Friday, December 28, 2012

Spring Arrived During the Snowstorm

We just had our first winter storm, yesterday. It snowed all day, and there is a very nice accumulation, and if things go as they should, we won't see grass until March.

Today, the mailman dropped off my package.



Looks like I have plenty of time to make a good plan ... ;).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Being an Entrepreneur

Love this video

How Much Money Could You Earn in 2 Hours with only $5?.

The lesson learned from the project that asked this very question is too often we frame problems way too tightly, but if we keep unpacking them and unpacking them, we realize:

A. that we have resources that are much larger and more valuable than we even imagined; and
B. that our own skills and the opportunities around us are bigger than we thought at the beginning.


It's a whole life lesson - not just about making money, but about living and knowing and realizing that we don't have to be stuck in the box - unless we want to be.

Aspiring to Be a Chinese Peasant

One day a while back, I was out with my girls on one of our days filled with classes and errands. We'd just stopped by the feed store, and the back of the SUV was full of bags of feed and hay.

The smell of the hay covered everything with a gentle perfume of real, and as I breathed in the scent, I listened to my daughters who were prattling on about their electronic devices, their iPods or Nintendo DSs.

Once upon a time, I was accused of having selective hearing, and honestly (perhaps unfortunately), when it comes to the electronics, I do tend to tune out the comments, which I find tedious.

I appreciate that these devices have some value. I liked, for instance, being in contact via text mail, with some friends and family members while we were traveling, and, obviously, I very much appreciate the Internet and what it offers.

Yet, at the same time, I think we tend to place too much emphasis on these wonderful technologies to the point that we, modern humans, are incapable of doing anything for ourselves. When the technologies fail - and they do - too many people find themselves at a loss.

Recently, the phone and Internet service here at home was out for five days. It was inconvenient, but I didn't spend hours worrying about not having that connection to the outside world. I performed my usual, daily activities, and when I had time, I dealt with trying to get my phone and Internet back up and running. It was inconvenient to not have email and Facebook for a few days, but when all was restored, I realized I hadn't missed a lot.

As we traveled along the road breathing deep the scent of the hay and listening to the techno-babble, the reality of my life struck me funny, and I, quite literally, laughed - out loud.

I read an article or saw a news report some time ago about Chinese peasants (in these reports it's always someone in some very remote and/or very exotic place that most of us will never visit). As is typical of these reports, the people were depicted as living in "squalor", which is to say, not like us. They lived in some remote, mountain village had a small (neat and clean), sparsely furnished home with no indoor plumbing. Electricity, if available, would have been limited and/or sporadic. They had a small garden where they grew most of their own vegetables, and a pig or two, raised in a small pen, was their protein source.

The object of video article was actually not to draw attention to plight of the Chinese peasants, but rather to report on the interesting contrast of their very simple lifestyles with the fact that a higher percentage of Chinese people, from every walk of life, including those who live in remote mountain villages and raise pigs in the front yard, have cellphones than any other nationality worldwide.

And that's what I thought about, driving my ten-year-old SUV, the back of which was full of chicken feed and hay, while listening to my daughters chatter about their electronic gadgets.

Unlike the reporter of the piece on cellphones, however, who seemed to be, almost, criticizing that lifestyle of living simply while enjoy some pretty advanced technology, that's exactly the kind of lifestyle I'm drawn to, and the more I shy away from modern conveniences, the more my life tends to resemble that Chinese peasant.

At some point, I found that I was aspiring to live like a Chinese peasant - in a modest home with limited modern amenities and some pretty high-tech gadgets.

When the reality of that aspiration hit me, I laughed again, out loud, and my daughters stopped their banter and looked at me.

Smiling, I just glanced over, and shook my head.

"Nothing," I said. "Life is just good. That's all."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Surviving Real Life

The irony about the whole 12/21/12 scare is that people who needed to prepare, probably didn't, because they realized that nothing significant was likely to happen on that day. Others rationalized that if it was, truly, the end of the World, it wouldn't matter anyway, because there's no preparing for the end, right?.

Now, four days later, a major, significant, and scary storm is doing things to parts of the country that are, possibly, not accustomed to the sorts of weather they are getting.

