Regaining My Power: Choice

What is choice, really? Do we have it? Are we sure?

The other day at work I asked, perhaps a little too loudly, if it was 5:00 yet, or Friday, yet, and someone piped up that we always have a choice. I have the choice to stay, or to act like it was Friday at 5 and make a bee-line for the door. It’s been kind of a long couple of weeks, so option B may or may not have gotten considered almost seriously. But I didn’t do it. I made the choice to finish out the day, to finish out the week. I chose to be there.

Right?

On the surface, yes, I made that choice. But if you really start to think about it, “Everything is a choice” is a rather disingenuous statement. There are about a million different directions to dive with this idea, but I thought I’d try and keep it on the surface. See just how many diverse places in our “Land of the Free” where the choices offered aren’t really choices.

I haven’t been sleeping well for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that heat, humidity, and I are not friends. If I had chosen to walk out of work that afternoon to go home and take a nap- something that would have been a good choice for my mental and physical health- I think it’s pretty safe to say that my employer would have chosen to tell me not to return. I’m sure that I’m not the only American worker who can’t take the chance of an impromptu vacation because we aren’t making enough each week to have built a rainy day fund. So it really wasn’t a choice.

Speaking of choices at work- what about choosing to have an unpopular opinion? If you’re in the rank and file, that choice- even if you’re right and it needs to be said- could have disastrous consequences for your career.

Back to the Land of the Free thing- how about our current choices for President? More of the same vs a young Hitler. What an awesome choice. Love him or loathe him, at least the Democratic Socialist would have offered a genuine choice! Something different than door A or door B that lead into the same building. And as far as I can tell, yes, the young Hitler is a fairly logical place for us to be given the political climate in the last 10 or 15 years.

You have the choice to live in your own home. Your corporate neighbors have the choice to make the air and water around said home poisonous, flammable, or carcinogenic. But you do have the choice to stay there or leave. If you can afford to.

You have the choice to take care of your reproductive health. Don’t let the harassers or the chance of getting shot stand in your way!

You have the choice to grow open-pollinated, wind-pollinated, organic food crops in an area that mostly grows conventional wind-pollinated crops. Just make sure you’re never down wind of your neighbors and you’ll be fine!

You can choose to go to college and get that degree that you’ve been told you need to get a good job. What’s a good job, again?

You chose to grow a beautiful garden full of vegetables instead of non-edible flowers and shrubs? Your home might be your castle, but don’t pretend it’s your pantry!

You can choose to own a tractor (or iPad, or GM vehicle). Well, maybe.

You can choose the perfect home for your land and family. As long as it conforms to everyone else’s views.

You can choose to be seen lending your support (or doing your job) at a peaceful rally or protest- just don’t get shot!

I can’t be facetious about the choices that led to needing those rallies and protests.

I know that I’m presenting more problems than solutions here. And I’ve only scratched the surface of the problems. But this is where I am in finding my power. The more I learn, the more I find out just how little power- just how little choice- I really have. Does a “yes” mean anything when “no” isn’t really an option, given the consequences that will probably or will definitely follow that “no”? No, it doesn’t.

We need to rethink this “choice” thing and whether or not we like the ones we’ve been given. Or perhaps start to figure out how to make our own options to choose between. If we’re given A and B, maybe we should all start choosing C.

(Apologies for the age of many of the linked articles. I have no Google-fu, and I haven’t been collecting all of the most recent examples of the above “choices.” I’m sure you’ve seen as many as I have, though- maybe more as I’m not all that well informed, yet.)

Marshalling Our Resources

Our world is finite. That makes the resources within it, technically, finite. Those that don’t regenerate within a human lifetime are simply more finite than others. Even those that regenerate within amounts of time that we can truly understand run the risk of being made finite. When you harvest more salmon than they spawn, when you cut down more trees than you plant, you make a resource that should have been regenerative, finite.

What matters in the here and now, though, is not when (let alone if) a particular resource will run out. What matters is what we are doing to make sure that we aren’t squandering it for our children and their children. This is everything from how quickly we are extracting and frittering away precious ores to whether we are building or poisoning the soil in our yards.Will we need precious ores in the future? Maybe we will have figured a way around them, but let’s not use them all up, just in case. Will we need healthy topsoil in the future? Yes. So let’s not screw it up any more than we have.

