Posts Tagged ‘independence’

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.


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.)

Hanna Ranch Movie

I know I’ve been MIA for a while now, and I intend to update you on that and on some of the cool things happening in my life, but for the moment- this movie.

If you live in Southern Colorado (specifically Colorado Springs to Pueblo) or you have any interest at all in the plight of the family farmer or rancher- you have got to see Hanna Ranch. For the local folks, it’s going to be at Ivywild for a few more days. For everyone else, it’s travelling around a bit and available on iTunes. It should be showing up on Netflix eventually, too. It is one place, one ranch, and one family- but a story that I suspect a lot of the agricultural community knows in one way or another.

We need to support our farms. In 30 years, we’ve lost half-a-million ranchers (or farmers in general- can’t remember which) which is a problem. This film clearly illustrates why.

Bee School Part 1

If you live in Colorado, and you want to keep bees, the Bee School put on by the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association is awesome. For what they’re charging, I’d consider adding a hotel bill if you’re travelling from a distance to still be a fair price. It is two days and a ton of information. They encourage questions during the breaks and make it very clear that they will be available for more questions as the season goes on and we get our own hives and colonies. 

The day started off, as they do, with some basic housekeeping information. There were two points that stuck out, though. The future of beekeeping is not one beekeeper with many hives. It is many beekeepers with one or a few hives. It’s much more stable that way. The other is that in Colorado Springs we can expect to lose 15-20% of our hives annually. In California, the expectation is 20-50% of the hives. Plant flowers and stop using pesticides, people. We are not ready to see what happens if the bees disappear. 

The history portion was fast, but it was enough to whet my appetite to learn more. The oldest recording of stealing honey is 15,000 years old. The Egyptians moved their hives for pollination purposes. Current bee laws are based on Roman bee laws. Finally, the honey bee as we know it arrived in America in 1622. It was dubbed the “white man’s fly” since the bees tended to precede the arrival of the white man in a given area. However, beekeeping couldn’t be really commercialized until L. L. Langstroth, the father of American beekeeping, came up with the Langstroth Hive in 1860. The standardization and ease of access to the hive made it possible to do on a large scale.

The next portion was talking about the agricultural benefits. Did you know that it’s a $200 billion industry world-wide with the worth in the US being around $20 billion? Of course, when 1/3 of our food depends on these little animals, it becomes less surprising. Though more disconcerting when you consider their fragility. Bees aren’t just good for food, though. There are 7-800 conditions listed in the Egyptian Papyrus Ebers. Half of them include honey in their treatment. There’s more to honey’s health benefits than just help with allergies. Even propolis, bee glue, seems to have health benefits as an antiseptic, antibiotic, and even an antiviral.

There were examples of the necessary equipment that were passed around  for us to handle. During that lecture, we also got to hear anecdotes about things that were learned the hard way. This was when we were told that if you ask 5 beekeepers the same question, you will get at least 6 answers. There is a lot of science involved, but there is also a lot of art. Once you have learned the basics, it is up to each beekeeper to learn the ins and outs of their colonies and the areas where their bees are kept. 

Currently, each plot in Colorado Springs is legally allowed one hive, assuming your HOA doesn’t object. They are working on getting it back up to two. That way if you lose one, you’re not out of bees until the new one is established. If you live elsewhere, though, check your local laws. Just down in Fountain, you can’t legally have a hive unless you have at least an acre of property. Of course, if you’re planning to flaunt the law, keep the neighbors well bribed with fresh, local honey.

Did you know that the queen bee rules, but she does not reign? It is the worker bees that determine when she needs to be replaced and they are the ones that choose the worker eggs to turn into little queens. Of course, once the first queen emerges, she promptly stings through all of the other queen cells to remove any potential rivals. The workers also take on every job in the hive at some point in her life. 

Did you know that when a bee colony is searching for a new home, they make decisions as a group the way our brain makes a decision. There was a Nova show on it. Basically, they do their waggle dance to tell their sisters the good news, but they aren’t above whacking a sister who is waggling for a different destination. In the end, whoever has the most interested sisters wins the vote. It seems that neurons in our brain send positive and negative signals to waggle or whack to influence the vote in the direction they want. Who knew?

The class on hive assembly just talked about the Langstroth Hive, as that is what 90% of the beekeepers use. There are other options, like the Kenyan top-bar hive or the Warre top-bar hive, but they don’t have the same following. At least, not yet. I am starting with a Langstroth Hive, since I can easily get my hands on a kit, but I think I will eventually have at least one Warre hive. The Kenyans are more of a warm-weather construction and probably won’t do as well in our cold winters.

