Thursday, December 18, 2008

stuff white people like

Funny, hits the spot, like kombucha on a hot day. It's like The Onion for white culture.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Data Store

[a story written long ago, but one that is frightening me how accurate it is becoming]

Civilization began with division of labor, with specialized labor, with surplus. Soon, someone had to manage that surplus efficiently and fairly, and thus begat government and bureaucracy. Someone had to defend that surplus, and the military was born. Someone had to sell this idea to the unbelieving public, and marketing came along. And that brings us to today.
The Data Store was the brainchild of Felecious Mumps. He devised a software/hardware gadget called The Key that used infinitely detailed codes to identify anyone and anything, anywhere this gadget the size of a grain of salt (often made into fashionable jewelry!) was placed. He made life very convenient for everyone, as no one really had time for details between a job, classes, and soccer practice. Gone were keys, checks or credit cards, identification cards, passports—anything that needed a password or number was made obsolete.
And then Felecious Mumps began to compile the data. Privacy advocates were appalled, but they were in the minority. With life so convenient, who cares about a bit of privacy? Marketing became much more efficient, and people were very pleased with that. No longer were they bombarded with messages about products and services they didn’t need. With the Data Store’s information, every consumer was assured that every ad they saw was something they needed.
In fact, it was practically impossible not to use The Key. Each person, product, and activity is assigned a number. One certainly had the “right” not to use The Key, but no transactions could be made without it. In the cities, tales arose of the country people (the Centrillic) not using The Key, but these tales were rarely believed. Who had the time to go back to paying for things, or worse yet, bartering? It was ridic to think these tales were real. Of course, the non-urban legends could not be verified because the InterSTAN Hiway did not go into the country.
And so it went, life becoming more and more efficient, creating more and more time for people to consume the need for more time to enjoy these things. Felecious Mumps sat in his castle, built upon the mountain, built upon what used to be the Sangamon Islands before the rising seas covered the tallest trees. Felecious played computer chess and ate tiramisu, and life could not be better, or worse, until the end of the system of things we now call civilization.
Although Felecious scoffed at his critics’ predictions of the end of the world as we know it and developed sound marketing strategies to defeat their concerns of overconsumption, he did listen to them and plan accordingly. It did not take a smart man to realize that resources were finite, although wealth was not. And Felecious Mumps was a very smart man.
The crash came at the end of June, a few days before Felecious’ birthday. He hadn’t told anyone about the upcoming shortage, and it wasn’t hard to keep it a secret since The Data Store’s recent takeover of UniCorp, its biggest competitor and fiercest ally. For weeks, he had been shifting around employees, even building new factories, so that all of the resources would run out simultaneously.
There was panic, of course, but Felecious appeared on television and radio to calm the masses. He had known, he told them, but they shouldn’t have worried. He had written a New Key that worked in conjunction with the Old Key but far exceeded the efficiency and usefulness of the Old Key. Since everyone’s buying habits, income, and personal data was programmed into the Data Store, the information would keep speeding along, just as if everyone were still working and consuming.
The people were relieved to hear that Felecious had thought of them and kept them in His plans. The New Key kept everyone notified of what was happening in their lives—promotions and raises, births, deaths, marriages, etc. And so it went on peacefully, for a week or so.
The people looked into their refrigerators and saw nothing there. “What will we eat? What will we drink?” they asked Felecious. “Do not worry, my children,” He said. “According to my records, your refrigerator was replenished at 10 a.m. today.”
And people held on for a few more days, until they realized that, suddenly, they were obsolete.
And Felecious Mumps sat in the tower of his castle built on the mountain, built upon what was known as the Sangamon Islands before the glaciers melted and covered even the tallest trees, playing computer chess and eating tiramisu, knowing that he was and would forever be the richest bastard that ever lived.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

mr. bush, here's some hair of the dog that bit ya

An Iraqi threw his shoes at the president in Baghdad, saying something along the lines of "This is a farewell kiss, you dog," for the first shoe, and "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq" for the second. The president wasn't harmed; saved by his quick Texan reflexes, he ducked. The man was tackled, some say beaten, and now will be prosecuted.

It was an insult, instead of a grenade, or else Cheney would be our president for a few weeks. (For cultural significance to shoe throwing, see here.) For many, this man is a hero, a folk hero, a David that stood up to the biggest Goliath imaginable. Thousands of people are taking to the streets demanding freedom for this man. I wonder if there government will listen to them as much as ours listens to us. Some news footage, woo.

I think last night it really hit me what it would mean to be an Iraqi. Not that I hadn't thought about it before, but reading what this guy has said about hating America and hating Iran, and not wanting the rich Iraqi culture and way of life to be swallowed up by either threat, it became clear. This is the fertile crescent, the garden of eden. America's first invasion of Iraq was when I was 17, more than half my life ago. I can't imagine living that long being occupied by armed street thugs (our military), living your daily life, trying to make some sort of sense of it all and provide for your children a life worth living. The shoe throwing for some reason put that all into clear perspective for me.

Muntadar al-Zaidi, I can only imagine how good it must have felt to chuck a shoe at W. I can only imagine how many Americans would love to have been in your shoes that day. Please know that a lot of us in the United States feel our country has been taken over by greed, by corporations, by the wealthy and powerful. We feel we have no say in our government, nor what atrocities it commits. This country has been entrenched in the same Leviathan that has gobbled your country. I hope someday we will again find ourselves living in the garden of eden, but until then, I wish you peace.


Monday, December 15, 2008


A few weeks ago, I posted about our kitty dying. We've moved to an acceptance of his untimely death, although we still miss his warm softness.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my cousin died, being shot in the head, supposedly by his wife. An investigation continues, and no one has been charged in his murder. He was a few years younger than me, and had two children, one of which he was raising by himself. We weren't close; we hadn't seen each other in 15 or 20 years.

Yesterday, my aunt died. She had had a stroke, most of her body was paralyzed, and she passed away. She was my mom's older sister. I was not particularly close to her, as she was the aunt who most vehemently thought I was stuck up since I attended college. I am the only person to have graduated from college in my family, ever. She, married at 15 with children soon to follow, thought life experience was what mattered. I think learning through life experience and books are both important, but she never asked me my opinion on that.

My last memory of my aunt was in my grampa's hospital room where he lay dying, with her telling me off that I didn't know nothing despite my education, and that I was going to end up like him someday, not knowing what was going on, dying from Old Timer's Disease. He didn't have Alzheimers; he lay dying from neglect, from lack of concern from several of his children and his country doctor who kept him on meds that his "big city" doc put him on, despite the quite obvious signs that his medications were greatly interfering with his ability to live. I really hated her then, and hadn't talked to her since. And now she's dead.

It's strange when distant relatives die. It's not that we're distantly related, but that there was distance between us. And it still affects me in some way. My cousin, we spent a summer together taking swimming lessons, with our aunt who was only a few years older than me. Since I never did anything remotely fun in my childhood like take swimming lessons, it was a special treat to do so. I hadn't had much of a chance to hang out with my cousin and my aunt either, since I hadn't met my dad til I was seven. (Blood tests later proved he was not my dad, and my cousin was no longer my cousin, but once you're related, you're related.)

My aunt lived a few blocks down from my grandparents, with whom I lived, when I was a young child. I often walked to her house by myself, believe it or not, when I was 5-6 years old. This was an ancient time ago, apparently, when children grew up in a society they could trust for the most part. My aunt at this time was in her late twenties, had a houseful of kids older than me, and her husband was making a relatively good living. She was kind. I enjoyed playing with my older cousins, and especially liked it when they would get down their jewelry box for me. They'd open the lid and I'd get to see the tiny ballerina going round and round, and listen to the music. We never had much for Christmas, but I remember around that time, my aunt made for me a dozen polyester barbie doll outfits, trimmed with rick rack. I enjoyed putting them on my barbies, clasping the hook and eye closures. She apparently felt something for me then, perhaps pity, or maybe love.

But as an adult, I don't know what happened. I tried to keep my nose clean, getting good grades, not partying or even swearing, rarely dating. But she would tell people she saw me on a street corner late at night, trying to pick up guys. When I went to college was the last straw for her, I guess. I found myself at college not because I had a desire to go, but through bizarre circumstances, it seemed better than my alternatives at that moment. I don't know if it was envy on behalf of herself, or maybe that of her children who also did not go to college. She was never nice to me again, and I didn't care.

This year marks the 10th year since I lost my grampa, and the 25th since I lost my gramma. They both raised me, and it's been a long time without them.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

eco bling

Ever hear of eco bling? I've never seen something that more makes me want to retch. But, it's so funny, I can't stop laughing. Here's a definition:

"eco-bling is something very special in the world. eco-bling is when something is both ecologically sustainable and brilliant, corporate and clever at the same time. eco-bling may not save the planet, but it will certainly get some attention."

