Colors


Calendula - still blooming in the front garden.


Lettuce - like the Energizer Bunny ... it's still going ..., and going ..., and going ....


The "homestead" on a beautiful fall day. We're past "peak" color, and the maple trees lost their leaves awfully fast this year, but it's still gorgeous. I love fall.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Break the Chain - Success!

And it's about time, too, eh?

This week was a very busy one, and as such, I didn't even have time to do much shopping.

For groceries, we went to the health food store for sugar, we bought some coffee at the local coffee shop, I went to Flaherty's for some fresh produce, and we visited the Smiling Hill Farm store on Saturday for milk, cheese and yogurt (and ice cream!).

We received our order from Maine Military Supply, which included the fleshing knife Deus Ex Machina needed for the moose hides*. We're hoping that he didn't wait too long. They don't seem to have rotted, yet, but he spent six straight hours on Sunday fleshing the hides, and in the evening he said he felt like he'd been hit by a freight train. Who knew that fleshing a hide would be so physically demanding? Two of the hides are marinating in tanning solution, and the third is soaking in borax. Hopefully, by January, I'll be wearing a pair of moosehide boots.

That's it, I guess. I don't recall doing any more buying ... unless we count breakfast at a (different) locally owned coffee shop.

My daugther and her husband came over on Friday for dinner. They brought dessert - a bag of Keebler oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies - which they purchased at a small, family-owned (though not "local", because it's an IGA) grocery store down the road. My son-in-law was so pleased that they had "gone local." It's nice that they're trying to support me in this project. They're good kids ;).

I did get a fun phone call last night, though, especially in light of this challenge.

I picked up the phone, "Hello?"

"Hi, I'm blah, blah from blah, blah research company, and we're doing a survey of shoppers from ages 18 to 54. We'd like to ask you a couple of questions about your shopping habits."

I'm thinking, "Woo Hoo! What an opportunity!"

He starts with, "How many people live in your home?" I tell him, and he says, "Including you?" I say yes.

Then, he asks about our ages, and I account for all of us.

Next, he starts asking the meaty questions: How many times in the past year have you purchased the following items for yourself?

Shoes? None.

Scarves? None.

Hats? None.

I'm thinking, "Gee, this isn't so much fun afterall."

Purses? None.

I guess he was thinking he picked the wrong female between the ages of 18 and 54, and so he asks me if there are any other females in the house between those ages, and I'm thinking, "Buddy, do the freakin' math! You already asked me this question."

But I say, "No."

And he hangs up the phone!

Damn the missed opportunity!

Oh, well ... *grin*. C'est la vie.





*My daughter's father-in-law won the moose lottery this year, and on a hunting trip two weeks ago, my son-in-law shot a moose. His group tagged a total of three, and Deus Ex Machina was offered the hides, which would have been tossed in the trash otherwise.

Independence Days - Fall 2009 Update

I haven't done a very good job at keeping updates on this challenge. Okay, I totally blew it, but I have been continuing to make progress.

We went a month or so without any eggs, when the chickens stopped laying. One of the ducks is giving us an egg a day right now, and from my experience, duck eggs don't really taste any different than chicken eggs, but our ducks and chickens have the same diet, and so that may be why. If I had larger piece of land with a real farm pond (as opposed to the little, blue kiddie pool), the flavor might differ.

All of the tender vegetables were harvested weeks ago, and those beds have a deep layer of straw mulch from the chicken coop. Yesterday, I harvested everything except the lettuce, a couple of cabbage plants that still look healthy, but don't have heads, and the calendula, which are setting seeds. I moved the bean PVC trellis over the lettuce bed, and I'm thinking of putting something over the lettuce so that we can have fresh salad until December. Right now, though, it seems happy enough, and even though we've had a couple of really hard frosts, it's still green, and it's actually still growing. Crazy!

I also planted the garlic. Half is seed garlic from a local farm, and the other half is from what I harvested earlier this year. It will be fun to see which grows better.

My spring order of Jerusalem Artichokes arrived from Johnny Seed. I haven't figured out, yet, where I'm going to plant them. I was planning to put them next to the fence, but now, that's where our wood is stored. I'll have to give it some thought, because, based on last year, they like a lot of sun ... and I hear they're increadibly invasive - which for a food plant is not a bad thing, in my opinion. Plus, they have pretty flowers.

My neighbor likes flowers .... Hmm?

We've been canning, although not as much as I would like. I still need to do more applesauce. We've already eaten all that I've canned. We can usually get apples all winter long, but it's better to get them now, at 1/3 the cost, than to be making million-dollar applesauce in January. There just never seems to be enough time.

I started a batch of sauerkraut yesterday. It's my first attempt, and it will be interesting to see how it tastes. I am not planning to process it in jars, as heating kills the beneficial bacteria. As such, unfortunately, sauerkraut will be just one more "seasonal" delicacy that we enjoy for a limited time. If this batch turns out good, though, I do plan to start experimenting with lacto-fermentation a bit more. I'd like to make kimchi. Spicy, pickled cabbage. Sounds good to me :).

We have been doing a lot, recently, with adding to our tools. Last month, we added a sausage grinder. Last year, sometime, I picked up a food grinder on FreeCycle, which I had not used. This weekend, Deus Ex Machina ran out of his favorite coffee, but because we're participating in this challenge, we couldn't just go to Hannaford and get some. We picked up a bag of coffee at the local coffee shop, but when we got it home, we realized it wasn't ground.

Oops!

Deus Ex Machina remembered we had the food grinder, and he figured out the various "blades" and ground him some coffee beans.

We took it a step further, roasted some raw almonds on the woodstove, and made some almond butter.

In the process, we realized that once we've gotten to that point in our acorn processing, we can make flour. We already have the tools.

