Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Box O' Books ... Winner

And the winner of the box of books is ...

... Richard! Please leave a comment with your contact information. I won't publish your comment.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keeping Clean Without the Grid

This time, the weather spared us. The electricity did not go off. We didn't have any downed trees. There was no damage to our home or those of our close neighbors.

But that has not always been true. There have been many times in the nearly decade and a half that Deus Ex Machina and I have lived in our house that we have been left, literally, in the dark when storms have knocked out our electricity.

In my book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs, I talk a lot about how fragile the delivery system is here in our country, how fragile the grid is. I explain that, for my family, the electricity is delivered through lines that are strung from pole to pole along the roadways.

One time we lost power because a drunken driver hit the pole. It didn't take long to correct, but that event planted the seed, for me. Another time, we had a wind storm - just wind ... no rain, no snow, no ice ... just wind, and not even hurricane force or even tropical storm force winds. The wind storm knocked out power for tens of thousands of southern Mainers, but it was incredibly selective. My neighbors, across the main road, had electricity (I could see their lights), but no one on my street had electricity.

And it was just my street - seven houses on a dirt road. We were the last on the priority list. Three days later, we had electricity again.

After that event the little seed took root and the seedling poked its little head out of the soil. It didn't grow very well or very big, because I didn't give it much attention.

In 2008, that changed, and the event that firmly established my little seed as the tree it has become was the ice storm that knocked out power for a significant number of Mainers, including us. It was in early December, and luckily, we had just installed our super efficient woodstove. We had already planned to heat our house with wood, and so we had the woodstove and plenty of fuel. Not having power didn't make us cold.

We also had plenty of food, because it was winter, and it had been a busy canning season :). We had the woodstove for heat, but also for cooking. So, we didn't worry about being hungry, or needing to spend extra money eating out or going to the grocery store for non-perishable food. It was cold, and so the items in our refrigerator went outside (planting the seed for a cold closet ;).

And we were lucky enough to still have water-on-tap ... although our on-demand, propane hot waterheater has an electric igniter, and so we had water, but not "hot" water.

I have never been a fan of cold showers, and, frankly, during the winter if my choice is cold shower or no shower, as much as I value having a clean body, I'm likely to choose the latter. But since we still had running water in the house, and since there are numerous ways to heat water that don't require electricity, not bathing because we didn't have electricity was simply not an option for me.

I got creative. During the 2008 Ice-Storm-Power-Outage, we heated water on the woodstove in my largest stock pot, which gave us about four gallons of nearly boiling water.

I also have a sixteen gallon wash tub, and if anyone has seen pictures of the "old" days when kids were washed in the kitchen in a big tub, that's what I have. I put that wash tub in our stand-up shower stall, and dumped the boiling water into it, and then, I added enough cold water from the tap to make it bearable. Then, I stepped right into the tub-in-the-shower-stall, closed the door, and had a bath. My girls LOVED it! They called it the "farm girl" bath. I made Deus Ex Machina take a bath, too.

I had the wash tub, and we had hot water on the woodstove, but if neither of those two options were true for us, I would have needed to have come up with a different solution.

If we had lost power during Irene, having a fire in our woodstove wouldn't have been my first choice, because it's simply too warm out right now to have a fire hot enough to get the woodstove hot enough to heat the water, but I'd still want to take shower or a bath.

Luckily, there are a lot of options out there. If I had a little cash, I might head over to the camping store. Coleman makes a camp shower bag sort of thingy that can be filled with water and put in the sun to warm the water. It doesn't have to be an outdoor shower. Once the water is warm, the shower could be moved into the house and suspended in the shower stall or bath enclosure.

There are also battery powered showers, and this nifty little propane camp shower.

The simplest option, however, would be to use what I already have on hand and make my own. If one can cook, one can heat water. I'd either build a fire outside, or put a stock pot on the grill to heat up water - and it doesn't take long for the water to get warm enough for a shower. It doesn't have to be boiling hot.

Taking one of the many five gallon buckets we have around our yard, I'd drill a small hole - making sure that I have a screw (or a cork would work) that will fit in the hole. Then, I would hang the bucket in my shower or bath enclosure and pour the hot water into the bucket. Remove the screw to get wet, put it back to soap up, take it out to rinse off. Instant, hot shower - no electricity required.

If I wanted to spend a couple of dollars, instead of using a screw or cork, I could actually purchase a faucet or a shower head to attach to the bucket.

It doesn't have to be a bucket, either. An old bleach bottle or an old milk jug would work just as well. With those, one could put holes in the lid and tip the bottles over when one needs the water.

Not having electricity does not have to be a tragedy, and we don't have to sit around in the dark getting grungy waiting for CMP to bring us back our lights. Hot showers don't have to be luxuries that are limited only to those who are fortunate enough to have electricity. In fact, even someone who lives in a remote mountain shack, completely off the grid, can have a hot shower. As long as there is water and a way to heat it, there can be hot showers.

Last night, Deus Ex Machina was cleaning out our old receipt drawer. He found our CMP statements from as far back as 2004. It was really interesting to see how much our electricity usage has changed over the last seven years. Back then, on average, during the warm months (when the furnace was not running), we used 28 kwh per day. When the furnance was running, during the winter, we used almost 40 kwh per day. Today our average usage, per day, is 12 kwh - still a lot, but less than half our average from back then.

Our life was not better in 2004 than it is now. Our life was not easier, either, and certainly things weren't more simple than they are now. In fact, if I had to compare, I'd say that life, especially without all of that electric energy we used to consume, is a lot more simple and easy, and, yes, enjoyable, now than it was then.

There are many aspect of our modern lives that I enjoy and that do require electricity - the freezer, the washing machine, computers/the Internet - but there are also a lot of things about our modern lives that are readily available without megawatts of power ... and when we recognize the difference, we become empowered to weather even the worst storms - whatever they may be.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Doomer Dinner Party?


For Deus Ex Machina and me, the storm was a non-event. In fact, it was less than a non-event. Even the wind wasn't terrible - to wit:


We had a party Saturday night with thirty-some friends (planned well in advance of the hurricane warnings and almost canceled due to the weather). It was dark when everyone left, and so, during the clean-up, we missed this one (recyclable) cup, and it sat outside, just like that, on the bucket, during the entire storm. I took the picture of it this morning, and it's still there, right now, as I'm typing.

