Friday, December 31, 2010

A-Typical

Making changes isn't so very difficult. Once one decides that one is going to do a thing, the doing of it is rather easy. Even if that thing goes against the grain of what is considered normal, once the decision has been made to do a thing, doing it is easy. Like the old Nike commercial used to say just do it.

Which is the irony of our current situation.

The other day, we spent the whole day rearranging furniture. What was the "living room" is now an "office" for Deus Ex Machina and me. What was "my office" is now our living room, and we moved his desk away from the front door and out of the dining room (putting the former television armoire - which will have a new life as a closet for coats - where his desk had been).

It made more sense to do it that way, because the woodstove is in the (new) living room/dining room area, and we all spent our time in there anyway, which is good, but difficult when I'm trying to work (I work as a medical transcriptionist). The worse part was that, since our desks were in common areas, they were often not treated as the personal spaces that they should have been. Being next to the door, Deus Ex Machina's desk would often end up as a catch-all for whatever was brought into the house and needed to be put somewhere. With my desk where it was, my office chair would often been a convenient place to sit, and I'd find people sitting at my desk, which is not a good thing. There is a lot of personal and sensitive information on my desk.

Both desks have needed to be moved for a very long time.

Now, we have a nice, comfy couch to sit on in the living room, and our desks are out of the way of our common areas.

The other part of the makeover entailed getting rid of the television. Not just cutting cable, this time, but actually, physically, moving the box out of the house. We gave our old television set to MamaDaughter and Mr. Field-and-Stream.

I didn't think much about it at the time, but then it struck me ... we have no television. I mean, there's no television in our house. Not one set. I haven't lived in a house without a television (or two) for a very long time. In fact, since I reached adulthood the only time I haven't had owned a television was for a very few months just after I arrived in Germany.

What struck me was how insidious the television is, how much a part of our culture it is. Like my quoting a Nike commercial. Television is such a huge part of what and who we think we are. It's almost impossible to have a conversation with someone without the inevitable question Did you see [fill in blank of television show name]? For the past year or so, Deus Ex Machina and I have answered no, and added that we don't watch television.

But we still had a television, and so we weren't, like, weird or anything.

Now, we don't even have a television, and for a minute, when I realized what we'd done, it felt weird. But only for just a minute.

And then, it was like ahh! More storage space! Mr. Field-and-Stream asked if I was going to fill the television cabinet with books. No, I'm not, but would it be such a bad thing to get rid of the television and put books where it had been?

I like the new arrangement, and even though he really didn't want to help me (there was a lot of non-verbal grumbling and a few words, like, "badgering" were used to describe my behavior), I am so thankful that Deus Ex Machina was home this week to help me. I could not have done it by myself.

Of course, I'm convinced that once we get things sorted and put away that our house will be a bit more organized (if not a great deal neater), and since we don't have a television to watch, getting organized shouldn't take too long ;).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dreams Deferred

The other day, I decided to do a quick google search for myself. There's a very practical reason why, but it's a rather long and convoluted story (and we all know how much I like to be concise ;), best kept for another day.

Anyway ...

So I'm skimming down through the choices, and sixth one down was a listing on New Society Publishers.

"Wait," I thought. "That's my publisher." And so I clicked on the link, and whaddaya know! There it is.

My book! New Society Publishers has put up their spring catalog, and I'm in it ;).



So, then, I went back to the google search page, scrolling back through the options, and ...

WHOA!

Number two listing, after the YouTube videos (none of which are related to me, by the way), is an AMAZON-freakin'-dot-COM listing of *MY* book!

Holy cow!

What a day!

So, for all of my friends and family members who have been wondering how I spent the last year, wondering why I wasn't returning phone calls or email messages or sending Christmas cards - here's my excuse :). I was writing a book :).

And for those of you who have always wondered if I wasn't, perhaps, just a bit crazy, now you know. I've written a book on "surviving the apocalypse."
The answer is clearly *yes* ;).