We think the pergola we wanted to build across the backyard is going to have to be scrapped. *See paragraph above regarding applesauce*. We're just running out of time to do all of these projects, and the ducks need a shelter - sooner rather than later. They actually spent the day in the coop with the chickens on Saturday when it was cold and raining. They didn't seem to mind, too much, but I don't like the idea of so many birds in our little coop area. It's probably big enough, but I just don't want to take any chances that they'll start feeling cramped and get aggressive, especially as we have no options of places to put injured or sick birds. In addition, while the Khakis don't have to have water for swimming, it really makes them happy, and I'd like to give them their own place where they can make mud. The chickens like dirt, but not mud.

So, we're looking at using pallets to build a duck house, and we'll also use pallets to build a wood storage shed. I found some examples of some really nice sheds people have built.

I don't think we'll ever get to the point that everything is done. I think that's really just part of the way life is - there always seems to be one more thing -, but I have to admit that I'm really looking forward to the coming months, when staying indoors and knitting or reading or knitting and listening to audiobooks or playing cheat with the girls is the accepted routine.

I love all seasons of the year, and one of the really awesome parts about homesteading is that it makes me appreciate, even more, the changing days. We're much closer to the natural cycles than we used to be.

I'm looking forward to the winter, but I'm also anticipating next spring and the sugaring season ... but I'm probably getting ahead of myself.

There's still a lot of living to do between now and then.

Knitting Pretty

I found an outlet for my ... ahem ... meager knitting skill. A homeschooling friend and her daughters have committed to making an afghan to donate to the homeless shelter in our area. The afghan will consist of 100 5"x 5" squares. She asked, recently, if anyone would be interested in helping them out.

I jumped right on that challenge and committed to ... six squares - three by me and three by Big Little Sister ;). We'll probably do more, but it's good to start small. I can knit a square, but I'm not sure how fast I can get it done. You know?

So, there ya go. I won't be knitting hats, sweaters or socks any time soon (or probably ever, as I don't have the patience to learn at the moment), but I can help knit a blanket that will be very useful to someone.

Now, I just have to figure out where I can get acrylic yarn (that's the kind they asked us to use, because it's easier to keep clean) locally so that I can get started.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Refusnik

I thought this article was interesting.

I'm one of the 5% who refuse to have a cellphone. Deus Ex Machina has a cellphone ... for work, and they use it.

11:00 pm on Saturday evening, he'll get a call from work, and he hasn't had a full day off ever since they gave him his phone. Regardless of what he's doing or where he is, because he has that phone, he's at work twenty-four hours per day - anytime anyone wants to call him. Don't ask me how many times we've been eating dinner, and he's gotten a call ... or about the time we were playing on the beach and the phone rang ... or about the numerous car conversations that have been interrupted by the phone.

Obviously, I'm not that important. In the two years I had my cellphone, one person called me regularly - Deus Ex Machina. I'm not even sure anyone else had the number.

I have had clients call me at odd hours. Once a client called at 9:00 in the evenng. But it's rare. Most of my clients stick to regular "business" hours when they call, and few of them call me on weekends. Of course, in my opinion, that's what voicemail is for, and if I can't take a business call at that moment, I let it go to voicemail. For whatever reason, it's different for people who have a cellphone. There seems to be the feeling that it must be answered - no matter what's happening.

I had a cellphone for a couple of years, but when I started reducing, that was one of the first things to go. It was just redundant to have the land line and the cellphone. We have DSL, and so our phone line is also our Internet connection ... and we have a distinct ring and a separate phone number for the fax machine ... and it's the number we've had since we bought our house, and it was published in the phonebook as my business number - the cellphone won't give us the Internet, the fax line, and the phone number history we have. So, I got rid of the cell.

Sometimes it would be nice to have a mobile phone, but mostly it's because I see something and I want to call Deus Ex Machina to tell hima about it. It would make things easier, but would not significantly improve my life.

And that's the bottom line for me. In making our lives more simple, it has become imperative to sort out the things that we're paying for that are just convenient, but that don't make life better.

Which makes me in the minority for the cellphone statistic. I'm one of the 5% who refuse to have a phone, based solely on the fact that I don't want it cluttering up my life.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pour Some Sugar On Me ... But Make Sure It's Raw

Several months ago, I blogged about using raw cane sugar as opposed to the standard "white" sugar and was asked why.

At the time, I said that I switched because cane sugar is closer to "natural" than the white sugar (which is more often cooked down from sugar beets - a genetically modified food). But there are other differences, as well. It tastes different ... it's hard to explain, really, but cane sugar tastes fuller than white sugar. It's like having an in-season, locally grown tomato that was fully ripened in the sun versus eating a tomato that was grown on the other side of the continent, picked green, and shipped by refrigerator truck over 3000 miles. They're not the same, but the differences are incredibly subtle, and unless you've had one, regularly, you might not notice (or care) that the former is far superior to the latter.

A few years ago, after we'd been using raw sugar for a while, I bought some white sugar, and I was using it to sweeten something I was baking. Little Fire Faery asked me what it was, when I poured it into the bowl, and I said, "Sugar."

She asked, "Why's it white?"

Cane sugar is brown, and it's brown because the molasses has not be processed out of it. In fact, when we first open the bag of Florida Crystals sugar, we can smell the molasses. It's pretty cool.

I've been feeling a little out of sorts lately, and while it's normal for me to feel a bit down at certain times of the month, usually, I'm fine the rest of the time. I couldn't figure it out why I was feeling this way.

I had an epiphany this morning.

Because of my crazy challenge, we haven't been buying the sugar we usually buy, because it's not available at my local health food store. We had some regular white sugar in the cabinet, and that's what I've been using to sweeten my tea.

I've always been borderline iron deficient, and I feel lousy at certain times of the month because my iron levels are low.

What I didn't realize is that my use of raw sugar was actually helping to keep the gloomies at bay. Molasses is an excellent source of iron, and I even found sources that recommend molasses to vegetarians to replace the iron they would ordinarily get from eating meat.

