Saturday, January 21, 2012

Adventures In Sprouting

The First Soak

Well, today’s the day I started our Mung beans for sprouting. I couldn’t afford a single-purpose sprouter, so I decided to use a Mason jar. I’ve washed it out well, rinsed well, and rinsed the seeds off well. Then I cut a piece of cheesecloth and found a ring to hold the cloth on. Having read that they can fill a jar, and seeing as how this is my first time doing this, I opted for a small amount first. Maybe a half a handful.
I know these are the sprouts in oriental cooking, but I’ve heard you can put these on a sandwich or salad too. We’ll see how they taste.

I’ve taken the first picture, as we progress, I’ll take more and keep you all posted.

So begins my adventure in sprouts.
Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

If You're Going To Be Poor In The Future, And You Are...

"If you’re going to be poor in the future, and you are, you might as well learn how to do it competently. It’s entirely possible to lead a life that’s poor in terms of money, material goods, and energy consumption, and profoundly rich—far richer than most contemporary lifestyles—in human values. If you’re going to do that, though, you’re going to have to learn how it’s done, and the only school where you can study that is that ancient institution, the school of hard knocks. If you start cutting your energy use and your material wants now, before you’re forced to do so, you can get past the hard part of the learning curve while you still have other options."
from "Waking Up, Walking Away", The ArchDruid Report,John Michael Greer

I read The ArchDruid Report twice this morning. Once because I find I sometimes miss the point he's trying to make (perhaps because I find it difficult to read narrow columns?), and then again, because I wanted to make sure I was grasping his point. Lots of folks are catching on to voluntary simplicity, for a lot of reasons. Many others are having it forced upon them. Here, I'm in a different category, the one that borrows a bit from each of the others. I live so far below the poverty line, I need a map and far-off vision to find it, despite the fact that I have held a full time job for years. Our kids don't have the latest game system, or the coolest cellphone. We don't have iPads or iPones. I admit though that at one time, all of us but one had an iPod, albeit not the newest model. But we eat well, and we exercise, and we're generally in better health than most of our neighborhood. One of my pastimes lately has been de-cluttering. Before my friends and family run for the thermometer, no, I'm not sick. It occurred to me one day that we've lived in this apartment for 11 years now (and a bit), and we've accumulated a fair bit of stuff. So I decided to start going through clothes, books, magazines, get the idea. I've caught myself many times wanting the latest whatever. Our middle child borrowed an iPad from school to do music homework, and of course it made the rounds here as we all poked and oooed and ahhhed over it. Yeah, I'd love to have one. But will we get one? Likely not. We don't need it, and we can't afford it. It's more than a toy, we could use it as a tool. But it's not something we can't do without, so we'll admire it from afar. 

We've cut our energy consumption too. We don't have a car, everywhere we go is either by bus or a ride from a friend. Usually this arrangement works well for us, until we have to get to the pediatrician, who is in another town, or our favorite yarn supplier, also in another town. But generally, we live close enough to places we need that we can either walk there or take the bus. All this walking has put us all in better shape than most. The middle son complains every now and then about everyone else being able to take the bus while he walks, but on extremely wet days, we make sure he has bus fare. But I would bet my last dollar on him against his classmates if we were to see who could walk the farthest, him or them. Our small apartment is being heated by a small cube type heater. No big roaring furnace. It has a sensor that lets it know when it's reached the temperature I want, its' case is always cool to the touch and I feel pretty safe with it. So far, we've only had one cool morning in here. Of course it helps that this has been a mild winter.

So, as the ArchDruid says,"If you’re going to be poor in the future, and you are, you might as well learn how to do it competently..If you start cutting your energy use and your material wants now, before you’re forced to do so, you can get past the hard part of the learning curve while you still have other options."
Is that part of your plan? Do you plan on reducing while you can, or have you already tightened your belt too far? How do you make do, save money and cut back?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Open Mind Opens Doors

I've been promising some thoughts on where a cottage industry might fit in modern times, and this required some research. First off, I wanted to be sure I understood what a cottage industry was. According to Wikipedia:

A cottage industry is an industry—primarily manufacturing—which includes many producers, working from their homes, typically part time. The term originally referred to home workers who were engaged in a task such as sewing, lace-making or household manufacturing.

