better choices


I just read a news piece about a kid who successfully sued her father because he grounded her from a school field trip for going on-line when she was told not to. I feel like an old fogey say, “when I was a kid….” but really.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have spent most of my adult like caring for kids who have been abused or neglected by the adults who should have been caring for them. My four youngest are all adopted from the child welfare system. Nobody cares more about protecting children from mistreatment than I do but this wasn’t mistreatment. It was a consequence of bad behavior.

In a crisis, having your kids know that they have to obey first and ask questions later could save their lives. If the smoke detector goes off while your daughter is on the phone or your son in the middle of a video game, they have to get out of the house without arguing.

I don’t think we are doing our kids any favors when we teach them that the answer to every demand is yes and that they are equal partners in the decision making. They aren’t. At least at my house they aren’t. Bruce and I run a benevolent dictatorship. What we say goes. As kids display good judgement and maturity, they can take more responsibility for making decisions for themselves but ultimately, we are in charge for a simple reason. Kids don’t always know what is good for them.

Maybe there is a life lesson in here. This country is in big trouble because we haven’t learned to take no for an answer. Everybody gets a car for their 16th birthday translates in later years to everybody gets a $40,000 SUV. Everybody has a television in their bedroom turns into everybody has a 5000 square foot McMansions with 4 flat screen televisions and a pool. If you want it and don’t have the money, don’t worry. That’s what credit cards are for. Delayed gratification? I don’t think so.

And maybe this is lesson for all of us. You can want and desire and ask for but sometimes the answer is no.

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This a preparedness site but obviously, I write about other things. One of my favorite topics is frugal living. I know a lot of people who think they can’t afford to buy food in bulk so there is one connection to preparedness. The other is that it is important to prepare for an uncertain economic future and living below your means is a necessary component of this. One thing I often hear when I talk about how it saves money to garden, preserve food, cook from scratch and mend our clothing is that I have not considered what my time is worth in my calculations. “If you factored in the hours you spend, you will probably find you are working for a couple of dollars an hour,” is the most common remark.

Silly! First, the implication is that if I wasn’t gardening or cooking I would be doing something that earned a wage. I might have to pick up a part time job to help make ends meet but I would probably be stuck doing something I didn’t enjoy to earn money so I didn’t have to do something I do enjoy. Anyone else see a problem with this logic? And if I was working, I would have expenses like taxes, clothing, meals out and transportaion.  Much of my productivity would be leaving me to benefit others. If I grow tomatoes, I feed my family and have excess product to donate to others if I chose but it won’t be taken from me.

The next problem I have is with the concept of worth. I am not sure why so many people can only think of worth as having a dollar sign attached to it. What is it worth to sit on my deck on a summer morning and sip tea made from the mint I grew and sweetened with honey from my own hives? What is it worth to knead a loaf of bread while listening to a Radio Free Earth CD and watching my kids dance around the kitchen? What is it worth for Bruce to present me with a cedar chest he has built himself? I suppose he could haved worked for several weeks to earn the money to buy an artisan chest and given that to me. Would that have been more valuable? What is time spent with friends worth? Time in nature? Time with each other?

I am totally jealous. We went to a neighbor’s house last night before the concert at our community house. The first thing I saw was was this neat little seed starter Bob has set up. He made it with a cardboard box, some old insulation, aluminum foil and two compact florescent light bulbs. His tomatoes looked much better than mine, thick and full and not at all bushy. Then he took us out to his unheated sunroom. That’s where he is hardening off the larger plants. He has as much lettuce out there as I do in my green house, lots more tomatoes and many other food plants. It just goes to show how much food you can grow in a small space if you are creative and not worried about the decor.

What Bob lacks is good soil at his house. Our houses are kitty corner to each other and you would think they had similar soil but they are so different. Our land is river bottom. It is rich and loamy and full of earthworms. We have very few rocks and can dig down two feet without breaking a sweat. Root crops love my soil. Just across the street, Bob has rocky, sandy soil that leaches nutrients faster than he can put them back. Bob has a big ould bathtub where he mixes his compost. He painstakingly sifts and carefully plants his crops and has measly little harvests. He also has a problem with bears and deer which we are never bothered by. I think it may be because we are bordered by river on two sides and a road on a third. The fourth side has other gardens and a corn field that may fill up bear and dear before they reach us.

