Monday, December 31, 2007

Waiting for a Post?

I'll have this blog on hiatus in January. Riot 4 Austerity posts can be found here.

So, What the Heck Are We Doing?

I love the idea of Compacting. I know people are are committing to it for 2008, and it sounds fantastic. I started 2007 following the Compact as an individual act. Eventually I switched over (mostly) mindful buying, and that worked well.

Mid-year the Riot 4 Austerity began. The is the 90% carbon emissions reduction project. I started gangbusters with the R4A. It spoke to me as a way of changing our consumption patterns long term, and not just our consumer spending.

Over the past month I've been teeter-tottering between the two projects. I love the idea of Compacting, and I have to say that I honestly think it is the easier of the two projects. After all, you don't have to change your consumption of fuel, electricity, natural gas, water, etc. You don't have to seek out local food. I know, many people will also do these things, but you don't have to.

So after much wrangling, we've decided on the R4A. We may not hit a full 90% reduction while we live in So Cal, but we will do what we can to reduce our overall consumption and carbon footprint.

Why not both? The reality is that participating in the R4A may require the purchase of new goods in order to lower consumption in other areas. In reality, I had already made many exceptions when I formed my compact last year.

These were last years goals, not all part of the Compact, but using that as my starting point:

I will carefully consider each purchase I make, even in the exception areas. I will strive to see if I have something that I can use before assuming I need to buy something. I will consider the food I buy, the amount of (used) clothing that comes into the house, and where any allowed new goods come from and what they are made of (natural materials, organics, fair trade, fair labor, etc.)

Absolutely, right on. I won't change a word.

This is the year of making do. No new towels, no new sheets, no new furniture, no new small appliances, pans, or kitchen gadgets. No new decorations for holidays or decorative house items. No new hair accessories, or aprons (but I can sew one), or jewelry. Certainly for 12 months we can make do with what we have.

I like the concept, but we do need a few things. Towels for the boys (Um, they are still using blue hippo capes designed and sized for three year-olds. Plus I have learned ~ get brown towels. They dry their hands on them so I need to match the color of mud). We may buy an organic mattress and a bed frame for it. I still don't think we need any of the other stuff listed. Oh, we need a cleaver.

It is also the year of making. If we want fancy soap we'll mill it from the plain soap we have on hand with herbs and essential oils. I will make the new pot holders I need (I have the loom and wool loops). I really want to make the quilt I planned out (just need to scavange more denim and corduroy).

Yeah that!

All my and the boys' clothing except underwear, socks, shoes, and boys' pajamas must be bought used, traded for, borrowed, or received for free. We're not frivolous shoe purchasers anyway, but I will only replace necessary shoes (sandals and walking shoes) that are beyond wearing. The boys may each have one pair of sandals, one pair of sneakers, and one pair of hiking boots, and I am ordering T-Guy a new pair of slippers for next fall and will pass his down to J-Baby. This goal is actually a continuation of one started last summer, except that we won't make exceptions for sale new clothing.

We're still working on this. I'm having trouble with pants. Good news is we didn't need to buy pajamas at all, and we managed without hiking boots as well.

I will stop buying the little stuff - a toy here, a snack there. You know, the kind of stuff that will nickel and dime you to death.

Still doing this, and hoping for 100% in 2008.

Food must be carefully considered and chosen based on need. Natural sodas (the kind made with cane sugar) are out. Prepared snack foods are out (it will probably be a month or more before they run out of the GF pretzels, microwave popcorn, and organic fruit leather we bought for consumption during my recovery). Chocolate will be okay for special occasions (organic and fair trade, of course). DH will still buy wine and tea. I will make whole wheat bread, but will purchase vegan GF bread. Canned beans are allowed as an emergency food.

Ok, you got me. We still bought natural soda for special occasions. Our diet changed dramatically over the past year with a new medical diagnosis. Home cookingn is even more essential that it seemed a year ago. Our goals this year also involve buying as much local food as we can. That's part of the R4A. We joined a CSA (they finally have one in our area!).

