Saturday, July 31, 2010

Easing the pain

Food processing season is upon us. Lately, I've been making pesto, dehydrating and freezing peaches, and freezing chopped okra. Yesterday I attempted sun-dried tomatoes in the Tulsi Sun Oven and baked banana bread in the Global Sun Oven. The sun-dried tomatoes didn't dry quite evenly, so I popped them in the Sun-Oven-cooked ratatouille for dinner (delicious). Those Sun Ovens came through for me yesterday!

But getting to my point: I don't necessarily like spending hours in the kitchen chopping and processing food by myself. I'd much rather be reading a book or taking a walk or cruising the Internet. Luckily, I've discovered a solution that makes food preservation much easier, virtually painless, almost....enjoyable?

It's simple. My solution is: listening to Peak Moment Television while I work. I like to hear about positive actions that people all over the country and world are implementing: permaculture, urban homesteading, and building community, and I enjoy listening to interviews with our beloved peak oil authors and activists. Time, which might otherwise crawl or limp, just flies by. And I feel rather virtuous for accomplishing something rather than just sitting in front of the computer. So go on - get started on that applesauce, tomato canning, or pesto! Peak Moment TV is standing by to keep you entertained during your labors.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Transition OKC gets rolling!

You may have noticed that I haven't been blogging as much as I used to. That's due to all the exciting Transition OKC projects that have been going on and ramping up. Our coordinating team spent several months laying the foundation for our work - discussing the Transition Handbook, hosting a Training for Transition, and getting guidelines and Constitution in place (neatly stored in PVC-free binders, thanks to Shauna Struby). And finally, when our team gained consensus on our mission, vision, and goals, a tsunami of creativity and energy was unleashed. Let me fill you in...

Going Locavore

Although our local food champions are very active, they don't often have a chance to get together to discuss strategies, share updates and success stories, and plot ways to expand the local food market. Enter TOKC, which has started sponsoring Going Locavore happy hour potlucks to get these fabulous people in the same room. After one meeting and some intense brainstorming, our next meeting is slated to focus in on the most promising of the hundreds of ideas and start serving up some local food projects!

Sustainability Center

The indomitable Susie Shields gained massive inspiration from the "Hands" portion of Rob Hopkins Transition Handbook and vowed to create a Sustainability Demonstration Community Center. She has gathered a diverse team of architects, permaculturists, sustainability pros, and industry and government folks to forge a way forward with this dream. The Education and Programming and the Site Selection subcommittees have already been brainstorming and researching. Yes, we have subcommittees!

Reskilling Videos

The members of our TOKC coordination team all agree that reskilling workshops are a great way to spread the ideas of Transition. Valuable skills, education, not-so-subtle hints about the end of the world as we know it (just kidding), networking, food and/or beer and wine - all rolled into one! But what about a way to spread reskilling beyond the 10 or 20 people that can make it to a workshop?

Luckily for us, Trey Parsons of Enersolve is ready to take on the challenge of creating a set of short reskilling videos to share information about how to cook with local food, install a rainwater catchment system, weatherize a house, use a Sun Oven, grow a garden, make pesto and peach jam and sun-dried tomatoes, and more! I'm excited about working on this - it will give us the chance to run around all over the metro asking questions of interesting people and maybe learning a few things ourselves.

Movie Night

Several of our team members - Vicki, Marcy, and Susie - are working to get a quarterly movie night started at OCU. Movies raise awareness about environmental problems, the economic crisis, peak oil, climate change... and start a conversation about how to address the issues. The Sierra Club has been having movie night for a long time, but the new quarterly schedule and larger venue will allow TOKC to market to a wider audience and increase participation.

Permaculture Design Course

Randy Marks of Land+Form and Shauna Struby are in the early stages of working with Permaculture teachers to design a course for Oklahoma. I can't wait - I have always wanted to take a PDC but have never been able to take two weeks off to go to Oregon or Florida or upstate New York. Permaculture offers an integrated, principled way of thinking about the world, which will be so valuable to us as we re-think and re-design a system that currently is based on extracting resources and destroying ecosystems in order to maximize profit for a few people as fast as possible - in short, the opposite of sustainable.