We watched a video on how to move your bees from their shipping package to their hive. It was helpful to see live bees being handled. I think that will make it a little less intimidating when I get my own buzzing box. A little. After the film, though, the instructor went through a couple of points of disagreement (we don’t need to medicate them- it’s been handled before they shipped) and some Colorado-specific points. Don’t do it on a windy day. They’ll blow away.

When it comes to managing our bees, we need to think of ourselves as bee assisters rather than bee keepers. The bees do 99% of the work. We just need to keep an eye on them and help out if they need it. In fact, our only job during the first summer is to feed them and make sure they’re strong enough to survive their first winter. Once they are an established colony, though, handling them is far from a daily task. However, when they are handled, don’t forget to forgo your perfume, aftershave, or scented deodorant. They will try to figure out what kind of flower you are and if you’re good to eat.

The rest will need to go in a second post, as this one is getting a bit long.

Giving Jobs to China

I just finished watching Death By China. I’ve been saying for a little while now that China was grooming us to take us over. I thought I was kidding.

China joining the World Trade Organization and opening their borders to trade was sold to us in the ’90s as a good thing. We would make goods in America and ship them to China. That didn’t exactly happen. Since they joined the WTO in 2001, we have lost 57,000 manufacturing plants and something along the lines of 5.5 million jobs. Good jobs.


I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that losing 5.5 million manufacturing jobs also kills all of the jobs that supported them- maybe as many as half a dozen per job. We’ve seen pictures of Detroit. When the factory goes, that’s it. Bear in mind that it seems like the big businesses knew this was going to happen. They knew that when China was opened for trade, they’d just skedaddle over to the country that doesn’t have minimum levels of pay, or safety, or environmental concern.

There are several problems with this situation. Number one is that there are lots of Americans that are willing and able to work that simply don’t have the option. If there aren’t any jobs to be had, then there aren’t any jobs to pay the bills. People complain about a nanny state and a welfare state, but a welfare state is the logical conclusion to shipping the available jobs elsewhere.

The second problem is a total lack of quality control. This covers everything from worker’s health and wellbeing to the quality of the products themselves. Most of the products aren’t worth repairing when they break which supports the current throwaway culture. Worse than that? All of the products, including food, that have been recalled because they’re dangerous. If an American company had the reputation that Chinese products do, they’d be drummed out of business. But, hey, who cares if it’s killing you or killing the people that made it if it’s cheap enough?

The last one, the one I hadn’t realized, is that all of the money we funnel into China is supporting their large and growing military. If you remember your history, one of the major reasons that the North won the Civil War was because they were the manufacturers. The South had all the cotton they could want, but they didn’t have the infrastructure to turn that cotton into uniforms. Or guns. So the North cut them off from imports and trounced them with freshly-manufactured weapons. In a war, the “service jobs” that they’re pushing Americans toward are about as useful as a plantation full of cotton without a weaving mill. At the moment, we cannot build a military plane without Chinese parts. If they choose to cut us off, or worse- sabotage the parts, we’re in the same position that the South was in. The losing position.

So what does this mean? Don’t buy from China. I don’t care how much cheaper it is. If you can’t buy local, then buy American. If you can’t buy American (we don’t make microwaves anymore) then buy an import from anywhere but China. Don’t give them your money, and don’t support “American” companies that have given away our jobs.

We also need to get our government to stop allowing the Chinese to bamboozle us. If they are going to manipulate the currency, then we slap them with an import tariff to make up the difference. If they are going to soot up their country, then we charge them for the excess carbon they’re dumping into the sky they share with the rest of us.

I think this is a situation where we trust in Allah, but also tie up our camels. The government needs to get their heads out of their butts and help us out, but they owe so much money to China and their corporate overlords are so happy with the current state of things that I’m not sure how much they can do. So we push them to help us but also take steps to help ourselves. We start small businesses to make products worth having. We shop at our neighbor’s business instead of WalMart. Either our government will be able to do their job and protect us, or we’re going to rebuild our economy anyway.

The documentary started and ended with a plea to remember that the Chinese people are not the same as the Chinese government. I think this is a very important distinction to make. The people are suffering from low wages, dangerous working conditions, and the most degraded environment in the world. This isn’t their fault, and I doubt they’d keep things as they are if they had any say in the matter. If we can stop our insatiable demand for cheap products, then that will remove a lot of the drive for their government to treat them so badly. Buy American to improve the lives of the Chinese.

Heirloom Gardens: Super Big Dig

Just a little garden.

After playing in the Ranch Community Garden on Saturday, I trotted up to Denver to spend another Sunday afternoon with Heirloom Gardens digging over a plot. It is a brand new plot and a mere 19,000 square feet. The call had gone out some time ago for everybody to show up, bring a friend, and bring extra tools. There were between 20 and 25 people, including at least a few shanghaied significant others, and the pile of available tools made it clear that I wasn’t the only one to borrow extras from friends that couldn’t be there in person. The dig was scheduled for four hours, and it took the entire time.

