Monday, November 16, 2009

Good Morning, Friend-Citizen. Welcome to the Informal Economy.

Boy, I really do have a lot of catching up to do here, don't I? *pffff* It was nice to finally get back over here to write--quite cathartic--and I got lots of encouragement to keep doing it. And heck, my last post got picked up by Sharon Fricking Astyk (HOLYCRAPOMGWTFBBQ), so I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now. Believe it or not, I have been getting a lot done. Not so much things done on that list you see over on the right side of the page (ah well), but plenty of other things. As I said way back in my early posts, I feel that I am trying to prepare my family for two different basic events: a long emergency, and short-term emergencies. I'd thought there wasn't really any middle ground between those; if you're prepared for both, you've got the middle ground covered, right? Well, as it happens.... yes, that's right. Go me.

The middle ground emergency I'd not been figuring on (why I can't imagine, since I knew it was coming) is long term unemployment. By "long term" I pretty much mean over 1-3 months. I have no idea if that's the proper definition, or if there is a proper definition (of course there is). Who cares--my blog, my definition, over 1-3 months. There. Anyway. Both my husband and I are out of work, and received our last paycheck at the end of July (and had our medical benefits cut off at the end of August). My husband, thankfully, does qualify for a decent size unemployment benefit, and I'm working on it for myself. ($143/week, before taxes! Katy bar the door!) We do have savings, but without unemployment, we'd be drinking it through a straw right now. Blessedly, my children qualify for state medical coverage, so I no longer have to have panic attacks if they want to go roller skating or climb a tree. Overall, the process hasn't been too bad, although the unemployment process was designed by tripping bureaucrats who like to fondle their slide rulers. There's still a big, red "STOP! YOU MUST FILL OUT ALL INFORMATION ON THIS LINK!" sign on my unemployment homepage. I've followed that link at least 100 times, have filled out every blank I can find on it, and it won't go away. I've even called the office, and they said to ignore it (which I am just positive is the wrong thing to do). Fortunately, I've got a friend on the inside--er, rather, she's on the outside now but knows folks on the inside--and she might be able to help me out. Can you believe, she was laid off from the unemployment office? How's that for irony?

But I digress--quelle surprise. I've got plenty to say about what prep-work I'd done for us before unemployment hit, and how much good it's done us (read: one helluva lot!), but I wanna discuss something different. You see, today, or perhaps yesterday if you trust my Facebook posts, I officially entered the Informal Economy. Back in your dad's day it was probably called "under the table work", but that's so old fashioned, and has such interesting resonances now that we have more inventive porn movies, that I prefer the new moniker. You must admit, it sounds impressive, yes? The Informal Economy. And in fairness, it's also much broader of a thing than being paid under the table, or "off books", though that can certainly play a role.

The Informal Economy as I understand it (and do recall the discussion above about my blog, my definition--it's good to be the Queen) is basically the economy that doesn't show up on our GDP. It's a loose confederation of people, goods, and services, and their relative worth to each other, all chugging along blithely ignoring things like the DOW, or the Core Consumer Price Index, or reputable business attire. It's my baked goods that someone else wants, and who has lots of yarn and is willing to work a deal. It's my dairy class, that I can run in exchange for cash or services. Its my friend's hand-knit socks, which she is currently valuing at one week of cat-sitting. In college it was one hour of backrubs per double-A battery. Or, and this is the one where I've really taken the plunge, it's the eco-cleaning service you run because you have the time and flexibility (unemployment does confer some benefits) and need money.

You have friends, and they need something--a loaf of bread, a clean living room for the holidays, a hand-knit dead fish hat (of course I'm not making that up), some firewood. You have one or more of those things, and you need your computer devirused, or your car tuned up, or some cash, or your cats sat on. The informal economy exists in the space where all of these things meet. Slowly things bleed out, so that you're not just dealing with friends anymore, and that's fine. It maintains its own boundary conditions, just because if whatever you're up to gets too big, it becomes unwieldy and unmanageable, and you scale back (or, in some cases, politely dressed gentlemen from an acronymed government agency start asking hard questions about the street value of bread). So you keep it small.

It is both a delightful and a precarious place to be. It's liberating in its way--no doubt about that. Of course, it has nothing that looks like job security, either. And unless you are a very rare person indeed, you probably can't make ends meet just in the informal economy right now. Plus, the IE (I'm tired of typing it out over and over) puts its own demands on you, and you can lose out quickly. Didn't get that bread done in time? You just lost your 1-out of-5 bread customers, and more importantly, you lost their recommendation. Got a paying job that's putting constraints on you? Which one gives? If you're like most sane people, its the IE that takes a back seat.

BUT, for all that, it also offers jobs where there aren't any. Businesses don't have the margin to hire anyone, but their employees could sure use their living rooms cleaned while they're at work. Don't have the money to start a bakery? Of course you don't, who does? So you start a "bread share" with a limited number of folks, and add that to your minimum wage job and get by.

The IE is the natural response to a job market strained beyond the breaking point--it's water flowing over, around and under the dam. It's paradoxical in that it provides evidence for the libertarian notion of "the market will provide" but it does so by going outside of the Market because the Market is NOT providing. And it by no means covers all bases. I've yet to meet a doctor that is willing to barter open heart surgery for bread and a car tune-up (although I suspect "off book" surgeries are going to start happening soon). If The Economy does go pear shaped, there are probably a lot of goods and services that are just gonna go bye-bye. But even if it doesn't--and the Fed & Treasury are currently running neck and neck with biblical literalists in their willingness to do backflips to maintain their system--the IE is still there to take the strain off of the main economy.

So, as you can see, I'm just doing my part as a patriotic American to help our economy limp along until... um... something happens. So, anyone need their living room cleaned?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just shut up and obey.

Ah, long time, no post. Sorry for the radio silence over here. We're in the middle of a rough patch right now--same rough patch that either 9.6% or 17% (depending on your source) is in, so nothing unusual. We're jobless right now, which is both making it difficult to work on Adapting in Place, and at the same time making me very grateful that I have been working on Adapting in Place. More on that later, though. Right now, snark!

Currently, myself and many of my friends are on varying forms of state aid. Taking public assistance is a daunting thing to do, generally incredibly depressing, and just all around no fun. Many perfect strangers are happy to criticize you for your dependence, regardless of the fact that they have no idea what your actual situation is.

With this in mind, I've compiled a simple list of rules (or perhaps, "guidelines") to help minimize the embarrassment and discomfort of taking public assistance. This list has been created based on my own experience and the experience of friends. Please note that contravening any rule in any way does grant legal rights for every person who sees you to judge you (out loud or, if desired, in print) on any or all of the following: your lifestyle choices, your parenting, your personal hygiene, your laziness, your education, your intellect, your lack of patriotism/apparent Frenchness, your very existence as signaling the certain decline and fall of our entire civilization, or any other topic of choice. So please do be careful out there!

The Rules:

