Monday, March 31, 2008

What has oil done for you lately?

Oil is the most versatile and energy dense resource ever discovered. So, what has oil done for us? In the past century, cheap oil has defined the space around us, our jobs and our products, our food and our lives.
  1. Cheap oil made the Green Revolution possible. The Green Revolution is really just the pouring of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides on monoculture crops. Chemical fertilizers and the -icides are made of fossil fuels. Additionally, oil runs the tractors that plow and harvest and the trucks which ship our produce. The Green Revolution catapulted humanity from 1 to 6 billion people in just a century.

  2. Cheap oil globalized trade. Shipping products all over the world became possible and very profitable.

  3. Cheap oil globalized the job market. Manufacturing moved to the area of cheapest labor, since shipping costs were so cheap they were virtually free. Now only services and retail are local.

  4. Cheap oil introduced us to plastics. Now - think fast - name a product which has no plastic components or packaging.

  5. Cheap oil means cheap transportation and the infrastructure of cheap transport. SUV's. Sports cars. Suburbs. Exurbs. Highways and potholes. Road trips. Strip malls. Shell stations. Road rage. Traffic jams. Smog. Asthma. Airports. Tourism. Weekends in Paris. Spring break in Cancun. 'Nough said.

  6. Cheap oil derivatives are major components of medicines, makeups, any kind of chemical product.

  7. Cheap oil means using oil to mow our lawns, blow our leaves, run our jet skis and our off-roaders. Essentialy, frivolous s&^t.

  8. Cheap oil means cheap heating oil.


So if cheap oil has completely changed our lives, and our world, what does the decline of cheap oil mean? Essentially Peak Oil is the point in time in which the world produces the most oil it will ever produce. At that point, things may look very rosy, and people may be inclined to disregard any warning of problems to come. That is because Peak Oil is the top - the most - the highest. From the highest point, the only way is down.



Some describe Peak Oil as an issue of running out of oil. It is more accurate to say that we are running out of cheap oil. We will no longer be able to act as if energy is free. All the investments we have made, the habits we've formed, the cheap electricity and transportation we have come to rely on, will slowly - or quickly - erode. Unfortunately, the process will not reverse itself quietly, and in order.

Update

I have a friend-of-a-friend who recently underwent a brutal, brutal labor. Two failed epidurals and a fourth degree tear, to sum it up. Having gone through my own natural labor, I know how hard it is when you ARE prepared. I can't imagine the pain and confusion and sense of betrayal of someone who A) isn't physically or psychologically prepared and B) is stuck in the medical model of lay on your back and don't move or you will disrupt the fetal monitor.

Anyway, the update is that apparently, she is still angry about it. I would be! She was informed, after the fact, that up to 10% of epidurals simply don't take. They only work partially or not at all, or perhaps they wear off just when you need them most.

I don't know how accurate this percentage is. I doubt that there are even published statistics on it - and it probably varies by hospital. But that's what she was told, too late for her. I kind of want to cry just thinking about it. I had a first degree tear and that was painful enough. It took me 6 weeks of limping around and pain pills to recover. I don't even want to think about what a fourth degree tear (after her episiotomy, of course) is like.

Here's hoping that all the ladies out there never have to go through such an ordeal.

Futility and hope

Offer me solutions
Offer me alternatives
And I decline
- REM

James Howard Kunstler is fond of ridiculing the hopes of the technocrats, those people out there who want to maintain life-as-we-know-it, just running on alternative energy. He calls it the world of Happy Motoring. You could also call it WalMart with solar panels. Whatever you call this dysfunctional and wasteful lifestyle we now "enjoy", it won't be continuing in its present incarnation.

Resistance to the coming changes is futile, and may I add, counterproductive. So I say, go with the flow and try to direct the energy in a way that will benefit your family and the world at large. Instead of trying to KEEP things the same, make your lifestyle changes in advance, slowly perhaps (the way I do it) rather than being forced into it. Believe that you are making changes for the better of the world, and you are a hero. Believe that you are making changes only because there is no choice any more, you have no options, you have not prepared - and you will be just one more sad victim.