Deus Ex Machina says that his cousins out in the southwest had a white Christmas. We did, too, but here in Maine, white stuff on the ground is accepted, expected, and appreciated (mostly) this time of year. In fact, in the western mountainous parts of the state where there are ski resorts, real snow means they have to manufacture less of their fake stuff - which saves both time and money. Snow is good.

Cold and winter are part of life for us here. We have warm clothes and boots, insulated pipes, heavy blankets and a winter's worth of wood for our woodstove. With or without electricity, we're set - and so are most of our neighbors.

I'm saddened by stories about people who are not ready when the cold comes, and how they are unable to deal with a loss of amenities - like electricity - in extreme conditions. Staying warm is not nearly as difficult as we think, and there are some very simple things we could to do make it less uncomfortable, and eliminate the life threatening cold.

The key is to get smaller.

Start with our own bodies. We have all heard the advice about layering our clothes, and it is true that the proper layers will insulate against, even very cold temperatures. A few years ago, we were taking an outdoor skills class, and we spent the whole day, a couple times per month, all year long, outside - regardless of the weather. With proper clothing, we found that the cold didn't bother us.

My daughters wore a comfortable pair of pants (usually sweat pants, because that's what they like to wear) underneath their snow pants, which are insulated and water repellent. I usually just wore jeans, because I've discovered that if my hands and feet are warm, and my core is warm, what I wear on my legs doesn't matter so much. I even ski in jeans, not snowpants. So, for me, wool socks and good boots, gloves covered by mittens, a long-sleeved tee-shirt, covered by a flannel shirt, covered by a wool coat, and a scarf, are enough so that I can get away with just a pair of jeans.

The next step would be to downsize the living quarters. Most of our homes, especially here in the US are decently insulated, but they are simply too big to keep warm. In the event that we lose electricity and can't heat our homes, the best advice is to move into one or two rooms.

For us, that room would be the office. It's in the center of the house, surrounded on three sides by other rooms with only one, northeast facing, window. A room with southern exposure would be better, and we have a room like that, but it wouldn't be as warm, even with the southern exposure, because three of the four walls are external walls.

If we closed doors to other rooms, and all of us cuddled (with the dogs, of course) in the one room, we could probably keep it comfortable enough with just our body heat.

But we could do more.

A couple of years ago, the BBC aired a program on a human-powered house. For a half day, a family was set-up in this house, which, unknown to them, was entirely powered by people riding bicycles. During the program, the hosts would provide tidbits of information, advice and tips on saving energy. At one point, they even cooked a chicken using a 100w incandescent light bulb. The lesson I took from that is that a small heat source in a small space can be more than enough.

Something as small as a candle - or many candles - could heat a small room. Probably not to 70°, but enough that the occupants wouldn't freeze to death.

If open flames are a concern, there are other options. A ceramic bowl placed on a fireproof surface, like a tile, filled with wet sand, into which we could place a very hot rock (one we heated on a fire outside, for instance) would help warm up the room a bit, and as the rock cooled enough that we could handle it, we could put it inside a sleeping bag and keep a bit warmer.

Another great way to stay warm is with warm beverages. Water can be heated with as small a flame as a candle. The key is to heat small amounts at a time. Trying to heat a gallon of water using a candle would take a very long time, but heating a few ounces - enough for a cup of tea - is relatively quick.

We've been stocking up on cans of sterno, which we can use with our chafing dish for cooking and heating water, but a very simple burner can be made using a small tin, like the kind tuna fish comes in, a rolled piece of cardboard and some leftover wax.

If you're without heat and/or electricity, heat water, drink lots of tea, and make soup. Warming from the inside out does a great job of keeping one warm, and there's nothing quite so wonderful as wrapping cold fingers around a warm mug.

For those living in usually warmer climates who are experiencing a Maine-like winter, bundle up, stay off the ice, and enjoy the beautiful snow ... from inside your warm(er) house ; ).