As luck would have it, I have molasses in the cabinet, and yes, it went right into my tea.

It's delicious ... and I feel better already ;).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Am Thankful

I've been feeling a little ... well, ungrateful lately (maybe envious is a better word), but even as I was ennumerating in my mind all of the activities I'm missing out on doing, I knew that anything I don't have, I have consciously and willingly given up so that I could have the things I do have.

It was a conscious decision, for example, to place the center of my life in my home. I actively sought work from home, because I wanted to be here for my children so that they wouldn't have to be raised by someone else while I earned money. I gave up any hope of a flashy career, because I wanted to be a stay-at-home Mom. The work I do for money really is secondary to my real job, which is being a mom to my girls and a partner to Deus Ex Machina.

Sometimes I wish that I could get out in the world more, without a boatload of kids hanging all around me, but I find that when I do get out, I don't know what to do. I'm usually surrounded by so much energy (*cough* chaos *cough*) that when it's not there, I feel exposed. Their energy is my buffer - kind of like the Tasmanian Devil's whirlwind.

Sometimes I wish I had friends or coworkers or classmates ... other people with whom I could go and do cool stuff on my days off (which, really, is only Sunday, as during the rest of the week, we're always busy with classes or work-related activities), but I know that I wouldn't give up the one "unscheduled" day I have to spend with Deus Ex Machina and go hang-out with other people. I see him too rarely now with as busy as he is. Sunday is our only day to reconnect without all of the noise of the world interfering. It's also the only day we have to get stuff done around the house :).

So, while I, occasionally, wish such silly stuff, the reality is that I am thankful that I have a job that I enjoy doing, that gives me a small income, and that allows me to stay home and work. I'm thankful that my children are so amazing and that they let me be the center of their world. I'm thankful that my partner-in-life is my best friend.

Sometimes I have to remind myself, but most of the time I'm fully aware, and incredibly grateful that my life and everything I need and love is right here on this quarter acre, in this 1500 square foot house ....

... and when I do need to get out in the world, that's what the Internet is for, right?

Monday, October 19, 2009

About Last Night



Last night it was snowing.

Today ... not so much ;). The high is supposed to be 55°

... and my daughters are outside in short sleeves.

Reckon they've become acclimated to the cold?

Welcome to Autumn in Maine

Last night, after dark, we had a snowstorm - one of those with the huge, wet snowflakes. If it had been colder out, it would have been one of those storms that's a b*tch to clean-up afterward with deep, heavy snow that breaks tree limbs.

As it stands, however, today is sunny and a balmy 55°. So, no pictures of the lovely snow (sorry, Alecto ... it was dark out when the snow started falling), as it's all melted.

But I could take a picture of the laundry I'll be hanging out in a little bit ;).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's Snowing

... and that's all I'm going to say about that.

When Virtual Becomes Reality

I had a wonderful visit yesterday with a "virtual" friend.

Fleecenik and her family were in the area and stopped by for a visit. She's the first "virtual" friend I've met in person, and the "real" person is just like the voice on her blog, which was pretty neat.

I can't imagine what they thought of our crazy, cluttered, chaotic homestead in its seasonal flux ;).

We had tea and wonderful conversation, and I'm looking forward to when we get the chance to hang-out again.

Break the Chain - Weekly Confessional

We took a very long drive south today. Deus Ex Machina is looking for a fleshing knife.

He actually ordered one from a Maine-based online vendor, but it won't be here until Wednesday, and it's supposed to be warm(ish) and rainy for the next few days. Those three moose hides that our son-in-law gave him won't stay fresh very long, and getting them tanned quickly is kind of important. They won't fit in our freezer, or we'd have put them there already. The final solution may be to salt them really well, which will give us a little more time, but when it wasn't raining this morning, Deus Ex Machina thought it was a good sign that he should get started.

After a not-terribly-successful attempt at scraping them with a big knife, we headed down to the Kittery Trading Post, where the salesperson to whom we spoke on the phone assured us they had them. Deus Ex Machina said, "fleshing tool." The guy on the other end of the line heard "fletching tool" (which is used for repairing arrows - not quite the same thing).

Wasted trip, but it was a nice drive, and we even had some awesome doughnuts we bought at Congdon's, a locally-owned bakery/diner/coffeeshop.

The other nice part was that we simply don't go in that direction very often, and it was nice to see what's there. We took the scenic route down, which means we passed through all of the little coastal towns.

It's amazing what one notices when one's focus changes. It's like the whole local foods thing. Once I started training myself to see food in someplace oehter than the grocery store, I started really noticing it - the apple tree on the side of the highway, the blackberry brambles next to the path in the woods, the cattails in ditches just about everywhere, acorns on the lawn. Once I opened myself to recognize "wild" edibles, I see them everywhere.

The same thing has happened with local stores.

We took the scenic route down to Kittery, and along the way we passed through several lovely, coastal towns. There were lots of little Mom & Pop shops of all kinds from the Five&Dime types to cafes of every flavor, bookstores, antiques shops, consignment shops, toy stores, souvenir shops ... even a couple of stores that sold things like moccassins. The little shops and the thriving downtown areas were really nice to see. It's very different from all of the Big Box hysteria and sprawl in the communities near where I live. Despite the innundation of Big Box, the little guy does, indeed, seem to be doing well.

Mostly ....

On the way back home, we stopped at (what I thought was a local) pet store to get some dog food. Since we can't go to Hannaford, we were a little at a loss of how to feed the dogs (although they do seem to like raccoon fat and moose scrapings ... but I'm not sure we have enough to do them for the next two weeks ... and besides, that's for soap!). While we were in the store, we were talking to one of the employees, and he mentioned that one of their stores in Manchester was closing down. After we'd walked to another part of the store, Deus Ex Machina says, "So much for shopping at non-chain stores."