Sometimes I think that our current lifestyles were designed to waste as much energy and resources as possible. How else can you justify shipping bananas over a thousand miles? Or going to all the effort and chemicals to cleanse water, just to crap in it and flush it away? Or hopping in a Hummer to drive 4 miles to get a pack of cigarettes? Or using a dryer, when drying can be done by the sun, for free? Or pouring tons of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on a lawn that's not even used for anything????

Of course, this lifestyle was not designed to waste energy and resources. It just grew, tumor-like, in a time when energy and many resources had no value placed on them. Even the resources most vital to us, water, air, energy - in a capitalist system they were "Free".

At some point, I hope to get a solar panel or two, but the system won't be designed to run my current household energy load. What I would like to preserve are the ability to turn on a few lights and maybe a radio, ceiling fans, and laptop. These are all low-energy items that vastly improve comfort, information gathering, and enjoyment. Most other appliances, which I currently now enjoy, such as geothermal heating, refrigerator, washing machine, dryer, are all designed mostly for convenience and reduction of labor. They will have to go.

I would certainly like to have running water, but I imagine we will have some sort of restrictions applied. Out go the daily watering of Bermuda (not my policy anyway), out go the flush toilets, hopefully to be replaced by composting toilets, out go loooong lovely heated showers. Don't try to keep these things, that will only make it worse. But if you prepare wisely, ahead of time - you may have water for a nice solar shower, hand washing clothes, watering your garden.

Of course, some people will have access to these things, and they will be marks of luxury and status. But just as we are seeing now, as our American way of life has spread it's tentacles to the far corners of the Earth, not everyone can live like that. It's futile to hold on to it. We can however, hope for comfort, and health, and happiness. It will just take some work now, while we still have time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Montessori Bed

When I was pregnant I heard of a crib alternative called the Montessori bed. Named after the famed Maria Montessori, who promoted it, the bed is just a fancy term for a futon or mini-mattress laid directly on the floor.

Of course, I had to try it. Since we have no pets my pediatrician had no problem with this alternative. These days, using a futon is prohibited since it's too cushy and loose, which may contribute to SIDS. So instead, I got a crib mattress and set it up.

The first months were great. It was easier and better for my back to kneel down and grab the baby than it would be to lean over a crib and grab him. I liked being able to see him from the hallway, instead of having to walk in the room and lean over him. It gave baby a good view of the room so he could see more. Also, as time wore on, I began to nurse my baby on his Montessori bed instead of in the rocker or in our bed when he would wake up in the middle of the night.

Those of you who are not parents may not appreciate this, but that was a HUGE deal! It saved me from having to move him and risk waking him up after he'd nursed - sometimes 2 - 3 times per night. The anxiety this reduced, and the sleep I gained, was so worth it. (It also helped me keep nursing him.)

And finally, we didn't have to shell out $300 - 400 for a crib. That was nice since there were so many other bills to pay (hospital, midwife, other baby furniture, home remodeling) at that time.

But all was not sunshine in the Montessori bed. As baby turned 3 1/2 - 4 months, he began rolling right off his bed. Even if it was only 4 inches, it still shocked him and woke him up. So, we built a little padded rail around his bed. Everything still worked as before, but he couldn't roll off. But then, as he turned 7 months, he started crawling off his bed - over the railing.

So, sadly, we have had to resort to putting him down to sleep in his Pack n Play and we are considering getting a crib - hopefully used. But I would still do it the same way again. You might try it, if you plan to nurse your baby at night and still want to get some sleep, without having your baby sleep in your bed.

One Circle

The book One Circle examines how to grow your own diet on a land base of 1000 square feet (based on John Jeavons work). Wow! Apparently it is possible. But - you will be real thin, and your diet will be real boring.

Still, it's worth examing which crops they recommend growing. The author, David Duhon, did a lot of work to determine which plants were most calorie and nutrient efficient.

