Thursday, January 29, 2009

the little house

The little house in the ghetto has been an intense project the last few years. We've owned the house on Springfield's integrated and economically blighted east side since 2000. We moved out in November 2003 to seek family and community in my very rural hometown. There were no jobs except the meat packing plant. We could only make it a year there, until I finally found employment in Springfield, and we moved back. We rented for a year in the interesting just west of downtown area, two blocks from good friends at the art house, manifest (your) destiny. We moved back to the little house in December of 2005, when the tenant moved out.

A few months later a tornado went directly over our house (we were in the basement). At that time, our larger neighborhood was a mature forest. You can imagine how different it looks now. We had a lot to clean up--millions of tree fractals in and through and on everything. Fortunately we had a cash infusion from the cat-man (catastrophic claims adjuster) from the insurance company. And we had time. We hauled countless trees to the curb, and thought about getting a woodstove. With the power out all week, our forced-air furnace didn't work, and a friend loaned us a kerosene heater. The cold week (six inches of snow came a week after the tornado) gave us some ideas on comfort and joy.

The lasting impression from the tornado I recall was my disbelief that our city had forgotten us. I didn't see any kind of city presence for many days--where were the cops, the firefighters, the utility guys? I saw a few reporters, but not many, and a helicopter that zoomed slowly overhead a few times. Just a few blocks northeast of us was the hard hit Cedar Street area, among the most severely damaged, in the most economically unprepared area hit. I was amazed that the officials were not going door to door checking to see if folks were all right; no officials seemed to care.

I was also amazed when I reconnected with my neighbors, meeting a lot of them for the first time. I was amazed by the assistance we received from people who just showed up to do what they could. I was amazed when I talked with prisoners helping out about the tornado, commiserating on what we had all experienced that week, and how awful it is to make mistakes in a society bent on punishment. In short, there was a lot of beauty happening. It had nothing to do with city government, and everything to do with us as a community. It is powerful to internalize feelings like that.

That summer we demolished a garage by hand, with the help of friends and pizza, hauled a literal ton of roofing material to a dumpster, and made a million trips to the home improvement store. If we had half a mind of what being in this place was like and would be like, and half a mind paying attention to permaculture and community, we would have made different choices. As it was, we did the best we could, learning about the bureaucratic nature and the focus of yesterday's paradigm of the zoning department, and negotiating all the flow of money through our bank (the mortgage holder and real owner of this house), which had its own paperwork hoops. I drove a lot. It was our last hoohaw with a vehicle. Improvements included a new roof, kitchen and bathroom patched up with tile, doors that actually shut, and double-paned super-insulated windows. We caulked and weather proofed any and all we could. The chain link fence was taken out.

That December (2006), two ice storms came through a week apart. Our tornado-devastated trees dropped parts again all over, including on the back of our house, demolishing our back porch. The service entrance for the electric was again knocked off the house, but we kept power for some reason (probably the talented and dedicated electrician from the tornado). We resolved to get a wood stove at the next opportunity. In the second ice storm, only one limb dropped, but straight down into the kitchen roof. We had really had it with natural disasters.

That spring, we decided to have three mature trees taken down. It was really hard; we like trees, a lot, and they are helpful for living without air conditioning. The huge American elm in the back yard was split down the middle. The sweet gum was broken off in the middle like a matchstick, and the American elm by our porch had no branches left on it. The tree guys came, they sawed, and left us firewood-to-be. We had a small patch of a garden in what came to be a sunny yard. We had mostly tomatoes and a few peppers, amongst a pile of weeds, most of them edible. We mowed the yard (until the lawnmower was stolen), hauled tree parts, did a lot of home repairs, canned tomatoes, took trips to the park to play, and worked, worked, worked. We also attended funerals. By spring, my husband's grandfather and two uncles had passed away. It was a lot to process.

That fall, we took a permaculture design course from Midwest Permaculture. It changed us, and we had a new focus. Until that time, we had been occupied with immediate natural disaster cleanup, and figuring out how to live without substantial employment. The tornado cleanup demanded our time. There wasn't a lot left over to work, or even worse, to look for work. We learned we could live on a lot less money coming in. We've cut our income down by quarters or halves each year for the last several years. Now we seem to live on nothing, and yet we have no debts, all our bills are paid, and we want for nothing. (More info on that in my earlier posts on frugality, and income/outgo.) Somewhere in this adventure, we decided not to maintain a vehicle, instead opting on the much more affordable idea of public transportation, occasional cabs, and indulgent friends and family.

