Thursday, November 29, 2012

Teach the Children Well

Some of the world's greatest innovators were self-taught and/or homeschooled.

It's not so much that homeschooling is better, but that most of the time it allows for a freedom and flexibility that is not possible in a formal school setting. In fact, the school setting is becoming more and more rigid, and I hear teachers talking about how today's students can not even think for themselves.

In the dramatically changing world into which we are moving like a run-away frieght train, we are going to need people who are problem-solvers. People who can look at a pile of junk and see a woodshed or a methane-digester or a wheel barrow or a water catchment system. Look at a pile of ragged and stained clothes and see a quilt or a pair of curtains or a vest or hat or a pair of gloves. Look at a pile of ingredients and see a three-course meal.

The last fifty years have been amazing, and those of us who have been fortunate to live in this privileged world of plenty have a lot to be thankful for, but our children, those of us who still have young children at home or who have yet to procreate, will live in a very different world than the one we know now.

Homeschooling full-time may not be an option for many people, but at very least, we have to realize that we can not depend on the schools, in their current incarnation, to teach our children the lessons they will need to know.

If you can homeschool, do; if you can't homeschool, start teaching your children the lessons the schools will never teach about self-sufficiency and problem solving.

The most important knowledge we can give our children is not how to solve for x, but rather the passion to want to know what x is, and why it is, and how it can be rearranged to make it look like t.

Whether we teach them well or just believe we are teaching them, our children will change the world - just as we have done. The question is, will the change be better than the changes we have wrought? It's true that all parents wish better for their children than they had. The question we have to answer for ourselves, as parents, is what do we mean by better?

What I want for my children is not that they have more, but that they be free to live more; to explore and laugh and wonder; to suck the marrow from life; to sound their barbaric YAWP from the rooftops of the world ...!

And, then, go home and have a warm meal in their warm, cozy homes, and there be enough.

Anything more is just clutter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ode to Snow

Deus Ex Machina woke me this morning saying, "It's snowing."

I love the snow. I said it my first Christmas in Maine, and the natives scoffed at me.

"Just wait," they chuckled. "You'll learn to hate it."

I'm still waiting.

Don't get me wrong. I don't love shoveling, and I don't love driving in the snow. Snowplows on the road scare me, and I've had at least two snow-related driving incidents since I've been here - one that ended with a missing taillight when my rear end hit a utility pool after I spun off the road in a snowstorm.

But I love the quiet beauty of a snowstorm, and I love how the snow blankets everything with a clean purity, and how it muffles the noise of civilization. I love how, even in the middle of the night, during the winter, when the snow is covering the ground, everything is bright.

I never noticed how dark it is in my yard until the snow melted one spring, and I looked out and realized I couldn't see anything. And even though I wanted to plant my garden, I still wished, in that brief moment, for just one more night of snow.

As the seasons change, it's been an annual tradition to make cut-outs in honor of the transition. In the spring it's flowers. In the fall it's leaves (or something Halloween-related ;)).

This morning, when Deus Ex Machina woke me, I realized we have been so busy that we've forgotten our tradition. We cleaned the windows a few weeks ago, but didn't put anything back up.

This morning, I slowed the pulse of my busy-ness and cut paper - snowflakes to go on the windows.

I'm ready for the snow ... and after fifteen years of living and loving in Maine, I'm still not tired of it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Indian Corn Pudding

A couple of years ago, I grew field corn/popcorn for the first time. The story is that I wanted to grow a Three Sisters garden, because I am just absolutely fascinated by it, and the more I learn, the more I love it.

The Three Sisters garden is the perfect example of companion planting. The corn stalks support the beans, which fix nitrogen in the soil, and the big squash leaves grow in between the other two and provide a mulching effect. Plus, as food, they are perfect nutritional complements. Nutritionally and calorically, one could survive a harsh Maine winter on those three plants.

And from what I'm reading, people did.

So, I knew, when I started looking at the best bang-for-my-buck with regard to annuals to plant in my garden, that the Three Sisters would have a place. The only problem I had was the corn, and from the experiences I've had with sweet corn, I knew that wouldn't be what I would grow.

The first year I grew popcorn, I chose a small-earred blue corn. I read that field corn should be allowed to dry on the stalk, which is what I did, but when I harvested it, the ears were tiny and looked only half formed. I figured I had planted the seeds too late, and the blue corn experiment was a bust.

I pulled all of the ears off the stalks and dumped them in a wooden basket, and there they sat for the next two months. Then, in December, I decided I was going to separate the corn from the cobs and feed the corn kernels to the squirrels. As I worked, I realized that those kernels were perfect. They were popcorn - smaller than commercial popcorn, but they looked exactly the same. I decided to try popping some, and it worked!

I had grown popcorn!

And I've grown it every year since then.

This year I chose a red corn. It produced big, beautiful ears - two to three per stalk. I harvested a couple dozen, and I knew that I would, probably, be making most of it into cornmeal. I'm still learning about ways to use cornmeal, and my favorite way is to make polenta, which is, basically, corn mush. I also like to make "Johnny Cakes" and corn fritters. I especially like to make a southwestern-inspired chicken stew and serve corn fritters with it.

Corn was one of the featured ingredients in our harvest meal this year. Some time ago, I found a recipe for Indian Corn Pudding (which actually called for grits, but I decided to use my dried, ground corn). Basically, it's sweet corn mush. After I'd cooked it, I decided I wanted to see what it would be like baked. So, I divided it into muffin cups and baked it for an additional half hour until it was stiff.

The corn kernels had been very coarsely ground - only one pass through our food mill (some people see it and think "meat grinder", because that's what a lot of people use this mill for, but ours has several blades which allows us to use it to grind flour and nut butters, also) - and what was interesting was how much they puffed up during the cooking process.

Baked Indian Corn Pudding


I was pleased with the outcome, and there is more of the pudding left that wasn't baked. It will make a nice porridge, warmed on the woodstove and topped with a bit of cream, or some yummy fritters, fried in some hot oil.

I'm not much of a cook, really, but I'm also not afraid to try new things, which can be good ... or not, depending on whether or not one has to eat my concoctions. Mostly it turns out edible, and sometimes a new food will become a family favorite.

The corn pudding wasn't a huge hit, but as it was competing with several different kinds of pie, that's not surprising. In a few days, when the pie is gone, we'll pull out the corn pudding, again, and see how we like it, because I'm going to keep growing corn, and so we're going to keep eating it ... one way or another.

