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Essentials

How much of our lives and culture is made out of nothing much? Of stuff, whether practices, beliefs, or physical objects, that in hard times would prove valueless and be soon abandoned? How much of our so-called social progress depends on the breakdown and replacement of these artificially menaingful cultural components and artifacts, and avoidance of permanence, depth, durability, true value?

Think of the contents of the average dollar store, say during some holiday season or other. Count necessities and what’s the total?

Think of what’s in your house, those carefully selected items large and small that someone in the household deemed necessary to make a home. Unplug the power for a week, and what’s left? Are you still using the soap, but no longer the clothes washer? Using the wood stove instead of the toaster, the wooden spoon instead of the mixer, the sun and the sound of birdsong rather than the wakeup alarm? Those hand tools and the fishing tackle are looking pretty useful, along with those buckets, that wagon, quality shoes. No radio, no news feed, so you get together with the neighbors to make hay and conversation while the sun shines, and plan the garden. Are you walking down to the farm market for exercise and carrying stuff instead of going to the gym? Thinking about which building will serve as the local community hangout, and who will play the next dance?

What about the books in your library? Copies of ones you read in your youth in which you now see the flaws, works of reference no longer relevant mixed in with some which will always be useful? Cherished life-changing volumes that helped you to see, really see, showed you life, broke through your pain, your egotism, your fear? Field guides? Now they won’t last the next few decades in this damp climate, so what will you keep? Do you have personal stories, family histories, songs and poems committed to memory? The screens are all off, the invasions into your living room by purveyors of vehicle love and the next entertainment series silenced. What will you want now? What’s worth working for?

And what do you have in your person, and here is where it might get a little uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t, no, not at all. Because eve if your place in the global economy has disappeared, you have the DNA for all you need for the local scene, and you’re in that wonderful gene pool of the community that still, even after all that domestication, can work it on this earth, at least enough.

Who are the folks that make up your neighborhood? As the electricity grid decays, the gas runs out, the refugees arrive, who are the pillars of the community now? Not the department store CEO or the hedge fund manager? Not the real estate broker or bank manager, or even the famous local actor or football hero. There’s the bicycle mechanic, the farmer, the philosopher, the minders of children, the story tellers. The builders, teachers, caregivers, preachers, prophets, and poets. The mail carrier, the horseman, the herbalist and the healer. The hunter, the brewer, the worker of stone, of textiles. Hewers of wood and drawers of water. Wise elders and energetic youth.

And how was your holiday?

 

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Present kindness, future shock

A short run in the wild wind and spitting rain, partly to prove to my daughter that she didn’t really need a drive to school less than a mile away. It was wild and beautiful, a sea of tossing branches and flying twigs. But then I could change out of wet clothes and enjoy a warm gas fire afterward, while she’d have to endure damp clothes and hair dripping down her neck in class. So I drove her, along with so many other parents. Still, seems a matter of commitment to principle, which in this case would involve purchasing some excellent rain gear for her, and maybe adding a to-go hot chocolate as extra incentive. And a cash bonus (a deposit on her dreamed-of horse, or maybe a hydrogen fuel cell car). I’d offer to walk with her–I think she likes to be asked, though has not accepted so far, even if her dog goes too. And does the school make it easy to hang dry dripping, low emissions transportation gear? Should I offer to get a tandem bike and taxi her that way? Ah–I know a sure-fire method: riding by horse! Alas, the community stables are gone and have not yet returned.

 

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Pee Pot Chronicles #2: No progress after Week 1

Continued from Urine, You’re On!

The morning after my resolution to build and deploy an environmentally friendly urine depository for the “master” bathroom. I sit in my usual spot, and look at the only corner where there’s room for it. And I hear the “Change back!” voices. They say, “What? Mom, no one does that!” It is all in my head, as I haven’t shared my plans in an I mean it” kind of way. I feel tension, but still a little boldness, and I breathe, thinking, “I made a commitment, and I’m going through with it. All beginnings are hard.” The last is from Chaim Poyok, In the Beginning.