Ah, back to permaculture. Permaculture is a design system, making long-lasting human habitats by design--observing one's place, thinking, and making changes, and again noting feedback, thinking about it, and making changes. Permaculture holds care for earth and care for people as the ideal. Well, that makes sense, doesn't it? It's designing communities for humans that aren't toxic, communities that will not only last but be even better for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. It's paying attention to our community of people, and the community of life surrounding us.

We planted 8 fruit trees in the fall of 2007, 150 flower bulbs, and garlic. There wasn't a lot of time to do much else. We measured our yard, transferred it to graph paper, and started doodling. We have many ideas; no concrete plan. This seems to be the flow that works here. The next spring (which was last spring, 2008), we got out good and early and moved a lot of the stumps that were on our south-facing yard, now our garden. My husband spent a long time sawing on green American elm. With our lawnmower gone, we managed the best we could with a reel push mower, refusing to buy another gas one.

We planted a much bigger garden last spring--tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, potatoes, green beans and dry beans, asparagus, onions from seed (failed), carrots, cilantro, greens, fennel, bee balm, nasturtiums, squash (failed volunteers), basil, dill, peas, scarlet runner beans, and sunflowers. This was in addition to the many other species of edible weeds and planted-on-purpose perennials we had already. We also planted 10-12 plum trees along the parkway, along with several grapevines, strawberries, blackberries, elderberries (failed), black raspberries, and red currants. I had spent part of the previous year transplanting free pretty flowers. It was a lot of hard work, and a learning process when I realized what an idiot I was for not planting perennials. So now I focus on food-bearing perennials and scattering seeds for self-seeding annuals; it seems to make sense.

This is a list of species that must do well in Illinois, for only a few of these were planted by us. This is a list of edible or medicinal plants that already existed, planted by me in the early years here, or by the creator: mulberry trees, lambs quarters (my favorite vegetable), dandelions, garlic mustard, lemon balm, raspberries (huge patch), mint, bush cherries, violets, shepherd's purse, burdock, redbud, turkey tail mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, wood sorrel, chicory, yarrow, catmint, rosemary, oregano, daylillies, plantain, wild mustard, wild lettuce, amaranth, clover, echinacea. We forage a lot in early spring in our semi-wild yard.

Last April, we helped to organize a local Food Not Lawns. It's a collection of grassroots organic gardeners, and we hold monthly educational meetings, as well as occasional social events and an annual seed and plant swap. Gardening is our common tie, but I find many of us have a lot more in common than our love of tasty local food. I've met some wonderful people, and made a lot of good friends. I've learned a whole lot, and hope I have encouraged new gardeners.

Around here, we take on projects as the ideas, helping hands, and wastestream-plucked resources make themselves available. In between projects, we cook our own food, wash our own dishes, provide our own heat, raise up our daughter (giving her a useful education, while allowing plenty of time and space for her massive physical and creative energy)--all the things that lots of time and not much money can afford. It's heavenly. I realized a few months ago that if I lived the same life until the day I die, I will die happy and feel blessed. I think I've made it.

In the next year, we hope to transform the rest of our quarter acre yard into a permaculture education center, or more informally, a relaxing place to hang out and eat good food with good friends. Here's a list of projects we have on our plate, ranging from food to home to other. Like I said, lots of ideas, no firm plan, just living life as time, help, and resources make themselves available:

Install rainwater collection--rain barrels and swales (ditches to hold and soak in water--the soil, not the storm sewer, needs the water). Swales for the outside part of the yard as well, to collect rainwater that runs off the street, and the berms planted heavily in plants that are known for their bioremediation properties, as well as fruit and nut trees and pollinator-attracting flowers.
Graywater--figure out some formal or informal but manageable way to redirect used household water (not toilet water) to the soil.
Investigate potential use of cistern under the kitchen.
Install irrigation or soaker hoses from rainbarrels to garden.