Outreach and Media

Our Going Local OKC website has been enhanced with completely new navigation, new look and a lot of new content. Shauna, Trey and I redesigned it to be more user-friendly and, well, just more friendly overall. Plus, we needed to expand it to be able to contain all the new info we'll be posting on our projects (see above), as well as our handy OKC Resource pages (six at last count). Check it out!

We also tie our continually updated media, like the Fresh Greens blog, the Sustainable OKC Twitter feed, and our TOKC Facebook into our website. Thanks to TOKC and SOKC volunteers for keeping it fresh and updated.

But wait, there's more!

Susie just created a Buy Fresh Buy Local Farmer's Market guide and she and Marcy are working on the complete "Big Book" guide. We are planning to redesign our printed materials, offer a fall and winter gardening workshop, and continue to spread the word with speeches, presentations and facilitated discussions.

So there you go. The whole team - Shauna, Vicki, Marcy, Susie, Trey, Adam, Jim, Joseph, Chase, Randy, and moi - have all been working hard. If you are in our area, I hope you are able to join us at our next workshop, join our Facebook or follow our Twitter! But I promise, I plan to keep blogging along here at Peak Oil Hausfrau, the only place I get to express my doomy side. :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010


A hard rain began to fall in the middle of last night.

I had been having a fairly unremarkable dream about touring a McMansion with a ridiculously large number of rooms, which recently had been redecorated. I couldn't believe it had a music room, and a play room, and a gymnastics room, all for the children.

When it begins to rain, I look out the window. I have a huge picture window that allows me a clear view up the very steep hill that we live on, and I can see that the house a few hundred feet above me on the hill is in poor repair. With all the storms we've been having, and the hail, there are large holes in the roof. I wonder why they have not yet been patched, or at least covered with a tarp. It looks dangerous to live there. The storm is breaking over us, the rain coming in violent waves. Aren't they getting wet in the rain?

Just then a ferocious crack of thunder makes a section of the roof cave in, and part of the walls begin to fall. A brick breaks away, slowly tumbling down the hill and narrowly missing my house. Oh, God! I wonder if they are OK up there.

I wonder if I should run up there and help my neighbors, and if so, what I can do. As I'm staring up the hill, with a phone in my hand, considering dialing 911, I can see a girl trying to climb out of the house, where dust is still rising from the rubble of the partial collapse of the roof and the wall. Bits of the house are still rolling away from the wreckage.

The girl manages to get up on top of the rubble, when suddenly she slips and falls. She starts to tumble. She hits a jagged rock and careens downhill. I stare, frozen, as her body crashes toward me. She lands directly outside my window, her bloodied head facing my way, her eyes open. I can see that she is barely a teenager. She's dead.

At that point, I realize this: when that disintegrating mansion falls, it will slide down the hill and completely obliterate my own house.

I wake up crying.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Documentary of hope

Many people who have seen the End of Suburbia, Collapse, or Food, Inc. can tell you how their thinking, even the course of their lives, have been changed by these films.

One movie, especially, has been inspirational to many people interested in peak oil - The Power of Community, a documentary that showed how Cuba was able to survive during their "Special Period," when oil supplies were cut by half and food supplies were cut by 80% to this tiny island nation. It has given many people hope after discovering the reality of the tumbling crises of peak oil, depleting resources, Ponzi economics and climate change.

We now have a chance to see if the process of re-building resiliency can occur on a completely different tiny, impoverished island nation - Haiti. A new documentary, "Hands that Feed," will explore "the agricultural collapse in Haiti, its role in the post-earthquake food crisis, and the emerging grassroots development models that seek to restore Haiti's food supply and environment."

The burning questions: can Haiti escape the dependency trap of international aid and "gifts" of seed from Monsanto? Can they turn a deforested nation into one of food self-sufficiency? This may be their last chance - international aid will not be around forever, and what will happen to them if they haven't developed their own food systems by the time the money runs out?

So check out the Hands that Feed film concept at their funding request site. A film like this could be an inspiration for many of our own community transitions. As humbling as it is, we too have lost the ability to feed ourselves without long, drawn-out, oil-dependent agricultural supply chains, and I bet we have something to learn from the process of reinvention going on in Haiti right now.

