Amie asked me the other day what would happen if no more electricity came out of the walls. The context was simple: she was upset that it took so long to recharge the batteries of her toy hamster. The fact that the possibility occurred to her shows, I believe, some of her Mama’s influence. And that she asked the question so matter-of-factly, so undaunted, just shows that she is the intrepid  five-year-old.

And there you have the essence of this post in a nutshell. But let me elaborate.

So, well, I was stumped for a second. I was torn as usual between my we-‘ll-make-it-work attitude and the oh-uh-zombie-hordes panic.

Amie was again ahead of me, proclaiming, “That would be just a problem, right, Mama? Not a predicament.”

Yes, my 5-year-old knows that difference (a predicament is a problem that cannot be solved, we can only manage our response to it – a different thing altogether).

I said, “Well, we could learn to live without electricity, couldn’t we?”

That was acceptable to her, and the world inhaled and got going again.


What Amie already knows are a few principles we live by. We respect nature and others, we should not waste, we share what we can, pollution hurts the Earth and the beings on it, if we can do something ourselves, we should do it ourselves, and there is a difference between what we want and what we need. I keep it positive, can-do and will-do. I am working on the foundation, handing her principles and skills that will allow her to adapt to different times, encouraging her to be just, responsible and forward-thinking, and giving her the tools to think critically.

In other words, I have not discussed with her climate change and its eco-victims and refugees, the precariousness of our food system, the price of oil, my fear of food riots, cholera, farming in 120F, or zombie-hordes. She’s five, and she gets upset when the hairy Barbapapa gets shaved by accident!

But one day, probably sooner rather than late, the future will be on the table. She‘ll put it there. That’s my Amie, who already knows about the possibility of predicaments.


And she is the one whose future is at stake. The predicament is hers. Of course, as you know if you’ve read this blog a bit, I believe the future will get here in my own lifetime. But I’m her mother, and so what this will do to me won’t matter in the face of what it will do to her. Also, it will have been me who screwed it all up in the first fifteen years of my adult life, and even now, in these five or so years since my realization, with all these half-baked lifestyle changes. By the time she becomes responsible, the culpability for our predicament will be a moot point (an academic issue).

Let this, especially, be remembered.


I hope one thing, that when she requests to know all the hard facts, and what we’re doing about it, and why we aren’t doing enough, or even anything — I hope that I will speak truthfully about climate change, peak everything, economic collapse, and human greed, ignorance, laziness, much of it my own.

The child can sniff a lie, and I hope I will be able  to pass that test.  Of course her dad – who is a techno-fix optimist – will be there too, with his own opinions, and I hope we’ll have our usual passionate discussion, the three of us this time, and she can make up her own mind.


So what with all this on my mind I was happy to stumble upon Robyn’s post on the Adapting In Place Blog (via Sharon’s mention of it on Casaubon’s Book). Robyn writes about the challenges of teaching environmentalism to children and concludes that teaching it doesn’t work. She writes:

I have found, for myself, that when I’m considering lifestyle changes for environmental purposes, I like to put them through the 5-year-old test. I imagine explaining what I think of as the problem to a 5-year-old and trying to imagine what she would reply. […] I try explaining to the 5-year-old in my head what my solution is, to see how it fares. I suggest this method for everyone.

Children are the fastest path to learning to live within our limits, but only if we let them. If we listen, if we give them access to real information, and then take their responses to it seriously, we can see through the eyes of someone who hasn’t been fully indoctrinated into our culture. They don’t know how things “should” be, so they can tell us how things “could” be. If we stop trying to teach them, they can teach us a great deal.

So true. Even though I won’t be sitting down with Amie to discuss the practicalities of what to do when the electricity, the water, the money goes, she is there whenever I think of these issues. I look at my garden and see that I neglected it and imagine her asking why I did that, why we’re not growing more of our own food. I look at the beehive and see her smiling approvingly. I looked at the store-bought loaf the other day through her eyes and thought, why can’t I bake the bread myself? If we can do it ourselves, we should do it ourselves!

Thank you, Mieke, for keeping me honest.

What We Do button (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Do you think about the future? Do you wonder what it will be like? Or do you live like it’s always going to be the way it has been?


I found at least 5 entries like this one, all in drafts, abandoned. As I prepare for the growing season with more resolve and urgency than ever before now that my apprenticeship is over (ha!), I need to line up my motivations like a general does her troops. This is just a declaration, not a proof or demonstration: others are supplying the data much more clearly and comprehensively than I ever could.