And if you can, get a couple of these to help keep you warm. I'd like to introduce you to Morgan (the red chow) and Seven (the puppy), the two newest members of the Brown clan. We adopted them from the Chow Chow Rescue of Central New York. They are beautiful puppies, and we are so thrilled to welcome them into our home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

21 Days to Prepare - Week Round-Up

It seemed like all of the the world is going to end nonesense had cooled, but then, as we get closer to that day of days, the fervor seems to be growing. Deus Ex Machina and I joke about it - in half seriousness. Mostly the conversations go something like, "When the zombies come we can go and live [fill in the blank of the newest place we've decided would be defensible and livable]."

Having these sorts of conversations around our daughters, especially the youngest, is probably not so wise. She's very young - and as the "baby" of the family, she's even younger than her years. She tends to hold things very tightly, and while she knows about fantasy and reality, she still believes in the fantastic. The other day, she said something about Santa Claus.

So, when she said the other night, "I don't want the world to end!" it was with some nugget of belief that it was going to happen. It's a good reminder to us, as parents and adults, that we need to be very careful about what we say, and we need to be extra vigilant about and willing to explain things to our children in words they can understand.

After she said that, she and I had a conversation about astrological ages and stars and planet alignments and how the ancients marked the passing of time with where the celestial bodies lined up in the sky (the end of the Mayan Calendar is the end of a 2000 (or so) year astrological calendar, and marks the end of the Age of Pisces and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius - not the "end of the world"), and in the end, I said simply, "My calendar ends every year on December 31, and I get a new calendar for the next year."

Still, with shows like The Walking Dead and other post-apocalyptic tales, it's easy to get caught up in the when it happens, forgetting that the likelihood of an it is pretty slim, and what's more likely to happen is exactly what's happening - a lot of little somethings that change how we live here, on earth and in our respective pieces of it.

We're more likely to be dealing with the effects of population overshoot, resource depletion, economic collapse, political unrest, and climate change - bigger storms, crop failures due to drought, warming oceans, species migrations - gradually over the years with some things causing massive devastation and other things simple a ripple in the pond until it gets so big we can't ignore it ... or change it ... and, eventually, we just learn to deal with it.

That's the most likely scenario, in fact - over time, we will just learn to deal with it.

Obviously, I wouldn't tell my young daughter to just deal with it. Instead, I make it my job to help her learn the skills she might need to deal with a future that is very different from our present, in which dependence on today's tools would cause significant hardship. Doing so helps me, too, because trying to empower her to believe in her own strength and resilience helps me find mine.

For the last two and a half weeks, New Society Publishers has been posting articles from their authors about just that - learning resilience - ways to cope with the different than lifestyle we are likely heading toward.

I particularly enjoyed Oscar and Karen Will's article on fencing, because I need to fix our fences and install new gates, and doing so low cost is definitely appealing.

Day Thirteen: How to Make Your Own Fence and Gate for Free Oscar and Karen Wills

Day Fourteen: Taking the 'Burbs: Square Yard Gardening' Ellen LaConte

Day Fifteen: It's NOT all or Nothing Deborah Niemann

Day Sixteen: Tending the Fire Darrell Frey

Day Seventeen: Message from the Mayans to Us: Act Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size! Stephen Hren

Day Eighteen: 2012 Climate Change and Permaculture Starhawk

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Living in the kind of culture we live in, there are many opportunities for certain phrases to enter and stick in our heads.  The title of this post is today's phrase.

Back in 2008, I had a lot to say about the state of things, and reading back through some of those old essays is interesting in their timeliness - in four years, things are pretty much the same - or worse.  We didn't pay attention to what was happening, and for the most part, it seems like we're still not paying attention - or worse, we've become complacent, and feel like we have no control, and so we'll just do nothing.

That's the case with so many of Americans who live in the suburbs, like me.  Since there are written and stated rules in their neighborhoods against certain things, they just decide to not look for alternatives. 

Fittingly, on April Fool's Day, 2008, I was contemplating the alternatives.

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The High Price of Food

I stopped at the feedstore on our way home from class today to pick up chicken feed.  Last time I bought feed, several months ago, it was $9 and some change for a 50lb bag. Today, I paid $10.90. That's a big jump in price in such a short period of time. [Update 2012:  chicken feed is now $14.10 for 50 lbs.  Rabbit feed has gone up even more and we're paying $15.65 for a 50 lb bag].