A Grateful Harvest

Five years ago my family was featured in a Portland Press Herald article. We were planning a "local" Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember that meal. I remember that we anguished over the menu. We'd think of some traditional thing that people serve at Thanksgiving, and often, I'd have to nix it, because the ingredients weren't local. This dinner was to be all local ... but not just "local" - all Maine grown. Once we settled on a menu, we spent countless hours looking for local sources for the food. A lot of time and effort and money went into that meal. It was totally worth it.

Little did we know where that path would lead us.

Fast forward five years, and we're again enjoying an all local Thanksgiving dinner - this time without the press :).

The difference is that we didn't, really, spend a lot of time trying to figure out what we were going to serve. We knew we'd be eating Turkey, because Deus Ex Machina shot a turkey with his bow. We also knew that we would be smoking it on the grill. This morning the turkey was brined for a couple hours in salt water. Then it was seasoned and put on the grill. It was everything we hoped it would be ... and better than any turkey we've ever had. If that's what wild turkey tastes like, I'll take it!

Other than the turkey, however, I only had a vague idea of what I was going to cook. Nothing was preppped beforehand, and in fact, it wasn't until after I got up this morning and started flipping through my recipe binder that a plan was formed.

Deus Ex Machina said that he woke up dreaming of pecan pie, but not pecan. His dream was about acorns, and so he found a recipe for pecan pie, harvested about three pounds of acorns, cracked them and boiled them, and made the pie. I made the crust ... more on that later.

We also had some usual stuff, like mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly, and roasted pumpkin. What's kind of neat about the pumpkin is that it was grown in my back yard, and half went into the pumpkin pie that was made using eggs from our chickens, milk from the local dairy farm, and some spice and sugar from away. The crust, though ... the crust was made using King Arthur flour, which is locally milled (not in Maine, but in Vermont, which is less than 100 miles from me) and lard. The lard was rendered in my kitchen from fat that I received with my cow share.

I should probably share that I'm not a baker. I don't make cookies or pies or cakes ... unless I have to, and pie crust is one of those things I'd almost rather just do without if it means I have to make it. I like pie. I like pie a lot. I'm just not good at making it. So, to say that I made a pie AND a pie crust is quite a big deal ... at least it is to me.

I also made, what we have started to call stuffing bread. It's made with jerusalem artichokes, and true to form, I didn't have all of the ingredients, and neither did I much care. I had the most important ones. I thought I'd have to skip the carrots, but when I looked in the garden bed that I planted in the late fall, I found some teeny-tiny carrots - enough for the bread.

So, while Deus Ex Machina processed acorns for his pie, I dug up sunchokes and carrots and harvested herbs from my garden for my bread. I used locally grown and milled wheat flour, and subsituted maple syrup for the sugar the recipe called for. It was all local, mostly grown on our quarter acre, and amazing.

We haven't eaten the corn pudding we made. It's a little like a sweet polenta, and after it was cooked, I decided I wanted to bake it to see if it would end up more like a cake than a pudding. It will be a snack later in the evening. The corn? Yep, grown here at Chez Brown. Deus Ex Machina and Precious ground it this morning.

It was an amazing harvest dinner and a wonderful reminder of the incredible bounty that surrounds us. No GMOs. No artficial flavors or colors. Real food. Grown where it was eaten. It just doesn't get better ... except when someone else offers to do the dishes ... :).

Happy Thanksgiving! Here's hoping that you have more to be thankful for than not

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Waiting for Godot?

She's ready. Now, we just need some snow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gratitude: Day 20

I am incredibly thankful for this blog. Having it, having this place to explore my thoughts and feelings about what's happening in our world and where it's going, and sharing my family's adventures as we attempt to live a lower-energy lifestyle in a high-consumption environment has changed me in very profound ways.

It's been more than just turning off the lights when I'm not in a room or hanging out laundry rather than using a dryer. It's been a complete change in my attitude about things - in particular about the very fundamental, core values that make our society continue to operate as it has for the past hundred years.

I'm thankful, because I feel like my life is better in very significant ways ... and I certainly think I'm a better person.

The other half of writing the blog is knowing that there are people out there reading it, and really, as other bloggers have observed, without readers, it's just me talking to myself ... and since I already know how I feel, it would be kind of pointless to voice my opinions, outloud, if I were the only one to hear it ; ).

In fact, if you have a moment, and you're so inclined, please feel free to add a comment about yourself and your blog on my new page.

Mostly, I'm thankful that someone is actually interested in what I say, and for a girl with self-esteem issues, I think those of you who read, and especially those who comment, have no idea how much it means to me.

So, thank you. Without you, much of my progress over the past many years that I've been blogging, might not have happened.

With this post, I will end my daily Thanks Giving. It's been a great twenty days, and I know I didn't even begin to scratch the surface of giving thanks for the many blessings in my life. My goal during this almost three weeks was to focus on some small things that, as a suburbanite, I might take for granted - things that, in a poorer world, I hope I can still have - like hot showers, dandelion coffee, and good friends. In the greater scheme of things, those are the things that are important, and part of my giving gratitude is my attempt to remember those things, especially when lots of not-so-great things seem to be happening all at once.

Here's hoping everyone has a great Holiday with more reasons to be thankful than not.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gratitude: Day 19

I am thankful for sunny days for doing laundry ... and rainy days of doing nothing ... and that I live in Maine where I get plenty of both.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gratitude: Day 18

How we ended up with our abnormally large black cat named Mr. Pumpkin is quite a long story, the details of which no one is probably interested. Suffice it to say that he is not a cuddly cat. He's not the kind of cat that wants human attention or affection. In fact, he's pretty much content if we leave him be, and just make sure he has water, food, and a clean cat box, and he appreciates it when we bring him a sprig of catnip from the plant outside.

He has never, not by choice, sat in any of our laps, and when he's held it's with a reluctant acquiescence - which is obvious by the look on his face.

That's not to say that he doesn't like attention. Unfortunately, his way of getting attention is unacceptable as it involves claws and fangs, and we aren't very keen on having either piercing our flesh.

Over the years, he's mellowed quite a bit. He knows if he grabs us, we'll grab him back and cuddle him and pet him and maybe even (egads!) kiss and nuzzle the nape of his neck - which puts our scent all over his lovely fur in a place he can't get rid of it very easily. Poor kitty!

Occasionally, though, he surprises us when he acts, seemingly, completely out of character. Like this morning, when I woke up and found him sleeping between my feet. It was an odd, very unexpected moment ... and one I appreciated completely, because it made me realize that, even with his, rather, cool demeanor, he knows he's a part of this family.

And one other thing. When we come home, after a long day out, the one who comes to the door to greet us is the cat ... not the dog.