It has been an amazing and exciting and wonderful ... and oh, so humbling experience ;).

Langston Hughes ponders the question of "what happens to a dream deferred", and if this dream of mine (of becoming a published author) that has (finally) come true can be said to have been "deferred" for these past thirty-plus years, then I can say, with complete assurance, that a dream deferred doesn't dry up or turn rotten and stink or sag or explode.

For me, it was more like a caterpillar in a cocoon. It wrapped itself up, and hibernated, until the time was ripe to hatch, and now, it's wriggled its way out of its silk wrapping and is flapping its dazzling, colorful wings.

There's sure to be a book giveaway ... or something ... where I give away not just my book, but *my* book, and I can honestly say that this will be one book that I will be thrilled to share ;).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Survival Gear

I don't know where it came from, but it's become a holiday tradition, for me, to gift handmade items ... and my family has come to expect it, actually. This year, when I came home from the fabric store, they pawed through the bag trying to determine which fabric was for whom. They, correctly, guessed that the blue flannel printed with the word love and little monkeys was for Deus Ex Machina's annual PJ pants. I couldn't resist giving him "monkey love" - and yes, the woman at the fabric store who cut my yardage shared a good (bawdy) laugh with me about my fabric choice ;).

I went a step beyond pants this year. I decided to make the girls each a poncho, too.



The original plan was for a flannel-lined wool poncho for each girl. I wanted wool, because it is both warm and naturally water resistant. It's one of the best fabrics for the type of weather we have where I live.

Wool is very expensive.

Fleece is also (relatively) water resistant, and it was on sale ;). The plan changed to a flannel-lined fleece poncho for each girl with flannel pants to match their poncho lining.

But, I underestimated the amount of flannel I would need, and then, the WHOLE plan changed.

And ... I was pressed for time. Ah, the holiday rush, right? *grin*

I'd intended for each poncho to have a hood and a pocket, which didn't happen. It will. I will put a hood on each poncho and give them all a pocket. Big Little Sister ended up with a fleece poncho with no lining, because I didn't have enough of the flannel I purchased, but again to the stash, and I showed her an old flannel bedsheet, and asked if she'd be okay with that being her lining. She is ;). What a trooper! ;). The lining for Little Fire Faery's poncho isn't flannel. Instead I was finally able to use this gorgeous pink fabric from my stash that I've been saving for a special project. I think this qualifies as a "special project."

The impetus behind the ponchos is more than just wanting to make my girls something, though. There's a more pratical and survival-oriented reason.

Many years ago I read John Ransom's Andersonville Diary. It is the story of a Union soldier who'd been a prisoner in the infamous Andersonville prison. He survived. Most did not. He credits his survival to the quilt he had with him. In the winter, he had a blanket to help keep him warm - many did not. In the summer, he had a cover from the blazing Georgia sun. Many Union prisoners had nothing and suffered immeasurably from exposure to the elements.

In an extreme survival situation, shelter is the top priority.

Their ponchos can be used as a coat, and it can be used as a blanket.

I like the idea so much, and I had so much fun making them, and I'm so pleased with how they turned out, I'm pretty sure there's a poncho in my future, too.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Too Hard for DIY??

There are some things that I have just always assumed should be left to the "experts." Like I always assumed that pudding mix was something they had to make.

I learned differently.

With the holidays here and our desire to be cheap thrifty, I've learned to make some things that are even more in the they have to make them category.

I made incense cones ...



and lip balm.



Neither was particularly difficult. Since I ground the patcholi leaf into a powder, making the incense was a bit time consuming, but if I had just used the patchouli powder that came with the kit, making the incense would have been a very short project, too.

In short, that thing about old dogs and new tricks is so totally *not* true.

What I found kind of funny, though, is that I had all of the ingredients* (except fo the Vitamin E, which I decided to omit) for the lip balm already in my cabinets.

Is that weird?

