Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rationing ... to save the planet?

In case you missed it, there's a lively, yet respectful, debate going on between George Monbiot and Sharon Astyk. Basically, they agree on most of the facts regarding climate change, yet disagree on the solution. Mr. Monbiot argues that a massive, immediate, renewable energy buildout is the only way to save us, although he seems a little doubtful that it's possible and/or will result in the proper outcome. Sharon advocates a radical, immediate 50% reduction in energy usage and consumption, while also investing in aspects of the economy vital to our well-being, such as health care and education.

Sharon highlights rationing as an example of ways that people can be convinced to immediately reduce climate emissions. (Interestingly, Matt Simmons has also suggested gasoline rationing as a sensible solution, at least in case of emergencies.) Since American society has not experienced widespread rationing since World War II, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what rationing is actually like.

In 1942, the United States Food Rationing Program began. The Office of Price Administration froze prices on a wide set of goods, and each family was issued a "War Ration Book" to regulate items made scarce by the war. Items such as sugar, meat, butter, processed foods, fats, and oils were rationed, as well as clothing, shoes, gasoline, coffee, and tires, and other items.

Different items were rationed in different ways. Some items were distributed equally (sugar), some were distributed according to need (gasoline), others were sold only after demonstrated need (tires, cars).

Stickers were issued which regulated how much fuel you could purchase in any week. Half of all cars (designated "A") were only allowed 4 gallons of fuel per week and could not be driven for pleasure at all. "Essential" workers could be given up to 8 gallons, and truckers had an unlimited fuel supply. The speed limit - the Victory Speed - was set at 35 mph. Carpooling was encouraged.

The government encouraged compliance without complaint, and an effective propaganda program was launched that promoted patriotism, sacrifice for the greater good, and helping the men and women overseas. Propaganda, which included ads, radio programs and pamphlets, and educational programs which taught housewives how to plan meals within the rationing limits, were very effective. My favorite propaganda posters emphasize the importance of the homefront war effort. Victory Gardens eventually (reportedly) grew almost 40% of the nation's produce, and housewives preserved much of the harvest. Still, a black market evolved over time which supplied rationed items illegally, at a higher price.

In the United Kingdom, rationing during the two World Wars appears to have been stricter, as most of their food was imported, and one of Germany's main strategies was to starve Britain into submission. So food was limited - for example, a person in the UK could receive one egg, one ounce of cheese, three ounces of sugar, four ounces of ham, and two ounces of butter, per WEEK, along with other, non-rationed goods . Rationing in the UK also lasted longer. While America's rationing program ended in 1946, Britain's became even stricter after WWII ended, and Britain's program did not end until 1953 (sugar) and 1954 (meat).

With some exceptions, rationing during the wars appeared successful, although in Britain, it was very austere. There were real restrictions on the availability of goods - so the rationing and price controls ensured at least an appearance of fairness, and a basic diet for everyone. There was a black market, and certain people had "exceptions" (such as Congressmen), and there were ways for the rich to get around restrictions (for example, restaurant meals in Britain were not rationed). But on the whole, it worked.

So... back to our topic - climate change, and how best to save the planet. Help me think this out by commenting on my questions below:

Would a rationing system be a fair way to quickly reduce our carbon emissions?

Would a rationing system work unless there were real restrictions on the supply of goods?

Would a rationing system work in a country where a sizeable part of the population still does not "believe" in global warming?

What items should be rationed, and how could they be rationed? Gasoline? Cars? Food? Consumer goods?

Would you accept rationing? What would you NOT accept rationing for? Is there anything you would go to the black market for?

Would Americans comply with a rationing program for the good of everyone, the planet, as well as for themselves? If not, how could could they be persuaded?

If you don't think any kind of rationing would be accepted, what's your best alternative to cut emissions by 50% in the next 5 years?

