Thursday, October 28, 2010

Skill Building

As a family, we do a lot of activities together.

For example, while Deus Ex Machina and I don't (usually) take dance classes with the girls, we are very involved in the whole dance experience with our girls, and not just as a proud Mama and Papa sitting in the audience and clapping (although we're definitely that, too, usually with a big, stupid grin and a couple of tears streaming down our faces :). I make costumes for them. At this year's dance recital, Deus Ex Machina did the sound (and danced with them in the Father/Daughter dance ... and as he was the only dad dancing with *three* girls, he and the girls made quite an impression ;). We also work in the concession stand whenever we get the chance and participate in other fundraisers and events, because we earn a share of the profits to go toward the girls' competition team expenses.

Our family unit is just that - we're a unit, and so far, we've been very lucky that Deus Ex Machina and I have both been able to be a very integral and very present part of our girls' lives. It's easier for me, because I'm a full-time stay-at-home mom (a.k.a. chauffeur), but because nurturing our family bond has been paramount to me, I have always looked for activities in which Deus Ex Machina could join us.

Of particular interest to us, especially in the past couple of years, has been developing the skills that will allow us to be both comfortable and successful in the wild, and ever since I read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, I knew that I wanted my daughters to learn those skills, as well.

So, when I heard about a once-a-month outdoor skills class, we jumped at the chance to take it, and Deus Ex Machina took the time off work so that he could come too.

We've been taking that once-a-month class for a couple of years, now, and recently, we added a second, weekly class.

Both classes are amazing, and we're learning so much.

This week's lesson was particularly exciting for me, because the lesson was fire making. If you know much about our lifestyle, then you know that I know how to build a fire. I mean, we heat with wood, and if I couldn't build a fire, I'd be in trouble. In fact, everyone in the family (except, maybe, Precious) knows how to build a fire and has done so on many occasions (Precious can stoke up a fire if it's died down to coals, but I haven't witnessed her building one from a cold start). In our weekly outdoor skills class, in fact, our Little Fire Faery passed the "start the fire with one match" test.

So, the lesson wasn't just fire building and then lighting with a match, and it wasn't fire building and then, lighting with a magnesium firestarter, either.

I learned how to light a fire using a bow drill ... and yes, I did. I actually started a fire using a bow drill.

It was AWESOME!

Then, working as a team, Deus Ex Machina, our instructor, and I started a fire using a hand drill.

Deus Ex Machina was impressed. After all of the years we've been together, it is so totally cool to know that there are still things I can do that will impress him. My only worry, which I expressed to him, is that he'll think I'm all self-sufficient and hardcore and independent, when, really, I'm still just a wimpy, wussy girl ... and it's nice to have my man around to keep me warm.

But if he can't be here, for whatever reason, at least I know I can keep the home fires burning ... literally ;).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Three Years Ago

Originally posted on October 29, 2007 and entitled:

If I Had a Million Dollars


"I'd buy you a fur coat, but not a real fur coat, 'cause that's cruel." - Bare Naked Ladies


I love reality shows. More precisely, I was a huge reality T.V. fan. My favorite was Survivor.

But something has happened recently. It's like for all that these reality shows are supposed to show "reality", they aren't real at all. People don't really behave like that, do they?

I used to think that I could be a contestant on Survivor, but I know that I couldn't. I would be in tears the whole thirty-nine days, assuming I lasted past the first elimination, which is very unlikely. I know I would have a really hard time with all of the back-biting and maliciousness that is so much a part of that experience (like high school all over again - thanks, but no thanks!).

It is for a MILLION DOLLARS, afterall, and each and every one of the people who appears on the show believes he/she deserves it as much as (or more, in some cases) than any of the others. Every episode, I have witnessed the people on the show compromise their integrity, their ideals and their morals in order to be the Sole Survivor.

It's sad to what depths they will sink for the chance to take home all of that money.

And it got me to thinking, what would I give up for a million dollars? How important is money to me?

That was my train of thought this evening, when Deus Ex Machina and I were slicing and juicing apples for our next try at cider, and I asked him, "If I were offered a $75,000 advance and a book deal to do something like No Impact Man, would you give up toilet paper for a year?"

Without hesitation, he answered, "No."

I said, "Even if I got a book deal? Not even for my career?"

"No." He said.

I was little hurt and started an internal dialogue about how I've given up all sorts of things for his career, and how I wouldn't think twice about giving up some amenities for him.

And then, I remembered that, in fact, I wouldn't.

Earlier this year, he had the opportunity to leave a very stressful job that he doesn't really like and be a commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard. It would have meant a cut in pay, but the great benefits (including supplemental pay for housing and food) and the opportunity to retire in fourteen years would have off-set the loss of take-home cash.