It's still cheaper to buy feed for my chickens and eat their eggs than it is to buy eggs from the grocery store. In fact, in what is looking like the increasingly nearer future, it might be that raising chickens becomes more of a necessity than the hobby that it is for me right now [Update 2012: we haven't bought eggs from the store in over two years.  Raising chickens is no longer a hobby, but our way of life : )].

They also had meat birds at the feedstore, and as soon as the snow melts, I'll be getting a few of those. I just need a snow-free patch of ground on which to build a temporary shelter to protect them from runaway neighborhood dogs and raccoons for long enough that they can get fat and juicy.

And there were some beautiful little bunnies for sale at $12 a piece. Big Little Sister is thinking that raising rabbits to sell to some of the local, seasonal restaurants might be a nice cottage industry, and I'm liking her entrepreneurial spirit [Update 2012: we now have two breeding does, an angora who will be bred when she's old enough and a buck.  We're not selling to restaurants, but it's a possibility].

Deus Ex Machina and I were talking this morning about food. He said, in effect, that those people who believe they can't raise animals for food in the suburbs and can only have cats or dogs for pets might be wise to consider that our cultural bias is the only thing that keeps those "acceptable" animals from being food.

He's right, but I think there are other options besides having Fido stew. [for the record, I won't and don't eat dogs or cats - they have other purposes and can be trained to do things that our livestock can not do].

I said, in the comments section of one post some time ago, that if I couldn't have chickens outside in a coop, because my neighborhood said I couldn't, I'd be raising these guys or some other bantam breed. Bantams are smaller chickens, but many are good layers, and they don't require as much space as a full-sized breed. My chicken book says that a bantam needs about half the space of a regular hen. I'd raise them inside my house. I live in a 1500 sq ft house with my three daughters, my husband and our two dogs. Three years ago, my two adult children and two cats also shared this house. If the average-sized house in a HOA restricted subdivision is 2500 sq ft, it seems to me that there's plenty of extra space to house a few bantams inside. or in a basement or garage.

Also in the comments section, someone stated that in some subdivisions, rabbits can only considered pets (and, therefore, allowed), if they are kept inside. Okay? What's the problem? Keep two as breeders inside in separate cages. An adult male and an adult female should ONLY be put together when you intend to make babies. You can breed them three times per year, and they have around five babies each time. You only have to keep the babies ten weeks before they're ready to be harvested. So, for most of the year, it would only be the two. I don't see the problem, unless your HOA rules state that your bunny has to be spayed or neutered.

In her book, Possum Living, Dolly Freed relates how she raised rabbits and chickens in her basement. Raising animals for food inside one's house can be done. I guess for some people, it's that cultural bias again. My grandmother thought ALL animals should live outside, and she'd get really mad when we let the cats inside the house. Rabbits can be litter-boxed trained, and while I wouldn't give my chickens free-rein of my house, I can't really see a big difference between keeping a parakeet in a cage and keeping a chicken inside in a cage ... except that the chicken will give me eggs, and the parakeet's only draw is his pretty song.

In an oil-starved future where food may be scarce, the chicken in the cage sounds like a better deal to me.

Of course, if you don't like the idea of sneaking around and risking fines, there are other options. In Peru, guinea pigs are raised for meat. I'll bet no HOA in this country restricts having guinea pigs. And it might not be a well-known fact, but ALL birds are edible. What does the neighborhood say about tiny, little quail?

The thing that may be required in the very near furture is creativity and a loosening up of our definition of "food."

The other thing that will be required is a willingness to question the Status Quo. Like that little girl in South Portland. She wanted chickens, they said "No", she said, "Are you sure?" They said, "Okay, go ahead." Yes, they imposed an armload of restrictions, but it's a start.

One small step. Today it's chickens. Tomorrow it may be goats, like in Seattle, Washington

A quote on one of the blogs I frequent says, "If I have a message, it is this: You can do it. So don't bother with excuses and explanations. Show me what you are doing. Now."

I guess that's what I've been trying to say. DO something about it.

