Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Practicing and Preserving

Sorry to have left whilst in freak-out mode. Things are much calmer now. :) I really don't want to give the impression that I'm having a great deal of anxiety about the things I'm learning about concerning Peak Oil. I'm not really, but I do take the issue seriously. I guess I'm not one to want to put the "happy ending" on everything. I know that that is usually how its done when presenting a tough message, but I don't know that I always agree with it.

For example, shows about endangered species, environmental problems, etc. usually end with the progress that is being made and technologies that are helping, but "there is still a lot of work to be done." Honestly, I find that seems to make a lot of people sit back and sigh and then say to themselves, "Oh, well, thank goodness they're taking care of it," and then go back to living exactly as they have been living.

I just wonder what would happen if, instead of profiling the scientists in the field or the volunteer organizations, an educational show would end with: "The situation is serious. We have x amount of time to make these changes. Here are some of the things every person needs to be doing to secure a healthy environment for our future: ..." Then, give a practical list and links to further information and leave it at that.

At the same time, as a Christian, I am thankful that God is in His heaven and is working out His plan and purposes. I rest confidently in that. By rest, of course, I do not mean that I do nothing. He wants me to care for my family. One of the ways I am doing this, I believe, is to continue to be prepared for a future with less energy by practicing now. Yesterday was a good day of doing this.

I had my first pick-up from the CSA this past weekend and also made a stop at the farmers' market on the way home. My intention, like so many who can and put-up food, is to be using some of what I'm getting - hopefully each week - to set aside for the summer months when less grows here. I am learning, of course, that there are some things that can grow in FL in the summetime, but they are fewer than what is grown from November to May. So, like my northern friends who prepare for their winters, I am preparing for my summer. I am thankful to have a larger window of time in which to do this. At the same time, unlike summer harvesting, in which I would not be teaching, my canning time takes place during our school year and therefore has me juggling a few things. So, yesterday, math was pushed aside so that the girls could help with some preserving.

Preserving is a great lesson to teach children, so I wasn't concerned at all when substituting this into our curriculum. It is a skill that is helpful and fun today and may become more necessary in the future. The citrus season is upon us here in the Gulfcoast and we are practicing saving as much as we can. Maia zested limes and lemons for me yesterday, while Eve juiced them, and I prepared tomatoes for canning. I froze the jar of lime juice, as I already had one in the refrigerator. I put the one jar of lemon juice in the fridge, because it is my first of the season. To save room and energy, though, I believe I will be canning the citrus juices this year, instead of freezing them. Ultimately, canning requires one-time energy and can be done without electricity if that were necessary. When my mom's lemons and my tangelos and grapefruits really start to come in, I hope to be steadily filling up my shelves with juices.

In the meantime, I am also experimenting with a few new recipes, since our farm share this week included bok choy and kohlrabi. We had a good lunch with the bok choy today and will try something with the kohlrabi tomorrow. The internet makes this so easy with so many recipes available upon doing a simple search. Then on Thursday, we'll be at my mil's for Thanksgiving. I'm bringing a vegan pumpkin pie using the pumpkin I froze from Halloween, homemade stuffing, veggetarian gravy, and some of the freezer pickles I made a couple of weeks ago.

To all of my U.S. readers/friends, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Peak Oil Overload

So, I'm reading Sharon Astyk's book, Depletion and Abundance, and I have to say, I'm getting a little freaked out. I'm sure that things will settle down for me as I let all the information I am taking in settle in my brain a bit, but right now it's all a bit overwhelming.

As I said on a message board today, " I have long practiced voluntary simplicity and, to be honest, while I believe strongly in a lifestyle that focuses on walking gently on the planet, I must admit that I preferred believing that it was voluntary - to a degree. I guess that I'm learning that it is not anymore and I'm more than a little concerned for our future."