Whew! Thanks in advance for your comments!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Preventing Deforested Moonscapes - Pt I

When electricity becomes too expensive, unreliable, or rationed, many people will very likely turn to wood to meet their heating and cooking needs. Before coal, oil, or natural gas, wood served as the predominant cooking and heating fuel for thousands of years. Wood can be obtained locally in many places, is familiar to most people, can be used with existing infrastructure such as fireplaces and woodstoves, and works during blackouts.
The available alternatives to wood will determine it's attractiveness as a heating and cooking fuel. People in my area, Oklahoma, often heat and cook with natural gas. In other areas of the country, such as the Northeast, heating oil is more prevalent (36% of households in 1997). So wood fuel could predominate in some areas of the country, where wood is common, or where electrical failures are more prevalent and other fuels are expensive or rare.
I've become more concerned with this issue as I notice that many respected peak oil awareness leaders are using wood stoves to personally prepare for a future with less fossil fuel energy. This strategy is valid and sensible for many reasons, and probably necessary in some parts of the country, but I think we should also examine the downside of using wood as a primary fuel source, and examine ways to mitigate the problems associated with burning wood. As the peak oil vanguard, we need to be very clear in what we advocate.
The Problem with Wood Fuel

Burning wood causes particulate pollution, which is directly related to medical problems such as asthma, cancer, chronic bronchitis, and decreased lung function. According to the EPA, changing out 1 inefficient woodstove is equivalent to taking 7 diesel buses off the road. At least 75% of the 15 million of the woodstoves in America are inefficient and do not meet current health standards for preventing particulate pollution. Wood smoke also contains toxins such as dioxin, benzoene, and toluene.

Wood use in rural areas, in the middle of sustainably managed and privately owned forests and farms, is one thing. But if our urban residents have to rely on wood fuel, cities could become unbearable. If transport were limited, people would be forced to gather firewood wherever possible. City residents would be inclined to cut down trees on private property as well as in public parks, isolated wilderness areas - anywhere trees could be found.

Source: www.earth-cool.com

Widespread use of wood fuel could very well result in increased particulate pollution, asthma and allergy flares, health problems (especially for medically fragile people), loss of shade, increased ambient temperatures, eroded topsoil, duststorms, and barren, ugly cities.

And all this could happen within a generation of an energy peak, if not sooner.

Fragile Electrical Grid and Financial Crisis

Just as the peak oil community warns the world of the downside of the energy peak, other voices are warning that the electricity grid has become outdated and unreliable due to decades of underinvestment. As peak oil arrives and there is less energy available, and less money available, maintenance of the electrical grid will get pushed back - until a fire in a substation, or a key transformer fails, or what-have-you problem that causes another regional blackout. Many third world countries experience rolling blackouts, or periods when electricity is only available for certain parts of the day. We might not be too far behind.

The current financial crisis, and accompanying recession, also plays a part in the problem. As a larger part of the population becomes poor, utility cut-offs will drive more people to use wood for fuel. And wood stoves have also proven to be a popular strategy among many people preparing for peak oil - if you have some land, you can meet your own needs without the grid. Even if you don't, you can stock a cord of wood and be independent from the grid until you need to re-stock. But what seems to be a great strategy for independent living, when adopted on a mass scale, or inappropriate areas, could wreak havoc with our forests, our health, and our climate.

So even though oil isn't usually directly used for heating and cooking (except for heating oil, which is very common in the Northeast US), I believe that the advent of peak oil, combined with the financial crises currently underway, will contribute to a major shift, at least regionally, to using wood for cooking and heating. And the advent of peak natural gas, at a somewhat later date, will seal the deal.

History and Scope

If we estimate that the last time Americans used wood as the primary heating and cooking fuel was in 1900, there were about 76 million people in America, mostly a rural population - and the forests had already been degraded. The forests had been steadily destroyed ever since the arrival of the Europeans, to clear land for farming as well as for the use of the wood, and the forests have not recovered decades after wood ceased to be the main fuel source for the country.

There are currently over 300 million Americans (four times the number in 1900), mostly concentrated in urban areas, and the US population is projected to grow to 420 million by 2050. Not only would trees be needed to fuel our heating and cooking fires, but forests would also be cleared to make way for more domestic agriculture. Where is all that wood going to come from?

Many people have written about the importance of eating local, organic food. We also need to think ahead to a time of unreliable/expensive/rationed electricity and fossil fuels - when it becomes difficult to heat our homes and cook our food without burning wood. We haven't had this situation in American urban areas in two or three generations.

But if the electrical grid begins to fail, from lack of maintenance, from inability to obtain fuel sources, from disasters such as ice storms and hurricanes - we will return to such a time. If a significant portion of people become too poor to pay their electric and natural gas bills - we will return to such a time.

I hope our needs can someday be met with a reasonably priced, renewable, widely available power source. Wind power, hydropower, geothermal power, and solar power combined may come close, but they have a long, long way to go (they comprise less than 15% of US electricity generation, with hydropower as the vast majority) time is short, and there are limiting constraints to their effective capacities without some kind of power storage/battery system.

