Friday, May 30, 2008

Cultivating "practical" lifeskills

Having previously lived for 2-3 years in the 1990’s a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (using less than $1,000 a year to live) in the northern Great Lakes area, I understand the benefits and the disadvantages of living a very sparse primitive lifestyle. I’ve also, like many Americans, been privy to a very opulent lifestyle where almost anything we want we can have. Part of pursuing the Big Good is about better understanding who we are, what is our purpose here on Earth, and to understand where we are in terms of the place we live. As we develop this understanding, Beth and I are also seeking a way of combining the wisdom and knowledge of different lifestyles from indigenous living, to homesteading, while incorporating appropriate technology in how we live.

In a recent book titled PowerDown by Richard Heinberg, the author writes, “We are in deep trouble, and it is essential we understand the nature of the trouble we are in.” Heinberg offers four scenarios or “…options available to us as a species during the next century.” I’ve been thinking about these four scenarios quite a lot over the past year. Somehow we want to be a part of option #4, while contributing to option #2.

Options for the Future:

#1. Last One Standing – The Way of War and Competition

(The “default” scenario if nothing changes from the present situation). A) Resource Wars: increased fatal competition for limited resources; B) widespread economic hardship and income disparity; C) destruction of infrastructure; military funding a priority while social welfare funding reduced.

#2. Powerdown – The Path of Self-Limitation, Cooperation, and Sharing

(What would happen if the Kyoto and Uppsala Protocols were adopted and implemented?) A)Coordinated global efforts toward cooperation and conservation; B) a cultural shift away from overconsumption of resources toward self-limitation; C) massive government and economic reforms; D) community solidarity rather than personal accumulation of wealth.

#3. Waiting for the Magic Elixir – False Hopes, Wishful thinking and Denial

(Plan Snooze: continued denial of “the Problem” in hopes that it will take care of itself): A) technological quick-fixes address the symptoms, not root causes; B) alternative hydrocarbon sources have serious problems; C) the Hydrogen economy is more a product of politics than science; D) continued distraction from the underlying problem of overconsumption

#4. Building Lifeboats – The Path of Community Solidarity and Preservation

(If the collapse of industrial society is unavoidable what can we do?) A) consider the long-term carrying capacity of environments in planning; B) create cultural preservation centers for education; C) cultivate “practical” life-skills; D) reconnect with cycles of the natural world.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Yurt Weekend Getaway

We arrived at Mary Rose Herb Farm after a relaxing drive listening to Going to the Country and enjoying the vibrant yellow wildflowers standing in the fields. The yellow was so vivid it nearly made my eyes hurt, in a good way. After getting off the beaten path we found our destination and felt delighted to finally be in our little round hideaway. Our host left us to move in for the weekend and we sat on one of the beds to relax and think about what to do next. We didn't have a minute to decide because the front leg of the bed collapsed underneath us! Really--we were just sitting there. We laughed and laughed until finally Brent had the courage to call and tell the owners that we really needed to move into the other yurt because we needed a sturdier bed. (!) Our host told us there had been some "young whippersnappers" in the yurt with the broken bed. We chuckled and hoped we might still qualify for that description.

We made a delicious dinner of shish-kabobs on our little charcoal grill with a fresh salad sans dressing (because we forgot to bring any.) The beef was from Thistle-Byre Farm and the salad greens were from the Cooleys. We thought it was pretty close to perfect, even without salad dressing.
The rain held off long enough that we could eat outside on the deck looking across the winding road to the most lovely cow pasture I've ever seen. If I were a cow I'd want to live on that hill. I think the little calves who liked to run down the hill in groups must've agreed with me. It looked like great fun.

Time seemed to unfold. What is usually gone in the flash of an eye, an evening, turned into what felt like a whole day. Our weekend in the yurt became a world unto itself while the “real” world felt like a foggy dream. I thought that I could understand how Morgaine stayed with the fairies for years while it only seemed like days. I could easily have stayed there with Brent forever and felt like it was the only life I had ever known.

That night we got our wish - we got to sleep under the moon.