We never lost power. Our water supply remained constant and intact. No trees went down. Nothing blew away.

Two years ago, I participated in a challenge to have a Doomer Dinner Party - the goal of which was to encourage us to think about what would be available if the trucks stopped coming.

Celebration is such a huge part of our human experience, such an important part, and really, I think it's one of those things that keeps us human. There's nothing quite so wonderful as getting together with friends and having some good food and some good fun.

This party was never intended it to be a "doomer" party, and in fact, it was planned weeks in advance of the storm that hit the East Coast this past weekend. Since two of our girls have birthdays when it's too cold to be outside and the other one's birthday often falls on a holiday weekend, we decided it might be fun to have one, big, family summer party instead of three, separate birthday parties. This was it.

With the weather, though, we talked about canceling on Saturday. As it turned out, we didn't have to, the party went on as planned, and (we think) everyone had a good time.

We enjoyed some modern conveniences. I cooked on my electric stove.

We also discussed the dish situation. Knowing that we didn't have enough plates to accommodate all of the people we'd invited, I considered going to Goodwill for more plates and flatware, and my original intention was to serve beverages in pint-sized canning jars. But we decided that buying MORE dishes with our limited storage space was not a good idea. At one point, we even considered asking everyone to bring his/her own dishes. In the end, we decided to buy recyclable, disposable dishes - paper plates (made from post-consumer paper) and recyclable plastic forks and cups. We had a box for the "dishes" and a bucket for the compostables.

For beverages, we served brewed iced tea and homemade lemonade in gallon-sized glass jars ;). So there were no bottles or cans to dispose of. After the party, we realized we hadn't generated any trash - everything either went into the recycling bin or into the compost bin. And since most of the food was home-cooked and most of it was brought into the house with only the packaging as nature intended (e.g. corn husks, melon rinds), none of the prepwork generated garbage, either.

The hardest part of the planning was deciding on what food to serve. Big Little Sister wanted pizza, but I didn't want take-out for our party, and we just don't have enough serving platters for home-made pizza to serve the number of people we'd invited. We came up with a couple of meal options, almost changed the entire menu on Saturday morning, and then, ended up going with the original plan, because it was less complicated than running to the store for supplies to make the alternative menu. The original menu was more involved, required a lot more cooking, but included, mostly, ingredients we already had at home or that we could pick-up from the farm stand right down the road.

Saturday afternoon, the girls had a dance fund-raiser at the Mall, and so most of the prep-work didn't even start until three hours before the guests were scheduled to arrive.

But everyone pitched in and really helped, reminding me of how amazing my girls and Deus Ex Machina are. The day also reminded me of what a wonderful community of friends I have. My friend, SnitchMom, got here a little bit early. I was still elbow deep in cutting up vegetables for the various salads we decided to serve, and she rolled up her sleeves, grabbed a knife and started slicing. Gar pitched right in, too, although she'd already spent most of the day cooking at home, and really was just ready to relax. And as all of the other guests started arriving, those who found me still in the kitchen offered help.

Several of the guests brought hostess gifts, which further reinforced how incredibly lucky I am to be surrounded by such a fantastic group of people. SnitchMom brought tomatoes - which ended up in the salsa -, and another friend brought us "Salsa in a Bag" - complete with fresh, plantable basil!

Dinner included: our homegrown chicken, a slow-cooked BBQ pulled pork, corn-on-the-cob cooked on the grill, pasta salad, potato salad, cole slaw, fruit salad, chips&homemade salsa, bread, and pizza bread (which Big Little Sister cooked by herself ;). One of our friends brought cookies, and we made S'Mores for dessert.

I think everyone had enough to eat. There was certainly a lot of left over food ;).

For entertainment, the girls performed. First it was music. Big Little Sister and her friends used the opportunity to introduce their "band" and give their first public concert. Afterward, she quipped that the night of the party was their first official practice and their first public performance :).

After the music, they pulled out tap shoes and most of the kids danced for us. We set-up a stage, of sorts, laying an old piece of stockade fence section on the ground for them to tap on.

Then, we roasted marshmallows over the fire and the kids ran off to play hide-and-seek in the dark.

The rain held off until after the last guest left, and we have enough leftovers that I won't have to cook for the rest of the week ;).

It was such an incredible evening and a reminder that the best things in life are often right where we are.

Good friends (old and new), good fun, and good food ... what else do we need?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Not the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

The window is open and there's a nice, warm breeze coming in - reminding me, a little, of spring days in Alabama. The sky is clear deep blue with high, gauzy clouds here and there.

I have a load of laundry that will go on the line as soon as it's done washing.

All over the news is the story of the approaching storm, but it's hard to imagine that in just a day ... or two ... the wind will be a banshee terrorizing us as we huddle under what may be an inadequate roof and the rain will be battering the Three Sisters out in the yard.

Do I bring in the pumpkins that are already orange? Are they safe outside in what may be torrential rains and unrelenting wind?

Will Deus Ex Machina's recently completed woodshed survive the wind and rain?

What do we secure? What do we leave alone?

I've dealt with tornadoes before, but this is different. With a tornado it's often only minutes of notice - grab what you can and run. This is DAYS, and it would seem like that would be to our advantage, but hurricanes seem to be more fickle, in the sense that it's harder to predict what they're going to do. We could end up with something really awful, like Hurricane Bob, or we could end up with a spit of rain and a rustling breeze.

I'm at a loss of what to do, and so I'm really not doing anything outside of the ordinary, yet. I baked some bread.

But I know that something is going to happen, because while I was washing dishes this morning and baking bread, I looked out the window and my elderly neighbor (the one who told me not to plant my tomatoes in April even though it was in the upper 70s ... and he was right) was filling a garbage can with water.

It's things like that that make me wonder, and if that's what he's doing, then, I definitely need to be doing something. He's just always been someone who knows stuff. He pays attention.

The biggest concern seems to be water. Everyone says "store water." I mentioned that to Deus Ex Machina last night ... after I told him I'd filled up all of our empty, flip-top beer bottles with water. He reminded me that we know how to purify water to make it safe. As long as we can build a fire, to kill any parasites or bacteria, we know how to (and have the supplies for) a filter.