The grid may not begin to fail for a long time, if ever. People may try to rely on other sources of cooking and heating energy, such as propane, coal stoves, or charcoal grills. We may experience a revolutionary buildout of wind and solar power to run our electrical grid. Still, I think we should begin to think about the possibility of a massive increase in the use of wood for heating and cooking in many regions of the country. So how do we prevent our country, especially urban areas, from turning into treeless zones? How do we decrease the amount of particulate pollution, and the serious health problems that can come with it, that would result from a shift to wood?

Part II will discuss potential solutions to this problem.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Recent POPs

What's been going on around here, at the Hausfrau homestead? How have we been POPing? (POP = Peak Oil Preparing).
Hubby and I are storing 10 Butternuts in the Peak Oil Closet, which seems to be un-insulated, and runs about 5 - 10 degrees cooler in the winter. I've roasted 3 of them in the Sun Oven already - which works really well in the middle of the day even in November. So far we've made Butternut Bisque, Butternut Quesadillas, Stuffed Butternut, and Squash Squares (a bread like dessert).
I've thought of labeling each Butternut with a Sharpie, but we'll see if I need to bother, because so far they are storing really well. I'm very excited, since I've never tried this before, and it's a cheap, easy, no-energy way to store fresh vegetables.
I am also experimenting by keeping an 8 pound bag of potatoes in an ice chest in the garage. I need to keep tabs on it; if the potatoes store well out there I may transfer all my potatoes from the fridge. If it doesn't work well I will need to try to dig an earth sheltered home for the ice chest.
We bought 2 cans of dehydrated eggs from Honeyville Farms (equivalent to 170 eggs) for our food storage plan. Eventually I might like to have chickens, but we haven't gotten there yet. So, I figure, eggs would be a good addition to the plan. But I won't use them unless SHTF, or until their expiration date grows near, so I can't comment on how they taste.

Last weekend we processed the last of the tomatoes from the final harvest. We picked a bunch of green ones before the first frost back in October. They have been ripening, wrapped in newspapers, for the last few weeks. Works like a charm, although not quite as nice as vine-ripened tomatoes, still better than store bought, plus they are organic and only traveled 30 feet to the kitchen. I chopped them up and saved them in Ziplocs in the freezer. 2 cups per bag is about equivalent to a standard "can" of tomatoes - I processed 4 of these bags; I also stored a few 3-cup bags for larger dishes.

Before: Green tomatoes ripening in newspapers

After: The result

I'm still watering my tiny 4x4 winter garden. The garlic, Swiss Chard, kale, and carrots seem to be growing well. I didn't plant this patch until Sept. 15th, and so far the green caterpillar critters are not bothering these kale at all. Amazing, since they devasted the kohlrabi and kale I planted in August.

And the fun part - I went shopping. Another $35 bag sale at the Remarkable Shop, run by the Junior League, which supports literacy programs. I got a few items for my son, but mostly I went for myself. Here's what I got:
  • 4 pairs of jeans
  • 1 pr corduroys
  • 2 toddler sleepers
  • 1 turtleneck
  • 2 new-looking black sweatpants
  • 3 soft one-color shirts
  • 2 interesting blouses

So it averaged out to about $2 per item of clothing. After I got the booty home, I added up all the tags - for a total of $98!! I estimate retail price for all the items (everything really was in brand-new condition, except for 2 shirts) would have been over $300. Of course, I never would have bought all that stuff brand new. But I have worn several of the items already, and I can tell they will be a regular part of my wardrobe. And the best part - according to Riot rules, there's no points for charity purchases!

What are you doing that's new? What are you experimenting with?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Alternative bag usage

I've been working on the same post for about a week now.... until I finish the behomoth, here's a story from last weekend:

My huband, son and I made our weekly trip to the grocery store. I had been saving bread and tortilla bags to use as produce bags, and now I've got my chance to use them for the first time.

As we approach the checkout line, my husband warns me, "Don't let them scan the tortilla bag".

The checkout lady gets the bag, and I tell her, "Those are sweet potatoes".

"Oh." (pause) "What happened to the tortillas?"

"We ate them." (pause) "Last week."

My husband dies of embarrasment as I giggle to myself during the rest of the checkout process, and all the way home, and the rest of the day. He says I can't use the tortilla bags again. I say that I can (but I'm marking through the code). What's your vote?