Yes, green is the new pink, making cooling the earth, hot.

The proposed Anara Tower in Dubai, where shortly ago was the it place, but now reeling from cheap and unwanted gas, has also been tagged as eco bling. Scroll halfway down this page until you get to the view of the Palm Island from the Tower (it's not the Tower of Babel, we swear!). If you don't know about the man-made and very exclusive Palm Island in Dubai, it's worth looking up. There's even some nice pictures on google earth.

A no doubt very expensive eco bling car. Doesn't it make you want to run out and buy it?

Even Wal-Mart is getting into the action:

I really don't see how buying crap is going to improve our environment, build soil, clean our air and water, or free our minds and souls and those of our descendants from the black iron prison/cave of treasures we find ourselves in. It seems like the same old crap in new packaging. It's like buying a solar panel to collect dust or a new hybrid suv to commute to your world-damaging job from the burbs.

Surely, we can use our vivid imaginations and large brains to create something more useful than this shiny repackaged crap. Surely we can take another step, and create a new paradigm, enter this frontier of living in a way that doesn't destroy the earth. Well, you know as well as I do that when we talk about saving the earth, we are really talking about saving ourselves, saving humanity--not saving it, but not killing it off, and letting the humanity of the future have some chance of living a decent life. In fact, we could create new systems of living that are low-tech, cooperative instead of competitive, and that will outlive us, with full invitation from our offspring to improve them and make them more relevant. Sounds better than eco bling in this ghetto.


Friday, December 5, 2008

my fancy speech

This here is a 10-minute speech I wrote about citizen action, specifically about food not lawns, to give at the local Meet Your Producers (farmers) event in Springfield. My hope was to incite a riot of internal passion and subsequent changed behavior in favor of living in a new paradigm. However, the event was a lot less formal than I anticipated, and I scrapped the speech in favor of dialogue. But if I ever get a chance to speak in front of a ladies' club, like dear Vachel Lindsay, here is what I will say:

Citizen Action

Food not lawns is a network of gardeners who encourage folks to plant up their yards in food instead of grass. We encourage sustainable organic practices, and the joy that comes from planting food and eating it. We are very much into sharing our collective knowledge and skills with our community. We hold monthly educational meetings on a variety of topics, from worm composting and the honeybee die-off to the basics of gardening and permaculture design. This past spring, our members hosted several garden tours, and a free seed and plant swap. We’ve attempted to answer a multitude of gardening questions, and give encouragement to those who have sought it. We place ourselves within the whole of the context of community.

Some statistics on lawns: Americans spend approximately $30 billion every year to maintain over 23 million acres of lawn. That’s an average of over a third of an acre and $500 per lawn. The same size plot of land could still have a small lawn for recreation, plus produce all of the vegetables needed to feed a family of six. The lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water per week—enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables, all summer long.

Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland, including about 150-300 million pounds of pesticides annually. Pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global climate change, and greatly increase our risk of disease. Of the 36 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 can cause cancer, 14 can cause birth defects, 11 can interfere with reproduction, and 21 can damage your nervous system. Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural toxins than industrial farming, making lawns the largest agricultural sector in the United States. But it’s not just the residential lawns that are wasted on grass. There are around 700,000 athletic grounds and 14,500 golf courses in the United States, many of which used to be fertile, productive farmland that was lost to developers when the local markets bottomed out.

Citizen action, to me, is a key in changing our future. If you pay any attention to news stories, you know what kind of dire straits our nation and planet are in. And yet, for all our lawmakers have done and have attempted to do, we are still deeply in the hole we have dug with our past actions. I think real change will take each and every one of us thinking deeply about what we are doing every day in our lives. What kind of world are we building each day with the choices we make? What kind of future are we building? Are we designing functioning low-tech systems that will outlive us? Or are we building deserts and landfills for our children to inherit? You may think we’re attempting to save the world, but really, we’re attempting to save humanity. Without a livable functioning planet, there can be no human culture.

When I became a parent was when the state of our world really hit me. I decided that there was no more passing the buck, no more putting off until tomorrow what I could accomplish myself today. I do not want my child and her children to inherit an uninhabitable world. I want her to grow up in a vast lush forest, feeling deeply connected with a living world. I want her to be able to drink the water and breathe the air. I want her to know vitally what living in a strong intensely caring community means. I am not willing to wait for someone else to create this future.

What can we do as citizens? Anything we can think of! We are humans; we have big brains, vivid imaginations, and an amazing ability to adapt. Creativity is our most valuable and versatile design tool. We can see solutions, not problems. What kind of life would you live if you had no constraints of time and money? Think about this. What does a life well lived look like? Envisioning a sustainable future is the first step in enacting this story. Spend time thinking. Think about where your food and material needs come from, and what kind of damage to our planet must happen to enable it to arrive on store shelves. Think about if this is the story you would like to enact.

The farmers and producers in this room have a lot to contribute to enacting a sustainable future for all. Here you see men and women who do what they can to provide nourishment and sustenance on a local level. They are most likely not wealthy. Being a farmer today does not usually bring a lot of riches unless you are getting taxpayer provided subsidies for dumping chemicals on what used to be the most fertile lands in the world, and building deserts. The producers in this room go beyond the desire to make a living for themselves. Often times, they are agents of change. The first time I ever tasted a naturally raised chicken from Bear Creek Farm and Ranch, I knew I could never go back to eating Tyson’s chemically and industrially raised chickens. I don’t desire to eat torture and habitat destruction, even if the monetary price is less. The social costs far outweigh the economic cost. There isn’t any point in eating imported tomatoes out of season, nor tasteless vapid strawberries.

And now we’re back to Food Not Lawns. You may have heard of the 100-mile diet, the attempt to eat regionally, to eat food raised within 100 miles of your home. I challenge you to supplement this with the 100-foot diet. Make a change, starting at your doorstep. Plant food you and your children and your grandchildren enjoy eating within walking distance of your front door, and taste the difference. Taste what food grown with your own two hands in nutrient-rich soil is like. In a life full of health instead of health care, your food is your medicine.

If circumstances do not allow you to walk out your front door and plant, get creative. Use that big brain and active imagination! Put potted plants on your balcony or in a sunny window. Get involved with community gardens or garden swapping. Plant an edible landscaping, so persnickety neighbors will not be offended–and share your harvest with them! Have a brown thumb? Experience and observation will soon turn it green. Attend our free gardening workshops in January and February to learn all about gardening, from building nutrient-rich soil, saving seeds, all the way to designing with permaculture to create sustainable human habitats. We’re going to cover it. Need seeds or plants? Come to our seed and plant swap to get a start. Need advice or help? Ask us. We have an online group with experienced gardeners, and our meetings are always attended by knowledgeable folks.

More than simply raising your own food, you may find yourself in the midst of a community you never knew could exist. The economy of community is abundance, sharing and helping, as opposed to the money economy of scarcity, which encourages competition and ever widens the gap between us and them. You want unlimited growth? You can have it: relationships and experiences, self-awareness, community and connection, spirit, love, purpose, meaning and vision. Value cooperation instead of competition.

A crisis is an opportunity for change. If there is a happy ending to the story of humanity, it will be because we envisioned and enacted a new story, with the rest of the community of life, on the pages of the living world. We are pioneers, not on a mythical far-away frontier, but in our hearts, our minds, our communities, our future. We can build up a new world. Once occupied minds are activating. People are waking up. We can step to the heartbeats of our granddaughters and grandsons, and rise together to meet this challenge, this opportunity, to build up a new world, a world worth inhabiting.

It is time to show up in our own lives and speak our truth. It’s time to talk about this with everyone we see. It is time to act with great intention. Citizens, find your work, and do it. We need it all. It may seem an immense challenge, but if our alternative is extinction, what do we have to lose? Whatever path you choose, choose. Do not sit idly by.

When you plant a seed, you are planting hope. After the seed sprouts, grows, and you eat the fruit of your labors, you are a changed person. Change yourself, talk to others, encourage the people in your community to walk away from war and building deserts and landfills. The proverbial garden is beneath our feet, under the pavement, pulsing with life, waiting for sunlight, moisture, and a caring heart and tender hand. We are citizens in action. We are the change we want to see. I invite you to join us.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

rest in peace, cozy kitty

Cozy the kitty fell off the roof last night, and broke his back. It was only a brief time until he passed away. He was three years old. He is missed by all in this house, especially by Kaleigh, because he was, above all, her kitty. He will forever be remembered as the softest cat ever, especially with his thick winter fur. We remember his penchant for curling up in box-like structures and for tuna fish, his amazing mouse-catching abilities, his love of catnip, his desire for fresh food pellets every day, how he loved to snuggle with Kaleigh in the mornings and when she was ill, and how extremely cozy and cuddly he was at all times really. We will plant some catnip in his memory.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Today we were recognized by the Lt. Governor of Illinois as a Sustainable School. If you'd like to see our Funschool at Home in an official list, it's here. We are funschool at home. It is nice to be recognized, and also nice to be called by the staff of a public official with some integrity and interest in issues that I think really matter, and have said staffer say, "We're excited about what you're doing!"