Astyk writes,

We have already begun to experience supply constraints, and just about everything that is made or transported with oil has begun to rise in cost. Virtually every purchase we make involves oil at some stage (often at every stage) - from the shoes on our feet to the houses we live in. Our food is grown with oil [did you know that chemical fertilizers and pesticides were petroleum based??? YUCK. Yet another reason to grow your own, shop locally, and go organic. - ed.], packaged in oil, and transported to our grocery stores with oil. Many of us have an instinctive assumption that Peak Oil is mostly about gasoline, because that's how we think about oil. But in fact, oil is everywhere, and our whole economy floats on a sea of oil and other sources of fossil energy that are reaching their peaks.

One of the other fossil energies is natural gas and I'm sure many cold-climate friends can attest to the high, high prices they are already facing. In addition, alternative energy sources also rely on oil for their production or for mechanical parts; I learned a lot of this last night watching the film, The End of Suburbia.

Astyk has seen The End of Suburbia too and I appreciate that while the film leaves us feeling like the real and perhaps only solution is for the "New Urbanism" to save our cities, she at least gives a little more hope to me as to how one might begin to make changes while still residing in the suburbs. There has to be this kind of hope, because there's no way we're all going to fit into the cities and, at least in the shorter term, there's no way to afford it either.

One of the men interviewed in the film was talking about the great marketability of cities and towns using New Urbanist principles. He noted that they were going for premium rates. Well, that's great incentive for developers and any new development we have should lean in that direction. But he also said that he felt that suburbia may actually be where the future slums are. And I can see that too, because already the beautiful, walkable communites that are voted every year as great-quality-of-life places to live are waaaaaaaaaay out of my family's price range. So, for those of us left in the suburbs, we are going to have to think about doing things differently - way differently.

Consider that as oil depletes and becomes harder to convert into fuel, prices will continue to rise. Not only will we be wanting more oil, but the rest of the developing world that wants and is driving more and more cars, will be wanting more gasoline too. So, consider that the average 40 minute round trip to work will no longer be feasible. Given that the suburbs are rarely set up with reliable sources of public transportation, this becomes a greater problem and may eventually require people to find different work altogether.

Consider, too, that food will no longer be available year-round in the abundant variety we have all become so used to. We will have to know what grows around us at the very least and learn to grow more of our own food as well.

These are just two of the many, many factors that the coming age seems to herald. I am really trying to listen and to learn while it still appears that there is time to do so. Unfortunately, no one seems to know exactly when the effects will multiply exponentially.

Quite simply, it is only a matter of time before we are no longer going to be able to be a global economy and will return to much smaller, regional (if we're lucky) and local economies. We will be required to live more similarly to the ways our grandparents and great-grandparents lived. I don't think it necessarily has to be a horrible thought, (in fact, I welcome much of it and have longed for many of the community aspects of this type of smaller living) but it is a different way of thinking and we would greatly benefit ourselves and our children by learning some of the basic skills that many of us have neglected to learn. Astyk's book, two others she has written on growing and preserving food, and a myriad of other books on self-sufficiency, which may have appeared to be aimed only at a hobbyist audience at one time, now seem required reading for a successful future.

So, I am concerned and yet, I am hopeful. I am afraid that many, many people will continue to wait until they really must act; we are such a reactive as opposed to proactive country. But I am thankful for the amount of information that is out there and that I can take the time that is now to learn what I can. And I look forward to the time when there will be more people who are ready to work together for a healthier future. Right now, I'm sure that I sound alarmist to some, but I think the evidence is on my side. Heck, even the U.S. Army is making preparations for Peak Oil. In the meantime, I will be practicing and continuing to learn more about what it means to live locally and more sustainably. I want to be familiar and comfortable with it - and I want my children to be familiar and comfortable with it - when the time comes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Just Something You Haven't Thought Of

Have you ever had one of those moments when you kind of give yourself the palm-to-forehead smack, saying to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?" Sometimes those moments do not necessarily involve new inventions or even revelatory ideas, but they may just be simple things - new ways of doing things - that seem so obvious once you see it, but for some reason it has alluded you.