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In addition to the article that I would make today, four years later, is that one should start now, because there is a learning curve, and we may not have as much time to make mistakes as we had back then.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Low Energy Soup

I made Jaeger Schnitzel (rather my interpretation of the recipe :)). The recipe called for pork cutlets. I had pork chops, which have a bone. True to the way I normally do things, I substituted the chops for cutlets, but to do so, I had to cut the bone out, which actually worked out pretty well in the end (because it gave me several small pieces of schnitzel, which were more appealing to my daughters, who had never had Jaeger Schnitzel, and only wanted a bit ... to try).

The problem is that I'm not very good at deboning meat, and so I had all of these bones with bits of raw meat on them. I do not feed raw pork to my dog, and I never give him cooked pork or chicken bones. I hated to just throw away the bones with all of that meat still on them.

My solution was to boil the bones, but not just that. I also decided that I would make a bean soup - the idea in my head was a kind of a Wendy-ized pork-n-beans.

So, I put a kettle filled with the bones and beans, and topped off with water on the back of the woodstove ... and I went to bed.

The beans slow-cooked all night. In the morning, I pulled out the bones and pork fat, tested the beans for doneness, and added some seasoning (wine vinegar, salt, garlic, cumin, and chili powder), and left the pot on the back of the woodstove, simmering, all day.

Then, I added cooked rice. The result is a rich, hearty bean and rice soup with bits of pork meat ... and it is delicious.

I can't wait until dinner.

And have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE cooking on my woodstove - even when I could cook on the electric stove in the kitchen ;).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

21 Days to Prepare - Day 11

In his insightful post, On the Eve of Prophecy, From a Squat in the Woods Miles Olson reminds us that death is the inevitable outcome of life, and while we're still here, we should just live ... as fully as is possible.

Like Thoreau, he advises we should suck the marrow out of life, and that, to me, is excellent advice.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Resiliency: It's Not Just a Catch Phrase; It's a Way of Life

Day 10 was my post on building resiliency into our lives to help us weather whatever may come.

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I have worked from home since 1998. In the early days of my home-work-life, I took the title of Virtual Assistant to describe what I do. Basically, a V.A. is a remote secretary. Most of my clients were (and still are) small business owners and/or self-employed entrepreneurs, and the work mostly involves typing/copywriting, transcription, Internet research, database construction and maintenance, and some website design and maintenance. My slogan has always been “I can do anything from my home office that an onsite secretary can do, except file” (as an added benefit to hiring someone like me, I could now add, “… with no federally mandated health benefits required”). Because I am an independent contractor, hiring me has worked out especially well for business people who don’t have an office space for me and/or only need occasional, temporary administrative work done.

One of my clients was a Human Resources Management Consultant, which means that he was be hired by organizations to evaluate their employee/employer relationships and help resolve any issues that the organization might be having. He was also a motivation speaker and author, and as I was occasionally hired to transcribe his talks or type his essays for the web, I learned a lot about the human resources world.

One of the hot topics in his writing had to do with workplace resiliency, which he defined as “a person’s capacity to handle difficulties, demands, and high pressure without becoming stressed”, and he explains why having this quality is not just important, but paramount to business success. Part of his job was to teach management how to cultivate this particular quality in their employees.

I was very fortunate to have that client, because even though furthering my knowledge and education was certainly not part of our contractual agreement, I did learn a lot about corporate culture – the good, the bad and the ugly – and in gaining those lessons, I was also more prepared for the kind of life that I see us careening toward, especially here in the US.

As my client told the managers with whom he worked, resilient employees are able to better handle the daily on-the-job trials, but his lesson isn’t just applicable to a workplace environment. In fact, the ability to “bounce back” and to adapt rather than react to the global changes we’ve been experiencing and (most experts agree) will continue to experience on an increasingly accelerated pace will be even more important in the days to come.

A key component to workplace resiliency (according to my client) lies in giving employees some control. He says, “The more control employees have over their work, the more they can handle heavy workloads, major organizational changes, and difficult pressure without becoming stressed.”

I maintain that this sentiment is even more applicable to our non-work daily lives. Those who have taken control over their daily needs are far more resilient when there are “major changes” in their lifestyles, and we’ve seen proof of this resiliency recently, even. During Hurricane Sandy, those who had prepared with some stored water, food and generators, not only didn’t panic, but also shared their bounty with their neighbors – like the guy who organized a movie-night-on-the-lawn that turned into a neighborhood block party and potluck dinner.