I am thankful to the friends who gave us Mr. Pumpkin. He's become a part of our family, and we love him - in spite ... mabye even because of ... his quirkiness.

Come to think of it, perhaps it's that quirkiness that makes him fit so well in our family.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gratitude: Day 17

Non-stop.

That's how I would describe this day. It started at 7:00 AM. We were in and out all day, and only at the end of the day, are finally home. It was one of those rare days when I didn't even check email - all day!

Part of the day's events involved a new adventure Deus Ex Machina and I are going to try which will, hopefully, help move us closer to our goal of having both of us working full-time from home.

The other half of the day was spent supporting our daughters in their dance endeavors ... and I even got to get up on stage with Little Fire Faery and perform a mother-daughter tap number.

It was a day that included a lot of things to be thankful for ... and I am thankful ... for new adventures and time spent with my amazing family.

It just gets better and better.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gratitude: Day 16

Today is a picture gratitude post.

There are so many things in this picture for which I am grateful.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gratitude: Day 15

I was part of a conversation the other day - about prepping. Not surprising, right? Seeing as how I consider myself a prepper, of sorts. Like many conversations about preppers, these days, it was spurred because someone had seen that National Geographic Show.

I've seen bits and pieces of the show, but never a whole episode, because I don't have a television, and, well, frankly, I've seen enough to know a few things.

First, it's not real. Yes, the people are real, and yes, many of them are doing the things that are shown, but, as with most things on television, their preps are sensationalized. The film crew spends three days with the prepper, and then cuts three days worth of footage to fifteen minutes.

It's television, and they are looking for the most outlandish, most crazy-sounding things that the people might let slip in three days. Sometimes those things that are said are taken out of the context in which they were said.

Second, many of those people are just average folks, like me. Some of them might be a little over-the-top, and certainly, I don't agree with or condone building a bunker and stocking it full of MREs and biohazard suits. For me, the whole prepping thing is something different, but I can see how what I do, even, could be sensationalized to make me look a little out-there.

And I think National Geographic has done a huge disservice to people, because by making that show, and by portraying these people as paranoid, fearful, and a bit unsettled, the shows producers have given the rest of us an excuse to do nothing, which, as we've seen from the unsettled weather since 2005 and the rough economic climate since 2007, isn't such a good idea. The problem is that no one wants to be associated with those preppers, and if having some stored food and water or transitioning to some form of alternative energy means one might be considered a crazy prepper, most of the American public says, no thanks, and then, we have Hurricane Sandy, and people without electricity (and heat or a way to cook their food) for a week (or more) and fighting in gas station lines.

Prepping isn't just about TEOTWAWKI. It really is about insulating oneself against life's little hiccups. One doesn't need a bunker to be ready for a hurricane, but if one heats and cooks with electricity, one does need to have alternative heat sources and ways to cook if the eletricity goes out.

At this halfway point through my month of thankfulness, I want to pause and be thankful that Deus Ex Machina and I turned our feet onto a new path many years ago. Perhaps our preps looked the way they do, because we have never been concerned about a single catastrophic event. We started and kept prepping for a lot of reasons. In fact, perhaps the biggest motivator has been just the simple desire to have a different life - one that wasn't ruled by the corporate hierachy of a 9 to 5 soul-sucking job.

And maybe that's where and why we differ so much from the usual prepper mindset. We're changing our lives and our lifestyle so that we don't have to have money, and not just-in-case-IT happens.

I cooked breakfast on the woodstove this morning. It was a leftover baked potato that I chopped up in a pan and browned in a little bit of olive oil. I also heated some water for steeping some roasted dandelion root for coffee and heated some milk for a dandelion-root cafe au lait.

And I was thankful, because with or without electricity, with or without worldwide global trade, with or without a viable national currency, with or without a job, I could still have hash-browned potatoes and dandelion-root coffee heated on the woodstove.

For me, that's what prepping is and should be all about.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gratitude: Day 14

It was that historic day, September 11, 2001, that I first walked into the dance studio, not knowing what a huge part it would, later, play in our lives. I remember that they discussed, in light of the days' events that were unfolding, canceling their open house. They opted not to, thinking, perhaps, that people might like some normal in what became a very abnormal day.

I was impressed by how consciously they made that decision. They didn't just plow ahead, thoughtlessly, but really considered what might be the best option, in light of what was happening in the world at large.

We started with one class per year for Big Little Sister. It was a long drive, but in those days, no one really worried much about that. Precious was born. Little Fire Faery got older and started taking classes. Precious grew up as a dance sister, and when she got old enough, she started taking classes, too. At this point, we've all taken lessons there.

I joke about being a suburban soccer mom, but the fact is, it's not soccer for us, it's dance. So, by the time driving such a long distance became an issue, we didn't, really, have an option: quit dance (because, at this point, finding a closer school isn't really something my girls are interested in doing), or drive. For now, we've opted to drive, and to cut back other driving. When we know we've got dance, we always plan what else we can do while we're in the area, and whether by design or chance, most of the places we need to go (like the feed store, for instance) are in the same direction as the dance school.

Over the years, it has become more than just a dance studio. In many ways, the other people there - the dancers, the moms, the teachers - have become a second family to us. We spend a great deal of time there, and as members of the dance team, we spend a great deal of time with the other team members and their families.

One of the things I like best about the atmosphere is that there is just not any of that aggressive-competitiveness among the team members. There's no trying to best the other kids on the team, because it's not about that. It's about each individual doing her best, and they support each other. I haven't seen that much-talked-about television show depicting the dance competition world, but I heard about it, and I can say, that what was, reportedly, depicted on the screen is not the experience my family and I have had in the dance competition world. Our studio owner would not allow it.

She wouldn't allow it, because that's not the kind of person she is. It's not about the glitz. It's not about the money. It's about the dance. In fact, our studio has a reputation for wearing ... ahem ... well-loved practice clothes. It's not uncommon to see the older girls sporting shredded tights and shoes that have been repaired with duct tape. When Big Little Sister started dancing there, it seemed to be a badge of honor, the mark of a truly talented and seasoned dancer (because all of the older girls who dance there are both) to have ragged dance-class clothes.

Nothing is ever wasted or discarded. Nothing. Costumes are reused, if possible (and for those who don't know, dance costumes can be incredibly expensive) or recycled with a bit of sequins and reused. Sometimes, when they are trying to decide on a costume for a competition solo, the girls will be told to "go shopping upstairs" in the huge, stuffed-full, costume room. Sets and props are spiffed up with a bit of paint (and were often created using recycled materials). Even dance choreography is occasionally brought back to the stage.