1. Don't be dirty. Present yourself in as hygenically-perfect a condition as possible. You should have no visible dirt on your person (including fingernails), clean and well-kept hair, freshly-laundered clothes, no rumples, etc. This goes double-extra mega for children. Any signs of uncleanliness in your children could be considered grounds for busybody supermarket shoppers to call DFS on you.
2. Don't be clean. But remember, you are poor. You shouldn't be able to afford things like shampoo, or fresh laundry, etc. If you're too clean, you are obviously wasting the taxpayers money on frivolities. Do nothing to breach the carefully-maintained prejudices of the public who believe that people on assistance are dirty, lazy slackers who really enjoy living on $250 per week.
3. Never engage in any luxury activity at all, ever. Remember, you are currently taking public aid, which means of course that you must never, ever, find any way to enjoy your life that costs any amount of money at all. Do not ever do any of the following: go to movies, rent movies, go to the theatre, go to a restaurant, take your children to amusement/skating/other fun activities, or anything else that might cost money. You are poor--you don't deserve a moment's enjoyment of life. If you did deserve it, you wouldn't be poor, right?
3a. In addition to money-costing activities, also remember that free activities that you might enjoy are also forbidden. Every moment you are enjoying yourself is a moment you are not spending trying to find a job, keep a job, find another job, or find a third/fourth job. Obviously this must be your only focus. As such, all of the following activities are also forbidden: walks in the park, taking children to the playground, having a picnic, sitting on your porch with friends, visiting family, going to parties, etc.
4. Never possess any item which could be construed as you spending money. This rule is a bit confusing, so examples might serve well here: do not let your SIL give you a manicure for your birthday, or fix your hair in any fancy way. Do not dress in business clothes, even purchased secondhand. Do not borrow your parents/in-laws nice car to go to run errands. Never dress your children in the expensive clothing purchased for them as gifts by loving relatives. Do not use public aid to buy your child a birthday cake and soda, which was the only thing they asked for for their birthday. Obviously, if an upstanding, tax-paying citizen sees you in a grocery store with nicely done nails & hair, driving a nice car, and buying a cake and soda, they are entitled to decry loudly (and post everywhere possible online) how abusive you are being of the system. Just because they have no idea how or why you have these things is no excuse--it is your responsibility as a poor person to never make taxpayers have to think about, well, much of anything.
4a. To maintain the personal moral indignation of the taxpayer to our situations, it is acceptable to on occasion breach rule #4 in limited fashion. This allows the taxpayer to continue with their prejudices, which is crucial for our status quo.
5. Only purchase things deemed appropriate by the surrounding consumers. Again, the guiding principle here is that you are poor, and obviously incapable of making educated decisions (otherwise, again, you wouldn't be poor now, would you?). You must only buy products that other tax-paying people think are appropriate. As this can vary somewhat sharply by area, it is often helpful to pass out a brief questionnaire to other shoppers before attempting to shop yourself.
6. Maintain an acceptable number of children. This number will vary between zero and 4, depending on your location--please find out what is appropriate for your own area. But the core here is that, as a poor person, and a person on public assistance, it is inappropriate for you to make childbearing decisions on your own. Poor people attempting to actually bear and raise children is considered an unconscionable affront in many places. It is immaterial that poor people are just as capable as taxpayers of raising happy, well-mannered, well-educated children. In our society, poverty is a sign of moral failing--if you can't buy your child a PS3, what business do you have raising children at all? If you need help paying the cost of children, no matter how loving and wonderful parent you might be, and no matter how unlikely it will ever be that you'll be in "an appropriate financial position" to have children, you must not do so. If you already have children, use various methods for hiding them while in public.

If you follow these simple rules, you should lead exactly the joyless, grinding, depressing life you are meant to lead, while simultaneously having any sense of self-worth or pride expunged from you forever. Remember, if you work very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very hard, you may be able to get a job that will allow you to pay taxes, and then you can decry all the other people on public assistance for not "taking every opportunity to get yourself out of that mess like I did!" If you work even harder than that, you might someday be able to afford your own health insurance!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why I don't like horror movies

Despite the title of this entry, I love horror movies. I always have. These days, what with all of the adapting and such going on, and of course with the children around, I don't get to indulge too often. But I've been a horror film fan for probably far longer than is really healthy. I remember watching the Saturday Night Shockers (on KTVI Channel 11--St. Louis!) when I was only 6 years old. Certainly not healthy.

So anyway, I love horror films. Real ones, too. Sure, the dippy "high school horror" flicks that were all the rage at the end of the 90's are fun (think Scream), but I love the atmospheric mind-f*cks. Jacob's Ladder, Blair Witch Project, Paperhouse and so on. Movies that make you question your grip on reality. I seem to particularly enjoy Japanese horror, and in fact my favorite video game series of all time is Silent Hill (man, that game will seriously mess with you).

Okay, so why am I discussing my apparent love/hate relationship with horror films on a blog about adapting to a low-power future? Bear with me, I'm getting there.

So for the past week, my parents have had the kids at their family farm. This has left my husband and I with more free time, and more ways of using it, than we are really used to. So, we decided that we'd have a horror-movie night! Yes! Great idea. All kinds of awesome horror flicks have come out in the past few years that we'd missed, now is our chance, right? So we rent The Ring and Sweeney Todd (okay, ST isn't really a horror, but you have to admit, it fits with the atmosphere).

The Ring is everything I love, or maybe "loved", in a horror film. Relatively little overt blood & guts, most of the real horror is left to the imagination. Surreal use of graphic effects, disjoint atmosphere, just general downright creepiness. Compelling villain. Interesting backstory. Actual plot. Real evil. Perfect. The adrenaline pumped. Gasps were had. Brief moments of pure fear, tempered by the fact that this is all happening on a TV screen. The film resolved in a fairly straighforward fashion, not answering all questions (by a long shot), but letting you off the hook for worrying about the protagonists, for the time being at least. When the movie was over, I had that classic, slightly strung-out, pleasantly jumpy feeling endemic to me watching decent horror flicks.

I hated it.

What went wrong? The movie was great, and right up my alley. I reacted to it in, more or less, the same way I always react to that sort of movie. Despite the movie's best efforts to break the fourth wall and make you confuse reality with the film, I had no delusions that what had happened in the movie had even a vague chance of happening in the real world. That is--I wasn't still scared, the scared part was done. So why hadn't I enjoyed this experience which, in my past life, I'd always loved?

At some point in the discussion of the film (as my husband and I are oft want to do--we are philosophers, after all), I realized what had gone wrong. It's true that I wasn't scared of what happened in the film happening in the real world. But rather, my physiological reaction to the fear in the film (the adrenaline, heart pumping, etc.) is the same physiological reaction I have to many horrors in my now-everyday life. Contemplating an end to cheap oil--and what that means to our society--inspires the same heart-pumping adrenaline shot. Thinking about how I will feed my children when the shelves are bare and the zombies are coming inspires a level of fear that even Paperhouse cannot attain. Thinking about my community, unprepared, breaking down at every level, leaving people with no net, no hope, brings nausea. These feelings pass; it's not like I'm constantly walking around in a state of perpetual fear. But when I take a moment to really think about these things, the fear is paralyzing, and the physiological reaction is predictable.

It's the same physiological effect I get when I watch horror films. Or, to put it in a more salient way, I can no longer disambiguate my physiological reaction to horror movies from my reaction to real life. Sure, I get that the movies are fiction, but they inspire the same sickening, clammy-skinned reaction I have now when contemplating my children's starvation. That's not fun. That's just no kind of fun.

I'm a little annoyed by this. I would really like to have my horror movies back, unmolested by associations with real-world poverty, real-world pain, real-world horror. I want to go back to my previous innocence, so that I can enjoy horror movies again. But I guess my life has become too horrific for me to be able to enjoy horror. Perhaps I'll go through a middle-aged goth period (similar to my early-20's one), where I sort of go straight through horror and came out the other side, able to enjoy it again, but in a cynical, cold, detached way. Not really the same thing.

Maybe someday I'll get my horror films back. But for now, I think that Sweeney Todd will have to be the farthest I travel down that road.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We have a cistern!

No, for real, we do! It just amazes me what one can discover about the house one has lived in for almost five years now.

Actually, when we bought the house we didn't know we had a cistern. However, after a couple of years and idle chat about having one put in, we finally put 2 & 2 together (the first "2" = the big manhole-like cover of a hole in our basement with all the floors sloping towards it; the second "2" = well, just us being dense, I guess). However, for some reason I'd thought that the cistern had been filled in. Now, while it might be cheaper to just kill a weekend with a shovel & some rope digging out an old cistern than having a new one installed, it still wasn't my idea of a good time.

But today I went down to the deep freeze to grab out some stuff and actually looked at the hole (why had I never done this before?). The hole is very firmly covered and secured by thick wood--which is a good thing--but one piece of wood had come off and so I looked in.

No fill. Just hole.


One of the big concerns we've had for some time is how to get water during emergencies, or for if/when our city can no longer afford the cost of water treatment. We're surrounded by water that we could always just go & get with buckets, but even on fairly strict water rationing, most families use at least 10-20 gallons a day. Average usage is closer to 100 gallons/day. Don't believe this? Do two experiments. First, if your kitchen faucet doesn't indicate otherwise, it's probably about a 2.5 gal/minute faucet. Do your dishes and time how long it took (if you're like most Americans, you leave the water running the whole time). Yeah. And that was just on dishes. Second experiment, go get your water bill and look.

So anyway, hauling anything between 10-100 gallons of water every farking day just doesn't sound like a good time either. We've got rain barrels, three of 'em actually, that each hold ~50 gallons and refill quite efficiently. That would probably keep us in water for a bit, assuming no devastating dry spells.

