Monday, June 30, 2008

Blow up yur t.v.

"Blow up yur t.v., move ta tha country, eat a lotta peaches, try n find Jesus on yor own"...ok, I like John Prine songs. We didn't technically blow up our t.v., but I did call our cable company last week to cancel our service. Mainly because we simply don't watch t.v. and thought we could save $50 a month by canceling. The kicker is that we do use the internet service that the cable company provides. Well, before I hung up the phone, they had me signed up for 12 months of digital channels plus internet for $3 more than it would have been if we only payed for internet service.

Long story, but once I contacted the local cable office I found out about some hidden expenses, and canceled it right on the spot...but got the internet for quite a bit less than the national office quoted. Media expenses such as newspapers, magazines, cable t.v., internet service, cell phone service, data download for cell phone, i-tunes....when added up together it spells expensive! We are trying our best to cancel services we simply don't use, or don't need, while having the ability to stay "connected" to the larger world and network of people and ideas. So, today I am using our internet service to work from home (not commuting, saving gas). This gives me the ability to see my family, take a break to take a walk, play a game of basketball, eat home cooked local food, and still get everything done for my employer.

Eating Locally: Preserving Eggs?

We have discovered that when you have 14 of these:

you get about a dozen eggs a day. This time of year anyway!

Brent & I were talking about what we ought to do with our surfeit of eggs and he suggested we find some ways to preserve them for the time of year when we won't have so many.

As I do in most situations I turned to Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living. Carla confirmed that hens lay more eggs in March through June than the rest of the year combined; that we can expect a shortage in December and January and a glut in the spring & early summer. She had a lot of recipes for pickling eggs and also suggested turning extra eggs into egg noodles. I haven't been adventurous enough to try the pickled egg recipes although the egg noodles sound good.

We were really interested in how we could just use the eggs as eggs later in the year. Drying them sounded drawn out & involved. Rubbing them in grease & packing in salt had its merit but we were lacking a five gallon bucket of salt. Freezing got our vote as the easiest method we could try because we alraedy had everything we needed.

Carla says to break them and mix them together without really whipping them. Then add either 1 T. of sugar or 1/2 tsp. of salt to each cup of whole eggs. Freeze them and label them as to whether they are intended to be used in sweet or salty recipes later. Another idea was to freeze them in ice cube trays and consider each cube to be about equivalent to half an egg. That sounded easy to me!

And it was--until it was time to get them OUT of the trays! Cracking an ice cube tray of eggs is nothing like cracking an ice cube tray of ice. Cracking is really a misnomer because they didn't want to "crack" at all. It was like having an ice cube tray full of jello.

Brent finally figured out a method involving hot water and force to get the egg cubes dislodged!

Now we have a dozen frozen "sweet" eggs. Tonight we'll try "salty." Until the excess in our fridge goes down a bit we'll keep experimenting with egg preservation methods.

I guess we can't tell you how it works out until our shortage season begins. Barring any chicken massacres or catastrophes, we'll give a full report on our preserved eggs come December!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Eating Locally: Strawberries!

Our friends Tom & Sharon picked a GREAT week to go on vacation--the week their strawberries all ripened! Sure, we offered to pick some while they were gone. After all, what are friends for?

As it turned out, Brent ended up being the one with time to pick while I was away at the TNNA trade show, and again later in the week between the many rain storms. Once the berries were home, I got in on the action too.

We made 2 batches of regular strawberry jam and 1 batch sweetened with honey. The honey recipe was from Stocking Up. We haven't tried any of the honey jam yet, so we don't know how it tastes, but it made our house smell deliciously sweet.

We also froze several quart bags full for winter time smoothies, pies, and crisps. Not counting the rhubarb crisp we made or the many strawberries that we just ate out of the bowl this is what we ended up with after the first session.

Next quest: black raspberries! Does anyone know of a great spot for picking them?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Proposal: Ecological & Cultural Resilience for People and Local Communities.

