Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Anyway project

If you have been following this blog for a while you know that I have participated in the Independence Days Challenge(IDC) started by that very smart woman, Sharon Asytk. The basic premise of this challenge was to follow the wise words of Carla Emery;from her book Encyclopedia of Country Living, every day during planting season, plant something, and then every day put something up. Sharon extended the the challenge to include ways to support our local food systems, reduce waste, basic preparedness. The IDC began at the beginning of my homesteading adventure and has been a valuable guide during the growing and food preserving season.

Sharon Astyk has a new project now. A very timely challenge for our homestead again. The project is called the Anyway Project. It is the sort of project that challenges us to take long dreamed of plans and goals and put them into action. The project also helps us strengthen those elements of life that will build in resiliency: community, home infrastructure, economic security.

The categories are Domestic Infrastructure, Household Economy, Cottage Industry and subsistence, Resource Consumption, Family and Community, Outside work, time and happiness. It is a monthly challenge. At the beginning of the month I will post goals and later in the month I will post an update. Since tomorrow is the beginning of the month now is a good time to start.

Domestic Infrastructure: Mark has been working on building a shed to keep our tools undercover for the winter. He will get that finished. Our local lumber supply store has tarps that are used in transporting lumber. They give these away for free. I will see if we can get one for the door of the shed. I need to get a thermometer for our cold room and keep a log on the temps in the room three times a day for a week. I would like to use this room more efficiently. I hope to post on our cold room and how we are using it.

Household economy: ugh money. Times are tight right now. We need to start tracking our expenses to see if we can squeeze a few more pennies. So for December we will write down every penny we spend to see where it is all going. Working to have our handmade Christmas.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence: I am taking pictures today and opening a separate checking account for the etsy shop. Everything is made but we have been so busy it has been hard to get our act together. Enough excuses. Also we need to think about more firewood for the winter. The kids and I are going to get some fresh air and find more dead trees to cut.

Resource Consumption: Our electric bill is a lot more expensive at the new house than at our old house. It used to be 30 a month for a family of four and now it is closer to 80.00 a month. We have an electric water heater in our cold room. Insulating the water heater has been on our to-do list for a while now. We need to get an aerator for our kitchen sink. We've been taking baths since moving in the house. We need to think about installing a shower head so that we use less water to bath. We need to fill the propane tank for the cookstove this month as well. Since we will not be plowing our drive or the bit of road to our home his winter we need to get really conservative with our LP use because the truck will not be able to get in till April.

Family and Community: This has been a tough one for me lately.We have been trying to find a new church since moving. There is no Unitarian church in our immediate community. One church was over an hour away. Another church was larger than the church we had come from and I found it a little overwhelming. Our former church was where we found community and well we like to sing. I have been considering joining a Time Bank and there is also a local food coop that is serviced by Crown of Maine Food coop.

Time and Happiness: Many of our holiday traditions have been centered around our friends from our old church and the services that were held around the holiday. We need to find new traditions this year. I am going to have to think on this one for a bit.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On my soap box....

My preparations for our Thanksgiving meal began this morning with the music from our local public radio station. The classical music program began with the Shaker Hymn "Simple Gifts" while I was helping Evan prepare his part of our meal; deviled egg boats. I love this hymn. I love this holiday. It is our feast day to celebrate a good meal with close friends and family. It is a holiday to give thanks for our blessings...

And then we shop??

Tomorrow is Black Friday. This day received its name because retail businesses rely on this day to help put them into the black. For far too long it also put the consumer (not citizen?) in the red. To me the message to get out there and find a good deal during the wee hours seems shrill and disconnected from the reality of many people. There are still plenty of folks without jobs. While Maine's unemployment number has fallen, the number of people who are discouraged workers has increased and are not considered in the tally. Foreclosures in Maine are rising. We did not have the subprime mess that many other states have had. But now folks are losing their homes because their incomes have fallen or they are unemployed for longer periods of time. There are still grim headlines about food insecurity in our state. And yet the message is to buy buy buy!

On the one hand some of the news stories about the shopping season (what? not Holiday season?) are encouraging. Credit card use is down and more folks are using cash. Folks are sticking to a budget. The projected growth in sales for this shopping season will be better than last year but are not expected to reach the heights of the bubble. But the over arching message is still the same. Buy Buy Buy!