Breakfast was announced with the ringing of an old farm bell. Then it was delivered by our host in a cloth-lined basket. We had hashbrown casserole, sliced tomatoes, and a yogurt, fruit and granola cup with hot tea the first day. We ate every bite. Our host asked how we were enjoying our stay and said of Brent, “Well you have a smile on your face.” I thought that said it all.

Another amenity at Mary Rose Herb Farm is a Japanese soaking tub heated by an outdoor woodfired furnace, which incidentally also heats the yurts and the hot water at the owners' home. This tub was deep and warm but not too hot. We took daytime dips and even a night time dip that involved running as quickly as possible through stinging cold rain and escaping into the heat of the warm, steamy water. I think everyone should have one of these things. Isn't Brent cute?

We enjoyed a hike through the woods and hills to a spot by a little lake where we sat for hours and talked. Alas we didn't take a camera so we have only memories of that spot. We engaged in a very thorough tick inspection upon our return to the yurt.
(And I must say I’ve finally found an insect that likes Brent better than it likes me!)

Later that day we took a drive into St. Meinrad to walk around the grounds of St. Meinrad Archabbey. We saw a group of boy scouts camping on the berm of a little lake and we walked to a shrine in the woods. We ate Klondike bars from the little gas station/grocery store, (where we also picked up some salad dressing). An anonymous photographer seemed to be taking our picture as we walked along holding hands. So if you happen to see a picture of a happy couple walking along the bank of a little lake at St. Meinrad, it is probably us!

We also returned to Monte Cassino, a little shrine we had visited on a trip to this area a few years ago. Even though Brent and I don't know much about Catholic shrines, this seems like a special place to us. We lit a candle and said a prayer about getting our land. Seems like that is small potatoes compared to averting a small pox epidemic. So we figured it couldn't hurt. :-)

Back at the yurt, we had yet another delicious feast. Cleaver Farms pork chops and another incredible salad (WITH dressing!), applesauce and couscous. What a feast! All the more so because we are used to cooking for 5. We were astonished by just how little we needed for only us. We ate our fill and felt the satisfaction of good food, good company and a being immersed in a lovely place.

The only cause for worry during our trip came when we were enjoying the last of our meal in front of a cozy fire in the chiminea. We saw the flashing lights of EMT vehicles pulling into the drive of the owners' house. Eventually an abulance took someone away. We walked to the house to see what we could learn and found that our host had collapsed in the garden but was stable when he was transported to the hospital. We later learned that he had a kidney stone and we hope all is well now.

It did rain and the rain provided a soothing sound as we retreated to our round little world. We found a portable massage table stowed under the bed. And while I'm not sure it was supposed to be part of the package experience, we couldn't resist the chance to use it. Massages at home are great but there's never a perfect solution for what to do with your face. Either you crank your neck to the side or smother by burying your nose in the bed. But having a professional table was one of the most delightful experiences--I think everyone should have one of those too. In fact I think maybe I want to buy one! To the sound of the rain and quiet music I thoroughly enjoyed letting all my love and energy move from my hands into Brent. It have always enjoyed getting massages a little bit more than giving them (!) but I think I am discovering that it really can be more satisfying to give than receive, and in the giving I have received so much myself.

Our final morning brought more great breakfast; waffles with sausage from the farm across the road, baked apples and orange juice that was better than orange juice! (In fact it inspired Brent to look up a do-it-yourself orange julius recipe which we made twice after we returned home, and I can highly recommend it if you were a fan of the real thing.) I didn't really want to leave the soaking tub and the peaceful place. My deepest wish was that we take home the openness and connectedness that we found on our retreat and let that continue in our daily life.

Brent knew that I would especially enjoy a stop at the Overlook Restaurant in Leavenworth, so he suggested that we make a little detour there for lunch before heading home. He is a wise man and he knows his wife pretty well too--it was the perfect thing to look forward to and it made it not *too* hard to leave, knowing that we were going there. We enjoyed a light lunch overlooking the Ohio River and wondered if the people who live in the little farm on the Kentucky side even notice how beautiful it is each day. We sat by the river some more and savored the view, and the chance to share it with each other. Then we headed home.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wanted: Land to Live On!