1. We’ve got problems

I believe that sometime in my lifetime, and certainly in the lifetime of my daughter, life will be changed, drastically. This is because three changes are already happening.

  • Peak Oil

(I believe that) there will be a chronic shortage in oil production and thus cheap oil. This year, in 20 years, I don’t know, but in my lifetime. This will not just affect the heating of our houses and our trips to the grocery store, but also the delivery trucks’ trips to the grocery store, and the farm equipment that “grows” our produce, and the factory equipment that put together all those plastic containers for our shampoos, and the pharmaceuticals producing our medicine, etc. (cf. The Oil Drum)

  • Economic Depression

(I believe that) increasing debt, decreasing value of money, hyperinflation, the precariousness of globalization and the lie of never-ending growth will soon mean the end of any value to our national currency, the end of imports, the closing of  businesses and banks, rampant unemployment, the end of the middle class as we know it, and the cessation of public services. (cf. The Crash Course)

  • Climate Change and Overpopulation

(I believe that) the Earth is changing and that it’s too late to do anything about it (if we ever could), that several tipping points have been already been (b)reached. The effect is the disturbance of the climate pattern upon which our agriculture and settlements developed and rely, and thus a growing difficulty for growing food and maintaining our towns and cities. This means a growing number of climate refugees and massive immigrations of our immense world population.

All three are interrelated. I suspect Economic Depression will be the first step, soon exacerbated by Peak Oil, then, more gradually but much more insistently, Climate Change. (Read also, John Michael Greer’s “Endgame” and Richard Heinberg’s Museletter).


2.  Collapse

I believe that even just one and certainly all of these events together will lead to collapse. I don’t believe it will be as bad as zombies or The Road, but I foresee some hard times and, at the very least, the end of the way we live our lives today.

I can’t say that it is my hope that this won’t happen. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if it didn’t. If, for instance, we found some renewable, clean and omnipresent source of energy, freely and democratically available,  capable of powering our fleet of vehicles and our agricultural and factory equipment. Oh, and if it could also reverse the climate change tipping points… Sounds like heaven on earth to me, but I’ll just go ahead and prepare for if that doesn’t happen.

And it’s not like we have a lot of time. Collapse is already happening. Maybe not to me, or you, but to many in this country, in the world, and to whole countries even, to some degree or another. But for reasons that will become clear, here I just want to talk about myself, my family, and my neighborhood.


3. Hope

Still, I have hope. I hope that (for myself and my community, at least), collapse will be gradual enough. I hope it’s not a precipice, but a staircase, and that at each step enough people will (have to) take sufficient action to “catch up” on the decline. I hope that we can descend gracefully: without famine, violence, the destruction of culture and civilization…

A funny thing, though, this hope. I hope it’s reasonable (unlike “aw, come on, nothing‘s going to happen!”). It will require hard work and sacrifices,  but we could pull it off. And to those who say “forget it, it’s too late, TS is really going to HTF,” I say “I hear you,  but you know what? I have no choice but to hope. My child leaves me no choice.” I must do my best to make my hope, her hope come true.


4. Starting descent

How do I do this? We, myself and my immediate family, have already started to power down. For instance, this month, February 2010, is our 16th month of the Riot for Austerity. In the Riot we try to decrease our consumption of oil, water, electricity, and consumer goods, and our production of waste, all to10% of the US national average. It’s tough! We’re almost there with certain things, but not anywhere near 10% with others.

We changed our eating habits: less meat, less food, more bulk, dry goods, and very little eating out. We are establishing a large food garden, with a hoop house for a winter harvest, and hopefully a beehive soon, and chickens. We work on our food storage and emergency supplies. The immediate goal is to grow and store enough and a healthy variety of food to feed two families, and to plant an extra row for the hungry. You can find more details of our lifestyle changes on the “What We Do” page.

Why are we doing this, making these sacrifices in the time and the land that is still plenty? Do I  think it’s going to make a difference to climate change? I’m not that naive.

