Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

Months 7 – 9, that is, May to and including July. So I’ve been slacking a bit, not on the practice – I hope – but on the monitoring and recording. Then again, if your practice isn’t wholly a routine yet, monitoring and recording may well be essential (not sufficient, of course, but necessary)… Let’s see  if that is the case for us.

Our household has been in flux quite a bit. We said goodbye to our (ultimately very energy conscious) co-houser around about the first of June, at which point we gained one grandmother, and two weeks later added one grandfather and an aunt, all staying a bit into July – and all were more or less energy-conscious too (*, cf. water, below). The last week of July we enjoyed the company of two friends. That, on average 4 in May, 5 in June and 3.5 in July… O my, this is stretching my statistical abilities somewhat, especially since the Riot calculator only reckons whole persons. To make it easy, I’ll just count 4 throughout the 3 months.  Phew.

Gasoline: 26 %

With school finished at the end of May, there were no more daily trips to Amie’s preschool to pick her up. And with the University also on Summer schedule DH doesn’t drive to the shuttle so often, but when he does go into work he has to drive all the way into Boston because the shuttle too is on hiatus. Then there were trips to and from the city airport to pick up our guests, and our trip to Cape Cod which necessitated that we drive two cars. Our house project also involved many trips to the local Home Depot. And what with all this rain I’ve not been biking at all. That makes for:

10.7 gallons/person/month = 26% of the US National Average

Electricity: 10%

The lights in the basement were turned off at the end of May and, hooray, it immediately showed on our electricity bill. The days being longer also helps, though I wished we had had better weather so we could have grilled more.

360.6 KWh = 10% of the US National Average

Heating Oil and Warm Water: 27%

It’s not like it has been summer, but it hasn’t been cold either – chilly, yes, sometimes, but not so as to necessitate turning on the heat. Still, we needed warm water and so the boiler consumed:

16.7 gallons of oil = 27% of the US National Average

That’s only for hot water! How will we ever get this down to 10%?

This shows that hot water is a large factor in our heating oil consumption. Let’s make work of the solar hot water heater, and wWe should also make work of wrapping the hot water tank and the pipes soon.

As for heating (in the future), good news: our new woodstove will be installed in a couple of weeks!

Trash: 7%

I am pleased to report that our Town has started a PAYT (Pay-As-You-Throw) program, in which you can only bring special garbage bags to the dump, which cost $5 for 5 14 gall bags and $8.75 for 5 30 gall bags (this on top of a year’s sticker fee at $155). I told the guy at the landfill how happy I was about PAYT and he was surprised: “Most people have only complained!” Well, it will make everyone more conscious of what they throw away. The majority of my town uses private haulers, but no doubt they to will soon be moving to PAYT.

As for the usual household trash we’re still on track. We are ultra conscious recyclers, composters, and packaging often figures into our decisions to purchase something. Just a few days ago I complained to a vendor about the huge cardboard box that he sent me, filled with one slim book and about 2 cubic feet of bagged air.  I stash almost everything that could be  remotely useful as a seedling pot, container for nuts and bolts, or crayons. So though I don’t weigh our garbage anymore, I’d say that we have been throwing out

10 lbs. of garbage a person a month = 7% of the US National Average

and I doubt it was even that. With these new bags I’ll try to weigh in again, just to make sure.

But there’s a big BUT: we have still to account for the guest room renovation, which is now more or less wrapped up. In the end we had to rent a dumpster. We’re still waiting for the bill which, will tell us how many tons (ouch) we put in there. I’ll count that in once that bill comes in, and then we’ll see that needle shoot up…

Water: 20%

614 gallons of water = 20% of the US National Average

Needless to say, we’ve hardly needed to open the tap for watering our garden, but…

… (*) our family house guests took short showers, and were quite water conscious, but unfortunately they could not  be persuaded to do the selective flushing (and, ahum, euh, nitrogen collection was not even mentioned). We had several discussions about this, and one of my arguments was that clean, potable water is as precious, if not more fundamental to life, as food – something they would not ever see wasted. The argument that “you should finish your food because so many children in the world don’t have enough to eat” also counts for water. Still, personal and cultural notions about hygiene run very deep. But looking at these numbers now I think we managed to find a good balance.

Consumer Goods: 20%

We purchased mostly and almost exclusively tools and materials for our house project (the guestroom), and A big purchase was the wood stove, but I won’t count those. I did buy some new clothes for Amie, as we no longer seem at the end of the hand-me-down pipeline we had come to rely on. , but again I did not, however, take notes… my bad. I would guess though that we did the same as usual, that’s about

20% of the US National Average


A couple of days ago Amie was helping me in the garden. She was raking away the weeds I had just hoed – though raking around is closer to the truth.  There was a lot of chopping with her little rake, too close to my face. There was also yelling – “Go away, weeeeeds, go away!” She was not wearing a shirt – adamantly refused to wear a shirt. Her hair, though newly cut, bounced wildly. Several times I had to remind her when she stepped onto the small buckwheat field close to where we worked.

