I had two occasions today to explain how good life is. First, with a friend who had nothing but complaints about her life. Next, with a friend who asked: “How are you?” Well, let’s see. In the morning I had a luxurious hour to read an intriguing essay on Fermi’s Paradox and how intelligence came to be in the warming sun with a homemade cappuccino by my side.

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I planted our pumpkin sign (Amie and I – Amie with a mouthful of candy - painted it yesterday) and reflected on my freedom to play with this language. It made a  neighbor who was passing by, smile. No punkins yet, so far.

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The rose hips are finally all cut up and drying on the rack (will write more about what I’m doing with them later).

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I spent the bulk of the day extracting honey, lining up jar after jar, and didn’t mind the kitchen getting sticky. Talk of the sweet spot! I also went into the bees, giving them two supers full of dripping, extracted frames. It was warm enough for them to be out, and it will be again tomorrow, so they can go to work taking all those oozings and storing them for winter, before I take the supers back off in a few days.

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I hugged one of the older hens who is all but naked after a quick, late molt. Poor thing. Collected three eggs.

And int he evening over tea I got to talk pottery with my friend and explained how I love it that, if I have to do dishes anyway, I might as well have made them myself. I do miss wheel throwing! Then she gifted one of her creations to me, and one to Amie!

I’m not going to shovel snow because it will all have melted away by Monday. That’s what I’ve decided.

I’m nibbling from the warm cannellini dish which was meant for dinner. On a low fire fry finely sliced garlic with thyme, pepper and salt in a good amount of olive oil, until the garlic is just brown (*almost* burnt). Add cannellini beans, heat until just warm,  add a little lemon juice (just detectable to the tongue). Toss. Eat.

Bread dough is rising next to the radiator.

The snow has let up. Four inches, I’d say. My street hasn’t been plowed yet.

Glenn Gould is playing Bach.

DH brought me a cappuccino with a gorgeous microfoam leaf.  This is his espresso machine. Yes, we’re particular about our coffee. But I have to specify that DH can’t make espresso from water. I do love M’s remark at the end, which expresses my sentiment exactly.

Amie is proofreading this as I write. We’re going to read a Moomin book now.

We’ve seen fluffy snow, the kind you can shovel for hours without feeling (too) put out. The sticky snow that clings to snowballs and snowmen. The piled on snow, foot upon foot, with a layer of ice on top, that you sink through but your daughter doesn’t. And  the kind of snow that has dwindled in the recent thaw, a mess of slushiness and compacted hardness.

I had to trudge through that kind of snow today to the apiary. After my last inspection I forgot to put the big rock on top of the hive, and we’ve been having gusts up to 40 mph. So out I went, on the snow. A  couple of steps slip on the rock hard ice. Your next step shaves a foot of your height as you suddenly punch through. Not having suspected that, you are already moving to take another step, and your shin hits the sudden wall of ice, your ankle twists in the hole.

Ouch.

Pulling back you lose your balance and start windmilling your arms and cry out.  Down you go, on your backside, s’il vous plait. This creates a tight-fitting bucket chair, from which you can only extricate yourself by rolling over onto your side and getting up on your knees.

Luckily only DH witnessed the shenanigans. I forgive him his chuckle.

This is my least favorite snow.

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I organized the shed – it gets to be a dump, over winter – and in a moment of defiance put the snow shovels away. Do you think I jinxed it?

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Leigh form 5 Acres and a Dream awarded me the Honest  Scrap Award. It’s my first award ever. These are the rules:

  1. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs to give this award to that you feel to be brilliant in content and design. That’s the toughest part.
  2. Show the 7 winner’s links on your blog and leave them a comment informing them that they have been given the “Honest Scrap.” That’s the easiest part.
  3. List 10 honest things about yourself that people may not know.