  • But I do it out of principle: to take more than what one needs is to be greedy and bad for the soul.
  • I do it because, when I make something myself, with my own time and genius and effort, I take responsibility for it and I take care of it as a thing that I love. When I buy it, I just get the responsibility, like an extra price tag, easily snipped off. I “take care” of it only because it cost me so much – or, more frequently, I don’t take care of it at all, because it cost me so very little. I want to take control, responsibility, and care.
  • I want to be prepared – practically and psychologically – for a future with less cheap oil, less income, less security, more manual labor, the need for different kinds of skills, etc.
  • I do it to set up a model for others, for when circumstances will force them, too, to adopt such a lifestyle. That’s my next point.


5. A model

We take these and many other actions as an average (middle class) family, with an average income and debt. We can’t bring in the big machines to flatten the land and mow down all the trees that shade our vegetable garden. We can’t tear down our 1950’s ranch and put a zero energy house in its place. We can’t buy the $1000 compost toilet, the photovoltaics, the hybrid car. And that’s good, because that makes our place an attainable model for anyone in our quite average situation around here.

As people start realizing they can no longer afford the $300 electricity bill, the $4000 oil bill, or the cable subscription, we can show them that it’s possible both practically and psychologically, for them to descend without hurting and actually even gaining something. For we don’t need television and video games to entertain ourselves, and digging in the garden is better exercise than the gym, and eating from that garden is healthier than take-out. I hope to demonstrate by example that living with a little less at a time does not need to hurt.


6. Will that be all?

Do I think that what we are doing and working on – this 90% reduction in consumption of this and that, this 50% (?) self-reliance in food, this reskilling, etc. – will be all that is required of us?

Not by a long shot! But as a first step it’s the perfect preparation for the second step.

Which is? I don’t know. Ask me on a good day, then ask me again on a bad day. All I know is that what my family and I are doing right now is not what will be required, at some point, of all of us, and that after that, there will be even more.

Think of it. When oil hits $5, or $10, or $50 a gallon? When the shelves in the grocery store stay empty? When we are freezing in our houses? When half the people on the street are unemployed, and one third is homeless to boot? When a shift in climate wipes out a major crop? When the majority of us can no longer ignore or evade the situation, because our money can’t buy anything? Now we’re talking collapse.

There are times when I think the worst and that head-for-the-hills feeling flares up. When, in essence, I lose hope. But I squash it. Many reasons make it impossible for my family to pack up and dig in. It wouldn’t work for me to want to live as if collapse has already happened. It would wreck my family and isolate me. That’s not what I’m aiming for.

So if in the eyes of some I take it too fast, and in the eyes of others I take it too slow, so be it. I hope I’m hitting that golden mean, but I also know that mean is sliding down as we speak, until at some point “too much” and “too little” collapse into one.

In the meantime I hope the forerunners can be helpful, by their example, to the masses descending behind them. But if there’s suddenly going to be a whole lot of people barreling down that ever steeper and narrower staircase, it would be good for those who are ahead to install a railing as they go. Or else we’re all going to end up in a big, crushed heap at the bottom.


That railing is relocalization, but about that, next time. It takes a lot out of me to write this, and it takes a long time to write, because I know that most of you don’t agree, and I feel I have to be argumentative, on the defensive, and watch my words. While I just want to say it like it is for me, so we know where I stand.

Wow, Sharon has another great blog entry up: Dreaming a Life, about radical lifestyle changes – “whether they come from adapting to a deeply damaged climate or from addressing the crisis, whether they come from adapting to depletion or from enduring it.”

Sharon points out that much of the political unrest we are seeing comes from the fact that people are realizing that they have been lied to, that they can’t “have all the things they want – a future for their children and an affluent present now.”  Sharon also warns that “unless a true and comprehensible story is offered, false ones will be taken up, and used as bludgeons.”

She goes into why we like being lied to, why we make it so easy to be lied to, and why it takes so long for us to finally see the lie. We are constantly fed dreams not of our own making, and we aren’t autonomous enough to dream differently, creative enough to make our own dreams. We “imagine ourselves as unique because we choose among a large range of commercial options – we can decorate our kitchen with baby ducks, pigs or flowers; can choose between coke or pepsi, can decorate our bodies within a range of a dozen or so arbitrated ‘personal styles.’  Given the sheer number of commercial choices, it is perhaps no wonder that we imagine that this is sufficient to constitute an identity and a dream.”

And, she points out, the “green lifestyle” we are offered is just part of that manufactured dream. It does not constitute the radical lifestyle change that will come for all of us, because “there will never be a society in which everyone can have a personal hybrid”, and because “even the rich having them is a disaster.”