I hope that Josh, Matthew and Ketty will be there to capture the unfolding events that are happening right now - but they won't make it without a little help. They have 113 "backers" (angel investors) excited about their project, but they need more if they are going to reach their funding goal in time to film the critical events. Take a look!

Note: I don't personally know the filmmakers, but I believe this film has a lot of potential to benefit Transition groups, community builders, and local food movements around the world. So I will be making a donation - and if the film gets produced, I'll get a free copy as thanks for my gift!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My ah-ha moment for the year....

According to this graph, sourced originally from, 10% of the people in America controlled 90.3 % of the wealth in stocks, bonds and mutual funds in 2007. Wonder what that percentage is now? They seem to be on track to control 100%, leaving nothing at all for the rest of the 90% of the people - except for housing equity and cash savings, and we know how much of that there is going around.

Interested in an enlightening talk about the relationship between a Ponzi economy, deflation, depression, and peak oil? Check out Stoneleigh's presentation (minus the slides) to the Transition conference. Yes, you do have to listen an hour + presentation without visual aids. Buck up - I did it, and it was worth it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not New, But Improved

After a year spent nursing my son in this rocking chair, it developed some issues. Namely, a small tear in the seat, which soon widened when it caught the fancy of my toddler. We simply could not persuade him that pulling stuffing out of chairs was not fun.

But otherwise, the rocking chair was still comfortable, if a little worn after thirty years of service. Soooo.... my husband, who is a very Handy Man, dismantled the chair and removed the seat. We bought a yard of faux leather to cover it for $10 from a fabric store, and asked Pop to recover the seat (mainly through liberal use of a staple gun, but also with some nifty rolling edges).

Voila! We spent $10 vs. an estimated $250 to purchase a new chair, and prevented the old one from ending up in a landfill. We also saved time and hassle because we spent less time recovering the old chair than the time it would take to shop for a new (or used) one.

After starting to read the Story of Stuff last night, I'm extremely glad we repaired our old chair. In the condition it was in, even the Goodwill might have kicked it to the curb. So by keeping it, we saved thousands of gallons of water used to produce the raw materials, prevented toxic chemicals used to process the material from ending up in the groundwater, kept metal mines from destroying ecosystems and polluting streams, and drastically cut transportation fuel for shipping the raw materials and final product.

Even if we eventually decide to replace the chair, it would now be sent to the resale market instead of ending up in the landfill. Not bad for a $10 investment.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Peachy Keen

It's peach season, and peach season means delicious tree-ripened peaches - and lots of work.

We have two semi-dwarf peach trees (JH Hale and Hale Haven) which ripen mostly in tandem for about three to four weeks. Not all the peaches ripen at once, so I squeeze the little fuzzies every day when they start to turn tawny to catch the ones that ripen early. If they give slightly, they are tree-ripe, the sweetest kind. However, I pick some of them before they are fully ripe so that I don't have to spend a marathon few days picking them when they are completely tree-ripened (which would KILL my shoulder). Even though we have semi-dwarf trees, I still have to use a ladder to reach about half of them. Ah, the benefits of being 5'2".

We eat them fresh, with oatmeal and for snacks, and give the prettiest ones away to neighbors, friends and family. I usually give two grocery bags to Granny, who will can them up and then share her sandplum jam, cucumber pickles and canned green beans with us. I always include this caveat - "I don't spray, so cut them up before you eat them. :)"
Lately, I have also been spending about an hour every day dehydrating my harvest to make peach chips, which my son absolutely loves to eat, and which I love to feed him, because it's not a food-substitute like animal crackers or goldfish. Strangely, I don't make many peach cobblers or other peach desserts in-season. I think it's because I am too tired after spending an hour peeling and chopping peaches for my Nesco dehydrator. A load of peaches takes about 12 - 14 hours to finish drying, and amazingly, translates to only slightly more than a pint when completely dried.