And we started to put the dog food back, but didn't.

I checked online when we got home, and the particular store we visited has eleven stores, which definitely makes them a chain, but of their eleven stores, three are located in New Hampshire (including the one that is closing), and the rest are in Maine. It's local, but just barely, and kind of violates the spirit of the challenge.

If I had thought a little more about our alternatives, there is a (genuine) locally owned pet store (their website says they're "family owned and operated for 61 years") that we could have gone to instead, and it wasn't really any further up the road than the one we went to.

Next time ....

We didn't find the fleshing knife at the Kittery Trading Post, and no other "hunting and fishing" stores in the local area have them - not even the Big Box ones. We checked ... their websites.

We're more than halfway through the challenge, and with the exception of my office supply fiasco and the visit to the almost chain pet store, we have managed to keep our purchases all local. Of course, we're not shopping like we usually do, especially with regard to groceries and toiletries. So far, we haven't run out of anything, but eventually, we will, and then, we'd really need to make some choices. Shopping locally certainly takes a lot more thought, and we do seem to be doing a bit more hunting around (driving, too - although most of our "searching" has been of the online variety. The problem with that is if we didn't have the Internet, how would we be able to find these things?).

I haven't decided what the best answer will be, but I know that it will have something to do with a Latin quote about virtue and middle that Deus Ex Machina is fond of repeating ;).

How's it been going for you?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mercury Dropping

We gave in.

The other day Deus Ex Machina checked the weather, and it was supposed to drop below freezing that night. He says, "I set the thermostat to 55°", which means he turned on the furnace.

I said, "No. Turn it back off ... and start a fire."

So, he did ... well, he didn't turn off the furnance, but he did start a fire. I kept a small fire going during the day and stoked it up before I went to bed that night.

We haven't had a continuous fire going, although two out of the last three nights we've fired up the woodstove. Deus Ex Machina doesn't always light the fire in the morning. Today, we didn't have a fire, but as soon as we got home from dance class this evening, we had one going.

Most of the people around here turned on their heat weeks ago. So, while I'm a little disappointed that we didn't hold out until the end of the month (or even as long as we waited last year), I don't really feel bad.

The fire is nice and cozy, and we're saving money on electricity by heating water for tea on the woodstove ;).

Speaking of electricity, we just got our this is where your electricity comes from statement from our electric company. Forty (40) percent of the electricity we use in our house comes from hydro power, about 1% is from "municipal waste" (garbage incernation), and 20% comes from nuclear energy. So, 60% of our electricity is non-fossil fuel based. I'm not overly enthusiastic about the nuclear component, but it's nice to know that even our grid power isn't so very dependent on fossil fuels. It gives me a bit more hope that the lights will stay on, maybe, a while longer ;).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Work ... or Recreation?

It really has been an amazing weekend.

I love it when Deus Ex Machina has an extra day home. We always get so much done, but I'm left wishing the days like this could be our every day, and the stuff we do that takes up most of our time (like working) could be the stuff left for weekends.

Among the accomplishments this weekend were splitting (Deus Ex Machina) and stacking (Little Fire Faery and Precious) more wood, baking of pumpkins (Big Little Sister) for many loaves of pumpkin bread (me), cleaning out the chicken coop (me), finding the ducks' stash of eggs (the girls and Deus Ex Machina), making some yummy "local" meals (me), sorting gallons of acorns for flour this winter (me and Deus Ex Machina), and fat rendering (Deus Ex Machina) for future soap making.

Oh, I should probably explain the last one.

This afternoon Deus Ex Machina got a call from his buddy, who'd gone up north to hunt this weekend. He and his dogs caught a raccoon, and he'd saved the hide for Deus Ex Machina.

He delivered it to us (I'm saying, we have some pretty awesome people in our lives - seriously!), and Deus Ex Machina got right to work scraping it. The raccoon was ready for winter and had a pretty good fat store. After he'd scraped all the fat, Deus Ex Machina cooked it down, and we strained it through a cheesecloth into an air-tight container, which we will store in the cabinet until we're ready to use it.



The plan is to use it to make soap.

But we still have to learn to make lye.

One step at a time, right?

But each step gets us closer to living this life every day ...

... and working for money on the weekends ;).

On Having Plenty

We had the best meal last night, and as happens so frequently these days, after we finished eating, I realized it was, not only, all local, but a good portion of it was grown right here.

The menu included:

Oven-roasted Chicken (stuffed with garlic and onions and rubbed with non-local olive oil, pepper, salt, garlic powder and cumin and local sage)

Greens sauteed in garlic butter (spinach from the farmer's market mixed with beet greens from my garden. Butter was Kate's and garlic was grown right here. I added a dash of Maine sea salt and served with the diced onion and garlic from the chicken).

Oven-roasted potatoes (drizzled with olive oil and salt).

It was so good. I can remember growing up knowing that greens were not good food, and I know, now, that my assumption was wrong. While I agree that there is not much in this world that is more vile tasting than canned spinach, when sauteed fresh with some butter, garlic, and a pinch of sea salt, and then drizzled with a little bit of balsamic vinegar, cooked spinach and beet greens are delicious. Even Deus Ex Machina, for whom all greens are vile, enjoyed them.

I'm reading the last chapter of Stinking Creek by John Fetterman. It's a fascinating book, especially for me, because my grandmother was originally from Stinking Creek, Kentucky, although by the time Mr. Fetterman visited to do the research for his book, half her kids (all born away from Knox County ... across the mountain in Harlan ;) were grown, and she'd been gone for more than three decades.

Being from the same genetic pool as the people Mr. Fetterman describes, I felt a strong sense of pride for my mountain lineage, and I am thankful that Mr. Fetterman was able to show the human side of the abject poverty that has plagued that region of this country for most of the last century - ever since coal was discovered there, the laws were formed in favor of the coal companies, and the land was raped and left polluted, scarred and barren.