Our society has been industrial for a while now. Enough generations have passed that when the average person looks at a plot that is nearly half an acre in size, the assumption is that it needs to be handled with some sort of machinery. After all, we invent this stuff so that we don’t have to do physical labor, right? The newest, greatest, coolest gadget is one more labor-saving device. Maps were invented and refined so that we didn’t have to keep the geography of an area in our head and gave us the ability to share that information with others without having to actually walk through the area to learn it. Now we have GPS units that tell us where to go so we don’t even have to read the maps ourselves. I don’t own a GPS unit yet, but I will when I start getting serious about hiking. It makes sense to have one for safety. As

Tools to spare

awesome as they are, however, there is a lot of information that a GPS unit can’t give me. If I’m out hiking and I run out of water, it can’t tell me about the spring right over the next ridge. If it starts raining out of nowhere, it can’t tell me there’s shelter 100 yards off the path to my right. Someone who has the geography of the place in their head could probably tell me both of those things.

We did have a little mechanical help with this plot. One rototiller. Other than that, we had rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, and muscle. Because I, and I am sure the rest of the volunteers can say this, spent four hours digging out weeds and removing rocks to ease the way for the tiller, I know that land in a way that I could never have understood it if I had instead spent the one hour or so that it might have taken to turn the land from the seat of a tractor. I don’t know what the weed is, but there is something growing there that has a surprisingly large and tenacious root considering that the above-ground part is totally non-woody. The area had clearly been either glacial or a river at one time considering that the rocks were almost all water-rounded. The bricks we dug up may indicate that it had also been a dumping ground during a construction project. I would have seen none of this even from the height of the seat of a lawn tractor.

Less than 25 people and four hours later. Impressive, isn’t it?

I work for a company, I imagine most people do, so I am used to having someone in charge of a project and lots of other people taking care of the various steps along the way. We had someone measuring and plotting each long row. Two people were in charge of the strings between the measured stakes showing us where to weed and spread the horse manure. They had to be moved when the tiller came through and replaced to delineate the beds when they’re ready to be planted. Some people were filling wheelbarrows with the manure for others to take out to each row and still others to rake out. Most of us were tackling the weeds and rocks. What I’m not used to is that once you were assigned a job, you were allowed to do it more or less in your own way. If you saw a job that needed to be done, you could switch over to that one because, well, it needed to be done. One person was in charge of timing when the weeders needed to move to the next row, and occasionally there was a request for more people to do a particular job. Other than that, things were done as the individual assigned to the job felt it should be done.

After the workday was done, it occurred to me that my New England family ties probably stood me in good stead. There is a decidedly independent streak in the people I was working with, and a willingness to work hard to be independent. This house had chickens, while the

So that’s what you do with canning jars outside of canning season. I’m tucking that away for future reference.

neighbors had a flock of ducks. It was also not an unfamiliar concept to be pulling as many rocks out of the ground as plants. I think I understand, now, why they use rocks as mulch out here. There are enough of them.

In the end, we didn’t quite finish the entire area. There was some compromise also on leaving the paths to be weedwhacked instead of dug over as is their preference. However, by the end of the weekend, I was really, really impressed with people. Between the number of beds we set on Saturday, and the massive amount of land we cleared for a garden on Sunday, it is amazing what we are able to do when we put down our gadgets and go do it.

The Plight of the Singleton

This isn’t a Bridget Jones-esque complaint about when Mum will stop asking if I’ve got a boyfriend yet and smug marrieds setting me up. Although if it netted me Colin Firth, I’d be willing to put up with it. No, this is about the challenges of being really independent.

America is all about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” Physical impossibilities aside, no one ever really does it alone. I know. I’ve tried. I have this independent streak that makes me want to do it myself. Just me! I don’t need help! But if I’m honest, I get help anyway. Of course my family fed, clothed, and sheltered me. But I was also encouraged to explore and try new things. Like horseback riding. It will never be anything but a financial drain- er- wonderful hobby- for me, but it has given me skills with practical applications. Like absolutely no fear of horse manure. I have friends that have done everything from shelter a horse I really couldn’t afford to teach me people skills. There is give and take in every relationship, but I didn’t do any of those things alone.