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This is what you get when you have an overabundance of a resource. If it costs more to harvest an apple than it will sell for, then it doesn’t get harvested. There was a bumper crop of apples in 2015 in every part of the country, driving the price down so far that it simply wasn’t worth it for this farmer to harvest his full orchard. So they stayed on the trees until they fell of their own accord.

Now, leaving the fruit where it falls isn’t all bad. It feeds the small critters on and in the ground. It returns nutrients to the base of the tree itself. However, each harvest that doesn’t come in puts the farmer one year closer to selling out to something else. Something like a strip mall or a “house farm.” (Where I grew up, I saw a lot of farms become just bunches of suburban houses. The most disturbing ones were when they kept the farm name but replaced the crops with lawns.)

So, using an apple farm as our example, what can we do to truly marshal our resources? This farmer already has a couple of sidelines. He sells both apples and cider. I took this picture at a mush bowl, which was awesome. And potential income using his acres that are dormant in the winter. This is how you have to think when you’re a farmer. “This is what I have, now what can I do with it?”

Let’s look at the apples in particular, though. What we tend to be taught is that something is good for one thing. If you grow apples to sell, then that’s what you use them for. If you grow corn and the price falls through the floor, tough luck, right? The same with pumpkins or pork. But let’s talk about pork for a minute. Could you fatten some pigs on the harvest you can’t sell? Pick up half a dozen suckling pigs as soon as you figure out that you can’t sell enough to make ends meet. Run them in the orchard under the trees to pick up the apples as they fall. You have fenced in the orchard, right? Or, if you haven’t, what about chicken tractors worth of broilers? I’m sure you can fatten chickens right up on all the sugar that’s in apples. Just hope they don’t eat the seeds.

(Since starting this post I have learned that the current overabundance of commodity crops- particularly wheat and corn- are causing grain farmers to buy small numbers of cattle to fatten up on what it isn’t worth selling. This will have an unknown effect on the price of beef in the coming year as those cattle aren’t included in the national headcount. The things you learn at stock expos . . . )

What about that cider thing? Fresh cider you have to sell pretty quickly. Even if it’s pasturized, it doesn’t have that much of a shelf life. Hard cider became a thing, though, because when you take all of your unpasturized cider from the fall harvest and stick it in your root cellar to drink all winter, by spring, it has fermented into small cider. (Small cider or beer being alcoholic, but to a lesser degree than “regular” cider or beer.) If you’re more deliberate in the fermenting process, it probably won’t take as long and will yield something with an alcohol content that’s more in line with what we expect these days. Fermenting also has the side benefit of prolonging the shelf life. All of those apples that you couldn’t move in the fall? You’re selling in liquid form well into the next growing season, easing the cash flow.

If we really want to prolong the shelf life, then we make apple wine instead and freeze it to make applejack. I’m not sure if this counts as “distilling” since it’s cold, not hot, but you might want to check the laws before you go and sell it. However, this would have the potential of spreading an unsellable harvest over maybe two or three years.

We are trained from kindergarten on up that 1+1=2. What we need to relearn is that sometimes 1+1=pigs. Or 1+1=applejack. We need to relearn how to take what’s in front of us and instead of seeing how it won’t work for us, being a little creative and figuring out how it can work for us. We have enough resources. We just have to be smart about it.

 

If you’re thinking about this from the perspective of the justice system- check out this TED Talk. If you’re thinking about it from the perspective of gender, check out this one.

I Have Chicks!

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There is a post in the works that has thing like words and coherent thoughts, but, in the meantime, I have chicks! The leghorns were the first to come out of their corner.

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Do you believe that’s a baby Thanksgiving dinner? Also known as a poult.

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This is a Golden Comet (I think, I don’t have the paper in front of me). They were chosen because aside from being good layers, they’re also supposed to be calm and friendly. So far, they’re the first out to eat in the morning.

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This is an Aracouna- they lay blue and green eggs.

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Or this one is. I’m not sure why they’re a mis-matched set. But they’re both healthy, so we’ll see what we get when they grow up.