Recently I decided to write down what I would do as right livelihood if money/funding was not an issue. This is what I wrote down:

Learning and teaching toward the goal of how we as individuals, communities, and society can live whole, fulfilled lives with the smallest ecological footprint possible. (Does not presuppose sustaining the way we live now). This means outreach and education on issues, skills, capacity, knowledge, and life-cycle thinking regarding ecologically and culturally sustainable living. Helping to enable people to do what they can now, but also to take the long view and work toward the above goal. The primary focus will be on what individuals can do to transition lifestyles, with ties to how communities can support the move toward non-destructive, ecologically resilient living. The effort would incorporate current and growing knowledge of permaculture design, sustainable low-input rural and urban agriculture, local food systems, sustainable housing, indigenous knowledge and appropriate technology. The effort would have equal emphasis on cultural aspects including cultivating awareness and stewardship values, bridging ecology and religion, supporting right livelihoods, and incorporating valuable ecological literature and ties with the liberal arts; all of which lead to grounding people in the place where they live in order to understand who they are and how best to treat each other and the earth.

Why? Many signs point to ecological and societal collapse…if we continue our current course. But, even if the “Big Bad” doesn’t happen, we should be compelled to embark on the path to discover ways of living that are ecologically and culturally resilient. We are in an ecological and spiritual crisis. We must start asking the questions: “what are people for?, and how shall we live such that we don’t destroy the place where we live?”. Everyone can make small changes that make a big difference collectively. Making more money, having more stuff, and conquering more lands and cultures hasn’t done it.

Audience? Primary audience will be bio-regional – the Lower Great Lakes, Upper Midwest bioregion at the largest scale, but starting within our own local community first and doing these things in my own family. Local communities and watersheds, organizations, groups, and individuals for personal contact within approx. 150 mile radius of home...but could consider providing some assistance nationally via Web and distance learning. Possible inclusion into local courses.

How? Organize learning communities and people networks, workshop sessions, seminars, conferences, demonstration projects, Web, phone, possible in-person for homeowner solutions. Would partner with other specialists and organizations with ties to the above mission (local university, Midwest Permaculture Institute in IL, National Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas, The Land Institute, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, etc) .

Eating Locally

We decided some time back to earnestly begin to obtain as much of our food as feasible from local sources. We signed the 50% Local Foods Pledge with the Earth Charter Indiana. I was thinking about how much of our food is coming from local sources (produced within 100 miles of our house). About 90% of meat we eat is now coming from local sources. About 75% of vegetables. Our milk is coming from a local small dairy. We raise our own chickens and eat and sell their eggs. We will be picking and preserving local fruits this summer such as strawberries, apples, blueberries, and raspberries (if we can find enough), and the odd wild plant harvest, etc. With our bees we will eventually have honey and other products. Mushroom production is also planned. It would be great to locate a local small grains producer for oats and such. Eating healthy can mean eating locally!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Quest is On!

As you know, Brent and I are looking for land to build an energy independent home. This weekend found ourselves with some free time on a beautiful Saturday. A rare treat! So we decided that we would take a meandering course through Warren County, writing down descriptions of any properties that caught our eye. With notebook, gazetteer, camera and picnic lunch in hand, we set out.

Getting just a few miles west of our current home we noticed that things changed almost immediately. The pace was slower; the roads more winding. At one point Brent said, "I feel my blood pressure is just lower here." We followed the river and took as many dead end roads as we could find. I said I would keep my eyes open for abandoned houses, never guessing we would see quite so many of them as we did!

All in all we saw three abandoned houses that seemed to be part of old farms. Two appeared to be part of small tracts of land and possibly not quite right for our particular quest. But one seemed to capture our attention.

We were driving down Independence Road and I saw a dilapidated mailbox. I looked over my shoulder as we drove past and saw an overgrown lane and a house with broken windows. We decided to turn around and look more closely. We drove up the lane slowly, afraid we were driving onto a property where someone lived and might not enjoy the intrusion. But the overgrown front porch and broken upstairs windows gave us courage that no one was there.

We found an old farm with a rolling pasture and a barn that looked in pretty decent shape. A door on the barn blew in the wind and scared me for a minute. But we saw that the electric meter was not turning so we felt that we were right in our first impression that no one lived on the site. The house looked in very bad shape though because the upper windows were broken out and the ceiling looked to be peeling and possibly caving in due to being open to the elements. It was hard to really tell from the outside. The only sign of activity on the place seemed to be some 4-wheeler tracks in the pasture. I guess an abandoned secluded farm would be a magnet for teenagers looking for a place to have fun with no adult oversight. Who could blame them?

We followed the tracks a bit and looked out over the rolling pasture. The sky was blue and the white puffy clouds moved along as the tall grass in the pasture waved. I felt not only the thrill of fear that came with wondering if the owner would burst out of the barn asking who we thought we were to be on his land but also a deeper sense of excitement that maybe a place like this could be our spot. The place we could come to love and make our own. We took a few pictures and wrote down the address in the old mailbox to look up against the plat book that we had ordered but hadn't yet arrived. We decided that there couldn't be a better place to go Mortgage-Free than "Independence Road."