For example, years ago when I first started making my pizzas from scratch, I would press all over the dough with my fingers and pull and stretch it until it fit the pan or the stone I was using. I really have no idea where or why I decided to do it this way, but I did and I did it that way for at least two or three years. Then one evening, at a Pampered Chef party a friend of mine was hosting, the woman selling the items was making us a pizza and she pulled out her handy dandy Pampered Chef rolling pin. Was I sold on that particular rolling pin? Well, no, but I just couldn't believe that, for whatever reason, it had never occurred to me to roll out my dough instead of using my hands. Crazy!

I think the same idea can be applied to voluntary simplicity and living environmentally consciously. We often get so ingrained in the way we do things that we sometimes don't think there is any other way to do something. Actually, these types of discoveries are one of the things I really love about living lightly. I'm always amazed and inspired to learn how to do something better for the planet and the people and animals that live here. I am inspired by the creativity and ingenuity that goes into engineering, for example, rainwater catchment systems or composting toilets or new desings of bicycles and other alternative forms of transportation.

Some things, however, are so very simple that they are often overlooked. The beauty of their simplicity, though, is that they can often be done by anyone and even done immediately, with no real learning curve whatsoever. As an example, yesterday as I was walking into the grocery store I saw a mom with her two kids diligently placing plastic bags into the plastic bag recycling bin. Fabulous! Really, it was very good. But then less than a minute later this same woman is standing in the produce section filling up a new plastic bag with produce. I was very tempted to try to kindly say something, but I knew it would come across all wrong (hence this blog post!). :)

Without being critical, because I do applaud her efforts, this seems perfectly illustrate what I'm talking about. She wasn't even thinking about what she was doing, really, and much of the time we just don't; we just continue to do things as we've always done. So here's the thing. Obviously, she could have just used some of the plastic bags she'd brought in to put her produce in. But, taking it one step further, she could simply not put her produce into any bag. I have done this for years and I promise you it is absolutely doable.

If you are purchasing small fruits, loose, in bulk, like say, cherries, then you may want to use a bag you've brought. But otherwise, apples, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, eggplant, etc. simply do not need to be put in a plastic bag in order to travel to your home. This is just one of those things that may be completely obvious to some people, but not to others.

And here is something you might find interesting in regard to all those plastic bags. Perhaps you have heard of the massive, swirling, as-big-as-the-state-of-Texas, collection of plastic out in the Pacific ocean that is regularly killing sea birds, fish, and mammals as we speak. Perhaps you have heard of the sea turtles that mistake discarded, wind-blown plastic bags for the jellyfish that are a regular part of their diets and ingest them, making it eventually impossible, due to all the trapped air in their bellies, for them to dive and they then starve to death. Perhaps you are not as moved by these stories as I so easily am. But Colin Beavan pointed out something new that I didn't know in his book, No Impact Man.

Although the plastic bags do not completely decompose, they do begin to disintegrate in the sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces get ingested by fish, which get ingested by humans. Chemical compounds that make up these plastic bags, never before found in humans, are now being found in human blood. For me, of course, this is just one more reason I'm glad I don't eat animals, but for those who do, I think bringing cloth bags to the grocery store and the department store and the hardware store just became a little more inviting to do. As Beaven points out: we really are what we eat.

Another example of something maybe you just haven't thought of is bringing your own bags to purchase in bulk. Used bread bags are great for this. Again, it may be obvious to some, but I can't begin to tell you how many times the cashiers at Whole Foods tell me, "Oh, hey, that's a really good idea. I never thought to bring my own bags for bulk items too." And bonus: our Whole Foods gives 5 cents off for every bag you bring and all those bulk bags count toward that too. :) You can do this with coffee that you grind too. If your bag is still in pretty good condition, why throw it? Take it back with you and refill it.

These are the kinds of things that keep the whole lifestyle of voluntary simplicity endlessly interesting to me. It's not rocket science and the ideas won't win you any sort of prize, but I do think everyone loves a good idea - especially those that are free and easy.