We are very interested in finding land where we can live sustainably. Ideally we are looking for 5-20+ acres with woods, pasture or meadow and water such as a lake, pond or creek. This could take the form of an older abandoned farmstead with or without a house. This might be ideal because it could have established fruit trees and other perennial flowers and plants. It would be even better if it were adjacent to other natural lands such as land trusts, preserves and other protected public lands.
At this time we are focusing our search on counties surrounding Tippecanoe County, Indiana (Benton, Carroll, Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery, Warren and White as well as Parke).
If anyone knows of or hears of any land for sale or knows someone who may be interested in selling we would be very grateful if you would let us know. Please leave us a comment with any leads you might have. We can't wait to hear from you!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yes, Yurts!

When I started dating Brent, he lived in a tipi. It was then that I discovered the feeling of wholeness that comes from sleeping in a round dwelling. There is something indescribable about looking up and seeing tipi poles coming together and reaching towards the sky. It's been a long time since we spent a night in the tipi though, preferring the creature comforts of a cozy bed and a nearby bathroom especially when the kids were little.

But the kids are getting bigger now and we find that we are beginning to have time to really explore the things that interest us. Or maybe the time is the same but we are different. I'm not sure. But several weeks ago I remembered the beautiful pictures I had seen of modern yurts. I went surfing and found some like I was thinking of at Pacific Yurts and Colorado Yurts.

I showed them to Brent and said that maybe we should start making plans for the next phase of life; with one in high school getting his first summer job and the others growing up so quickly, we will be empty nesters before we know it. It seems that the last 10 years have passed in the blink of an eye. While I sometimes wish I could pin down time and make it stop, I really do enjoy watching my kids grow into interesting big people. While they are figuring out what path they will take, we are thinking a lot about what we will do when it's just us. Since some of our kids came to our marriage with me, we've never had a time that was just "Brent & Beth." It's hard for us to imagine. But part of making this transition easier for us as we let them grow is for us to plan what we would like to focus on as we move towards that time.

I asked Brent if maybe he would like to find that piece of land in the country that we are always dreaming of and put a yurt on it. I am drawn to the yurt because it has the round roof much like the tipi that I remember so fondly from our early days together. But it has a floor and can be easily adapted to include luxuries, like beds, bathrooms and a kitchen sink. Plus is it more impervious to things that should stay outdoors; like mosquitoes and frogs. It's easy to say that these things aren't so important...until you spend a night with stomach flu in the woods or wake up in a tipi with a frog on your face! The yurt looks like the best of both worlds to me.

Brent reminded me that he had heard of a place with yurts that you can stay in. This captured my attention and I wanted to know if there was a place we could lie awake and look at the moon through the dome in the roof. I thought that would be as close to idyllic as possible. It turns out Brent was right, you can stay in a yurt at Mary Rose Herb Farm. We called to make a reservation right away and I looked forward to 48 hours of just us under the moon.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Giving Voice

I am primarily non-verbal in my approach to life (I read this is often considered "the norm" for men). Part of my own growth in pursuing The Big Good is that I am working to find my voice. To be able to express myself verbally, such that my words convey what I really feel or think. This has always been difficult for me. Being able to speak one's inner voice is very important in so many ways in life.

One of the early experiences in my relationship with Beth that connects me to her, and roots me to who I am, came flowing out in a poem yesterday. I know virtually nothing about writing poetry, but the words came out this way, so I call it a poem. The poem refers to an early spring day when Beth and I sat under a very old, lone cottonwood tree in a meadow overlooking a lake where my grandparents live. The large old tree had been struck by lightening more than once and wore some deep scars. I always felt like the tree held a type of tree wisdom, and by sitting beside it, I could feel that. I often would come to this place throughout my childhood, the same place my grandfather came to as a boy, and sitting there with Beth that day was so important to me. For me the moment was largely non-verbal, but the experience I felt has resonated within me ever since. I call it a vision, because the vision of the experience I hold in my heart and I come back to it often. Here I share a start at finding my voice as part of The Big Good, in a love poem to my Beth.