The math is really clear – there’s not enough climate leeway, not enough water, not enough food, not enough money, not enough oil, not enough gas, not enough dirt, not enough phosphorous, not enough rainforest…. not enough left in the world to avert disaster if we have rich people, who see themselves primarily as consumers in a consuming world, and who live as we do now.

Which means we need an American (and European and Australian and Japanese…) dream that can work – and we need it fast.

And it’s up to us – the rich people – to imagine it and promote it.

It can’t be a nightmare. It has to be, Sharon writes,

immediately accessible. It cannot require vast creative energies, because honestly, most people don’t have them.  It cannot require that everyone go against the grain, because, quite honestly, most of us go with the grain.  It cannot require that we build an imagine entirely internally – you have to be able to go look at it.

I am taking this to be my personal challenge. I choose to believe it is possible. How do we already live that dream, and how and where do we show it for all to see?

Why do I even look at the news – my “consumption” of which is out of spiritual necessity minimized to reading the headlines in Google News? 8-year-old boy shoots himself in the head at a firearms expo, 7-year-old boy kidnapped then shot to death, Neo-Nazi plot to assassinate Obama.

The places where my jawbone fits in its sockets floods with hot anger. My spirit rebels against the hard and cold instances of brutal despair for the individuals and their loved ones, but my mind quickly makes a getaway into the general meaning of such instances. We are supposed to have biophilia, an affinity for the earth, for rivers, for other creatures, for life.

Quickly put on some Bach, open again David Orr’s Earth in Mind on the environment and education – book seem so innocent compare dot the internet, but that’s a illusion – with Amie on my lap “fishing” while she sings about the Whoop-Dee-Dooper Bounce. From the corner of my eye I also stalk the new bird that has been frequenting our feeders, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker. I’ve been wowed by its red hood, its novelty and most of all, I admit, its rarity here in the North-East. I feel shamefully proud that it is here with us and to make things worse I’m intent on stealing its soul with my camera. Why this need to possess its image? Well, here it is anyway:

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I also “caught” the Carolina Wren, who has been around all this time, but whose presence at the feeder is new. Here’s the bird in its box:

Carolina Wren, October 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I am well aware that the presence of a lens between myself and these birds only distances us further, and that that is an arrogant statement. “Us”, as if the bird cares about how distant I am (as long as it’s at least ten feet). “Further”, as if I can ever bridge even those ten feet. And as if I could feed wildness so I could take a picture for a reward.

Why wasn’t it enough to just see it? The same with the book.  I often find my character has been ruined by my education in general but especially by academics and my “specilisation” in philosophy. It is addicted to sentences and abstractions and  incapable of spontaneously undergoing awe and joy at a natural instance. Such moments of simply being-in-the-moment are too rare, such moments like yesterday, when I cleaned out some of our gutters and marveled at how this wet black soil came to be in them, ten feet away from the ground. Then I thought it’s not soil but decayed leaves and pine needles, and then but that’s what soil is and I nearly fall off the ladder.

Back in the living room I read Orr quoting Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac):

One of the penalties of an ecological eduction is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.

I write “for Amie” in the margin (it is something I need to equip her for), close the book and plot the making of bread and this entry.

Ok, very very depressing post here… I repeat: very…

Who hasn’t seen that old tv-movie, The Day After? I watched it, on Belgian television, when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I don’t think my parents knew what it was about, and they probably weren’t paying much attention as it unfolded, because otherwise they would have yanked me away immediately. I still remember the many weeks of depression, anxiety and nightmares that followed it.

Clicking through the channels last week I stumbled upon a rerun. DH warned me: should you watch this? But of course I am not a kid anymore – whatever that means. He became annoyed at it because it is such a bad movie, but I was (again) glued to the television.

What captured me 20 year ago captured me now: the slow decline of individuals (physical, emotional, spiritual), of society and civilization in the aftermath of nuclear war. It’s a long movie, so there’s lots of time for declining. The grind of it, the slow seeping away of hope is just excruciating. And you know that that’s how it would be. Worse, even.

This time, what stood out was the scene in which farmers congregate wtih an official to be briefed on how to replant the crops. The idea is that they scrape away the top layer of the topsoil that is contaminated with fall-out. The farmers nearly rebel. There is no more gas for vehicles  – there’s a neat shot of a number plate being trod underfoot – and only some horses and carts. And what to do with the dead soil? And what is safe? And what to grow?