Erect trellising over south and west windows and grow fruiting (edible/medicinal) vines to shade windows in summer, and also on porch to provide much-needed shade and cooling for late afternoon sun.
Analyze site for windbreak protection (our extremely battered shed demands this!).
Plant at least one large nut tree on the northwest side (to shade house from late afternoon summer sun), and many hazel trees.
Plant 1-2 standard-sized heritage variety fruit trees.
Plant a large kitchen garden, getting as close to providing a year's worth of food, herbs, and medicine as possible. We'd like to do this in an attractive way, like a mandala garden. But we'll see how swales planted with fruit trees, veggies, herbs, and flowers makes itself look--most likely beautiful. We will can, dry, and ferment as much of this as possible, as well as share with people who help out.
Make a new compost pile.

We're also in the process of changing from natural gas to electric service, which has everything to do with saving money. We spend more now on the charge for the privilege to have access to natural gas than we do for our consumption. When we switch to all electric service, we will get an additional 15% reduction in our rate. We got rid of our clothes dryer and don't use our forced-air furnace. All that's left is our hot water heater (the city gives you a $200 rebate to switch), and our kitchen stove. I don't like to use electric stoves, but it's a small personal price to pay--it will probably encourage me to get more familiar with cooking on the wood stove or in the solar cooker, building a rocket stove and an outdoor oven. (So, we're now on the lookout for a usable electric water heater and kitchen stove, if you know anyone who has one!)

The porch floor needs to be scraped and painted (which is no fun!), some gutters need repaired (this can be managed along with the design for rainwater harvesting), there is wood to be cut and stacked, another kid play house to plant up, concrete to be sledgehammered, a wood shed to be built, fruit to be pruned. Then there's the personal stuff like hanging out with our child, our friends, and our families. That time shared is just as important as planting up the yard, but often neglected by a lot of people because regular employment takes up so much of people's time.

We're going to hold some more food not lawns meetings--coming up, a talk on "advanced" gardening, meaning different methods of gardening plus an intro to permaculture design. We're going to hold some foraging walks this spring, have an urban homesteading workshop, see and talk about some good movies, and I'm in contact with speakers now to talk about graywater and water conservation, heirloom varieties in the kitchen garden, and bioremediation (using plants and fungi to detoxify soil), among other things. And there's the seed and plant swap in May, plenty of produce to talk over, and plenty of friends to share this experience with.

Everyone has their own answers. It is important to ask the unuttered questions of our rapidly disappearing consumer lifestyle. What are we doing in this world? Does this make any sense to anyone? If it doesn't make sense to you either, think about exchanging the corporate rituals in your life for those that make sense. Think about what's really valuable; for me, it was the experience of deep human relationships. I can't imagine anything more valuable than that.

Permaculture and community. Designing sustainable human communities that function for people and planet. These are some keys, some new answers for new questions that are rapidly becoming clearer. This can give us some kind of working model for crises yet to come, some kind of coping methods for a society that no longer functions as it was sold to us. We're envisioning a future that makes some sort of sense to us; we're enacting a story that allows us not only health and sanity, but allows us to thrive as the humans with big brains, adaptive abilities, and creative imaginations we've been thinking ourselves to be.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


From Latin frugalis, virtuous, frugal, from root word fruit, value; akin to Latin frui to enjoy. Dating from 1598, if you are frugal, you are characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources.

Some brainstormed ideas for living in the economy of resources rather than money are:

Find out your true wage by taking your net wages, and subtracting the hidden costs of working: car (gas, maintenance, insurance, taxes), eating out, new clothing, drive-through coffee, day care, etc. You might be surprised. When I was making $13 an hour, I was really making $5 an hour. It put a $15 cd in new perspective.

Keep track of your expenses for a period of time, say a month to three to six months. Keep track of every last penny--including and especially all of your impulse purchases. You might be surprised what lunch out on Fridays really costs you, or (again) drive-through coffee.

Going car-free, getting by on a bike, your feet, or public transportation. This helps being job-free, plus gives you some good exercise.

Pay off debt, and don't get into new debt. Get rid of credit cards, and don't use your emergency one.

Acquire needed or desired items through the waste stream. This includes dumpsters, resale/reuse shops, freecycle, curbs, the gift economy and the friend economy. It is amazing what is out there, for free, when you radiate good karma and keep your eyes open.

