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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Householding vs. Homesteading


I started this blog to chronicle my efforts to turn a late-century-ranch-house-on-a-quarter-acre-lot-in-a-suburban-cul-de-sac into a homestead in an urban setting (she wrote, neatly sidestepping the trademark issue). 'Homesteading' is not quite the right way to think of it however; I am neither trying to claw an existence out of a wilderness nor am I trying to work a free tract of land for a proscribed period of time in order to be able to keep it.  I mean, when it comes right down to it, homesteading was largely the US government seizing millions of acres of land and displacing who knows how many Native Americans, and then handing over said property to bunch of non-natives saying, here- let's see what you can with it.

I've since learned that what I'm really doing is householding and homemaking.  From Harriet Fasenfest's A Householder's Guide to the Universe *, I've learned that our word 'economy' comes from the Greek compound word oikonomos, which literally translates as 'one who manages a household', from the root words oikos which means 'household', and nemein, which means 'to manage'.  From Shannon Hayes's Radical Homemakers *, I learned that centuries before the industrial revolution, people worked largely at home, and that the word 'husband' came from the Old English hus for 'house' and band for something being bonded or bound to something else, so 'husband' came from someone who was bound or bonded to his house.  I also learned that the husband and wife made their lives by a useful and logical division of labor based on their physical abilities: she kept the garden, and house and cooked and made clothes; he worked larger pieces of land for grain, took care of the animals, and made the shoes. Interestingly enough, he made the wine and mead, and she made the beer (not that I'm volunteering for this job- Steve has it down.)  It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800's that more and more people left the home to earn a wage, which started the vicious cycle of actually needing the job, because now you needed to buy what you used to have time to make.

So, division of labor aside because Steve's and my division of labor is certainly not typical, what we're really doing is householding, which appeals to me a great deal.  I think more people should be doing it.  A lot are, but in this instance, more is better.  Instead of being a nation of consumers, we'd become a nation of producers.  And even though we could not perhaps sell what we grow and make, largely because we can't compete with Big Business or Big Agribusiness, we could at least do more for ourselves.  I can't help but feel that a really good way to deny any further profit to the wealthy few hell-bent on owning our government and seeing to it that various laws are enacted or repealed to benefit themselves would be to stop being part of the economy that funnels our dollars into their coffers and instead start growing a home-based economy.

This will probably happen anyway, insofar as dollars drying up. Regardless of however the Fed chooses to manage the money supply, if you don't have a job, you're not earning a paycheck.  The faster the middle class shrinks, the faster the number of people without money will grow, and the sooner the business and corporation owners, CEO's and industry barons will find themselves without a domestic market, or certainly, they will have a much, much smaller domestic market. And going overseas for a global market will not be so attractive once the price of oil rockets sky high, which it will.  It's the same shortsightedness that extracts a profit from the earth at all costs that is extracting a profit from the masses at all costs, and the only way to fight back is to not participate in it.

Even in my little cul-de-sac, we most of us garden, and we've talked about each of us sticking with a particular few vegetables that we grow well and then trading them among ourselves.  It's this kind of thinking that foments something like BerkShares, which are an alternative currency used in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. You can't exactly pay your income or property taxes with them, but for buying both goods and services in the region they work.  I'm not convinced that the wealthy wicked won't get their hands on them some day and dry up that particular currency, but they can't get their hands on barter or trading, which I see as the way out for the ninety-nine percent.  'If you don't like how the little boy down at the end of the street plays, don't play with the little boy down at the end of the street' paraphrases something I heard growing up, and seems logical and simple solution for dealing with economic bullies.