Now I find myself in a place where I don’t have the ties of family or years of shared history and it’s really highlighting that I can’t do this alone. I need support of some sort. I am meeting some wonderful people and slowly developing that web that everyone needs. We are, after all, a social creature. I am, however, a long way from what I am finding I crave. I hesitate to use the word family, as it’s not the biological ties that I’m after, but it has that feel. People that I know inside out. People that really know me. People with complementary abilities. The kind of deep, intimate ties that aren’t encouraged in a world that is based on your number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

As a single person living alone, all the chores fall on me. I go to work to pay the rent and then come home to cook and clean. If I want to buy a house, it’s my credit score that determines the interest and my income that has to cover the mortgage. We all know the stories of the one that stays in a miserable job to support their significant other that is going to school or starting a business. What I should be doing right now is getting a job with the professionals already in the field that I want to join. Unfortunately, I don’t have a husband that can sign me onto his health insurance and make sure that we have at least some income all 12 months of the year. I have to stick with the field that does offer these things.

Once upon a time, it was understood that each helped in their own way, and being a single person living totally on your own was very unusual. This is not modern-day specialization where all I know how to do is one tiny part of the process. I could chip in to help with anything, but since each has their own strengths, I tend to do the things that cater to them. One was domestic, taking care of the house and cooking. Historically, this was the wife, but more and more husbands are taking on this role in one-income households. One was the income-earner as farmer or laborer or merchant. If you look at history, it’s amazing how many widows went on to take over their late husband’s business, whatever it was. Even the children had jobs- assigning the antsy little boy to swatting flies away from the food on the kitchen table. These days that has turned into asking the kid to fix the computer problem.

This went beyond the family. Once upon a time, each village had a blacksmith and a baker and a cobbler (if anyone even knows what that is anymore). It may not have been advertised, but you knew which women made the best preserves and which men could mend harness like new. Even the weird woman that lived half in the woods had a talent. She was probably the one that you went to when a fever wouldn’t break or a beau wouldn’t propose.

So what does this have to do with homesteading? As much as my independent streak wants me to learn it all and do it all, it’s really not practical. I happen to me mechanically disinclined. When my truck breaks down, I could learn how to fix it. Or I could know someone who is in fact mechanically inclined. If I’m lucky, that person will happen to need some help with their vegetable garden.

Networking is a buzzword that annoys me. Mostly because I’m bad at it. Showing up at a “networking function” to pass out business cards and meet people that might be able to help me in the future just isn’t something I’m good at. However, I’ve been discovering that , it’s noting more than the family and village of yesteryear that could provide what I cannot. In fact, I have started developing a network purely by accident. I’ve offered skills that I have and discovered that others have simply offered theirs in return. Logically speaking, it makes more sense for us to be lifting each other up by our bootstraps rather than ourselves.

I’m home

Like many people, I moved to Colorado because it’s beautiful. I fully anticipated that my hippie leanings would begin to flourish, but I didn’t expect the pioneer spirit to infect me quite so quickly or thoroughly. This is a blog about my journey to learn about, and hopefully, eventually, teach about becoming independent and self-sufficient in the high plains desert of Colorado.

I fell in love with the West on a family trip in middle school. It took a while, but eventually I was able to move to Colorado Springs with a real job to pay the bills. I’m still new in the area, as I’ve been here less than a year, but I already feel like I’m home. It is nothing like the East Coast where I grew up, but it suits me well. I come from a long line of gardeners, and I finally feel like I’m somewhere that it is worth the time and effort to till the soil and plant the seeds. I’ll be here to see them grow.

I was raised in Pennsylvania, but my family is from New England. As a child, I learned about, and played around with, gardening in both climates. They were different on many levels, but the same on many others. Colorado has places that remind me of Maine, with less water, but overall it is unlike either. It has been quite a few years since I have played around with gardening, and I have no formal training in it. What I need to learn about gardening in general is further complicated by what I need to learn about gardening in this particular place. Unlike the East Coast, plants frequently don’t want to grow here. Particularly the ones that we are familiar with. What I need to learn is what species and varieties of imported plants can withstand the intense weather, and what species and varieties of native plants can be used instead.

This wish for independence comes from many places. My family is from New England where even now life is harder than in other places in the country. It makes for tough people. I have also been learning about nutrition and health for the last couple of years. The more I learn about modern food, or in many cases “food,” the more I want to be able to control what I am putting into my body. Healthy food makes for a healthy person, but much of the modern food comes from unhealthy plants and animals. I also believe that the current state of the economy will push people to be more self-sufficient simply in order to survive. The less we have to rely on large businesses to provide the necessities, the better off we are if something happens to them.

I have a lot to learn. I know that. I look forward to it. This blog is going to look eclectic because I want to learn from everyone who has anything to teach. However, the central theme will be this place I call home. Some people want to learn about the world. My goal is to know everything I possibly can about this little corner of it. I look forward to meeting you and learning from you on that journey.