Limit shopping, reduce the number of times each month you shop. Try for once a month, once a week--but cut down. It is amazing what you can forget about buying, and once you get in the habit of NOT shopping, you might enjoy it.

Want what you have. First it might help to declutter and give away most of the stuff you don't have feelings for. Keep what you actively want.

Appreciate what you have. Even if you're a poor American, you're rich compared to everyone else on Earth. There's no rhyme or reason to it. If you feel good with a roof over your head, wool yarn in your fingers, and jars of canned tomatoes on the shelves, then you're lucky. You've made it. It doesn't matter how much money you make or have, but how much you appreciate what you have. If you appreciate everything, you are wealthy in spirit.

Slow life down to a manageable speed. Don't be in a hurry. There's no reason. The journey is the destination. Enjoy it.

As they used to say, Use it up, Wear it out, Make do, or Do without. Ain't that the truth. It's fairly easy to do also. And it saves a lot of money.

Consider living in a smaller house, in a less posh area of town. The smaller the abode and the less attractive the environs, the less money it costs. We have a quite livable 750 square feet, 2-bedroom house, on a quarter acre lot, and we pay $202 per month, including taxes and insurance. We're paying extra, and we'll have it paid off in ten years or less. And guess what! Places that look scary to people who watch the news aren't really scary! It's hype! My neighborhood is as nice as any other. I even have nice neighbors.

Replace disposable goods with durable goods. We've forgotten that disposable isn't really disposable. In fact, it goes to a landfill and stays there a good long time, oozing toxins. That's not good. I don't think our convenience is worth all that, do you? There are things like rags, cloth napkins, hankies, cloth diapers, cloth menstrual pads, and even cloth tp. Most of these things can be made at home, some quite easily (making use of worn out clothing comes to mind).

Reduce your garbage. Don't buy things with packaging. Recycle everything you can. Compost everything you can (kitchen scraps, cardboard, paper, leaves, yard waste). And well before recycling something is not to buy it in the first place, repair it, and give it away. We produce one bag of trash a week, which I guess is good, but I don't know where I'd put the 52 bags of garbage we use each year if I had to be responsible for myself. Since it's mostly plastic food wrappers, I suppose I'd stop visiting the grocery store.

Entertain yourself. There are more interesting things to do than tv, also. Books are cool, talking with other people is really nice, drawing, writing, painting, knitting, cooking, gardening, helping out other people, playing with kids and listening to old people. There's lots to do to entertain yourself, and for free.

Kick the impulse habit. For a month, make yourself a list before you go somewhere, and buy ONLY what is on the list. Make yourself. This includes eating out. Make yourself. Make it a habit.

Feed yourself. Enjoy growing food cooking food, and eating food--and enjoy doing all these things with friends. There's a lot about food to enjoy. Yep, it's as basic as it gets, and it's amazing the pleasures, simple as they are, our culture has forgotten.

Limit exposure to advertising. Anything that makes you want to buy it, stop looking at it. Avoid tv, magazines full of ads, billboards (does anyone even look at those things?), sides of buses. If you need to buy it to be fulfilled, generally you won't be fulfilled even after buying it. Find other things to spend your time and money on than false hope.

Money is what you trade your time for, your life. What you spend your money on should be as valuable as your life, and don't sell yourself short. There's no point in abstracting the value of your life. If the life you're living isn't worth your life, you have options. Getting in touch with yourself, your life, your children, your spouse, your loved ones, your friends, your neighbors, your community, your food--these can all bring emancipating feelings.

And yes, it is worth it. Living a frugal life, a life of value that you are enjoying is worth it. It's not about giving up, but what you are getting by switching over your value system. Instead of valuing money, value time--value the quality of your time, your life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

going green out of my mind

I became an environmentalist in the early 90's, in college. I helped start a college recycling program, which failed miserably, because drunk people can't or don't want to sort their bottles and cans. I attended a few environmental conferences, and a few of the more radical speakers made an impression on me. I worked for a while after college, reading and watching and talking all the while, but not doing much. After I started staying home with K, I got involved in a loose anarchist collective that staffed a radical open space and starting doing things. It was fun and I met a lot of awesome people, many of whom are still friends today. We left the space because our existence there was challenged by power-hungry peace activists. Then I dropped out of that scene too. There had to be some sort of way to do what I felt was needed, without dealing with all the bs, without continually pushing the boulder up the hill.