But it would also have meant that we would have had to move and probably sell our house, and that's not something I was willing to give up. I wasn't willing to give up my home and my homestead for the adventure that the Coast Guard would have been. I wasn't willing to give up the stability of our community and our friends and neighbors and have my girls grow up, like I did, never having a place to call "home."

Which is the other reason I could never apply to Survivor - I could never, willingly and intentionally, leave my family for thirty-nine days to "play a game" - albeit a cut-throat, vicious and soul-stealing game, but a "game" nonetheless.

In the end, there has to be more to life than money. It can't all be about the money. That's what I'm hoping to prove to myself anyway; that one can be happy and healthy and have a good life, even without a lot of money - and the ultimate would be to live that life without money at all.

What would I give up for a million dollars? Not my home. Not my family.

But toilet paper, for me, at least, is negotiable.

Three Years Ago

This one falls under the kids say the darndest things category.

Originally posted October 27, 2007 and entitled:

We Are What We Eat



Yesterday, in the car, my youngest (a.k.a. Precious) said, "Mom, are we really made of corn or are we made of skin?"

I guess I've been regurgitating too much Michael Pollan ;).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Four Years Ago - Today

I'm editing, which is a good thing, but that means that I don't have a lot of time for posting. So, I thought I would rerun some stuff from way-back-when, and life was never boring ;).

Originally posted on October 25, 2006 and entitled:

The Day from Upside-Down Seven-Seven-Three-Four


I should have known it was going to be one of those days when Big Little Sister, a.k.a. the late sleeper, was out of bed before Deus Ex Machina left for work.

As usual, it's a "work" day for me, which is to say that I have a bunch of transcription due today by COB (close of business).

Deus Ex Machina leaves for work at 8:00, and I start my day.

I had to feed the chickens, hang a load of laundry out on the line, and build a fire so that I could make sure the furnace stayed off all day, which means I had to bring in a load of wood, plus I had the aforementioned "paying" work ... in addition to the constant "snack", the four cups of mint tea and the several cups of juice (every fifteen minutes, for a different child, and never all at once when I'm in the kitchen anyway, but just as I'm sitting back down to start typing again), the putting in of videos or helping with computer games, reading of books, helping with bathroom, cleaning up of messes ... the usual stuff, but stuff I normally make allowances for, because they are ... well, they're normal.

So, I hang the clothes on the line, get the fire going nice and strong and put the tea kettle on the stove top for tea and oatmeal, and feed the chickens.

We decide to call Grandma to thank her for the Halloween cards.

After I hang up with Grandma, my Big Little Sister asks to take the puppy for a walk. The Little Fire Faery wishes to tag along with the Alpha female dog.

Both dogs are fine on the way down the road, but as the girls are heading back toward home, Alpha female decides its a good time to assert her authority, and she rushes over to nip and growl at the puppy. She runs in front of the nine year old, who is holding the puppy, and in the fray, Big Little Sister gets knocked down and hurts her knee.

Little Fire Faery comes into the house, breathlessly explaining that Big Little Sister is sitting on the side of the road, as she has fallen.

I ask, "Does she need me?"

The answer is always yes.

So, I slip into my shoes and head out the door with directions for the younger two to stay inside with Alpha.

I hurry across the driveway, and as I get beyond the bushes that are blocking my view, I see Big Little Sister, not crying on the side of the road, but sitting down, taking off her "gear" (she insisted she needed her winter coat, snowpants and snow boots to walk the dog down the road). She is literally undressing while sitting on the side of the road.

I exclaim as I near her, "What are you doing?!?"

Then, I see that the puppy, a.k.a. doesn't-know-his-name-yet-escape-artist, is no longer attached to her. He's attached to the leash, but she has let it go in her attempts to get out of her clothing to look at her knee, which was padded by about two inches of insulated snowpants, and while I don't doubt it hurts (there are rocks where she fell), it's not visibly damaged.

And he's gone ... again! Last time he was gone for two days, and we had to pay $15 to the animal control officer to get him back.

A few minutes later I see him in the neighbor's yard, and I run over, step on the leash and bring him home.

That took thirty minutes. It's 10:00. I still haven't gotten any work done. But it's still early. I still have time ;).

The dogs are all accounted for, the chickens are still in the yard, the girls are all in the house and okay, and I sit down to start work. I get a good momentum going, and then the teakettle starts to steam. I get up to make tea and oatmeal. While I'm in the kitchen, I clean up the iron skillet left over from last night, scrub the bread pan and wash off the stone cookie sheet on which I made bagels, yesterday. The stove top is pretty dirty. I clean up that too.

