Monday, October 5, 2015

Goodbye Girl

It's been a long road from where to I started to where I am today. Back in 2005 my friend, Judy, introduced me to blogging. At the time, I had no idea where I would go with it. At first, I thought I would use the blog to discuss/promote working from home, as that had been a passion of mine for quite a few years.

In 1997 I embarked on my new adventure as a stay-at-home mom. In 1998 I started my home-based business, a secretarial service in which my tag line was something like, I can do anything from my remote location that I could do in your office ... except file! When I started looking for clients, one of the first places I looked was the help wanted ads for people who were looking for secretarial help, and I was lucky to land a job as an admin assistant for a client who lived out-of-state and had planned to set-up an office locally. That I wanted to work from my home office was a definite advantage to him.

I learned a lot in the two years that we collaborated, including being given much opportunity to explore the world of the home-based entrepreneur. I opened an online bookstore geared toward home-based workers. I ended up being quoted in a book about home-based entrepreneurs, and I wrote (an, as yet, unpublished) Work-From-Home Workbook.

Working from home had been a big deal, for me, and at first I thought my blog would be about that.

The thing is, while I still work from home, the WAHM (work at home mom) movement has been waning. There aren't books being written about it anymore. There aren't whole websites with articles and links and "how to avoid work-from-home scams" (and many of us, who work from home, fell prey to some scam or other). There isn't the same community of support that there had been. There are still people working from home and wanting to work from home, but there is no longer that fire to make it happen.

After a few months of piddling around trying to figure out what I wanted to write, I stumbled on some other blogs - ones totally unrelated to working from home, but very interesting nonetheless. I discovered the eat local challenges. I learned about Peak Oil and resource depletion. I learned about climate change, became familiar with small space homesteading, learned about backyard chickens, read about container gardening, and a whole slew of other topics that felt familiar and spoke to the kind of person I wanted to be. I discovered this whole world of people who were doing things that Deus Ex Machina had, sort of, been playing at - like suburban homesteading -, and suddenly, I found my topic.

That's when "Home Is ...", my original blog (and the reason for my blog address became "Surviving the Suburbs", and I started writing about my new passion - local eating, gardening, raising suburban livestock, and prepping. That's when I started down the path that would lead to two published books and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

It's been a long road from where I stared a decade ago to where I find myself (and this blog) today. My daughters have grown up through this transition from typical American family with a steady diet of fast-food fare who shop at Walmart ... for fun ... to a family that hasn't eaten at a fast-food burger joint in so long we don't remember when, no longer owns a television, line dries ALL of their clothes (because we don't have a clothes dryer), boycotts Walmart and their ilk, shops thrift stores, eats local, and lives on a farm that's only a quarter of an acre.

It's been a long road, and I've covered a lot in this past decade.

At this point, however, I'm just not sure what else I have to say about our lifestyle.

I've read all of the How to Save Money books and websites, and most of them recommend changes that we made years ago. We've changed our light bulbs; use a third of the electricity of the average American household; reuse, repurpose and recycle; no longer use disposable paper products (except toilet paper, and Deus Ex Machina is just *not* going there *period*); don't eat processed food; don't have cable (don't have a television); buy used and/or local; make our own; and raise our own.

The message and the suggestions in the save money books and articles are always the same things, and I get really frustrated that they don't dig a little deeper to find more novel ways to save.

And I guess that's how I'm feeling about my blog. My topic is preparedness, but not in the "buy-supplies-and-hoard-them" kind of way.

Today, after I dropped Big Little Sister at her volunteer job and Precious at her baby-sitting job, Little Fire Faery and I had to run a few errands. The sun was still coming up, and next to it was this very odd light. It was like the sun was reflecting on something, but up in the sky. If we believed in alien space ships, we would have been pretty sure that we'd seen one. It was definitely a UFO, although it looked stationary and wasn't flying.

We chatted - mostly tongue-in-cheek - about the possibility that it was a foreign nuclear warhead that would be detonated at a high altitude and create an EMP that would wipe everything out, and one of our errands was stopping at the grocery store for dog food and toilet paper - just in case ... right?

But then, we discussed what we would do, like for real, if something like that were to happen. We would get her sisters and walk home. We would start processing the stuff in the freezer.

Then, we would visit our neighbors to make sure they were okay, that they had a water supply or knew where to get water. We'd show them how to boil and filter the brook water.

Every bit of the preparedness advice on this blog (and in my books) has been with the goal of getting people to that point - the point where we can know that in a worst case scenario, our lives would just be a little more physical, but not any less than. Abundance doesn't just mean a lot of a thing.

I haven't been blogging here much over the past year or so. Mostly, I've been on Facebook, still chatting about most of the same things, but mostly in the form of sharing little snippets (like what we had for dinner) and news articles without much commentary. It's often faster to whip out a quick status update than it is to post here on my blog.

