On doing without

Gratuitous cute-ducky photo

Monica tagged me for a meme that I have seen a few other bloggers respond to lately. It has to do with what is it you would refuse to do without, should things really take a bad turn. I have read hers, and mostly agree if one had to make choices, hers are definitely reasonable ones to choose.Β  I think, though, that the meme is entirely wrongly directed. No offense to Monica as hey: she was tagged too; she didn’t make the thing up. It should not be the X Things I Cannot Live Without but How In the World I Can. That is the ultimate question, isn’t it, in any worst-case scenario?

And it has been my journey, upon moving to Michigan, to see how much we can do ourselves, without resorting to huge extremes of time or cash outlay. I have made it very plain in the entries in this blog that Rome is burning. You can either fiddle, or you can grab a fire extinguisher.

And these are my discoveries. Your life on this path need not be dire, or even wanting in any particular way: there is a world to be discovered when you bake your first loaf of bread, plant your first garden, taste your first egg from a little chicken under your care. You may even like the way your laundry smells when you hang it out to dry. Those are simple transitions anyone can easily make. The harder leap is one of degree. What would I do if gas jumps to $10/gal., as it inevitably will? How about heating our house without heating oil, or getting our water out of the ground if the electricity goes out? I know the answers to these last three, and while Rome is burning, we are working out ways to do them.

As it is now, so many of my transitions are gradual ones that it’s kind of hard to notice over time. We long ago stopped buying stupid stuff that is used and thrown away. Paper towels are now washcloths, purchased from Target by the dozen. We have always had paper napkins. Leftovers? They go in glass canning jars and then into the refrig, and not into a wasteful and never-to-leave-us plastic bag. We do still have garbage bags but it is crazy considering we have almost no waste with which to dispose. I never get the stand mixer out if I can grab a whisk or a pastry blender, and hey, I have the best-looking biceps of anyone I know because of it. In other words, any area of our lives (and in this paragraph I only focused on the kitchen) can see the easiest of changes undergone, changes which are NOT “living without,” just living differently. Am I wanting for anything? Maybe a little more time, but any parent of a young child would likely say the same thing.

So sure, I could play along and say I really do not want to give up coffee. But to be completely honest, I really do not want to give up life on this farm!

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17 responses to “On doing without

  1. Do you have the ‘new’ one-piece plastic caps for the canning jars? Are you lovin’ ’em as much as I am?

  2. Amen : ) yup…feel the same way. wish I could spend all my time with the family, the animals and the garden…however, one has to earn the mortgage, the taxes and the ever so rising enery bills. Living off the land wouldnt be too difficult if we were not so dependent on the grid I guess.

    Do you happen to know the path to freedom folks. http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/

  3. It’s kind of interesting that you post about this, because I thought some of the same things this weekend. There was a large forest fire out of control in my community, fueled by 70 km/h winds, and a hurricane’s worth of downed trees, and ringed in on four sides by hundreds of homes (5,000 people were evacuated). We watched the wind speed and direction all day, waiting for the water bombers to show up, and on Saturday around 1 p.m. (it started Fri. afternoon) we packed up the things we couldn’t do without. I got the obvious – my cat, my photo album, family pictures, my computer and the books I need to finish my thesis, but after that I drew a blank. Everything I looked at – my cherished books, music collection, everything in our linen closet, my clothes, our furniture, even my motorcycle, it just all looked like kindling to me! It sure is nice having things, but when push comes to shove, accumulating things only fuels the fire.

    In a metaphorical sense, most of the things we add to our lives really are just fanning the flames. In our case, our entire community was incredibly fortunate there were good people fighting the flames, but even they would have been useless if the wind wasn’t burning in the direction it was (only two homes were lost, although at times they thought they might lose whole subdivisions, and hundreds of houses).

    Gosh, sorry to get all philosphical and maybe preachy, but I’m young enough that these ‘big moments’ that I know everyone has still seem revelatory. πŸ™‚

  4. Putting in a plug for Thomas Elpel…you may enjoy his books, but especially this one.

    We are working toward the same things as well. My husband and I go rounds on the spring we get our water from. He wants a well and I want to keep the spring. When the power goes out our neighbors who have wells come get their water from us and we have a steady source of water even if it does have higher contamination risks. I think it’s odd that putting in a well will increase the resale value of our home and property…who wants to be dependent on a pump?? Our neighbors also seem to have problems with their wells drying up, but our spring has been operating since the turn of the century with no dry seasons. I like it πŸ™‚
    Right now we are thinking of both, digging a well and keeping the spring as back up.

    The heating and electricity are biggies for us. Gas stoves. The stoves are Vermont Casting “Radiant” stoves which are GREAT for putting out the heat, but we’re thinking of splurging on a wood stove by the same company. The chimneys are already in place (and we have 5 acres of alder trees that grow like weeds here) so we wouldn’t need to start from scratch with a brick chimney.

    I find that the electricity really matters for cooking, washing and drying clothes and refrigeration. We plan to build a little covered cooking area outside the house and I am hoping to learn how to build, and use, an earth oven for baking bread and other baked foods. Washing clothes is the hardest part (we’re a family of 7)…we need to heat the water, and a lot of it. The bathtub would work for washing, but heating all the water without a water heater would be the trick. Guess I’d better start looking for a big black cauldron and build a tripod with a pit under it!

    I am not afraid of whatever will come, but I do want to be prepared!

  5. I have been mulling the possible choices for food storage for some time now. Currently we use way too many plastic bags and those “semi-disposable” plastic food containers.

    I’m really unhappy using plastic, but don’t have the cash to switch to glass food storage containers.