Friday, November 14, 2008

A sense of urgency

I usually strive to seem like a fairly calm and sane person, but inside I feel a serious sense of urgency. Not that I necessarily believe in either a "fast crash" or a "slow motion" scenario - I just believe that both are possible. And the results of a fast crash would be very ugly, so it's best to be prepared.

Lest you think that a "hard crash" scenario is completely unthinkable, chew on this: there are at least three vital chokepoints in the vast oil pumping, processing, shipping, refining, and transportation industry. These are: the Abqaiq processing plant, the Ras Tanura terminal in Saudi Arabia, and the narrow oil shipping sea lane Strait of Hormuz . If one or several of these were to shut down from an act of God or man, up to 18% of global supply could be interrupted, overnight.

If any one of these things happened, or a number of smaller things, we could wake up to find that oil is $400 a barrel (that estimate has no data behind it at all, btw). Trucks couldn't run. Grocery stores would be empty, in some places, within days. The economy would shut down almost completely.

Or we could dodge all these bullets, the system could prove resilient, our leaders could become enlightened. We could abandon our "American lifestyle is non-negotiable" approach to energy and get realistic. We might see a graceful transition to a lower-energy future. It might take years to see the effects of peak oil.

Or not. Oil could resume it's steady climb, marching past it's previous highs of $140 to achieve new records, year after year. We might see a slow, grinding, descent into poverty and despair. We might see food riots and the Greatest Depression. I just don't know.

So I don't know what will happen, but I think it's sensible to prepare for emergencies and start the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. In addition to just the common sense of being prepared, I believe in the "Theory of Anyway" promoted by Sharon Astyk and others - the idea that many of the things we are doing to prepare for peak oil are things that we should do even if peak oil didn't exist - because we want to help the environment, because we want to achieve financial independence, we want better tasting and more nutritious food, and we want to leave our son a better world.

Because my sense of urgency is increasingly driven by my worry about the environment. Every day, species and habitats are disappearing forever. Every week, scientists unveil a new ecological danger - like the brown cloud floating over Asia, threatening food harvests, or the ocean acidifying, or the permafrost thawing. Every month, the state of the planet gets a little bit worse and the planet's temperature rises.

No matter how hard environmentalists work, how many programs we implement, we're fighting the tide, because the dominant paradigm remains the same. And while Nature may be resilient, she can't bring back the beauty of elephants or gorillas, once they become extinct.

So at the same time that I fear peak oil's effect on humanity, I also hope that it will soon force us to reduce our consumption, our energy use, our destruction of the planetary biosphere. It seems that nothing else, besides the current financial crisis, will.

On a personal note, I have posted my Peak Oil Goals 2009 in a prominent place in our kitchen, along with my Riot 4 Austerity envelopes for tracking expenses. Here's a picture:

You can see I decorated my goals with smiley faces, and my Riot envelopes with pictures of endangered animals (for motivation). If you are curious, my six strategies for peak oil are:
  1. Reduce dependence on electricity
  2. Reduce dependence on gasoline
  3. Store 6 months of food (I need to take a recent inventory - not sure what I've got!)
  4. Grow our own fruits, vegetables, and herbs
  5. Make our own food (yogurt, cheese, bread, etc.)
  6. Reduce dependence on formal economy

What are your goals and strategies? Do you have a sense of urgency?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Green cleaning tip of the month

Well, among the many chores I put off and put off and hey, is it November already? Time to clean the microwave!

Luckily, I have a handy little tip to help ease the chore.

Place 1/4 cup vinegar in microwave. Zap on high for 2 minutes (or more, depending on your microwave). The vinegar will evaporate, soaking the ceiling and walls. Let the vinegar soak in for a minute, then wipe down the walls, ceiling and floor of the microwave. All the little crusty bits will fall right off onto your cleaning rag!

Repeat, if needed.

Soak your cloth in vinegar for extra cleaning power, if needed.

OK, I shared mine. What's your favorite cleaning tip?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to save $100,000

Riddle me this: How can you save $98,870 when buying a house?

The answer is: Using a 15 year mortgage instead of a 30 year mortgage.

In this particular scenario (obtained from Everbank), you purchase a $187,500 home, pay 20% down, and get a $150,000 loan with either a 30 year mortgage at 6% or a 15 year mortgage at 5.75%.