Indeed, it's one of the things that I love best about Ms. Vicky. She's incredibly frugal and infinitely creative. She can take a few strips of cloth, a leotard and some sparkle and make a mermaid that looks incredible up on stage. I am continually in awe of her.

Perhaps that's not the most remarkable thing about our experience there. There's another thing that goes on, behind the scenes, that many of us probably don't see or that we only see minimally ... just that little part that applies to us.

Ms. Vicky, through her dance school, has touched thousands of lives, not just as a dance teacher, but as a community philanthropist. She gives back to the community in so many ways.

This morning, as I was saying goodbye to Deus Ex Machina, who was heading to work, my toe hit a bag that was sitting on floor next to the door. It contains some apples, squash and sugar - our donations for our dance teams annual turkey basket. It's half fundraiser and half community sharing. Basically, team members sell raffle tickets ($1 each or 5 for $6) for a chance to win a turkey basket. It will contain all of the ingredients necessary for a full Thanksgiving meal and (believe me when I say) then some ... unless one is feeding a small army.

All of the food in the basket is donated by the team, and it, truly, has everything one could need (right down to spices) for a full meal. It is an incredible amount of food, and includes both fresh (my family's contribution is local apples, local squash and 2 lbs of raw cane sugar) and canned foods.

The hitch is that we donate enough food for TWO baskets (two three-pound bags of apples, two acorn squash, and two 2lb bags of sugar). One basket is raffled off, and the second basket is donated to a local family.

In 2001, I had no idea what I was getting myself - and my family - into when I pulled up in front of that three-story building and signed up Big Little Sister for her very first, ever, dance class. It was just supposed to be a dance class. Just dance. Ha!

My girls (and I) have learned so much, and much of it is not dance related - grace under pressure, appreciation for the gifts one has been given, and the importance of community.

I am thankful that I was guided there, and that, even when driving so far got tough, we decided that it was worth it ...

... and looking to the future, I have, actually, been thinking about how we'd get there by bicyle, and how I will cycle three tired dancers home ... in the dark ... on a cold wintry night in Maine.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gratitude: Day 13

I am thankful for aunties and nieces ... and the very interesting dynamic when they are close in age.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Good people are good because they've come to wisdom through failure.

I liked the sentiment, and so I'm sharing. It took me a very long time to realize that I'd never be perfect and that the moment I believed I was perfect, I'd stop learning.

That would be a sad day for me, indeed.

Gratitude: Day 12

Today is the first day in I don't know how long that I'm having morning "coffee" instead of my usual cups of tea. It's nice ... different.

And I am thankful for all of those people, teachers, who piqued my curiosity enough to get me interested in not just learning about stuff like wild foraging, but willing to make it part of my life.

I'm incredibly thankful for the back-to-the-landers, who were willing (even if just for a little while) to buck the system and live differently, even as the rest of the US was engaging in the consumerism-orgy that's landed us where we are today. Without their example, I wouldn't be where I am today, and I wouldn't be able to consider living differently in suburbia.

My life is definitely better than it was, definitely better than it would be, if we hadn't started making changes, and I think I'm better.

So here's to the Dolly Freeds, the Nearings, the Gaskins, the Krochmals, and those writers and editors of Mother Earth News and magazines/publications like it. I raise my cuppa wild foraged roasted dandelion root coffee (sweetened with a tiny bit of raw sugar and lightened with a splash of raw milk) to you! I am thankful that you all were fearless and curious and energized enough to be the change.

Let's build a better world ... one quarter acre suburban lot at a time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dandelion Root Coffee - The Verdict

Deus Ex Machina and I harvested dandelion roots a week or so ago. We cleaned the roots, cut them into one-inch pieces and roasted them at 350° for about a half hour. Then, we put them in a jar and left the jar on the table, because we got busy doing other stuff. Today, we took them out of the jar, ground them up, put a few spoonsful in the French coffee press, added boiling water, and allowed the tea to steep for a while.

I haven't had coffee in a while, but there was a time when I would toss back a pot of coffee in the morning and a pot of coffee at night before bed. I know what coffee tastes like.

And what's in my cup is it, and it's good.

The best part, though, is not that it's really good (I mean REALLY good), but that it's really good for me. Whether or not I believe all of the claims of the extraordinary health benefits of dandelions, I will say that as a coffee substitute, it's a winner.

I gave up coffee in favor of tea several years ago, because tea is a healthier choice. When I wanted to localize my diet, I started a search for a tea substitute, and truly, what I wanted was something that tasted like tea, but I still haven't found it. It amuses me that I have, likely, found what I probably wanted all a long - a healthy coffee-flavored beverage that can be locally produced ... and it was, literally, right under my feet all a long.

Gratitude: Day 11

Today is Veteran's Day. I am thankful for my service.

I know. It sounds weird for me to be thankful for my own service, but the military was a good experience for me, and it probably taught me more about myself than any single experience I have had up to and following my enlistment.

When I joined, I was at a point in my life where I felt I was failing. I'd been told, in not so many words, for the eight previous years that I was almost good enough, and that I could be perfect if I just met whatever milestone had be set for me - which was, usually, not verbalized but hinted at, and I simply needed to intuit the appropriate action. I think I really believed I could be perfect, if ..., but I just never learned how to read minds, and so I was always wrong.

Being a soldier taught me that perfection was not the goal. Rather we should strive for qualities like: integrity, allegiance, selflessness, and honor. I learned to, truly, do my best, and when I messed up, I learned to take responsibility for my own actions, because in the military individual actions can, sometimes, really have dire consequences. It never did, for me, and for that, I am also thankful.

I met some of the most amazing people during my enlistment (especially the one I am lucky to call my partner, my confidante, my husband, my best friend). There is something about being in that kind of environment that makes friendships happen at a hyper-speed not normal in regular life. It can't be explained, but it is pretty incredible.

I also had the opportunity to see places I would never have gone, were it not for my service.

I learned, too, that I was physically strong - something I had never considered applied to me. I could heft 70lbs of equipment on my back. I could run two miles in less than sixteen minutes. I could march for miles without complaint. I could dig a foxhole and a hasty. I could shoot an assualt rifle with 80% accuracy (32 out of 40 targets down). I even threw grenades (something some of the men at my last duty station were unwilling to do) with my wimpy little-girl arms.

One of the most important lessons I learned was not to take myself too seriously, which went hand-in-hand with the budding realization that prefection is not a goal, but rather one should aspire to be efficient and hard working. The motto is "Be All That You Can Be", which doesn't mean be perfect, but rather that each should strive to achieve his or her own potential, and then, keep pushing for more.