What was sad for me, though, was the sense of defeat that so many suffered, and rather than living, they simply existed ... from one government check to the next. Mr. Fetterman described two types of people - the ones who subsisted without the help of the government and the ones who didn't. My grandparents were the former, and so even though I didn't grow up in Appalachia and I didn't live there until I was a teenager, I was raised with a strong sense of self-reliance.

Having seen that life and had a tiny taste of its bitter fruit, I recognize how very lucky I am to be here, on my quarter acre suburban lot, surrounded by such bounty, and so far, my life has followed a path that has allowed me to not have to make some of those very difficult decisions my kinfolk have to make. Food has never been an issue.

My mother-in-law lives on a tiny lot in town. Every year, she is plagued with acorns covering her yard. This year, at our request, instead of putting them in bags to take to the town compost dump, she put them in a 20 gal trash can and saved them for us.



We started sorting them last night. We figure we'll get about 10 gal of usable acorns when we're finished. I don't know how much acorn flour that will give us, but I think it will be a lot. Today, Deus Ex Machina found a recipe for Acorn cakes. The recipe calls for acorn flour, corn meal, and honey. Acorns are prolific around my house. There's an oak tree across the road that's been dropping its treasures, and the path back in the woods is littered with the power-packed nuggets, as well. When I figure out growing field corn and we get our bees, we could have an energy-dense food that was grown or foraged within 100 feet of our front door.

The more we learn about localizing our lives, the easier it becomes to contemplate satisfying our needs right here.

Of course, we made another very cool discovery yesterday, as well, and the legs will stay attached to the birds for a bit longer. When Deus Ex Machina went out to close up the chickens and ducks last night, he shone his flashlight under the house to be sure that all of the chickens were in the house before he let the ducks into the coop. He found a couple of eggs under there.

And then, Big Little Sister went out there to help him, and she found a few more.



This morning, Little Fire Faery took a look and found a few more.



When all was said and done, we found twenty-nine eggs.



At least one of the ducks has been laying for a while ... and hiding her eggs under the hen house.

We had scrambled eggs for the first time in about two months ... and I'm making pumpkin bread, using the pie pumpkins I bought for $1.75 each at the Farmer's Market.

Chicken, bread, eggs, acorns, greens, garlic, onions, and massive potatoes ...

... today I feel incredibly blessed and so thankful to have plenty.

Break the Chain - (I Wish I Could Say) I Only Shopped Locally This Week

So, Monday morning my client calls and says, "We need labels for our mailing." I mentioned that I usually print out the labels they need after they've gone through the contact list and given me a list of doctors they intend to mail to.

This time, they wanted labels for ALL of the physicians and nurse practitioners on the list - over 300 names.

I gave up and went to Staples to buy the labels.

On Wednesday, they called and wanted another 100 brochures, and I was back at Staples again.

Other than that, however, we stuck with all local shops. We visited our favorite farm store with the hope of buying a big sack of potatoes (our winter staple), but they had a bad year, and the owner was debating whether he was even going to sell the larger quantities (at a reduced profit). The cashier (who likes us a lot :) took my name so that if they decided to do 50# pound bags, they could give me a call.

On Thursday, we received our (par avion) order of buckskin. By way of explanation, a few weeks ago, we were at the farmer's market and one of the vendors there saw Big Little Sister's pouch. The woman told Big Little Sister that if she'd make a few more, she'd buy them. And so, we ordered buckskin.

But we do not have a leather punch. Fortunately, our locally owned hardware store did have exactly what we needed.

At the Farmer's Market on Saturday, Big Little Sister sold two pouches and was commissioned to make a couple more, a little larger ;).

We did eat out, but only at local shops. Deus Ex Machina, who likes to drive-thru Tim Horton's every morning, even changed his morning routine. A locally-owned coffee shop recently opened not too far from where he works, and rather than visiting Tim Horton's he went there. He's such a trooper!

Unless my client needs more supplies, I should be able to have a confession-free "confession" next week ;).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Po Tay Toes

On Tuesday, we had our monthly outdoor class, and while we were sorting acorn shell from acorns (so that we could grind them for flour ... of course!), another mom and I were chatting, about potatoes. Of course!

She mentioned that potatoes are her family's staple during the winter. I said the same.

We're both concerned about the Maine potato harvest, which, for most commercial growers here in Maine, especially the organic farmers, was dismal. Those who want organic potatoes will certainly have some tough choices to make this year.

I harvested my last potato tower yesterday, and I made the following obsevations:

**The potatoes did not grow up through tower, like I expected they would. Most of them were concentrated at the bottom of the tower, and I still had to dig for a few of them, and I was actually surprised by how deep they were.

**The number and size of the potatoes far exceeded the ones growing in the "bed."

**I will plant potato towers in the future.

**I need to be sure to have a good supply of mulch and compost for my potatoes next year.

I am very pleased with my experiment this year, and given how important potatoes are to us, I think expanding the tower system to cover the whole 5'x 5' bed will be the wisest use of our space. Besides, hardware cloth is cheap, compared to other types of materials I've seen used in this sort of vertical garden.

I think I could probably grow a substantial amount of my own potatoes with this method, and while I'm not so concerned with organic or not, mine are completely organic. I've never used chemicals in my garden ... mostly because I'm too cheap to buy them, I'm too lazy to figure out how to use them, and I have no place to store them.

Every spring, when I plan my garden, I move closer to being able to feed us, mostly, from this small space, but it certainly has been a very steep learning curve. The key is to know what and how much we eat, and the big mistake I've made over the past few years is trying to grow things that take up too much space, but have too small a yield. We eat potatoes, we eat cornmeal, we eat pumpkin, but I've never devoted enough space to these crops.