Thunder Tree Vision

Together we knelt
Under the thunder tree
Deep hearts felt
The wind moving free

Thunder spirit made its home
In this sacred thunder tree
Ancient chorus above us
Sandhills floating high in the sky

Our hearts touching
Becoming one with the place
Roots going down deep
Beauty love in your face

Lightening ripped open
This tree and this place
My soul once struck
Yet here I felt grace

With you
Your heart
Your soul
Open to me

I felt the tree
The soul of the sacred ground
That I had known almost forever
Here I had found

A place of peace
We share this sacred moment
My heart open
Reaching out

Becoming one together
A journey we began
Under the thunder tree

This is my vision
I return to in my heart
To know who I am
Where my roots are deep

And how our journey began
Although thunder tree is gone
The spirit is planted within us
To grow strong and blossom

With Love

Brent Thomas Ladd
May 14, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beth's Version of this Tale

Do you want to hear Beth's version of this tale? Then I highly recommend that you get on over to Tales from the River for the full story!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Trouble with Honey Bees

The trouble with honey bees is that they do sting. Beth and I had an eventful first inspection of our two new bee hive colonies. The good news we discovered is that they were thriving, and appeared that both queens were laying eggs so the colonies could grow and gather enough food to survive their first winter. Being new to bee keeping, it seemed we allowed a larger gap for the queen cage than needed. The bees tried to fill this gap with new comb, known as burr comb,...which I knew we had to remove so the bees could build comb onto the super frames. I never, ever dreamed I would be sticking my bare hand down into a hive of 10,000 bees. We decided to not use the smoker originally because we didn't want to disturb the bees. Well, we ended up needing to disturb them to remove all of the burr comb.

Largest Morel Discovered

I came home to morel mushrooms in the sink...our son Wes and his friend Tyler had found them after school in the woods. I immediately went out and found the monster shown in the picture. We fried them, but since I'm the only one that likes mushrooms in the family, I had to eat them all! One of the projects we are starting in our woods is to grow several edible and medicinal mushroom species on elm trees. We have ordered the mushroom spawn and the logs are ready for innoculation.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What's Old is New

I have this thing about knitting socks--I just can't stop! If you've never worn a hand-knit wool sock, then you probably won't get it. But once you have, well then you understand. There's just no going back. Warm feet; socks that fit--what could be better?!

When I had a regular American-style top loading washing machine, I just threw my wool socks in on "cold/gentle" and then threw them over the shower rod to dry. This seemed to work ok. But then I got a really wonderful front loader that uses less electricity and less water. But it must really push that small amount of water through the socks with great force, because much to my chagrin, I've noticed that socks handled this way have started to shrink. I just finished making Brent a really great pair of new socks using the Thuja pattern and Extra Stampato. These socks were a special knit for a special guy and I want them to last. What to do?

I really love the sight of my laundry hanging in the open air to dry--it just seems right! All the more so when the clothesline is full of colorful handknit socks.

It's a feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them all lined up in a row. I see many relaxing hours of knitting and a sense of a job well done; I see socks from fellow-knitters and I feel glad to have friends who knit me socks; I see a winter full of warm feet. So all would seem to be right with the world. But it's not.

Handwashing socks has always seemed to take an inordinate amount of time for the socks to dry. You just can't get the water out by hand like a spin cycle on the washing machine. In the winter, it works really great to set them on the register, but what about now in the spring when the heat isn't on, but warm wool in the mornings is still a welcome treat?

I finally remembered that Brent had an antique wringer washer he used to use in hide tanning. I had an idea that it just might do the trick! It turns out, I was right!

After decades of disuse, what's old is new again! And I'm happy to say that the socks dried QUICKLY on the line.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Our very own bees

The last day of April 20,000 honey bees arrived by mail. I had received a phone call a few weeks earlier from a friend getting rid of old bee hive wooden ware and equipment. The next thing I know we are ordering honey bees for starting two colonies at our small "half-way" homestead. This is our most recent project on our journey of The Big Good. The idea is to eventually have honey to use and share as gifts, but also to do our part in furthering the numbers of pollinators.

The bees arrive in small cages and you actually dump the bees right into the hive with the queen. They really like the new home and space. We must feed them sugar syrup the first few weeks until they establish their hives. We didn't get the feeder set up correctly the first time, and so we had to make changes the next day. Unfortunately we lost about 200 bees, but we chalk it up to a learning experience. Beth was valiant in her first bee keeping experience and was stung by a bee. She is initiated. Brent somehow has escaped being stung so far.