But. There's a hole in our basement, dear Liza, dear Liza. There's a hole in our basement, dear Liza, a hole!

So now, there are several things to do. First, determine whether or not we're even staying here. My husband has not yet landed a job (although it's still early in the teaching cycle, so we're not panicky yet--yet). Even without a job, we might try and stay and find make-work. Or we might give it up as a failed project and move out to the family farm. If we move, well, I'm not throwing $$$ into fixing up a part of our house that any potential buyer will likely regard as "a hole in the basement". Assuming we do stay, however, we would need to get the cistern inspected, and I suspect have it lined or cleaned somehow. We would need to create a way to channel our rainwater into it (this should be pretty easy, as our basement floor slopes down toward it already), and we'll need some way to deal with overflow. We would also need a pump. In an ideal world, we'd also have a way to get it into our hot water heater, but frankly if we're using the cistern heavily, I suspect the hot water heater will be a distant memory. We've already got a Berkey water filter, which can handle more or less any nasty thing we might put into it, so we're good for clean water.

This might actually be doable.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our edible landscape

Well, now that the whole "teaching thing" is done and over, I can get back to my life as a blogger--er, I mean, gardener and urban adaptionist (I just coined that term--it works, doesn't it?). I've noticed of late that my outdoor life is sliding steadily toward the "edible landscape" end of the spectrum. My basic criteria for planting something has always been that it must either (1) be edible; (2) be advantageous to those things which are edible; or (3) be in a place essentially impossible to plant anything edible in (e.g., the 3" deep built-in flower boxes on the north side of our house). But now this has taken something of a turn; I've begun to actively remove things that are already in place which do not meet these requirements, replacing them with things that do.

For example, let's look at the new blueberry bushes I just got (along with some landscape fabric, custom organic fertilizer and detailed planting instructions, all for $10 each bush--did I mention that I was completely taken for a ride on my first $30 blueberry bush purchase?!). These will be replacing the five boxwood shrubs currently sitting happily in front of our house. The boxwoods look nice, they are nearly no maintenance, and they fill the space and block the view of our concrete foundation. And I'm replacing them with a plant that is about as finicky as they come, with stringent pH requirements and watering & drainage needs, pruning requirements, and which will probably never block the view of the foundation. And I'm paying for it. And yet, this all seems perfectly logical, because at the end of the day, I will have blueberries. Well, at least, I will probably have blueberries, if I can keep up with the pH, water, drainage, and pruning requirements. Hmmm.

Blueberry bushes are nice looking, don't get me wrong. Or at least, they probably will be in a couple of years. Probably. The only reason I'm reasonably sure my neighbors won't hate me for destroying their property values are (1) at least half of them are currently racing me for getting chickens first; and (2) forces other than me have already done far more damage to property values than my wee little bushes could ever dream of doing.

I've also now planted three grape vines, and am struggling to learn The Art of the Grape Pruning. Why does every plant on the planet that needs to be pruned need to be pruned in an entirely different manner, with different tools, aiming at different goals? Is this some kind of subtle perverse joke on the part of the divine that we just haven't seen yet? Cut back only new growth; cut back only old growth; only allow two canes at a time; never cut back to fewer than five canes; cut mid-branch for shape; cut at the node for healing; prune in fall before dormancy; prune in spring before leafing out; prune in spring but not before leafing out. WTF, people? And don't even get me started on the apricot tree on our property. Whoever owned the house before us had the poor thing topped. It's now a hopeless mass of scraggly branches that cannot possibly support the amount of fruit it sets. Pruning of the most aggressive order might be able to bring it back into useful production, but I'm still over here struggling with my one-year-old grapes & blueberries, okay?

We are also approaching the Season of the Assessments. (And, judging by this post, we've also entered the Season of the Over-Used Capitalized Made-Up Proper Names.) Pretty soon things like berries and early greens will become available in mass quantities, which means canning, freezing and dehydrating, oh my! And that means figuring out how much to can, freeze and/or dehydrate. And that means figuring out how much I canned or froze last year (I hardly dehydrated anything), and if it was enough, not enough, or too much. Why buy a bushel of peaches when I still have half a bushel of peaches from last year's bushel purchase in the freezer? That's a clue that a bushel is too much, ya know.

I will also take this opportunity to look at our eating habits, and how they can be adjusted to eat more completely out of our stores, rather than out of the store. I might have some fairly impressive food storage going on here, but I still go to the store weekly. Why is that? What can I adjust to pare that down? So in my food storage assessment will be thinking about why I didn't use a full bushel of peaches. Could I have? Should I have? Did I make various desserts or jams out of things I bought from the store, when there were perfectly usable peaches right downstairs?

And, of course, I will be assessing the quality of my food storage. For example, the potatoes went beautifully. They're only now starting to give up the ghost. The apples, OTOH, were an unmitigated disaster. What happened? I need to figure that out. And where were my other root crops? Or winter squash? Gotta look into these things. Where were my gaps? What could I have done better? What methods of storage worked particularly well--or particularly poorly--with which veg or fruit? Yes, all this in more will be in store in upcoming posts.

I am becoming increasingly paranoid about the state of our economy. The behavior of the stock market seems to have taken leave of any reference to on-the-street economic conditions, or indeed with reality itself. As discussed in The Automatic Earth, there was an interview with a major stock analyst who said that he sees a recovery for our economy in late 2009-early 2010. Then, in the same paragraph, he said that he didn't have any particular ideas for what the engine of recovery would be. So what, exactly, is this belief in recovery based on? Pure faith? Tarot cards? What? I love me some tarot cards, but I try not to gauge the movement of world economies with them, ya know. And the useful economic data (i.e., not the stock market) is bleaker than hell. We're now well embedded in the deflationary cycle, which is the sort of thing that wakes up most economists in the middle of the night in cold sweats. So while I would love to have more time to prepare my family and my methods, I'm genuinely concerned that we're about out, and this is our last go. So let's hop to it, shall we?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New List Item--Blueberries!

I just got in contact with a local farmer (who I know tangentally, and with whom I had once traded some extra strawberry crowns for some thornless blackberry canes). He has lots of blueberry bushes left, and at a killer price! I bought one bush at a local nursery for $30 (eesh, I cannot believe I paid that much for a plant). Aaron will sell me one bush for $12, or two for $20. Woot! So now, all five bushes in front of my house are going to be yanked, and replaced with lovely, nice-looking, food-giving bushes. Furthermore, by getting five bushes, I'm getting one of each of his varieties--early, early-mid season, mid, mid-late, and late. So probably 10, maybe even 12, weeks of blueberries. YEAH! So I guess I'll be putting those bushes in, what, after the cookies but before the new hot water system?

I'm really getting into this whole edible-landscaping thing. Can you tell? In other news, I've erected several... er... trellises? Trelliseas? Trellisae? Can I get a plural on that? ;-) Okay, back to grading!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The List

Well, for those of you who know me, you know that I am currently adjuncting at one of our local Universities. I've got two classes worth of finals sitting on my couch right now, which is probably why I'm sitting here typing. I've noticed, over the past few days of grading, that I have an ever-growing list of "things that I'm gonna do once I'm done with my grading." It's worth mentioning that this list starts almost immediately after grades are due at noon on Tuesday. So far, it looks something like this:
  • Tues, 2:30: pick up Alex from school, make chocolate-oatmeal cookies (at the request of Alex & Ian--I'll just have to figure out what "chocolate oatmeal cookies" actually are)
  • Mulch in the entire side-garden for more medicinal herbs
  • Mulch the current herbs
  • Plant my new herbs from the local herb fair in pots (the ones that go in the ground are already there--I had to de-stress from grading, after all)
  • Sweep up the ghastly mess of little branches & rotting leaves that are all that remain of The Evil Gumball Tree. Put leaves in leaf mold pile (which I built a couple of days ago). Sticks will go... um... well, we'll figure that out later, now won't we?
  • Clean the ever-lovin' bejezus out of my house. It has been Far. Too. Long.
  • Finish up the rain barrels, which I've got mostly installed now.
  • Probably take some pictures of all of this for the blog.
  • Get some vegetable glycerin to make kid-friendly herbal tinctures. It's not that the kids would ingest so much alcohol if I just used vodka-based tinctures (probably no more than half a teaspoon for an entire formula dose). But something about sending my 7-year-old to school smelling of Smirnoff seems like a bad idea.
  • Bar-b-que. Yeah.
  • Look into making a really awesome solar water heater predicated on long loops of black hose slung up on my roof.
  • Finally write that "bug-out bag/bucket" post I've been swearing I'll write for so long now.
So that should get me through till Friday, right? *smirk*

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My reaction to Swine Flu

Well, everyone else gets to have a reaction to the current situation, so I want one, too! Here it is:

I think that there are some vast overreactions on both sides--in typical American form, we seem to only have two response options. On the one hand, there are people holing up already, stocking Tamiflu and face masks, and having nearly no contact with the outside world. At this stage, I think this is an overreaction (although I'll admit I'm not sure what my own criteria are for when this switches to a reasonable reaction).