I learned not to take myself so seriously and that failure didn't mean I was a horrible person, but rather that I just still had more to learn.

One of my favorite memories took place at the grenade range during Basic Training, where I learned to be steadfast, even in the face of adversity - which was sometimes the visage of our Drill Instructors. It had been a very long day, and I was just tired and hungry, and I just wanted to sit somewhere and be still and quiet for just a few minutes.

After every range, we were assembled in formation for a brass and ammo check. Essentially, we were searched to make sure that we hadn't forgotten to return live rounds to the appropriate areas.

We stood in straight lines, put our Kevlar on the ground and emptied our pockets into it. We stood at parade rest until the Drill Sergeant approached us, and then, we would snap to attention and exclaim, loudly, "No brass! No ammo! Drill Sergeant!"

The Drill Sergeant on this day was one of the other platoon sergeants, and he was joking with some of the enlistees, most of whom ended up on the ground. I, so, did not want to do push-ups, and I was resolved to not make a mistake and allow myself to let my guard down.

A favorite tactic of the drill instructors was to get the IET soldier laughing or joking, and then, ask "Do you think I'm your buddy, Private? Dust yourself off" - a hated euphemism that meant do push-ups and remember your place.

When he got to me, I snapped to attention, said my phrase, and stood, eyes staring into the distance while he did his inspection.

As he was patting me down, he said, "You know you have a mustache, Specialist. I'll bet you think your mustache is pretty."

To which I replied, "Not nearly as pretty as yours, Drill Sergeant."

I managed not to crack a smile.

And the Drill Sergeant was taken off guard - probably a first for him. He finished the rest of his inspection, quickly, and no one did push ups ... including me.

And on that day, at that moment, I was very, very thankful.

My military experience may not be typical. Maybe I was just lucky. But I am thankful that I had the experience of being a soldier, and I wouldn't change that part of my life for anything.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gratitude: Day 10

Today is my parent's forty-ninth wedding anniversary.

They are still together through my father's military career, which included two stints in Vietnam, multiple separations when Dad ended up assigned to duty stations where my mother couldn't go, and moving every year for the first nine years of my life (and probably every year or two before). They've been through nearly every sort of high and low that a couple can experience, and endured ... including raising me through my teenaged years.

I am lucky to call them parents, and I am thankful to have them as an example of endurance and what really loving someone and being committed to another person looks like.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. Here's to many, many more ;).

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gratitude: Day 9

For many reasons, I decided not to take a tap class this year. There was just too much going on when tap class started, and I didn't think that I could add anything else to my plate.

At the school where I took tap, and where my daughters dance a collective 20+ hours per week (yes, getting them to and from dance class is the equivalent of a part-time job for me ;)), performance is a big part of the experience. In addition to the annual recital, there are multiple opportunities throughout the year for performing, which I think is just amazing, because, to me, the arts are all about sharing.

One of the annual events is the Festival of Feet, which is a tap dancing show. Last year, as a tapper, my whole tap class participated, but since I'm not taking dance classes this year, I just assumed that I wouldn't be dancing the Festival of Feet this year.

Someone had a different plan, and last night, I worked with Little Fire Faery, two other moms and their daughters to learn a mom/daughter dance.

It's just such an incredible thing - all of it: that my daughter wants to dance with me, that the dance school owner is willing to take the time and energy to, essentially, give us a free class, that the other moms are interested in doing the dance, too.

I am so thankful that we have found this dance family ... and that Little Fire Faery isn't embarrassed to be seen on stage with me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gratitude: Day 8

True to the forecast, we had snow last night. The predicted Nor'easter materialized. We were put on alert and told to expect 1" to 3" of snow along the coast (more inland) and high winds. This afternoon it's supposed to turn over to a rain/sleet mix, possibly causing the formation of ice on trees and power lines.

With the heavy snow, strong winds, and potential ice cover, the likelihood of power outages is pretty high. So far, I haven't seen any reports of such, but it's still early in the day.

I'm not worried. Just like with Storm Sandy, we're as prepared as we can be, and given that a Nor'easter is a pretty common force of nature in these parts, my guess is that most people aren't really worried. At least there seems to be none of the subtle agitation that usually accompanies predictions of severe weather. I haven't been to any stores, but unlike the weekend prior to Sandy, this weekend at the grocery store was quiet - and they've been predicting this storm since last week.

I'm thankful that five years ago, Deus Ex Machina and I started transitioning to heating our house with wood. I'm thankful that four years ago we replaced our old, tiny, inefficient woodstove with a new model that heats our whole house. I'm thankful for all of the free wood we're able to collect and are given. It's knowing that we're not dependent on electricity for heating and cooking that gives me peace of mind at times like this, and I am eternally grateful to know that we'll be warm and cozy even as the storm rages outside.

I hope those south of us didn't get hit, especially those who are still trying to recover from Sandy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gratitude: Day 7

Nobody feels completely well here at Chez Brown. We've definitely caught something.

I'm thankful, though - not that we're sick, but that our lifestyle is such that we're able to get enough rest to allow our bodies to complete the healing process.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gratitude: Day Six

Since Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil was published, I've been asked many times about security. I cover it in the book, my ideas on it, but my suggestions go contrary to what most people think of when they think of safety in TEOTWAWKI-scenrios.

There have been a lot of people who want to argue the point with me, and I'm not, necessarily, interested in arguing it, because it's not really something we can know until it happens. One of us will be wrong and one of us will be right, but at that point, all that will matter is who was right, and if it's not me, I will suffer the consequences of my ignorance.

The burning question is: when TSHTF will there be groups of mauraders bent of violence and destruction roaming the land and terrorizing the people?

My answer is there may be a few, but I believe those types of people will be the exception, rather than the norm. Mostly, I believe that people will come together in small, supportive groups - whether those groups form from neighbors or from nomads doesn't matter. What matters is that humans are social animals, that we prefer peace to war, and that worstcase scenarios as often bring out the good in people as the bad.

New York City and New Jersey were pummeled by Hurricane Sandy. The pictures show widespread destruction, and I think those of us who don't live there and don't have family in the area haven't even begun to see the scope of the damage. From some sources, it seems on the scale of Hurricane Katrina.

I've been to New York City, and while there were a few kind people (by comparison), mostly people were just neutral, apathetic. They weren't unkind, and neither were they friendly. One woman in a hurry to get to wherever it was that she really needed to be and pulling a rolling suitcase down the crowded sidewalk, actually rolled her suitcase over my foot. She never even looked back.