But we also have the rain barrels outside, which always have some water in them. It would need to be filtered and boiled, too, but at least we're confident that it's not contaminated with chemicals or other things that don't easily boil or filter out of water. We're okay for water ... we think.

And food? We're probably okay in that area, too ... except for cooking the food, and if the power goes out during the hurricane, we won't be cooking much. Although we have discovered that roasting marshmallows over a candle is easy, and works nicely for S'Mores (thank goodness for all of those fair-trade, organic chocolate bars, and Lisa Marie's jar of Rite Chocolate :). Once the storm has passed, if we're without power, we can roast some chickens outside over the fire pit or on the grill. In fact, there are a lot of really yummy foods that can be cooked on an open fire, including bread.

The other day, when I was looking for one of our Algebra books, I found this book:



Perhaps, if we can figure out how to get the hydrogen from our stored water using this book, we're set for fuel, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane A-Coming???

Deus Ex Machina came home from work yesterday and informed me that Hurricane Irene is expected to hit Maine ... or at least come pretty damned close. If it continues on its expected trajectory, it will make landfall in Massachusetts - the Boston area, which, if the typical hurricane response to being on land occurs, will slow it a bit, and so it won't be such a terrible storm when it finally gets to us - but we will have a lot of wind and a lot of rain.

In answer the question when, "Sunday," he tells me.

At first the girls are a little freaked out by the thought, but then, he says, "Maybe the electricity will go out," and they cheer - like having no electricity is a Disney vacation. Who knows? To my girls, it might be.

I nod and go back to doing whatever it was I was doing before he shared that news with me - any thoughts about hurricanes quickly pass out of my brain like campfire smoke dissipating into the sky.

This morning, I'm reminded, as I'm reading on the computer and come across someone discussing hurricane preparedness. It seems funny to be talking about such things, here, in Maine, but I know that it happens. In 1992, a hurricane hit Maine pretty hard. From anecdotes from friends who were here at the time, I've learned that all of the major roads leading north from here were flooded for almost a week - including I-95 - the Maine Turnpike.

Closer to home, the dirt road built over the brook behind my house washed out, and the people who live just next door to me couldn't drive anywhere. They were, effectively, cut off, stranded in their homes. The road, has since, been significantly improved, and it's unlikely that it will wash out again, but paved roads often wash out. Worse, though, for us at least ... if there's that much water, the road may not wash out, but if the culvert running under road gets clogged, the road will become a dam, and our back yard could flood - especially next to the brook, right where the chicken yard happens to be.

The ducks would be happy :). The chickens ... not so much.

If the water in the brook rises enough and has no where to go, our house might get a little seepage, too. I wonder if our homeowners' policy covers flooding ... .

There would be significant coastal flooding. If it gets as bad as the 1992 hurricane was reported to be, we'll be stuck. The question is, are we ready?

The answer is, if my house doesn't flood, we'll be set for at least four days with no electricity, until the stuff in the freezer really starts to thaw, and then, we'll need to start canning what's in the freezer - which would be a lot of work ;).

I should probably check to make sure I have enough canning jars and lids to hold all of the frozen food ... just in case ;).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nation of Farmers

Perhaps it's not just one thing that's brought about this great change. It could be almost anything from the poor economy to the locavore movement to fears regarding food security, but over the past five years or so I've noticed a huge increase in the number of farms, farmers and farmer's markets.

In fact, there's been a farmer's market in Portland for some time, and it's grown so popular that there's a waiting list ... for the farmers (!).

Personally, I find that to be very exciting. Not only is Maine reviving its agricultural roots, but also, the local farmers are offering local people first dibs on what they're growing. Maine is becoming the reality Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton envisioned in their book A Nation of Farmers

And it goes even a step further, because, as this article points out, it's not just native Mainers who are getting into the act, but also the immigrant population that has found a home in southern Maine.

I don't get to Portland very often, but it might be worth a trip some Monday ... just to check things out ;).

Wascally Wabbits

Deus Ex Machina and I hosted a skillshare last night with the Portland Permaculture Meet-up group. The topic was raising rabbits for meat with some hands-on hide tanning.

The bulk of the evening was spent chatting about raising rabbits - little things we've learned after a decade of keeping rabbits, like two sexually mature male rabbits should *NOT* be housed together, especially if there's a female present. They fight - with claws and teeth. Or that a doe reaches sexual maturity at around four months (depending on the breed), and if there's any mature buck around, regardless of his lineage, she will be pregnant. Bucks reach sexual maturity faster than does (at around twelve weeks). Rabbit gestation is four months, and a doe can be fertile almost as soon as she kindles. I spent too much of the evening saying the phrase ask me how I know.

When we were asked to do the class and it was advertised on the meet-up group, there were some people on the group who expressed offense at the idea of keeping rabbits as livestock. One woman was particularly venomous, and I almost - *almost* - cancelled the skillshare, because I don't believe I deserve many of the personality characteristics she was assigning to me based solely on the fact that I eat rabbits. After a lot of really difficult days, I decided to go ahead with it because of those last five words of the preceding paragraph.

Those people who came to our skillshare want to keep rabbits - in spite of people like that woman with her very adamant rabbits-are-friends-not-food stance. They want to keep rabbits, and the very least I felt I could do for them, and for their rabbits, was to share all of our missteps and as much of the information as I could get out in the time we had about what rabbits need - which is not exactly what we're told by organizations like Rabbit House, which is geared toward pet rabbits, and some of the things they imply are not applicable to keeping rabbits for meat.

And pet rabbit organizations either don't know or won't tell us anything about rabbit sexuality (their stance is similar to the abstinence crowd - spay or neuter the rabbit *period*) - including how to tell if a very young baby rabbit is male or female, which is very difficult, and the only guaranteed way to know for sure is to wait, twelve weeks, and then, the distinctions are obvious :). Unfortunately, if there are other rabbits in the house, and if those rabbits were not surgically forced into celibacy, that lucky person will, in four weeks, have, at least, five more cuddly bunnies to love.

And that, my friends, is why our shelters are currently over run with pet rabbits who need to be adopted.

It is not rabbit breeder people, like me, who keep the animal shelters so well-stocked with *unwanted* pets.

Anyway.

As the evening wore on, and I shared stories of our experiences, I realized that I know a lot more than I realized about rabbits - most from cursory readings and simple observation.