A lot has been going on. We've been incredibly busy. It's never a regret, since being busy usually means we are getting a lot done or having a lot of fun, and the last couple of weeks have been full of both. But it's also nice to take a break from busyness, to spend the day in our jammers, lounging around (still waiting for that, maybe tomorrow?). Here's what we've been up to.

Community gardens have been on our minds. Food not lawns Springfield is pursuing several different ideas regarding community gardens. I attended a meeting today at the Dept. of Agriculture on behalf of fnl. They are planning on turning part of the infield of the racetrack at the grandstand into community gardens (at the State Fairgrounds, north end of Springfield). They will have roughly 500-600 roughly 10' by 12' plots available. Wow! That is an incredible opportunity for the citizens of Springfield. I am hopeful with not only this option, but the other options food not lawns is pursuing. Next week's fnl meeting features our friends Mike and Abby, and will be about their adventures forest gardening.

Next weekend, we are going to do a food not lawns table at the local Meet Your Producers event on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Last year they had about 400 people. I think I will need to print out a few more brochures...

Knitting has also been on my mind and hands. Kaleigh has learned to knit and started on a scarf. Somehow knitting socks has clicked in my brain. I knitted a pair for Kaleigh in about ten days' time. She's been wearing them nonstop since (got to wash them sometime!). I started knitting some for my step-dad for Christmas now. I love knitting socks!

I finally got the last of the garden squared away. The tomato tally is 32 quarts of red tomatoes canned, and 24 quarts of green tomato pickles. We have a crock of fermenting green tomato dill pickles. The last drying herbs and seeds are packed away for the winter. Whew. I am glad to be done for a while.

Kaleigh has been to play dates galore in the last couple of weeks, including her organized classes which provide social time. We've also started playing racquetball in our downtime between art class and open swim at the Y. Yesterday we went to the children's museum with four other kids & had a screaming time, literally. It was all good, just all good and loud! The pictures at left are Kaleigh next to the Children's museum's tarantula (she got to pet it), and Kaleigh, Payton, & Kallie playing in the post office.

This Saturday, Don is taking Kaleigh to the circus. We scored some free tickets. Also, they will be attending Collector's Day at the Illinois State Museum. It will hopefully not be too blustery!

I think that's all the news that fits.


Monday, November 3, 2008

voting with consciousness

Well, here we are, on the eve of another presidential election. I'm so happy, mostly because the spectacle noise will die down appreciatively after tomorrow, provided that each sides' dirty tricks don't mar the appearance of a "true winner".

Whether you vote or not, no matter who you vote for, I implore anyone who reads this blog to not give away your personal power to make change. Change within, talk with others. Memes spread, lives change. If we can envision what we would like our world to be, we can make it so. It takes each of us, voting every day for things that matter. Yes, it's good to think about the polar ice caps melting & know that our continued outlandish patterns of consumption are making the difference. If we keep on down the same path, we know where we will end up. It ain't pretty, especially for those who come after us, born into toxicity, and dying in it, living lives in steel and concrete cages, never knowing they were alive in the first place.

It's good to take the red pill and be aware of the bad shit, but also good not to dwell in it. Sometimes it seems like a bad dream, but people are waking up. We've got big brains, and we can think. We use our imaginations. We learn and adapt. We're humans. It's our specialty. And now it's time to switch off the part of our brain that occupies itself with flashing screens and imaginary rituals that promote death. If we kill our habitat, surely that means we are killing ourselves. And that's pretty dumb if you stop and think about it.

It's time to switch on the part our brain that lives in another paradigm. We can do better than this win/lose world, can't we, way way better than empire? Win/win sounds much better. In the economy of money, the have nots suffer while the haves kill themselves with indulgence. In the economy of community, we give time and help to each other. The more we spend, the more we receive. Community is an unlimited growth economy. Ask yourself, what matters? Think about this constantly until you find an answer. I have thought of a few things: food and shelter, human relationships, contentment.

We live in a world that is totally constructed by our minds. Is Wal-Mart real? If we didn't believe it was real, would it go away (Phillip K. Dick's reality test)? Yes! Money, government, social class--all these things disappear when we stop believing in them. They are constructs, consensus reality. They do not exist outside of us believing in them. Think of your paper money. Is it real? It's paper, which is not backed by hard currency like gold or silver. It's backed by the economy of the United States. If the economy tanks, the dollar tanks. It's only worth what worth we give it, which isn't much here recently.

If we live in an imaginary world, it's fairly easy to dismiss the importance of the death-wish culture in my life when it no longer felt relevant. I get the feeling this is how paradigms change. It's been 200 plus years since a bunch of rich guys signed a piece of paper declaring that we were all free and equal. We're still dealing with institutionalized racism and classism. If government were going to make a positive change, don't you think we'd be seeing it by now? It's been 50 years since the civil rights era. Sure, on paper, we're equal. But we can look around at our segregated town and prison cells and see with our own eyes it's not.

I don't have much, well, any faith left that my government will do something meaningful. I mean, hell, faceless men are still being tortured in Cuba on my behalf. I think I can make more and positive change in my community by being active every day, by fomenting change, growing and eating the food on my doorstep, talking with people, acknowledging the marginalized (minorities, homeless, soil, trees) as equals in a world of community, being open and honest about what I do. I vote for that, and I vote for it every day.

I hear all about what I'm supposed to do tomorrow, but quite honestly, I think it's what I do the other 1,460 days that make a difference.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

keeping the harvest

With freezing temperatures eminent, I spent a couple hours in the garden yesterday, harvesting what I could. That included a pile of dry beans, carrots, fennel, parsley, bee balm, a laundry basket and canner full of tomatoes (!), mostly green, and enough lemon balm to make a big carboy of wine, plus 2 quarts of tea. I cooked up the ripe tomatoes and with what I had cut up previously & added 6 quarts of tomatoes to the pantry. The remainder of the bag of apples Dave & Dorothy (Don's parents) gave us made 4 and a half quarts of delicious apple sauce/butter, and the cores are fermenting into apple cider vinegar. We shelled scarlet runner beans yesterday to save for seed. My friends Patrick and Abby helped me cut green tomatoes, and now 5 gallons are soaking overnight to be made into pickles tomorrow. Green tomato pickles are one of my favorite childhood foods. Still a lot to do, including find/acquire some more canning jars.

Patrick brought over some leftover mushroom soup and other culinary goodies. It was a delighted crowd of eaters. Merry brought her neighbor's homemade salsa and some chips, plus a jar of hot and spicy pickled beets. Otherwise we have been eating on some white bean and scarce vegetables chicken broth soup, with rosemary. It's pretty good. It's starting to be good soup weather! It's been great cooking on the woodstove again.

Here is Kaleigh in her first two Halloween outfit choices. Dressed as a pioneer (left), she attended the Where the Wild Things Are event at the Illinois State Museum today. She & Don saw a cool owl show, went on a scavenger hunt, and had a pretty good, although stimulating, time. The outfit on right is Kaleigh as a queen, and she attended the (crowded) farmers market costume contest. Although she was one queen of many at the farmers market, she was the only pioneer at the museum. Hooray for homemade outfits and original ideas. Kaleigh and I went to the free festival downtown yesterday also. It was a bit stimulating as well, with lots of sugared up kids, and a lot of time spent waiting in line. We got to go on two hay rides, which was very strange (daylight, lots of traffic, pavement in every direction). No one fell off that I have heard.

When I was a kid we used to have harvest parties, when there was a full moon in October. We'd have a big bonfire, and roast marshmallows and hot dogs. There was a lot of potluck food also. When the moon rose, we'd go on a hay ride, with my grampa on the tractor. It was great fun. These would often take place after a day of cutting wood up in the hills, taking down a few dead trees and cutting them up to provide my grandparents with a winter's worth of fuel.

And now a pile of dishes are awaiting me in the kitchen, to clean up for further culinary adventures tomorrow. In the cold and breezy day of tomorrow promise, Kaleigh starts her first culture club class, and will go to another free and open swim after homeschooling swimming class ends. And then a warm kitchen!