On the other hand, I'm seeing lots of folks complaining that "it's all overblown!" and "we have the flu every year--shut up already!". They either don't understand, or don't believe, the various features of this flu being importantly different from other types of flu, and that they need to be tracked. By the time you know you have a pandemic on your hands, it's already too late. I've recently seen websites pointing out that one's own family is extremely unlikely to contract swine flu. Where this data is coming from I can't imagine, since currently no one knows how likely or unlikely anyone is to contract it. The last time a particularly virulent strain of this virus jumped species, it affected an estimated 20% of the world population. It's true that only .5-1% of the population actually died from this flu, but that hardly means that we can all rest easy that we're unlikely to be hurt by it. A flu with that level of virulence places a moral demand on everyone to do what they can to minimize it's spreading. We don't know if this new virus will be similarly virulent, but it is incumbent on everyone to pay attention and take appropriate precautions. "It is highly unlikely to affect me" just doesn't fly with infectious diseases, and I think it is a morally suspect position.

As far as I can see, this is a form of flu that has jumped species once before, but in a different form (where the previous jump was utterly disastrous). This makes two things very likely: first, because it's the flu, it's probably highly infectious (which it has now been shown to be). Second, because it has jumped species, it is unlikely that humans have evolved resistances to it. We may have some increased resistance left from the previous jump, which would be good, but it wouldn't take much of a mutation to render that fairly useless--note how it's already quite infectious despite any latent resistance, while currently having a fairly low fatality rate, possibly due to latent resistance.

To me, nationally/internationally, the only sane thing to do is to make people as aware as possible of the disease and what reasonable precautions one can take, while also carefully tracking its progress and any mutations; developing vaccines & better medications (which, one can only hope, will be made available to the poor who are likely to be hit disproportionately) seems sane, too. This is not overreaction--it is the sane and best method our medical community has for coping with a potential pandemic. At state/community levels, watch for signs of it in your own area, and change behavior as necessary. It is not only reasonable to quarantine oneself in the face of a potential pandemic occurring in your community, it may well be a moral requirement for the protection of yourself and others. The more people that contract the virus, the more chances it has to infect others, and the more opportunities it has to mutate into something truly nasty (if it hasn't already). If it's not in your community yet, taking standard flu precautions (i.e., good hygiene, staying out of crowded areas, minimizing handshaking, etc.) seems sane to me. For family level, not freaking out is probably good, but so is paying attention to what's happening and not pretending that it just won't affect you so you don't have to worry about it. Try to make sure that you've got food in the pantry in the event that you can't/shouldn't go to the store for awhile. Ramp up the handwashing/hygiene stuff. In my family, we've ramped up our echinacea & elderberry intake, and I'm trying to make sure that our kids get enough sleep. We're not really restricting other activities yet, but we might in the near future. OTOH, we rarely do things that would trip concerns--although B is planning on going to a party tonight.

We have a new strain of a potentially dangerous flu on our hands--one that was devastating in the past. We have a global/highly-mobile community that has essentially already spread it from one side of the globe to the other in short order. We also have incredibly effective communications & tracking abilities, and vastly superior immunological methods today. If we pay honest attention to the problem, I think we have a good chance of averting disaster. Of course, every disaster we avert makes the population that much more complacent, so maybe getting kicked in the pants (at least a little bit) would be a good thing.

Them's my $.02.

Robyn M. in Indiana--with one confirmed case of Swine Flu, but over 200 miles away

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hey all you Urban Gardeners!

Get yer butts over to The Urban Garden Project and JOIN UP! Stand up and be counted! The only requirements are that you are gardening (and yes, containers on your balcony count) within the city limits, so get to it!

And, in other Adapting news, my neighbor and I are getting dangerously close to getting chickens. "Close" meaning that we've been emailing each other design plans for various coops.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What, you don't stick your seeds to toilet paper, too?

Allow me to introduce you to a most delightful invention, the seed tape:

Okay, in all honesty, this is more of a seed "sheet" than seed tape, but the principle is the same. There is a real seed tape near the top of the photo, which is simply seeds in one row, rather than in lots of rows. Depends on how you want to plant, I s'pose.

Anyway, here's the idea: you take some kind of paperish product--something that will degrade very quickly--and you stick seeds to it. Then you put that in your garden, cover it with soil to an appropriate depth, water, and be done with it. As you see above, I've chosen to use toilet paper (unbleached recycled stuff), which will obviously degrade very quickly indeed. You probably can use regular paper, but I'd worry about if it's been bleached (which in all likelihood it has). Newspaper would probably work a treat, too. I stuck the seeds down using a thick mixture of flour & water. I've heard tell that cornstarch works well, too, and I even saw recommendations for Elmer's glue. Now, I doubt there'd be any problems with using actual glue, but something about putting that stuff in my garden put me off. So I went with flour.

Anyway, I stole one of my kid's watercolor paintbrushes and dabbed the flour-water mixture at appropriate intervals for the seeds I was planting. In this case, 1" intervals, as I was seeding carrots. I then dropped 1-2 seeds per splotch, continued till the whole sheet was covered, and set it aside to dry. If you want tapes instead of sheets, just cut them apart once dry. Anyway, when completely dry (and I do me completely--just imagine what would happen if the sheets stuck to each other! Disaster!), I rolled them up and set them aside until ready to plant.

Okay, so why did I do this? Well, partially because I have a perverse desire to have the only perfectly spaced carrots in the city. But mostly because, well, if you've ever seeded carrots yourself, you'll probably understand the appeal of the tape method. No hunching over a garden bed, achingly spacing eensy-teensy seeds 1" apart from each other for row after row after row after row after.... No one really makes it that far, either. Most folks get, like, maybe two rows into this hellish process before they just say F*CK IT and start sprinkling seeds down the rows. This leads to the obvious problems of overseeding in some patches, underseeding in others, lots and lots of thinning, stunted carrots, wasted space, broken back, dogs & cats living together... anarchy. Nope, anarchy must be averted--order will be imposed. I sat at my kitchen table, listening to a movie playing in the other room, no hunched back, and worked for a few hours on and off finishing my sheets. Planting them took like two minutes. Tops.

I don't think this process is worthwhile if you have larger seeds--like beet or bean seeds--or if you're planting small squares, a la Square Foot Gardening. But if you're planting lots and lots of fiddling teeny seeds in 1" spacing over 16 square feet? Well, f*ck that. I'll make a tape, thanks.

EDIT: Oh yeah, do notice that 1" spacing really is too close for fully-grown carrots. That's why you wait for them to start growing well, and then you thin out all the baby carrots, which are a yummy, yummy delight! So, no major veggicide (read: thinning; although if you seed two seeds per splotch you will have to do a little bit of veggicide), you get baby carrots, and the baby carrots you pull help loosen up the soil to let the remaining carrots penetrate more easily, preventing stunted carrots. Man, there is just no downside here...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Multi-media SOTG Report

Yay! I'm finally at home, at the computer with the relevant pictures, and possessing at least a little bit of spare time. Or, to put it another way, there are lots of other things happening in my house right now, but they can be getting on without my help for the time being. Mostly anyway. So, on to the garden!

Here are the babies in their nursery. Fresh, new florescent lights go a long way towards having healthy, stocky little seedlings (rather than the spindly, pathetic-looking, falling-over hopeless seedlings I've grown in the past). The top pic are my spring broccolis; the second are all of my brassicas--broccoli, cabbage, kale and, um, celery. (Okay, celery isn't a brassica. Fine.)