One thing both I and the rabbits-should-be-pets-only people can agree on is that rabbits are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures. They are fun to be around and they have great personalities (unless they're sexually mature and a prospective mate is near by - and then, the best thing one can do is get out of the way, because they have teeth and claws, and know how to use them ... um, ask me how I know ;).

The one thing we'll never agree on is that rabbits are ideal livestock for nanofarmers like me and Deus Ex Machina.

The skillshare was also a potluck, and it seemed appropriate to cook rabbit as our contribution. My favorite way to cook most meats is by roasting, especially on the grill over woodchips. I love that smoked flavor. The problem is that rabbit is incredibly lean and it's easy to overcook and, thus, dry out the meat. I was very pleased with the rabbit we cooked last night, and as such, I wanted to share what I did.

We had two whole rabbits, which I brined in salt water for about four hours. I made a rub and coated each rabbit. What, I think, really made it good, though, was the "stuffing", which was butter and fresh herbs. I put the prepared rabbit on a pan we have that has holes in the bottom (it's some kind of gourmet pizza pan), and then placed it over a pan on the grill that contained mesquite wood chips (which is what we had, but apple chips would probably have tasted better), and cooked it on low heat for about an hour. The result was an incredibly tender and juicy meat. it was delicious.

For those who like to print recipes, here it is. Ingredient amounts are approximated ;).

Slow Roasted, Smoked, Herb-stuffed Rabbit

Ingredients:

Whole rabbit

Rub:
1 tbls salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp each cumin, ground sage
1/2 tsp (or less) cayenne pepper

Stuffing:
2 to 6 sprigs fresh-from-the-garden Thyme, chives and sage
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbls butter (or 2 "pats") divided in half

1. Marinate rabbit in a salt brine for at least four hours (can be overnight).
2. Remove rabbit from salt brine and rinse.
3. Coat outside of rabbit with salt-herb rub.
4. Put fresh herbs and butter into rabbit cavity.
5. Place rabbit in a warm grill on top of smoking wood chips.
6. Roast on low heat for approximately an hour or until juices run clear.

Serves two to four people depending on the size of the rabbit. Goes well with vegetable side dishes that are typically served with chicken ... and is delicious with a nice, home-brewed, hard apple-cider ;).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't Count On It

Back when I was a poor college student, I got into a debate with a classmate about the social security system. He believed that we should do away with social security, that it was a forced retirement savings program, and that individuals should be trusted to make their own arrangements for retirement.

To say that he and I were coming from two very different places would be an understatement.

He was a young, single student, who might have had a part-time job to earn some extra income, but he lived in the dorms and had no responsibility other than, perhaps, getting to his job on time, and getting to class.

I was a young, married student with an infant son. I worked part-time, and every penny I earned went to cover my daily living expenses. Every day was a financial struggle, and I couldn't imagine having enough money left at the end of the paycheck to put some aside for my retirement. If the government weren't taking out that money, I'd spend it - that much I knew. I was counting on the government to keep that money safe for me so that when I retired I'd have some income on which to support myself.

Fast forward many years, and I'm no longer young, but I am married with children. I've earned my college degree. I've worked many full-time, career-track jobs, and I still struggle to put money aside for retirement, but I no longer believe, as I did when I was twenty, that social security is the buffer we are told it is.

News articles, like this one I read today with the headline: Social Security Disability on the Verge of Insolvency, only reinforce what that young man was trying to make us all understand. We all pay into this social security account, and when we reach retirement age or in the event that we become unable to work, we are eligible to draw from that account.

That's the theory of how it works, but the reality is that our government is TRILLION$ of dollars in debt, and they've been dipping into the social security savings accounts for decades to pay the bills. We keep paying into it, and they keep spending it as fast as it comes in.

If it were just a simple matter of the government living paycheck-to-paycheck - with the assumption that the paycheck would always be the same amount and would never stop coming, then, perhaps, it would be okay, but that's not the case either, because the paycheck is neither very secure these days, nor is it going to continue being the same amount.

The fact is that our population is aging, and we're getting top heavy. Life expectancies are longer today than ever, and the largest portion of our population is the Baby Boomers, who are all reaching retirement age. What this means is that over the next ten years or so, most of the people living in the US will be retired and drawing from social security funds for an average of fifteen years each.

Compound that with the fact that the largest demographic of unemployed at the present time are the 18 to 25 year old group. Those are the people who will be supporting MY generation when we retire, but they are not currently paying anything into the system.

I think back on the day of that debate, and how naive I was at that time. My classmate had it right - that we should, as individuals, be responsible for our own retirement, and not leave it to the government. I don't know if he anticipated what has happened, but I do know that in twenty-something years, when I reach retirement age, there won't be any funds available to me, regardless of the fact that I've paid into them.

And I'll need to have made some other plan for when I can no longer work - because I'm not counting on the government being there to support me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

You Get What You Ask For


My garden is an amazing place to be. It is, quite literally, teeming with life. There are things crawling and buzzing and cooing and tweeting (without the aid of anything eletronic, even!) all over the place. It always amazes me to see the plethora of wriggling, crawling, and flying things - like the earthworms my girls found yesterday when they were moving bark mulch.



We had some friends over yesterday to help us with a project, and while they were here, we were showing them a plant that had volunteered in our yard this year. Actually, it's been around for a few years, but this year, it has really established itself. After doing a bit of research, we've discovered that, as a forb, it would be a good plant for our rabbits, which takes us one step closer to being truly self-sufficient - in that we'd be growing, without any effort on our part, a plant that can feed the bunnies.

While our friends were here, we did a quick tour of the backyard and showed them our new plant discovery ...

... and made another exciting discovery. We saw an incredible little creature flying around the plants. It looked like a cross between a bee, a moth and a hummingbird. I, incorrectly, called it a bumblebee hummingbird. It's actually a hummingbird moth, and it's a pollinator.

My friend quipped that the universe is very generous and that what we need, we invariably find, if we pay attention.

We paid attention to the plant, galeopsis tetrahit, the virtues of which (according to our "weed" book) have not, yet been discovered, but after a very cursory search we found a couple of very important uses for it ... including attracting pollinators. Apparently, the authors of that book have not defined the term "weed" very well, as their definition is not really accurate.