Big Little Sister decides she wants to make popcorn on the woodstove. I say it's okay, although I do mention that it might not get hot enough to pop the corn. Undaunted, she gets what she needs and puts the pan on the woodstove.

It's 10:45. I sit back down to start working again.

Big Little Sister gets tired of waiting for the popcorn. She asks if she can put it on the stove, and I say sure. She asks which temperature, and I tell her high.

I continue typing.

She sets up the pan and goes into the livingroom.

Suddenly, there is an ear-splitting siren. I'm confused. I jump up and run into the kitchen. The pan is on fire. The kitchen is black with smoke. Both smoke alarms are blaring.

I move the pan off the heat - it has a lid, and the sides of the pan where the oil is bubbling under the lid is actually what's on fire. I turn off the burner. Using the pot holder, I pat the flames on the side of the pan out. The fire on the pan goes out, but cuffs on my favorite shirt catch on fire. I put that out.

In the meantime, Little Fire Faery is screaming, "The PAN IS ON FIRE! Put it out! The PAN IS ON FIRE!"

Big Little Sister is asking if she should get the fire extinguisher.

Precious is just jumping around making some kind of noise, but I can't hear her, as focused as I am with not catching anything else on fire.

I grab the scorched pan, which is still smoking under the lid, and take it out, but I don't close the door after me.

Too late, I hear, "Cody!!" - that's the puppy's given name. I have others for him.

He's off again. This time sans the leash. Instead of running hither and yon through the brook, however, he harrasses the Alpha who is in the fenced backyard by running around outside of the fence and laughing at her in her confinement. Then, as I get close and just before I can grab him, he runs hither and yon through the brook.

But he doesn't go far, and I see him in the same yard as before, next door. We try to box him in, and it is finally the Alpha, who attacks him, scares him and sends him running tail tucked to Big Little Sister, who escorts him home and puts him on his lead in the fenced backyard.

We open all of the doors and windows to air out the house. The smoke alarms finally quiet and I can close the doors and most of the windows.

And then, after all of that, it's now noon. I have four hours before I have to be at my client's office. I'm still not finished with their work and I haven't taken a much needed shower.

So, we did what any normal person would do when faced with the day from upside down seven-seven-three-four ... we made ice cream :).

Friday, October 22, 2010

{this moment}




A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lessons From Nature - On the Economy

We could learn a lot from nature, if we would just take the time to stop and pay attention. For too long, we (humans) have believed ourselves superiorly wiser than the natural world. We can do more, we can be more, we can think more. When, in fact, we are really no different than other creatures who manipulate their environment (often to their own detriment), thinking they know better what's best.

I mentioned recently that this year's potato harvest was a little disappointing. I harvested only a third of what we would need for the winter (and we'd need even more than what I estimated, if potatoes were a daily fare). Yes, the potatoes were huge, but is bigger really better?

As it turns out the answer is no. Bigger just means bigger, and at some point, things get too big, and too often too big results in illness and disease ... and in this case, rot from the inside out.



My potato is actually a pretty good metaphor for the state of our world. We were so interested in perpetual growth that we didn't stop to think, perhaps, some things should not get so big.

The housing market with its inflated values is a good example. I knew, many years ago, that my three-bedroom, single-story house, in a fairly desirable location would never be worth the $300,000 price tag a similarly situated home in my neighborhood sold for, but that's the direction so many wanted me to believe things were going. I just knew, intuitively, that there was no way (and more, no reason) why a house for which I paid less than $100,000 would triple in value when no significant improvements had been made. It's not like I added granite countertops, maple floors and gold plated bathroom fixtures. Nothing changed about my house ... and yet.

It just didn't compute for me, and the housing bubble bursting was no surprise. The surprise for me is that it went as long as it did, and more so, that there are still people out there who believe the bust is the anomaly and that the growth is the norm. Really?

The same could be said about most of the institutions that govern our lives these days. Nearly everything we are and all that we live is simply too big. Our houses, our cars, our incomes (and the flip-side, our spending habits).

When I was unearthing the potatoes, taking care not to skewer them with the shovel, what I found was that the plants attached to the gargantuan potatoes grew *one* potato. I kept gently scooping out the earth around the base of the plant, hoping to find more, but for most of the plants, there was just the one potato. It was a biggy, but the plant had put so much energy into growing this *one*, humongous potato that it was all it could grow.

I also grew a red potato variety, and those plants had several, much smaller potatoes per plant. The red potatoes are not good for storage potatoes (unfortunately), but they're healthier than the white potatoes that grew too big, because they understood a little something about diversity.

I think, as a society, we're doing the same as the white potato plants. We put all of our energy into this *one* thing, and that *one* thing (growth) will be the end of us. I'm going to eat that one potato, and there won't be any left for seed next year. If I'd had five small potatoes, I'd have eaten four of them and saved one, but with only one big one ....