What I'm seeing now, though, in the face of this disaster, is people reaching out a helping hand to other people. There's the picture of the power cords hanging on the fence with a sign that says, "I have power. Charge your cellphones." And there was a person in one of the devastated neighborhoods who organized a movie night for his neighbors who didn't have power. He had a generator. It ended up being an old-fashioned block party, with snacks and movies and a bonfire. Everyone shared what they could, and everyone benefitted from the generosity of the neighbor with the generator.

Those stories are the ones that make me secure in my PollyAnna beliefs that most of us won't ever be faced with the gun-toting lunatics, and that as we slide deeper into this life of less, that neighbors will become neighbors. We don't have to agree with them, but we will learn tolerance - for each other - and we will learn to depend on and support each other.

Today, I am thankful for the reminders, from the worst hit areas in this most recent disaster, that humans can and often are human, that in the face of adversity, we are just as likely to reach out a helping hand as not. It's what I've always believed, and it's comforting to have my deepest held beliefs validated by reality.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gratitude: Day Five

We had just the craziest weekend one could imagine. It started with Deus Ex Machina on Friday night having practice for the play he (and two of our daughters) is in. Saturday was a usual dance-busy day followed by a not usual dance-busy night, and the busy, busy-ness culminated in a drive to the Portsmouth Music Hall in New Hampshire to see our music teacher performing the Mark O'Connor Fiddle Concerto on Sunday.

It was one of those non-stop crazy whirlwind adventures that we often seem to find ourselves in, and it's wonderful, because we are so incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by these amazingly talented people who are completely willing to share their expertise and talent with us - as teachers, mentors and friends.

Sometimes, though, I just want to curl up, at home, and have nothing to do. Or rather, I want an opportunity to stay home and do all of those things that aren't getting done on the homestead, because we're so busy doing other things.

And then, I realize that I really do have enough time to do both.

Which is what I did this weekend. On Sunday, I took an hour or so and went outside, and (finally) planted my garlic. It was a two-step process, and I envisioned it many times in my head - clean out the bed, plant the garlic has been a running scenario in my head for a couple of weeks.

I keep hearing rumors that we're going to get hit by a Nor'easter this week. The rumors are just quiet little whispers, and so, perhaps, it will just be another rainstorm, or perhaps, since it is just whispers, this time it will be what everyone feared from the last couple of big storms that came our way.

Either way, the garlic is planted, and I'm incredibly thankful that I didn't miss the window because I played the movie in my head instead of just taking the time to put the thoughts into action.

Next summer, when I'm harvesting garlic and next winter, when we're eating the garlic I planted, I'll have another chance to be thankful.

Afterall, gratitude is cumulative - the more one expresses thanks, the more one realizes one has to be thankful for.

And that really is what it's all about.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gratitude: Day Four

Sometime in the late spring a lovely young homeschooler who participates in 4-H contacted me. She lives on a three-acre suburban farm and raises pigs that she sells at the Fair. Last year, we had hoped to bid on one of her pigs, but stuff happens. So, we proposed that if she were interested in raising a pig for us, we'd be interested in buying it.

When she contacted me this spring, she said she was planning to raise two pigs, and she wanted to know if we wanted one.

Um, let me think ... YES!

First off, I know this young lady, and she is as sweet as the day is long. I knew that she would provide a calm and gentle life for this pig, who would be raised and cared for by someone who really cared for him. It's exactly the kind of meat we raise in our backyard, and the kind of meat we want to eat.

The other awesome part about having our pig raised by a young lady we know was that it would be butchered by our butcher and so I could, perhaps, ask for cuts that I might not ordinarily get. Like the jowls.

Since reading about Kate's experience with curing meat, I've wanted to try it, and this pig was just the opportunity I needed to do so.

And so I did. I (mostly) used Kate's instructions (the meat stayed in the cure a little longer and then, I never moved it out of the fridge) with some additional guidance from this website.



The final product is delicious. It tastes a little like bacon, but not exactly. It's more delicate, like the difference between a slow-cooked meat that falls off the bone and one that was roasted and sliced. Both are very good.

We used the guanciale to make the traditional Spaghetti a la carbonara. It was an easy dish to prepare, but was a little daunting for someone who's never done it, and it did turn out just as creamy as it's supposed to, which was a real treat for me.

Like with most things, for me, once I've stepped over that fear line and actually accomplished the task, I'm eager to move forward and conquer other, similar, feats. Now, I'm very excited about the idea of making cured sausage, and I can see all manner of sausage links hanging in the vaulted ceiling in my hallway.

We're planning a Sunday brunch that will include the guanciale ... and eggs from our chickens ... and maybe we'll toast a couple of those English muffins we picked up from a local bakery.

I'm incredibly thankful for the amazing network of people who have expanded my food repertoire, palette and culinary skill. Our local foods diet would not be as tasty without the carefully raised ingredients and the diversity of preparation options.

And I feel incredibly blessed that I'm able to offer my family wholesome, healthful foods and entrees that are completely new, even to me.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gratitude: Day Three

I don't have a credit card.

I don't have an ATM card.

I don't carry my check book with me.

I often have very little to no cash in my wallet.

I don't have a cellphone.

I spend a lot of time driving on back roads where there are very few gas stations and no pay phones.

If I run out of gasoline, it could mean walking as much as twelve miles to get home.

Think I ever worry about any of those things?

The other day I was driving along, and I looked down at the gas gauge. It was full, and I realized that there have been very few times - only a handful, really - when the gas gauge was near that E. In almost all of those instances, I've had enough cash that I could put a bit of gasoline in my car to, at least, get me and my girls back home.

I am very grateful to Deus Ex Machina for making sure that I don't get stranded. He makes life a lot easier for me.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gratitude: Day Two

After I posted yesterday about being thankful for hot showers, I got to thinking about all of the times I didn't have hot showers. As a youngster, I spent weeks at a time camping where, sometimes, we had bathing facilities, but most of the time, it was only cold water. During the Georgia summers at the camp, taking a cold shower was actually kind of nice, but on those times when we were at the campground and it was cooler - like during fall camping trips - it wasn't so great.

Then, there was being in the field when I was in the military, and we didn't have access to showering facilities (and, in fact, didn't have any sort of plumbing at all - toilets were port-o-potties and our water was from one of these - called a water buffalo).



Water was for drinking, and we didn't waste it trying to stay clean. It wasn't much fun in the Texas heat without showers, or even a simple sponge bath. Of course everyone was dirty and we all smelled bad and so no one did.