Here's the beginning--my 4'x4' square garden boxes. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm trying this out for the first time this year, so I went el-cheapo on materials. I didn't want to sink $100 on a project I didn't end up liking very much, ya know? So these are all untreated 1"x8" pine boards which I banged together with some drywall nails I had laying around. Now that they are in fact being used, and have begun to warp slightly with the damp, I see that using a couple of screws would've been beneficial for a more secure joining, but I don't think it'll be a big deal this year.

Step two! The boxes are in, and the remaining beds have been made. The circular garden you see is my children's "pizza garden". They decided they wanted to plant carrots, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and some flowers. Now, the weird paper & dirt things. That's my pathway lining. I put down layers of newspaper, and covered it with mulch. What you see in the above picture are just handfulls of mulch to hold the paper down while I was laying everything out (it was verra verra windy that day).

And here we see the garden in it's mostly finished state. Of course, not nearly all my plants are in yet--we've got another two weeks till the frost free date here. But there's a good number. The white sheets are floating row cover, or frost blankets depending on whom you ask. I have them covering my brassicas to protect them from The Evil Cabbage Worm. Broc & cabbage don't require fertilization, and the cover lets in nearly all the sunlight and rain, so I can pretty much leave the plants covered until it's time to harvest (except for weeding & mulching, of course). Oh, that big mass of branches? My neighbor next door had a tree cut down, and she is struggling to gain the upper hand on the remnants. =)

Here we see the latest additions to our garden: the patch at the bottom of the photo is Brian's potato patch, which is a 4'x8' spot with 8 potato plants in. Behind that are, for as much as you can see in the photo, 5 mounds of mulch. Growing out of those mounds are various bushes & vines: the three in the middle are grapes, and they are flanked by the blueberry bush at the far end, and the "mystery bush" on the near side.

And here we have the nursery again, this time populated by summer veggies & herbs like tomatoes (middle, right), basil, chamomile, borage, echinacea, blessed thistle, horehound, chervil, cillantro, and ... er... who really knows what else? I know there's some lavender and chives in there somewhere. I expect I'll be able to figure out which plant is which once they're bigger, right? And smiling down beneficently over all is the AeroGarden, currently housing lettuce.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The State of the Garden Report

Okay, so I don't have pictures yet (they're on my home computer, and I'm currently at work), but they're coming soon. However, I thought before the Easter Break takes us into its grip that I would report on the current state of our garden.

I am pleased to report that our garden has enjoyed a steady growth rate in the first planting quarter, with the garden-share of our lawn increasing by approximately 5% over last year's end. This figure was carefully calculated by eyeballing the size of the garden, and then adding in the new additions, and then going "Yeah, that looks like maybe another 5% or so." But in more strict terms, we have reclaimed at least another 50 square feet from our lawn for the purposes of food and beauty.

Joining me in my gardening endeavors this year will be my husband Brian, who has finally let guilt drive him away from Civ IV and out into the fresh air and sunshine, which we have now conclusively established does not either set him on fire nor cause him to melt. Brian is not a natural gardener, but he is giving it a go this year by putting in a lovely potato bed. The bed itself is 8' x 4', and was dug out and planted by him yesterday. He'll be trying two different methods of potato propagation to see which one works better, since neither of us really know what we're doing with potatoes. Four of the potato plants are planted in standard 6" deep trenches, and will be hilled maybe halfway through the summer. Another four potato plants were also planted about 6" down, but after sprouting will be caged in chicken wire columns about 3' high and 1.5' in diameter, and then continuously filled throughout the growing season. This does mean that somewhere we're gonna hafta find a lot more dirt. Hmm....

Also, yesterday I put in two elderberry bushes, three grape vines, one blueberry bush, and one "mystery berry bush". I got the elderberry bushes from a friend's farm who was getting ready to pull them all anyway, and he said I could take whatever I wanted except the currents (curses!). I asked "What are those?" and he said "We don't know." "And those?" "Nope, don't know what those are, either." "These?" "I think these had something like a raspberry, except they didn't taste like raspberries." Okay, so I just chose one at random and dug it out. They're all edible, whatever they are. I'll try to post pics of the leaves for identification purposes later.

Otherwise, almost everything that can go into the garden now has gone into the garden:
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • beets
  • rutabegas
  • parsnips
  • spinach
  • onions
  • lettuces
  • chard
Other plants have been started, such as tomatoes, and lots & lots of herbs. Some of the herbs I bought, like evening primrose and echinacea, are direct seeded once the frost date has passed, but otherwise they're getting going in my house right now.

Also, if you look back at the old post that has my herb garden laid out, you will see a large tree on the right side labeled "Big Stupid Gumball Tree". Well, joy of joys!, that thing is coming down. Apparently tree service costs vary wildly from one to the next, but I found one who will take the whole tree down for $250 (including cutting it into pieces, but not hauling it away). That price is so low that I wouldn't trust it normally, except that this person just did extensive work for my neighbor and was perfectly good at what he did. So OKAY! Tree GONE! This will really open up my herb garden for planting, as well as help my main garden get far more late-afternoon sun. This is good.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My Current To-Do List

Okay, first, I swear that posts on both "bug out bags/buckets" and a State-of-the-Garden post are coming. No, really! But I've gotta get a certain bizarrely expanding list of things done around home soon, and I thought, gee, wouldn't y'all like to know what's on that list? Sure you do. Besides, maybe if I tell y'all, you'll hold me to it:
  1. Finish making seed tapes: I suspect there's another post in here on this one--I even took pictures. This is the only civilized way to plant carrots, IMO.
  2. Re-pot herb seedlings & nasturtiums.
  3. Start remaining herb seedlings, and cast around for more herbs to get just in case (my feverfew didn't make it through the winter. Hmph.)
  4. Make list of herbal thingumies I want to make, so that I don't keep forgetting what I'm on about. My first order of business is completing my herbal "home remedies" kit.
  5. Finish planting peas.
  6. Oh... start planting peas.
  7. Get one more rainbarrel, and some tin-snips so that I can cut into my drainpipe and attach it to the barrel.
  8. Get at least 8 more 5-gallon water jugs at Big Lots (if they still have them).
  9. Get Brian's seed potatoes.
  10. Get 2-3 grape canes.
  11. Get blueberry bush.
  12. Build a rocket stove--yeeeeaaaargh!
Today I finally got my garden squared away. All garden beds (in the main garden) that need to be built have been built. All compost has been distributed where it needs to go. All beds have been fertilized with my homebrew mix of stuff (that I've been sneezing out of my nose now for three hours). The only structural things left to do are to finish demarcating the "square feet" in each of my 4'x4' garden beds, as per the method in Square Foot Gardening, and to order in some bulk mulch so that I can line the paths between the beds (and finish mulching the asparagus bed). I'll also review the whole Square Foot thing once I've gotten more experience with it, but so far, so good.

Okay, I'm off to drink my lovely evening digestive tea (ginger, Angostura bitters, honey, plus some echinacea cause I think I'm getting sick, and some chamomile cause I like to sleep), and make some more carrot tapes! Wheeee!