But I miss and love blogging. I just think I have something else to say on a different topic. Like going from my passion as a WAHM to becoming a Thrivalist, I'm not abandoning either (I still work from home, and I'm still going to be operating my suburban homestead), but I think it's time to let this blog stand where it is.

So this is my farewell post (probably). Join me on Facebook ... or join me over at Tales from the Barkside, where I plan to share stories about our adventures in being a foster family for some four-legged friends. Right now, we're fostering puppies. Four of them. And they came to us as neonates. Cute little buggers.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Ultimate "Pantry" Challenge

Last November, my daughters had an appointment at the dentist. Next door to our dentist's office is a food pantry. I've been hearing about this pantry for a while, but I never knew exactly where it was.

We're volunteers at the local animal shelter, and my daughter decided that she wanted to do a "12 Day of Christmas" donation to the animal shelter. I decided that I wanted to match her, but take my donation to the food pantry.

So, while my daughters were getting their teeth cleaned, I walked over the pantry, introduced myself, told them what I wanted to do, and asked if they ever needed volunteers. It's turned out to be one of the best impulsive things I've ever done.

Ten months later, my daughters and I are still volunteers. We go once a week and work the entire shift (from 9:00 to noon). We also help out with fundraisers, like the yard sales that are every other week during the summer. Last weekend, we got to go to a Blues Festival in town to sell raffle tickets for the pantry. The weekend before, we were part of the crew that manned a drink station for runners in the Rev3 Triathlon. It's been an awesome experience working at the pantry, and definitely it's been quite an education - for both me and my daughters.

One of the biggest challenges our patrons face is being offered food that's unfamiliar or not terribly appetizing looking. And our patrons actually get to choose what they take, unlike some pantries where the pantry personnel packs a box with x amount of each of the four food groups, and sometimes people end up with cans of creamed spinach and shredded pork, or maybe they get a can of tuna, some Kraft Mac & Cheese, and three cans creamed corn. Each patron in our pantry gets to pick a certain number of items based on family size. Bread, fruits and vegetables are on a take-what-you-need basis.

The problem is that we often have no idea what WE will have, because everything is donated. We have no idea what we'll get from each delivery. It could be a box of rice, which is versatile and goes a long way ... or a case of generic-brand tomato soup.

Sometimes we get odd vegetables that are completely unfamiliar. Like Jicama. I had to look it up. It's a tuber, native to the southwest, and used in a lot of southwestern cuisine. We have a friend from New Mexico. He knew what it was. I still haven't tried it - although I should so that I can give an informed opinion.

I've been having a lot of fun with talking to our clients about what they can do with the food we have available. Last year, we were inundated with tomato soup. One can only enjoy so much soup with grilled cheese, before it gets old. So, I found five or six recipes, and we handed them out. I had no idea that one could make French Dressing (for salads - used to be my sister's favorite dressing when we were kids) with condensed tomato soup.

This week, we have cabbages and cucumbers, because a local farmer donated a lot of it to us ... and I wondered if I could come up with a recipe ... maybe a twist on the coleslaw theme.

I did.

And it's delicious.

Most of the ingredients are things we have at the pantry. The only thing our patrons might have a challenge acquiring are the spices, in particular, cumin, but for those interested, cumin comes in a 2 oz bottle and costs between $2 and $4, but it will last a long time. It's one of my favorite spices, and I use it on everything from steak to chicken ... and now, coleslaw.

The dressing is a play on the Indian Raita and a tzatziki.

Coleslaw with Cucumber-Yogurt Dressing :

1/2 large head of cabbage shredded
1 overly large cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
1 c plain yogurt
1 tbsp. fresh mint leaves finely chopped (or 2 tbsp of dried could be used)
1 tsp of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar, but any will do ... or substitute lemon juice for a different zing)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix yogurt and spices together until well blended.
2. Add finely chopped cucumber.
3. Toss with shredded cabbage.


The dressing can also be enjoyed with flat bread and spicy meat.

For this dish, the cabbage, garlic, and mint were from my garden. The cukes were from a local farm. The yogurt was made by a local farmer, who has just started making yogurt. Vinegar and cumin were not local.

Finding interesting, nutritious and tasty ways to prepare the kinds of food that we often receive at our community food pantry can be quite a challenge, but it's a lot of fun to imagine the possibilities.

Monday, August 10, 2015

We are the Tin Man

Being a Thrivalist/Prepper/Survalist/Suburban Homesteader is all about preparedness, and we may not all agree on what we're preparing for ... or it may just be a sense that all things are not right.

Way back in the day, I started following several authors - both on line and off - who considered themselves part of the Peak Oil crowd. Peak Oil, for those of you who may be new to this stuff (because we don't hear as much about Peak Oil these days as we used to), is the point at which the world has used "half" the oil there is available. It's like climbing a mountain. When you get to the "peak", your journey is not concluded. You still have to come back down.