The typical, suburban lifestyle has rendered most of us impotent when it comes to survivability. We live in an environment in which every single daily need is trucked into us. Our clothes are manufactured in some foreign locale which most of us will only ever see in the movies. Our food comes from a grocery store whose shelves are stocked with products that are grown and/or processed hundreds or thousands of miles from where we purchase it. The electricity that we so value is produced in plants that can be hundreds of miles from where we live and may use a fuel (coal, oil or natural gas) that is mined on the other side of the world. The electricity is delivered using a decaying and vulnerable infrastructure that is, as we’re seeing, increasingly unreliable.

When things, like the economic hiccup of 2007, the roller-coaster ride of oil prices in 2008, and the increasingly more devastating storms since 2005, cause an interruption in deliveries of food or other services/supplies, we grow fearful and this fear leads to anger. We are afraid, because we can’t control what is happening.

Our suburban lifestyles have robbed us of any control we might once had, but the only way to get back control is to take it. Contrary to what we may believe, no matter one’s circumstances, one can have some degree of control with regard to meeting life’s basic necessities.

Back in the 1970s, when I was in junior high school, we learned in our social studies class that human beings needed three things to survive: clothing, water and food. Over the years, sociologists have added “love” as a basic necessity. I would amend “love” to “community”, and as humans are social animals, I would agree that community is paramount to our survivability as a species.

Interestingly, there was never any mention of electricity or gasoline powered anything on that list of things we need as humans to survive, and so, when we are working toward being more resilient, the things on which we should concentrate most heavily, especially if we’re just starting to work toward being more resilient, are ensuring that we can meet those three (or four) basic needs.

The first is clothing. With the proper clothes, survival is possible even when humans are exposed to the most extremes of temperature. I was impressed the other day by a man who was clearly living outside. I was in line behind him at a local bakery/deli, and what I noticed was his clothing. His heavy-duty military fatigue jacket – the familiar OD green that was worn by our soldiers during the Vietnam Era – was draped over a chair. He had on a vest with pockets (to store change and other things) over a flannel shirt, and probably several other layers, maybe including a thermal shirt, that I couldn’t see. His pants were wool, and he had a stout pair of walking shoes on his feet. It was pretty clear to me that he knew how to dress for spending more time outside than inside.

While most of us will never experience the trials of living without a roof, his example is a good one for us all to remember. Dressing appropriate to our climate makes us more resilient to fluctuations in both weather patterns and increasing fuel prices. Richard Proenneke lived, mostly alone, in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. In his documentary, there’s a scene in which he quips that his cabin is a “balmy 48°.” Most of us shudder to think of living “indoors” in a room that’s a mere 48°, but the fact is, with the right clothing, in particular, the right clothing material, we can live (not just survive) in temperatures that are significantly cooler than the 72° ambient temperature at which most of us try to keep our houses year round. People survived, nay THRIVED, in cold climates for centuries, without electricity or fossil fuels.

The second necessity is water. In the suburbs, most of us get our water from a municipal water supply. Anyone who has gone without water when a main breaks or who has had to boil water when the water supply has been contaminated, knows how vulnerable that source of water is. Since water is a very basic necessity for most living things, it’s pretty smart to be prepared in whatever small ways one can be. For those who can legally harvest rainwater, having a couple of 55 gallon food-grade barrels, or even four or five 5-gallon buckets (which can often be collected from bakeries at very low-cost or free) is a very good idea. At very least, having a two and a half gallon Brita water filter (that’s kept full at all times) on the counter is a good move. Any is better than none in an emergency.

Even though, of the things we need to survive, food is at the bottom of the list of essentials, it is the one that gets the most attention. We hear a lot about people starving, and even though water scarcity and a lack of clean water is a greater concern on a global scale than food scarcity, we hear more about hunger. Diarrhea, which is often a result of water-borne pathogens, is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of five, and ranks higher than malnutrition, which is number five..