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The ducklings are the biggest, heaviest, and most opinionated of the lot. They’re also the messiest, since they think water is for playing in, not leaving in the waterer.

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They look like they all fit in this picture, but when they’re out and about, not so much. I’ll have to split them in half pretty soon, here so I can keep them under shelter long enough to feather out.

Regaining My Power: Piles of . . .Stuff

I suppose I shouldn’t swear in my title, so let’s just call it stuff. Lots and lots of things that at one point or another I needed, or wanted, or acquired. Most of which has been spending a whole lot more time in boxes in storage than actually being used in the past three years or so. I was living in shoebox apartments or renting single rooms, yet I had so much stuff I had two (small) storage units for several months. When I moved out to Colorado, I had 3/4 of a 4’X5’X8′ U-Haul trailer and nothing I couldn’t carry myself. I left my bed behind, and a very large bookcase because I knew I didn’t have anyone to help me carry these things from the trailer to my apartment. What I did have was as many boxes of books as I had boxes of clothing. And I included my costumes in the clothing count.

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What one finds overwhelming is relative.

When I left Colorado, the trailer was the same size and stuffed to the gills. This was after aggressively shedding stuff for months because even without knowing I was moving, I knew I was overwhelmed. The inanimate objects in my life were controlling my time (how many trips do I have to make for this move?), my space (I swear this apartment had a floor before I moved in!), and my money (why am I paying to store a table, chairs, and a sewing machine that I can’t use because they’re in storage?).

A lot of the stuff arrived and then stuck around because I was sure that any month now, I would be starting my own farm. I would have a house (or HUD home, I wasn’t picky) to furnish and gardens to start. I needed the table a friend had given me that was the perfect height for a standing work-table. It was just silly to get rid of a perfectly good hose that I hadn’t used in 18 months, but I would have to have on my farm. I’ve always wanted a treadle sewing machine and, well, so I didn’t do what I’d promised myself and wait until I was settled to find one. It found me. But I was going to have space for it soon!

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I need every single thing here! Whatever they are. Except for the sled. The sled isn’t mine.

Well I don’t have a farm. And if I’m honest with myself, I have absolutely no idea when, and at this point if, I will have one. I know I will be moving at least one more time (out of my parent’s house) and probably more than once. I need to address what is, not what I wish would be.

With so much of my stuff stuck in boxes for so many months, it turned out I could live with a lot less stuff than I thought. I don’t need a bed. I quite liked sleeping on a 4″ thick futon pad right on the floor. I don’t need three crock pots, even if they are different sizes. In fact, I can cut down on the number of pots and pans I have altogether, since I’m not that much of a cook. Really, most of that stuff in the box labelled “random crap” is just crap. I don’t need to keep it. As for tables and chairs? All they do is take up space. I don’t entertain, and I don’t care if I’m sitting on the floor, so who does it bother?

Just before I moved I started hearing about the KonMarie tidying book and method. At first it sounded sketchy, but I kept reading because I had to do something and it was very popular. When I got to Maine, the book was making the rounds of the family, so I got to read it. I had already been coming to the conclusion that the things, the objects I was holding on to were holding me back from the changes I needed to make to become who I need to be. The book simply confirmed that yes, the items you have can affect who you are. So only keep the items that ring true now.

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And here we go . . .

What better time to start organizing and shedding stuff than when you’re unpacking from a move? My clothes and books had ended up mixed together quite a bit, so I started with them. It was really freeing to let go of the clothes that no longer fit, and hadn’t for years. Will I ever be a size 16 again? I sure hope so, and I hope it’ll be on my way to a 14 or a 12. Will it be soon enough to make lugging all of these clothes around make sense? No. I’ve learned how to work with a small wardrobe. I don’t have to break the bank to clothe myself at a new size. I think I was holding on to half of them more because I used to look good and I didn’t want to forget that. Finding a cute blazer when you’re a size 20 is a whole lot harder than when you’re a 16.  But by the time I’m a 16 again, I might not need a blazer. Who knows?

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It wasn’t until I had all of my clothes together that I realized I had so many layers. I think I need to do this on a regular basis to reacquaint myself with whatever I have!