Friday, October 24, 2008

so much beauty it can make you cry

Reading the headlines can sure make you depressed. The economic system of the planet is tanking, global climate change is coming on faster & stronger than scientists' models predicted, education is making children hate learning (the trademark of being human!), and so on. So when I hear about beautiful things, I get excited.

In Pasadena, California, the Dervaes family is making a living on their 1/5 acre city lot, producing 6000 pounds of food last year. They encourage the 100 foot diet. They live an inspired life, and their contentment shows. They live simply, but intently. And it's not impossible for any of us to live this way.

If you're interested in learning more about the Dervaes family, there's a lot on youtube. Additionally, check out the blog at Their web presence is at I am hopeful to be able to get through interlibrary loan a movie about them. The trailer is at

Anais Dervaes says she feels like she was born in the wrong time, that she identifies with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Me as well. I don't like electrically powered kitchen noise, convenience foods, or microwaves. They're unnecessary to worthwhile living. The thrill I get opening up a pantry with shelves bursting with canned garden produce is probably the same feeling someone else would get browsing for a new car. I can't help but be different.

I've been reading a book by William Coperthwaite called A Handmade Life. It's a beautiful book. I enjoy that he talks about all the beauty you can see and feel, and that beauty should be something of abundance in our lives, not scarcity. I like his idea that "we must learn to see beauty in our neighbors living well". You can be sure by "well" he doesn't mean in McMansions with giant lawns, but well in a sense that they are cared for by us and by each other, and have enough. Even though we live in a ghetto, I am constantly amazed by the beauty I see. It's mostly the human interaction that reaches me, people caring about each other in a way that I never saw when I worked a job for a living. These people are so rich, so wealthy in human interaction and love and beauty. I feel privileged to live in such a place.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

stacking functions

One of the permaculture design ideas is called stacking functions, and this is an example. This woodstove not only heats our house, it functions as a cookstove and a dryer. It also warms up the wine so that we can brew into the chilly months. The woodstove has been getting a winter preview the last week. We've been soooo toasty.

Our friend Dan brought over a hydraulic wood splitter, and we were able to split a cord or two of wood, including almost all the large stumps that were lining our driveway. We are now down to the huge stackpile in our back yard, what used to be the giant elm, and that is all that is left to be split. The same day, our friend Steve brought over his drill & he and Don drilled holes and set the faucets for a couple of rain barrels. Don is considering overflow methods, and then this project will be a functioning part of our homestead.

I have canned 25 quarts of tomatoes for this winter. I have another four quarts in the refrigerator, waiting until the day comes when I make applesauce & get the canner out. The tomato plants are still producing big beautiful tasty tomatoes, but the colder weather has slowed them down. Frost is imminent, of course, and we shall see how it goes. I am hoping to make a big batch of green tomato pickles when the time comes. We also have quite a few carrots out in the garden to dig up. The big pan on the woodstove in the picture above is chicken stock soup. I made stock a few days ago, and it's been overflowing the refrigerator. Today I cut up most of the vegetables in the house & made a hefty pile of soup. I am going to fill up the freezer & we'll eat the rest.

Our friend Mike brought over a pile of dumpstered bread from his step-dad (who only likes white bread). We've had a pile of cheese to go with it. We also plowed through the pile of eggs from our friend Shannon & our friends Matt & Debbie from the farmers market. We've been chowing, on good food. We've been drinking wine also: raspberry, plum, peach. There's only a couple of farmers markets left.

I went to a knitting group last night and had a good time. There are several experienced knitters, and I am hopeful to make another pair of wearable socks, and learn how to sew a pattern. Today I went to a meeting today with the pastor of a church down the street. He is interested in starting a garden to supplement their food pantry. What a great idea! I am hopeful this will be a fruitful venture, and I like that it is only a block from my house.

Community, that's our wealth. It's wealth that expands with each interaction. It doesn't get scarce, only more plentiful. Even if the U.S. economy tanks, community can get stronger and more abundant. I count my blessings. They are many.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

mo money

Couldn't help but chuckle at this headline:

US debt clock runs out of digits

That was when it went woosh! over ten trillion, but no worries, they are adding two more zeroes. It'll soon be able to record a quadrillion dollars in debt. I have no idea what that means. I was barely comprehending billion when trillion started being bandying about. And now, for the first time in my life, I see quadrillion mentioned as an actual "for real" item. (Well, except that money is all pretend & it's one of the big con games they don't want you to find out about.) I wonder how many years before they'll have to add more digits. And how many more after that we're pushing around wheelbarrows of worthless paper to buy bread.

Where is all this money coming from that we are supposedly giving to the banks? The U.S. no longer relies on the gold standard, but the value of our money is backed by the U.S. economy. Does that mean our money is worth less, or even worthless? Certainly, the more they invent to grease the wheels of commerce, the less any of it has in make-believe value. I'm not sure why the stability of our neighborhoods and communities should be based on the ability of banks to loan money.

And in Cook County, Illinois, the sheriff is not enforcing any more evictions. Now there's someone who's going to get a lot of votes come election time!


Thursday, October 2, 2008

and these are the superpowers of our lives

I didn't see this reported in the american online news I follow, which is cnn. But this is some of what the bbc had to say about what we're not quite aware of, yet:

US superpower status is shaken

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

US Congress
Will Uncle Sam still bestride the world in future?
The financial crisis is likely to diminish the status of the United States as the world's only superpower.

On the practical level, the US is already stretched militarily, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is now stretched financially.

On the philosophical level, it will be harder for it to argue in favour of its free market ideas, if its own markets have collapsed.

Pivotal moment?

Some see this as a pivotal moment.

The political philosopher John Gray, who recently retired as a professor at the London School of Economics, wrote in the London paper The Observer: "Here is a historic geopolitical shift, in which the balance of power in the world is being altered irrevocably. The era of American global leadership, reaching back to the Second World War, is over... The American free-market creed has self-destructed while countries that retained overall control of markets have been vindicated. In a change as far-reaching in its implications as the fall of the Soviet Union, an entire model of government and the economy has collapsed. How symbolic that Chinese astronauts take a spacewalk while the US Treasury Secretary is on his knees."


I read elsewhere that rumors are circulating about a week-long bank holiday, and read the encouragement to have food on hand & necessary paper money around. I happened to buy a stash of bus cards the other day, and my pantry is full. I can survive pretty well without money for weeks at a time, so I'm not worried. My bank is also somewhat small and local, and I have practically no money invested in it!


Monday, September 29, 2008

collapsing investors

I was surprised indeed that the U.S. House did not pass the bailout. I read today that after that happened, $1.2 trillion evaporated from the stock market. Personally, I can't make sense of it. The stock marketers don't get $700 billion of worthlessly inflating greenbacks, and $1.2 trillion disappears?

The House may eventually pass the bailout, but they'll pay for it come election time. What a juicy time for this crisis to happen. Apparently, American taxpayers are announcing their objections to raking us and our descendants over the coals. I feel like such a Republican being against the bailout!

I read that the bailout would enable banks to loan money again, for things like mortgages, business loans, student loans, etc. I honestly don't see the benefit in this. It seems like slowing down the pace of rapid-fire loans would be a good idea. I don't know who in this economy survives on credit, but it isn't me.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

yeah, what this guy says

This is my home. It is where I come from and come back to. It is the place I sit to understand.

This place has been here since long before us and will be here long after us.

Because it's not that we're destroying the world.

We're only destroying our ability to live on it.

This place will be here forever.

But where will be the eyes to love it?

--by some minor superhero called no impact man

tomato crazy

This first lovely picture is seeds, separated by variety, fermenting for a few days before sitting out to dry, label & pack up for next year's planting. We have a lot of heirloom varieties, and I didn't write down the names of anything. Sometime I will have to figure out the real names of pink and red yellow sunset tomatoes. Maybe. Otherwise I'll just have mixed heirloom varieties. The next picture is the four quarts of tomatoes I canned last week, all made from our garden tomatoes, all mixed heirloom varieties.

And lastly, there is a picture of our ripe and ripening tomatoes. I find green tomatoes on the ground and bring them in to ripen. The winds from the remains of hurricane Ike blew over the cages, and we've been ripening dozens in the house since then. The bowl of tomatoes in the front of the picture is what I harvested in one pass through the garden. I haven't harvested in a couple of days, but this is kind of ridiculous! I'm going to be processing soon enough!

Friday, September 26, 2008

let me count the ways I enjoy not owning a car

"No gas. What will we do? We won't be able to do anything. We can't go to work. We can't do anything," one driver said.

Still laughing over that one. Police are monitoring gas stations that have gas in the southeastern U.S. I see that gas is only $3.59 a gallon here. That's cheap.

"It's been a nightmare for everybody," one driver said.