In essence, because the plant put all of its energy into growing as big as it could get, it doomed itself.

We could learn a lot from nature, if we would just stop and pay attention, and the first lesson is that perpetual growth is not possible. At some point, everything gets too big and stops growing. The starker lesson is that, at some point, everything dies - it gets as big as it's going to get, and then, it *simply* dies. This year's white potatoes from my garden will have no offspring, because the few potatoes I harvested will all become fuel for my family.

That's the lesson that we are just beginning to grasp as our society, as our culture, starts winding down. Historically, all large civilizations eventually disintegrate, and ours is no different. The only difference is that our civilization is now global, rather than regional, and when *it* finally collapses, the reverberations will be felt across the entire earth, on every continent, in every country, by all people (with, perhaps, some very few exceptions of people who never became dependent on the global economy). We got too big, and now we will consume ourselves.

And, hey, did anyone notice that the price of gasoline per gallon is over $3 ... again? I'm not surprised :).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Doing the Scarlet

In the story Gone With the Wind at the end of the Civil War, Scarlet stands in the barren fields of her beloved Tara and declares, "As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!"

And then, she proceeds to ... use her feminine wiles to get herself a man to take care of her ...

... anyway.

I don't know how that relates to anything, exactly, except that it was on my mind this past weekend.

We started the process of razing the garden beds, harvesting what there was to harvest and mulching all of the beds with their winter blanket of leaves.

Some of the things I grew gave a very disappointing harvest.

I was disappointed with the potatoes from which I only harvested a meager 35 lbs, but as Deus Ex Machina pointed out, I only planted 5 lbs, which means it was a 7x return. So, I guess that's okay. Just like last year I ended up with some enormous spuds. I pulled one of them out of the ground, and immediately thought "Go long!" It is almost as big as my foot(ball).

Big Little Sister harvested almost 4 lbs of scarlet runner beans from her garden. If we're looking at which crop gave us a better ROI, I'd have to say it was her beans. She planted four or five seeds and ended up with a half bushel of beans. Pretty cool! I'm going to try stringing them to dry, but not too long ago, I also discovered how incredibly delicious fresh scarlet runner beans are when they're cooked ... so, I'm kind of torn - eat 'em now, or save 'em for later .... Hmm?

I was really impressed with the tiny pie pumpkins. The vines were really short, and each vine produced between two and six pumpkins weighing between 1 lb and 3 lbs each. They're one-pie-per-each pumpkins, but we'll end up with thirteen pies with only four vines total.

The three sisters bucket garden didn't do so well. None of the beans grew, and the pumpkins in the buckets were smaller and fewer than the ones in the garden bed. I also planted the blue field corn, again this year. The ears are supposed to be smaller, but seriously? These are tiny, and I can't even imagine trying to get the kernels off the cob. I'm going to switch corn varieties next year. I'll still plant field corn, but I think I'll put the three sisters in the 8"x4" garden bed in the back and plant the small vine pumpkins, a field corn variety and scarlet runner beans. Worst case, I'll end up with a ton of scarlet runner beans, which are beautiful and grow prolifically. Best case, I'll have a great crop of corn, beans and pumpkins, and next year's pumpkin harvest, alone, will surpass this year's entire harvest total .... Well, I can dream, can't I? :)

Of course the piece de resistance this year was the Hubbard squash, and I'll probably be talking about those things for YEARS! After this winter, I may never want to look at another Hubbard squash, but if TSHTF this winter, we definitely won't go hungry. The grand total for the Hubbard squash 180 lbs ... all volunteers! Incredible!

We still have some things growing in the garden. I never harvested the beets, and now, with the cooler weather, the greens are amazing. I also still have lettuce and kale thriving in the garden. The comfrey should be harvested and dried, and since Deus Ex Machina prepped the poultry "coops" for winter (i.e. put the plastic on to keep the birds warm), I have a place to hang them outside to dry them. As they will be winter animal fodder, it's appropriate to dry them out there, I think :).

The next step, and something I've never really done with any degree of success, is to start the winter garden, which, this year, will be containers on tables in the duck coop. My plan is to try peas and the spicy mesclun mix that includes a lot of cool-loving greens like kale. It will be awesome of the plants do well. The girls LOVE peas, and to have fresh greens all winter ... ah! Heaven!

And garlic needs to get planted ... soon.

I haven't added up all of the totals for this year's harvest, and I still haven't harvested everything (there are still some things like Jerusalem artichokes that I probably will not harvest until spring), but I have to say that I'm not disappointed in how well our garden grew. I'm not up to a ton of food, yet, for sure, but we're getting there :).