Our goal is to eat out only twice a month, coinciding with payday, and only at local establishments. We will have to make some allowances for travel. We also have to figure out how this works with family, as both of our families prefer to get together at restaurants rather than cook meals (large holidays excluded). I am more than willing to cook, but people don't always want to come to us, nor do they all like eating vegan food.

Still the goal, actually we'd like to eat out less. Our new plan involves only eating out when family occasions require it.

No new books. First I see if the library has the book I want to read; if not, I see if I can borrow it from someone I know. If it is a must have book (for information, no fiction allowed) I will find it used. My book addiction is serious especially since half the time I realize I could have done without whatever book I ordered from Amazon. In addition to not buying new books I will not browse used bookstores or the thrift store for books that I am not specifically searching for. Really, I have enough unread books here at home to keep me reading all year.

I had to buy some reference books new. But I can hardly believe how well we shifted our thinking on books. We use the library regularly, and we buy books used almost all of the time. I did buy several books written by authors of my favorite blogs.

No magazines purchased in stores. I have subscribed to the magazines I am most likely to pick up, and will read the others at the library, go without, or find a way to borrow them or buy them used. I do have one homeschooling magazine that I need to call and order on the 3rd (no online orders).

Fell down on this. Picking myself up and trying again.

No new music. This isn't usually an issue for me until holiday time, but I am putting it out there now.

I received one CD as a gift. I didn't buy any for myself or the boys.

I am going to inventory our craft supplies and choose projects based on what we have. We have so much to choose from that we just have to say no to some of the great stuff out there. It will be okay to replenish consumables such as glue, chalk, crayons, etc. Even then I don't anticipate needing to do much more than replace the frequently used Stockmar colors. We do need 9 X 12 drawing paper.

This worked well, and we'll continue it into 2008.

We will make all greeting cards or use our stash cards (scavenged by my dad). We will recycle gift bags, make wrap, and use any old wrap we have.

It was great to wrap all presents with stash wrap, reused wrap, and homemade wrap. I bought a couple of cards; stash sympathy cards seemed heartless when the losses were in my own family. If it happens again I'll write letters.

I will not buy new yarn until the stash is gone and even then I will try to find sweaters to frog. Any yarn purchased after the stash is gone must be for a specific project. The exception to this will be if I decide to make hats for any kids as I don't have any superwash wool and I don't anticipate many parents wanting to care for merino or alpaca.

I did well with this, buying synthetics a couple of times for kids' gifts, and some cotton. I'm going to keep it up.

I am going to learn to sew. Any fabric purchased new must be for a specific project. However, before that I will use reclaimed fabric, thrift store fabric, etc. I have about 5 yards of flannel but certainly do not have a stash and am not going to build one.

I did start learning, and will continue in 2008. I was gifted a nice stash from a friend who was moving.

I have begun studying herbalism. I will allow myself to purchase necessary supplies to make herbal medicines and personal care products. This is an investment year; I may need funnels, storage jars, etc. that I will never need again. Still, I will source used goods whenever possible (please don't suggest pickle jars...I never seem to be able to get rid of the pickle smell and I will not ruin good herbs that way).

New medical diagnosis coincided with increased allergies. I've mostly had to give up herbalism. The good news is that I spend very little on it before I found out.

We are allowed to purchase what we need to start our garden, including minimal tools, lumber for raised beds, seeds and starts, soil amendment, etc.

Photo paper and inks are permitted.

Artisan goods are allowed. Entertainment is allowed if it falls within our budget. Experiences are allowed.

Yes to all of the above.

Items I didn't get around to purchasing in 2006 that are still possibly on the slate for early 2007: a wool mattress pad for the boys' bed, a futon mattress for FIL to sleep on when he is here (if he decides to come weekly), ear phones for my iPod (yes, I have's nearly 3 years old), a clothes rack and/or umbrella style drying rack. I'm going to try to find alternatives (such as finding a used king-sized 100% wool blanket and felting it for the boys' pad). I planned to buy ear phones before now, but haven't been able to get out to try any.

I felted a wool blanket for DS. I went without ear phones until the holidays, when I received a pair as a gift. We bought a rack system this week.