Terms of the 30 year mortgage:

  • Monthly payment of $900 (not including insurance and taxes)
  • Total payment of $323,722 in principal and interest
  • Total interest cost of $173,007

Terms of the 15 year mortgage:

  • Monthly payment of $1,245 (which is $345 more per month)
  • Total payment of $224,211
  • Total interest cost of $74,137
So for the 30 year mortgage, you pay $173,007 in interest, or with the 15 year mortgage you pay $74,137 in interest - a savings of $98,870!! And your home will be paid off 15 years sooner. Of course, the big catch is that you have to be able to afford the higher monthly payments.

Now, there are several arguments against taking a 15 year loan, or paying off your house early. These arguments include:

  • Your money would be better off invested in the stock market,
  • You miss out on some tax savings (if you itemize),
  • You can simply pay down the principal when you have extra cash, and
  • Your money is tied up in a non-liquid asset which might be difficult to sell.
Up until about a year ago, most financial planners projected a yearly stock market return of 8 - 12%. They compared that to a 6% return obtained by paying down your loan (or whatever the APY on your mortgage) and would tell you that you are clearly losing out. Over time, the financial planner tells you, you will actually make hundreds of thousands of dollars just by NOT paying off your house (and putting all your money in the stock market instead)!

This argument, combined with the mobility of the American populace, was extremely persuasive for the last twenty years. Why bother working to pay off a house when you are going to move in 4 years? Why pay down a 6% mortgage when you can get 12% in the stock market (or 20% in a good year)?

Now let's move to the present. Examine the argument that your money would be better off in the market. "Historically", if you look at specific periods of time, for example since 1950, the stock market does provide better average returns. But if you look at OTHER periods of time, the stock market was just another gambler's bet. In the last year, the S&P 500 has gone down about 35 - 40%. Add this to the fact that the average investor tends to buy high and sell low, and all those financial planner calculations start to look extremely fishy.

Now let's bring peak oil into the equation. Cheap fossil fuel energy is THE key that has enabled our economy to steadily expand for the last 100 years. Without that cheap fossil fuel energy (or miraculous alternative energy, yet to be discovered, which has an equivalent EROEI), the economy will not be able to grow. Over time, the economy will go through cycles of contraction and expansion, but the trend will be toward contraction - and the stock market can't grow if the economy is contracting. So I don't plan on guaranteed stock market gains of 8 - 12%.

There's another way to bring peak oil into the equation - what will you need in a life with less energy available? Is your money better spent paying down your mortgage early, or is it better spent on food storage and a new 90 mpg scooter? Is it better to have savings in cash - the more the better - or a paid off mortgage? Only you can decide.

My husband and I decided to go with a 15 year loan, because we plan to live in our home for many years, we want to have the security and peace of mind of a paid-off house, and we don't trust the stock market to grow at a steady rate. Another way to get most of the benefits of the 15-year loan would be to finance a normal 30 year mortgage, figure out what you would pay on a 15 year, and then pay that every month. Then, of course, you could always pay the lower number if you needed to.

We don't dedicate all our money to paying down our mortgage, because I also believe in having the flexibility of cash. We also do have some investments in the stock market, because you never know when the government might pour billions of dollars into the economy.... to prop up the stock market.

Whatever your situation, whatever your financial beliefs, and by the way you should not construe anything in this article as financial advice, make sure you understand all the financial implications of your mortgage before you sign on the dotted line!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Riot 4 Austerity

My husband and I took a big step yesterday. We agreed to track our expenses in three categories - food, consumer goods, and gasoline - for the next two months. Then, on New Year's Day, we'll begin the Riot 4 Austerity challenge (in these categories). The goal would be to decrease our impact to 90% of the average American, which would be only $1000 in consumer goods, most food local and organic, and 50 gallons of gas per person, per year. I don't know how close we'll get, but the journey will be worth it even if we can only get 30 - 50% down.

We have already been working on our energy efficiency for several years, but lately I've felt that we lacked focus, lacked urgency to our efforts. Yesterday we watched this speech by David Suzuki (42 minutes, but well worth it) and finally got the kick in the pants that we needed.

We have already spent a lot of effort on retrofitting our 60's home to be more energy efficient, and I've calculated that we use about 75% less electricity and heating than the average American household. Here are some steps we've taken:
  • Installing the Geothermal Heat Pump
  • Adding cellulose insulation in our attic
  • Sealing HVAC ducts in the attic
  • Purchasing Energy Star fridge and washer
  • Replacing 80% of light bulbs with CFL's
  • Weatherizing windows and doors
  • Replacing drafty single pane picture window with double paned argon window
  • Replacing old rickety ceiling fans with newer ones we would actually use
  • Using the Sun Oven to cook when possible
  • Improving energy habits

We've also been working on growing our food in our garden, buying local food, buying used goods, etc. But we've never "officially" tracked expenses or participated in the Riot. I think we've done far less than we could if we focused our efforts.