So how does that translate to modern times? When we talk about returning to a cottage industry today, generally it's understood to mean that we're referring to a return to making things ourselves, within a smaller economy. That might mean making horse tack, or knitting hand-made socks, carpentry or making children's clothes by hand, home brewing beer or buying eggs and honey from someone a mile away, and having a payment structure that is less manipulated than what we're accustomed to. But the idea isn't limited to handmade items. Anything that can be made, from baking, to soap, to candles, to hairdressing, to clothing, engine repair, to food production such as honey, meat butchering ... pretty much anything you can think of. Generally, payment for any item or service within a cottage industry is cash, but some have devised a barter system that pleases everyone.

You may be thinking this is an antiquated system that has no place in today's global world. Ah, but not so, Dear Reader.  Whether or not you are aware of it, our global system is fragile. Consider for a moment how many items we buy are made in Japan. Now consider how many will be imported to our shores as that country tries to rebuild after the Tsunami and nuclear emergency. No big deal? Won't affect you too much? Consider now the potential benefits of being able to shop for things closer to home. Of course, that means something different to everyone, and it's not always going to be possible. Now before I get anyone's back up, here's another reason to bring back a cottage industry economy as much as possible. Back when working at home to produce an item was the norm, one's children had more access to their parents, and often were better equipped to take on life when they got older. More often than not, multiple members of the family could contribute to the family's income. This allowed some leeway in skills and desire to take on certain roles. Just recently I overheard a piece on television about a husband and wife team that made clay pieces for the wine industry. He formed the pots, bowls and urns while his wife made the glazes and decorated the pieces. They had settled into this arrangement because she enjoyed the glazing stage while he disliked it, while she was not fond of the actual forming of the pieces.

Not everyone can work out of the home. A dear friend of mine has been forced to accept that she will not be able to take on a "traditional" job outside the home, and so we were discussing ways  she could bring in work. In the end, she decided to create highly customized information books for hospital, and hospice, patients. This serves an ever-present need, has been positively received by medical professionals, reduces the stress of elder care, makes the medical personnel's job a little easier and can ease the family's minds a great deal. Not traditional, but this is an idea that was borne of need, experience and a desire to contribute as well as help others. In this case, the cottage industry is the answer to bringing money into the home while contributing to society, as well as using an intelligent mind when the body will not co-operate.

Another benefit of  the resurgence of a cottage industry is to prevent valuable skills from being lost. Once upon a time, when one decided what trade one was interested in, an apprenticeship was decided upon, skills taught under a watchful eye and the next generation learned how to produce what their culture needed. Blacksmiths, knitters, makers of musical instruments, herbalists, midwives, bakers, potters, broom makers and coopers all once learned this way. Do you know how to make a broom from scratch? How about a pair of shoes? Would you know how to treat blood poisoning without a doctor? Once, there were many people with this kind of knowledge. You may not think we need to know how to make a pair of shoes in our time, with a shoe store on every other block, but I think that the day is coming when we'll need to be able to access that kind of information. Let's take for example, the humble scarf. You may not need a warm winter scarf where you live, perhaps you enjoy wearing the fancy kind that spruce up an outfit. Someone wove that cloth. Did you know there are folks within our own borders who raise fiber producing animals, spin and weave cloth? Some of them go on to make fancy scarves that are enjoyed and purchased by many. This money then, stays within the cottage economy. It goes to purchase feed for those fiber producing animals, or eggs for that person's table, or perhaps to pay the neighbor who sold the weaver apples for her children's lunch. That scarf purchase did not perpetuate abysmal working conditions in another country that demanded yet another young person to work a 20 hour day, because they will accept .30 cents a day. That money stayed within the weaver's own borders, allowed her to continue her trade and allowed her to help make her neighbor's lives better because she was able to use her purchasing power politically and locally.