We're still hammering out the details for 2008. This year we are in it together as a family, which will make a difference. This blog will be specifically related to the R4A project, rather than homeschool or natural living musings.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Letting the House Cleaners Go

We decided this week that we won't have paid house cleaners next year. We had hired a couple to clean our home a year ago, after I had surgery. They were very nice and they did a fantastic job. Letting them go was hard.

We've had house cleaners off and on over the years. I don't think that there is a reason not to have cleaners, in terms of the Compact.

One of the reasons we made this decision was financial. While we can technically afford to pay people to clean our home, we decided that what we could save was significant. We've diverted the amount we would pay the house cleaners directly into our automatic savings. Every time one of us thinks that we'd rather not be cleaning house, we can think of the growing savings account and what it means to our future goals.

Another reason involves my boys. They are old enough to be of real help when tackling household chores, and I think there is value in learning to clean, not only the skills gained but a better sense of the work it takes to maintain a home.

A big reason for letting the cleaners go is the fact that there was always stress involved in their coming. The boys had to get their room clean, and then it had to stay that way until it had been dusted and mopped. I had to figure out where we would go while they were here. I usually had it coincide with our weekly park outing, however, rain or cold could cancel our plans. When they came in the morning I had to have everything prepared the night before. I thought that was stressful, but trying to keep the boys' room clean until 2 p.m. was far harder.

Also, when I cleaned my own house I used natural and/or homemade cleaners. At first, I just requested that these house cleaners refrain from sprinkling anything on the carpets. Later I realized that I experienced fatigue and headaches after they had cleaned. I tried to air things out by opening windows. I tried to have them use my non-chemical cleaners. It didn't work. Many house cleaners prefer their chemicals because they work fast. I can understand that, but I still needed to stop the toxic contamination of my home.

We have been in transition for many years, moving always toward lighter living on the earth. 2007 has been a transformative year for us, and we expect just as much from 2008. Our year is not only about mindful purchasing, but about making changes that reduce our carbon emissions and making choices that simplify and enhance our lives. It will be another year of learning, as we garden, hone our cooking and homemaking skills, and move more toward a car-lite lifestyle. We will continue to build community and relationships. Most of all, we will continue our journey through this life together, the four of us, attached, loving, and learning.

The Wanting is the Hardest Part

Lately, when I take my youngest son into a store he is overwhelmed with wanting. Indeed, he wants everything, not taking into account whether he likes what he sees or would use it. Everything is so wonderful.

I found out a few months ago that the wanting made him feel badly. Because he couldn't have what he wanted, he thought he was bad for wanting it. Oh no, I told him. Even grown-ups go into stores and want things. Sometimes they are things we would use and love, and sometimes they are shiny and new and grab us by virtue of a color, font, package, or function.

The desire, the wanting, it is part of who we are and part of the culture we live in. On a rare trip to a bookstore my oldest, who has recently become a proficient reader, was suddenly awakened to the multitude of books available. Books he recognized! King Arthur! The Three Musketeers! Robin Hood! He saw a sign on a table and mistook Humor for Homer, and well, you should have seen his excitement at the idea of piles of books written by Homer!

I quickly told him that most of the books he was interested in could be found at the library. Now, the library is wonderful. It just isn't designed to grab you the way a bookstore is. There is little merchandising. There is no holiday music in the background, and certainly not the scent of coffee and warm baked goods. For the most part, children can't see the covers of books. That's really sad, because if they could, they might check out something that they had never heard of before.

As we embark on a year of mindful buying, it is helpful to remember that the wanting is not a bad thing. It simply is a desire, like any other. It is what we do with the wanting that takes on significance. Do we need it? Can we get is used? Can we use something else? Can we do without?

Where was is made? By whom? How was that person paid? How was that person treated? How are the costs externalized? How much energy was used to make and transport the goods?

Why do we want it? Are the advertisers appealing to emotion? Are they trying to make us think that our lives would be better if we just had their product? Is that true?

It becomes a new way of thinking, and then a new way of living. None of us can be perfect. We can, however, go past the wanting and look into what it is we want, and why, and then we consider the ethical impacts of our desires, as well as our own lives and happiness.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holding Space

This is where I am going to journal about our Compacting/Riot 4 Austerity year in 2008.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simple Winter Holidays

(My apologies to anyone reading this in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and the new year may all take place during summer.)