That is not to say that food is not important, because it is, which is why it is such a concern, and why, those of us who live in the suburbs and rely on other people to grow and deliver our food, are becoming increasingly more fearful as food prices continue to increase. There is enough arable crop land worldwide to feed our population. The problem is that food has become a commodity, and the price and availability is controlled by those who have money. Those people send their food products to the place where they can get the most money for their wares, and invariably that place is the Western world.

Unfortunately, as the global economy continues to buckle and as significant climatic changes continue to wreak havoc on crop production, we find that we're not as able to produce as much food. Droughts and flooding have caused major crop failures, which has, in turn, driven the cost of food higher. In 2007 and 2008, there were significant and major crop failures which caused food prices to double and triple, resulting in food riots. In addition, industrial agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and as the price of oil per barrel increases, so does the price of the food that’s grown using 20th Century food production models.

The comforting fact is that anyone, anywhere, can grow food, especially those of us who are lucky enough to live in the suburbs. More than 60% of my quarter acre lot is being used in food production (my house and driveway comprise about 18% my lot and the septic tank and leach field take up most of the front yard). Even those living in HOAs can grow some small things, in containers on a deck, for instance, or planting edible perennials in place of the ornamentals. Those living in apartments don’t need to feel left out of food production, as even they can grow something. As with storing water, something is better than nothing. I am not one of those people who advocate storing up wheat berries in preparation for the end of the world as we know it, but having a few on hand is not a bad idea – but not for the reasons other people give. Wheat makes a really nice sprouted food. Wheat sprouts are sweet and highly nutritious. They can be used in salads, on sandwiches, and in soups. They can be juiced, and even made into a sprouted bread. For those who are gluten-free, there are plenty of other grains and seeds that can be sprouted, including things like broccoli and radish. Sprouting is simple, requires nothing more than a jar with a lid, some water, and a few seeds. It can be done year-round and doesn’t require any special lighting or temperature control.

Resiliency is about taking control. Over time, those of us living in the suburbs gave over our control, often so that we could make more money, but as things start costing more, as we become less or unemployed, as circumstances, like catastrophic weather events, further wrest control from our grasp, we need to be taking steps to insulate ourselves from those potentialities.

Knowing how to dress and having appropriate clothes will help us if we lose the ability to heat our homes. Knowing where to access some water will help us if the water supply is interrupted or contaminated. Growing, even just a few sprouts, will ensure that, in the face of increasing food prices and, potentially, limited food supplies, we won’t starve.

No one knows what our future holds. We could be moving toward even worse times than we have ever known, or things could snap right back to the lifestyles we Westerners enjoyed through the latter half of the twentieth century. Either way, having control over the very basic necessities of human survival (clothing, water, and food) will ensure that we are resilient enough to make it through. That fact is that even in booming economic times, I enjoy my garden and fresh sprouts during the winter, my favorite socks are wool, and water from my Brita just tastes better to me. In the end, it’s not about preparing for bad times, but rather about cultivating a lifestyle that allows us to be in control – no matter what happens.

Dropped the Ball; Picked It Back Up - 21 Days to Prepare

I dropped the ball on posting links to New Society Publisher's 21 Days to Prepare blog posts, and there have been some excellent ones, especially John's and Lisa's tomato sauce post. Sounds delicious, and a super easy and energy efficient way to store summer's bounty for later use. Check it out here: Try Something New for a Sunday Dinner. One of my favorite bloggers and fellow NSP author, John Michael Greer offers Peak Oil Advice from German Poets on day 8 of the countdown. On Day 7, Peter Bane discussed Permaculture: How I'm Preparing for a Local Future - a topic close to our hearts. Day 6 of the preparedness countdown was Cecile Andrews' great article, Conversation Skills You Needed Yesterday. Now, I'm caught up ... maybe I won't get behind again ;).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Beginning of the Gaian Calendar

Congratulations to Albert Bates, who has been awarded the Gaia Award for his work with developing sustainable communities and modeling sustainable lifestyles.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Things to do with Leftovers

Part of our Thanksgiving Harvest Dinner was Indian Corn Pudding that we made with corn we'd grown here on our nanofarm.