I know what I'm against, but what am I for? This question haunted me for a while, because I hadn't thought about it enough to be able to answer it. Eventually, I figured out I am for my family and community, which includes the entire community of life on this planet. I am for people having time to spend with each other and time to grow and cook and eat healthy food. I am for learning, learning to think for myself, and for retrieving useful skills from the dumpster of history. I am for figuring out something different to do, something besides building deserts and landfills.

Despite being a long-time environmentalist, I have grave reservations with the whole going green movement. Obviously, it's been co-opted, especially when it is focused on marketing products to gullible people with an excess of money. How is buying a ridiculously expensive downcycled plastic purse going to overcome planet-wide desertification? Going green is a movement celebrated by people who are unwilling or unable to think for themselves, it seems. Our local paper had a advertisement about the going green team. Well, it sounds interesting, but it wasn't really. It's about carpooling to work a couple of times a week, using green dishwasher methods, turning down your thermostat, etc, (which are fairly meaningless to someone without a car, dishwasher, or central heat). All these things that use slightly less energy, but come on! Is this going to turn the tide of desertification? of mass extinction (including us, I presume)?

Hybrid cars, again, sound like a solution, but roads still consume massive amounts of energy to build and maintain. Cars and roads have produced sprawl, which continues to eat up some of our nation's best soil. I watched the movie Broken Limbs yesterday and saw apple orchards in Washington state bulldozed to make way for yet more Wal-Marts. Is this the product of a sane civilization? Even solar panels are energy-intensive to build. One solar power critic said the panels take so much energy to make that you'll never see a return on the energy investment put into producing them. Well, if not solar, then what? What can take the place of oil and coal in our collective appetite to consume everything? If we had started solar and wind energy back in the 70's, when these ideas came to light, we'd have enough feedback now to see if what we were doing had a positive effect in our world. But alas, we squandered those 40 years building parking lots and McMansions and even wider roads. And we're experiencing the feedback of those actions now. Was it worth it? Did it make a change for the better?

We can look at places like Easter Island, where some weird quirk in their culture caused them to cut down every last tree on their island, causing erosion and species extinction on such a massive scale as to decimate their population. We can look back in hindsight and see what obvious stupidity it was. And yet, here we are, corporate bulldozers in hand, burning off forests to raise cattle for McDonalds and build yet more dead concrete big boxes.

I sure don't have the answers. I'm only starting to get to feeling like I have some answers for myself. But I do have some observations. Keep in mind this is just one housewife's opinion, the ideas of an urban homesteader who's been reading and thinking, and can type quickly.

I don't see any way to replace pieces of this system that it will hold together. The system of unlimited consumption is bound to fail, given a finite planet. This is obvious. So, what? Where do we start from here? Yes, there are the quick and painless things--easy things--like recycling, turning down your thermostat, and conserving water and electricity. This seems like things that should be done as a matter of common sense. Not wasting resources is a no-brainer. But our whole system is set up to consume as much as possible, so then what? How do you go about your life not using a system that has been set up to make it as easy on you (and yet as poisonous to our habitat) as possible?

I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I don't have a lot of faith that any president is going to lead us into the promised land. The problems we face are too massive for that--the problems are more massive than the U.S., more massive than the civilized world. I think what it will take is each of us thinking, reflecting, questioning our thoughts and actions, and doing something different. If we continue doing the same old thing, we cannot expect a different result. If there is to be a human culture in a thousand or ten thousand years, it will be because we began enacting a different story.

We attended the Slow Food Film Festival yesterday, put on by Slow Food Springfield. It made the point that food is a good place to start. What kind of agriculture do you support by your buying and eating habits? Mass industrial agriculture that erodes soil and pollutes air and ground water, enriching the biggest of the big corporate suit-wearing farmers? Mass industrial factory farms that torture and medicate animals until the day they die, again, polluting air and ground water? Do you support mass industrial organic farms that again, erode soil, pollute, and enrich the biggest of the big organic corporate suit-wearing farmers?