*The beeswax was a parting gift from our bees. So far, we've used it to make lip balm and Tiger balm. I hope we're doing them honor in our choices for how to use their gift.


Edited to add: The Tiger Balm recipe we used was on eHow.com. It's the simple recipe found on this page.

Basically, the recipe is beeswax, olive oil, and essential oils. It smells really nice, but probably isn't as "strong" as commercial tiger balm, but that's okay with us ;).

*For the tiger balm, the only ingredient we didn't have on hand was the eucalyptus oil ;).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

THE NIGHT SANTA CAME TO TOWN

Pajamaed children, early to bed,
"Or Santa won't come," they always said.
Excitement mingled with a dash of fear,
Would he visit with his eight reindeer?

Young eyes soon close to sugar plum dreams,
But open too soon in the streetlight beams.
Quietly creeping down the endless hall,
On cushioned carpet her footsteps fall.

Peek around the corner at regal tree,
Reveals a visitor. Is it he?
Streetlights illume a glowing, white beard.
Heart races, rabbit's square dance, in her fear

Small feet scurry back to bed.
Warm, down quilt over young head.
Morning, at last, "Rise and Shine!"
Runs to the tree. What does she find?

A giant, stuffed monkey (sibling's gift)
Perched under the tree, shiny, white midriff.
Was it this all along? A trick of the light?
Or did Santa sleep in her home last night?

- Wendy, 1990

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dvision of Labor

Our neighbor took down a couple of trees recently and offered the wood to us in exchange for us cleaning up the downed trees from her yard. We never pass up free firewood, and as a result, we've actually heated our house for free for the past two winters.

The wood from our neighbors trees won't be dry enough to burn until next year, at the earliest (the oak might even need to sit for another winter before we try to burn it), and so, we (and I say "we", but I mean "Deus Ex Machina") have been splitting the logs only small enough so that we can lift them and move them to our house. The plan is to split the logs small enough for the woodstove after they've seasoned a bit more - like next summer ;).

So, the other day we were getting the last of the trees out of her yard, and Deus Ex Machina had split a couple of logs, but this one stubborn log didn't split all the way in two. The bark was still intact holding the big log together. I could lift it, but carrying it with half of it split was awkward. So, he tells me to plop it up on the stump and split it the rest of the way, and then, he turns around to grab a couple more logs and load them into the back of our SUV.

I moved the log onto the stump and grabbed the maul. Then, I heft it over my head, like I've seem him do so many times, and I drop it onto the top of the log. Nothing. So, I try again, and again, and then Deus Ex Machina says to me, as I'm hefting the maul for a fourth time, "I'm going to call you lightning."

I smile, kind of sheepishly thinking this is some great compliment, like "Lightning McQueen" (from Cars - although I can't quite figure out the similarities to that one ;), or maybe something along the lines of his liking the way I'm handling this "man's job", even though the top of the log now has several little dings - all in different places - but the log is no closer to being two.

"Why?" I inquire waiting for the gush of admiration and adoration.

"Because you never strike the same place twice."

He's so witty.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice, everyone!

May you find peace, abundance, and joy in the returning light!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inconceivable

I received this phone call the other day. Caller ID said it was "out of area" and there was no number. I should know better, but occasionally, it's a person (usually it's a recording, and I usually just hang up), and occasionally, it's a person to whom we really wish to speak.

The caller told me his name was Sean Anderson - in his very thick, very obviously Indian (as in from India) accent, and I almost ... almost ... laughed ... out loud ..., but that would have been rude. Maybe his name really was Sean Anderson, but my guess is that it's not.

Anyway.

He proceeds to tell me that he is going to offer me this great deal with lots of savings on my shopping trips, and he has these $25 gift cards to all of these different stores, which he rattles off, but I don't understand most of the ones he mentions, because he's saying them so fast and his accent is so thick, and he keeps rattling on with me catching about every five words, and he drops all of these really large dollar sums (I think he said something about saving $4000, but I'm not sure). I'm just getting poised to tell him "no, thanks" and hang up the phone when he asks me a question:

"Do you shop at Wal-Mart, Ma'am?"