We offered Bob some planting space as we have more land than we can plant or harvest by ourselves (we use only hand tools except for an occasional rototilling if we are breaking up new ground). I think this brings up an important aspect of community. It is in my best interest for my neighbors to be well fed. It is the moral thing to do. In a changing world, we will be our brother’s keeper. Last night we sang and danced to two local bands. The music was terrific. We paid the cover charge ($8.00 a piece) and bought 3 CD’s will play the music for friends who have not heard it before and encourage them to pick up a CD at the Creamery. It is money I could have saved or spent on a tool or another tree but, in addition to liking the sound, supporting a local musician is keeping my brother and the right thing to do.  I want and need these folks to do well. When I buy local pottery or garlic sets, when I eat at the Creamery, when I got to church and plunk a twenty in the plate, I am keeping my brother. When I pass Phoebe’s outgrown snowsuit to a neighbor’s little girl or offer to mind a child so another neighbor can go to a doctor’s appointment, I am keeping my brother. Even scolding a child who isn’t mine for using foul language is keeping my brother. I hope my neighbors scold Phoebe if they find her behaving badly or recklessly. I want to keep and be kept by my community.

Across the world, one country has set off a launch of what may be a test missile and her neighbor is worried and angry. The same country holds two of our citizens in prison. Troops are on alert, the world is shifting uncomfortably on it’s axis. How hard it is to remember that these people, in spite of their dictatorial leadership, are also our brothers. How can we keep them?

Don’t expect an answer from me. I don’t have one. I am not even positive what the question is. I just know that the sun is shining, my tomatoes are growing, my children are laughing and their bellies are full. I want nothing less for my brothers and sisters across the street and across the world.

It is easy to get a down sometimes. The unemployment figures paint a much bleaker picture than the stock market does. The rest of the news yesterday was so grim. It seems like there is just so much anger and grief in the world. But there are bright spots too. I found a couple yesterday. The first was from Bill McKibben. He spoke at a local college two nights ago on the subject of climate change and global warming. Please check out 350.org. This was coupled with a post from Charles Hughes Smith at oftowminds. The piece to find is called survival-4. He wrote about the Remnant and the Parrot Principle. The thrust of the essay is that there is a tipping point where, if a given number of people, in this case 8.8 million, head in a certain direction, they will be unstoppable. The math was a little shaky for me but here is what I took from it. If each of us out in the world who is growing food, watching our carbon footprint, doing the right thing can encourage others to joins us, through our blogs or or conversations or our example, we will become part of a movement. It will grow and grow until it becomes an unstoppable force. We will lead and others will follow. I have to hope there is still time to fix this mess.

I do not want to become immobilized by the scope of the problems we face. I want to continue to get up each day, put my feet on the floor and do what I can do to make things better. I refuse to believe that it doesn’t matter, that I don’t matter, that my children don’t matter.

Yesterday, I picked up some groceries and realized I had forgotten my shopping bags. I felt terrible but I just can’t dwell on it. I have to go out today and make up for it by a positive action. Here is my action of the morning. Could all of you who read this blog give one friend who uses plastic bags a hand made grocery bag? I am going to sew today and give my sister some bags on Monday. Maybe she will mention it to a friend who will make a bag too.

May the Force be with you.

I am always looking for a way to save money and space, both important considerations when you are embarking on a long term storage plan so I was delighted to find this recipe on my neighbor, Heather’s, blog:  Faith, Fun and Family. It is for a homemade laundry detergent. It is certainly frugal. 32 loads cost just $1.00. Just as important, if you store the ingredients and make up a batch as you need it, you save a lot of space. As I have a 3 full shelves devoted to soaps, this idea is pretty appealing. Here’s the recipe:

1/2 bar Fels Naptha Soap, grated

1 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)

1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

Mix all of this with 2 gallons warm water. Heather didn’t say how she mixed it but I am guessing that you need to use very warm water and an electric mixer. Heather gave me a quart of it to try and I loved the results. The mixture thickens into a gel as it sets. I used about 1/3 cup. My laundry smelled terrific.

Heather added a nice little rant on what we actually pay for with laundry soap. Product placement, fragrance, color, perceived convenience, and advertising. There was one topic she didn’t touch on and that was the waste.  Plastic cleaning supply containers take up tons (literally!) of landfill space. Even if recycled, the often end up being transported to China. The whole process is hardly benign. Making your own will result in much less trash.

My next book is an essential kitchen guide. I and my co-author, Alice Cozzolino, are looking at the tools we use to process food and how we set up our kitchens to save money while preparing healthy, eco friendly meals. One of the things we looked at was the chemicals we introduce into our homes in an effort to keep them clean. We feel that this is generally a case of the cure being worse than the disease. As I complete my research into recipes for cleaning, I will be passing them on. Our book will be out next year.