    After reading your post, I realize I have a basement full of canning jars . . .

    D’oh! (hitting head on desk)

    Thank you for providing a solution. πŸ™‚

  6. I just want to say – I love your blog and your writing. Also, your can-do attitude. I also agree with you 100% on the Rome is burning thing. I’m trying to gather my little fire extinguishers one by one.

  7. Anne,
    Pickle jars and other jars food can be purchased in are a good way to build up your stock of food storage containers too! I keep my lids in a drawer and the glass containers open on the shelf so any odors from the previous food are not a problem and I never need to buy replacement lids for containers because, as long as I occasionally purchase some pickles or other such items with the same size lid, the glass jar usually breaks before I lose a lid.

  8. Marcy: Yep! True love. My husband found them. Shouldn’t be a big surprise as he’s the shopper in the household but do I ever love them. Here’s a link folks to what they look like.

    WF: Funny but you’re the 2nd person in a few days who asked if I knew the Dervais family. I used to read their blog a few years back; they were simply hippies then and very keen on show-and-tell. They seem to be a lot more corporatized now. Maybe I am wrong. But yeah, we still are wage slaves, aren’t we, you and I?

    Jennifer, how fortunate you are to have a spring. We’ve thought about wood stoves too and the one cool one I found that’s so different from anything else I have ever seen is a small baking stove from Australia. It’s called the Baker’s Oven. As far as wash day and ice boxes, I think back to the woman who raised her 10 kids in this very house. (We bought the house from her 89 year old son; she’d died in the mid-80s.) She had a kettle outside, and a wringer in the basement! They also dammed the stream behind our house and put up an icehouse filled with sawdust and chopped up the ice off the pond and sold it (!!!) to neighbors and the tavern down the street. In other words, these kinds of things can be done, and were done, dang, in this house not even 50 years ago.

    Anne! Very same thing happened to me. Tom got sick of seeing rusty jar lids in the fridge so he bought me those lids shown in the link I pointed Marcy to above.

    Thank you, Lorika. I do think anyone can do this. Hell, they USED to do this kind of stuff, often. We’re just forgetful. I read your Strib spread, great stuff!

    Thanks again for the tips, Jennifer!

  9. Very good El…I like your style πŸ™‚

  10. I agree with your living differently attitude. It puts the power into our hands where it belongs. Heaven help us all if we wait for the government to save us.

  11. Hallelujah, amen. We have gone through some of the same questions, are thinking about a wood stove, and how to pump water out of our well. Our very first garden is ~400 sq. ft., the chickens will be laying in 2 months, and we are on the lookout for a female meat rabbit and a milking doe goat. It is not fear that drives us, but independence, knowing that this is the way people have lived for millennium, and our corporate slavery is recent invention.

    I am not big on gratuitous compliments, but I have to say, what you are doing, and the way that you share it with us is rather inspiring. I specifically sought out bloggers within my growing zone to keep the garden interest local (I don’t care what California is growing in February), and finding yours has paid off. You push us in the right direction, and for that I am thankful.

  12. Great post! I am jazzed about not having purchased jam in one year! Woo hoo! The kitchen is an obvious place to start to me, because we all gotta eat. But the big things are what’s starting to worry me… fuel, power and the like…

  13. Aw, thanks Monica. I sometimes with these memes think I get labeled “does not follow instructions, does not play well with others” and the gold-star-seeking kid in me thinks “you should do better.” And as you can see I didn’t pass it on! πŸ˜€

    Pamela: I’ve discussed with others if this is a tendency towards control-freakishness in me and we all agreed it’s not. It’s just, as you said, trying to take back a little and put it in our own hands (and back, and upper arms…).

    TechS: Thank you! My goal of course is not to push you but to goad you, nicely. I am so happy to learn that so many others are considering more DIY, and if this little blog helps even one person consider a henhouse or a greenhouse or even growing some salad, then dang, it’s working. That said that’s a good-sized garden you guys have going! And you’ll love those eggs. Start compiling recipes now because in no time you’ll have more than you know what to do with. Me? I make a lot of mayonnaise and aioli and custards. Not the best for the waistline, but then that means I just need to shovel more dirt!

    Stacie, I saw your jars of ruby redness. Great job! Yum. I think I will make some this week too: the hot weather makes the berries small and tasty. I haven’t gone down the path of knitting, but I swear I have this image in my head of one bad-ass pair of socks of yours (paired with some Mary Janes) and I think: wow. Could I do that?

  14. Just discovered your site and can’t stop reading. I dream of having the ability and afford the opportunity to live on some land, grow my own stuff, and start getting ‘simpler.’ Taking strides… but for now, we’re stuck in suburbia with our squarefoot garden boxes! Keep inspiring us!!

  15. Oh wow, El. That stove looks wonderful and the price is too! The Vermont Castings are over $5,000 and then shipping too…from Vermont to Washington state… a lot. Thanks for sharing the link.

  16. Alyssa, hi! I saw you went to Tryon Farm. Funny: that was the closest farm to our house and it was the ONLY farm too. When it was a farm, of course. Well, I was a city girl who didn’t even do the half step of suburbia, so…here’s hoping you can jump in, too!

    Jennifer, yeah, pretty cool, isn’t it? It is not a monster yet lets you see the fire, something many woodstoves don’t do. I suppose it wouldn’t heat your whole house but cooking is my reason for wanting one. And I really want one, badly. Trouble is I would need to install a stovepipe 2 stories in the air by code where I want to put one…we’ll see.

  17. Love this post El. I got tagged for this awhile back and haven’t done it because I just wasn’t sure how to respond. The questions are all wrong, really. Nicely done!! πŸ™‚

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