My friend was so correct in her observation. The universe is generous, and what we ask for, we usually receive ;). We asked for, and continue to request, a self-sufficient life, and more and more, we're getting it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

{this moment}




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

**Okay, short explanation. This was taken by our trail camera, which was set-up in the front yard.**

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shelter - It's the Best Security

The teaser link for this article said: Headed for Recession?

And as I clicked on the link to display the article (the headline of the actual article is: Economists see growing risk of global recession), I was wondering when the recession we've been in for the past several years ended.

Three years ago, I recognized that what we were experiencing would have widespread and long-term effects - essentially, history in the making. This, whatever we want to call it, is changing life as we know it. As such, I started documenting, here on my blog, in a journal, in my book, and by printing pertinent news articles.

On August 15, 2008 a CNN.com headline read: Dreading winter's bitter bill: Heating costs are expected to climb this winter putting additional pressure on Americans already hurt by high gasoline and food prices.

I picked up a copy of one of those free local papers yesterday, because the head line caught my eye. It said: Less help, more need: Food pantries fear heating season could strain supplies.

Three years ... and the headlines are still the same.

But the media is acting as if this is all new. It's not. It's been happening for a lot of years, and it's been coming for even longer. In 1981-82 we experienced a "Recession" that lasted (according to one of the articles I printed) sixteen months. The article, published in March 2009 stated that if the current "recession" lasted into April - as it most surely will - this one will go on record as the longest in the postwar era.

I read the same media fluff that other people read, and then, I take a look outside, and I talk to people, and I read blogs, and I know that any discussion about a recovery is really just wishful thinking. We haven't and aren't recovering, and that article about a global recession being news, as in something new, isn't. The rest of the world is in the same shape as we are.

Riots and civil unrest in the Middle East recently were a direct result of increasing food prices that are due to a rise in the cost of growing and transporting food AND a result of widespread crop failures due to unsettled weather. In short, there's less food available in some parts of the world, and the food that's there is more expensive.

It would not be entirely correct to describe what my family and I have been doing as "preparing" for this sort of thing, because prepping implies that we're getting ready, and really it's a little different. We are aware that our world is changing, and in response to these changes, we've been changing the way to we live our daily lives.

The day of the most recent stock market crash (because the stock market has had more re "accidents" recently than a Crash Test Dummy), Deus Ex Machina came home from work. One of his co-workers has been paying into a 401K - with no employer matching funds - for nearly twenty years. When the market fell, he lost half of his savings. Half of a lifetime's worth of his money. It couldn't have been more tragic if that money had been cash, stored under his mattress at home and then he suffered a house fire.

Gone is gone.

But we all believe that, unlike a house fire that burns up the cash, at least with the stock market, there's a chance that we'll be able to recoup some of the lost funds. People who play the stock market (and think about that phrase for a second) will say things like "you're in it for the long-term" and "the stock market isn't a short-term thing."

The best piece of advice I've ever seen with regard to playing the stock market is don't invest more than you can afford to lose.

In other words, it's okay to put that money into stocks and hope that, over the long term, that money will increase, but if it doesn't, it shouldn't be a devastating loss.

Unfortunately, when it comes to a 401K or an IRA (or social security), that's not the case. People who have invested those funds are depending on having those funds for their future, when they no longer can or no longer wish to work.

When I graduated from high school, as is the tradition, my family members gave me a lot of cash. The hope was that I would use that cash to purchase things I'd need for college in the fall. I went with a date to the traveling carnival that had set-up in the field next to the county high school. It was the usual carny-fare - bright lights, loud music, questionably safe rides, questionably safe food, and the games.

I'm not a gambler, but the boy I was with was, and even better that he didn't have to gamble his money.

The game was some kind of bingo-like dice game. I'm not good with high-pressure sales people, and really, carnies are the best in the world. They know exactly how to keep us playing the game ... and just like their more high-paid counterparts on Wall Street, their promise of fortunes to be made if we just keep investing, keep giving them money, is intoxicating. The lure of easy money is as enticing to us as one of those jiggly things that hooks so many fish.

"So, you can walk away and lose it all, or for just two more dollars, you can keep playing, and this time, you'd win ...."

I hesitated. I was trying, desparately, to keep track of all of the $2 I'd given him. I was pretty sure it was somewhere near $60.

"Come on," my date encouraged. "You could win $300! It's just $2."

Just $2. That's right. Just $2.

I opened my wallet and that fat stack of cash I had entered the fairgrounds with was suddenly incredibly emaciated.

"I can't. I'm done."

"What?" both men exclaimed, in unison. "You can't stop now," my date was saying. "You're just going to walk away from all that money." I swear his brown eyes had turned green in the twenty minutes we stood there.

"Yes. It's time to go." I smiled weakly at the carnie. He was good. He could have made millions in a different play ground.

I entered the carnival with over $100. Like our friend who played the stock market, I left with less than half of my money left in my pocket.

Never invest more than you can afford to lose.

On the morning of the most recent stock market crash, when Deus Ex Machina's co-worker checked his balance, he said to Deus Ex Machina, "The rules have changed, but we don't know the new ones."

Indeed. Unfortunately, too many of us may never figure them out.

As for me, I'm tired of playing the game. Since my first experience at carnival games, I have never again been tempted to repeat the fiasco. I know that I will not be permitted to win. Taking my money is how they earn a living, and we can think what we will about the ethics of their chosen profession, but I stood there, consciously, giving him $2 and $2 and $2, until there was very little left in my purse. He didn't steal that money from me. I gave it to him, in the hopes that I could make a fast buck, in the hopes I could get something for nothing. My greed was no less odious than his. I was not a victim. I was an active, and willing, participant, and that the outcome was bad for me was no one's fault by my own. I could have stopped giving him my money, and eventually, I did.

I would have done better, though, to have never allowed my desire for more than I was entitled to color my good judgment.

That's the lesson of the stock market. The average investor, the guy with the 401K, is not going to make a lot of money, and if history is to teach us anything, we should learn that, for the most part, the guy with the 401K will be lucky to retire with half of what he tried to save over a lifetime of working.

There is one thing we can do with our money to secure our futures, however, and that's to pay off our homes. History teaches that those with a place to live during the worst financial crises will come out, if not the victor, at least a survivor. I've mentioned Dmitry Orlov's Reinventing Collapse on a couple of occasions. A really important example he gives to illustrate why Russia was better situated to weather a collapse than the US is the fact that the Russians had housing. They weren't displaced when they lost jobs, and the lucky ones, who also had a small yard, had a place to grow some food.