The Peak Oil crowd, based on extensive research by experts in the field (most notably M. King Hubbert), states that the Peak for US oil production happened in the 1970s. That doesn't mean that we're not producing oil anymore, because we are, but that the amount we're getting and the quality of that crude is considerably diminished. It is very telling we discovered the Bakken Tar Sands back in the 1950s, but didn't start drilling until recently, after the pumpjacks in Texas and Oklahoma stopped pulling the black gold from the ground.

Recently, I stumbled upon this article with the very ominous title Oil Collapse Couldn't Come at a Worse Time for the Industry, which made me think more about Peak Oil. What's interesting is that, currently, the price of oil per barrel is under $50, but we're still paying almost $3/gallon at the pump. The article explains why: oil companies are heavily in debt, and Saudi Arabia has flooded the market with their oil (producing around 10 million barrels per day).

What's very telling is this quote from Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer, who said, "At the end of the day, borrowing is borrowing. Having this huge amount of debt is never, never good. Especially, you see what the companies are doing right now. The oil companies are running on cash flow, not on earnings.... So all companies that I know of are not living within their means.... How long can that last? Every company I know of, including Chevron, Exxon, BP, Apache, Anadarko, every company, you name it. They are all exceeding their cash flow. That's not sustainable. Something's got to give."


According to the article, the banks reevaluate their outstanding loans in October and decide what to do. Also according to the article, some smaller oil companies many find themselves without any financing, which means, they may have to close their doors. Maybe they'll get bought out by bigger companies ... unless those bigger companies don't have the revenue (or credit worthiness) to buy them out, and then, who knows.

Whatever happens, it looks like it's going to be an interesting fall and winter, and it doesn't look like the consumer price for gasoline or oil is going to drop, even as the price of crude hits the rocky bottom.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Watch Out, Angels! I know Victoria's Secret

Yes, I have often purchased overpriced undergarments at Victoria's Secret.

It started several years ago when I was in the same room with two other homeschooling moms who were ignoring me and entered into a discussion about undergarments (not sure how the subject came up, but whatever). They started chatting, very enthusiastically and animatedly about a particular style they enjoyed from the above mentioned lingerie retailer. I'd never thought much about my underwear brand. I guess I just figured they were all uncomfortable, and it was just one of those things we had to endure if we planned to stay clothed. They spoke about how comfortable their panties were, and so, naturally, I wanted some, too.

Then, I assumed that, because it was a niche market, and VS specializes in the product, what I got from their store would be a higher quality and would last longer. What I'm finding is that it isn't true. The underclothes are comfortable enough, but it's incredibly disheartening to spent $5 on one single pair of panties that are unwearable in less than a year. Okay, I could understand if I only had one pair and it wore out after a year of use, but when I have multiple pairs, and they're still rags after only a few months, it's frustrating.

Last December, when I was making holiday gifts, one of those was to be new undergarments for Deus Ex Machina. I made a pattern and sewed them. They came out pretty awesome - although since flannel doesn't stretch in the same way that the fabric used in the boxer-briefs I used for the pattern does, they ended up a bit too small.

After throwing away, yet, another pair of my panties (sans the salvaged waistband elastic, which I reuse), I thought about those boxers, and I decided I could use the pattern to make some undergarments for myself.

In a true thumbing-my-nose-at-corporate-America, not only did I make a wearable undergarment, but I also reused a stretched out camisole from Victoria's Secret for the fabric. Ha! Take that ;).

I needed one and a half camisoles (I used one pink one and one white one - hence the two tone panties :)) for the final product, and I even reused elastic from the "shelf bra" for the waistband.

They fit, and they are comfortable, and I will make more pairs, when I find a material I want to use.

Forgive me if I don't post a picture of me wearing them. They are underwear, after all, and I'm no "Angel." :)

What are you recycling/reusing/repurposing today?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

New Clothes

I had a few minutes this week to start cutting out the pattern for my new skirt. I bought the pattern at the end of May and then, purchased some fabric a couple of weeks ago. Things often move very slowly here, and I fit in new projects wherever I can. It's a process.

I cut the pattern out, and then, stuff happened, and I didn't get around to sewing it until this weekend.

It's a bit shorter than I was expecting, and the skirt isn't quite as full as I thought it would be, but overall, it's comfortable and I like it.

I was so excited about it, I decided to try making one out of some old shirts I had lying around. I used three shirts, and added a bit on the skirt and waistband. It's a denser material, and so it came out a little heavier than I expected. Plus, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to dye it, because I have had bad experiences with wearing white skirts.

I had some awesome helpers while I was sewing.

And my daughter was so excited about my skirt projects, that she requested to make her Darlek shorts. She learned to sew on a machine. She had a great time. She loves her new shorts.

Life is good.