It is not a good news day. Between the auto industry and AIG the markets are getting hammered. I had a notion of writing a piece about small pieces of good news like my tomatoes popping up in their little greenhouses and the taste of a just pulled carrot but I just can’t pull it off. These are real people losing jobs and homes and dreams. The feds are going to send in disaster recovery teams to communities that will be decimated by the restructuring of the auto industry but, in spite of their best intentions, you can’t create any job without the demand for that product or service and people who are out of work don’t demand more than the bare essentials.

Most of us are familiar with Kubler/Ross’s work on the stages of grief. Essentially, we all go through a similar series of emotions when we have a major life loss. First there is denial followed by bargaining, then depression, then anger and finally acceptance. I hope that, as a country, we get through these stages very quickly and move on to acceptance. We need to accept that a life of credit funded consumption is over. The feds can make all the promises they like, but ultimately, we are going to have to take care of ourselves. That means prioritizing your needs.

You need shelter. You don’t need fancy shelter. You need a roof over your head, even if you have to share it with family or friends. The best shelter will have space to grow some food and be something you can keep warm. It will be in a place where you have the support of people who care about you.

You need food. When things are desperate, you need to treat the acquisition of food like a job. You will probably need to use multiple food sources rather than simply heading off to the grocery store. That may mean buying clubs, co-ops, farmer’s markets, the woods behind your house and the planter on your deck.

You need to be warm enough. Fleece jackets and wool socks, closing off rooms that don’t absolutely need to be heated, getting used to sleeping under quilts in cold bedrooms could  all be necessary.

You need a reason to get up in the morning, a sense of purpose. Even if you don’t have a job to go to, get up and make a plan. Set up a neighborhood pot luck to discuss how you can work together to grow some food or work with your children. Start a scout troop of set up a 4-H program. It will take some doing to wean your kids from video games and structured programs and teach them to have fun and learn something without spending money.

Take care of you health. Take care of you marriage. Take care of your neighborhood. Take care of yourself.

Well, we just got home from our weekend at a ski resort. Bruce’s brother gave us the use of his time share as he couldn’t make it up this year. It was a generous and loving offer for which me and mine are very grateful. Now I’m going to gripe.

First of all, I hate to travel. I get so homesick I could die after the first hour or two. But, as we were only going to be gone a couple of days, how bad could it be? Not bad at all except I couldn’t sleep and I spent the whole time looking at this beautiful place from the perspective of peak oil, climate change, food shortages and economic collapse. This is not the attitude one needs to bring to this kind of experience.

Is there anything as wasteful as the idea of making snow for the purpose of skiing? Only the further idea of heated indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs and in-room Jacuzzis. There were a pile of college kids there. I watched several of them check in and it seems their main food group is beer. Their other food group was Cheetos. They were an over -ed, over-induldged rude bunch for the most part. Maybe in their real lives they helped the needy and composted and were majoring in sustainable agriculture but I didn’t see it.

We brought in most of our own food but we did go out to eat one night. My plate of food was so huge, I ate part that night, more for breakfast this morning and I still have a sizable bit for lunch. Our plates were not plates at all really, more like platters. Even my teenage girls couldn’t finish their food and trust me, my girls are serious eaters.

The trash situation about killed me. There was no place to recycle anything. We had to sort and cart it all out but I am willing to be we were the only ones doing that. Compost was certainly not happening. I threw out the dregs of the coffee thinking how my blueberries would have loved it. I actually threw away coffee grounds!!! I had no container for getting them home. The kids were making fun of me for bringing home all of the soap that only been used for a shower or two. Perhaps that was the hardest part for me. In two short days, I could see them falling for the lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. They expected to be entertained every minute and were plotting how to get us to take them back ASAP.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been reading Dies The Fire while I lounged by the pool. Post-apocalyptic literature is better saved for a day when you are setting out the tomatoes or foraging mushrooms. All I could think of was the collapse of the Roman Empire. Even with the cold rain, I am happy to be home.

I am feeling just a tad guilty complaining like this. There are millions of jobless people out there right now who would have been glad to trade places with me this weekend. I know that and I really did enjoy myself for the most part. Maybe I had more fun than I am willing to admit. Luxury is a lovey thing and I wasn’t too high on my horse to accept now, was I?

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