So, for next years' garden, my plan is to concentrate on expanding into some currently uncultivated parts of my yard using small-space gardening techniques, specifically, containers. This year, I planted field corn (too late), scarlet runner beans (with other edible flowers) and a couple of squash plants (the flowers of which my ducks and chickens loved :). Next year, I plan to use a bucket system for these three plants and, hopefully, (finally) have my 3 Sisters Garden. We already have the buckets.

And I will definitely have more potato towers ... probably in the same bed ... after it's sat for a season under mulch and snow.

By the way, here's a picture of the harvest from the one tower:



And for perspective, this is me holding one of them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Books Can Change the World

Bezzie had a good post this morning. She asked if there were any books that changed our lives, and I started this really long reply about how I couldn't think of any specific books, and then, I named a couple (Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, The Tightwad Gazette, Barbara Kilarski's Keep Chickens) that had an impact, but while those books made me think about my life, and probably resulted in my changing a few things, they didn't really change how I was existing day-to-day.

Then, I remembered that there is actually one book that really did change the way I live. I talk about on my blog all of the time, and it has had a significant impact. It truly did change my life.

The book? Possum Living by Dolly Freed.

I grew up in a seriously economically depressed area and being poor was almost sinful in the eyes of the community where I lived, and ironically, where 80% of the population was poor. Not being able to meet one's basic needs is incredibly demoralizing, and a lot of people just gave up trying and allowed themselves to be supported by government handouts.

But it wasn't the poverty that was so awful. People there had always been cash-poor and had struggled to subsist on land that was bountiful, but often inhospitable to all but the most robust.

Over time, though, through a series of legislative acts, the rights of the people to just live were slowly stripped from them, like the land from the tops of the mountains, and when I lived there, the air was thick with a sense of defeat. Poverty is demoralizing enough, but being financially impoverished, AND denied the opportunity to provide for oneself with something as simple as planting a garden and raising a few animals for food is devastating.

As such, most of us grew up with the belief that having money would be our salvation, because having money is the key to a "good life." Right?

What I realized in reading Possum Living is that there is a significant difference between struggling to make a dollar and choosing to focus one's energy on making a life. Reading the book has changed my focus to the latter, and I no longer gauge my value as a person on a dollar scale. I'm worth more than the sum of my pay check.

I've read thousands of books in my lifetime and many of them have left a strong impression on me, but the one that really did change my life was Dolly Freed's Possum Living.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Recession - From Where I Sit

I've purposely stayed away from most talk about what's happening in the world. The news is just depressing, and really, who of us needs help being depressed?

But I wanted a record of what it was like, today, here, because we are making history right now, and someday, I'm going to wonder what October 7, 2009 was like, and if I don't write it now, I won't remember, then.

Mostly, it seems like life is just going on business as usual. For the most part, our lives haven't really changed. We're both still working, and we haven't, yet, had any problems paying the bills.

My client mentioned that they weren't getting as many referrals. I've always been aware that my job is only "as-needed", but I think what I do is such a small part of their total costs that I feel pretty secure. I don't think they'll "let me go." What's more likely is that they just won't have as much work for me to do, and since I get paid per the job, my pay check will be less if I work less.

Deus Ex Machina's company went through a restructure earlier this year, and everyone who wasn't laid off ended up taking a huge pay cut from April to August. Once everything was reorganized, they brought everyone back, but at reduced pay. So, we're not making as much as we were this time last year.

Still, the pay cut didn't hurt us. We were still able to live within our means, and when I say it was a substantial cut, I'm not sure how we managed given that we were, I thought, living right at our income level before. Either we really did some serious budget reduction over the summer, or we were saving a lot more, before the pay cut, than I knew.

Maybe a little of both.

Knowing that, though, makes me feel a little more confident about our future. We were making only 75% of what we earned in 2008, and our lives didn't change. We still did whatever we wanted and seemed to have plenty of money to fund our choices. It must of have been the change in our attitudes about spending money that made the difference. We still have a lot of fat we could trim if we had to cut to the bone.

We haven't been negatively affected ourselves, but we do know some people who are having some problems.

Several of my kids' friends' parents have lost jobs or are underemployed, and I do hear some grumbling about how difficult *things* have become. We're pinching pennies, because we choose to do so. I guess that's not the case for everyone we know.

I've heard about a couple of folks who are close to foreclosure, but I don't actually know anyone who's lost a house, yet.

Maine farmers were pretty hard hit this year. I was talking with Sue at the local farm store this evening when I stopped in for potatoes, and she said that they lost 60% of their crop. Sixty percent! I wanted a 50# bag of spuds, which combined with what I grew, would do us the whole winter (potatoes are our staple food, and we eat them almost every day). They only had 5# and 10# bags. Sue told me that the owner might be doing a few 50# bags, but mostly, selling the few potatoes they managed to coax along in smaller quantities for a higher, overall, profit, looked much better than trying to sell the heavier quantities. I don't blame them. She took my name, though, and *if* he gets some, she'll give me a call. I guess she felt bad about the potatoes, because she gave us some oranges ... although she thought they might have been "passed." They taste fine, and the girls are happy, because I haven't let them have oranges for a couple of years (oranges are not local ;).

The potato crop did poorly, the tomato crop didn't do so well. So far the apple crop has been good, but we still need to go back to the orchards for our BIG picking. All of the applesauce I canned the other day is gone. It was good. But I know I'm going to need about three dozen quarts to get us through the winter - which is something like 100# of apples. I'd rather not try to can 100# of apples at a time. That would be a lot of work - for me AND for my poor seven-quart capacity canner.

I haven't seen a lot of hardship, yet. Things here are always cyclical, and Maine has never been prosperous like, say, California. The upshot of that, I suppose, is that because we've been forced to be frugal as a way of life, we're not as hard-hit when things truly get bad. It's always bad here ... or good - depending on what one is currently experiencing with regard to the current financial climate ;).