UPDATE: Crap! I ran out of carrot seeds!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Adventures in Herbalism

Hm. I seem to have found myself a new project. I have now thrown myself (somewhat violently) into medical herbalism. I have a lot of reasons for doing this:
  1. Herbs are, mostly, cheap and widely available.
  2. You don't need to have medical insurance to afford herbal cures.
  3. I have a strong dislike for much of modern allopathic medicine. I recognize that it is incredibly powerful and useful in a lot of situations, and I'm certainly not going to spurn it altogether, but the basic methodology of it (single-cause ideation) seems not only mistaken but patently stupid to me. The methodology of herbalism jibes far more with my own sense of how bodies work than allopathic medicine does. For a lot more on single-cause ideation and the problems with it, check out my husband's post on same HERE.
  4. Herbs are a good way to help keep my family healthy, rather than just treating sicknesses.
  5. Some members of my family are experiencing problems that are better dealt with by herbs than more powerful medicines, at least for now.
  6. Herbal knowledge could well become a tradeable commodity in the near future, especially as people in my country are increasingly unable to afford conventional treatments.
  7. It gives me an excuse to plant even more herbs than I already have.
How did I get kick-started here? Leave it to the LDS people, ya know? ;-) One of my friends here is LDS; her church was having a "Back to Basics" event, and she invited me to come. Much of the stuff going on there I was already familiar with (e.g., whole kernel wheat storage, dry beans, cheesemaking, etc.) but it was still fun and I picked up all manner of little tips & tricks. But I got totally stuck at the herbalism booth--I monopolized the book she had for probably the whole time, and she ended up just loaning it to me. That was last week, and I've been spending most of my free time ever since working on it (except for when I was working on my garden or fighting with my plumbing). I located our local Herb Store (which is also our local Homebrew store, so I hadn't realized the stunning array of herbs & associated goods they carried) and bought a small supply of herbs to get started. [NB: I'm not sure my husband would call my supply "small".] I'm working through a few books, plus a nifty online course you can find at

Anyone who knows me knows that I go on kicks like this every once in awhile. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don't. More often than not, my overwhelming enthusiasm wanes after a bit, but some changes stick, and some of my behaviors are modified. Our style of eating & food prep is a great example. I'll go on, say, a mega-organic kick, which will eventually wane, but some of my habits will have been permanently changed in the intervening time. I suspect the same will go here. I'll learn a bunch, and have a lot of enthusiasm for a few weeks, which will eventually wane. But some of my habits will be permanently changed, and probably some new herbal things will become permanent residents in our lives. These will likely continue to grow over the years, spurred on by other bursts of enthusiasm. So expect sporadic posts about new herbal stuff over the years.

Right now, I'm working on stocking a basic first aid kit, as well as investigating various long-term methods for dealing with depression. The first aid kit is a great place to start, because it will contain a representative of almost all of the basic preparations--salves/ointments, tinctures, oils, capsules, etc. I can learn the basics of making these, and then I'll have the preparations made for when we need them. For depression, I'm looking at various tinctures & teas that can be taken on a maintenance schedule, rather than on a "quick fix" schedule. Ginseng, which has been working very well, is an addiction risk--after a few weeks your body acclimates to it, reducing its effectiveness. So I need to find something perhaps not so powerful that can be taken indefinitely, and save ginseng for more acute episodes.

Anyway, so that's what I'm up to. I've now completed the Adapting in Place course, and I'll be putting together a "Where do we go from here" document for it before too long. Of course, I'm also gardening up a storm, and I'll post some pics from that soon. Ta!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Public Service Announcement

My husband, Brian, now (finally) has his own blog! It's called "Self-Referential Collapse" and you can find it here:

His blog will mainly discuss some of the philosophical issues surrounding our current collapse (e.g., ethical, metaphysical, aesthetic, etc. issues). I think it will make a lovely companion blog to my own ;-)

Monday, March 9, 2009

What am I most concerned about?

You know, when I answered this question as a part of the AIP class, I said the following:




And that is right, or at least not wrong. I think the reasons for this answer are pretty obvious--without food, bad bad things happen. Many of the other concerns that people have, such as personal safety and civil unrest, devolve to the relative availability of food. It is starvation that drives so much of these issues--when the zombies come, they will be hungry.

And yet, here at the homefront blog anyway, I'd like to offer a somewhat different response. What I am increasingly concerned about is.... education.

Huh? Isn't food more important than education? I mean, your degree is pretty useless if you've starved to death in a gutter, right? Yes, absolutely. Nonetheless, education is edging up, and maybe even taking over, my concerns about food.

Why would I be so bent out of shape about education? I believe that of all the things currently in place in our society, none are more important than our educational system. The free and compulsory education of our youth is a stunning accomplishment. Few things are as democratizing as a fully educated population. The very foundations of our democracy--the ability for the people to lead a country--rests entirely on having an educated population. An educated population cannot be easily controlled (it's obviously possible, but harder), nor can it be easily cowed. Compulsory education for all does not guarantee democracy--far from it (witness, oh, today for example); but without an educated population, the chances of a democracy thriving, or even surviving, will be slim.

I don't think it's an accident that as a nation we have been cutting back and back and back on education; I don't think it's coincidence that education and associated programs are almost always first on the chopping block when budget cuts roll down. There is little incentive for the power structures in our country to educate the population. The wealthy can pay for their own education on their own time, and a poorly educated public is, of course, easier to control and cow. And really, who cares about the poor people anyway? This is bad enough in and of itself, but that's not the worst. The worst is the plodding shift in our thinking towards devaluing education, of it being okay to cut education budgets.

Now of course no one wants to just do away with education. And no one would, except under extraordinary duress... which we are approaching rapidly. The level of our federal debt burden, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, coming due will eat the ability for our government to provide any other services--education, safety, military, etc. Under these conditions, how can we propose to spend money on education? It is already one of the first lines cut out of budgets, I cannot imagine it will acquire any new untouchable status in the near future. So I genuinely do worry that the wholesale abandonment of education is on the table; maybe not this year, but probably by 2017, at the latest.

Can't education just be outsourced? Is education really the sort of thing that governments ought, or even should, provide? I know many families who either send their children to private schools or homeschool for a variety of reasons, often the main one being that they object to government involvement in education at all. I would like to be clear here that I have no substantial objections at all to either private schooling or homeschooling--those choices are a-okay by me, and I'm glad we have them. But the position that the government should have no role in education, in my opinion, is seriously flawed. The shift from guaranteeing--with the backing of law--basic education for our entire population to one where education is stripped from our common responsibility as citizens would be seizmic in nature; it would change the landscape of our nation. We're already seeing the results of comperable policies in the form of budget cuts, which almost always hit poorer districts first, and the resulting power inequities between those communities and the well-off, well-financed communities. When common money is not applied in reasonably equitable levels to the education of our children, wealth and power disparities grow.

The pride of our nation is not that we're classless, which we certainly are not; it is rather that our classes are not codified--they are mobile. One can go from low, to middle, to even high class in our society, and similarly, you can fall from high right back down to low again (how's that working out for ya, Warren Buffet?). But a lack of education for all, at something like even levels, makes the mobilization of our class structure almost impossible. Even in our current situation, with compulsory but poorly-funded education in many areas, classes become set. It becomes a hopeless proposition to ever move beyond your current place. Private schooling is obviously beyond the means of these parents, and often homeschooling is, too--even afterschooling. Many of our poorest parents do not have the time, the resources, or the energy to provide the level of education enjoyed by the well-to-do children not five miles from them. The class structure, and the attendant power structure, becomes codified.

Of course, many would argue, these poorest of poor parents shouldn't have had children in the first place. Personally, I find this argument to be so repugnant as to not deserve a response, save one: moral worth does not dicatate economic achievement.

So let's call a spade a spade. The abandonment of free and compulsory education in our nation is the wholesale abandonment of our democratic society. A slippery slope argument? Yeah, probably. But I don't think it's far off the mark, either, although the slide is not inevitable. How we could maintain a true democracy, even a true republic, without an educated population is frankly beyond me. I don't think we succeeded at it in the past (before compulsory education), and I doubt we would succeed in the future, either.

I don't want a feudal society in our future--even a well-fed feudal society. Creating community solutions to education is one thing, and a valuable goal to pursue; perhaps setting up local, or neighborhood school cooperatives can help fill the gap left behind when our government funds run dry. But without the force of law (and without funding, how can it be? We tried that with the "No Child Left Behind" charade), this will be inequitably distributed at best, and probably short-lived at worst. We will have consigned our country to be governed by the un- and undereducated; or, contrariwise, we will have abandoned our power to those who can afford to educate themselves, thus ending our brief experiment in a democratically controlled society.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

And now, to cannibalize my first "Adapting In Place" homework assignment for my blog...

I mentioned briefly in my last post that I am now enrolled in Sharon Astyk & Aaron Newton's "Adapting in Place" online course. Yes, that is where I got the name for this blog, too (what, you didn't think I'd done something original, did you?). If you've not read Sharon Astyk's book "Depletion and Abundance: life on the new homefront" or her blog Casaubon's Book yet... WHAT?!?! WTF are you wasting your time here for??? Get thy butt over to her site ASAP! Seriously, it will be time well-spent.

Sorry, lost my train of thought.