Yes, that thump was me falling onto the floor so that I could roll around laughing my ass off (for the second time in as many weeks - if this keeps up I'm going to need a belt to hold up my jeans :). Obviously, he doesn't read my blog, because if he did, he'd have never asked that question.

I said, rather emphatically, "No, I do not shop at Wal-Mart."

So, he asked, "Is there no Wal-Mart near you, Ma'am?"

To which I replied, "There are Wal-Marts all over the place. I just don't shop there."

I think I stumped him. I mean, if half your sales pitch is to tell the potential dupe ... er ... customer how much money off of the already low, low prices they can save with your program, what do you say to a woman who says she doesn't shop at Wal-Mart?

I started to ask him if he had a discount card that could be used at Goodwill, but I decided to just be honest, because even if he did offer some great discount at Goodwill, I still wouldn't sign up for his program. What's that saying: if it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it is. And most of these money-saving offers end up costing a great deal.

So, I very nicely explained that I wasn't really a shopper, and that he had just, unfortunately, been given a bad number, and perhaps he should try calling someone else, because I wasn't really interested.

Oh, and have a nice day ... goodbye.

I wonder how many sales calls Sean makes each day in which he is told, emphatically, "I choose not to shop at Wal-Mart, even though they are available to me."

My guess is not many.

Friday, December 17, 2010

{this moment} x 2





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, December 16, 2010

The Mother of Invention

What do you do when you want hot-air popped corn, but you don't have a microwave or an electric hot air popper?




Popped corn is not something new. Our native american ancestors introduced the delicacy to the European colonists.

So, it makes sense that electricity is not a crucial component to making it.

The more I look, the more I find that electricity is a nice luxury, but with it's not a necessity :).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More Than "Just" a Gift

I have such amazing children.

They love this time of year.

They love it, because they love to make and give gifts.

What I love most, though, is that they don't stress over what to give. They simply plan out their list of recipients, and then, go to work making whatever thing it is that they feel confident in their ability to make. It's often pieces of yarn of varying lengths with knots tied in various places - necklaces or bracelets. This year, Big Little Sister is knitting everyone on her list something - scarves, ear warmers, slippers.

I think they're incredible, and their desire to create things with their own hands, rather than stressing over the whole consumerist aspect of the season, is refreshing.

They went into full "elf" mode recently, and after some discussion, Precious decided to make a coloring book for her neice. She drew some pictures, and I helped her bind them and create a cover.



We talked about buying a box of crayons to go with the coloring book, but then, decided that it would be more fun (and way cooler) to make some crayons. So, Precious, Little Fire Faery, and I found some old, broken crayons, took the paper off, put them in an old muffin tin and melted them in the oven set at around 250° (we were going to melt them on the woodstove, but since it's been so warm, the woodstove wasn't hot enough). Then, we poured the melted crayons into some old candy mold trays we had lying around. We were having so much fun, Big Little Sister decided to help us :).

Please ignore the messy counter



While Precious and Big Little Sister were making crayons, Little Fire Faery decided it would be a good time to make a rattle for her baby niece (Did I mention somewhere that I have a second granddaughter? *grin*). She learned how to use the sewing machine today.



She's pictured above with the finished product. I think she did a great job, and I'm betting her niece will love it ;).

We don't even have a tree, yet, but the gifts from this terrific trio are starting to pile up.

They are pretty remarkable girls. I think I could learn a thing or two from them :).

And with their magic elfish ways, I might just have found the motivation I need to start creating some holiday cheer myself.

Oh, are those jingle bells I hear?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

External Validation

HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

Oh, uh ... ugh! umpf!

Sorry about that. I was rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-my-ass-off.

What has me all giddy at the moment is the ruling by a Virginia judge regarding the recent Health Care Reform Act that was passed by Congress. He says, and I quote: "Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market."