Or rather, do you support local growers, those with their hands in the soil, those who build healthy soil and contribute to healthy communities, those who care for animals in a way that enriches their habitat instead of destroying it? Do you support yourself, as you walk out your front door and gather healthy living food for your nourishment? Here's a starting point, and to me it is a quick way to make a vital difference in one's own security and one's own community.

For every high-tech solution you could buy if you were only wealthy enough, there are low-tech solutions available to all, and are generally much more effective. Why buy expensive out of season organic food produced on an industrial scale and shipped halfway around the country or world, when you can grow your own food and preserve it for the off-season? Instead of installing solar panels, make an effort to reduce your consumption of electricity. Is it that hard to turn off your lights and computer when you leave the house? Instead of buying an electric car, walk or bike or take public transportation to where you need to go. Instead of spending your life working a job you hate, learn to live at home and do for yourself what you used to purchase. Instead of buying eco-friendly gadgets, tap into the waste stream. Now there's abundance!

There are meaningful things you can do that do not even show up on any "going green" challenges. Learn to see beauty in all that you do and experience. I personally have seen more beauty in Springfield's ghetto than I ever have in the spiritually-impoverished west side. There is beauty everywhere, waiting to be noticed. It is a bit of the divine on earth.

Seek out community. Meet and establish relationships with willing neighbors, with those who ride the bus with you, with those whom you have a lot in common. There is a lot to be said for the gift economy, but this is actually a lousy translation of the money economy. It's not about giving and receiving gifts as translated from dollars, but about giving and receiving help and care--the accounts are never balanced. It is relationships that endure to the end of time, lasting throughout generations.

Read, think, analyze, learn, share. Do something different. Change yourself, be open to feedback, see what works. Develop deep and lasting relationships with people and the world around you. These are things that make a difference. And notice, they are things that cannot be purchased; they are not trends that can be marketed. What can be co-opted is bound to fail. Going green is hooey. There is something more, waiting for each of us to discover, walking our own paths, thinking our own thoughts. I can feel beauty everywhere, but most of all, I feel it inside of me.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

income and outgo

The beginning of the year is a good time for looking back at the old one, of course. If you're squeamish about money, read no further. I'm going to lay it on the line. But if you're interested in a drop-out lifestyle, read on.

$4140 Work-Don and Carey-SIU School of Med.
$1600 Plasma-Don
$4600 Adoption subsidy
$2200 Tax return
$ 900 Economic stimulus
$3000 Food stamps
$ 500 Energy assistance

Total: $16,940

Thankfully, we did not have to work at jobs very much last year. Don't think we sat at home eating ho-hos in front of the tv, though. We worked our butts off! It's much more satisfying to work at home for one's self, family, and community, rather than grinding the gears of civilization.

Even more important than where our income is coming from is where it is going. When we were both employed full-time in our suit jobs, we read this wonderful book called Unjobbing. We cut up our credit cards and began to pay them off. We kept careful track of our expenses (highly recommended!!), and found out how much money we were wasting on crap. It took a lot of diligent effort with a ledger book to find out that we could work less if we spent less. So we did.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, because I gave away the ledger book long ago, but it will give you some idea of what we urban homesteaders spent our money on.

$3600 Mortgage payments on house, which includes an extra principle payment each month.

$1385 Utilities: natural gas, electricity, water, sewer and sanitary (includes $500 energy assistance). We try very hard to conserve what we can. We haven't used our natural gas furnace since last March, and used our gas dryer only once last year (and gave it away a few months ago). We have an insulated hot water heater & we don't bathe daily.

$2400 Wood stove. This includes about $1000 for the small cast-iron Jotul 603CB, plus $1400 in materials and labor. This is a big investment for us, but one that will pay off rather quickly.

$630 Phone/internet.

$75 Garbage.

$76 Magazine subscriptions, including ones for the kid.

$285 Sewing/knitting/crafting.

$775 Dollar store and the like. I assume this is mostly stuff like toilet paper, laundry soap when we still used it, bathroom supplies and miscellaneous crap.

$50 Clothes

$200 Homeschooling supplies. This is what we personally spent. Kaleigh's grandparents pay for her classes and the performances she goes to see. For ease of calculations, I did not count what they contributed as income, nor what it was spent on for outgo. This money was spent on fun homeschooling gadgets, and workbooks K begged for (I am not kidding).