Another idea that I'm coming to terms with is the idea that money is something for which you trade your precious and very finite time on earth. To my knowledge, no one ever lay on their deathbed and said, "I should have spent more time at the office."  Your Money or Your Life *, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin solidifies my intention to retire early but also makes me take a hard look at my relationship with money.  This year we were supposed to live solely on my income and throw all of Steve's at the mortgage, which by and large we've been able to do, except for last month when both the premiums for the car insurance and house insurance came due at the same time, and is something I forgot would happen. I know there's a whopping three-thousand dollar property tax bill looming in November, but I should be ready for it by then.  But reading YMOYL has me thinking about my purchases in terms of how much of my life I'm trading for them. I have to remember as I'm forking over the lucre that every dollar spent is not a dollar saved and that I'm thwarting my own exit strategy.  And in the meantime, I know there have been times when I have not been as careful as I should have been, and this time I am not talking about backing into the neighbor's mailbox and scratching the bejeezus out of the back quarter panel of the car such that we have to have it repaired before the rainy season starts ($800).  No, I'm talking about adding things to the grocery cart that weren't on the list, and not thinking about a purchase before hand to determine why I'm buying it.  Do I really need it or do I just want it? Is it worth the adjusted $15.18 an hour I'm making (adjusted for how much gas it takes to get there and the real hourly wage I'm making because I'm salaried and put in a LOT more than 40 hours a week) for which I'm trading my time on earth?  Time I'd rather be spending at home with Steve? Much rather.  By the way, the adjusted $15.18 an hour is not in any way what I'm bringing home because I haven't factored in taxes and my 401K contribution which is maxed because I'm as old as I am. My take home adjusted-for reality-hourly rate is more like $9.10 an hour.  I don't know how people making minimum wage do it.

The whole idea of course, is to change how we're living so that we can spend more time together, it's as simple as that.  We each of us have only so many hours on earth, some of us less than others, so it's really important that we spend them doing things that are important to us or spending more time with people that are important to us.  And yes, I'm talking to you, Karen, if you're even reading this.  My father died a month after his sixty-second birthday after a long fight with brain cancer.  He really left years before that because he wasn't himself, but what stayed with me all these years is that he didn't get to retire. So not only was he cheated out of his retirement, my mom was also cheated out of his retirement. I don't want that happening with Steve and me.

I'm not sure how many of you are still with me on this post, but what do you think?  Why are you householding and homemaking?  Has this recession (which is still on, as far as I'm concerned, CPI and GDP be damned- there are still a lot of people hurting out there) changed how you think about money or was it the reason you started doing what you're doing?  And even if you're not householding, what changes have you made in your life that push you along in this direction?  Do you even like the idea of a nation of makers trading with each other?

I'd really like to know.

And in the meantime, Steve and I gotta go grocery shopping.

* all borrowed from the library

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer of Disappointments


I know, I know; I haven't posted for a long time.  I don't usually post unless I have something to report; I just haven't had anything of interest to relate lately.

Truth is, I am struggling with my garden this year. Somewhere between being really busy at work and the unreliable weather we're having, I didn't get the warm weather crops in until late; I'm only just getting green beans and zucchini, but the tomatoes aren't ripening, and the peppers are still no where; ditto eggplant. It'll be a miracle if I get any fruit off of them. I'm finally getting the Abenaki Red Calais flint corn to make ears, which is great- I just hope they're ready in time before the rainy season starts. And it's not all bad- we did get a bumper crop of boysenberries this year.

The biggest disappointment of all has to be the Big Bed.   I can't tell why some of the stuff planted at the same time is growing and some of it isn't.  I've had it stuffed full of seed and its progress has been just incredibly slow.  For weeks and weeks the parsnip seed has been in and I can't tell if it's actually growing or not.  It's supposed to take a long time to germinate, and it seemed to do that in the appropriate amount of time, but the first true leaves appeared weeks ago and then they stayed like that. For weeks!

parsnip seed, all planted the same day
It's truly odd; depending on what I planted, all the seed in a given area was planted at the same time, and some of it's growing and some of it's not; I don't know what the problem is, but I have a suspicion that it has something to do with the COF (Complete Organic Fertilizer, Steve Solomon, Gardening When It Counts) with which I dressed the soil.  Problem is, I can't tell if it was too much or not enough.

Parsnips planted earlier, but some are
just not making any progress!
the kale is doing it too

It just points to the importance of properly building up your soil with things like compost and properly rotted manure, or in the case of rabbits, "hot" manure. In any case, I will have failed again this year to produce a major portion of our food from the yard, and if it all fell apart tomorrow, we'd starve.

I really need to get the hen yard made so that I can get chickens and rabbits.   Even if the rabbits wound up being pets, they'd still be good to have around.