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. =]