But, also, I think we haven't seen things bad here, yet, this year, because the worst of what other parts of the country have experienced started happening in the middle of the most profitable time of year for us. We're just now exiting our "tourist season", when most of the dollars spent in our state were carried in by visitors, who've gone back home. I think the picture here will be very different by the time we reach sugaring season again.

And I think it's going to be a very long winter.

The Farmer's Almanac is predicting cooler-than-normal temperatures and a lot of snow.

At least recreation will be free ;).

Possum Dolly in Full Color

My good bud over at Bayberry Roost found this video on Vimeo.com. It's the Dolly Freed documentary filmed and narrated by Nancy Schreiber following publication of Dolly's book, Possum Living.


Dolly Freed in Possum Living from Tin House Books on Vimeo.



My favorite part of the film ('though I really just liked it all - seeing the "person" of Dolly was really just very cool) was when Dolly was in "make-up" prior to her appearance on the Merv Griffith Show. The make-up artist says, in effect, that this appearance will vault her into celebrity status and that her life will change. She says, "Nope." She let him know that she had no interest in the California Life, and she was just anxious to get back home to her "chickens and rabbits."

I loved the point she made about work, too. I think it should be noted that she and her father weren't slackers. They didn't lay about allowing someone else to take care of them, and she makes a point of stressing that they do not accept welfare or government hand-outs, that what little money they require they earn through odd jobs, but for the most part, they are able to meet most of their daily needs on their own.

Dolly spends a few minutes talking about the nature of "work" and questions if what they do can even be classified as such. She says, "They say, work is what we're doing when we'd rather be doing anything else, but if I like gardening, is it work or is it recreation?"

Neither Dolly nor her father were lazy. They were, however, very industrious and mostly self-sufficient, and they really weren't working hard at not working. I think a lot of people might confuse Dolly with Pa Kettle, and that would be an unfortunate and horribly incorrect assumption. Dolly didn't scorn doing things. She was just unwilling to sell her soul to the gods of consumerism so that she could have a car and a television, when she knew full well that life without those things was pretty damned good.

Her point is that we don't have to struggle to "make ends meet", and I think as we slide more deeply into this economic chasm that her message will need to be louder so that more of us can hear - access to money does not equal happiness.

With great thanks to my bud, Bayberry, for posting the video (your figs look awesome, by the way :). I loved the book. I loved the film ... and I hope Dolly is still out there somewhere and still living like a possum ....

Monday, October 5, 2009

Break the Chain - Update

Tammy's comment reminded me that I didn't do an update yesterday ... but I have a good excuse. Deus Ex Machina came home last night, and I was ... busy ;).

So, for the first four days of the challenge, it was just me and the girls. We don't, typically, do a lot of shopping, but this weekend, we seemed to really "need" a lot of stuff. Go figure!

We missed the Farmer's Market on Saturday, but we did go to Lois' Natural Foods Marketplace, where we picked up a couple of things (including non-local bananas - but we also bought locally made root beer ;).

I decided that I needed to seal my hardwood floor before the winter, and it needed to be this weekend! (Deus Ex Machina and I have this thing going where, whenever he leaves town, I do something - like paint the dining room, refinish the wood floors, steam clean the carpets ;). So I went to the locally owned hardware store downtown (not an Ace, although there are several of those in my area that I love going to because the service is so great - especially when compared to the Big Box home stores ;). I was looking at the different options, and a fellow came 'round the corner to ask if I needed help. We started chatting, and as it turns out, he used to own a house in the subdivision across the street from where I live, and next door to a woman that my older daughter used to babysit for.

On Sunday, I had to run some errands, and my daughters asked if we could go to the locally owned, year-round toy store downtown. My answer was yes. I emphasis year-round, because so many of the businesses in my downtown area are seasonal. In fact, many of the buildings don't even have heat, because they house only seasonal businesses, but as a year-round resident, I want more businesses to see the value in "my" business, and not be catering so fully to the tourists who do not support the infrastructure that allows those stores to exist (things like roads and public safety personnel and water mains and streetlights - which are paid for with my taxes and not through tourist dollars). I don't shop downtown during the summer, but I try to support the year-round shops when the tourists go away.

Anyway, while we were there, I started chatting with the young lady behind the counter (her parents own the store), and as it turns out, she's just recently left the teaching field, where she taught Latin. I talked with her about the possibility of setting homeschool classes, which she was completely amenable to doing.

And even better, she seemed to have some of the same philosophies about shopping habits that I have :). In fact, the reason she was in the store to begin with was her desire to "simplify" her life, which meant moving back to Maine and changing the way she earned dollars. We had a very nice chat.

We also went to both of my favorite local independent bookstores. Before he left on his adventure, Deus Ex Machina had ordered a couple of books from the one near my girls' dance school, which I picked up on Thursday, and on Sunday, the girls and I actually "traded" some books at the independent bookstore closer to home. I know that I always talk about how I hoard books, and those of you who are kindred spirits know how it is to let go of even one, but sometimes, when the bookshelves are overflowing and books are stacked on every horizontal surface (including the floor), it's time to take stock and let go of a few. So, we did. Of course, we ended bringing home more books, too, using our "credit."

The one really big expense this weekend was food, and the girls and I ate out more than we ate at home. Luckily, locally-owned restaurants are prolific - especially pizza places. We had a lot of pizza, which was okay with Big Little Sister, whose stock answer for "What do you want for dinner?" is "Pizza!" Fortunately, the pizza places also have other yummies, because as enthusiastic as Big Little Sister is about pizza, Precious is that much opposed to it. She loves ham sandwiches, though, and as luck would have it, the House of Pizza across from the dance school will fix just about anything one would want, any way one wants it, if they have the ingredients. I've never gotten that from a place with uniforms.