Many smarter folks than I agree that the shock our economy has experienced is a paradigm changer. The figures that come from the government are not all entirely pointed in the same forward facing direction. There is still too much volatility in the global economy to provide a firm foundation for "growth". I would argue that the idea of "growth" that we are sold has caused great income disparity, harm to our environment and depletion of many resources. I don't know what the answers are but I am pretty sure that none of them requires a trip to the mall.

Maybe I'm wrong. I do live a different life than most people. We don't have a lot of money. We don't shop as a pasttime. Major expenses are purchased with cash. We don't use credit cards and this year we plan to continue our tradition of a handmade holiday. For us this just feels right. We want to be giving. We want to share our bounty and love in ways that convey the true spirit of the holiday. So while the huddled masses are lining up outside the Walmart. I'll be sitting quietly in my living room with a cuppa tea knitting a few more rows on the vest I am making for my new nephew. Till by turning turning I come round right....

Friday, November 19, 2010

This moment..

Weeks Mills Road

Late autumn days. I drive my car down back country roads. The leaves have fallen from the trees which has allowed the landscape to open up and reveal small cabins tucked away in the woods. The grass has faded from the vibrant green created by heavy rains to the dormant fade of green and brown. But still there are cows grazing on pasture on these last few blessedwarm, sunny days.

This road rises up to follow the contour of the foothills but off in the distance I can see the mountains. I could take the main route home. Follow the river home. But I choose this back road home because of its simple beauty. Old farm houses, wide open hay fields, wooded hollows and grand views. A little music on the radio, the momentary slowing as a tractor pulls a hay laden trailer behind it; the speed limit is 45mph but the road requires you to slow and enjoy the ride.

It would be easy for my thoughts to travel to the to-do list. Outside chores still beckon. The orchard needs to be cleaned of dropped apples and leaves to prevent apple scab. The handmade Christmas list needs to be completed and those plans need to implemented. Phone calls need to be made. Wood needs to be stacked. Photos for the etsy shop need to be taken and the question of internet access needs to answered.

But for this moment, in the car, traveling this road, I just follow where it leads me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On being Self- Sufficient

We have been having conversations over the kitchen table these days. These conversations are inspired by warm sunny days in November when we finish up chores before the snow falls. Some of these conversations project into the future what plans should be made if Mark is not rehired for next school year. Some of these conversations stem from the excitement of projects we are in the middle of right now. Some of these conversations inevitably come down to money.

Each week we sit down and look at our budget. The amount of money coming in from Mark's paycheck has not grown over the last 3 years as school budgets have not allowed for any cost of living increase. We are grateful for the job. But just because inflation has not occurred in the broader economy does not mean that our expenses have not increased. Oh, and that inflation in the broader economy(Consumer Price Index) does not include volatile energy and food prices. And for us ,those costs are increasing. Gas was 2.94 a gallon the last time I filled up. Thirty dollars did not fill up my car they way it did a month ago. We are paying more for health insurance this school year and receiving less benefit for the cost. Our grocery bill has increased considerably this fall as we feel the effects of not having a big garden while we moved to our new home. Hay for our sheep is more expensive this year because we were not able to get the lower price that comes from buying it in the field. We do not have chickens right now.

Some of these things we do on our homestead seem quaint and something we do for a hobby but they really do make a difference to our bottom line. Chickens eat all sorts of food scraps, provide nitrogen rich fertilizer for our corn, eggs and meat for the stew pot. The garden has provided a winter's worth of potatoes, winter squash, garlic, shelves of pickles, ,soup ingredients and a freezer full of food. In the past we have grown a pig. Piggy has provided a years worth of meat for our family of four. Our sheep mow our lawn, provide rich manure for our garden, give us wool for use and barter. The wood Mark cuts means we do not have to pay for petroleum based heating or pay someone else for our firewood.

When we began this homesteading journey we dreamed of becoming self-sufficient. To the extent that this is possible is an evolving prospect. At first it was enough to try to grow a big garden and provide some of our own meat. As we look towards next year at our new home we know that the necessity to ramp up our own self sufficiency will be imperative. Maybe Mark will keep his job for another year. Maybe he won't. But by trying to reduce our need for money for those things we need, we provide ourselves with insurance.