A neighbor who has been interested in our gardening – which is visible from the street – was walking her dog and came up our driveway to say hello. We chatted while Amie transferred water around, from bucket to bucket, getting the path and herself quite muddy. Amie explained:

- That’s why I didn’t want to wear a shirt, because I’m working with water.

Very sensible.

My neighbor said, quietly:

- I’ve been watching and… isn’t Amie in your way?

I looked at her in surprise, and said:

- In the garden she’s as much in my way as the tomatoes, or the lettuces!

My neighbor smiled and we talked of how children really should be in the garden, growing just like the vegetables and the flowers do.

Barry Lopez wrote: “One of the great dreams of man must be to find some place between the extremes of nature and civilization where it is possible to live without regret.” Could my garden by such a place, for me, for Amie?


DH is changing into this PJs, Amie looks on and asks:

- What are these?

- My chest muscles.

- No, these.

- Nipples.

- What are they used for?

(Snicker from Mama in the other room.)

- (Laughs too) Nothing. On me they’re useless.

- Then how did they grow there?

- They grow on all humans. They make us mammals.

- Why are you a camel?


The rain barrels were finally installed, all four of them, on Sunday, and for once I looked forward to the rain on Monday, which filled them all up in 15 minutes! We have a fifth (metal) barrel, a well-made one which we got from a neighbor, but before I use it I want to ask him about the paint he used on it, whether it could have lead in it.


I slashed down the potato plants in the Keuka Gold and Red Norland bed, and have taken enough potatoes for this evening’s meal. I will harvest that bed piecemeal until I need it for planting something else -. The problem is that we don’t have a good root cellar area yet for storing potatoes. There are also green beans, Swiss chard, onion tops, some slug-eaten kale and parsley.

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The two larger eggplants have started blossoming, so we’ll have eggplants if the weather cooperates as of now. The tomato plants are looking good too, though nothing is close to ripe yet. Only the cherry tomatoes look like they might be a bust: the plants are 5 feet tall but all stem, and very few leaves and flowers. I need to harvest the basil, which has finally taken off, for pesto for freezing. The Provider and Maxibel beans are doing well, the mature ones are yielding every day and the new ones are up, next to the peas. Only the lima beans aren’t producing, at all – maybe it’s too early.

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Amie has been helping a lot, carrying the harvest basket, picking beans and eating them too! Here she is moving a different kind of harvest along…



These are today’s pickings: green beans (mostly Provider), some mint and thyme, snipped onions tops and some more Swiss Chard. In a few weeks I’ll be laughing at the amounts in this picture (I hope)…


Amie was picking too, buckwheat flowers in our patch up front. Some of the buckwheat has gone to seed, so I slashed it down and it is now decomposing on the spot. Once it’s ready I’ll till it in and sow more buckwheat, which I’ll take down before it goes to seed again. Then I’ll replace with winter rye or some such winter cover crop. The idea is to get those beds ready for herbs and berry bushes next Spring.

Tomatoes are finally fattening and laundry is drying on the line. All the radishes were eaten by some little worms, but then none of us like radishes (I planted them as a companion crop). It’s fun hunting for beans, and I like how fat the fava’s are getting (not ready yet). I sowed more beans, peas, broccoli, beets, radishes, carrots, and several kinds of lettuce, sorrel, purslane and mizuna.

We’re ordering our wood stove soon. It will be a Lopi Revere, an insert with a cooktop. They’re having a promotion till the end of the month (15% off and the blower is free), so we’re jumping on it! There’s certainly enough wood for three average winters – I know because I stacked it mostly myself!

And yes, you saw correctly: Amie had her first haircut. No more wild child, or rather, no more wild child hairdo…

I harvested the fingerling potatoes because I suspected Late Blight. If they had had one more month, they would’ve made for a good yield. Now… not so much. Let’s just say that 2.5 lbs of seed potato went in and less came out.


You do the math! And please don’t call them cute. Potatoes from my garden may be many things, but they’re not cute! But o my, were they yummy. So was the other dish, with homegrown onion tops and the first Swiss Chard – like butter, so smooth.

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That dish also had homegrown basil in it, though it made for scrawny pickins, as the slugs have been doing a number on them. But speaking of slugs, let’s not speak of them again, as the iron phosphate seems to have done the trick. Only my herbs are suffering, so I’ll apply the copper strips around the base of the shelves they’re on.

I also finally got round to saving the beans (Lima, Provider green beans and Maxibel haricots verts) from their prone position after the pounding rains – which, for now, have relented.