So here goes:

  1. I was born in Congo (it was called Zaire back then), where my parents were doing missionary work – my dad taught math at a country high school. We left when I was one, so I don’t recall that adventure. I grew up in (Dutch-speaking) Antwerp, Belgium, the oldest of two. I moved to Boston in 1998. The idea was to stay for a year to do my Masters (in Philosophy) but I never, or at least haven’t, left. I haven’t been back to Belgium in over three years! We’re trying to make it work this winter.
  2. I like being alone. DH will call it like it is and say I’m antisocial. True, if you let me I’ll just potter around here on my hill and be totally happy. But I do love the company of good friends and good friends-to-be and am never more thrilled than when they stay over for a meal or a sleep-over. Then I will molly-coddle them to make them come back more often.
  3. If I didn’t have my wonderful family, I’d be a drifter. I’d live out of my car, on a dime, and travel this great continent seeking out nature. I discovered this about myself when I moved here. I traded my beloved medieval Europe for the adventure of America’s wide-open spaces, dense forests and mountain peaks…
  4. I am obsessed with nuclear threat but am careful not to indulge myself too often. It goes back to when I saw The Day After on television as a young teen: it sent me into a tailspin of depression for months. Now I sometimes consciously seek it out, because in some ways it makes me feel more alive. But I’m careful. I know my limits.
  5. I’m addicted to the written word. I must read and I must write, every day, or I go crazy. The most gruesome moment in Cormack McCarthy’s The Road was not the nuclear disaster or the cannibals or the dying world or the physical and emotional deterioration, etc. etc., but the scene where the protagonist looks at a sodden book and can’t remember what once attracted him so to reading and learning. Chilling.
  6. I despair a lot, yet I go through life smiling and my smile is sincere. How do I do it? I don’t know, I just don’t see how a gloomy face could help… Same with my blog: it’s mostly chipper and the gloom only comes through once in a while. Whenever I write an entry about how scared and sad I am I over-write it and then it doesn’t feel right, so I nix it.
  7. The stuff we do here (like the Riot and Freeze Yer Buns etc.) gives me a lot of personal satisfaction, as in it’s fun and makes for a healthier lifestyle, both physically and spiritually. But I don’t think any of it will help to make the future better, unless we start something like Transition in our towns.
  8. I’m lousy at most homesteading things – you should see my needlework (cough) – but I don’t care. I’ll get better with practice.
  9. I walk away from arguments. I’m the most non-confrontational person I know. If I stick with an argument I soon get upset to the point of tears and often feel physically sick. I think that’s why I walked away from an academic career: even arguing metaphysics was just not in me.
  10. I’m a procrastinator but I have some ways of overcoming that. I’m big on making TO DO lists and will always include something I’ve already done, then will tick that off and that gets me going. And sometimes I will post something on the blog as having been accomplished, while it hasn’t yet, and then I’ll feel so guilty, I just have to do it!

Well, I wanted to make an upbeat list, but I guess many of these points seem rather negative and gloomy. What can I say: it’s honest scrap.

I nominate, in alphabetical order:

  1. Faith Acre Farm
  2. Handbook of Nature Study
  3. Humble Garden
  4. Living and Learning
  5. Pile of Omelays
  6. Stony Run Farm
  7. Throwback at Trapper Creek

Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

This month there were no shifts in the household: just the three of us, which makes the reckoning much easier.

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Amie feeds the compost tea some molasses

Gasoline: 27%

This stayed the same as last month. The school year hasn’t started yet, so DH is spending more time working from home and Amie isn’t daily being driven to school and back, all of which save on gas:

33.9/3 gallons of gasoline = 27% of the US National Average

Electricity: 8%

306 KWH = 8% of the US National Average

We’re now routinely careful with lights and appliances and we’re inching down (from 10% last month), but honestly I doubt we can get it any lower without investing in some expensive solar battery-charging equipment. But then again DH is looking into building a deluxe solar oven, which will save some more electricity, especially as the temperatures drop and stews and soups come back on the menu – though we hope to use the woodstove cook top for those. Anyway, right now it’s just chipping away.

I’ve been canning a lot, and getting that 23 quart canner up to 10 lbs of pressure really puts my electric range to work. That will show up in next month’s Riot, though.

What strikes me now about this number is how easy it was to get our usage down to within 10% . We run our laptops all the time, and we’re not ruining our eyes to candlelight at night. I run my dishwasher every other day, and my washer once a week (never my dryer)… That is, we’re not deprived of electricity at all. With a little bit of effort everyone in the States could quite easily get down to, say, 20% of what they’re using right now. All it takes is some vigilance.

