Monday, June 29, 2009

From disappointment to satisfaction

In my last post, I mentioned that my kiwi trellis has been laughing at me (metaphorically speaking). This expensive, time-sucking, frustration of a contruction was all going to be worth it once the beautiful arguta kiwi covered it and began yielding small, smooth-skinned sweet kiwis. Then, in the heat last week, the male kiwi bit the dust.

Welllll, there is one green leaf left. I still have hope. I am still watering the weakling. And the female is still alive and has most of her leaves. Theoretically, I could still buy another male and plant him next year. Until then, I have a new solar powered clothes dryer!

To be honest, I have never dried my laundry outside. I have an indoor clothes rack that I used for several months until deciding that it was not worth it. I also used to wash my silk sweaters at home in the sink and dry them outside, but that hardly counts.

So, I guess I was addicted to my clothes dryer. For a family with just one child, I seem to do an awful lot of laundry. This is because I am also a neuromuscular massage therapist, so I have a LOT of sheets to wash every week (one set per client). This is my excuse. Please forgive me.

But a perfect confluence of events has forced me to re-think my ways.

1. A nasty heat wave in which my geo-thermal HVAC unit is having a hard time keeping the house under 80 degrees. Obviously, clothes dryers contribute to the heat in the house.

2. A newly built boondoggle which looks suspiciously like a clothesline.

3. A very guilty hausfrau who recently watched this short film about climate change. Must. use. less. energy!

So this weekend, after deciding I was just going to have to do it, I dried two loads of laundry on the structure formerly known as the kiwi trellis! At first, it seemed like it was going to be pretty hard. This was because the line was too high for me, a 5' 2" woman, to comfortably hang our clothes on. I had to lower the line so that I could reach it a little easier. Also, unfortunately, all the laundry that I do does not fit on the clothesline. But, handily, I have an indoor drying rack that will fit all the little things like socks and underwear that are a pain to hang up on the line anyway.

Structure formerly known as the kiwi trellis

I noticed that, yes, it did definitely take longer to hang up my clothes than to throw them in the dryer. I'd say about 20-25 minutes per load (hanging and taking down). So this is a bite in my weekend. However, the clothes only took about an hour to dry outside, which is similar to the clothes dryer. Clothes don't really seem any stiffer, and, as a bonus, my sheets even smell fresher.

Adding 3 hours to my work week... I think I can swing it. Folks, just send your prayers my way so that I can stay on the wagon.

Gratuitous picture of child with sunflowers

Friday, June 19, 2009

Garden bounty begins

We appear to be in a drought. In June, we usually get 4.3 inches of water, but so far we have only gotten .3 inches. Ouch! This explains why I spend 20 minutes every morning watering the garden, but the plants are only doing so-so. I don't mind watering, it's exercise and I like being out in the garden even though the mosquitoes enjoy dining on my blood. I definitely need some chickens next year!

Last week was dedicated to picking peaches, and this week is dedicated to processing them. Yes, it's that time again. Every year, I curse my poor peach-thinning abilities. Although I attempt a tough-guy ruthlessness throughout the spring, I always fail to pick enough of the little marble sized peach babies, and end up thinning several more times, up until summer, when I realize the branches are about to crack. Last week I picked about 4 1/2 5-gallon bucketfuls, and many more are on the tree or the ground.

Peaches a la carte

I also curse my lack of spraying knowledge. I have tried to create a diverse habitat in the front yard to attract bees and beneficials insects. But aside from that, I just let the night-flying moths attack my little peach darlings, and many, although not all of the peaches, get infested. I've come to the conclusion that I need to spray SOMETHING, but I'm not sure what. I heard on the NPR garden show that a clay-based spray was effective, but I haven't tried it yet.

The bush beans are yielding nicely. Purple and gold varieties are fun to pick and fun to cook. I didn't plant enough to can, just enough to dine on two or three times a week. Last week I cooked Great Green Pesto Pasta and Thai Tofu and Green Beans. Both recipes are from the cookbook Simply in Season, which has really helped me start eating more seasonally. I hope that the pole beans I planted around our home-made been teepee will pick up the pace once the bush beans start to peter out.

