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


  1. so basically - you are 'simplifying your lifestyle' hummm interesting.

    I am wondering what impact this new food bill is going to have on your plans

    HR 875 The food police, criminalizing organic farming and the backyard gardener, and violation of the 10th amendment

    HR 875

  2. Having now read the whole f*sking bill (since this is about the 80th reference I've seen to it, complete with irate YouTube videos most of the time), I have concluded that it will have essentially *no* effect on my plans.

    Why? Because in the first section of the bill, where the definitions and limitations are laid out, it pertains only to slaughterhouses, processing facilities, warehouses and food transportation facilities. There is no way a typical backyard garden could be included there. Furthermore, it specifically excludes all of the following: any farm, ranch, orchard, vinyard, aquaculture facility, cafo, restaurant, retail food establishment, non-profit feeding facility, or fishing vessel. In other words, it has *nothing whatsoever to do* with farming, ranching, or any of the associated acts.

    Does that mean this bill is totally innocent? Of course not, and I want to comb through it to see what it has to say about interstate regulation of slaughterhouses (which has been a problem for small slaughterhouses in the past), but even the complaints about NAIS--I cannot see how they can pertain, when all ranches and farms are specifically excluded from this bill.

    Sorry, I think this is a bunch of nonsense. Given the strict slaughtering and food tracking recommendations in this bill, I suspect that the dissent is actually being sponsored by the vertical food operations like ConAgra, who don't want to have to ensure safe foods.

  3. Great assessment! You are way ahead of us on the transportation front - we are down to one car, but no alternatives.

    I SO have to go back to the stuff I wrote for our Adapting class, and paste it all together and make a real goal list on a timeline.

  4. Matriarchy--that's a great idea, the list of goals. If I'm on top of things (heh, yeah right) I should compile one as I go.

  5. well that's a relief....!

    we only have one car now between three of us, and dodi has been lift sharing for about four months now which is saving us a packet.

    Are you proud of our little steps?

  6. Ahavah--hells yes! Sticking with only one car in a multi-person situation in our society is an incredible accomplishment. In fact, it's probably one of our proudest. I've seen "the mighty" environmentalist (read: one of the editors of "Grist" magazine) fall off of that wagon and give all sorts of excuses for why one car just wasn't sufficient for them. ;-)

  7. I also am figuring out how to cut down on electricity usage and be more prepared for less availability of electricity. I have been trying to find a good source for solar batter recharger and flashlight with solar recharger. Does anyone have advice? Thanks

  8. Oooh--I'd love a source too. We got several twist-charge flashlights for christmas, which I love, but we don't have a solar battery charger yet.