It was different for me the time I didn't have hot water for showers, but I really needed to be able to shower. The scenario was that I was a young, first-year teacher, and I had moved from college to this community, but when I moved, I had just enough cash to pay first month's rent on a house, but not enough to pay for the utilities deposits.

I had the electricity turned on first (which, in retrospect, was probably not the best idea), and so for the first week in my new home, I had electrricity, but no water, and I don't know which was worse, not having water, or having to knock on the neighbor's door to borrow a bucket of water so that I could flush the toilet.

Then, I had the water turned on, but I couldn't afford to have the gas turned on, because the deposit was determined by the previous tenant's usage - over $100. It might as well have been a million, because I didn't have a dime to my name until I got my first teacher pay check - at the end of the first month of school.

The house had a gas stove for cooking and a gas water heater. So, for a month, I had no hot water and no gas for cooking. The only cooking appliance I had was a crockpot, and don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't cook spaghetti in a crock pot.

Can't would be incorrect. Shouldn't is actually the better word to use.

It was during that time that I really learned to cook over an open fire - everything from the standard hot dogs and hamburgers, to heating things from cans, to baking cornbread in a cardboard box (not sure why I didn't try cooking the spaghetti on the fire outside ... except, maybe, the idea to build the fire and cook out there came after the day I decided we were having spaghetti for dinner). I was nothing, if not creative.

Even without hot water, I showered every morning. There's nothing quite like taking a cold shower on a cool fall morning to really wake one up, but it's not an experience that I particularly enjoyed. I was (and am) thankful that I had indoor plumbing, and I was thankful for the ability to shower, but whooboy, just let me say that I was pretty happy to finally get the gas turned on.

Since then, I've always been thankful for hot showers.

And, today, I'd like to express my equal thanks for fuel for heating water and cooking. Back then, it was gas. Today, I have an electric stove, a propane water heater, a woodstove, a gas grill, and a fire pit outside. I am thankful that I have so many options available to me for heating water for bathing and so many ways to cook food for my family ... and one more thing, while I'm happy to have my crockpot, I'll be forever grateful that I've never, again, had to try to make spaghetti in a slow cooker. Some things that can be done, often just shouldn't be.



**Photo Credit**



Fish Like Schooling at Home

Part and parcel of my life is the fact that we homeschool. Although I will occasionally post some tidbit about our homeschooling, some fun thing that we're doing, or some activity that fits with the homesteading/preparedness/Thrivalist lifestyle we've cultivated, mostly I don't mention it - not because it's not relevant or important, but often because the homeschool is just such an integral part of the whole that I simply don't separate it out as this is being a Thrivalist and this is being a homeschooler.

For instance, right now my teen is working on setting up her fish tank. She was gifted a very large tank from a friend, and of course, given that the tank sucks up the electricity, and I fight every day to reduce our usage, I was not in favor of the acquisition ... at first. But, it's a very good learning project for someone who is interested in a potential career in marine biology, and as unschoolers we should be cultivating our daughters' interests ... yada, yada, yada. I wasn't wholly convinced that having a 55 gallon fish tank actually complemented the lifestyle I was trying to cultivate ...

... until I realized that a tank this size would be ideal for learning about hydroponic gardening and enable us to set-up a year round area for growing food.

It's, maybe, a little bit of circular reasoning, and I certainly do not think that the fish tank is, in any way, sustainable, but it is a good learning project, and it will enable us to grow food in a way and in a place that wasn't heretofore available to us. So, the fish tank stays. For the record, I wanted to stock it with tilapia or some other fish we could eat, but I had to nix that goal, as it creeped out my daughter. Sometimes compromise is good.

Having the fish is a very good project for her in other ways. She's learning alot about chemistry and water analysis, different fish breeds, animal habitats, and animal husbandry. She knows more about fish than anyone I've ever met - except the owner of a store that specialized in fish (who informed me that everything I thought I knew about goldfish was wrong - especially that they can live, happily and healthily in a school of three or four fish in 10 gallons of water ... not true. Definitely *not* true).

In the end, I'll have my garden, and she'll have her fish, and it will be a good compromise for all of us.

Here's the other project we're working on for the next month.


We even set-up a writing group to meet at our house once a week through the month. It will be a blast to see what the kids come up with.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gratitude: Day One

The month of November is a good time to remind us that we always have a lot to be thankful for.

When I was younger, somehow we ended up with a comic book adaptation of Corrie ten Boom's autobiography The Hiding Place. I've since seen the movie, and I've had the opportunity to read the actual book. It's a fascinating story.

For those who don't know the story, Corrie and her family lived in Amsterdam during World War II, and one result of the occupation was that shipments of supplies into Amsterdam were cut-off. So, Corrie's family learned to live without a lot of things that we ... that I ... take for granted.

Some things we might not think about, like buttons, and other things that are logical, like tea.

They also had very little fuel, which meant that they couldn't heat their homes, and she describes how people, in desparation for wood for heating and cooking, razed all of the trees that were in the nearby park.

Corrie and her family hid dozens of Jewish Danes during the occupation, many of whom were secreted out of the country through a, kind of, underground railroad system. Ultimately, however, the ten Boom's secret was discovered, and the family was taken to jail. Corrie and her sister ended up in Ravensbruck, which was one of the many concentration camps throughout Europe. Her sister perished there, but through some accounting error, Corrie was released.

The one thing that struck me was that no matter what happened, Betsie, Corrie's sister, always remained thankful. This gratitude is the lesson that Corrie learned through her trials, and ultimately hoped to share with the world through her book.

In Corrie's life during the war, there was not a lot to be thankful for. Before they were incarcerated, there was never enough food (especially once rationing cards were issued, and they were splitting their food with their Jewish guests) or heat. They were always afraid of being caught. Once they ended up at the camp, the food issue was even more pronounced, but they also had to contend with extremely hard living conditions, disease, overcrowding, and parasites.

What's funny is that Betsie was even thankful for the fleas and lice, and when Corrie thought her sister had truly lost her mind - being thankful for the lice!?!? - Betsie said that the guards would not venture into their hut, because of the bugs, and so they were free to do things the guards would have prohibited, like secreting food and books.

It was a powerful lesson for Corrie. It's a powerful lesson for all us. Sometimes, even those things we think of as plaguing us can be something for which we should be thankful.

For the month of November, my goal is to take a few moments each day and document one thing for which I am thankful.

Today, my one thing is hot showers. It seems like such a little thing. It's such a common thing. It's one of those things we all just take for granted. We view it as neither a luxury nor a necessity, but anyone who has gone for more than a day or two without the opportunity to feel clean knows why I am thankful for showers.