There's another reason to consider the return of the cottage industry. Once, you worked hard in school, got good marks and went off to either college or university if you were not learning a trade outside of post-secondary education. After school, you got a job, and usually held it long enough for it to become a career, if not for life. Not so any more. Jobs are disappearing faster than governments can keep up with, mainly because it's cheaper to do business in other countries than it is here in North America. I've discussed ways to combat this in other posts, so I'll resist the urge to do so again. We've become a culture of temporary workers, contract and part time employees, even while the cost of living, food and medical care has raced past our incomes. Many of us are forced to look for alternate incomes, and a cottage industry helps serve this need, especially with the cost of child care rising. I remember the day my ex-husband and I had a discussion about me returning to work. He wanted me to get a full time job to help offset the bills. After doing some number crunching, we determined that all of my pay would end up going to the babysitter, even though she was cheaper than anyone else. I remember asking him, "So what's the point?" He never did have a logical answer for me. Many others are in the same situation today, so for them, an income that can be earned at home makes sense.

In these changing times, what worked a generation ago is not working for us today. We need to approach survival in our times from a different perspective. There's a lot to learn from history, and not just what we were supposed to learn from war. An open mind is the first step.

Why Not?

Just a brief update while I continue to work on thoughts on the economy and surviving in a cottage-industry based New World...

From an article on the re-invigorated Canadian textile industry..."For instance, unlike its U.S. counterpart, the federal government does not compel the Department of National Defence to buy from Canadian manufacturers."

To which I say, Why not?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Five Years From Now

Home In Five Years
I received an interesting email this morning, "24 Stats To Crush Anyone Who Thinks America Has a Bright Economic Future".  It is well worth a read, and then another. The most  disturbing thing is that the trend has been sliding downhill since the 80's, and not just for the United States, either. I've written about  this issue before, in Why We're UnEmployed And How We Can Fix It so it's reassuring to see I'm not the only one who feels this way.
However, the article I mentioned is one of the few that actually discusses how desperate some people are getting to make ends meet. To quote Mr. Snyder,

"As the economy continues to crumble, large numbers of Americans are becoming really desperate.  For example, a recent Mother Jones article detailed how large numbers of formerly middle class Americans are now actually growing marijuana in an effort to make ends meet.

As things continue to get worse, people will become even more desperate.  There are millions of people out there that find themselves unable to pay the mortgage and put food on the table for their families.  When people hit rock bottom, they often find themselves doing things that they never dreamed that they would do."

I work in  retail, and  I know I have a few customers that are dealing drugs on the side, even though they have jobs. One is a mother who says she couldn't make ends meet without her "second job". Whatever the justification, more people are turning to creative ways to make ends meet, because they have to. One of my customers is a mechanic, but takes a second job every now and then to pay off his credit cards. Another customer of mine takes in babysitting jobs to help make the rent during the lean months. This happens all across Canada and the U.S. This has become our new normal. Gone is the career in government, or the mill, or the factory job one had for life. Gone are the days when someone you knew could get you a job, and if you minded your P's and Q's and worked hard, you were set for life. I have worked in retail for a number of years, and despite the fact that I have a good boss and I like my co-workers, our job is soul-stealing more often than not. I know I'm one of the lucky ones though.

I still maintain that both Canada and the U.S are barreling down a slippery slope. I don't see the world ending in 2012, I'm too much of an optimist for that. (I have plans to live to be a hundred). I can see the world economy drowning. I don't watch the news and I know enough to see it happening already. The U.S may never recover, and where the United States goes, Canada trails along after like a dog after a bone. I wish I could say that I see Canada growing a spine as a nation and standing up for themselves, finding their own way for a change. But I don't. My own country will probably do what we always have and follow the States into economic ruin.

Our salvation as people, I think, will only come if and when, we re-think our own priorities. When each person re-evaluates what is important to us; wealth, comfort, health, status or a shiny car. When each of us can take those priorities and assess honestly how those fit into our current lives. Someone asked me over a decade ago, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" When I answered her, she responded, "Now what do you need to do and have to get there?"
I think that's the question we need to ask ourselves today, but we need to take an honest look at our surroundings and also ask if where we want to be in five years will be feasible within the world. I would like to be in my own home in five years, but in today's economy, I doubt that will happen.

I know my own priorities have shifted in the past couple of years. In my next post, I'll expand more on that, but for now, suffice it to say that I want to be less dependent on others.
So I challenge you today to envision yourself five years in the future. Where do you want to be, in your life circumstances, not necessarily geographically. Share your thoughts with us, tell us what you want to be doing in five years.
In my next post, perhaps even later tonight, I'll share my vision with you!