I've had a lot of discussions over the years with people about whether to use their cash to pay their mortgage, and I always hear the same sorts of answers about how, as an investment, paying off our homes is a bad choice. The first thing we need to change is the idea that our homes are simply investments.

In this country, the fact is that there is no place we can live, mostly free, unless we own our homes (and I say "mostly", because there is still a tax on any property, but compared to rent or a mortgage, it's negligible), and if something happens to our income, the first thing we stop being able to afford is our rent or our mortgage.

I know I must be missing something, because no economist would EVER recommend to pay off the house and *then* start saving toward retirement. I've never even had a class on economics, and so I guess I just don't understand how it all works.

What I do understand, though, is that I need a place to live, and if I can live there, mostly, free, then I end up having a lot more money for other things - like food ... or heat.

Investing our money in the hopes that we might reap some benefit can only be seen as a fool's errand (as in a fool and his money are soon parted).

But our homes. Paying off our homes, owning the place where we live. That's something real ... something tangible ... something that will serve as a buffer against hard times.

We've been duped, as a society, by con men and glorified carnies.

The rules have changed, but we don't know what they are. The best thing we can do is to refuse to continue playing.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bounty ... And I Don't Mean Paper Towels!

I love this time of year. The farmer's market is bursting with good stuff to eat, and what makes it even better is that at this time of year there is always fruit ... lots and lots of fruit.

During our recent foray, we picked up peaches - the Holy Grail of all summer fruits in these parts. It's better than gold, in my opinion and in the opinions of my daughters, who LOVE peaches. We simply can not get enough peaches.

As with all of our seasonal fare, the rule is, eat as much as you want, and the rest get canned, because our growing season is short ... so very, very short, and we have to store some, but it would be no fun if we couldn't also indulge.

We brought home around ten pounds of peaches, a third of which were being sold as "damaged" for about half the cost of the good looking ones. The girls have eaten peaches until they're all sticky and smelling like ... well, peach (Big Little Sister has declared that she's moving to Georgia :).

The three pounds of peaches that were "damaged" are now in jars with a heavy syrup, and we have three quarts of good eating for the winter. We'll also make some peach cobbler for dinner ... and we'll still have a few peaches left for eating tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll make it to the farm stand for more peaches before the season really does end.

In addition, my friend brought more cucumbers to us. While I was canning peaches, I also made more pickles.



We added seven more quarts to the larder today.

But I am also trying something different this year, and I found a recipe for "refridgerator dills." The recipe is a lacto-fermentation recipe (requires the pickles sit on the counter for two days, and then, they're put into the fridge). I have one and a half gallons of lacto-fermented refrigerator pickles. I hope they taste good ;).


Friday, August 12, 2011

BOOK GIVEAWAY


FOLLOW THIS LINK AND LEAVE A COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A BOX OF BOOKS

{this moment}



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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Innovation

I LOVE this "Litre of Light" project in Manila.

Basically, they take a litre-sized soda bottle, fill it with water and bleach (to keep algae from forming), and shove it through a hole in the ceiling. Unlike just putting a hole in the roof, which would admit light in a straight line, the water in the bottle refracts the light, and it really does look like a light bulb in the ceiling ... but it's just sunlight streaming through a water-filled soda bottle.

So, cool.

According to a tech-y guy on the Portland Permaculture forum, this same technology could be used even here in Maine, if the bottles are filled with an anti-freeze solution (like isopropyl alcohol or vodka :).

In the parts of in my house where I could use the most light, I have a crawlspace/attic space, and so a soda bottle wouldn't work, but how about using this technology in the walls instead - to bring light from a bright room into a dark room?

Definitely something to think about.

The Power of One

I'm not sure how, but I ended up on Greenpeace's mailing list - not that that's a bad thing, mind you, it's just that I'm not really an activist in a militant kind of way, more a how-can-I-change-my-life kind of way.

I recently received a note from Greenpeace with a video that featured people from around the country speaking out about coal-fired electricity plants. The video is a PSA about how polluting and dangerous these plants are. I don't disagree, ...

... but having grown up on a coal-mining community, I've seen the devastation and destruction of the coal-mining industry, and not even close up. Of the many possible relatives I have living in that community who could have worked the mines, only one did (and he is now disabled thanks to a mining accident that, thankfully, spared his life), and so I only know the human cost from an observer point of view. The environmental costs, however, are stark, and I'm not even talking about strip mining, which is a whole other category (there's a video out now with Kentucky politician, Rand Paul, who says that no one really cares about a few mountain tops. I hope he's wrong).

In my opinion, the issues of pollution related to burning coal are paltry compared to the destruction of mining it.

Having had the experience of living where coal is produced, the issues, for me, around using coal as a fuel for producing electricity are more than just the pollution associated with burning the stuff, and so when Greenpeace sent me that missive, my first reaction is to wonder if those people talking about their health issues resulting from living near a coal-fired plant have any idea how many people suffered and died to just get that coal out of the ground. Or if they know how many people suffer, every day, from the side effects of the mining industry - poverty, squalor, disease, environmental destruction, to name a few.

Why don't we ever talk about the 10'x10' file room I used to work in at that lawyer's office that was floor to ceiling shelves of files - most of them defending the mining companies against black lung lawsuits brought by former miners? Healthy, young men go in, and twenty years later, broken old men come out. I realized, not long ago, that those broken old men are my age.

When it comes to the coal-mining industry and the use of coal as a fuel, I'm not a fan.

I'm not a fan of nuclear energy either (which constitutes around 25% of the electricity I am using as I type these words), and not because I'm afraid of a Fukushima-esque disaster, but rather because of the need for long-term storage of the radioactive rods. In using and investing in nuclear energy, we've committed our progeny for the next million years to expending large amounts of energy to keep those rods cool.

The problem is that we've developed this lifestyle that requires large inputs of energy, and as the energy depletes, we'll be scrambling to find some alternative, but none of the current clean-energy technologies we have can provide the same amount of energy that is contained in these high-risk, highly polluting fuels.

When I watch activist videos, like the one from Greenpeace, I nod in agreement - Yes, burning coal in a trillion gigawatt power plant is a bad thing. But I want to ask those people what they are doing - what are they, personally, doing - so that they are not dependent on that eletricity that flows out of that coal-fired plant and into their homes.