Three-legged Bean Teepee

I harvested my little batch of garlic - probably 15 bulbs total. After I set them on a screen to cure for two weeks, I put them in an old oatmeal container in the pantry by the back door. For a week I smelled garlic whenever I came in from the garage! They were pretty easy to raise, and I plan to plant them again in September or October. Next year I will try to braid them instead of cutting off their tops. Although I barely water them, the onions that I have distributed throughout the garden are still alive, and we harvest them sporadically.

Curing the garlic harvest

I have spotted two baby butternuts, some little zukes, and the okra are starting to flower. The sunflowers are getting HUGE! The pepper plants are a little puny, but I've eaten a few Grape tomatoes already. Unfortunately, three of my seven tomato plants have evidence of spider mites. I have been spraying the undersides of the leaves (where the wee mites live) with a full-blast of water in the mornings, but so far no improvement. This always happens whenever the summers start to get hot. They tend to recover later in the year and deliver a bounty in September.

My major frustration is the kiwi trellis. Despite the heroic efforts of my husband (who has done all of the work while I watch our toddler), the trellis is not complete due to various design flaws, lack of proper parts, and a particularly irritating incident wherin a certain big-box store shorted us 15 feet of trellis wire. At this point, it's a $150 boondoggle just sitting there laughing at me. Worse, the arguta kiwis don't seem to be exhibiting the incredible growth spurts that were advertised. Even worse than that, the male kiwi seems to have bit the dust from the heat. Will this be a kiwi trellis or just a massively overbuilt clothesline? Check back in a month and I'll let you know.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So God walks into a bar...

God gets back from vacation and He sees that the Earth is in trouble. Forests are burning, animals are going extinct, and the oceans are covered in trash. The temperature is rising, the topsoil is being washed away and humans are poisoning the world with chemicals. Everything seems to be going to pot. God wonders what happened in the last hundred years while He was in the Omega quadrant, so He decides to go down to the Earth in disguise and find out what went wrong.

God walks into a bar and sees a scientist, an economist, and an evangelical Christian. He buys them a few rounds of drinks and then asks the scientist, "Why aren't humans taking care of the Earth?"

Scientist answers, "Well, you see, very soon we are going to start colonizing space and so we won't need this old planet any more."

God thinks, "What a crock!" but decides not to argue since He is just down on the planet doing research. So He asks the economist, "Why do you think you aren't taking care of the planet?"

Economist answers, "Well, you see, taking care of the planet is not our first priority. We need to grow the economy enough so that everyone is rich and then it won't matter what shape the planet is in."

God thinks this is an even bigger crock but holds his peace since there is no point in arguing with morons. So He asks the evangelical Christian, "Surely you want to take care of this beautiful planet God created?"

Evangelical Christian says, "Well, you see, very soon Jesus is returning and taking all the good Christians up to heaven, so we won't care what happens down here."

At this, God can't hold his temper and He exclaims, "Are you kidding? I've seen how you trash YOUR home. There's no WAY you're moving in with ME!"

Bah dum bump.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't miss deadCenter!

Posting will be light for a while since I will be out of town attending the Transition Training. In the meantime, here's a few old posts that I like.

13 Ways to Promote Consumption

Who will foot the bill?

Overcoming doomishness

And if you are near OKC, don't forget the ninth annual deadCenter film festival downtown this weekend! Transition Town OKC will have a table at the Sustainability Film block at the Kerr Auditorium at 1 pm on Saturday June 13th and at Saint Misbehavin: The Wavy Gravy movie event. The sustainability short films look really interesting, especially Homegrown, which is about the Dervaes family of Path to Freedom fame. Check it out!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Day in the Life - Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2. A typical day in a one potential future that might not be so far away...

As our families are rocking away the evening under our kiwi arbor, my friend mentions that her sister is pregnant. After having one baby by C-section, she is worried about having another one at home, without drugs. Pregnancy and birth have changed a lot since the old economy failed and insurance and government stopped paying for epidurals and Cesareans. Of course, without insurance or government support, no one can afford them, and hospitals want payment up front now. The midwifery school has a waiting list a year long - people who can actually help a woman deliver a baby at home, without medications, are in high demand.

I had to attend a few labors of my friends and family myself before the midwife network really filled out. Not that I knew how to deliver a baby, but who else did? OB's were fantastic for surgery but hadn't a clue what to do without drugs. I was scared to death at the first birth I attended. I was unqualified, obviously, but there was no one else they could afford (I was free, so very affordable). I attended a few of the free trainings that the midwives sponsored, and I had done natural childbirth myself and could help my cousin get through labor. Thank heavens, nothing serious was wrong - no cord around the neck, no breech birth - just a normal, healthy, delivery. Pull one of those all-nighters and you'll be pretty tired, I tell you.