And if anything happens to the grocery store in the next six months, we certainly won't starve, but if the worst case does happen, the first thing I'm going to do in the spring is scatter the squash seeds all around the yard, and that way we'll never have to resort to shaking our fists at a celestial witness, because with the very generous Hubbard squash as our "famine food", there is no chance of going hungry :).

How did your garden grow?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Paying It Forward - Book Giveaway

Some months ago, I entered a drawing for the book, Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life. I won the drawing, and now, having finished the book, I'd like to pay it forward.

If you're interested in entering the drawing for the book, please leave a comment. I will draw a winner on October 31 :).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chicken Food

One of the members of my Permaculture Meet-Up group posted a link to this blog post about plants that can be grown as chicken fodder.

We're growing many of them, already ;) - not because I wanted them for my chickens, but because we were already growing many of them. I thought the author's observation about comfrey (the chickens will eat it to the ground mercilessly) was pretty amusing, because it's been my observation as well. I'd add another plant to the list: hostas. Both the chickens and the ducks eat the hostas to the ground.

With an eye to the future, for those of us who are keeping suburban farm animals, we will certainly need to be considering incorporating some (if not all) of these food plants into our spaces. We still use commercial feed, at the moment, but it's not so far-fetched an idea that we might need to start foraging food for ourselves AND our chickens in the future. The more we've prepared our nanofarm to feed all of us, the better off we'll be.

I'm thinking I need to get some of those Jerusalem artichokes replanted back by the coop area. If nothing else, they would sure look pretty back there ;).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Craving ... Doing ... Being (Thankful)

From my friend, Rach:)

craving:
** time (to finish canning, to get more apples, to read a book)

doing:
** way ... too ... freaking ... much!
** stowing the garden for the winter
** planting some containers in the duck coop for a winter garden
** raking leaves (for garden mulch)
** cooking bean soup

thankful for:
** an amazing man, who, after fifteen years, still makes me weak in the knees ;)
** my beautiful children
** having enough that I can to contemplate the need to give away half
** the woodstove
** tea
** edits (because it means that my book is, indeed, being published :)
** Goodwill, and the very cool green sweater I found there today


If you read, consider yourself tagged. Leave a comment with your thoughts.... or post your own on your space :)

Friday, October 15, 2010

{this moment}




A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

First Fire

I was remarking the other day how it's much easier to pinpoint first than last. I rarely participate in an event knowing that it's the last time I'll do A ... or B, which is really the sad thing about our culture. We rush through so much of our lives without any inkling of how to really live in the moment, which is what makes Friday's {this moment} so remarkable. They're all moments that I look back on at the end of the week, all moments I tried to really savor while they were happening, and I remembered to take a picture, which makes it even better :).


We had our first fire of the season on Sunday night ... when Deus Ex Machina came home from his apprenticeship training weekend.

It feels odd to say that fall is well and truly here. I've only just harvested all of the tomatoes, and just in time, as we had a hard enough frost the other night to coat the car windows.

And the leaves are turning ....


They're actually beyond the turning phase, and many trees are already losing leaves, as evidenced by our yard, which could use a raking.

It just seems too fast. Everything happened too fast this year, and I wish that it was as easy as pulling on the reins and saying "whoa!"

I think I only made it halfway to my goal of 200 jars, and canning season is pretty much done for me. We missed apple picking at the orchard a second time. If we want to be assured of having apples this winter, I'll need to make a special trip to Alfred and hope that I can get some utility apples in bulk at the Giles farm store.

Winter is breathing his icy breath down my neck, and I'm woefully ill-prepared.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

We're Horticulturists

I watched this Toby Hemenway talk recently entitled "How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but not Civilization."

It was really interesting. The best part, though, is when I get to watch these talks by these really smart people who tell me, in essence, that what we (as a culture/society) should be doing is exactly what Deus Ex Machina and I are doing.

I've talked before about how, when I first started on this path, my goal was to grow all of our own food, but how Deus Ex Machina kept telling me I couldn't ... or shouldn't ... one of those two. What I heard him saying to me was that it couldn't be done, that it was not possible to grow all of the food we'd eat on a quarter acre, and, basically, I was wasting my time.

The problem is that: 1) I do not believe in impossible; and 2) I was fairly convinced that we didn't have a choice, that things were going to be bad, sooner rather than later, and if we really couldn't grow everything we need on our quarter acre, we would probably starve.

When I finally stopped to listen, though, I realized that he was not saying it was not possible, but rather that it wasn't necessary, that *I* don't need to grow EVERYTHING on this quarter acre that we need to sustain ourselves; that, perhaps, the better option is to do some combination of growing and foraging.