Of course, the KonMarie method has a little extra-special challenge for those of us that look at the pile of things to be sorted and realize that it would be a lot more efficient to toss ourselves in the bin bag for lack of joy-bringing and be done with it.

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These piles are each close to knee-high. 

In the end, I’ve sent four or five boxes of clothes and books to the thrift stores and tossed more in the bin (loving the British English of the translator). I haven’t done much sorting lately, but the start I made gives me a reason to believe that once I do find the time, I will be able to chip away further at my piles of . . . stuff.

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This pile is smaller than the other one. Honest!

The Company Store

I just started watching a show that takes place in a turn-of-the-century coal mining town in Canada. It’s a Hallmark show that’s clearly shaping up to be a romance, so it’s rather saccharin, but it’s pretty cute nonetheless.

The show is about a silver-spoon sort of city girl who takes a position as a teacher out in this coal mining town. The mothers of the town had hired her to give their children the sort of education that would keep them from having to go into the mines themselves when they grew up. As if that weren’t challenge enough- three months before the teacher arrived, there had been an explosion in the mine, leaving a large chunk of her students suddenly without fathers. They only found the last of the bodies when she got there. This, of course, left a lot of widows in company housing without husbands to work in the mines to pay for the company housing.

This is a Hallmark show, so it does its best to gloss over much of the reality of working and living in a company town. However, by episode two, the notices had gone out to evict the widows and children from the company housing to make room for the miners the boss was looking to bring in. The teacher is working with the widows to try and figure out how they can stay in their own homes. She comes up with a solution that has a legal precedent and goes about setting it in motion. It’s thwarted because the supplies she needs would be from the company store and are suddenly unavailable for her to purchase.

If you aren’t familiar with what a company store was, they were a brilliant (devious, terrible) way for the boss to keep both the profits and the workers within the company. Mining towns were notorious for them. I believe railroad towns also frequently used them. It was an option for basically any business model that took their workers and isolated them away from any other store options. If the company store is the only place that you can buy your food, clothes, and other necessities, then that’s what you did. You paid the outrageous prices, you took on debt if you couldn’t pay cash, and, as the song says, you owe your soul to the company store. It wasn’t uncommon to work for the company until you died, trying to pay the debts you couldn’t avoid racking up.

What does this long-winded report on a slightly silly tv show have to do with anything? After all, we don’t have company stores anymore. There’s almost no way to isolate workers away from any and all forms of purchasing power. We all drive past Walmarts, Targets, and malls and have the right to stop in and spend our money in any or all of them as we see fit (or can afford). Sure we have debt, but it’s not to our employer. It’s to a bank or a credit card company. Totally different than that coal mining town.

Or is it? Look at America. The bulk of us work for anything from lousy to crap wages. Maybe an iPhone isn’t quite the necessity that a ribbed wash-board was in the coal town, but the advertising that we are immersed in sure wants us to think it is. So we pay out all of our cash for things that we need. Then we take on debt for things that we need but can’t afford. Then how do we pay this debt? We keep going to the soulless job with the crap wages because we don’t have/can’t see any other options. But between the things we still need and the money we aren’t making, our debt only gets worse.

Maybe we think company stores don’t exist because we have nothing to compare them to. Can’t see the forest for the trees and all that. I have been trying to think of companies that I know that are, say, 80% free from the corporate world. I think I came up with a small handful, but most of them are tiny, struggling, and unlikely to be noticed outside of niche communities in their town. There are few to no viable options outside of what has become normal. Normal, of course, being items that we are told we need produced in massive amounts with the absolute minimal inputs and created to be worn out in no time flat.

I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy, here. I’ve gotten over that. What I am saying is that the bosses are still more than able to keep the profits and the workers exactly where they want them. Has America become the company town for the wealthy elite? Have we all become workers in a coal town with no prospects and no future away from what is right in front of us? I don’t want to be right about this, but I’m also having a hard time seeing where this logic train could have gone wrong.

So . . . now what?

Ash Trees For Firewood

IMG_6137One of the first things I did when I arrived in Maine was to help Dad fill up the rest of the pallets with wood to be burned to heat the house this winter. November is getting very late in the year to be cutting down trees for firewood, so we were only after one species.

The ash tree.