I grew up with big C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. Presents piled to the ceiling, huge family gatherings, feasts in the American tradition. Even the years that were lean had big Christmases; the Salvation stepped in to help us one year, and credit card companies filled in for Santa many a year.

Papa really didn't know what to make of my big Christmas. His had always been more simple; the gifts were few and most likely something they as children needed. There were toys too, but rarely anything that would elicit a Wow! Raised in the Catholic Church, Christmas involved mass, and having a Mexican-American mother meant that the included many traditional Latino activities in their holiday plans. We make almond crescent cookies, they made tamales.

Twenty years ago, when we had our first married Christmas, I did my best to make it big, on a budget. We didn't have a major credit card back then, but I'm sure JC Penney helped us out. We had the traditional big breakfast with my family, and spent the rest of the day driving to Tucson to meet up with Papa's family. His grandmother was getting remarried the next day.

I could go on and describe other Christmases over the years. Let's just say we started to get extravagant as our income rose, helped along by credit and the increasing popular 0% interest for ___ months.

We probably started the slow down a decade ago. I started a savings account for Christmas each year, which helped stop the debt spiral. We found that we already had a lot of stuff and we actually wanted less. As our children were showered with gifts we began to see the wisdom in small gifts, needed gifts.

Each year we put out fewer decorations, and as we put away the decorations each year we sent some to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The number of Christmas bins was cut by at least half.

About ten years ago we began acknowledging the winter solstice in a more formal way. At first it was something I did alone, sitting in darkness and waiting for the precise moment when the position of the earth would change and bring the light (for me, this year, it happens on 12/21 at 10:08 p.m. local time). Papa and I might get out for a walk or hike on the day of the solstice. Once the boys were a little older we began giving them solstice gifts, most often little handmade items (usually made by a talented friend). A couple of years ago we started the tradition of rolling beeswax candles a few days before, or even the morning of, the solstice.

This year the winter holidays are nearly here, and I am happy with their simplicity. We were able to buy gifts for the children that weren't manufactured in China. Our general plan is to give items that will last (both developmentally and in terms of durability) or items that are meant to be consumed (crayons and paper). Our adult gift recipients will once again receive handcrafted gifts. Adults who made a specific need known will see that need met if it is within our budget.

Within our own family we cut back our spending, and we set specific limits for Papa and I to follow. It has been freeing to acknowledge that we don't need anything. We may want many things, but our needs are taken care of.

There will still be big C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S at my dad's house. He is trying to balance his desire to get the kids everything they want with their parents' desires to not get so much. He asked for input ~ from kids and parents. Yet, for himself, he could think of very little that he needs. I think he is beginning to see the consumption from the other side.

I feel so calm and relaxed. The gifts I'm making aren't finished, and nothing has been wrapped, and I feel fine. I don't feel like I have to keep up with or compete with anyone. No longer are there subtle competitions: who got the decorations or lights up first, how many different types of cookies have been baked, are the cards sent yet, are the presents all wrapped. I stepped away from it ~ out of the mainstream.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas, This Year

I think, perhaps, I had been pretending that Christmas wasn't coming this year. Oh, certainly I have procured some gifts, and I have sung a few carols. It's cold, which means December in my part of southern California. The winter holidays are upon us.

Today we put up the tree. We didn't decorate it, but we did manage to get the Lego train set up around it. We'll do a little bit each evening, and in a few evenings we'll be finished. Each year we've pared down the decorations. Each year I think that I don't want to put up the tree, and even now I dread actually decorating it. But as soon as it is finished I love it.

Today the full force of the fact that my mom is gone really hit me. I keep encountering it in little ways; thinking of her when I see Aplets and Cotlets at the local market, or when T-Guy breezes through a book that was too hard for him just last spring, or when I go to my dad's house and the bed is made. They are little things, and I will feel a little sad, and then I will fall back into rhythm. Today though, I could no longer escape the thought that my mom will not be with us this Christmas.

Perhaps it is because I helped my dad do his online shopping yesterday. Perhaps it was pulling out the silly Laker's Santa hat she gave Papa last year. Perhaps it was knowing that I haven't wrapped a single item, and she hasn't been on the phone to ask me about it.