Instead of getting discouraged, I'm trying to remember not to judge and to consider that maybe some of the changes people need to make are just things they haven't thought of yet. I'm trying to extend a little grace, practice a little patience, not complain (we're taking a family challenge this week to not complain for a whole week!!), and remember to be thankful to the grace that has been extended to me. Because I never know the next time I'm going to be slapping my own hand to my forehead! :)
Image available at Allposters.com

Monday, November 9, 2009

Garden Update

Just a quick post.

I took a well-needed Sabbath yesterday and have decided that I reeeeeaaaally need to do this more often: guard my time and prepare so that I really can have a day of rest once-a-week.

We are currently waiting for our bicycle head and tail lights to arrive, so that we can be riding more and not feel time constraints even with the earlier setting sun. I was not able to find these used, but had to order them online instead.

I've shopped the farmers' market the past 3 weekends in a row and we've been enjoying lots of local food. The CSA I joined will begin sharing the harvest on the 21st of the month. Also, our own garden is still giving us some things, but recently the zucchinis and crook-neck squashes have been dying on the vine and the healthy ones had some little holes in them. Ugh!! Worms!

I knew they were there - I could see their stupid, little droppings everywhere, but could not find them. Thanks to Paul, though, - my husband and research specialist - we've learned that they are what are commonly referred to as, "pickle worms." The night moths that lay these eggs arrive at night and lay their eggs in the flowers. Then the flowers, once fertilized close up and you can't see the gross buggers until they've eaten their way out of one fruit or put a hole into a healthy one. SO frustrating, but the key seems to be to plant the squashes earlier in the season. I may try it again next summer, but I don't know... we'll see. Seems if I'm not battling the worms in the flowers, I've got other nasty worms eating the leaves. It may be that I'm not going to be a zucchini farmer.

I confess that I get dramatic in my mind when things like this happen. I told Paul that with every garden failure I think, "What if I had to survive??? I don't think I could do it!" My much more logical husband pointed out to me (and I swear he is such a great yang to my yin - or whatever, just such a great match for me - always manages to calm me down and put things into perspective) that if we were trying to survive 1) we'd have many more plants than the few we have, so that if a few of the plants went down, we wouldn't be wiped out, so 2) we'd have a much larger garden and 3) we'd be out there every day really keeping an eye on things instead of checking every other day or so and then being surprised by mishaps and 4) there would be others sharing knowledge with us or we'd have been raised with a certain amount of knowledge that would help us.

As it is, we learn as we go and that is okay for a society such as ours. I suppsose I can be thankful that we are not in an emergency situation where I must have these skills right now. Still, Florida gardening is much more challenging to me than Minnesota gardening ever was and it leaves me wondering just what I would be eating if I truly grew nearly everything... and what a true, local diet looks like around here. For example, there certainly wouldn't be pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but more likely key-lime pie instead. I'm thinking about these things. I'm looking at key-lime recipes. Yes, I have frozen pumpkin in my freezer, but I think I ought to begin some new, more regional, seasonal traditions if I really want to learn to live smaller.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Frayed, But Still Trying

Now here's an exciting picture, eh? Well, not all that exciting, I know, but it made me happy enough. This is Maia's jack-o-lantern - or what remained of it. I cooked and froze it and Eve's, since we carved them Halloween day and they were just fine to cook they next day. I managed to get just over 4 quarts of pumpkin cooked, pureed and frozen. We've already enjoyed some pumpkin muffins and some Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread. I also enjoyed just eating some hot with Earth Balance and salt on it. I prefer roasting pumpkin to steaming or boiling it, as it gives mild pumpkin a slightly richer flavor. I find doing either of the other to leave it a bit too watery for my taste. The pumpkins weren't local, but at least they didn't go to waste!

This week finds me kind of burning the candle at both ends and has me planning for a Sabbath proper. I have been needing to better guard my Sabbath rest; I have not been doing a good job of it and I am feeling frayed around the edges. For me, this will mean even passing up fellowship this Sunday; staying home from church to read and pray and just rest. I am looking forward to it.