Finally!

Someone with some damned sense!

And it's what I said from the very beginning, that the government does not have the right to force us to pay for private health insurance.

External validation is a good thing.

But what's galling is that it's taken so damned long for someone in a position of authority to come forward and state the obvious.

I can't wait to see where this goes.

World Cleaned by Hand

A few years ago, the great dishwasher debate rolled through the blogosphere. The question was which is more eco-friendly, using the dishwasher or handwashing dishes. The focus was on water usage, and in the end, the findings were that, on water-saving setting, assuming no pre-rinse of the dishes, there was really no significant difference in water usage between using a dishwasher and handwashing the dishes.

And that's where the debate ended. Dishwashers were deemed just as eco-friendly as handwashing, and I never thought more about it, and we continued to use our dishwasher.

I should disclose that we don't have a "regular" dishwasher. Ours is a 3/4 size portable dishwasher, which means that when we want to use it, we have to roll it over to the sink and hook it up to the faucet. When we bought our house, there was no dishwasher, and because of the way our kitchen is set-up, we couldn't have a built-in, and because our kitchen is so small, we only had space for the little three-quarter size machine. So, our dishwasher actually uses less than a regular dishwasher anyway.

Then, one day, not so long ago, I became obsessed with lowering our electric bill. Nothing is safe and nothing is sacred, and I've turned this desire to reduce, reduce, reduce into some kind of maniacal witch hunt. Anything and everything that has a power switch or a plug is closely evaluated to determine if it's something we really need. I even bought a wind-up alarm clock, because it doesn't use batteries or plug into the wall.

My obsession has earned me more than a few sideways looks, much rolling of the eyes, and even the occasional scowl ... mumble ... grumble.

Incidentally, don't mention the television, the VCR, the DVD player or the stereo to Deus Ex Machina. I think he might still be a little sensitive. Sometimes it's hard to let go :).

A month without those things, though, and there was a marked reduction in our electric bill. Heartened by my success, I decided to see what else I could (easily) eliminate ... and I spied the unsuspeting dishwasher sitting innocently next to the refrigerator (which shouldn't get too smug or too comfortable, either).

In the comments section of a recnt post, Bellen asked how we calculated the energy usage of our dishwasher, and so I asked the man who knows all things electric, and Deus Ex Machina said that it should be marked somewhere on the machine. Every appliance has the usage listed somewhere as part of the UL requirements. So, we looked and found the little metal plate attached just inside the door frame. It says that our dishwasher requires 120v (current) and draws 8.5 amps.

To calculate the power draw, the formula is current x amps = watts. So, our dishwasher uses 1020 watts or 1.020 kilowatts. If we run our dishwasher for one hour, that's 1 kWh, which means if we run the dishwasher every day, and it takes one hour to go through the cycle (which it does), operating the dishwasher would take 30 kWh per month ... for a dishwasher.

And suddenly our sweet, little, three-fourths-sized dishwasher that's more eco-friendly than a full-sized machine doesn't seem so eco-friendly at all.

We've been researching alternative energy systems, and the more I look at any system the uses renewable resources, the more I realize that if we really want to be successful at generating own our power, we have to trim off every single sliver of the fat. The alternative energy systems just don't provide the enormous quantity of power available through the grid.

For instance, with a bicycle powered generator, the average rider can produce between 125 and 300 watts, which wouldn't even be enough power to get the dishwasher to kick on, much less run it for a full cycle. Maybe if the rider were Lance Armstrong I'd have clean dishes from a machine powered by a bicycle.

And that's what really put it into perspective for me.

In the end, I've decided that doing the dishes by hand isn't so difficult, and with me doing the dishes instead of him, Deus Ex Machina will have more time to concentrate on building that bicycle generator, because even if I can't pedal hard enough to get the electric dishwasher to work, I'm pretty sure I could pedal hard enough to charge up a battery so that we could plug in the laptop and snuggle on the couch to watch a DVD :).