Our tri-neighborhood area actually still has an OB who will attend at-home births. The catch is, if you want her (and the anesthesiologist) to be on call for you, you have to sign a contract with the payments already specified - and pay a non-refundable down payment before the birth even happens. We're so grateful our OB is available for emergencies, but my friend's sister is still paying off her C-section from four years ago.

For better or worse, caring for babies has become pretty traditional again. Almost no women are willing to risk the life of their baby by starting an infant on formula. When supply disruptions are possible, and inevitable, breastfeeding is pretty much the only way to go. So Mom usually stays with the baby for the first year, at least. After the trucks stopped coming for a month in 2012 - and when formula prices spiked in 2013 - we actually witnessed a resurgence in wet nurses. Never thought I'd see the day, but it was either that or watch the babies die.

Even though women are staying with their babies, we're not Victorians here. Mothers don't hide away at home. It may seem strange, but a lot of ladies carry their babies around in slings wherever they go - gardening, Farmer's markets, stores, even some paid jobs - and nurse in public. There's just really no other way to get life done. Gender equality is one blessing that's persisted. True, women and men often do different work, but it's generally acknowledged that their work is equal in value.

A few people stop by to use our computer or phone over the course of the evening. People still have phones, and computers, but the service costs have gone up, up, up. We don't mind sharing. Most people don't take advantage, and they are usually just scheduling carpools or short-term work arrangements. Sometimes our "regulars" will do a few chores for us as thanks. We're just glad the community has evolved enough that people have gotten over their fear of asking for (or offering) help. There are so many ways we help each other cut costs and still keep a similar quality of life. Sometimes it just takes emotional abilities and qualities that most of us didn't have before - trust, respect, humility, and interdependence.

Actually, one of our regular computer users, who owns a wood stove, lets us move in with her during the cold days of January and February. Our geothermal system, while very efficient, still runs on electricity. No resilience there. We should have gotten a wood stove before the electric crisis/price increases, but somehow we never got around to it, and now of course you can't get one for love or money. Like most people, we had a fireplace, and it took us a while to realize that fireplaces suck more heat out of the house than they produce. The first years before we found Mrs. Simmons were pretty cold.

It's easier now, since winter only lasts about two months. We're adding a lot less carbon to the atmosphere than we were a few years ago, but the emissions juggernaut won't run it's course for a long time to come. I miss tulips - they stopped blooming about two years ago, when they stopped getting enough cold in the winter. Our growing season is pretty long though. We can generally have vegetables year-round, although not the heat lovers like tomatoes and okra.

The kids play out in the little bit of lawn under the pecan trees. They seem happy enough, relatively unaffected by the chaos of a few years ago. We tried to protect them from it as much as we could. Of course they saw what was happening as schools shut down, classes were cut, and the school year shortened. Frankly, I can't believe we managed to keep school going up to fifth grade as other services like police and firefighting were cut almost completely.

We enjoy the company of our friends until the sun starts to fade, and they walk home together. Safety in numbers! The neighborhood patrol passes through here once or twice a night. Crime has definitely gone up in some places where the neighborhoods aren't tight and where no patrols run. We've seen some gang activity through the city, and of course some cities have been virtually overrun with them. OKC still maintains a core of police, who generally act as intelligence agents, trainers and consultants to the neighborhood organizations. But keeping us safe has more to do with giving the young men something productive to do to keep them busy - along with hope for the future. I won't mind when it's our turn to pound the pavement for a few weeks. The peace of mind is worth it.

We get ready for bed. The hot shower is a once-weekly event now. Thank God OKC was smart enough to invest in keeping our water running even as the world seemed to be spinning out of control. So we all have water, but it costs ten times as much, so we try to use 90% less. We usually just scrub down with a washcloth, brush our teeth and floss (we never skip that chore now that root canals cost the earth). We open all the windows to let the cool breezes sweep through the house. When it gets too hot we'll sleep in tents, but in June we still enjoy the ceiling fans in the house.