Now we are ready to move on to this new challenge, one that might be more difficult than just applying technology and making small changes to our habits. Luckily, the Rioters grant a 50% exemption for any item that improves preparedness for peak oil, a 50% exemption for locally produced consumer goods, and a 90% exemption for any used item. So, I think we're up to it! We better be, if we want our son to grow up in a healthy and sustainable world.

If anyone is interested, check out the Riot 4 Austerity page. They are very supportive, informative, and interesting. It's not about being judgemental and strict - they just want to inspire you and help you on your journey towards sustainability.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bee losses continue

In one of the most under-reported slow-motion disasters of the year, bees continue to die at an alarming rate in both the United States and abroad. Scientists have not yet pinpointed the cause of the problem, but it appears to be a complex mix of parasites, compromised immune systems, disease, loss of habitat, and poisoning from toxic herbicides and pesticides regularly sprayed on farms and lawns across the country.

Bees are a crucial but often overlooked link in our food system, pollinating up to 30% of all of our food crops. Without the pollination provided by bees, we would have far fewer nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and thousands of farms would be forced to shut down. Like many of the services of nature, we take bees for granted - until they start to disappear.

While most commercial farmers in the U.S. (for instance almond orchards) pay beekeepers to bring in scores of beehives during the short pollinating season, most gardeners rely on the free services of wild bees to pollinate their crops. However, there is now some frightening evidence that the disorder may be spreading from the domesticated bees to their wild cousins.

Today in London, the British Beekeepers Assocation plan a march on Downing Street to protest the loss of 1 out of every 3 beehives (33%) in England in just the last 12 months. The BBKA will call for an increase in funding for research into the causes and solutions of the so-called Colony Collapse Disorder. (After all, we need food even more than we need banks - and how many billions have they gotten this year?)

While we wait for government to pay some tiny amount of attention to yet another man-made disaster, there is something YOU can do for the bees. Attracting pollinators to your yard is great for your fruit trees, squash, strawberries and many other fruit and vegetables. So save the bees! Provide a little bee fodder and habitat, don't poison the bees that may be hanging around, and if you get ambitious, you could even become a beekeeper!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear Mr. President-Elect

Congratulations on your overwhelming victory! The landslide of votes makes it clear that you have a historic mandate for Change We Need. I, personally, performed a jig of jubilation and glee last night around 10:14 pm, drank some champagne and let out a few Hallelujahs.

Your victory has given hope to so many people. Hope, that we can recover our moral compass from the pool of lies, war, delusion and hatred that we've been soaked in for the last eight years. Hope, when we could scarcely need it more.

Which brings me to the point of my letter. You have won the leadership of a great country hindered by an outdated picture of reality. Over the last fifty years, we've come to expect a certain lifestyle, unlimited energy use, conspicuous consumption, a continously growing economy, the right to work for forty years and then retire for thirty more. And all of these expectations hinge of a tide of ever-expanding cheap energy, a tide which is about to recede.

You've inherited the Presidency of a country drowning in debt, struggling with a crumbling infrastructure of highways, bridges, water and sewage systems, a deteriorating electrical grid, and escalating poverty from foreclosures, job losses, and price inflation. And beyond these immediate crises lurk far greater challenges: peak oil, climate change, an economy and an agricultural system totally dependent on cheap energy, and Nature's inability to cope with much more pollution and resource extraction. We haven't even begun to recognize these challenges.

You've inherited a country on the verge of the Greatest Depression.

How do you address all these simultaneous disasters? How can you possibly meet the inflated expectations of the American people? How can you save us from the cycle of history - a cycle of empires that rise and fall, economies that expand and contract, wealth that builds and evaporates?

You are obviously a man of integrity, with great hopes and plans for our country. My hope is that you will face our problems head-on, and manage the energy descent gracefully and calmly. Tell us the truth. We need to sacrifice. We need to change our ways. We need to forget the culture of status symbols and renew our culture of helpfulness, charity, and community.