Feeling frayed has led to feeling crabby and something I have been feeling kind of crabby about is this: People have hobbies. I have hobbies. I love to knit, enjoy journaling, making some art, etc. But to me, being concerned about the environment is not a hobby. I confess that I get a little discouraged when people tell me they read or saw something about climate change or recycling or composting or something like that and then tell me, "I thought of you." I know that, certainly, they only mean something kind when they say that, but really? You thought of me? Why not think of yourself... or for heaven's sake, your children or your grandchildren?
I have had people say things to me like, " Well, I know you're really into the environment..." I can't help thinking that I'm into the environment like I'm into breathing or into having my heart beat. We can't live without it, folks. Oh, there will still be an environment if we screw this one up, but ultimately, it will not necessarily be able to sustain life as we know it.

Feeling frayed leaves me feeling discouraged and less hopeful. I am hopeful when I read, on this vast internet, what others are doing, actions people are taking, and the wide variety of voices from around the world who are moving toward less wasteful, harmful ways of living. But, I confess, that when I look around me locally, I see little that impresses me and few that inspire me and that always leaves me feeling sad and even weary from time to time.

Quite often, in the places I have lived, I have felt like an island in a great sea of people who simply choose - yes, choose - not to pay attention to what is happening in and to the world around them. They know to recycle, but just don't. They know it would be better to bring shopping bags, but they just don't. They know it would be better not to take the disposable cups, plates, napkins, etc., but they just still do. It's all just so convenient. And so I swim upstream amidst even people that I love and risk being the wet blanket if I say too much. I try not to say too much too much most of the time and hope that my actions will speak for me. But when I hear that my actions simply make others think of me when they think about caring for this planet that we share, I do wonder why? And I wonder just what it will take - or rather - why it seems that it will have to take something catastrophic to happen before people will act?

I am sorry that we are such a reactive nation rather than a proactive nation on so many things. It seems true to form that our nation is like an addict that will have to hit bottom before it will pick itself up and begin to work to change. And yes, it takes work. It just does. Why do we believe that life ought to be convenient and easy and throw-away for us, when the greater majority of the world works very hard every day just to live? Why do we feel we deserve this? Why do we buy into the idea that we deserve this? Because it's easier and the alternatives are hard. But I continue to believe that the alternatives will one day - sooner than we may want to admit - no longer be alternatives, but will simply be the way - the new way - we must live or our children must live in order to adapt to the rapidly changing climate.

I am doing some things. To some, I am doing a lot of things. But really, I am doing some things. And I need to be doing more. I am just looking forward to the day when I will not be alone in doing these things. Doing things together is almost always easier. The new ways of living that will be a necessary part of our future will not be so difficult when there are more participating, more adding their creative juices to the pot. I do hope to see that day someday in my future.

I am ready and willing to change from a society that values the individual to one that values strong, involved communities. I look forward to the day when cities, towns, and neighborhoods will be planned around or retrofitted to serve the people that live in them instead of the cars that drive through them. I look forward to the day when people will have to (because of lack of fossil fuels) get out and walk or ride bikes or scooter or skate or share rides to their destinations. I look forward to the conversations folks will have when they will actually see their neighbors outside, because walking or biking is necessary. I look forward to the day when I see actual neighbors at the farmers' markets or CSA's, because this will be where we need to get most of our food - from local sources instead of 2,000 miles away. I look forward to the day when people will grow fruit and nut trees in their yards instead of ornamental trees and have gardens that can feed people instead of shrubs. I look forward to the day when these people will talk with neighbors and share foods with those that live around them.

These are things I look forward to and things I hope for. They are things I dream of and a vision that is dear to me. These are the things that I cling to when reality is so different around me and I'm feeling like an island. These are the things that I hope for when I hang another line of laundry or compost or bike instead of driving. I think it's a pretty great vision and this is why I am willing to try and why I wish - so much - that instead of others watching me try, they would step in and join me.
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