A petroleum executive suggested that the football game between the University of Georgia and University of Alabama should be canceled this weekend because fans could drain all the gas in the Athens area, WSB-TV in Atlanta reported. "That gas needs to be used for people to go to work, and for people to take care of their families," Tex Pitfield, president and CEO of Saraguay Petroleum in Atlanta, told WGAU radio in Athens. But representatives of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said he would not consider "a ridiculous idea like this," WSB said.


It seems like if they (whoever is running this country, whoever they are!) rationed gas, this would solve a lot of the fuel shortage problems, especially since the press stresses how most of the gas shortage is caused by consumer stupidity--hoarding. Why aren't they rationing? That would be a big psychological defeat in the American dreamworld where We Still Rule. Next we'd be closing down stock markets or banks to get a handle on the panic. We surely can't do that! Printing more money is a much less psychologically painful option.

Another quote from someone and something that happened a long time ago:

"Mr. Chairman, we have in this Country one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known. I refer to the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Banks, hereinafter called the Fed. The Fed has cheated the Government of these United States and the people of the United States out of enough money to pay the Nation's debt. The depredations and iniquities of the Fed has cost enough money to pay the National debt several times over.

"This evil institution has impoverished and ruined the people of these United States, has bankrupted itself, and has practically bankrupted our Government. It has done this through the defects of the law under which it operates, through the maladministration of that law by the Fed and through the corrupt practices of the moneyed vultures who control it."

If you're way interested, the whole shebang is at But yikes!

I'm glad I'm not hung up on this future that has been written for us, that I can use my imagination and creativity, that I can rely on my neighbors and community, that I can survive in trying times, that I can provide for a lot of my needs directly. I have a clear vision of my future, and there is no doubt in my mind that I am living it already.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

germ warfare

I was born in a hospital, not the cleanest place. I played in the dirt a lot as a kid, and lived on a truck route, near the train tracks, near the river. I got hit by a car. Later, I lived in the middle of a farm field, one where pesticides and fertilizers were sprayed on the fields, sometimes by planes. Our water came from a well in the middle of all this, the low point where the toxic soup drained. I used to wade in a creek 1/2 mile downstream from a mega hog confinement operation, and lived a mile upwind of another. I ate fish full of mercury from local streams. I ate a ton of chickens and eggs, never inspected by men in white suits. I went to a concrete block school by bus an hour each way. Town water had nitrates so high they turned off the drinking fountains at school. The biggest risks of death were cancer and suicide.

Later, I ate a lot of processed foods, lots of spam and gravy, lots of koolaid and extruded foods like cheese curls. I drank a lot of soda. I ate very little, starving my body, and only feeding it tiny amounts of non-nutritious foods like chips, soda, and candy. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, with physical and mental violence being normal. Guilt was abundant. I worked a lot of hours while maintaining good grades. I've washed my hands in gasoline. I worked in a paper factory, Wal-Mart and in fast food. I was a substitute teacher. I've spent many years in front of a lead screen with an aching back, and talked on a cordless phone countless hours.

I never brushed my teeth at all nor bathed more than once a week until I was a teenager. I never washed my hands after going to the bathroom until I was in my twenties. I've only had a flu shot once. I avoid doctors, but even if I didn't, I have useless state-provided health care, good only at the ER. I ride a bike in Springfield's traffic, without a helmet. I lived on a major commuter street for a year. I jaywalk.

I don't always wash my produce before I eat it. I eat out of dumpsters and off the floor. I'd rather eat weeds than have a full-time job. I eat expired food, dairy that's gone "bad" and fermented cabbage. I drink alcohol on a daily basis. I don't take prozac, nor talk to a counselor. I don't use antibacterial soap. My child is not fully immunized.

I know this world is toxic, and you've got to take precautions. But for today, I feel strong.

an alternative to toxic debt...your future

I would like to share a post on my friend Abby's blog. It is the most succinct explanation of the housing/bank/stupidity crisis, as well as a more accurate picture of the possible future than I have read in the virtual papers.

I second all of what Abby says. I think we have lost sight of the paradigm of the god of money, and it seems we are well on our way on the path of community. When money means nothing, and people mean everything, we find ourselves living in a different paradigm. It's bound to happen. Feedback makes changes, as surely as three of the top 5 financial players have ceased to exist, there will be a future that does not revolve around money. It has to be. America will never be as wealthy as it was 60 years ago. Good-paying jobs will not be available for every American to access.

And it will not matter. We will have ourselves to rely on to create a meaningful future, in places and with people worth caring about. It is one option available to all, without regards to race, gender, age, caste status, or capabilities. I have no faith that a system of representational leadership will end institutional racism, sexism, etc. A woman now earns around 75% of what a man does, and in my state you are 57 times more likely to go to prison for drugs if you are black. It's been generations since the civil rights era, and this method, the feedback tells me, isn't viable.

We can think a lot. We can explore our passions, get to be creative generalists again. We can share knowledge, assistance, and good will. We can bridge the gap between the paradise we lost (eden) and the carrot-on-a-stick paradise (heaven) not attainable. We can raise children who function as part of society, not cogs to be managed from birth to death by schools, jails, workplaces, and nursing homes--bureaucracy for all! We can be part of an integrated community, neighbors who belong to a place for as long as the elms.

Yeah, what Abby says! America, are you tired of getting screwed? Finally?!?! Is it so blatant and in your face that you can't deny the corrupt corporate government that was not elected by the majority? There are vast numbers of nonvoters who are in reality voting for something else. Who cares what happens the next (s)election day, when it's really what you do the other 1,460 days of a presidential term that makes a real difference.

The socialists and anarchists had a lot to say after the depression, and a lot of people were listening--they had nothing else to do. And then came massive government intervention with pumped in money, mass production, and a war to focus on. What will happen after this depression? There is no money to be pumped in (and if it is pumped in, it will go only to corporations). There is no war we can win. And mass production fled long ago. Will people be talking about things that matter, instead of nascar chariot races or the dumb things the president does? Will people be more attuned to think about the writings of people like Abby?

A lot of people are searching for something else, because they know this exponential growth economy has hit a dead end. Well, I'll be in the ghetto, forgetting about politics and major league baseball, and remembering how to save seeds, share plants and food, kicking it with my unemployed neighbors, laughing and carrying on especially with the kids, eating raspberries and holding babies, hugging friends in need, listening. We'll be living life every day, bringing joy to ourselves, using creativity as a key to the locks of the next paradigm. Won't you join us?


"With as much love as I have, and as much heart as I can give, I am yours, each of yours, through and through. Let's stop trying to put up with this crazy world and start envisioning our own lives becoming fulfilled and abundant. I promise that we can do this, we can truly build our lives differently, and it doesn't take change from the top down. Change You, and the world changes. "--Abby

Saturday, September 20, 2008

socializing the banks

In doing the math, say dividing the $700 billion we're forking over to "fix" the economy, by the estimated ten million households (U.S. Census bureau's 2010 estimate), it equals out to about $70,000 per household. Well, damn, my house only cost $25,000. I imagine there are lots of small livable houses for that price or less, especially in dilapidated urban and rural areas. It seems giving money to American people rather than corporations would make a lot more fiscal sense and provide a lot more security to our citizenry, to have every American owning their own home. Wouldn't we be rather impervious to most any financial collapse, if we weren't in danger of losing our homes? The government could even set up an economic renewal program repopulating urban and rural ghettos, focusing on remaking them as walkable functioning neighborhoods within cities, and promoting reclaimed lots & fields for small scale local agricultural and livestock (chickens, goats, bees, etc.) entrepreneurships.

Surely some of our elected leaders have more vision and scope of creativity than just rewarding greedy bankers with wads of someone else's money (our lives even, which is what we trade the money for, and those of our grandchildren, observing the raising of the absolute maximum debt cap!) when the pyramid scheme flounders. It seems the same old isn't going to do much lasting adjustments, but will continue to reward those who invest in short-term get rich, long-term bankruptcy kinds of options. A public works administration focused on rebuilding our country's infrastructure and vital necessary non-industries (farming!) could employ thousands of Americans, effectively jumpstarting the economy rather immediately. Why is giving money to guys in suits considered good for our country, but to give money to our citizens disgusting and pathetic welfare?

Loved this book by Curtis White, The Spirit of Disobedience: Resisting the Charms of Fake Politics, Mindless Consumption, and the Culture of Total Work. (The author lives an hour from me, but we'll never meet in person, because neither of us drive. Ha!)


Families--I used to be part of a giant, close-knit family. I have seven aunts and uncles, more than 30 cousins, and I've lost track of second and third cousins. And that is just on my mother's side. We used to be a close-knit family, getting together often, all of us, but not anymore. My grandparents have been dead a long time, and there was a lot of strife in my family after my grampa died a decade ago. However, I remember what it was like, and I thought I'd share.