You can help us prioritize. Help us keep the best of our world and make the best of ourselves. Help us get more of what we need, and less of what we want. We need health care, education for our children, food on the table and a chance to make meaningful contributions to the world. We don't need a car for every person. We don't need fast food chains on every corner. We don't need to accumulate an insane amount of things, just to sell them in a garage sale 5 years later.

We need hope, we need integrity, we need the truth. You can't make the storm go away, but I believe you can guide us through the storm. Thank you for winning, Mr. President-Elect.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The Crone has kindly awarded me the Uber-Amazing Blog Award! I know, these things float around the Internet, but it really does mean a lot to me that someone reads my blog and gets useful information or inspiration from it. Thanks, Crone!

And here I pay it forward....

To Chile Chews, for her continuing dedication to her wonderful blog, even as she yearns to find a proper home!

To Wisdom of the Trowel, for her educational gardening information and pictures! Also because she is a dear friend and she periodically listens to me panic about impending doom.

To Enough... for her great goat and worm pictures!

The rules of this award are:
* Put the award logo on your blog or post (right click on award, save as)
* Nominate at least 1 blog that you consider to be Uber Amazing!
* Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog
* Share the love and link to this post and to the person you received your award from

Tag - you're it!

Voting and Community

I voted this morning. There was an atmosphere of excitement at our polling place, and lines around corners and down hallways. It was a great cross-section of humanity. People of different ages, ethnicities, professions, and entertainment choices (it seemed to be a cellphone vs. book line), all coming together to decide possibly THE key election of our time.

This could be a tipping point, I hope, when we turn away from the abyss and choose a different future than the one we're currently headed for at 300 miles an hour.

At the polling place, I stood in line for 45 minutes with my husband and 15 month old son, who only required one biter-biscuit-bribe to be so wonderfully quiet! But had my son NOT been quiet - had he been gripey, ill, whiny, tired, or hungry - my life would have been, in a word, hellish.

In an attitude of gratitude for my son's excellent behavior, I called one of my SAHM friends and offered to babysit for her. She didn't take me up on my offer, but I could tell that she appreciated the thought. So for those of you who have time today, call your SAHM friends and offer to babysit while they run up to the polls for an hour. Heck, if you know enough of (insert your candidate's name here) supporters, you could run a daycare for a few hours and make the difference in your town! :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

I love the Sun Oven for....

Roasting fall vegetables! I am just addicted to it. I love the way that sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, potatoes, and buttercup squash just end up so soft it's like they've been completely pureed within their own shells. I bet that garlic, pumpkins, and apples would end up the same way - they are on my list to try.

Here in Oklahoma City, the Global Sun Oven is still getting to 300 degrees F between 10 am and 3 pm. So it is a little harder to make dinner now, but great for roasting veggies that will then be used in a dinner recipe. You can also bake your brownies and pumpkin breads and other goodies around noon as well.

Two weekends ago, I roasted a butternut squash in the Sun Oven and made Butternut Quesadillas and Butternut Squash Squares. I've also used Sun Oven- roasted Butternuts for Stuffed Butternut and Butternut Bisque. I didn't even have to put the Bisque in the blender! You might wonder how to roast such a large vegetable as a butternut squash, since it's hard to find a container that both fits a BQ and fits inside the SO. I just place the butternut in a flat pan that fits in the Sun Oven, poke holes all over the squash, and drape a black cloth over the squash.

I've decided to stock up on Butternuts just in case there is a food supply disruption. I would like to have fresh veggies, regardless of my other stored food. Right now I only have 3 sitting on the countertop, but I'd like to get to 12 or so (one a week for 3 months).

I also plan to get a few ice chests to store potatoes and apples in the garage - but the weather is so weird here! This weekend the temperature reached 79 degrees. The produce would probably not like those temperatures, and I'm not yet up for digging the ice chests into the ground. But I think I will go for trying to store the produce in the garage anyway. You know, as an experiment :).

The roasted sweet potatoes from the Sun Oven generally go to my son. He is spoiled and won't eat the ones from the microwave. Those ones just aren't soft enough for his discerning 15-month old taste. They also make great Sweet Potato Quesadillas or Sweet Potato Pie.

Potatoes - so soft, it's like they are already mashed. (You do have to leave them in for quite a few hours to get them that way). Mashed potatoes, twice baked potatoes - easy!

So don't be discouraged by the shorter days. Solar cooking is actually perfect for cooking those seasonal fall and winter vegetables - you just have to cook them during the day, before you use them in your nightly recipes.