If you have a small space for a garden and are trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, it's worth taking a look at some of these vegetable/grains/nuts.
The 14 crops he chose were:
Collards
Onions, Leeks and Garlic
Sweet Potatoes
Potatoes
Parsley
Parsnip
Turnip
Wheat
Peanuts
Filberts
Sunflower Seeds
Soybeans

On having a backup plan

Most women in America plan to have an epidural, and that is the extent of their labor preparation. They decide early, if they even consider other options, and put it out of their minds. However, most women don't know that epidurals don't always work - occasionally they just completely fail, sometimes they fail on one side of the body, or just only barely numb the pain. Epidurals also sometimes leave you with crippling "epidural migraines" (temporary) or back aches (longer term - sometimes years) .

I planned to labor naturally, using Hypnobabies. My backup plan was having a doula. The backup to that was having an epidural. But most women have no serious "backup plan" for their epidural. They believe that the epidurals always work, and work completely. (Don't drugs and technology always work?) Usually no one will inform them otherwise. Even if they attend some LAME Lamaze class, they will only learn some completely ineffective breathing technique that leaves them hyperventilating.

Luckily, my friend Ellen's mother is a Labor & Delivery nurse who told her that she MUST prepare to do it naturally - even if she planned on an epidural, she should be able to go naturally if needed. It's a nasty surprise to think you are going to have a nice, pain-free birth and then be hit with a 17-hour natural labor. Ellen was kind enough to pass along her mother's advice to me, thank goodness.

Since I first became pregnant, I have personally heard several stories of women who:
1. Got to the hospital too late to have the epidural.
2. Had TWO failed epidurals. (This was just last week!)
3. Had an epidural migraine so bad she couldn't even sit up for a day or so.
And I don't even know that many people!

So the lesson is: have a backup plan. And how do we apply that from our technologically dependent labor and delivery example to our technologically dependent lives?

What's your backup plan for transportation? Carpool, bus, bike, walk?
Lighting? Is it daylighting (ie Solatubes), solar lanterns, kerosene lanterns, LED headlamps?
Cooking? Grill, clay oven, cookstove, SunOven?
Getting food? Storage, growing your own, hunting, foraging, barter?

Whatever your backup plan, start preparing for it now. There's no point in trying to go naturally when technology fails - you'll be competing with a million other people, and it will be too late.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fun with meal planning

Quick post. Simple really. This is just the way I shop for groceries - I'm not claiming it's the best way at all. First, let's ask - Why would you plan your meals out anyway? For me, it makes my life so much easier. I spend 20 minutes every week before going shopping and save probably 1.5 hours per week on shopping time, wondering what to eat, extra trips to the store, looking for ingredients, etc. Also, it cuts down on wasted food and wasted gas on extra grocery trips. And, it helps me plan my week so I know what I will be cooking ahead of time.

I have a Master List of about 40 meals, favorites of my husbands and mine, that I whip out every weekend as I begin making the grocery list. You may notice I tend to favor 1-pot meals(cuts down on doing dishes). We usually favor salads in the spring and summer, hearty soups in the fall and winter. A representative sample:

Texas 2 - Bean Chili

Black Bean Chili

Minestrone

Moroccan Root Veggie Stew

Potato Soup

Roasted Veggies and Garlic dip

Brocolli Pine Nut Pasta

Asparagus Pasta

Sweet Potato Burritos

Portabello Fajitas

Breakfast Burritos

Veggie Pizza

Greek Pasta

Rice n' Beans

Spicy Black Eye Pea Avocado Salad

Basmati Chickpea Masala



So, starting from the master list, I pick out 6 dinner meals. (The 7th meal is for eating out or take out).

1. I pick meals that are in-season - somewhat anyway. I've started to notice that a lot of recipes combine ingredients that totally do not grow during the same season!

2. I think about what's out in the garden that needs to be used up (right now that's easy because nothing much is yet available). But if my garden was really going, in a few weeks I would pick from brocolli, spinach, swiss chard, peas, and scallions. So I would pick recipes that used those veggies.