$1000 Home improvement. We bought some durable kitchen items, plus a splurge ice cream maker. We had woodstove implements, good tools, a shed, an emergency sump pump, and so forth. We live in a shack, and it takes some upkeep.

$345 Garden. This includes seeds, trees, berry plants, etc.

$3800 Food. This includes the $3000 in food assistance that cannot be spent at the farmers market. The $800 of our own cash here is mostly farmers market produce, and other local hard to find items: raw milk and cheese, honey, maple sirup. This money includes a few times of eating out.

$50 Gas. We don't own a car, but we appreciate friends and family who drive us around when we desperately need it.

$400 Bus cards and the occasional cab rides. We mostly use the bus for getting around town, plus one cab ride a month to get groceries.

$100 Bike repair. Don's bike was almost toast, but it came back to life, thanks to the wonderful folks at R & M.

$200 Vet/cat care. This was one vet visit, plus flea repellent.

$45 Soap/salve from locally made Greenthoughts Garden.

$80 Stamps and postage.

$125 Books, some new, but mostly from the library's used book sale--a great resource!

$250 State fair, county fair, field trips.

Total identifiable expenses: $15,871. Obviously, the numbers don't match up exactly. I'm not sure where the extra thousand plus went, hopefuly not frittered away! But still, you get the idea of where our priorities are--mostly our home, our food, our garden, and necessary payments to Leviathan for utilities (hopefully someday, we will be off grid & those payments won't be so necessary).

And as a side note, our house payment went down again, this time to $202 (including taxes and insurance). This means our extra principle payment will increase to $98 each month, more than tripling the meager principle payment that is included in our 30-year loan. We hope to have our house paid off in ten more years, about the time K is grown. We still owe a little over $19,000 on it. Kaleigh heard that and thought it was a lot of money. It is, and it isn't. Better for us to own a house that your grandchildren can live in than to buy a car that will break down in a few years and we can't afford to fuel anyway.

We told her that someday she will inherit this house, and will NOT have to pay for it. It's security that I am willing to invest in, on her behalf, not only this house, but the 1/4 acre of beautiful lush soil and increasing bounty of our food forest in the making.

That's our 2008 accounting.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

catching up

I have been meaning to post here for some time. Toward the end of December, I was working on a gardening plan for the yard, which included a list of things we have planted since returning to the old homestead in December of 2005. It was fairly surprising and impressive, considering the devastation of tornado and ice storms that have taken up a lot of our time. Of course, without the cleansing ability of natural disasters, we'd be complaining about the lack of sunlight and all that. There's no great loss without some small gain, as Ma Ingalls liked to say. Someday, I will get that retrospective listed here.

This winter, I've been working on a gardening workshop that I will present in a couple of weeks. I've been reading a lot of gardening books, and learning myself. I'm a former master gardener, but really I am a chaos gardener at heart. Whatever it says in the gardening books, I take with a grain of salt, because reality is usually different. I enjoy paying attention; as our permaculture instructors drilled into us: observe, observe, observe. Pay attention to the feedback you receive (there's no mistakes, just feedback). Experiment and observe. To me, this couple of lines of advice is the best gardening advice I've ever received.

Anyway, I've been reading a lot of gardening information, trying to get into my brain enough info that I can repeat it without confusing myself. I'm done with researching for now, and am writing up my notes into some kind of presentable format. This whole project has taken a lot of time and work, but I will forever have this work already done, and will forever have this presentation ready to give. It's a gift that I hope will spread throughout my community. So, basic gardening workshop, Saturday, January 17 at 9:30 at Springfield's public library in the Carnegie meeting room. It'll be fun!

An advanced gardening workshop will be presented in February. The main reason that I am doing these workshops is first and foremost, that many people do not have the skills and knowledge to garden. The secondary reason is that our local extension is not interested in organic gardening, and considers it more of a weird phenomenon than a realistic endeavor. This attitude is regrettable, but rather than trying to change extension's attitude, I am attempting to disseminate the information myself.