Speaking of master bedroom, sounds biblical, as in masters of creation. I always took that as like in Jesus’ parables, in which, when the real master comes home, the temporary master–the steward–gets in deep do-do if he hasn’t been taking care of the vineyard and paying fair wages. So this will be an appropriate master bedroom project. I am responsible for what I know.

Yet here it is Thursday and I have done nothing but think. I realize I have been unrealistic to add in a new project at this time, while I am helping at swim meets, refinishing cabinets, making hats and doing extra shopping and wrapping. Still, if I have time I’ll go to the ReStore this weekend and look for a suitable bench to modify. I have disappointed myself.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Technology

 

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Urine, You’re on!

So cynical, perfectionist, always looking for what’s wrong with the way I and most other middle class folks live. The things we use, technologies on which we depend, kilometers we drive (or miles, for that minority backwards folk called the USA and UK–oops, I did it again), the expectations of the good life, ignoring for the most part people who can’t reach it no matter how hard they work.Except we have compassion if they live very, very far away. Such as in Africa. We give money to them thanks to Bono. Not to group all of “Africa” as if it’s homogeneous, full of Africans and mysterious hot diseases. There is also South Africa, which has white people (and took a long time to recover, too!). And Egypt–no way, is that a part of Africa?

Always I harp on problems. Isn’t it time to offer solutions? Yes, I like solutions, don’t you? Except you’re not going to like this, and neither do I. From what I can tell, we’ll be able to make huge strides toward solving the energy and water crises (to start somewhere) by all becoming anal. For example, every morning I get up, rinse my mouth guard, and take a pee. How can I make that a better process, I ask myself? Maybe I rinse the guard with rainwater and dump that in my watering can, and maybe instead of using a flush toilet I pee into sawdust (from the local wood shop, delivered for a tip by children pulling wagons), flip the handle and it drops down into the compost pile below, like one of those hatches in an airplane toilet except without the sucking sound. It’s nitrogen-rich, you see. But I mustn’t be taking antibiotics or eating anything with heavy metals in it. Someone once told me that was the reason we can’t use human waste as fertilizer, so we’d better make sure.

That’s the first five minutes. You see, there are so many little events in life where we can make a difference. But there are certain barriers to each one. The composting and reuse of urine as fertilizer, for example, has a psychological barrier in that most people think it’s gross, I mean grosser than it is necessary (the other gross things we do, we see as necessary, so they don’t bother us as long as they don’t show up in movies or books). But I’m sure we’ll change our minds eventually, when natural gas-derived and mined fertilizers become too expensive, so why not just switch over now based on practical logic, matter over mind? Do we really need to jet activists and government officials around to conferences, debate environmental bills, create educational campaigns, wait for the big plumbing corporations to retool so they can get in on the updates (“Wal-Mart sells pee pots for less”), before we do the right thing?

I for one don’t care if it’s gross–not any more, since I’ve been living with this idea and have got used to it. It’s way less gross than all the diapers I’ve had to deal with and than picking up dog poop, anyway. I’d be proud to work on setting up a waterless pee pot in my bathroom (though I’d want it outside in the summer). But I’m intimidated by my children and husband’s probable reaction, to tell you the truth. Shall I do it anyway, put my sawdust where my fertilizer is, and just update you on how it goes down at my house? I feel bold. I’ll do it. Back in a week. If you want to join me, here’s my plan (any refinements you can offer are welcome):

Toilet!

  1. Nail together or adapt a simple bench with hole, strongly constructed and nicely refinished with marine shellac (I have my tools out already from another project). Covered in front, open in back. Room for extra stores of sawdust. Stir stick?
  2. Install toilet seat on top. I’ll use the one from the not-yet hauled toilet in the back storage area. WIth a prop for seat-lifters.
  3. Put sawdust in bucket or tray below.

I’ll have to experiment with the right amount of sawdust and the dimensions of the apparatus to minimize splashing, of course, and for now I’ll do all the dumping and refilling.