Fad Diets

When I was in high school, the terms anorexia and bulimia were just starting to reach the mainstream consciousness. Pat Boone's oldest daughter, Cherry, wrote a book that was published in the 1980s about her experiences with both disorders, and Karen Carpenter, of the then famous sibling duo The Carpenters, died at the age of thirty-three from complications caused by her struggle with anorexia.

There was (and still is) a great deal of misunderstanding about what the two (separate and distinct) disorders entailed, and there was (and still is) the idea that binging and purging are symptoms of anorexia. They can be, but binging and purging is characteristic of bulimia. Anorexia is characterized by obsessive calorie counting, strict dietary regimen, and a potentially injury-inducing exercise routine. Both disorders are about control.

Like most high school juniors, I was assigned the task of writing a research paper. Mine was on fad dieting. The next year, I would write about eating disorders and read Cherry Boone O'Neill's book, Starving for Attention for my research. Exactly as my teachers had hoped, I learned something. Those lessons have stayed with me all of these years.

The very basic, and very key, thing that I learned was that fad diets do not work. The reason they don't work is very simple. People diet to lose weight, and once they've lost the weight, they stop dieting. I've heard a lot of people talk about their calorie counting diet with points or whatever the scheme to encourage dieters to stick with the plan, and then, there are words like reward and cheating thrown in there to describe food items or habits that aren't, generally, allowed on the diet. There also seems to be a lot of rationalizing as in I ran two miles today, and so I can have that cupcake at dinner. Unfortunately, eating the cupcake will pretty well negate any of the benefits of having run two miles, the weight will not slough off as desired, and the dieter will get frustrated from feeling deprived all of the time and discontinue the diet.

Interestingly, even though I know that fad diets do not work, and even though I know that any diet that is promoted as primarily for weight control can be considered a fad, I still succumbed. When Deus Ex Machina and I first moved to Maine, for instance, we stopped exercising like we had been, and noticed a little excess in places we hadn't had excess before. We decided we needed to be watching what we were eating. We believed the whole low fat argument, but contrary to the claims from the low-fat camp, the more low-fat we made our diet, the less low fat our bodies became.

I decided I needed to go back to my vegetarian lifestyle, and at the same time Deus Ex Machina decided Dr. Atkins had the right idea. I found myself trying to plan and cook meals for a family with one person who didn't eat meat and one person who couldn't eat carbs. It was a very interesting month.

And, then, I found out I was pregnant, again, and started eating meat, again.

And it seemed a little odd, to me, that I was okay with being a vegetarian when I wasn't pregnant, but not when I was, because I didn't believe I was getting the nutrition I needed as a pregnant woman on a vegetarian diet.

In this last decade, there have been a lot of other diets that have sprang up with their claims of being the healthiest, the best, the put-your-superlative-here diet for humans. I was a vegetarian without really doing any more than just eschewing meat (my diet was still, pretty much, the typical, high-carb, grain-centric American diet), and I avoided meat eating because I believed it was better for my health ... except when I was pregnant (?!?!).

I've met people who were vegans and vegetarians, but for health reasons were forced to change their diets to include animal products. The fact is that there are certain vitamins and minerals that are only available to humans through consuming animals. The big one is B12, and even lifelong vegetarians, Helen and Scott Nearing, were forced to take B12 shots, because their no meat diet made them deficient (some vegans will turn to sea weed for B12, but there is enough research to suggest that nori seaweed is not an adequate source for the nutrient, and that the only way to really get enough B12 in one's diet is to eat animal products).

I've also heard a lot about the raw foods diet, which I researched, and for a moment, believed the hype and almost decided to try (I actually made some sprouted bread, in an attempt to show my family that raw foods could be good, but it was not as enthusiastically accepted as I had hoped). Interestingly, my teenager found an article the other day that pretty much debunked the raw food diet as a superior option for humans. In fact, according to the article cooking food is what makes us human. In his article on raw foods, Dr. Weil points out that cooking makes certain nutrients available to humans, and it destroys some elements that are dangerous to humans (like carcinogens in some mushrooms and certain pathogens). I found enough evidence against the raw foods diet for me to discount it as a healthy diet choice.

In the end, when it comes to dieting and all of the options for following this way or that, Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, kind of tied it all together for me. I am a human being, and humans have the capacity for making dietary choices, especially in the world we live in. For both health and ethical reasons, the only diet that makes sense, for me, is one that includes foods that grow where I live.

Initially, for me, that meant that if someone grew that plant or animal within 100 miles of where I live, I could eat it, as much as I want, and so, tomatoes raised in a greenhouse in December in Maine would have been okay.

In the years since, however, it's taken on a much narrower meaning. If the plant is native or naturalized in my area, meaning that the seeds can overwinter in the ground and grow, unassisted, it's a food that we can eat. In fact, in the recent years, Deus Ex Machina and I have been doing a lot of research on what people who populated this area prior to colonization ate, and we've started looking at those food choices. A group in Michigan has the same idea, and they've embarked on a year-long project called the Decolonizing Diet Project. Their goal is to spend a year discovering and eating the foods that the indigenous people of the Michigan area ate.

I completely support and agree with the project, and not just as a year-long experiment, but as a way we should all start to view our food. Not just a "local" diet, as in, someone is growing "local" greenhouse tomatoes in Maine (a very energy intensive project), but a truly local and sustainable diet that includes plants and animals that are native and/or naturalized to the area.

In the past year, especially, Deus Ex Machina and I have been moving toward a truly local diet that includes plants and animals we raise on our quarter acre, but also plants and animals we forage in our area. This year, our Harvest Feast (which will be celebrated on the nationally recognized day of Thanksgiving) will include many of those foods, including a wild turkey that was killed (by Deus Ex Machina using a bow and arrow) in our front yard.

It's taken me a lot of years and a lot of research and a lot of trial and error to come to the conclusion that dieting is not about the numbers on a bathroom scale. It is about health, though, and the real problem with fad diets is that they all try to be all things to all people, and they can't. The nutrients necessary for someone living in Arizona are going to be very different from the nutrients required by someone who lives in Maine. The only diet choice that takes into consideration the nutritional needs of everyone is the local diet, and that means, knowing what is native to where one lives, and learning to love those foods ... instead of depending on the foods grown in Florida, processed in Oklahoma, and shipped all over the world.

I do believe that the answer to world hunger is not more food shipped to more places, but a reacquainting of people with the foods that naturally grow where they live, and an allowing of those plants to be grown and/or foraged by the people who live there.

There's plenty of food. The challenge is to learn to recognize it.