I'm glad that we've simplified Christmas; it makes it easier to face this year. Our focus is less on stuff, and more on people. We spread the happy times over a few weeks. There is a holiday birthday party for my FIL, and we'll draw names for gifts on that side of the family. Our friends have invited us to a Solstice celebration at their home (bringing our own celebration of Solstice to a new level). There is a Christmas Eve service and party at the church that we would love to attend. Christmas morning my FIL will come over for a simple breakfast (my fancy brunch of years past is gone). That afternoon we'll gather at my dad's house, and allow the glee of the children to carry us through what will most likely be a day of teary memories. On the 27th we're heading to the desert for the day, to see Abuela and visit the desert zoo. Then on the 29th the whole big family will gather for a day of cousins. Our plans for the new year are up in the air, however we are thinking we'll have a simple, elegant meal on New Year's Eve and then invite friends to stop by on New Year's Day for a soup potluck open house.

It sounds like a lot, and it is. What makes me smile is the focus on family and friends.

Bring Your Dog Into Your Food Chain

Ssshhh . . . don't tell the vet. I feed my dog table scraps. In fact, most weeks she doesn't have a bite of commercial dog food. I'm not feeding her a fancy biologically appropriate raw food or bones and raw food diet, either. No, I just finally decided that if it was good for us, it was good for her. I learned that she could eat foods that we might not choose to, such as chicken organs and skin, or leftovers that are a little past their prime.

It has been really easy to feed her. When I make chicken or turkey stock, I careful pick through all of the (hundreds of tiny) bones to get every bit meat I can. I pull out the veggies too, the garlic cloves, carrots, and celery. To these things I add any leftover grain in our refrigerator, or I make a pot of grain just for her. Mixed together, I have homemade dog food that well, looks and smells a bit like dog food, except I know every ingredient in it. No chance of melamine.

I give her leftovers and scraps, too. She'll eat meat the boys have chewed at and rejected as too fatty. She loves the skins of squash (just not too much, or we see the results). She adores apple cores. On the rare occasion that we visit a restaurant I will gather the uneaten potato skins from everyone at the table (it seems only my family eats potato skins) and take them home for her.

Sometimes a boy requests more food than he can eat. Girl-Dog gets the leftovers. Sometimes we look through the fridge and find containers with little bits of food: half a cup of soup, two tablespoons of cooked carrots, two little pieces of broccoli, etc. If it's time to feed the Girl-Dog I'll pull these things together to make her meal.

Sometimes I think of her while I'm cooking; I might toss an extra half cup of oatmeal into the porridge pot just for her, or bake an extra potato. Starches are inexpensive.

Girl-Dog is happy and healthy. Her coat shines. She's an old dog, so we try to give her as much fat as we can. She's happy to have the chicken fat skimmed off a cooled container or stock. She loves the fat trimmed off of a piece of beef (which has been rare up until this point). Heck, we trust our meat producer so much that we pour accumulated beef juices from the vacuum-pack bag right into her dish.

I've yet to cook and prepare meat just for Girl-Dog. The closest we've come to that is cutting up a pot roast that was cooked incorrectly and was dry and seemingly inedible (a lesson learned, to be certain, about pot roasts, slow cookers, and blindly following recipes). She isn't picky about her proteins, however. She'll happily eat leftover pinto beans, whole or refried.

I don't worry that I feed my dog table scraps. I feed her real food, food that I am willing to eat myself. Our food waste is almost non-existent (I've yet to dry chicken bones and grind them into bone meal to supplement her calcium intake). I have a container of commercial dog food that I've had for some time now, to have on hand should the leftovers be short one day. But overall, I have nearly eliminated our reliance on commercial dog food, which is highly processed and must be shipped great distances.

Every dog is different. Last summer I watched the Girl-Dog carefully pull tomatoes off the outdoor table, one by one, and gobble them down. They were the split culls from the morning's harvest. She loved them. I knew she wasn't a picky eater, but the tomato incident helped me to see that she would eat a wide variety of foods, and that what I might have seen as waste (or compost fodder), she saw as food. I already knew she loved apples, and cooked broccoli. She had already faithfully cleaned up the floor after each meal, leaving only raw pieces of lettuce. She, unlike some dogs, isn't too keen on raw carrots.