Unfortunately, when all was said and done, I did end up at Staples for the office supplies I needed. I would have ordered them from the manufacturer online, if I'd had the time to wait for delivery, but as I mentioned, I was told late last week they needed to be done with a preferred delivery by the weekend (and I ended up dropping them off on Sunday - which means, yes, I worked all weekend, in between my chauffeuring duties ;), but as is unusual for us, I went in, got the labels I needed, and left. No extras ;).

With the exception of the labels, so far it hasn't been hard to stay local in my shopping, although, truthfully, so far, we haven't needed anything ... except the labels.

In short, we visited two bookstores, the toy store, the hardware store, the natural foods grocery store, and three restaurants *all local businesses* ... and we went to Staples.

The rest of the month should be interesting ....

So, how have the rest of you been doing?

Be sure to check out Tammy's confessional in the comments section of Saturday's evening post :).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

8000 Locavores on the Wall, 8000 Locavores ...

This evening during our nightly phone call (whenever Deus Ex Machina goes out of town, he will always call me first thing in the morning and before bed at night - I love it that he always thinks of me, even when his mind is very focused on the task at hand. It makes his being away not so difficult to bear, because I know I'm in his thoughts :), Deus Ex Machina and I were talking about the 100th Monkey Phenomenon.

According to the theory if enough people believe in a particular idea or habit or theory, it becomes accepted by the masses. The thought is that there is a number of "critical mass" in which a new idea is accepted by a magic number of people and thereby becomes "truth" for the population as whole.

The whole idea is just fascinating, and while there are many articles that attempt to debunk any truth to the phenomenon, I have actually seen it at work.

Two years ago, being a locavore was an anomaly. Most people didn't even know what it meant, and when my family had our pictures in the paper for our "All Local Thanksgiving Day" meal in 2007, it was News!. Now, it's just an every day thing. Some part of every meal is local, and a good lot of what we eat is "home grown."

For the world at large, the locavore ideology is growing, almost exponentially, in popularity. It's no longer a fringe preoccupation for some core group of eco-freak-o's. The result has been an increase in farmer's markets and local foods establishments across the country.

Two years ago, urban and suburban homesteading were an anomaly, and now towns across the US, who are changing their ordinances to allow for citified animals make headlines almost daily. The college town of Orono, here in Maine, recently joined the ranks of municipalities who are drafting chicken ordinances.

The 100th Monkey theory is that it only takes a tiny percentage to accept an idea before it becomes "normal", and based on the current world population, only 8000 people have to believe that our future depends on localizing our diet. When we get 8000 die-hard locavores, we've won the battle for localizing our food, and it's quite possible that the result will be the end of world hunger.

If fewer of us in the western world are taking food out of the months of those in the third world, maybe it will stay where it's most needed ... and that is, where it was grown. Maybe it means that my children will never eat another banana ... but sweet potatoes grow in Maine and have all of the same nutrients (plus some) of bananas. I think we'll probably be okay.

This month is the annual Eat Local Challenge. If you're just getting started down the local foods path, I couldn't recommend joining the challenge more. We participated for two summers and two "Dark Days of Winter" local challenges, and because of the challenge, I realized how incredibly rich and diverse my local food shed really is. I might never have known if I hadn't been forced into it with the challenges.

One meal, per week, all local foods for the month of October.

What are you waiting for?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Let's Get Fired Up ... or Not

I verified (from my archived blog posts) that last year we waited until the end of October (October 22, to be exact) before we fired up the woodstove.

But last year we had a very good reason (other than stubbornness) to wait. Last year, we didn't have the woodstove. The "new" woodstove was installed around the eighteenth of October, and we had a to wait a couple of days for everything to dry before we built the first fire.

I think we can wait a little longer. It's not really that cold, yet. We haven't even had our first frost at my house. I smelled wood smoke this morning, which means one of my neighbors has fired up his woodstove, and I know many people more inland (where they have had a frost already) who've already put the heat on.

The thermostat in the hall says it's 60° in my house right now, which isn't cold - at least by Maine standards. In fact, 60° on a clear, bright day, like today, would be a nice, late spring beach day ... and a 60° ocean temperature would feel like a bathtub - compared to the water temperature at other times of the year :).

Deus Ex Machina (ironically, the "native" Mainer) is the one who seems more affected by the cold and heat, and he'll start the first fire ... but he is out of town this weekend at a conference in northern Maine. So, for the next three days, at least, the woodstove will remain cold ... because I'm going to see how long I can hold out.

Of course, I think Little Fire Faery would probably prefer it if I were more like her dad ;).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Kick Off Day!

So, this morning, first thing, my client called. I'm working on a project for them - it's their annual mailing, and this year, instead of the usual letter with envelopes, they decided to do a brochure.

Using my incredible graphics design talent, I whipped up a lovely piece of literature detailing the awesome work they do, and after a couple of (minor) changes, they think we're (almost) ready to go to press - which is to say that I'll print them all right from my super, high-speed, color inkjet printer.

What we didn't address a couple of weeks ago, when they first let me know what they intended (and back when I could still shop wherever I wanted), was the addressing of said mail pieces, and I learned this morning that their intention is for me to print out labels ... two for everyone in their contact database, because they also do a mailing in December, and, well, as long as I'm doing the printing, what's one more of each label, right?

It's five hundred. One more of each label is about five hundred labels.

The problem is that I don't have mailing labels - any mailing labels, much less five HUNDRED, which means I have to go somewhere and buy them. The question is, if I can't shop at chain stores for the rest of the month, where shall I get said labels?

I have one option of a small, local office supply store, that I will contact tomorrow in the morning. The issue is their hours and whether or not they'll be open at a time when I'll be able to go over there.

So, I may have something to confess on Sunday ... and I may not.

But if I do, this is one heck of a poor way for the challenger to start the challenge ;).

If you're interested in joining the fun, let me know. There's plenty of room ;).