For now, we are enjoying the rare situation of just the three of us living in our house. Many families live with grandparents or other in-laws, or they take in orphans. Even though the foreclosure epidemic stopped when the federal government bailed out every single freaking financial institution in the country - and finally decided to quit kicking people out of their homes - living together makes it easier to pool resources to pay the bills and take care of young and old alike. Multi-generational house families have learned to respect each other, lay down ground rules and maintain some privacy. Most people are still getting used to it.

I'm finally recovering from the nervous breakdown I had a year ago. I'm sleeping much better now. During the original chaos, when it seemed like the institutions we depended on were falling like dominoes, I struggled to help our neighbors and community stay safe, alive and sane. Along with, of course, keeping my own family running while prices rose and our income fell. I felt like I had a special responsibility since we had known ahead of time about many of the possible consequences of the energy crisis and had been able to make some preparations. Even for us, everything got pretty unpredictable there for a while.

After those years of 12-hour days working to hold our community together and build new networks to replace the institutions that were crumbling, I had a little breakdown. Everything just seemed hopeless. I was tired of trying to help people who wouldn't help themselves, tired of propping up people who expected to be rescued, so I retreated into the house and never left. I had daily panic attacks, insomnia, crying jags, and I became afraid of crowds. It took about six months before I was much use to anyone. It's true, burnout sucks.

But now I'm back in the saddle again. There's still so much to do. We seem to have reached a point of stability, but I have no doubt that things will change again. Gas may get astronomically more expensive. Trucks may stop running for months at a time, instead of just weeks. OG&E may just quit repairing some of their electrical lines. The heat may turn into a blistering drought. Who knows what will happen? We need to keep reinforcing our community, preparing to make the best of life while bracing for the worst possibilities. And that's going to take a lot more work.

Despite my breakdown, our family got off pretty easy. Because we were mentally prepared, we weren't as shocked as some people were when things started to unravel. We weren't surprised when the Dow hit 3000, and pension plans and unemployment insurance stopped paying benefits. We weren't surprised when entire classes of jobs were eliminated, rendering complete sections of the population useless. So our immediate family didn't have any suicides or "accidents," and no one froze or starved. Whether it was geographical accident, the grace of God, or sheer hard work, our community held while many others fell.

As I lay dozing off, I notice the complete darkness and silence. No streetlight shining in my window, and no moon tonight. No humming from highways in the background; no car alarms going off. Wait - my husband starts to snore a little. I poke him (gently), and thank my lucky stars for our family, our health, our food, and our community.

Yes, I miss travel, seeing movies, the occasional shopping trip, and sushi. I am anxious about a future without Social Security, Medicare, or retirement plans. I constantly debate whether we need to move North to beat the heat that seems to increase every year. And I wonder what kind of opportunities the future will hold for our son. Will he see the Grand Canyon and the Tetons like we did? Will he find something meaningful to do with his life? Will he be happy? Will he forgive us for what we allowed to happen to the planet?

But these are thoughts for another time. For now, we are safe, our bellies are full, and we spend our days among people who care for us. Our lives seem fuller, healthier, and less stressful, even though we do without a lot of things we used to enjoy. I can live with that.

Even if I do miss guacamole.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Day in the Life - Part 2

The continuing saga of a day in a life that might not be too far away... a life in a world of expensive energy and a contracting economy... a life filled with adjustments, sacrifices, and unexpected pleasures.


When I wake from my nap, it's time for lunch. Hubby takes an hour off from his telecommute, my son Connor comes home from the rec center, and we all sit down for a vegetarian lunch (we save fish for a once weekly dinner). We have hummus and veggie sandwiches on our freshly baked bread with some fruit for a nice refreshing end. Gotta love those first cucumbers and strawberries! My son washes the dishes outside while I take the clothes in from the clothesline.

I've gotten used to life without most appliances. Lucky for me, we installed wood and tile floors the year before electricity prices went through the roof. I don't know how women with carpets clean them - vacuums suck a lot of energy. Even though we don't use clothes dryers and dishwashers, getting the household work done isn't much harder because attitudes have changed. Now, we expect our kids to help around the house, and if we have guests they all pitch in to clean up. Expectations are different too. I don't feel like my house has to be "perfect" to let a friend in the door. People understand that the house is now the center of life and not just a showplace for our possessions.