3. I think of any fresh produce in the crisper that needs to be used up.

4. I think of the needs of my week. For example, I work Wed and Fri until 6:30 pm. So on those days I either need leftovers from the day before, or something that will be ready in 15 minutes.

So I pick out my 4 - 6 dinners, add the needs of lunch and breakfast, and then I just write down the ingredients we don't already have. Sometimes I have to look up the recipe, but after a while I just know the ingredients that I need. Voila! Now, lately I have added shopping at the OK Food Co-op, which makes things a little more complicated, but not much. I usually order bulk items like honey, or eggs, and then I just don't have to buy those things week - to -week. Alternatively, I could just order fresh items from them and base my recipes around them for that week.

When we get home with the groceries, we grab our red Sharpie from the pantry and label any food that needs to be rotated. Canned veggies, oats, beans, rice, stuff like that. Then I'm done for the week!

Backslider?

I have already decided that if TSHTF, I would definitely eat meat. Currently, I eat fish, eggs and some dairy, although I limit my fish intake while periodically berating myself about the overfishing of the seas and the nastiness of fish farming.

I don't eat meat mainly because:
1. The cruelty of the factory farming system
2. The unhealthiness of meat raised mainly on grains, hormones and antibiotics (not as nature intended at all)
3. The pollution created by factory farming

There are other reasons, of course, some of them involving my tour of a slaughterhouse as the consultant that I once was. Ah, 2001. A small town in Colorado. You could smell the slaughterhouse (I think their term for it was a "packing plant") all over the city, especially on the days when they burned the blood. Before the tour, they asked us to wear washable clothes, and then we strapped on our knee high galoshes to wade through the blood.

It began so innocently. They don't start you out on the kill floor, watching them shoot bolts into the steers' brains. No, they start you out with the finished package, where the meat already looks like something you would see at the grocery store. Each step back, the product looks a little closer like the animal involved, until finally you are walking in blood and watching the hide-ripper and the disembowelers at work.

It got under my skin. Especially when the big trucks would pull up with all the steers packed in. It just reminded me too much of the films I have seen of Auschwitz (Shoah, anyone?). Still, my main objection is not so much how the animals are killed, but how the animals live. And in the factory farming system, they live miserably and unhealthily.

This train of thought started because my friend H. and I were just discussing raising small livestock, namely chickens, rabbits, or ducks, and I thought that I would like to raise rabbits, but not kill or eat them. She told me that a rabbit will produce 130 lbs of meat per year! Wow. That's efficient. Plus, they are not picky eaters, take up a small amount of space, and have very useful fur and manure.

I guess at this point, I have the luxury of choosing what I eat. And, although I have access to local organic, meat at the Oklahoma Food Co-op, I choose not to eat it. I've gotten used to eating my one pot meals of chili, bean salads, hearty pastas, chickpea masalas, sweet potato burritos, veggie pizzas, etc etc and have found that being a pescetarian has really widened my culinary horizons.

Still, I have no qualms about it. If it comes down to it, I will eat meat. At least at that point I can raise my own and be in charge of how the animals are treated and killed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lawn services destroy my wa

It's that season again.... daffodils, redbuds and creeping phlox are blooming and so are the dandelions and the lovely henbit.... it must be time for the chemical lawn jihad to begin.

All around our neighborhood, lawns turn a strange light turquoisey color overnight. Leafblowers, gas mowers and trimmers are fired up. Bermuda is scalped. Nasty smells and sounds abound.

Can you tell how much I hate lawn services?

Full disclosure: I have a front lawn. In the back, I threw dwarf clover seeds everywhere, and they are beginning to hold their own against the other biodiversities back there, which we treat as a "lawn". But in the front, we have a few peach trees, perennials, roses, and a boring.... yawn... lawn. We have been using WOW, which is supposed to be a nice environmentally friendly organic pre-emergent, until we get around to radically transforming the lawn into a food producing haven. Anyone else use WOW? I'm not sure it's working.