Ash trees are quite popular as landscape trees because they are fast-growing and can be found almost everywhere in the United States. Of course, with the current prevalence of the ash borer, it’s possible that they may go the way of the American chestnut.

Ash trees are not just fast-growing and prone to fantastic fall color. It turns out, they’re also edible. The roots, anyway. It’s kind of amazing where one can find food sources.

The reason we were after ash trees in particular is because of their water content. Good, cured firewood should be around 10% water. Oak, which is a great fuel, but takes ages to cure, starts at around 60% water. Obviously, that simply won’t burn just after it has been cut down. In fact, it usually takes a couple of years to get to the point of being worth using. Ash, on the other hand, is around 20% water. While it’s not ideal to burn something that wet, you can. In our case, though, we will be holding those pallets of wood until the end of winter in hopes that they will cure at least a little between now and then.

While we were taking down the trees, I came to two conclusions. The first is that dry-built stone walls are an ingenious invention. Not only are they built from existing and plentiful resources, but when you drop a tree on them, there’s no permanent damage. All you need to do is reshuffle a few rocks to smooth out the dent. The second is that anyone harvesting wood off of their own properties would be well-served to have a hugelkultur bed constantly in progress. Having a brush pile or two around for habitat is good, but returning the bulk of the twiggy scrap wood directly back into the earth will be better, in the long run.

A hugelkultur bed made up of small-diameter branches probably won’t do the sponge thing as long or as well as one that includes large-diameter trunks. However, it will drive the nutrients, and more importantly, the carbon from the branches right back into the soil far more quickly than would happen if they were left to rot on the surface. At this point in human history, I think that doing whatever we can to sequester carbon on any scale is a good idea. You’re also building lush chunks of ground that you may not need for a garden, but you can certainly use to cultivate the seedlings of the trees that your children and their children will cut down to heat the home in the future.

It felt very good to be doing something both physical and useful upon arrival. Almost a week traveling in the car was a bit too much for me. It also felt very good to be able to look at a landscape and know that I would be able to think about and put into play at least some of the things that I have been learning. This piece of land isn’t my ultimate home, but it is a home, and that’s close enough, for now.

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Ash logs waiting to be split.

Regaining My Power: To Begin

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Physical manifestation of my mental and emotional state. Life isn’t giving either of us what we need.

I haven’t been blogging much because life has been . . . challenging. One of the things these challenges have pointed out to me is that I have lost my own power. The loss was gradual. Some of it was let go, some forgotten about, and some stolen. What I lost and how isn’t important. What’s important is that no one will hand it back to me. If I don’t take it, I don’t get to have it. I think that’s a very important realization. After all, if I’m not willing to fight for it, what on earth makes me think I would fight with it, which is the only reason to have it.

This reboot of my life has been happening for a couple of months, now, but today seems to be the logical time to share it. The sun is coming back, the calendar has turned, and we’re closer to planting new seeds than cleaning up after the last harvest. I really don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions,” but many people do. We haven’t written in this calendar, yet, so maybe we can write different things than we did last year.

I landed at my parent’s house in early November. It wasn’t the very beginning of the tale, but I’m calling it the beginning. I arrived with a stuffed 4X5X8′ trailer of stuff, enough debt that it will take me a year to pay it off, if that’s all I spend my money on, and weighing 273#. What all of those amounts have in common is that they are getting in my way and getting them cut down to something reasonable feels rather overwhelming. You may be looking at one or all of those numbers and thinking, “Child’s play.” But bear in mind that the absolute number is far less important than whether or not I believe I can tackle it. We all have different tolerances, and those are approaching the limits of mine.

I am feeling the need to share this story not because it’s unusual, but precisely because I don’t believe it is. I’m broke, I’m unhealthy, I can’t even tell you anymore what’s in the boxes I’ve been schlepping from apartment to rented room, and I don’t know how to make my dreams into my reality. Perhaps by sharing my story, it will help me to keep taking the steps I need to take to figure this mess out. Maybe, as I figure each step out, it will help you with your journey, too.

Here’s to a new year and another chance to make each of our worlds into one that will give us a fulfilling life.

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My jade plant and I- repotted, heavily pruned, and taking another crack at this thing called life.

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