This first picture is at one of our family get-togethers. We're at a park, under a big shelter, and believe me, we took up all the tables. On the left is me, and to the right are my cousins Carolyn & Davy. We are toasting marshmallows, if you can't tell, over a grill. In the background between us is my cousin Beverly holding my baby brother Cory. Standing and sitting are the aunties and unks. The guys would shoot the breeze, talking about work and cars. They'd pitch horseshoes. The women would talk about their gardens and their kids. These family get-togethers were often held around my birthday, so we'd get the added bonus of cake. Everybody brought food, all homemade. My tribe of cousins and I would play til it got dark. Nowadays, some of my cousins are grandparents, and some are still in middle school. Some have died under mysterious circumstances, and many are alcoholics.

This picture is of me (at left) with my gramma (hair in pincurls), and my cousins Jody and Linda. When I was a little kid, we'd always go on these fantastic vacations. My grandparents had a pick-up shell camper, and one aunt & unk had a pop-up tow-behind camper. We'd drive out west, down south, out east, camp & eat, and see all the beautifulness of what used to be. My grampa would often get preaching gigs, which would also get us some hygiene, some hot food, free parking, and access to a kitchen to prepare next week's food on the road.

One year we went to North Carolina, to visit the remnants of Cherokee tribes (my grampa was half Cherokee). But mostly it was out west, going from national park to national park. One year it was a huge family event, and this is where this picture was from. It was still my grandparents & one aunt & unk, but we had a mob of cousins going as well. Some rode on motorcycles and dirt bikes, others piled into vehicles. We caravanned, slept out, and had a generally good time. In this picture, you can bet we were all wearing homemade clothes (and most likely hand-me-downs), and don't we look styling, especially my cousin's huge sunglasses!

And finally, this is a picture of my brother and me, with our dog Snapper (names so because he liked to nip your hands as you walked). This is right after we moved out to a big old Victorian house that had been abandoned for decades. It was a trip. The house itself was quite beautiful, in all its falling-down glory. I lived there with my grandparents mostly til I was ten, and sometimes after I stayed with my grampa for lengths of time. We had two giant woodstoves that kept three rooms warm, and the rest of the house was closed up in the winter. We slept in cold bedrooms, all together. There was, of course, no air conditioning, and living in a valley full of corn, you can imagine how hot it was in the summer.

Once my grampa saw a panther, and we had to stay inside for a week. It was never spotted again, although coyotes, foxes, and snakes continued to be a good deterrent for me to go exploring on my own very often. We had a chicken coop, and always had plenty of eggs & fried chicken for Sunday dinner. The house was torn down after my step-grandmother insisted on moving to town. My grampa had an auction (he was a pack-rat), and moved out. I like to think if I had not chosen to go to college, this house would still exist somewhere besides my head.

Until I was 17, I lived in the "modern" house next door, about 100 yards away. This modern house had no bathroom, and only a hand pump in the kitchen when we moved in. It took a while to convince animals that they were not welcome there any longer. My parents still live there, although the place will be torn down when my step-dad passes away.

I grew up poor, but I never felt in need. I didn't realize the depth of the poverty until I spent a semester in college and came back to visit. Although I had a brief affair with middle-class life, it felt extremely uncomfortable, and I am now happily deeply poor again. I can feel a lot more riches in community than I do in material possessions. Although I do not have my big family of cousins, I have a big family of good friends. I still feel the same comfort and security in my community. I feel blessed, and I am.

Monday, September 15, 2008

same thing

The economy has been interesting to read about lately. I remember a few months ago when a barrel of oil cost $140 plus, back when stock marketers were glistening with success. And now a barrel of oil cost under $100. For some reason, gas is back up to $4.19 per gallon.

Banks are failing, coming down with a loud bang, dust and debris. I read that the FDIC has $50 billion to insure $1 trillion worth of assets. That doesn't seem so good a plan. I hope they're insured! Oh, I guess they are insured by us. I sure don't have $1 trillion to insure anyone who has money in the bank. Maybe our government will borrow it from our grandchildren, hoping that our economy will be doing a bit better in a few generations, you know, after all these service industry jobs we've been creating begin to...oh wait. This is a plan that is going nowhere.

The national debt right now is almost $9.7 trillion dollars. We owe about $1 trillion of that to China and Japan. The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $1.93 billion each day since about a year ago. Your personal share is almost $38,000; yes, that's every man, woman, and child in our country, hocked to the gills by our government and freely selected bureaucrats. You too can learn many sordid facts about the state of our government and economy at the U.S. National Debt Clock site, including this nifty quote: "The budget should be balanced; the treasury should be refilled; public debt should be reduced; and the arrogance of public officials should be controlled." -Cicero. 106-43 B.C.

It amazes me that we can live quite easily in "deep poverty", and yet the men in suits can't figure out how to do it. It's easy to borrow ahead when you are not concerned about paying it back. But if our nation isn't concerned about paying it back, not any more concerned than banks loaning outrageous sums to low-wage workers living paycheck to paycheck, well, I can see why major banks are failing and the U.S. economy seems to be tanking as well. Maybe in a few months there will be another glistening day on wall street, when someone figures out how to make some money, and we will forget this ever happened. But I think we'll see a lot more crumbling financial infrastructure.

FEMA is at it again in Texas. I have read some nasty things about people who are staying at stuffed shelters--nothing to eat, nothing to drink, not being able to even go outside. I do not understand how Cuba has an excellent disaster preparedness program, but the U.S. obviously does not. As our climate begins to destabilize, I imagine a lot more of us will be going through natural disasters, and we'll get to experience this frustration intimately. I imagine FEMA will continue to be ignored like they were after Katrina, where anarchists and other do-gooders snuck into New Orleans with risk of arrest, to help folks & bring some relief. It's communities of people who help, much more effectively than government bureaucrats.

I personally was amazed at the lack of government assistance and attention after the tornado we experienced. I went to the FEMA office, where I was shuffled around from person to person, and spent a lot of the time waiting, even though I was the only non-staff of a dozen people in the building. I filled out an application, but nothing happened. It was a waste of time, and a lesson I only need to learn once. Our community, on the other hand, was awesome!

I am really enjoying listening to the flobots.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

the ark

The remains of hurricane Ike has about finished passing over us. We have gotten over three inches of rain since 8 o'clock last night (it is now noon). Our basement has taken on some water. I took a cab to a hardware store to buy a sump pump. Happy birthday, Don! Don unfortunately slipped on the basement steps, but said his glutes absorbed most of the impact. His shoulder is stiff & sore, but he is all right otherwise. The sump pump is working.

There was a ferocious wind this morning that toppled the tomatoes in the garden. The Jerusalem artichokes are nearly horizontal between the rain and the wind. A few small dead limbs are down. Our yard is a pond, at least in the kid area. Places just north of us are getting this rain atop 3-5" in the last couple of days. Flood warnings are everywhere, as every creek and river is above flood stage. There's been too much rain to accurately predict a crest, says the weather service.

I attended a canning party yesterday. It was a lot of fun, and I feel way more comfortable trying out my pressure canner now. My friend Cecily and I are going to gather piles of seconds from the farmers market & can this week. Kaleigh and I are going over there today also. Kaleigh is going to play with Patrick, age 20 months, as she is really taken with him. Cecily & I are going to make rhubarb wine.

This week Don is working two days & has trainings on two days. We also have a food not lawns Springfield meeting on Thursday, and I'm facilitating the girls' book club on Friday. We're reading Daniel's Duck by Clyde Robert Bulla, and our craft will be sewing. It's going to be fun! Hopefully it won't be raining.


Monday, September 8, 2008

becoming a target

A friend of ours stopped by the other day to talk about homeschooling. Her 5-year-old daughter who just started kindergarten has been "targeted". She wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but it was a bad kind of targeted. At work today, two older women were discussing how schools were just in sad terrible shape, and no amount of funding that you poor (oops, pour) into something that doesn't work will make it better.

A study released here says that our schools are failing Springfield's African American youth. Whether teachers motivations and expectations are so low, whether parents (often single parents or grandparents) are working as they are mandated & don't have enough time to spend with their kids, or whether these kids just don't buy into the so-called promised future of a nice job & are not motivated enough by the reward of good grades, I don't know. I don't know why it's so bad, but it is.

I have heard that talented and successful African Americans have to leave Springfield to find any future in a good job, law enforcement, or society in general. These would be people who buy into the system, and who also happen to be African American. They leave, because they have no access to a life like that here.