Whether fortunate or un- there was a bit of it leftover after dinner was done, and it went into the refrigerator, where too often, in our culture (or maybe, just my house), things go to get green and fuzzy. It really bothers me when I waste food, though, and so I do try very hard to keep the mold-growing experiments in my kitchen to a minimum. Over the past year or so, Deus Ex Machina has been taking most of our leftovers for his lunch at work, but some things that get leftover aren't as easily transformed into lunch as others.

After a week in the fridge, the pudding needed to be eaten by us or fed to the chickens, and so I decided to try to incorporate it into dinner. What I did was to slice it into strips, oven-fry it in almond oil (which is sweet), and then put it in a baggie with some powdered sugar.

The final result tasted a little like French Toast sticks - like the ones in the grocery store freezer section. For all my criticisms of the industrial food manufacturers, one does have to admire how well they've learned to flavor food-stuff so that even the pickiest of kids will eat that-which-should-not-be-eaten. If my "corn pudding fritters" are any indication, however, I may have stumbled upon the secret myself. Mine were a bit chewier, because of the corn, but very tasty, and there were no leftovers this time.

And I'm just thrilled that I was able to use something from the fridge before it grew fuzz.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Building Awareness of Your Surroundings

Do you stock-up on lots and lots of stuff in your preparedness efforts?

Or do you think it's smarter to learn a bunch of stuff?

In the fourth of New Society Publishers, 21 day count-down series of preparedness articles, our own Deus Ex Machina argues that without one final piece of the puzzle, neither the hoarders nor the know-it-alls will have enough. In order to have that crucial final piece, he states that you have to Build Awareness of Your Surroundings.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Collecting Rainwater

In an extreme survival situation, shelter is the first priority, and then water, but we need not be in an extreme survival situation to be smart about making sure we have an adequate and reliable supply of both.

In the third article of the 21 Day series, Collecting Rainwater, New Society Publishers author, Albert Bates, outlines how to set-up a rain barrel ... and even more importantly, why we should ... today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know it ... Or Is It?



From the New Society Publisher's Blog:

With the turn of the Mayan calendar fast approaching there is much speculation about what this means for humankind and the planet we inhabit. Theories range from this being the end of the world (and if this is the case, well, there isn’t much to prepare for…keep your loved ones close and throw a party) to radically disrupted climate and polarity, causing much destruction…or at least an interruption in the use of electronic devices.

More hopefully, it may signal a shift in consciousness; the term “Apocalypse” actually means “lifting of the veil” or “revelation.” Best-case scenario sees us headed into a collective turn away from the destructive path humans have been hell bent on following, towards a new, enlightened and caring species.

Whatever the outcome, John Ivanko suggests, what about offering readers tips for preparing? And we thought, well who better to help people prepare than New Society Publishers’ authors? Thanks, John, for a great idea!

In the spirit of Wendy Brown’s excellent book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs, we’d like to post 21 days of blogs outlining how people can prepare for an unknown crisis that may leave them without access to food, water, shelter, power, or medical aid. This will include anything from how to create a first aid kit, how to cook a great meal on your woodstove or solar oven, foods to forage for, how to poo in the woods, even advice on how to stay calm in a crisis situation. And although these sound like serious situations, we are not adverse to lightheartedness; a little laughter in the face of adversity may well be another way to prepare!

Our intention is not to create fear nor mock anyone’s belief system, but to use the occasion to offer some basic “life skills” to people. Because even if nothing happens on December 21, with natural disasters and climate-related wild weather, not to mention economic and social collapse at the door, these are tools that belong in everyone’s kit as we continue to learn the critical importance of resilience and adaptation. And if we are at all successful people will stop viewing them as simply survival skills and see them as life skills.

So we hope you will embark on this journey with us as we explore the various ways we can prepare for the unknown. And in the spirit of staying calm in a crisis situation, well a fitting song can do more to quash fears and raise spirits than any pill a doctor could prescribe. Don't panic. Just press play (...while you still can).


For the next three weeks, I will be posting links to New Society Publisher's blog posts ....

Today's post, entitled It'll All Turn Out in the End. Or Will It? , is by Ellen Laconte author of Life Rules: Nature's Blueprint for Surviving Economic and Environmental Collapse.

Enjoy!