Someone has posted the entire movie in segments on YouTube (thanks a lot: now I can revisit my obsession endlessly!), and you can view the scene here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Then I read Sharon’s post, about a study that shows that the only way to avoid the critical 2 degree temperature rise is to reduce all industrial emissions worldwide by 100%. This post also contains a link to an earlier post of Sharon’s about what her children’s future will look like. She writes that writing this piece made her cry. So did reading it, for me.

And to top it all off, I read in the news that there was an accidental firing of a Patriot missiles in Iraq. Nice going!

Do you ever have that feeling that you’re just pretending? Pretending that it will all be ok? That it won’t be so bad? You look at your child and you just can’t believe that she won’t have what we have – I’m not talking about Lego and bananas, but about water and food, health and safety.

You feel like you want to shield her from this knowledge – even if you can’t shield her from the future – and you want to let her be happy and carefree for as long as possible. But you also feel like you want to prepare her. And some days, well, the future looks so bleak that no kind of preparation seems adequate…

How do you deal with this kind of hopelessness? I know, I know: you stop watching The Day After! And you tell yourself to stop it, because this kind of thinking won’t do anyone any good. But beyond all those negatives?

black and white photograph of baby thrown up in air (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

 A little update to my Simon Says Peter Says entry.

When Amie wants to play the game now, she says: “I want to do Peter Says”. Then she does what Peter says, yells “No!” and undoes it.

“I want to do Peter Says” is a strange way of asking for the game, isn’t it, because she knows it is really called “Simon Says,” and that is how she used to ask for it.

We figured it out quickly. What she really means is: “I want to do what Peter says.” That’s the game: doing what Peter says – the forbidden! – laughing real hard when we react accordingly shocked, and undoing it.

Sigh. Her love for Peter was stronger than we thought. Already she is choosing the boys who we say are bad for her. Already she is laughing at our protests!

masthead “Dimming the Sun” on NOVA / PBS

  • Complacency 

I probably shouldn’t have watched “Dimming the Sun” on NOVA/PBS yesterday. Did you see it?  I stumbled upon the last half hour of the program by accident and by the time it was over, all the old feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and inadequacy made their comeback. And of course, whenever they do that, they are worse than before, because I was yet again lulled into a false sense of security, yet again complacent.

When I went to bed, there was my Amie, sleeping so soundly and sweetly, with not a care in the world. I lay down next to her and wept, whispering empty”sorries”. I couldn’t bring myself to saying: “I’ll make it all better.”

  • Dimming the Sun

So what was the program about?

It turns out that, since the seventies and eighties, when air polution in Europe and Northern America went virtually unchecked, said air polution  has been “dimming” the sun, that is, reflecting the sunlight back, in effect cooling the earth . Another contributor to this are contrails: the vapor trails left behind by high-flying aircraft.

This has veiled the actual degree of global warming, which, if we take the dimming into account, now seems much more advanced than we thought. Since the 1990s, Europe and Northern America have been cutting down on polution, which sounds like a good thing, for health reasons, obviously, but it is a double-edged sword: it opens the door to more global warming. And, as James Hansen put it:

In a way, it is unfortunate that the small particles were in the atmosphere because we would have realized much earlier that the…how strong the greenhouse effect is, and would have had more time to make the adjustments that are going to be necessary to slow down and eventually stop the growth of greenhouse gases.

  • Ethiopia, 1984

The most gripping example of this dimming for me was the footage of the great draught and famine in the Sahel: Ethiopia, 1984.

For decades, the seasonal monsoons, which had kept the Sahel going – hanging on by its fingernails – stayed away. No one know why, but it now seems that it was due to that same polution by Europe and Northern America – which satellite pictures revealed reached deeply into the Sahel. These particles blocked the sun’s yearly warm-up of the oceans north of the equator. This in turn blocked the ocean from drawing the tropical rainbelt around the equator up north for a while. That meant that the land at that longitude was no longer getting its much needed monsoon.

The images of all those starving and dead children… They gripped us in the 80’s, and we all contributed to Aid. But I wonder: had we known, had it been pointed out to us, that it was we who were directly repsonsible for this, would we have changed our lifestyles?