I ride the bus all the time with black folks going to work. One or two work for the state. Most have uniforms with logos and name tags, and hats. Minimum wage is the future for a lot of people who do not do well in school, and actually, also for a lot who do okay in school. Why do schools fail kids? Why does our society fail kids? John Holt wrote a book about it: why children fail.

What goes in on school doesn't seem to have much to do with what goes on in real life. It seems like a substitute for real life, a lot like working is. (I am not an actor, but I play one at work. It's another layer of substitution!) It's a lot of busy work, shutting up & taking any humiliation, and not having the ability to say no. It's good training, in other words, for the future to come for many: work, jail. I can see why kids are not valuing this experience enough to consider it valid, and real. They have lost faith in the institution, and it is fading away before our very eyes.

Who stops learning when they get out of school? Well, a lot of kids, who hated being forced to do something they were disinterested in (sound like work?). If you wanted an uneducated populace, I don't know what you could do to encourage it more but build more bland apathy-inducing concrete bunkers.

What would a real education look like? I like to think I am living it. I am not talking about educating only children, but all of us who love learning. Those of us who didn't get all that curiosity and passion for life squished out of them in school, or found it again after they got away from it. Kids, adults, old folks, everybody, living together, learning & taking care of each other, an education worth having. Sounds an awful lot like a community.

I wonder why we learn things in school, like Revolutionary War dates, algebraic equations, the periodic table, names of all the bones, diagramming sentences, etc. Does anyone remember that stuff anymore? Chances are you only do if you were really interested in the subject when it came around in school, or maybe even read about it on your own. (I know I am not the only geek who enjoys reading the encyclopedia.)

There are things I think are even more important than the multiplication tables, like being able to build a decent shelter, acquire and cook our own food, learning to live with people without drama, how to live a daily life without destroying just a bit more of our habitat & making a few more species extinct. These things are important too, and school doesn't seem to be a place where important stuff like this is being taught.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

creating places worth caring about

We hosted a garden tour, wine tasting, and potluck today. It was a lot of fun, and good times hanging out with friends & meeting new people. Our place is a real work in progress, but I don't mind! You have to start somewhere. I like the idea of our place being a permaculture education resource. We got offers of help constructing our rain barrels and also log-splitting, both of which are really appreciated! Another pair of hands could do wonders with this place. K had a great time playing with kids and now has a pet cicada, which might still be alive.

Sharing wine & food, it's so fun, so rewarding, just sitting back and kicking it with just folks. It makes me feel human. We get to know each other a little better, revisit old times, and strengthen the bonds of community. It doesn't get any better than that.

Earlier, while making hummus-for-a-crowd*, I was listening to QNA, our local quasi-community radio. I was hoping to hear the bluegrass show (which is delightful), but today there was a guest dj who was playing car music, in appreciation to the massive car show constipating most of downtown Springfield. It was quite interesting, as I am reading James Howard Kunstler's book Road to Nowhere, about the hand-in-hand growth of the automobile and the suburbs. Whew.


*hummus for a crowd
6 cups garbanzo beans (hydrated/cooked)
3/4 c. tahini/natural peanut butter
3/4 c. lemon juice
3/4 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 tsp. salt
9 cloves garlic (really)

Blend in food processor, or mash heartily by hand. Add water (up to 3/4 c.) to make as smooth as you want it. Top with diced fresh garden tomatoes.

Friday, September 5, 2008


We have experienced our hurricane of relief, three inches of rain, and coincidentally, very cool temperatures. It was barely over 65 degrees today, and we slept with the windows shut last night.

I like this video of Hurricane Ike:
And also this picture here. Ahhhh, fractals. It could be water swirling down the drain, the galaxy in motion, the seeds in a sunflower, or a hurricane. One of the most beautiful patterns of nature I think I've ever seen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

even on a bus i feel free

It's evening, cool. The hurricane that was has not counter-clockwised and north-easted itself enough yet to enliven our tomatoes, our stomachs & our souls. We are still parched, although much cooler.

We are getting the house & yard in some kind of order for the garden tour, wine tasting & potluck (yee-haw!!) coming up this Saturday. Some kind of order is extremely vague, as this homestead always was and always will be a work in progress. But it's tidied enough for people to walk through (er, except the wee back yard), and clean enough to use the bathroom. We have wine bottled, and I'm thinking I may repeat the yum potato salad that we served when Hakim's parents visited. I have been craving that, and it's soooo much better than mayonnaise, and why? Because the sauce is goat and veg broth, silly! I am looking forward to seeing friends & meeting people.

I have new revisions of how big an "average" wolf spider is. Jesus. We found a dead bat in our yard, which is both yeah! and oh! We're glad bats are around to eat the plague of mosquitoes, but sad that one died. Our cats are exceptionally good hunters, and they leave us gifts, as well as supplement their dollar store food diet. We've seen a million big fat crickets; a million more spiders of allllll shapes, sizes, and colors; praying mantids; and butterflies. The diversity of life increases each year, repopulating the disaster zone through succession.

Don't know if I mentioned, but we transitioned rather quickly back to graywater in our kitchen. The pipes do not drain, never have well & never will, I imagine. Hauling graywater is definitely easier than the alternative!

I had a very nice chat with our food stamps caseworker, who fixed her mistake that stalled out our food assistance credits. I have never, never had that experience before (being, a good one). I was very thankful I could resolve that over the phone, instead of having to spend many hours in a standing-room-only welfare office waiting room, to be herded like a doomed cow through a squeeze chute of cubicles, and then yelled at for needing a pen to sign the inevitable snafu paperwork. Whew. She dissed school and everything!

K and I went to the library today & read a lot of awesome stories by Amada Irma Perez, who has written a few books of her childhood life. It was written in English & Spanish, although I can only read the English part. They were terrific stories, and I kept wishing for more. Amada has a real gift for storytelling. K also brought home six, 6!, boxcar children books. It'll be rainy tomorrow, and a great time for reading (after gymnastics class, woo!).

I am really enjoying Rosalind Creasy's edible landscaping book. It has plans and plants & more. I also got today a solar food drying book from the library. This is something I really want to try out. I just gotta build myself a solar dryer....

Still utterly disinterested in politics, and am glad there are only two months left of this ridiculous nonsense spectacle of the wealthy and easily distracted. Professional wrestlers and vice presidents want you to believe them, saith the flobots. But I turned off the tv, and starting playing in the dirt with my friends. That's a lot more enriching, both outwardly & inwardly.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

goat in a box

Had the solar cooker out today, attempting to finish cooking a goat roast with fresh local veggies. It was too cloudy yesterday, but today, it worked. We got a thermometer for the oven, and it only reached 200 degrees, which isn't really hot enough for what meat should be cooked at. However, by late afternoon, the goat was darkened and juicy, with the meat literally falling off the bones. The potatoes were cooked, firm and not crunchy. (A good local goat source is my friend Shannon.) I also made some apple crisp from some apple seconds from the farmers market. As my friend Cecily says, "I get my seconds first!" And thanks to Cecily who brought us some good sweet small cookies from the Greek booth from Ethnic Festival.

I attempted to plant carrots today, but my neighbor loaned me their gas mower, and I took advantage of the opportunity. It took me less than an hour to mow, a chore that used to seem like it took forever back when I was a regular pusher of combustible engines around the lawn. I found out when I used a reel mower, it really does take forever! Our neighbors are pretty nice. Tomorrow I'm hoping to make fruit butter from our wine making binge pulp, and can it. Some more cleaning inside & out is in order for the garden tour next weekend, straightening, making walkable paths!

The huge amounts of spiders make outside cleaning tiresome. I was trying to stack flower pots on the great freecycled shelves I got, but the spiders, especially the big and fast wolf spider, got to me. I've also cleaned out and somewhat ordered my sewing corner. I have a lot of material. My friends Abby and Mike will be in town this winter for three months, and I am looking forward to having them around for an extended amount of time. I especially look forward to all the sewing.

Hakim spent some time in the basement, trying to disconnect the gas tubing to the dryer. We freecycled the dryer to someone who needs it, and they are supposed to be picking it up this weekend. We had no gas cap, so Hakim & K biked it to the nearest hardware store on the tag-along bike. Unfortunately, they brought home the wrong size, but they also biked down to the grocery store to spend the last of the month food stamps on some last of the month luxuries. That hasn't happened in a long time! Yesterday, they bussed over to the local health food store for some delicious local cheese, and good dark chocolate. They have been busy.

K is learning how to write cursive. I have picked up a couple of cursive writing books, but she is so not interested. But I am writing in cursive almost exclusively now. She can read most of it, and is learning to write it just because it's Fun. And that's why we're fUnschool at home. She's read about one Boxcar Children series book a day for the last 3-4 days.