Wish me luck!

Week 1 update

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in How to

 

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November 29th, 2013: Happy Buy Nothing Day!

Not sure how to embed, but here’s the link to Adbusters.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Culture & Society, Economics

 

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Welcome to Eaarth

I’m reading Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, getting an update on how our planet’s systems are already on Tilt, already irreversibly different, while we muddle around, send our leaders jet-setting to climate change initiative conferences, reading in the papers how they fret and fuss about who can and will pay the price of even responding to present crises, let alone preparing for the next. Taking notes, hoping to have an influence in my circles. I am floored, thinking about it all, asking what do we do, and how do we get everyone on board faster, faster? How do we act justly toward the poor countries who are most affected by our voracious consumption, our addiction to growth, our willful blindness to the laws of physics and ecology? Quickly, before mammalian survival instincts take over and the higher human values of justice and equity get trampled? Quickly, while “the preservation of the American way of life” is still positively correlated to preserving lives in other places? How do we divert our tremendous drive and creativity away from making junk and trouble to solving our problems and creating a new paradigm for our culture?

Between chapters I am aware of the irony, the hypocrisy as I drive one son forty miles to a swim meet and back (and out to a coffee shop for my treat between events). And why is it the trucks and SUVs seem to be the most likely to be going ten mph over the speed limit, anyway? Because SUVs and new pickups have such a smooth, quiet ride, drivers can’t hear the pistons pumping, the engine laboring, so it feels like nothing at all to press down the pedal, can still hear Pink Floyd crystal clear on the Bluetooth audio. Me in my ’93 Accord, I can feel and hear that gas burning (and some of the oil, too), and it makes me want to cut down. Lord, save us from too much luxury, insulation from realities we need to know about.

How about a series of training seminars for auto salespeople, helping them realize it’s not responsible to sell big machinery to people for commuting down the freeway, getting them to seed the whole auto-buying clientele with the idea that we all want to power down. FERC warning labels on low fuel economy vehicles too, like cigarettes, if people insist on buying them. Only takes ten per cent to believe it, and it’ll spread like wildfire (whether it’s true or not–see the article). Sell gas-guzzlers by permit only, with special controls on weekly mileage and speed. Discounts for shared ownership in the New Sharing Economy. Neighborhoods, through the new online neighborhood social networks, for example, organize the ownership or lease and booking of the heavy duty truck for hauling recyclable metals to the recyclers, prunings to the community composting site, a load of lumber to the building site.

The next day I drive my son a few miles down the freeway to early practice, and go back and pick him up an hour and a half later. I go for a run before breakfast lest I become too flabby and weak from living my sedentary lifestyle. Then I drive my son to the bus stop because our bikes were stolen, and so he can avoid straining his back carrying heavy textbooks and swim gear.  My husband drives our daughter to her school because she stayed up late doing homework after procrastinating all afternoon with her smart phone. Then he drives alone sixty-five miles to work for the week. At noon I drive my younger son to Phys. Ed. class so he can stay in shape too, and I take another walk to drop off a check to pay for my weekly exercise class. At five I drive a few miles to the high school athletics meeting, where we hear about the positive life lessons the kids learn in high school sports, and find out about all the swim meets we’ll all be driving to and watching in nice heated indoor pools.

Time to get more serious about using my bike, when I’m not hauling bulk groceries or working through my checklist that takes me all over town, or picking up kids, dropping off kids. Time to stop ferrying the kids around to everything, time to say “Sorry, here’s the bus schedule.” I’ve been trying to resist that pressure, explaining why I’m trying to limit driving, why when my teens get their licenses, they won’t automatically get a spare car and not have to take the bus.