  • The End of the Trees and the Soil

The Sahel was an example of the consequences of dimming the sun in the past. The program of course also looked into the future. Today’s climate models predict a maximum warming of 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, but this young climate scientist, Peter Cox, thinks it could very well rise by as much as 10 degrees Celsius, or 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Within a matter of years, many plants would die. Also the trees. The soil would simply blow away… Just writing this down makes my head feel top-heavy! If you missed the show, see if they will rerun it in your region, or read the transcript: even without the images, it brings the message home.

  • Children

The program ended with children – because they’re the future, you know. The climatologist, Peter Cox, was shown playing on a beach with his young son. But it wasn’t sentimental tear-jerking. When Cox took the last word, it sounded like an understatement (and this from the most pessimistic of global-warming scientists, and the father of a child who will live to see his predications come true):

One of the real driving forces is that you leave an environment that is comfortable for your children. And if we carry on going the way we’re going, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave an environment that’s much worse than the environment we lived in, and it will be down to what we did when we were using that environment, and that would be, tragic, really, if that happened.

It already is tragic, in my eyes. As you know, I am one of the pessimists about what will change – Hansen says we have a decade before we reach the point of no return.

That’s why I say “sorry” to Amie, but not “I’ll make it all better”. I’ll do my best, and every little bit counts, makes it a little bit better, I know, but in the end, I often despair whether it will be enough.

I don’t want to promise what I can’t deliver.

Photograph of small farm on river bend

  • Dreaming

We are dreaming about moving to a new place. For us that means selling this one and buying another one of approximately the same price, which means that, if we want to move, we need to move out- out of Brookline.

We’re currently in a 1050 sq.f. basement apartment in a condominium. We adore our cozy little pad, but we miss direct sunlight and a view of the sky! Bumping up against short-sighted condo-rules and residents, and the constant feeling of being walked-all-over (by our heavy-footed, insomniac upstairs neighbor) are wearing on us.

We love Brookline too, especially our “Corner”, but we can’t afford to move into a house around here, let alone one with land. Just moving up a floor will exhaust the budget. And to be honest, I get way too uspet about the incessant, false orchestra of air conditioners and leaf blowers in these crowded burbs.

If we move out far enough, we could even buy a 1500 sq.f. house on an acre of land for the price for which we could sell our little basement. That sounds like a good deal!

  • Land and house for a child

We’re looking for a sizable plot because we want to grow our own vegetables – preferably permaculture style – and keep some animals, like chickens and goats and bees. We won’t complain if the lot is partially wooded as well.

As for the house, we would like a little bit more living space – 1500 sq.f. would be perfect – because we want one another’s in-laws (isn’t that a nice way of putting it?) to come visit for longer stretches of time. After traversing a wide-open space of at least 1,000 miles, and in most cases 3,000 miles, to visit us, they get cabin-feverish in our cramped and dark quarters. And we relish the thought of having friends, any well-wishers, staying over.

As I wrote in an earlier entry, our daughter Amie plays a large role in this plan. She is forcing us to more thoughtfulness, accountability, and action. Because, one of these days, she is going to ask: Why? And: What did you do? I dread that day, and I dream of it with a passion. And I want to be ready. But most of all, I want her to be ready.

  • A natural child

I want Amie to grow up in a more natural environment, one in which she will know what a goat is, and even how to milk it. One in which we can let her run around butt-naked, if she so pleases. And lift a log and marvel at the world underneath.

If she fits into a place that wears life and death on its sleeve: the slow geography of the land, the biology of the tree, the quickness of an insect, the poetry of a field… if she can learn about these through immersion and hands-on, face-to-face encounters… will her understanding of the world and herself be richer? I think so.

If she feels at home in the natural world with its examples of wholesomeness and self-sufficiency, calm and beauty, and occasional disaster… if it makes her aware of her own freedom and responsibility as a human… will she become a kinder, more flexible, happier person? I believe so.

Who will contradict me? (Go ahead, you will only make me stronger.)

  • A child in a community

Of course, bringing our daughter into nature is a necessary (in my eyes), but not sufficient condition for a child’s happiness. Nature won’t do the parenting for us! But our case of the “nuclear family” is extreme:  Amie has never met our nearest relatives, who live 1000 miles away. We have friends who have her and our best interest at heart, but circumstances conspire against us meeting more often. I guess Amie counts her group at daycare as her “extended family”.