With my usual optimism, I hope that this year, lawn services will begin to be unaffordable. After all, they are the epitome of the fossil fuel age. Every darn part of them requires huge chemical inputs. I mean, they even have yummy names like Chemlawn. And I have a BABY in the house this year! If my ancient neighbor from across the street comes over again and "helpfully" gives us the information for his lawn service again this year, I may put a hex on him. That is, if I knew any hexes.

Actually I realize I am being a little selfish. Some of my neighbors are too elderly to be able to look after their lawns themselves. So they can't use a nice quiet reel mower or electric mower like we have. Still. Do they have to spray toxicities everywhere?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hypnobabies

I just wanted to rejoice for a bit about finding Hypnobabies.

I recently watched Ricki Lake's film "The Business of Being Born". I heard it was controversial, although I don't know why. It pretty much validated the things I learned while navigating the murky waters of obstetrics. Really, I thought they went out of their way to be fair, making sure to insert comments like "Thank God we have the OB surgeons to perform C-sections, when we need them". You'll almost never hear OB's refer to midwives like that.

Anyway, I didn't have a difficult pregnancy, but I definitely had some bumps. You know, rib pain, heartburn, fainting, a few random vomits, round ligament pain, fatigue, sleepless nights, restless leg syndrome. You tell me how I am supposed to practice relaxation while I compulsively shake my hands and legs violently back and forth. Argh, maddening.

Actually, I really enjoyed reading the stories posted here. It would always get me up to read a personal story of someone's positive labor.

Hypnobabies really came in handy during labor. I've mentioned before, I'm not the most pain hardened of women. But I was able to labor at home (as I wanted) until I was 8 cm, eating toast and moaning in the dark, but relaxing my jaw and facial muscles with every contraction. Perfect! By the time I got to the hospital, with my doula and wonderful hubby, I still had the energy to get in and out of the tub, and get in position to deliver. May I add without being too graphic, it was NOT the g*&%amn lithotomy position.

So to all you pregnant ladies out there, get you some Hypnobabies love. It will help.

Pharoah's Dream

Shall we turn to Genesis to see what the Bible has to say about preparing for hard times? Dear readers, please turn in your Books to Genesis 41....

"In my dream, I was standing on the banks of the Nile; and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before."

This one resonates through time. The gluttony of good times, the fear of bad. How easily we forget the specter of hunger and want in that 6th year.... and in the 7th we buy the plasma TV, just before all the jobs come tumbling down.

But no matter how long the good times last, no matter how we convince ourselves we are in a new paradigm of unlimited luxuries, no matter that the latest two generations have never known a real recession - the hard times return. A business cycle changes, a tornado flattens your town, foreign competition steals your job, the ARM reset doubles your mortgage, your spouse dies after years of expensive medical treatments.

Not to make you neurotic, or anything.

So invest now in some personal insurance. Instead of getting greedy, keep prudence in mind. Keep in touch with your family and friends, and be the first to offer a hand when they need it. Save up a year's worth of expenses. Have a little business on the side of your regular job. Reduce your expenses so your wants are few. Enjoy the simple pleasures in life, and refuse to compete with the Jones. Make your hobbies lucrative ones, instead of bank-emptying ones. And remember the Pharoah's dream.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

World Made by Hand

I just read Kunstler's World Made by Hand and was quite impressed. I wasn't sure what to expect in a fiction book from him. I didn't want to read a thinly veiled rant. Instead, I came away thoughtful, moved and with several new ideas.

My husband never reads all the books I recommend to him ;), so I summarized the plot and the background for him and we started talking about all the ways in which we are dependent upon long drawn out supply chains, fossil fuels, items of planned obsolescence, and city services.

Here's our list:
  • Water supplies
  • Electricity - for food storage, heating, cooking, communication, entertainment, lighting
  • Sewage services
  • Waste removal
  • Food supplies
  • Road & highway & sign maintenance
  • The use of anything consumable instead of reusable
  • Fuel for cars
  • Parts for any moving appliance or tool
  • Weather prediction (the tornado sirens just went off an hour ago)
  • Police
  • Firefighters
  • Medical emergencies

In other words, basically everything. Kunstler makes the point very well that once upon a time, good design transformed nature's bounty to provide for our needs. We depended upon each other, but we also knew and trusted each other. Now we depend on millions of faceless machines and people who have only a tenuous connection to us, based almost entirely upon profit.