Friday, August 29, 2008

james howard kunstler

I just finished the Long Emergency by JHK (published 2005). I don't think I learned anything what I would call news, but JHK has an interesting way of looking at things. And I think this long paragraph pretty much sums up what we're looking at in our peaked oil future:

"The picture is further clouded by the notion of substitutability, a doctrine based on the observation that the sensitive device we call the market seems to call forth new resources as old resources become problematic (usually expressed in terms of higher prices). Hence, when trees grew scarce in England during the Little Ice Age (1560-1850), people there began to use more coal to keep warm, which caused people to dig deeper for it, which called forth the innovation of the steam engine to drain water from the mines so the miners wouldn't drown. However, an interesting positive feedback loop was set in motion. The invention of the steam engine (a magical product of human ingenuity) provoked the invention of other new machines, and then of factories with machines, which prompted the need for better indoor lighting, which stimulated the use of petroleum, which produced brighter light than candles (and was much easier to get than sperm whales), which provoked the development of the oil industry, whose oil was found to work even better in engines than coal did, which led to the massive exploitation of a one-time endowment of concentrated, stored solar energy, which we have directed through pipes of various kinds in an immense flow of entropy, which has resulted in fantastic environmental degradation and human habitat overshoot beyond carrying capacity. It is assumed now that human beings, prompted by the market, will employ ingenuity to discover a substitute for oil and gas, once the price starts to ramp up beyond the "affordable" range. This assumption is apt to prove fallacious because it ignores the fact that the earth is a closed system, while the laws of thermodynamics state that energy can't be created out of nothing, only changed from low entropy to high entropy, and that we have already changed the half of our oil endowment that was easiest to get into dispersed carbon dioxide, which is now ratcheting up global warming and climate change, which might well put the industrial adventure out of business before human ingenuity can come up with a substitute for oil. The solar energy stored for millions of years in oil will now be expressed in higher temperatures, more severe storms, rising sea levels, and harsher conditions for the human species, which, despite its exosomatic technological achievements, remains a part of nature and subject to its laws."

He also says that when the peak oil transition comes, "The loss of hallucinated wealth will be stupendous." I guess when the civilization bubble pops, it'll be a big one.

JHK isn't the most optimistic person I've ever met, and yet he has some hopeful things to say. One is that small town surrounded by farmland is the place survival will be easiest. That many of us will be engaged in farm work and small craft handiwork, by necessity of survival. To me, it means a less mediated world, and I welcome that with open arms. Caring for one's self, family, and community takes a lot of time, and gives a lot of reward, although money has nothing to do with it. It's a different kind of wealth, one that cannot be folded up into an imported imitation leather wallet & put in your back pocket.

Hakim is reading the Geography of Nowhere, about the rise and fall of cars and suburbs, also by JHK, and I am looking forward to that. JHK might be a cranky older guy, but he's also snarky, incredibly insightful, and full of wit. He has a lot of interesting things to say.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

solar cooker

The solar cooker is done & test driven. We roasted a dish of vegetables today, some from the garden & some from the farmers market. I got them all chopped and in the black cooking dish by noon, and they were done by 4. I put a couple tablespoons of peanut oil along with spices. It was tasty. The veggies were done, but not mushy, which was nice.

Some things I learned were about eye safety. I was doing the no-nos today without even thinking about it. Wearing sunglasses are suggested when using a solar cooker. Also, it is a good idea to turn the cooker away from the sun before you do anything with it. I got flashed a couple of times, and that's a couple of times too many.

The cooker is made with two boxes, one inside another, with crumpled newspaper for insulation. The inside is lined with foil. In the bottom is a cookie sheet that has been painted with (nontoxic) stove black. I am going to try placing the dish on an elevated rack next time & see if it makes a difference. It might make more of a difference if I was making bread, cornbread, muffins, etc.--something that would make good use of convection. But it still makes sense. Felt is glued around the top of the big box, and that is where the plastic is laid overtop. Glass is good, but we don't have any, and the plastic works.

Attached to the top is the reflector, a piece of cardboard with foil glued on it. This can be positioned to reflect heat back into the solar oven. The blocks of wood worked as a prop (also as a weight) as long as the wind wasn't blowing. Eventually the cooker was placed up against the house, and then it was a lot easier to keep the reflector positioned correctly. Eventually, though, the house was in the shade, so a piece of metal (hanger?) was placed in a corrugated hole of the reflector, and then hooked into the handle hole on the side of the box. This worked better.

So, four hour cooking time with no fossil fuels made supper. The cooker chair is now moved out to the concrete pad that used to be the garage, and I think that spot gets sun from mid-morning on. It might work as a long-term one-spot place for the cooker to be placed. Of course, once cool weather hits, we'll have the woodstove running, and we'll be cooking on that. I am determined to learn how to bake on it this year, even without an oven.

I called our local utility today to discuss why my bill doesn't seem to go down, even though we're making a lot of effort to conserve. It turns out we use 2/3 of the water we're expected to use, and our electricity use is between 5 & 10 kilowatts a day, which they consider low (that seems high to me, but I don't know). We pay around $18 a month for our water use, and another $18 for sewer/sanitary district. Although we were doing a lot of graywater, meaning our water doesn't go down the sewer, but into the incredible natural sponge under our yard, we still get charged for whatever water we use. Seems like a way for them to make a buck to me.

So, it turns out that our bill was estimated way high, and when they actually read the meter, I had already paid for more than what we were using, and so got a credit. Then my next bill was for two months worth of use. I guess that is why it seemed so high, and thanks to the helpful guy at energy services, I understood what all happened with that. He also informed me that I pay $12.50 each month for the privilege of having natural gas service (they don't provide natural gas). Our bill has only been around $25 the last couple of months (hot water heater & stove top are our only gas appliances currently turned on). Our local utility is handing out a rebate for electric water heaters, making them essentially free. The stove top is not appealing enough to pay $150 a year for the privilege of using it. A hot plate in the kitchen and a lot of extra storage space is quite appealing. We'll have to think about it.

The only other natural gas consideration in our house is our furnace. I would feel more comfortable going a whole winter with our woodstove before I would cheer on quitting the gas hook up for good. But it seems like a good idea for right now. Solar hot water makes sense also, of course. It's a little harder in areas with cold winters, but still doable. Lots to think about trying to unentangle ourselves from all this blech we don't agree with.

Well, the child is having a post-park day meltdown, so off I go!


Friday, August 22, 2008


From time to time I think about posting "A Day In The Life" stuff about just what goes on in our everyday life. We're pioneers here, we're figuring out what works as we go along. Usually I don't keep much track of exactly what I do each day, but today I have a list with stuff crossed off.

Kombucha: label the ones I started last night; put up on shelf; taste test one of the current batch (needs a couple more days); start tea (now cooling) for new batch(es) to be done in a week or so.

Solar cooker: glue felt around top for clear plastic (or glass if we can get some) to rest on & allow light in and keep heat in; glue reflector onto one side of box; now waiting for all that to set & dry. Kaleigh helped me glue for a bit, but I think I was being too uptight about getting it just right. She looked at cake recipes in the solar cooking book; she's been planning for her birthday party at the beginning of October!

Compost: shred bedding (cardboard & waste paper) for kitchen compost bucket & basement worm bins (which are a little moist). Add fresh bedding to worm bins--I guess this counts as our urban homestead livestock!

Put strong-smelling herbal flea repellent drops on the three cats' collars (they took remarkably well to wearing the collars, they just don't like the super-citrusy flea drops).

Assess wines: Carey had a number of experimental little batches brewing; some are suspicious (and used to wet compost outside), some are turning to vinegar (though we'd rather have the wine, LOL), and some might turn into decent wine (mulberry!!!!).

I tightened up our "solar clothes dryer" (clothesline in the yard). I used that nifty tau(gh)t line hitch knot I learned from a pamphlet from a CrimethInc. tour years ago. It's so goddamn useful! Hooray for CrimethInc.

I took random things down to the basement for storage. Not very interesting, but hey it was on my list and I crossed it off. Actually, I might have added to my list after I did it, so I could cross it off. I also got all the clothespins down off the line.

Gathering up ALL the empty plant pots from various corners of the urban homestead (aka Zomba Central) turned out to be more hauling than I expected! We have a ton of plant pots. Think about stuff to plant & keep indoors and eat this winter!!

This looks like a list of projects I did neatly one after another, but really they're day-long activities each interwoven with the others, and interruptions, delicious meals, back pain, staring and typing, a shower, reading Vagabound and Ran Prieur, music, the coziest kitties, daydreams, conversations. The stuff of life. Soon to include wine. (Thanks & praises to the highest....)

And, like Sharqi said, a moment of silence for Fukuoka-sensei. If you think Master Yoda is cool.....