Afternoon - time to make a little cash. Today is the day to run our Prius cab. Since Oklahoma City is so large (still the fifth largest by area), most people can't afford to travel across the city. We never did get a decent bus system, although the city has improvised the best that they could under the circumstances. So, like many other families with high-mileage, low-emissions cars, we offer our hybrid as a carpooling and shipping service. Of course, we can only run the cab during the times when the state is not rationing gasoline. But it's a way to make some extra money, and despite the fact that we have cut expenses way back, and we barter a lot, we still have to pay taxes.

We load up the car with five people and all the stuff we can cram in the hatchback. This week is the week to head down to south Oklahoma City. I'm excited since I will get to see my in-laws who live down there. That is the saddest part about the gas price increases - they spelled the end for the anytime two-hour visit, and my mother in law only gets to see Connor once a month now, even though they only live thirty miles away. These days, most people have to plan out their visits and make them last.

The roads aren't too dangerous yet. The city stopped repairing potholes a while back, just one of many cutbacks, but OK-DOT still maintains the overpasses and bridges. When you can only travel at 25 mph (the city speed limit), you manage to avoid the potholes, even though some are getting to be pretty wide. We see more cyclists than cars on the highway. There are quite a few electric vehicles out there, but they aren't too much more useful than gas cars since the grid is unreliable. Overall, it looks like traffic is down about 75%, and most of the vehicles we see are corp-buses, destination buses, or jerry-rigged city buses.

I always feel a little sad when we pass over the devastated part of town. A large section of the Southwest side burned last year after a tornado outbreak, and it's still a smoking wreck. I wish I could tell you what happened, but all I know is rumors and some reports from the refugees. I'm glad the tornado sirens still work in most parts of the city.

We see a few Tree Teams working in some of the neighborhoods. They are re-foresting the city with pecan, pear and apple trees. Quite a bit of OKC lost it's tree cover during the extended winter power outage a few years ago when people started cutting down anything they could find to heat their houses. The trees are sometimes on city land, other times on church or other private property, but anyone can forage the fruits or nuts. We still haven't solved the problem of winter heating, but there are a lot more wood cooperatives that sustainably coppice wood fuel, and people have learned how to move into their south-facing rooms during winter time.

After dropping my cabbers and my shipments off, only my son and I are left to head down to my mother-in-law's neighborhood. It's basically as far south as you can get and still be in Oklahoma City. Their four-bedroom house is beautiful, but every year it becomes harder to keep clean and more expensive to heat and cool. Why do they stay there, far away from anything, far from us? Pride? Independence? Mulish stubbornness? I hope that they decide to move near us soon, because the city is threatening to close down all city services next year, including their food ration-station. The city says they can't afford to maintain that area any more.

My mother in law is overjoyed to see her grandson. We unload some food we've brought, and I do some chores around the house and weed their garden. Grandma has mended and hemmed some laundry for us (one of the skills I haven't yet mastered). She makes sure to take at least one picture of Connor before we go. I send her pictures over the Internet, sometimes, but she likes to have a monthly one of them together. I distract Connor as we pull away so he doesn't see Grandma cry. I hate to leave so early, but we have to pick up our returning cabbers.

We return home safe and sound by 7 pm. The Sun Oven has kept dinner warm, and there's bread leftover from lunch, so we just snip some lettuce for salads and some flowers for the table. As we set out the food, I'm reminded of James Howard Kunstler's book World Made By Hand. I know I'm mangling his quote, but he wrote something like "Life had become so hard that living without beauty had become unbearable." That's why we grow flowers.

We take a moment of silence for our friends who died in the West Nile epidemic last summer. Since then, a local herbalist has developed a pretty decent mosquito repellent, but the big improvement came when the neighborhood alliance got the abandoned and neglected pools under control. We had no idea there were so many until they did a house-to-house inspection. Now, instead of cesspools, we have several backyard fisheries in our area keeping us supplied with fish through most of the year. It also helps that most people have a few chickens in their backyards. Chickens are voracious bug-eaters, and that includes mosquitos.

Our friends from a few blocks over stop by for a glass of homebrew and a lively game of Spades. They've brought a peach pie as thanks for some kale we gave them in the spring. As we eat and play cards, my friend fills me in on the juicy gossip so vital for understanding our community. Pregnancy, birth, marriage, illness, injury, death - these events aren't just cause for celebration or mourning, but times when people need help. It took a while for us as a community to get over our hyper-individualistic need for "independence", and our narcissistic need for perfection, but I think we've finally learned that none of us can go it alone. At least, I sure as hell can't.


To be continued in Part 3 (the end of my day - finally!).