So how can we move from dependence to independence and interdependence?

  • Rainwater catchment
  • Planting gardens and fruit trees/shrubs/vines
  • Beekeeping, keeping chickens or ducks
  • Storing 6 months - 2 years of food
  • Storing a supply of barter goods
  • Reducing our need for electricity and having backups and alternatives
  • Consider a humanure project - at least for the future
  • Reduce creation of "trash" and "waste" by composting, and saving/repurposing objects
  • Learn to bike and get in shape
  • Form neighborhood groups for security, synergy and community
  • Learn a valuable and barterable skill
  • Get hand tools (if needed) for your skill
  • Stay healthy through nutrition, exercise, meditation, yoga, and massage
  • Know the skill sets of your neighbors, your friends and families. Who will be your doctor, dentist, midwife, plumber, "procurer", supplier of milk and grain? Who else is PO aware and preparing?
  • Know the geography of your neighborhood. Where are the back streets? What local shops are there? What churches are there? Where is the open land?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Bury Me With It

Well as sure as planets come I know that they end

And if I'm here when that happens just promise me this my friend

Please bury me with it

I just don't need none of that Mad Max bullshit

- Modest Mouse

I read a book when I was young, probably too young, called Brother In the Land. It was about the aftermath of a nuclear war, from the perspective of 3 children who survived the initial blast. Suffice it to say that from what I remember it was excellent but cannibals were definitely involved. Basically, it scared the s%#t out of my 8 year old self and kicked off years of obsession.



The doomer Mad Max scenario, the Lucifer's Hammer looting and the Brother In the Land cannibals are all on my list of "Please - bury me with it". But yet I can't wish that any more because I have a baby now, a baby who I love very much. I can't give up or fail to prepare for these scenarios. Sadly, sometimes I believe they are all too likely. In a world where the Holocaust and the Tutsi-Hutu massacres occured, anything is possible.

Spring is in the air - and the soil

Today we started on the sheet mulch project, pruned the fruit trees and put in our spring garden. The spring garden consists of: onions, peas, lettuce, radishes, beets, spinach, and swiss chard.

We have a regular sized yard in the NW part of OKC. So far we have planted the following fruiting perennials: grapes, peaches, apples, pears, plums, elderberries, and goumi berries. So far, the pear trees are still puny. The peaches were planted the earliest, and we got a bumper crop from them last year. We got a few dribbles of fruit last year from the grapes and apples - just enough to let us know they were alive.

I highly recommend planting perennials, although it takes a lot of thought to site them correctly and advantageously. You only have to buy them and plant them once. Some trees will produce 50 pounds of fruit every year for 40 years - from a $20 tree. What kind of return on investment is that????

Currently, we only have three 4 x 20 garden beds. This year we will put in the following summer veggies - tomatoes, winter squash/beans, pumpkins/beans, zuchinni, and cucumbers. But it's not quite enough space for everything we want to plant.

In the front of our home we have a lawn (ugh) but also a meandering bed of peach trees, roses and perennials. I want to do something fun and different this year by putting in an "exhibition" garden. Basically, this will be just a few veggie plants to demonstrate that you CAN put veggies in with the decorative plants. I picked veggies that stay tidy and attractive most of the year - okra, jalapenos and bell peppers.

My dream is to wipe out the front lawn in the next 2 years - or whenever TSHTF - and turn it all into beautiful veggie, blueberry, and perennial (to attract beneficial insect) plant beds. To me, most veggies are attractive, except for onions, garlic and tomatoes (Too messy). I would also love to add a persimmon, big-hipped roses and some beautiful vines - like hops. Ah, I can dream but first I have to manage my three little garden beds!