It's one thing to sign petitions and appear on a PSA announcements telling the heart-breaking story of loss resulting from the pollution from coal-fired plants, but to do so, and then, go home to a microwave dinner eaten in front of the television seems a little ....

If we want to really make changes, those changes have to start at home, and if we want to rail against the coal industry and coal-fired electricity plants, we need to figure out how we, as individuals (first), can live without that electricity.

Twenty-five percent of the eletricity that's delivered to my home is produced in a nuclear power plant. Over the past several years, Deus Ex Machina and I have reduced our electricity usage by over 60% of what we were using. Twenty-five percent of our electricity is still from a nuclear power plant, but for every kilowatt less we use, that's a thousand fewer watts that need to be produced.

Thirty percent of the electricity that comes into our home is produced by hydro power. If we had control over the mix, Deus Ex Machina and I could, now, be powering our entire home with hydro, alone.

If we want to affect change, we have to be willing to make the first changes. So the question is, if you agree that coal-fired electricity is polluting or that nuclear energy is too dangerous, what are you, personally, doing to reduce your need for those energy sources?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Books Are Good

In a few of the phone interviews I've done I was asked, if I could give just one piece of advice for preparedness, what would it be? My answer is, start a library.

Most of us have a traditional education - that is, most of us graduated from high school where we learned, mostly, academic lessons that would serve us well if we opted to continue our educations into college, and then work in a white-collar/professional position. For those who had a different path in mind, our traditional schooling is of little value in the greater scheme of things (once a person knows how to read, s/he can learn anything else s/he needs to know without having to wile away the days in a classroom, and I know this for fact, and not just theory, because it is the philosophy by which we currently live and teach our children).

This weekend our economy began a faster collapse. With the annoucement of the downgrade to the US credit rating, stock markets across the globe have plummeted. A colleague of Deus Ex Machina after stating that he lost thousands in his 401K, said that the "rules have changed, but we don't know what they are." Perhaps hoarding money in interest-bearing accounts is no longer the answer. We don't/can't know what the answer will be.

As I've said before, though, my house is not an asset, it's a shelter, and if I had the money to pay off the house, I would do it, even if it meant withdrawing all of my savings and having no "liquid" buffer. The reality is that, even if I used every penny in my 401K or savings accounts to pay off the house, I'd be saving over a thousand dollars per month not having to pay a mortgage, which means I could start saving that money. The other reality, the one that no one ever mentions, is that over the life of my house loan, if I paid it off now, I'd be saving HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars in interest payments.

I'm not a financial adviser, and I might regret my decision to have no back-up money, but worstcase scenario, if my house is paid off, and I lose my job or the stock market crashes, I still have a house.

If I have thousands of dollars in a 401K and a mortgage, and the stock market crashes, I could lose half my money, and if I also lose my job, I might lose my house.

The rules have changed, but we don't know what they are. We just know that they aren't what they were, and if we keep trying to live like it was yesterday, we're going to really suffer tomorrow.

Most of us never learned basic survival skills - even something as simple as darning a sock, and the way most of us will fill that gap is to read about how it's done and then put it to practice. In essence, most of us will learn what we need to know from books.

Books are good for more than just teaching skills, though. They can transport us to worlds that we might never have been able to explore were it not for the words on the page. We can meet amazing (and not so amazing) people and have incredible adventures with them. We can learn from their successes and mistakes, and as much as I love the real-life stuff, fiction is as much a part of my collection as all of the how-tos.

It's no secret that I love books. I talk about it all of the time, and as an author, I really couldn't be anything less than a bibliophile. I mean, if I don't believe in the importance of my "product", then why should anyone else?

Back in March, I hosted a month-long giveaway leading up to the April 1 release date of Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil, and one of the things I gave away was a box of books - all fiction and just for fun. Unfortunately, the winner of that box of books has never responded to me, and so I still have a box of books sitting on my office floor that I would really like to gift to someone who will appreciate them.

If you would like to enter a drawing for this lovely box of books, please leave a comment. I will select a winner by random drawing (names in a hat).

Monday, August 8, 2011

WWYD? What Will "YOU" Do?

Yep, the economy is a mess.

Some people want to blame it on the Democrats. Some people want to blame it on the Republicans. The fact is that our debt problems have been building since before most of us were even old enough to vote.

Blame it on whomever you wish, but if you sit around waiting for them to fix it, you're going to be screwed.

It's time that WE, the people, start to take control and really start to make some changes ... starting in our own homes.

So, what did you do, today, to make sure that as the economy continues to collapse, your family will be warm, fed, safe and comfortable?

Downgrading

The other day, Deus Ex Machina came in the kitchen. "Standard and Poor has downgraded the US credit rating from AAA to AA+."

I just grunted. It's not news. They threatened to do it several months ago and didn't, but obviously, it's something that's needed to be done for a while.

AA+ is probably still too high. I think S&P is being kind to the US.

With no manufacturing and almost nothing we can export (except our war machine, which costs us a lot more than we're being paid to provide the muscle), we don't have anything for sale. Any business person worth his ilk knows that in order to have an income, one must have a product. For the past twenty years (or more), our "product" has been pieces of paper that we've been "selling" to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world is starting to realize that what they're getting is paper - slightly used, of the kind that usually goes in the toilet.

In response to the news, the stock markets across the world have dropped by 2%. That may not sound like a lot, and perhaps it's not the initial percentage that matters, but the ripple effect. In what ways will that 2% drop in the markets effect what happens tomorrow and the next day and the next day?

The thing is that none of this is new stuff. None of what's happening hasn't been predicted over and over ... and OVER since before 2006. In 2006, when I first started following this sort of news, there was already a lot of it on the Internet. It was not "mainstream", and I had to look for it, but by 2008, everyone (even some well-respected intellectuals) was talking about "collapse."

Let's just say, we've been warned. The collapse, regardless of the cause, is happening, and whether we like it or not, our economy is failing. Our time to make choices about how we will live in the "new world" is running short. That means that very shortly the choices will be made for us and our future will depend on the choices we made as we slid down the path.

In his most recent post, James Kunstler states: you can be sure Nature is telling you to get local, get smaller, get finer, downscale, solidify your friendships, and drop your stupid grandiose fantasies about running WalMart on algae.