I've stopped believing that experts know what humans should eat, so why should I trust them when it comes to my dog. If highly processed kibble is so great, so superior to real food when it comes to dogs, then why doesn't that apply to humans? No, commercial dog food is big business, a way to sell to us food that we wouldn't choose ourselves. Humans know spoilage and the stench of disease. We know what to stay away from. Commercial dog food factories are the place they send the diseased meat, the road kill, the parts of animals that no one else wants. They also process lots of corn for our canine friends. They then, of course, have to supplement the foods with vitamins and minerals. Uh, isn't that a sign that the food would otherwise be deficient?

I'm not exactly in the camp with the B.A.R.F. folks either. Sure, Girl-Dog would probably love raw meat and bones. But my goal isn't to create a new category for her to eat from. No, she is a canine living with humans, sharing our food. In return for shelter, food, and kindness she offers companionship, unconditional love, and protection. A canine is the original lock on the door and the original smoke/fire alarm. Girl-Dog is also exceedingly good at warding off solicitors. My tip? Open the door just a crack (we have one of those old-fashioned chains, basically worthless), hold your barking canine by the collar or ruff, and watch as people back away. If they ask if she bites, say "yes", even if it isn't true. Before the person can start their sales pitch say the words "We aren't interested." Watch the magazine salesperson, the tree trimmer, and the water delivery person depart quickly.

Of course, Girl-Dog is a actually well-mannered, and is greeted warmly by friends, neighbors, repair people, mail carriers, and package delivery employees. She turns off the bark and wags her whole body as soon as she knows that she has encountered friends. Canines are smart, and she watches our body language and listens to our tone of voice, and quickly determines friend or foe.

Not a bad trade off for chicken stock leftovers, cooked vegetables, grain, and the occasional tomato cull.

Solar Energy, Now

I am fortunate that all around me, there are families like mine trying to make changes that will positively impact not only their own lives, but the lives of others as well.

I've been thinking about peak oil and scarcity, as well as about abundance. Finally, I am moving away form being scared to death about the end of oil. I am letting go of the fear, and I am welcoming in transformation.

I believe that we will live in a world that is experiencing change. I do not believe in a technological savior, but I do think that we can transition to a world based on solar electric as our main power source. It isn't going to be easy, and it isn't going to happen fast enough to prevent disease, despair, death . . .

I think, though, that it means that the little, "bottom up" changes we make as individuals will make a difference. Not a difference in terms of the end of oil, and a not a difference in terms of slowing climate change. Those are big issues. Life on our planet is going to change.

We can be at the forefront. We can harness the sun's energy now. It doesn't take huge investment and technology. We can:

Grow food. Turn the power of the sun into food calories we can consume. In turn we reduce the amount of fuel needed to bring our food to us.

Dry clothes outside. Hang a laundry line. If we need to do a lot of drying indoors, make, scavenge, or buy a drying rack. The sun's energy will dry our clothing. We unplug our electric dryers or reduce our use of natural gas.

Use the sun to warm our homes. Start by opening curtains on cold, sunny days. Eventually we may want to make a simple solar heater for our homes. Plant according to our climates. Deciduous trees near windows can keep our homes cooler in summer and then as they drop their leaves they allow more sunlight in through the windows in winter.

Use the sun to heat hot water. We can start simple. Put a dark bucket full of water in a sunny place. Use it to wash dishes, or too fill the bath tub. Eventually we may want more: there are plenty of plans on the internet. Solar hot water makes too much sense for us not to use it.

Learn to live by the natural light in our homes. How often do we flip the lights when it isn't necessary? Take a shower by the daylight already in our homes. Put reading chairs near windows.

Let the sun shine . . .

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sunday Simple Pleasures

~ sleeping in

~ talking to a friend for a few minutes about a subject dear to my heart

~ forgiveness

~ soup leftovers for lunch

~ snuggling

~ a long family walk after dinner

~ a pot of broth on a long slow simmer overnight

~ hot water bottle heat