And wow! When that lightbulb finally went off it was like blinding sunlight in a newly opened cavern with a chorus of celestial beings, and I thought, "Oh!"

So, we started, doing a little of both, and then, I watched Toby Hemenway's talk about horticultural societies, and bam! that light nearly blinded me.

What he's talking about in this talk and with the permaculture movement is exactly what Deus Ex Machina and I have been working toward .

We're so smart ... well, Deus Ex Machina is, anyway, because he knew. I just wanted to grow stuff, which, as it turns out, is not a bad thing, either ;).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Planned Obsolescence

For those of you who do not know, Deus Ex Machina is an engineer ... an electrical engineer to be exact with a degree from one of those hoity-toity universities in the northeast. He works for a small technology company that designs automation equipment, and his official title is Director of Engineering.

He told once me that as an engineer, his job is to make himself obsolete. That is, if he does his job well (which he does), then "they" don't need him anymore.

I've been thinking a lot about that these past two days. Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery spent the night out in the woods with our Tuesday outdoor skills group, and unlike the regular Tuesday class, which is parents and kids, the overnight in the woods was just the kids (and the teacher and his apprentices :).

I, of course, spent the night imagining every possible horror and woke with a start at 3:00 AM ready to answer the frantic phone call and rush over to pick up Little Fire Faery, who is just too young to be staying overnight out in the woods ... but she's not too young, really.

This morning, when we joined the group for our regular class, Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery ran up to us, gave us a hug, and ran back to the group. I realized that my job, as a Mom, is the same job that Deus Ex Machina, as an engineer, has. As a parent, my job is to raise indendent, self-sufficient individuals, and if I do my job well, they will no longer *need* me.

The other day, I was worried about how well I was doing my job, but watching my girls today, after they'd spent the night outside ... without me ... I realized that I'm pretty damned good at my job.

I just hope that, while they don't need me, they still like hanging out with me enough that, at least one of them, will stick around.

They are, afterall, my retirement plan, and in a couple of years, they may no longer need me, but there will come a time, probably in the not-too-distant future, when I will definitely need them ;).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Changing It ... Slow

When I decided that the world was a messed up place, that Peak Oil is a reality and there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when cheap energy will be a thing of the past, and that we have, indeed, entered the time known as TEOTWAWKI, I thought my family would just hop on the bandwagon with me, and we'd all happily bump along the road toward lower-energy and self-sufficient living.

That's what I thought.

I thought wrong.

In fact, until very recently, my continued suggestions that we toss the television, VCR and DVD player to the curb have been met with a great deal of dissention. Ironically, we haven't had cable television for a very long time, and in fact the only thing the TV has done in the past six months is provide the audio/video output for the DVD player and VCR.

And it has galled the heck out of me, because every time that television goes on, I hear "cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching" as the electric meter outside starts its faster revolutions.

I've been relentless, though, in my suggestion that we don't need it, that we have alternatives, and I think that my suggestion is finally being heard. In the last few weeks, the television has been silent and cold, while the girls are more carefully exploring Netflix! ... and the heavenly choir chants aaahhh.

The thing about powering down with kids (and other reluctant family members) is being careful to assure them that their lives don't have to be negatively impacted by the changes we're making now, in the hopes that when we do end up in a full-blown world-wide energy crisis/collapse (like what Cuba experienced not too long ago), we're already at a point where we can weather the worst with perhaps only a couple of hiccups in the way we live our lives.

The other aspect to the whole powering down is to include them in the process. Like the garden. There are simply too many examples in history where food scarcity became a problem, but I don't want to fill my children with fear that, someday, we may not be able to eat. The message I want to give them is one of empowerment. Look, we're growing our own food! How, totally, cool is it that we can ACTUALLY grow food that we actually eat?!? They think it's cool.

And they're not the only ones who think the fact that we grow food is kinda of cool. Last summer, Big Little Sister had a friend stay overnight during the Ballet Seminar week, and in the morning, when they were getting ready to go to class, one of their tasks was to help prepare lunch for themselves - as they were going to be in class for the whole day with a break for lunch, and so they needed to pack something. Big Little Sister and her friend went outside and picked raspberries for their lunch ... from our bramble, in the back yard. She told me later that her friend's fondest memory of that year's seminar was picking raspberries for their lunch.

Having friends who appreciate some of the quirky things we do helps out a lot, because peer pressure is a huge factor when it comes to how children view their lives, and indeed, often, themselves.

But it's also helpful that Deus Ex Machina and I are so matter-of-fact about what we're doing, and we make the changes slowly, so that it's not like, yesterday we had all of the soda we could drink and today it's completely outlawed. In fact, we never did outlaw soda entirely. There's no more Coca-Cola brand or Pepsicola brand soft drinks coming into this house, but we do allow Maine Root or Cap't Eli's sodas (and both of those are okay, because they're produced here in Maine - and the Maine Root sodas do not use corn syrup (or corn sugar) as a sweetner or benzoates as preservatives :).