I'd probably shower first, though ;).

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Season of Lights

It's warm. Today's highs are supposed to be in the 50s. Yesterday with the woodstove going all day, but the warm temperatures outside, it was so hot in my house, I had to open a door. I'm wearing a pair of shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt. I'll probably let the fire die out today, and perhaps we'll relight it tonight ... if it gets colder. It was so hot last night, I couldn't sleep - even in the coldest room in the house, and I came out to the couch, where I dozed, fitfully, without any covers ... because it was too hot.

Isn't there something very wrong about talking about it being too hot ... in Maine ... in December?

And the grass is still green, too, which makes the fact that this is December and *the* HOLIDAY season a bit difficult for me. My girls are counting down the days (there are twelve, they tell me). Apparently, they aren't having the same difficulty with getting into the spirit that I am. In fact, last night, we pulled out the decorations and strung some fake holly and lights in the front window.

Which is kind of funny, I think. We put a string of electric lights in the front window, and all the while, I've been turning off the electric lights each evening and lighting the wall sconce oil lamps. It's nice sitting in the amber glow of the oil lamplight and knitting (squares for the annual charity blanket project), but now, we've put lights in the window. Lights that require electricity. Sure, we could just not plug them in (and to be sure, I will be VERY selective of when those lights go on ;).

Deus Ex Machina and I have been looking at our numbers. The Riot4Austerity website is gone now, but Deus Ex Machina did some sleuthing and found averages for usage in the categories covered by the Riot's calculator. Our biggest downfall is still consumer spending, and we're still over the 50% mark in that one. Even with our second-hand shopping (and we're very excited about the New2U shop that's going in next door to the dance school :), our numbers are pretty high (I blame it on my job - self-employed, working from home - and our homeschooling ... and for the purposes of calculating our footprint, we've never tried to separate out the work/school stuff from our personal usage :).

That said, we're using less than 1/3 of what the average American uses in every category (even accounting for driving 24 miles to and from the dance school a couple of times per week), except garbage and in that category we're well below 10%.

Of course, now with the holidays and those lights in the window, we may see an increase in our electric usage.

So, to off-set our carbon footprint, this month, it's oil lamplight in the evening and retiring the automatic dishwasher ... and since we can't have the real twinkling lights of the moon reflecting off the snow, maybe the dimly twinkling lights in the window will put me in the mood.

I wonder how long I'd have to ride the bike generator to keep those lights glowing?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

I was looking through some old pictures.

Here's what I found from August 2001:



And from July 2009:



Like ... wow!

I know what changes have been made, because, mostly, *I* made them. In picture two, I set, filled and planted those raised garden beds (I had a lot of help building them). I put up the clothesline. I planted the apple tree.

But I'd never seen the before and after pictures side-by-side. It's kind of fun to see the huge difference.

If I had to pick one thing from the pictures of which I am most proud, I would choose the fact that the little window AC unit we had in 2001 was only here for that season, and it's been gone ... with a long before it for eight years, and from the second picture, I'm most proud of my lovely clothesline.

It's not your imagination, either, and it's also not the poorer quality of the camera used to take the 2001 picture. The house actually is brighter. In 1998 we used a transparent stain on the untreated wood siding. It gave the house that orangish color, and the guy at the paint store insisted the house would look like a pumpkin. Fast forward seven years, and we're restaining the house, but we can't use the transparent stain, because it's not covering like it should, and so we went with an opaque stain. Ha! And the paint guy thought it looked like a pumpkin before! He should see it now, eh?

And the grass really is greener these days, too, especially right in front of the house behind the clothesline, because that's where the (new in 2004) septic tank is ;).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Global ... 'Weirding'?



It seems, lately, every time we cross the saltmarsh, it's high tide. It must be high tide, because the marsh channels are tidal, and the water level rises and falls with the tides, but it seems like every time I'm going across the marsh, lately, the channels are full and the water is all but lapping against the road.