I got the nylon trellis at the garden center (way too expensive) and stretched it around the 1/2 inch pvc pipes which I got at Home Depot (at about $3 a pop). The latter are just the right length, bend all the way round with enough tension to keep them there, though I added some brackets. These hoops will be great for Fall and Winter, when the crops need more protection: I’ll throw agricultural cloth over them – still to buy, any suggestions?

As reported earlier Amie and I spent several hours on Sunday potting up some flowers. I caved and bought them at 50% off at the local garden center – flowers were not my priority, and I was missing their colors. Now our front door and balcony look colorful, at least. Amie had a blast, and the morning after she could be found sitting among her flowers, waiting for the birds to come and eat some seeds out of her hand.


Today was a great day. Sunny, not too hot, and I felt on the mend from that cold Amie brought home. I made a push for it and finally finished the last two beds (nos. 10 and 13), stuffing no. 10 with seeds. No. 13 will home to a bunch of compost crops.  I also resowed some Kale and filled in the gaps left by the unfortunate Banana fingerlings and the French green lentils (pulled them, they didn’t grow nearly fast enough). As always, you can see my updated garden plan with all the crops here, at Plangarden. {UPDATE: bummer, this no longer seems to work, will try to fix it soon} {UPDATE: yipee, it works again!}

This is a long but uncomplicated and happy post ;)


Yesterday Amie told me” “I want to see all the people and the cities and all the things in the whole world, and listen to all the music” [we were listening to a Mozart symphony]. “I want to be a music listener, and an artist, and a science too. And a drawing maker.”

She has been doing a lot of arts and crafts, especially while her artist grandmother was here. There were some collaborative pieces, some parallel work.



One evening we all sat around the table and drew each other. So much fun! The first is Amie’s portrait of Dada (her grandfather) of that evening, the second she made later on. Notice the extra circumferences and lines:

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She made those same “extra” lines in this drawing of Piglet (from Pooh):


Such emphasizing is also visible in this next one, which she is still working on: the Bog Monster!


I love that piggy nose, those red, goggling eyes, and its humongous body all around it!

She is obviously experimenting with several techniques and “visions”. Sometimes there is a great attempt at naturalistic realism.  In the second picture, above, Thhaam was painting from this picture of a moth that I took in May, and Amie also drew it, and the stone it is “sitting on”. She got all its wing parts:

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Funny, how she is still drawing from a concept of an animal. Same here, in this drawing of a dinosaur from her book. She got those facial  plates and scales right,  but insisted on the human-shaped body:3669879763_2dbe05d0e0

Later on she wanted to paint a cat and we gently prodded her about that body shape. “How many arms does a cat have?” “None!” “How many legs?” “Four!” Are the legs underneath its body?” “Yes.” The result has been stolen (taken by her aunt, I suspect, before I could properly record it!), but I asked her to draw another cat (this time without making any suggestion) and she obliged:


The small drawing in the bottom left corner is of a chair: a great experiment with dimension and perspective. Which brings me to this, the drawing of the ocean at Cape Cod (my apologies to the artist for the bad picture):

dscf5397That’s the sea, and the waves. When we were looking at a map of Cape Cod, I pointed out the land and the ocean. She asked: “But where is the sky?”

It must all look so different, in her head!

Lastly, here she is drawing with chalk on our driveway, hidden behind the flowers she and I spent two hours potting up yesterday (that’s another post):


But, on the other hand, she brought home a little bug from summer camp (of which she missed the last two days and was heartbroken). The doctor nearly sent us to the ER (all the way into Boston!), but she made a great recovery right there – the threat of a shot helped. Then she passed the bug on to Baba and myself.

What We Do button (c) Katrien Vander Straeten



Derrick Jensen’s thought-provoking article in Orion Magazine, Forget Short Showers” (July/August 2009):

The second problem [with wholly personal measures such as taking shorter showers, which Jensen finds "utterly insufficient"]—and this is another big one—is that it incorrectly assigns blame to the individual (and most especially to individuals who are particularly powerless) instead of to those who actually wield power in this system and to the system itself. Kirkpatrick Sale again: “The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can’t solve them.”

The third problem is that it accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.


This article in Scientific American (via the red mullet) about Phosphorous depletion:

Land ecosystems use and reuse phosphorus in local cycles an average of 46 times. The mineral then, through weathering and runoff, makes its way into the ocean, where marine organisms may recycle it some 800 times before it passes into sediments. Over tens of millions of years tectonic uplift may return it to dry land.

Harvesting breaks up the cycle because it removes phosphorus from the land. In prescientific agriculture, when human and animal waste served as fertilizers, nutrients went back into the soil at roughly the rate they had been withdrawn. But our modern society separates food production and consumption, which limits our ability to return nutrients to the land. Instead we use them once and then flush them away.