There may come a time when we no longer have the ability to take it slow and allow our girls to acclimate to one change before we make the next one, but while we're able to slowly change to a more self-sufficient, lower energy lifestyle, we intend to take advantage of it.

They say it takes a month for a new habit to be adopted, which kind of makes the whole one-small-change-at-a-time thing even more logical, because we make one change, and then, live with it until it becomes habit, and then, change something else.

Now, we're all accustomed to not having cable television, and the girls are growing used to not turning on the television at all - opting, instead, to download something from Netflix ... or just do something else entirely (which is even better). In a couple of weeks, perhaps, the television, DVD player and VCR will find their way to Goodwill ... or some lucky person on FreeCycle will be the proud new owner of our once-upon-a-time, well-loved livingroom centerpiece.

As for me, I'll just be happier knowing that the little wheel on the meter outside is turning more slowly ... and my girls don't feel in the least bit deprived.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Insulating Beautifully


While anything that adds to the comfort and energy efficiency of my house is beautiful, there really are different kinds of beauty. There's the kind that's functional and adds immeasurably to one's life (Ah! What a beautiful piece of machinery!), and then, there's the kind that's pleasing to the eye (What a beautiful sunset!).

Sometimes, it's both.

One of our biggest goals for the past few years has been to increase the efficiency of our household. Bringing the numbers down has become our favorite game. We're constantly challenging ourselves and each other to see how low we can go - and it's with everything: kilowatts used, miles driven, water usage, discretionary spending.

Sometimes, though, the needs conflict. For instance, to lower our overall water usage, we had to invest in rainbarrels, which increased our discretionary spending for that month.

Of course, when it comes to bringing the numbers down, I'd rather increase our discretionary spending for a one-time expenditure and have it result in a smaller monthly payment, because if our goal is to, eventually, achieve some sort of self-sufficiency (which means quitting outside jobs), we need to reduce our monthly bills.

Remodeling Big Little Sister's room has been on the to do list for several years, but has been tabled over and over again by those little things that crop up. We've known about some issues in that room for a long time. We had an energy audit a few years ago. Really, what we had was not an "energy audit" as much as it was a guy with an infrared camera telling us where there was heat loss in our house, and one of the areas that showed a significant loss was in the walls in Big Little Sister's room.

We've been talking for a long time about what we want to do. I want to take advantage of the lack of insulation in the walls and build a cold closet in there, but that would take away from the small space that she already has, and so we won't be doing that. I also plan to pull up the carpeting (not just from that room, but from that room *first*) and replace it with something that can be maintained with a broom and a mop.

We don't have the cash to pull up the carpet and replace it AND insulate all of the walls, and since our heat is already free, the bigger savings, over time, will be to replace the carpet (so that we won't need to use electricity vacuuming and shampooing the rug).

But we want the room to be comfortable.

And so I devised a different solution than tearing out all of the walls and adding insulation.



There was a time when beautiful tapestries were the *only* insulation, and it's a shame that they fell out of favor, because ... isn't it gorgeous?

This tapestry is actually a blanket that my uncle purchased for me when I was ten. It's too small for me to use as a blanket on my own bed, and my girls have down comforters which they prefer. It just seemed a shame to keep it tucked away in a closet. Big Little Sister liked the idea of the tapestry on the wall in her room, and I think it looks awesome with the paint color she chose.

When we get the carpet removed and the floors refinished, this room will look amazing, and the tapestry will help keep it warmer.

What I'm most proud of, though, is that I didn't have to buy something to find a solution. It was right there under my nose all of the time, and I love when I'm able to fix a problem using what we already have.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

{this moment}



A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaching By Example

Of all of the roles I play in life, of all of the titles I carry, and of all of the hats I wear, the most important two are that I am a wife to Deus Ex Machina and a mom. I spend a lot of time talking about our homesteading efforts and our attempts at powering down our lives, and these are very important to me. In fact, in the beginning, I was the only one who cared at all, which has been the interesting part of the challenge to live a lower energy life - how to convince my family to join me.

Initially, the problem, for me, was that Deus Ex Machina is a Taurus, and whether or not one believes in the efficacy of astrology, in many ways, he carries the traits attributed to the Taurus sign. In particular, he doesn't like change (and I'm talking even small changes, like rearranging a room or painting the walls a different color), which makes it particularly difficult for me, because I'm a Gemini, and as an air sign, change is what I do, like the direction of the wind. Mostly, we balance each other, and he keeps me from flying off in some crazy direction which might end up being a bad way to go, and I think I've helped him to understand that change doesn't have to be a bad thing, and sometimes, being stuck in a rut is much worse than making a move without a stone tablet map, a compass and three increasingly more high-tech Global Positioning Systems. Sometimes it's okay just to grab a good pair of shoes, start walking and see where one ends up.