Heating oil and Warm Water: 22%

13.6 gallons of oil = 22% of the US National Average

This is down from last month but warm water is still our Achilles heel. We still haven’t insulated the boiler and the pipes – one thing after another happens and distracts us from such simple measures. No excuses: it will happen this month!

Trash: 4% or 493%?

The big bill finally came in: we had rented a dumpster for the trash generated by our remodeling project that we weren’t able to recycle.  We don’t know how much it weighed after we were done with it, only that it was under 2 tons. 2 tons, that’s 4000 lbs! I can’t  believe it was anywhere near that, so I estimate it was about a ton, but I really have no idea.  So let’s say a ton, the dumpster plus our usual household garbage, which came in at 5 lbs per person per month.

666 lbs of garbage per person this month = a whopping 493% of the US National Average

Ouch. Does the US National Average include construction debris, dumped cars, etc? If not, then I can write:

5 lbs per person per month (= 4% of the US National Average)

But it’s only fair to count it. Most of it ended up in the landfill, after all.

Water: 17%

During our brief dry spell I watered only with rain water, and all our compost tea was made with rain water (as it should: the chlorine in the drinking water kills the benificials). And at the beginning of this month we installed our new flushing method, which paid off: we lowered our water consumption even more (from 20% last month), to

506 gallons of water per person = 17% of the US National Average

Consumer Goods: 10% ?

Stuff we bought but that I won’t count,  because they are for purposes in accordance with the Riot: canning rings and lids and some canning jars – though most I got through Freecycle and Craig’s List – and the canner itself, of course; a substantial investment in our new wood burning stove,  one of the most efficient stoves on the market and to be used judiciously;  the (poorly designed and useless) solar lamp we purchased  from – and will return to – IKEA.

Most of the furnishing in the renovated room are either stuff we had or things we got from the landfill (a nice desk and a chair). But we did have to buy some tools and lot of building materials for it. We also replaced our beaten up old porch roof with a new roof – which necessitated a surprising amount of caulk. Sigh. I hadn’t so far, but now that I am counting the renovation waste, I’m thinking I might have to count these costs as well… And then we’re talking several thousands – sometimes things are so necessary that you just stop keeping count.

If I’m not counting these, then I could write $80, spent on books for Mama, DH and Amie:

10% of the US National Average

Food

It’s been a while since I visited this category. It still boggles the mind how to calculate it, but I can at least say that we’re eating a lot out of the garden. I am canning a lot, so that will lessen our impact during the months to come. (See the last Independence Days)

But our garden failed to produce onions,garlic, peppers, lettuce… Those I buy at the Farmer’s Market, along with the honey: all local. I have many plans for improving the garden next Spring.

It all feels good, but we can do so much more. For instance, buy bulk wheat berries and grind our own flour, or the least I could do is bake my own bread. Get chickens so we can make our own pasta. Get a chain of homemade yogurt going, with local milk. Start mushrooming. Find a good storage place for the many potatoes we hope to harvest, and for apples from a local orchard…

So many more steps to ween ourselves off the supermarket, which is increasingly more expensive. Only last week I bought a gallon of organic milk: $6.99! But if we had a couple of goats…

It’s raining which is good: the soil needs it. So I’m stuck inside, with some time to catch up on research, and to show off my creations from my first session of wheel-thrown pottery!

Here they are, thrown, dried, kilned and glazed:

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Their beautiful colors (glazes made by my teacher, Lisa Dolliver) are hard to capture in photographs. I love each imperfection, and the fact that they never turned out to be what I had intended them to be. I sit down at the wheel and play, letting the clay dictate. I signed up for another session and this time will try to be more goal-oriented: try to recreate something, for instance, try to get its shape and volume right.

Yesterday I made two plates/platters, which is great fun to do, all that compressing. I also still need to get the hang of collaring, which looks like so much fun. And my wedging leaves a lot to be desired… I think I shall move “pottery wheel” up on my Tools/Toys list.

Sit a Spell: Amie and mama's corner, November 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten
Sit a Spell: Amie and Mama's corner

I just submitted this picture to the Sit a Spell pool at Flickr (started by SouleMama and Blue Yonder). This is where I sit (in the larger of the two chairs) while my daughter draws or writes. I play with her, we chat, or I read my own book, or just look outside at the Fall colors (at the moment), and sometimes I draw her in my journal.