Amie took this picture with my phone.
Amie took this picture with my phone.
It has been a while, hasn’t it? A lot has happened and all of it soon overwhelmed my ability to write about any of it at all. Thus I was already struggling in April, when I wrote my last blog post. On the one hand, I seemed to be writing about the same things as I did last year, and the year before. On the other, the big things that were going on were either too big or too new, or as yet too unclear, or all of those, to capture into words. When one writes something down prematurely, it becomes too much of a definite thing, too much of a promise, than it really is. I’d like to write about these now, though. This post could be a stopgap, a Bung Puller (in the meaning of Ursula K. Le Guin), and an apologia (in the Greek sense), or at the very least a chronological list of what happened, for my own reference, later, when I hopefully get to do all of it justice.
In April Amie and I were still homeschooling and having a blast with it, addressing all the issues we had had with her public schooling, and more. One of my best friends, locally, Rebecca and I had successfully launched the All Things Mortal program under the umbrella of our group, Transition Wayland. We had organized a “Reclaiming the Care of Our Dead” workshop on home funerals and a Death Cafe (which we dubbed “Cake and Grave Matters” since no one in our town would rent us a room if we stuck to the original title). We were planning a Death Film Festival, a talk on Green Burial, and more. Another big one were our efforts for a screening of Griefwalker, the film about Stephen Jenkinson, with Stephen there for a Q&A and a book signing of his new book, Die Wise, in August. Rebecca and I also attended Stephen’s Orphan Wisdom School for five days in April. Last but not least, we (Rebecca, Amie, DH and myself) were thinking, out loud by now, about a project we called “Neighborwoods,” which involved selling our houses and moving together to one (larger) house on an 8-acre plot, here in Wayland, the beginning of an intentional community or, as we liked to call it, a village.
Homeschool, All Things Mortal, Orphan Wisdom, Die Wise, Neighborwoods, all this was happily fermenting that Spring in the vat of daily life, with concerts, new bees, seedlings springing up in the basement… Then one day in mid May Rebecca was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a Stage Four inoperable brain tumor. In the next few days while she still had clarity, she expressed and advocated for her wish for non-intervention, for good dying at home, for a home funeral, and for a green burial. Suddenly all the theory and talk about dying and death came home, hard, and had to be put into practice. And not just dying and death, but elderhood too, and village-making.
I visited every day – and have done so, mostly, since then – taking care of lots and helping all of Rebecca’s local friends to help in the Work. There is so much to write about those acts of friendship: all of us making rhubarb jam in Rebecca’s kitchen/living room when she had already gone a good way away from us but could still celebrate our presence, building her coffin to her specifications (plain white pine, local, and no metal), weeding her garden together, innumerable grocery shopping trips and immeasurable conversations, with her, and among each other. Our joy and grief in this work were (and still are) a true lesson, a treasure.
So much of our work “before” had been about death and dying, so it comes as no surprise that much of it continued, though in its changed form. The only things we (and by that I mean I, since Rebecca soon lost the ability to make decisions) effectively canceled was the Die Wise event, as it was a Big One and I couldn’t conceive of doing all the promotion by myself while also giving so much of my time to Rebecca’s care. As for All Things Mortal, I shelved the Film Festival and the next Death Cafe, but of course the public work of changing the culture with respect to dying and death continued as we planned the first home funeral in our town, which necessitated coordinating with curious and (fortunately) open-minded town officials (police, Board of Health, Town Clerk, and cemetery directors).
Rebecca had also made me promise to continue doing our very best on the Neighborwoods project. She had loved it so, the prospect of growing old (she is 69) and dying and maybe even being buried in such a village! In her later confusion she often told people she was moving there soon, as if it was already a reality, as if it was not too late for her, and we rejoiced with her. This too is part of our Orphan Wisdom, now put to the test and into practice.
I return for the fourth and last session of my Orphan Wisdom class in September. It will be without Rebecca.
Meanwhile the vat of daily life in which all this bubbles away does not yield much. Homeschool concluded a little unconventionally as I brought Amie (and her math books) along to the ER and various hospitals. Music has been a mainstay. Amie played some beautiful classical concerts and also picked up some Irish Jigs and Reels which got her introduced, via our Farmers Market, to a group of older gentlemen who play Civil War time music: she is now their cellist. She also had her first guitar lesson. Best of all is that she played one of my favorite pieces, the Prelude of Bach’s first cello suite, for my birthday. The new bees arrived, were hived, and thrived so that we had a lot of honey in July. Amie got two “Fancy” mice for pets – one died of fright during a massive hail storm: here we were having so much fun and excitement with that storm, and look! It was very sad. The garden received all the seedlings that had grown up in the basement, but nothing much else, and the drought – broken only by hail and thunder storms – does not help, so I also won’t have much of a Fall Garden. Our house has been full up with my parents-in-law and soon my parents will join the mix. In a little over a week the new school year starts: we’ve enrolled Amie in an online public school which looks promising: a flexible curriculum, a lot of parental input. I’ve struggled off and on, in the wee hours after researching condominium schemes and cluster housing, with my new novel, a dystopian science fiction affair already too massive and unruly for its own (or my) good.
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.
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.
The rose hips are finally all cut up and drying on the rack (will write more about what I’m doing with them later).
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.
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.
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.
Leigh form 5 Acres and a Dream awarded me the Honest Scrap Award. It’s my first award ever. These are the rules:
So here goes:
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:
This month there were no shifts in the household: just the three of us, which makes the reckoning much easier.
Amie feeds the compost tea some molasses
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
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.
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
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…