Anyway, here's my first assignment for the AIP class: an overall household/lifestyle budget of what our current needs and uses are (maybe a "sources & uses" budget). This should tell anyone who makes it through the whole thing an awful lot about where we are now. =D The assignment is divided into basic areas: water, energy, communication, etc. Have a look-see! [warning: it's pretty long]


According to our Indiana-American Water bill, our family of four used 75 gallons of water per day for the last billing period. According to the helpful graph at the bottom of the bill, I see that our water usage is completely level for the entire year, save a small upsurge in June (probably for garden). This tells me two things: first, I can probably generalize that our water usage averages 75 gallons/day throughout the year. Second, obviously our water company has some hefty rounding errors.

I have now combed the water company's website, and can find no information about the actual method of delivery (despite finding an entry on the FAQ for "How does the water get to my tap?"). However, we have several water towers around, so I guess we have a gravity-fed system. Company-wide, they claim to use 65% surface water and 35% wells; given that we live right next to a major river, I'm guessing that we're heavily on the surface water side. Our water table is very high--as close as 4 feet from the surface in some areas. Precipitation in our area seems to hover around 3.5" average per month, pretty evenly spread out, although higher in the spring & summer than otherwise.

We have two 5-gallon bottles of water downstairs right now, and I'm planning on getting more. We also have a Big Berkey water filter, so we ought to be able to get drinkable water in any situation, as long as water is at all accessible to us. We live near the Wabash River, which I don't see going dry any time soon, so there is a ready source of water (foul, but filterable). In fact, water scarcity is not a problem in our area; to the contrary, flooding is. However, we try not to waste water, so we do have a two (soon to be three) barrel rainbarrel setup for the garden, and in fact our garden doesn't require a lot of extra watering.


Okay, food's just gonna be tricky. If I were being really good (and it has been known to happen), I would be keeping careful notes on our finances via Quicken. I even have categories set up for local, bulk, ethnic/specialty, and supermarket shopping. And if I'd put an entry in that thing for the past nine months, I could obviously just call up a quick graph of our food consumption. *sigh* No such luck, of course (but I think this will inspire me to get back to it). So, the ham-handed method instead.

Our homemade diet is primarily vegetarian, with local meats maybe 2-3 times per month. We're not averse to eating more meat, but we just can't afford good meats more often than this; however, we don't really miss it, either, and it makes us really appreciate it when we do eat meat (bacon is positively orgasmic!). We've been working hard at shifting our diet to as much local foods as possible, with bulk purchases making a backbone, and supermarket purchases sort of filling in the gaps. We aren't doing too badly so far. My average cost at the supermarket these days is between $35-55 per week, down from an average of $100-150 per week before this project started. I've also now got the budget to buy mostly organic foods when I do have to shop at the supermarket. We almost never do fast food, but we do eat out at a local cafe fairly often (about once per week). I spend about $100/month on bulk purchases from a buying club. Over the summer, we stock up on local foods that I preserve in a variety of ways--tomatoes, potatoes, other root veg, meats, green beans, fruits, honey, nuts, etc. A lot is frozen, a lot else is canned. I need to seriously learn how to keep records! I'm learning slowly how to dehydrate. We've got some reasonably hefty food storage downstairs, including several hundred pounds of various types of wheat and grains (we have a grinder), potatoes, apples (which didn't go that well this year, but was fine last year, so I need to figure that one out). I'm building up our supply of dried beans (probably have around 50 lbs of a variety of types), pastas, dry milk, etc. If I were to guess, I'd say we've got about a 3 month supply of enough to feed us, and a full year's supply of some things in particular.

Currently, the only way we have to cook is on our electric range/oven, or on our Coleman camp stove (or occasionally the barbeque grill). I have the plans (and possibly even the willpower) to build a solar oven this year. We are also going to start inquiring more about a wood cookstove for the winter, but that will be a slow process, mostly predicated on whether or not Brian gets another job in town and we then can use some of our savings for that rather than, say, survival. We also have friends who just took out an old coal stove for a wood-burning one, and we might steal the coal stove and see if we can't rig up an outside cooking setup with wood for things like summer canning and such.

We're in gardening zone 5a-b (mostly a, but we're technically in a weird little bubble of b--go figure). I currently have a garden of about 25' x 25', with some extra beds creeping down. I have ridiculously detailed garden plans up on my blog ( Provided we do stay in this house (our preferred occurrence), I will start to more aggressively encroach on our lawn. We have at least another 25' x 75' we could eat into. Already Brian's potato patch and a garlic patch will be put in there, and I've got plans with a neighbor to put in a low grape arbor between our properties. On the other side of the driveway behind our house, we have a small space where I have a growing herb bed, a strawberry patch, and a blackberry bush. Oh, and a stupid, dumb gumball tree. Oh, how I would love to get rid of that tree.... Anyway. My neighborhood is blessedly free of all that HOA nonsense, and I can't find any actual city regulations on gardening or the like (even policies on small livestock like chickens seems to be a "don't ask, don't tell" policy). I'm getting better at gardening--this will be my fourth year of it. We cannot, and really will not be able to, feed our family on our land, but we can certainly make a healthy dent in our diet.

Also, I seem to be president of the BOD for a startup local foods co-op. Huh. Why anyone lets me run anything is frankly beyond me, but there you go. We are probably a year out from open, give or take. The co-op we're planning is the full-sized grocery store style. Many folks have many different reasons for pursuing this project, by my main one (which is shared by several folks on the BOD & steering committee) is laying the foundations for a real local foods distribution system--one that can be scaled up quickly when it becomes necessary. Also, even though our town is small-midwestern, we have the classic food desert right in the middle of town, so we want our store there to serve the very underserved population.


We've a house which we rather like. We didn't buy at the top of the bubble, but nearly so, although Indiana never really got smacked by the bubble in the same way that other places did. Still, I'm sure that we're technically underwater on our mortgage, but that just isn't why we bought our house. We chose a house within our budget that we would be happy in for a long time (despite all of our family's best efforts to convince us to buy above our means because we'd only be moving soon anyway). The real problem with our mortgage isn't that it's underwater, because as long as we can afford the payments (just under $700/month) we don't really care. The problem is that if we did have to move, or couldn't afford the mortgage, we couldn't sell at probably any price, because houses just don't move here. Even at the top of the bubble, houses in our town would sit on the market for months and years. Our house, in fact, was well-priced (for the time), very sound and well-kept, in a nice neighborhood, etc., and it sat on the market for two years. At the top of the bubble. Yeah.

Anyway, if we can stay, our house has a lot to recommend it for a low-energy future. It was built in the low-energy past, after all--a 1902 construction. It has high ceilings, walls & attic that have the bejezus insulated out of them (you can't even walk in the attic for the insulation), double-pane windows, a cold-porch, storm door to a basement with a potential root cellar, and a reasonable amount of gardening room. It is quite tight, especially for its age. It is very sound, has a new roof (well, new-ish) and a sound furnace. The plumbing will probably be a problem in the not-too-distant future. If Brian lands a job, it is likely that some of our savings will have to go towards repiping our house--eesh. We do not have significant drainage or flooding problems (we're out of flood plain), but the town drainage was built about three years before Jesus was born, so it is really starting to suffer. We do have a somewhat damp basement, which is great for food storage, but maybe not great for our foundation. But it seems to be the sort of "perhaps we should clean our gutters" damp rather than the "oh dear, call the contractors" damp.

If we can't stay, most likely we'll bug out to Brian's family farm about two hours away, and give real, honest-to-gods homesteading a shot (hopefully with at least some income from somewhere).


We have natural gas heat and electric everything else.

Gas: we used an average of 131 therms of gas per month this winter (although we've got one more heating bill to go). So, higher than the American average, but for three months rather than all year. If I spread the total therms used across the whole year, we're right at half. Not bad, but could be better. We kept our heat very low this year (60*F), although we still haven't installed a programmable thermostat, which I'm sure would help. We did lots of other things to keep energy usage down. It's worth mentioning that even though we cut our usage in half this year, our cost stayed pretty much constant.

Electricity: I've gotta get me one of those kill-a-watts! Okay, anyway.... Last year we did not use our AC at all, and that seemed to go well enough, so I anticipate the same this year. As such, our electricity remains fairly constant over the year. Our average monthly use has been creeping back up. It hit a low of 444kWh/month a few months ago, but has gotten back up to 807kWh/month on our last bill. =/ I suspect, sadly, that the swank new computer we got for xmas is a significant contributor to this. I would say that our relenting and using the dryer contributed, which I'm sure is true, but since I don't do laundry nearly often enough, probably it didn't contribute much.