Despite the hours spent thinning the peaches in the spring, and a later rough hail which knocked many immature peaches off the trees, we have another bonanza crop this year! I am weighing the harvest from my two trees, and have recorded 102.5 pounds so far - not counting the first two sets of dehydrated peaches I made. I estimate I have another 50-75 pounds still on the trees. In years past, I have frozen and canned them and canned peach-pie filling. This year I will be satisfied with just making peach chips and peach jam. Right now I have six grocery sacks of peaches sitting on my kitchen floor. I gave my shoulder and forearms a break yesterday, so it's back to work today!

Peach trees are a commitment to properly care for, to harvest and preserve, but I have to admit that NOTHING else I grow even comes close to the bounty I get from them. 150 - 175 pounds? Not small change in my world. If I were to preserve all these peaches, instead of giving them away, it would be enough to keep us in constant peaches year-round. Plus, the trees are beautiful when they bloom and beautiful when the peaches ripen. So despite the commitment, and the work, I love my peach trees. I'm growing them for the food security of my family, for the taste of organic peaches year-round, as a demonstration/example for our neighborhood, and also, because it's really kind of fun to run a mini peach farm in the city.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hot and bothered

I'm a strong believer in having AT LEAST six months savings available to pay for emergencies, for everyone who has the capability to do so. That has proved helpful in the past, for example when I was starting my business and had very limited wages. This last month, all that saving sure proved to be a blessing after a series of unfortunate, bothersome events.

A few weeks ago, we had to have some expensive plumbing repairs performed. Which, actually, only involved unclogging a drain. Yet it was a particularly critical drain, located between the kitchen sink and the washing machine, which received a lot of traffic. The drain wasn't completely clogged, but it was clogged enough so that every time the washer drained, the kitchen sink backed up with fetid slime. I could put up with that, but it was also overflowing at the site of the washer and it started to erode our drywall. I began to worry about mold. So, the problem had to be fixed.

Of course, the drain happened to be a kind which is tricky to unclog (it even has a special name which eludes me at the moment). Three visits from the plumber, one repaired ventpipe, two plumbers on site, one rental of a special plumbing camera, three holes cut in the drywall and the kitchen cabinet, and three visits to the roof later, we had a clear drain. One plumber jigged some celebratory "you da man's" while the other smiled modestly. And there went $800.

NEXT. We started out on our weekend getaway, my first vacation in a year. Halfway to Tulsa, the Prius began to show some belligerent signs of uncooperation. The brake light came on. The car shifted into neutral. And the A/C stopped running. I shall file the three hour return journey, in which we had to stop the car every five miles to let the car cool down, in 95+ degree heat with an unhappy two-year old, under "character-building / third-world-living experiences."

I can't blame the Prius, which had been giving us signs of anxiety for a few weeks in the form of giant red warning lights on the dashboard. I DO blame a certain Toyota dealership for not fixing the problem after two visits to their shop AND an oil change, all of which was done before we left on our getaway. Thanks for nothing, Dub Richardson. And there went another $650 and a vacation that didn't happen.

Finally, the computer, which began emitting a strange smell last Monday. At first I thought it was my toddler playing with matches. The smell was somewhere between sulphur and chlorine, and later proved to be a very abused DVD writer that had blown a fuse and shut down my five year old computer for almost a week. It was an interesting lesson in e-withdrawal for someone who is used to being connected to e-mail, blogging, and doom-news all day long. Thanks to my husband's co-worker hardware genius, we now have a working computer (temporarily, at least).

So there you go - accidents happen. Things wear out and break, repairs need to be made, appliances need to be replaced, and not necessarily in nice tidy affordable three-month increments. Sometimes they all pile upon you at once - and you might suddenly realize that the property taxes and car insurance are also due that month. That's when it pays to have some cash in the bank... or some really, really, nice relatives.

Of course, at some point, these repairs will no longer be affordable for many of the formerly middle-class, and that's when workarounds start to become permanent. Families will learn to share one car instead of using two; people will start line-drying their clothes because the dryer died; occasionally some will have to haul water by hand when the city can't repair the water line for two months; and others will become quite glad they have a cell phone, all their important information backed up or printed out, and a library - because they can't afford to replace the computer that just gasped it's last, wheezing breath.

Until then, I'm glad I'm a saver.