Another project I'm working on is a celebration of the author Laura Ingalls Wilder. We're putting on a big day of events in February. I think it will be a lot of fun for the homeschool pioneer geeks around here. I know I will enjoy myself! Another project that is a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I ran across this quote from the older and wiser Laura, which I loved:

"I believe we would be happier to have a personal revolution in our individual lives and go back to simpler living and more direct thinking. It is the simple things of life that make living worth while, the sweet fundamental things such as love and duty, work and rest and living close to nature. There are no hothouse blossoms that can compare in beauty and fragrance with my bouquet of wild flowers."

We will soon be saying adios to Mike and Abby, who are going to Guatemala for a couple of months. There are a lot of projects to be involved in down there, and they all sound exciting. I know they will have a lot of fun, and I am excited at the information they'll be bringing back. Don is taking their family to the airport, and they are generously giving us the use of their van for a month. It is quite a blessing to have a tax return and a vehicle at the same time. Last year, this did not work out for us, and it was quite a strain, especially since we were looking to invest in a wood stove. This year, we have a list of things we want to invest in, and the means to haul them home. Yippee!

We're also planning on some field trips to out of town places like the children's museums in Bloomington and Decatur, and possibly a trip up to Funk's Grove for maple sirup and to enjoy their nature center. We'll make a few trips out to Chandlerville, both to enjoy the cousins and to assist the home folks. My parents have had a lot of things to deal with at their home, and we're hoping to be helpful now that we have the means to get there. It will also be nice to see the old place, and for Kaleigh to get reacquainted with it. When my step-dad passes away (and he's 72, and is living with congestive heart failure), the house will be razed and that will be the end of my last childhood home that still stands. I want to soak up the memories while I can.

While we're still emphatically NOT interested in owning a vehicle, it is helpful and useful to have access to one. We're hopeful that a car co-op may appear, and may be more fruitful than the last attempt at having one.

We may make one other road trip, to south central Missouri. Kaleigh and I may go to Baker Creek Heirloom Seed farm, to their festival held on the first Sunday of the month. It'll be cold, especially if we sleep in the van, but it'll be fun, no doubt. Baker Creek is very near to Mansfield, Missouri, which is where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her Little House books. Of course, it is a great combo road trip. I hope the weather and gas prices allow the trip to happen. We'll see. Don will be staying home to keep the fire going, so the pipes don't freeze.

I've went through my collection of seeds, and seed catalogs that we've received. I've already filled out the order to Baker Creek, and am just waiting until January 15 so I can file the tax return. As soon as we get the refund, I'll send off my order. I have a lot of seeds, and I'm excited that we may have an intern to help us in the garden this year. I hope to find a couple of heritage apple trees as well.

Of course, we are enjoying the wood stove this year. It has kept us toasty warm for most of the winter. The only exception was the day or two it was zero degrees, with a wind chill of minus 22. The wind was causing our useless vents to pour cold air into the house. We got those covered up, made soup and baked bread, put on a couple more layers, and we were warm again. Don has kept busy hauling wood, cutting wood on good days, and keeping the woodstove operational. He still thinks of it as play more than work. It's all in the perspective.

With our oven working again, we've been making homemade wheat bread. I've also been cooking lots of soups. Soup full of vegetables, beans, and/or chicken broth, plus homemade bread makes for a delightful meal. The 30 odd quarts of tomatoes I canned last summer have made our meals very delicious and nutritious. There's nothing like summer tomatoes on a winter tongue. The raspberry and strawberry wines are good also.

Kaleigh and I have been knitting, and she has been crocheting. She finished her first project, a Christmas headband. I am working socks and a hat to match her Christmas present scarf. We have enjoyed getting out and hanging out with our knitting friends. We've been reading the Little House series again. It's been a couple of years since I have read it, and it is totally enjoyable once more. We're up to Little Town on the Prairie now. Kaleigh has read the Boxcar Children series, pretty much every book they have at the library. She decided to start over and read them in order, and she's about 25 books into it. She's been reading a book or two a day most days.

Right now, Kaleigh and Don are collaging and painting our flat fridge magnets, formerly printed with advertising and other useless information. Kaleigh is highly enjoying herself. I am realizing I need to get into the kitchen and get some lunch together. More for another time, but just wanted to let y'all know we are still alive and thinking here in Zomba.