This is not the best that we can do. Especially because, soon, the free and frolicking life of daycare will be replaced by the formal setting of school (I am still considering home-un-schooling, at least part time). I don’t know of any kid who calls his class his “family”.

Can we be it? Two people, the same age and with (more or less) the same interests and routines? Two people who, at the end of the day, would like to rest a bit?

Amie needs more diverse company, a more miscellaneous family. Siblings would be nice (an older sibling especially), but let’s add another layer of community: family and friends who come, not to visit, but to stay and be at home with us. Another layer of wisdom: if grandparents want to put their minds out to graze (i.e., retire), they can do so in our pasture! Another layer of communication: adult conversation, discussion of complex things, mature problem solving. Another layer of character and doing things: all the many different ways in which each of us experiences joy and grief. And another layer of time: the more people in a community, the more time there is between them, for them.

Hence, the bigger house. Not too much bigger: we don’t want to avoid one another! And when there is need for space, there will be outside, in the peace and silence of a garden and a wood.

  • A happy child for a grim future

I believe that, in the future, these two aspects – nature and community – will be essential to survival. I am one of those people who have a grim view of the future, but who also believe that we each have to do our bit to make it a little less grim.

By “grim,” I should add, I don’t mean “poor” in the current sense of no oil, no “freedom” to consume cheap and unhealthy junk, no “leisure” and world-travel, and – my goodness! – the necessity of physical labor! I believe that we can turn all of these “crises” into opportunities for more wholesome lives in a better society. No, my “grim” refers to the fact that the majority of us will not see it that way, that there will be helplessness, chaos, famine and violence due to ill-preparedness and ill-will.

In such an environment, I want to inject some hope, namely my daughter. She can be a teacher of the skills needed to grow food and take care of animals and build shelters and tools, a safe-keeper of the rational will to manage natural resources responsibly, and a model of hard work with enthusiasm, purpose and fulfillment. She can show, by the example of her own life, that life in a “poorer” world can be richer.

I know! That’s a lot. And she’s not yet two. And she may not want to. But I’m going to give her the chance, and the time.

  • Priority no.1: grow food

Growing one’s own food, because due to the rise in oil prices as it gets scarcer, most food will be too expensive, and there won’t be enough local food for all – so that will go up in price too. The idea is to grow enough food for ourselves as a family, to build up to more for friends and neighbors, and to lay the foundation for the poosibility of a larger food production, in case more need it. “Enough for all” should be the goal.

  • So let’s do it already!


I wrote about this in May. In fact, that old entry begins exactly like this one! What’s keeping us?

It’s not a risk – I would never call it a risk. Remaining where we are, in place as well as in life: that’s a risk, a sure one.

Sure, there will be times when I will complain about the crops failing, the water bill being higher than expected, that pesky goat… when I may wish it all to kingdom come! But at least those will be particular grievances that I can pinpoint, voice, and then set out to solve. That’s not what I can say about this dulled, vague life, in which our needs and grievances are manufactured by advertisement and “what our neighbor does”.

But I find the entrapment of our conventional lives to be tight-fitting, not easily shaken off: financial security, immigration issues, anxiety about good schooling… And then there is character: if you’re one to always over-prepare, you’re never ready, especially in a situation where you can never be prepared enough… And, oh, let’s not forget that there are two decision-makers (more, if you count the mortgage-people, and the government, etc., but mainly the two of us), and we’re not exactly on the same wavelength, cruising at the same speed…

So we’re working on it. I guess that’s what this blog is turning out to be: a record of our progress or lack thereof, and a public scrutiny to keep us honest.


Yesterday in bed, while gazing upon her sleeping face – so close by, her breath stirring the little hairs on my cheek – I wondered:

“Whose nose will she have?”
Her nose still has the infant’s buttonlike quality, but it is slowly taking on a character of its own. Just like the rest of her face. Last week I glimpsed the change. Was it that her hair lay longer and straighter after her bath (it’s curling only in the back now)? Or because she had that sleek palor after an illness (a bad cold, don’t worry), which made her seem… older? Or the look in her eye, with a deeper understanding behind it, and more difficult questions?

So will she have my big, pointy European nose? Or her Baba’s broader, flatter Asian nose? A bit of both? (Hopefully not all of both!)

Will she be kind? And good?

The anwer is simple:

She will have her own nose.