We've bought into the Duke Green Energy program, and currently pay for about 500kWh of "green" energy (some wind, solar, probably some biofuel [erg]). If we could get our energy use back down, that would nearly cover our needs. Also, someday, we have a tall house whose south-facing roof is large, unbroken (no chimneys, windows, etc.) and not shaded by *anything*--it's just begging for some solar panels. That's on our "pipe dream" list.

Health Care

We are currently blessedly healthy people. Our medications/medical needs are as follows:

-- Brian's glasses (*very* high prescription, hard to get)

-- prescription-level doses of folic acid for me: I'm higher risk for cervical cancer, but this is optional (hey, folic acid occurs in food, right?)

-- hormone supplements for me: stupid poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. Medication is optional, but cheap and currently easy to get, and useful when I don't feel like growing a beard.

-- ginseng & coffee: for depression

-- condoms

--not yet, but I'm sure at least one of our kids will need glasses (although I don't so just maybe they'll escape that)

Brian's family has a history of diabetes, although he currently doesn't show any signs of it. I am adopted, so I've got no idea what my medical history is. I'm overweight, but not severely so, and have been repeatedly tested for glucose tolerance with no signs of diabetes (even when pregnant).

We are fairly well integrated into the local midwifery system (such as it is), and could probably use that as a conduit into an underground medical situation. We have a made-of-awesome GP who is very willing to do "off-books" work. Dentistry will be a problem, but our whole family has pretty good teeth (I have three cavities, and I only got two of those in the past 3 years). Brian and I are also, IMHO, damned bright people, and very capable of informal diagnoses ourselves. I've downloaded and am working through "Where there are no doctors". I've got a smidgen of background in herbalism, but I'd need to do a lot of work to get me up to usable speed.


We have a land-line cordless phone set, and a corded phone (not plugged in) in our closet for backup. We have a pay-as-you-go cell phone that we hate, but acknowledge the utility of. And we have email, which is very heavily used. We hardly use snail-mail, although printing out our address book (which is stored on our--hey!--email program) is probably a good idea. We do have a few radios, although nothing that can be crank-powered. We also don't have a solar-charger, although I think I'll look into that soon. I haven't put much thought here yet, and probably should.


Our primary modes of transportation are: car, moped, bike, and foot.

Car: we use an average of 50 gallons of gas per month in the winter, and probably half of that in the summer (but I'll keep better track and figure it out for sure). We live in a smallish town, so most things are bikable in a distance-sense. However, there are a number of places that are between unsafe and impossible to bike to--stores across highways with no crosswalks, etc. and so we use the car. I'm also a cold wimp and usually buckle and put the bike away for the winter by mid-November, and it doesn't usually come back out until March.

Moped: Brian heavily uses his moped for personal transportation, when bikes are impractical. He uses is for almost all of the winter (except for "holy crap!" snowstorm days). The little thing uses about 2-3 gallons of gas per month.

Bike: both Brian and I bike a lot from spring through fall. We both have bike trailers for hauling kids and other sundry goods around. Almost all of our needs can be met on bike when weather permits, except for grocery shopping (which I'll get to below). We have good bikes--a Giant and a Trek--that we splurged on a couple of years ago with our christmas money. Does anyone know what a good conversion rate from calorie to gas/petrol might be? I'd love to be able to tell people how many calories worth of gas I burn off! =D

Foot: there's not much walkable around here, but Brian does occasionally walk to campus for his job. We also walk or bike to the nearby park.

Public Transportation: our town does have bus service, but it's pretty terrible. The routes are convoluted, and the busses usually only run once per hour, if that. Nonetheless, I will be looking into it for our grocery shopping--especially if I can maintain our "don't buy much at the supermarket" methodology.

Other Tools

Gosh, Aaron, you weren't kidding when you said this category was ambiguous (I might even suggest that it's nebulous!). Here are some things that we rely on pretty heavily and/or have available:


deep freezer

DVD player/Playstation (for sanity)

Computer (again, sanity)

local library

detached garage with workspace

camping gear

bar-b-que grill


Gardening equipment

2 lawnmowers (gas and non gas)

Lots of books and role-playing games

After this season:

-- solar oven

-- mini-hoop houses/cold frames

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Get this blog a medic, stat!

No, the blog's not dead, far from it. I've probably got 15 just started/partially finished posts on my account right now. Which is fancy and great, but not doing any of you any good because y'all can't see them yet, because in my opinion, they're not yet fit for human consumption. Given that they're fermenting on the blogger system right now, they're obviously more on the "think-piece" end of things, and will probably be produced slowly over the course of, well, decades.

So what about our daily work on learning to adapt? Um.... yes, about that. Probably the reason I've not been posting much about that is that we haven't been doing much about that. You see, the kids got sick, then my husband got sick, then the kids got sick again, and then there were midterms, and then the dog at my computer mouse, and the moon left the third house of Capricorn, and... and...

Oh wait, I don't have a dog. Hm.

But seriously, I've not been making major changes to blog on yet, although I will hopefully soon post pictures of my gorgeous baby broccoli, cabbage, kale, and (whenever it germinates) celery. My husband and I have also been in discussions about things like wood-burning stoves, bug-out buckets, and job prospects. So there are some posts which will be forthcoming.

But in the biggest news, I am now taking Sharon Astyk & Aaron Newton's "Adapting In Place" online course! I am definitely looking forward to what I will learn from this course, and I am sure that much of my material (which I produce) for the class will end up here on my blog. Hey, it's ready-made blog material, what can I say?

So stick around, if'n ya want to. =]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Well, since you asked...

Yeah, so I also have an herb garden:

[Garden plan done on my account--man, I love that software!]

There she is (well, once you click on the image so you can see it). As you can see, I've got all manner of things going on in there. The strawberry bed is coming into its third year, and doing well so far. I know that the plants should be dying off soon, but I allow the runners to replant themselves almost entirely unchecked, so I'm hoping it will self-perpetuate (advice here would be welcome). We get enough strawberries for a few desserts & breakfasts during the early summer, but not really enough to put up. I typically buy strawberries from a local farmer for that. Similarly for our blackberry bush, which is now in its second year--I expect to get much greater production out of it this year. Well, I would, anyway, if my crazy next door neighbor would stop whacking off canes of it the second one crosses over onto his side of the yard. You'd think he would want the free berries? Or at least, tell me and I'll corral it (I must stay vigilant this year, lest another amputation occur!).

As for the herbs, here's what's going on:

Perennials (those marked with an * are new this year):
  • Sage (x2)
  • Tarragon
  • Rue
  • Lavendar (* will be adding more this year)
  • Rosemary
  • Feverfew
  • Soapwort
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lovage (huh, that one's not labeled. Silly. It's the unnamed herb to the right of the sage.)
  • Winter Savory
  • Hyssop
  • Lady's Mantle*
  • Thymes (x2)
  • Horehound*
  • Thistle*
  • Yarrow*
  • Sweet Woodruff
And the annuals--all, obviously, new this year:
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Summer Savory
  • Chervil (whoops! That one didn't make it onto the plan! Will fix that soon--probably put it between the hyssop and the lemon balm)
  • [Basil] This is actually in the main garden, but I thought I'd at least note it here, lest any of you think that I'm a nutcase who doesn't plant basil.
And then there's the big stupid gumball tree. Oh, how I'd love to get rid of that thing. But in the meanwhile, a serious "whacking back" of it will ensue this year. If only I could convince the power company that the tree is a danger to the power lines (which, really, it is) and they would take it down....

Oh, and a word about my rosemary. I've named it "Harry Potter" because it's the rosemary that didn't die. Rosemary's are not hardy in my zone. By rights, that thing should be dead. I did nothing--possibly even less than nothing--to protect it over last winter. In the spring, I went out resigned to having to pull it up and replace it with something else, but when I went to test the branches... they bent! They didn't snap! And when I snipped one off? It was green on the inside! Wow. So I've got fingers crossed that it made it this winter, too (and this time I even cut it back and heavily mulched it, so there's some hope). We shall see.