Of course, with Deus Ex Machina it has often been just a matter of showing him the logic in making the changes (unfortunately, as a Gemini, the logic sometimes escapes me, as I'm more about knowing the right thing to do based on feeling), and for many of the changes I've proposed over the years, the logic is that it saves money, and it has. Our overall consumption (espcially in the areas of electricity, gasoline, propane, heating oil, food, and water) has decreased significantly over the past several years, which has resulted in a significant savings, which, in turn, has enabled us to decrease our cost-of-living, which as allowed us to consider the possibility of living without regular jobs.

Once Deus Ex Machina started supporting me in the changes I was making, it got much easier, and if it were just the two of us, we'd grow more of our food than we buy, we use half the wood, because the heat would stay off until the middle of November, the TV would be gone with a long before it, we use half the electricity, and we might even have the house paid off. In short, if it were just the two of us with all other things being equal, we'd be a lot further along in our journey toward self-sufficiency than we are right now, because we'd have a lot more money to spend on things like PV systems and classes for ourselves.

When one throws children into the mix, things get a bit more complicated, and given that we started this journey with our kids in tow, we might just have set ourselves up for a tougher time from the beginning.

The problem, for us, was that we weren't living a low energy life-style when our children were born, and as we started awakening to some of the facts of what our world was/is becoming and realized we had to make some changes or suffer, we had to convince these beautiful, intelligent, aware beings that they really didn't want another Polly Pocket, at the same time that they were very convinced that they most definitely DID want another Polly Pocket. The issue became, how does one go from a completely consumptive life to a low energy life with kids who've always had absolutely everything they ever needed and most of what they wanted, on demand?

*Please note, though, that my children have never been prone to things like temper tantrums, and I say this, because mentioning that they've always had what they need and want might have led some people who don't know them to believe that there was a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth. There hasn't been. It's been a lot more of things like disappointment pooling in those big, blue eyes, which is much worse - trust me on this one ;).

Storytelling in Native traditions was simply a part of life, and Natives used stories to impart wisdom and share lessons of how to live. Similarly, I like to use stories of my childhood as teaching tools about what life was like for me when I was growing up - like, I did such-and-such, and this is what I learned from that mistake. I tell these stories in the hopes that they will see the parallels and avoid my pitfalls. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it horribly backfires. My younger girls all love to hear my stories, and Precious will even ask me to tell the story of the time I did one thing or another. She's funny.

What's interesting, though, when I'm able to stand back and look around me, is to note how similar life today is to life back when I was Little Fire Faery's age: a long, drawn out and increasingly unpopular war; rising gas prices; economic woes; high unemployment; renewed interest in alternative energies; government telling us that we need to decrease our dependence on foriegn oil; the constant fear of foreign threats; increasing civil unrest. Today, we even have our version of protest music (great band, by the way - amazing voices and a very sobering message).

In fact, it wasn't just the stuff on the outside that makes my life very similar to theirs. I had two sisters and so there were three girls. I lived in a racially and ethically uniform, middle class, suburban neighborhood. My family was significantly and negatively impacted by the economic downturn. Technology was advancing at the speed of light, and we were all being assured that technology would save us.

And it might have ... if, back then, the people in charge had believed in and invested in the alternative energy technologies, but they didn't, and it doesn't look like the response from our current leaders is going to be much different.

Because I lived through the life and times my girls are experiencing now, I think I definitely had it easier than my parents, who really only wanted for me what they never had. Unlike my parents' wish for me, I want my girls to have everything I had ... and none of it. I want them to have better, but not in the same way as my parents' generation wished for mine.

And that's where we are, and here I mean a collective "we" as in the citizens of the world.

As Lea and Chloe (Rising Appalachia) say in their song Stand Down,
Stand up, look around, and then scale that down too ....
Everybody's got a lot to say about everyone else ...
[But] take a long hard look at you(rself)
We are trashing our own birthday cake ....
[and it's] None but ourselves to make this thing last ....


In other words, we are all culpable for the mess that our world is in, and we are all responsible for making the change, and those of us with children are responsible for making sure our children know what to do.

I feel like I must be making some progress, though, as my daughters regularly tell me their plans for off-grid living on a subsistence farm out in the middle of nowhere ... just like their grandparents lived ... and so very different from how their mom grew up ;).

Friday, October 1, 2010

{this moment}




A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.