As I contemplate the eventual spiraling down of the oil-powered economy, the abandonment of extraneous or dilapidated and unfixable facilities and infrastructure and wasteful habits in order to focus on basic needs, I’m thinking, what are essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes that have value in all times and places? Getting adequate food – fishing, hunting and gathering, food storage, preservation and preparation. Getting clothed and sheltered – making coverings and dwellings from local materials. Having fun together/building community-music, poetry, story telling, dance, service. Staying healthy – first aid, medicine, nutrition, safety, defense, peace making. Parenting – raising children to be content and capable. Teaching. Writing. Woodworking, ceramics, metal work, fiber craft. Natural history. Spiritual guidance. Teamwork, leadership, respect. And we will need plenty of knowledge and wisdom and we might not be able to Google it, so I won’t get rid of my books just yet.

“Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.”

I listen to the news, and now I have enhanced filtration that makes a mockery of the economic policies explained by politicians there. The push for more oil pipeline and rail transport, more new overseas markets, moving to an even more global economy. In TV it’s ads for new cars, Black Friday specials on housewares, sports gear, toys and games, the newest gadgets. The jingle bells all ring hollow. Time to retrain everyone, time to reform the whole system–what we produce, what we promote, what we sell, to whom we sell it. In a positive way, of course, not through pressure and panic. Sharing the vision–we have to work together to figure out our common bottom line and make sure it all adds up to something positive.

This year at the family Thanksgiving I took charge of the compostables and recyclables for the first time. I live in a green city and have extra space in my bins, and my in-laws live in a non-recycling, non-composting kind of county, so it was something I could do to help. First year I stepped up to do that–leftover food, paper cups, aluminum foil, and plastic water bottles (Grandma needed to simplify on dishwashing this year–good for her) were all going into the same bin and I swooped in to quietly separate them. I had never done this before, been reluctant after in the past being what I would call undiplomatic about my green habits when I first came into my husband’s family. I was seen as extreme then. But it went very smoothly with a minimum of digging in the garbage, and the cat got her treats set aside too. Garbage reduced by two thirds.

I’m concerned, yes–very, but I’m looking forward to making myself useful on this tough, new planet.

 

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Doorbuster sales backfire

30% off! 50% off! Now 75 to 80% off! Makes me wonder how much value the stuff really has. If it was wilting lettuce, day-old bread or over ripening bananas, it would make sense. How much of the markups are to pay for the avalanche of ad mailings retailers consider necessary to stay competitive? Do I really need several pages of newsprint ads for every big box store in town every day? How much for overhead costs of maintaining mostly empty stores on non-sale days? Turns me off shopping is what it does. I half-heartedly clip coupons, store them in my car and let them expire. No worries, the discounts just get deeper. If I really need a few things (and no matter what the discounts, I’m to the point where there are certain things I will never need), I’ll just go in a get them, saving the time of reading the ads and planning my route, the money of driving all over town and buying extra things I notice on the way, and the stress of going out on big sale days. If I pay a little more for individual items, I consider it a simplicity tax, because over all I’m spending less in time and money. My favorite bargains are at the charity-run second-hand stores, anyway.

I looked at some research on retail markups, and here’s the list I found on wisebread.com:

  • Prescription Meds:  200-5600% (revolting that these should be at the top)
  • Glasses:  800-1000% (Does that seem right? Is that for all the “free” adjustments later?)
  • Furniture:  200-400%
  • Shoes:  100-500%
  • Clothing: 100-350% (highest for jeans)
  • Cosmetics: 60-80%
  • Cell Phones: 8-10%
  • New cars:  8-10%
  • Groceries: 5-25% (higher for luxury items)

Here’s to a world where manufacturers make good, useful things without polluting and pay workers a fair wage, where retailers charge a consistent, reasonable price for minimally packaged goods advertised truthfully through the web or other low cost, low energy means, and where every community has sources of locally relevant products and skills. Some items could be rotated by season if folks don’t need them very often. Others could be made to order. Music, arts, and crafts could arise from local culture and express true personal, community, and regional soul, and the “entertainment industry” could die a natural death. Here’s to a world where communities would share the wisdom of history and resist a return to less resilient and more global economy.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Culture & Society, Economics

 

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