I've been looking at it a lot lately asking my fellow travelers: is the marsh more full? Have sea levels been rising? Or am I just hypersensitive to the issue because of my involvement with the whole doomer crowd (with carbon footprint and global climate change being one of the banners the crowd is waving)?

I asked Deus Ex Machina those questions the other day as we were crossing, and I was looking at how close the water was to the road. I remarked that if the sea levels rose by just a foot - a mere twelve inches - during spring tides (twice a month) and storm surges, the road on which we were traveling would be closed due to flooding. Another foot rise (just twenty-four inches), and we'd be cut-off twice a day, every day, during high tide.

There's a scene in the movie I am Legend in which the character played by Will Smith checks the sunrise and sunset times to be sure that he's not out after dark. That would be us, checking the tidal charts every day before we left the house to be sure that we could get back home.

In 2007 the coast of Maine was hit by a massive Nor'easter which was dubbed The Patriot's Day storm. It caused significant damage along the coast including huge waves that dragged cars and houses into the surf. High tide was higher than normal, and all of the roads heading north from where I live were closed due to water. All of them. Can you imagine? The flooded roads only lasted a few hours, and as the tide went out, so did most of the water, but during that time we were pretty much stuck on whatever side of the Scarborough salt marsh that we happened to be on. Deus Ex Machina was at work ... on one side of the marsh. We were at home ... on the other side.

Some people fared worse than others. Much of southern Maine is made up of marshy areas, and many of these marshes have been developed. Dirt fill is brought in to bring the level of the solid ground above what would be the natural water level and then roads and buildings with parking lots (all impermeable surfaces) are built. The marshes act like a natural sponge to absorb the water, and so, while the marsh area will be wet and mucky, there are often higher areas that will remain dry - even in the worst storms and/or wettest years. With these natural sponges covered up and built upon, the water has no where to go, and we fight a losing battle against the very forces we thought to control.

The consequences are sometimes humorous ... from a bystander's point-of-view, but I'll bet a Hubbard squash that this guy wasn't laughing.



Yes, that is, indeed, a road under all that water, and that last car didn't make it quite all the way through as the water flooded across the road.

There's been a very interesting discussion happening on the Portland Permaculture Meet-up group regarding Global Warming, and I've seen a couple of articles about glacial melt and sea levels rising. People who aren't personally affected by either of these things will declare that global warming is a farce perpetrated on us by the world's governments in an attempt at fear-mongering and resource control. Denial is a very powerful emotion. During last year's winter storms that dumped feet of snow on areas of the country where they usually get only inches, the naysayers often quipped, "How's this global warming?"

But whether we call it "climate change" or "global warming" or "global weirding" (as some have suggested) it's very clear that *something* most definitely is happening.

There are a lot of anecdotal accounts of the changes in the weather - with both the hottest year on record and the wettest year on record having occurred in the last decade. We're still having an unseasonably warm year (although 1998 here in Maine was pretty warm, too, as I recall). In fact, I'm still cutting kale from the garden, and I *just* planted my spring crop of garlic last week.

At this point, whether it's human caused or a some natural warming/cooling cycle of the Earth is really moot. At this point, we can't stop what's happening. It's happening. The glaciers in Siberia are melting and leaving methane seeping lakes in their wake (which, by all accounts, will only exacerbate the climate changes). The ocean levels are rising and are drowning whole nations.

Continuing to point fingers and blame this one or that one is no longer a useful or productive exercise. Neither is having conference after conference with all of the verbal wrangling and no action. If our leaders won't do anything, we must, because as a species, *we* are at risk, and we can't count on any political entity to "save" us.

All we can do, now, is to get ready to learn to live with the consequences, which means, maybe, we have to check the tidal charts every day before we travel anywhere to be sure that we can get back home if the roads end up flooded. It means that we may not have access to things we've always had, because getting them to us will be too difficult, and we'll need to find substitutes or just learn to do without. It means that, maybe, people from the coast start moving inland, and those who live inland need to figure out where those coasties will live.