We continued to follow the winding roads closest to creeks and "dead end" roads until we found ourselves at our lunch spot - the Potholes. This Nature Conservancy owned property is one of the hidden gems near our home. Fall Creek has created "potholes" in the stone below the creek, and it can be really fun to hike in to the waterfall by walking up the creek and sometimes falling into the "potholes." It being early in the summer we weren't sure it was quite warm enough for that, so we just hiked in on the path, which was really muddy. I noticed the people leaving before us had very muddy seats on their shorts. I found out why when we got onto the path!

Ignoring the "*no everything" signs, we waded over to a place on the stone embankment in the dappled shade near the waterfall. We enjoyed a picnic lunch of black bean salad and Brent's special avocado sandwiches, his own unique invention, followed by some super-delicious date bars. It really couldn't have been much better. A few people were wading and swimming in the water. After we had our food, we found a sunny rock in the middle of the creek where we sat until we were very hot and enjoyed cooling off by wading in the icy water again. We hiked back out and found our car almost blocked in by some folks with kayaks in their truck. Lucky for us, living at the top of a hill has honed our ability to back out of tight spots, so we found ourselves driving through the farm fields & winding roads once again.

We learned that two sports bottles of water are not quite enough on a hot day. We learned that the pop machines in Independence only take quarters and we only had one. We decided we didn't really need a corn syrup soda anyway. We learned that the outhouses in Cicott are open this time of year, and that is a really glorious thing. And we learned that black bean salad tastes even better on the banks of a waterfall.

When we finally got our plat book in the mail we found that the property we visited is owned by someone named Eve Refshauge who is not listed in the local phone book. We found that Eve Refshauge owns quite a bit of land in Warren County. If anyone reading this post happens to know Eve Refshauge or her family or how to contact them, we would love to find out if they are at all amenable to selling the property on Independence Road. If anyone reading this is from Warren County and has any information about this family and how to contact them, we would love to hear from you!

*Footnote Regarding the "no everything" signs:
I think that posting signs saying "no swimming, no picnicking, no rock climbing, no breathing, etc." really serves to negate the whole concept of fostering a love of the natural world. A love of the natural world is developed by being a part of it. People need to be able to touch, feel and get dirty. I understand that the Nature Conservancy wants to preserve the spot and so do I. I think people will want to preserve it when they love it; and they love it by participating in it. A sign that said, "Please pack out anything you bring in; leave the place better than you found it; and swim and climb at your own risk - no lifeguard on duty" would be better suited to influencing people to follow the rules and enjoy the natural setting appropriately. As it is everyone knows that the posted rules are only good for ignoring.

Many Hands Make Light Work

While we are looking for land, we are also taking care of the home we already live in. We have needed to paint the house for a few years now but have put it off; it just sounded like too much work and we didn't think we could stomach the idea of paying someone else to do it. It was just easier not to think about it for another summer or two. But alas we have discovered that denial doesn't really help anything very much, large or small, so it was time to paint!

We had a family meeting, got all the kids on board, and decided that maybe we could just do it! We decided to put some money in each kid's sharebuilder account and give everyone a little summer spending money. Balancing my need not to let it drag on all summer with our need to relax and play a bit sounded like a big task. But it hasn't been bad at all. We started on Memorial Day weekend. The kids had things to go to in the evenings with their friends, and we had leisurely mornings sleeping in. We put in about 4 hours each day and did a section at a time. We worked a few evenings during the week following the holiday weekend. And we're almost DONE! We have one section of house left to do as well as all the decks.

The best part is that we discovered that we COULD work together, no one was upset (except for a few occasional concerns from the girls about spiders--an issue that is not restricted to painting as far as they are concerned!), and we've saved the $5,000+ that it would've cost to have someone else paint the house.

It felt great to work together and put into practice the idea that "many hands make light work." Often our approach has been to "divide and conquer" thinking that getting tasks done separately was more efficient. Maybe it was efficient but I'm sure it wasn't more fun.

Working together is a way that we build connection and experience joy. I didn't think that painting a house would be "fun," but I've had a wonderful time being with my family and working on things together. I have renewed hope that as we round this corner at home & in the wider world, that the answer does lie in togetherness; supporting each other and enjoying the work that lies ahead.