So we sit around the kitchen table and talk, make plans, dream .For the next growing season we will be building a barn for the sheep. We could also make enough room in it to grow meat rabbits if need be. We will grow another pig next spring. We will find some more laying hens and also plan on growing some roasting chickens. We are planning to grow some mangel-wurzels, pumpkins and dent corn for fodder. We have some big pine trees on our property that we are going to harvest and have milled for the wood for our barn. We have a good maple stand and will work to manage this over the next winter by harvesting the wood that is not maple in the area. This wood will warm us next winter. We plan to put in 50 taps for maple sap this coming season with the hope of making 4-5 gallons of maple syrup. We are learning about proper organic orchard maintenance so we can maximize the apple harvest next fall. Seed saving is a skill I have dabbled with in the past but I plan to learn more about it this coming year. Most of our garden will be planted with seedlings we have grown ourselves. We will install a few more rain barrels around the homestead. And if time and funds allow we will build a small greenhouse for extending our growing season. At the very least we will build quite a few more cold frames. It is my hope that our garden will provide all the veggies we need this year with the exception of some strawberry and blueberry picking.

It seems like a ambitious list born out of necessity but fulfilling our original aspirations. What it comes down to is that for every dollar we save by doing for ourselves means one less dollar we rely up earning from the “real economy”. Self-sufficiency also needs to be approached like a job. Most times it is hard work but one that grants moments of stillness, communing with dirt with seasons of busy-ness and seasons of hibernation. Unlike most jobs the fruits of our labors are lined up on the shelf. I won't pretend that this is a strategy that will keep us out of the real economy. It is not going to fund a 401K by any means. But during these uncertain times it can make those dollars we do have coming in go further. And maybe in the process fulfill a dream....

Business and a Thankyou!

I just want to thank everyone for their kind comments! I am feeling much better. ThankYou!

I am also without internet at home again. We are trying to get dial-up but parts and computers are having a difficult time interfacing. I hope to have this resolved soon and will be able to have my etsy shop up at that time.

Again, thankyou all!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This moment..

Well, phooey

This is where the writing is today; lost in my head and not on the page. My mind is clear but my body is rebelling against me. So please indulge me...

Each day that goes by in this little life of mine has a small reminder that; even though, I may walk with a normal gait, use my hands to grow food, craft and cook, fill some days with the to-do list of super-mom, I am a person with Multiple Sclerosis. Every day this small thought enters my head. Every day.

When I am chasing sheep around the yard, tilling a garden, stacking wood, I am still a person with MS. When I am sitting quietly, savoring the fatigue that comes with good hard work at the end of the day, I am reminded of the fatigue that used to plague me in my early 30's when they symptoms of MS were a constant part of my every day.

And every once and a while;thankfully fewer whiles than in the past, I have an exacerbation that takes a month from my normal life.

There really is only one way to treat the exacerbation. A course of cortico-steroids. This miracle drug restores feeling and function to that part of my body that has decided not to work to full capacity. This drug raises my blood pressure, raises my blood sugar, robs my body of calcium, retains water, temporarily depresses my immunity also takes away the limp, numbness and restores balance.

They also do something else to me. They put me in a dark place. They tap into the fear that I can forget when I am in an extended period of wellness. It is the fear that this might be the one exacerbation that leaves me with a permanent limp. It is the fear that after a life time of MS my elder years will be spent like some of the residents at the nursing care facility I cared for; unable to care for myself, in a wheelchair with a hands and feet in braces. I can rage against this damn thing. I have given up running long distances, dancing for hours and savoring summer heat because my body can not tolerate extreme heat. This time my hands have taken the hit. They are numb and unable to do what I want to do with them. I can rage at the unfairness.

Yup, it gets that dark in this little brain of mine.

This too shall pass. I have had MS since I was 29. I am 43. I am doing pretty well. My last exacerbation was 2 years ago. The one before then was 7 years. I have made significant changes in the way that I live, eat and treat myself. I am aware that sometimes no matter what I do I will get sick. Other times it serves as a reminder that I have to slow down and pay attention.

I am blessed with a good husband and kind children. I am blessed with a good spot of soil and overall good health despite the MS. I am blessed with good food in the cupboard and a great new community. I am blessed with the learned lessons that MS has taught me. To slow down, listen to my body, eat well.

I am blessed.

Thanks for indulging me.