I'm currently reading Logan Ward's See You in a Hundred Years. The story follows the adventures of a New York City couple (and their toddler), who decide to move to a farm in Virginia and attempt to recreate life in 1900 for one year.

It's a familiar story. Eric Brende describes his similar story of voluntarily embarking on a year-long quest to live the simple-life in his book, Better Off. Colin Beaven and his wife spent a year learning to live the "simple life" in New York City (and having been to New York City, I can really appreciate some of the rather unique challenges Beaven encountered, particularly with food acquisition - it's harder to grow and store a years' supply of food living in a small Manhattan apartment than it is in a turn-of-the-century farmhouse on forty acres in Virginia - or even in a 1500 sq foot suburban home on a quarter acre).

What all of these authors have in common is the time-frame ... one year. They drastically change their lifestyles for a year, but so far, all of them (and I'm not finished with Ward's book, but at this point in the story, with a month left to go in the experiment, the plan is to transition right back) have gone back to mostly living the lives they lived before.

The difference between their experiments and the real life we are all going to experience in our lower energy future is that we won't have the luxury of going back. "Things" aren't going to "get better" - that is, it's not going to ever be exactly like it was. The only thing we can do is to be ready to live differently, which means, with less.

Like most of her citizens, our country's credit rating is shot. Congress just approved a budget that included raising the debt ceiling, which is kind of like my going to the credit card company and saying, "I can't make my payments. Can you raise my credit limit so that I can borrow more money to pay my bills? Collateral? How about this piece of paper that says IOU? That's good enough, right?"

China wrote us a nice letter that says, basically, what the credit card company would say, "Um, sorry, but you need to figure out how to live within your means. No more credit for you!"

Live more local, live smaller, live finer. Good advice ... I'll take it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Stocking Up on Tools

When I was a kid, I could still watch The Twilight Zone on television. I, usually, enjoyed the shows, but there's one episode that always stood out as being particularly tragic. The episode is entitled Time Enough to Last and is about this brow-beaten, coke-bottle-glasses-wearing bibliophile, who survives a nuclear holocaust - sans his manipulative and nagging wife. Thrilled to, finally, have time enough to simply sit and read his books, he leans over to pick up a book and the glasses fall off his face, landing on the floor and breaking.

Which is how "The Twilight Zone" usually went.

Lately, I've noticed that reading small print has become more difficult. I keep saying I need to go to the eye doctor, and I keep not doing it. I can see fine for most tasks, like driving (as evidenced by the eye test portion of my very recent driver's license renewal application) and working on the computer, but trying to read print, one of my favorite past-times, has become almost painful as I strain to make sense of the blurry splotches on the page. The fine print on medicine bottles? Forget about it ... and as a label reader, shopping has become incredibly frustrating. Never mind not being able to pronounce the ingredients - I can't even see them anymore.

The other day, while everyone else in the family was busy having other adventures, Precious and I had an adventure of our own, which included visiting a local thrift store. While there, we took a look at the glasses - she, the sunglasses, and I the reading glasses.

I put on a pair that magnified words on a page by 1.25, and I could see! It's a miracle!

So, I bought them. My first, ever, pair of glasses.



I have to take them off, except to read, because the rest of the world gets blurry, but I've been reading, again, and really enjoying it ... again. No straining, no getting frustrated because I couldn't see the words, no headaches or twitching eyes, and no just putting the book down, because it was too late and too dark to see.

The whole experience got me thinking, though. What if, like the guy in that "Twilight Zone" episode, the world collapses, and I (finally) have all of the time in the world to read ... but I break my only pair of reading glasses?

If I had regular glasses, I'd probably make sure I had a spare pair, because even in the best of circumstances, glasses can and do get broken. My plan is to stock up on reading glasses at increasingly higher magnifications (and at $3/pair at the thrift store, it's also very affordable) ...

... and maybe I should go and see the eye doctor, too.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Low Energy Entertainment

I was watching a video earlier about the economic collapse. The video details the thirteen steps that all countries which have collasped go through, and states that the US is between steps five and seven right now (import most of our goods, huge debt, getting more difficult to borrow money, etc.). As with most, similar videos and books that talk about the economic collapse, there is advice at the end about ways to prepare, like paying off debt, getting out of the money economy, learning to grow/store food.

We all know that I don't disagree with any of those recommendations. Yes, pay off the house! Yes, learn to be self-sufficient! Yes, know how to get food.

We need to be ready to feed ourselves, and house ourselves, and clothe ourselves, because in our more austere future, there will be less money to buy those things, and less of those things available to buy anyway.

But there's more to life than just those things, a lesson my daughters have been teaching me these last few days.

Like any modern American, suburban kid, my girls spend a fair amount of time enjoying their electronic entertainment (DVDs on the computer, Netflix, GameBoy), but they're also pretty adept at finding some very simple ways to keep themselves occupied when they're not doing "farm" chores.

For the past few days, my kids have been making "cootie-catchers", which are origami toys, first introduced in England in the 1920s. They became popular as a children's game in the 1950s and 60s here in the US. I can remember making them as a kid, and it's a bit of a thrill to see my girls enjoying favored past-times from my own childhood.

So, I enlisted the help of Little Fire Faery, to illustrate the steps for making the origami toys.

Step 1: Fold and cut a piece of paper so that it is square.



Step 2: Fold the square into a triangle (so that the paper is creased with an X shape).



Step 3: Fold each corner into the center of the paper, creating a smaller square.



Step 4: Flip paper over and fold each corner into the center of the paper, creating smaller square.



Step 5: Put each index finger and thumb under the flaps. Using a pincher motion, open and close the cootie-catcher.



Step 6: On the flaps write words or colors. On the front of the inside flaps (visible when the cootie-catcher is held open), write numbers. On the back of the inside flap, write a "fortune." My girls have been using crayons to color each outside flap. I choose a color and she spells the color as she works the toy. Then, I choose a number on the flaps inside, and she counts out the numbers. Then, I choose another number, and she reads my fortune.

According to the most recent divination, I might be "pretty and rich." Que-sera, sera.

Making cootie-catchers is a lot of fun and playing with them is equally amusing. It's a great low-energy, low-impact past-time, and in a future, where watching DVDs may not be an option, it's comforting for me to know that my girls will find plenty of other things to do.