It defintely means we need to stop building along the coasts, we need to stop filling in our natural sponges, and perhaps we need to start deconstructing those condos that were built on marshy areas and let nature return the balance.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Foreshadowing?

When Deus Ex Machina and I were in the grocery store this past weekend, I overheard a customer talking to the kid in the produce section.

Customer: Where are the strawberries?
Produce Kid (with an embarrassed lilt to his voice): We don't have any right now. The ones that we received were no good.
Customer (as he walked away): Grumble, grumble. Mumble, mumble ....

Strawberries are a summer crop. Here in the US, in December, it's not "summer" anywhere, and if strawberries are being grown, it is more likely than not under unsustainable and energy intensive conditions.

The price per barrel for oil has been hovering around $89 for the past couple of days. The price per gallon for gasoline is between $2.99 and $3.09 here in southern Maine.

How many more times will our local grocery store buy strawberries that are not suitable for selling before they stop stocking strawberries in December? And if my grocery store stops buying strawberries, how long before those growers stop expending the energy to grow them? And if the price of oil continues to rise, how much longer before we stop having the smorgasbord of grocery store products that we have today - never mind the produce section offerings of out-of-season fruits and vegetables, but how about things we take for granted like ice cream and Eggo waffles?

Is this a sign of things to come?

Deus Ex Machina and I were looking at bike generators last night. The average adult can produce a sustained 80 to 150 watts of power. A vigorous half hour ride could charge a deep-cycle battery that would provide enough power to operate my tankless water heater for about ten 5-minute showers per week.

Generating all of the electricity we would like to use from our own muscles would not be ideal - at least for us (maybe when our girls get a bit older and can help with the pedaling :), but as we continue to lower our overall usage, powering some parts of our house with a bicycle generator starts to look like a real possibility.

And, really, having spent the last decade working as a "virtual assistant", I'm starting to notice that secretary spread, which is very annoying and rather concerning. The problem is that I've never been an exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise kind of person.

I have no aversion to hard work.

Over the holiday weekend, in fact, Deus Ex Machina and I moved a half-cord of wood from our neighbor's yard, and we'll move another half-cord the next time we have a free weekend.

I'll turn over, dig out and build raised garden beds (and plant strawberries :).

I'll shovel snow.

I'll walk two miles to the library.

And while all of those things could be considered "exercise", they're activities that need to be done and have the added benefit of also using and toning my muscles.

Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of those types of activities to really keep me in the shape I want to be in.

Having a bike generator to power our water heater so that I can take a hot shower would be so satisfying on so many levels.

We've talked for years about installing some sort of alt.energy system, and we've hemmed and hawed about what would be best for our particular situation. All things considered - cost, reliability, maintenance and upkeep, ease of use - the bicycle generator seems a very good choice. I'm not considering a whole-house human-powered system (which would be cost prohibitive and would require more time and energy than either Deus Ex Machina or I could supply), neither could we afford a whole-house solar or wind system (which is why our goal has been to reduce our usage).

There is no one-size-fits-all alt.energy system that would be completely ideal 100% of the time, and the best solution would be for each of us to explore the different options and choose a couple that would work for our, individual, situation.

For me and Deus Ex Machina, we would be limited in the amount of energy we could produce with a bike-powered generator (especially initially ... as we build those bike-riding muscles :), but pound-for-pound, the bike generator is less expensive than solar and wind generation equipment (mostly because of the huge DIY potential and the fact that it uses readily available materials) and would be (potentially) more reliable.

If we're making our own power (even if it's only enough for hot water), we're not (as) dependent on conditions over which we have absolutely no control - like the price of oil per barrel or the weather. A bike-generator would be the ultimate in empowering us to make our own power, dependent only on my willingness to jump on the bike and give it a whirl.

Friday, December 3, 2010

{this moment}



You want an explanation ... but you don't get one. That's the rule ;).