3. The poll I posted many months back: “Why do/ don’t you simplify/reduce/prepare for a Peak Oil/Global Warming future?” The results (voters could vote for more than one option):

62 votes for “I do”

a) 11 (18%): because I think if we all do this, we could turn this thing around

b) 6 (10%): I don’t know if we can save the day, but I simplify to prepare, in case it’s bad

c.) 12 (19%): It’s going to get bad, so I simplify to prepare (e.g. to get used to living with less)

d) 25 (40%): I simplify out of principle (e.g., take only what you need), regardless of the future

e) 7 (11%): I simplify because it saves me money

f) 1 (2%): Other

1 vote for “I don’t”

1 (100%): The problem is real, and the future bad, but my simplifying won’t change that


Jay Griffiths’ great article in the same Orion Magazine, about the Transition Initiative.

A WHILE AGO, I heard an American scientist address an audience in Oxford, England, about his work on the climate crisis. He was precise, unemotional, rigorous, and impersonal: all strengths of a scientist.

The next day, talking informally to a small group, he pulled out of his wallet a much-loved photo of his thirteen-year-old son. He spoke as carefully as he had before, but this time his voice was sad, worried, and fatherly. His son, he said, had become so frightened about climate change that he was debilitated, depressed, and disturbed. Some might have suggested therapy, Prozac, or baseball for the child. But in this group one voice said gently, “What about the Transition Initiative?”

[...] Many people feel that individual action on climate change is too trivial to be effective but that they are unable to influence anything at a national, governmental level. They find themselves paralyzed between the apparent futility of the small-scale and impotence in the large-scale. The Transition Initiative works right in the middle, at the scale of the community, where actions are significant, visible, and effective.

[...] Many people today experience a strange hollow in the psyche, a hole the size of a village.


I recognize that child. When I was around the same age (12) I watched The Day After, a movie that will, unfortunately, haunt me forever (I wrote about it before). Oil (and phosphate and…) depletion, global warming, economic collapse, famine migrations: they are the new nuclear threat – worse, they are fact, not threat – on top of the old nuclear threat. The well-informed twelve-year-old and this particular 29-year-old fall into despair.

So why do I do what I do? Why do I grow my own vegetables, make compost, line-dry my laundry? Why do I take short showers, close waste and energy loops on my “homestead”? Why am I on the lookout for a wood stove, a solar battery charger, a high pressure canner? Why am I drawing up plans for a root cellar and a chicken coop, and skimming through catalogs for fruit trees and berry bushes? Why do I refuse to “go shopping”? And despairing of ever having those rain barrels installed?

Not because I think we (as in you and I, all of us individuals) can turn this thing around – I agree with Jensen on that. I do it out of principle – I am convinced that to take only what you need is good for the soul. And to prepare my family, my daughter especially. But that’s not enough. It will not be enough if it’s just me, and on the other hand I feel helpless on the national, even state level (the level where a million to millions of lives and lifestyles are at stake).

So there it is, for me too: the middle ground. Transition. I too have a hole in my heart, the size of a town. This town. Working on and living in a Transition Town is, I think, the only way for me to live somewhat peacefully with what is happening.


This is from the two oaks we had taken down a few weeks ago. The stacks in the back are three deep. And all this is in addition to the pile from last year. We were glad to have the oak to the East taken away, especially after this was revealed:


Totally rotten and hollow inside! And it was leaning heavily over our house.

A couple of days ago Amie and I were having some milk and coffee (respectively) in a coffee shop when she spotted the large lump on the back of the head of the man sitting right behind her. I had seen it long before she did and was hoping she wouldn’t turn around because I dreaded what I knew would follow:

- Mama! Look at that man’s head!

The poor man was sitting not two feet away, but he was chatting with someone else, and if he heard her he didn’t show it. My own reaction (freeze!) must not have been satisfactory for Amie because she was about to repeat it, but then I put my finger to my lips and she stopped.

Then I took her out of the cafe and sat her down somewhere and explained:

- Mieke, when you see someone who looks a strange, just different than you and me, someone with a strange face, or a different kind of body, you shouldn’t say anything about it, okay? It might hurt their feelings if you remark on it, or if you stare.

She thought on it a bit and agreed, and we decided to make that a rule, the Grumble Rule, or Bumble Rule, I forgot precisely its name, and it changes anyway.

Today at the Farmer’s Market we had a test run. A lady came hobbling by, very slowly, resting on a cane. Amie stared at her, then said:

- I guess she must be really old.

Oh, well. Sigh. At least she said it quietly, to herself. I immediately said:

- Grumble Rule!

And she understood, and nodded, and held her finger to her lips.

Of course this can’t be the end of her lesson on how to deal with differentness, what is different, and what is normal, and what that means. But it’s a start.