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Goodbye Blogger - New Site Ahead!

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Posted on : 4:06 PM | By : Nic

I need you all to update your links to my new site:

www.nicolefaires.com

I just finished it... and I mean just, so there may be a few bugs but it should be ready to go.  I wish there were a way to take all of my Blogger followers with me.   I'm sorry about that but please come see my fancy new blog anyway. :D

I Miss Yogurt

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Posted on : 10:04 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

I haven't been able to eat yogurt in a couple of years.  One day about two years ago when I ate yogurt I got very sick and now I can't eat any dairy at all.  This includes milk and cheese... and don't get me wrong I love cheese so much, but I think the thing I have been missing most is yogurt

I had some kind of infection a few weeks ago and I got some tzatziki to help combat the effect of the antibiotics.  I suppose I could have made it myself but I hadn't ever tasted tzaziki and it's hard to have the motivation to mix up anything special when I don't exactly have a real kitchen, so like I said, I bought some.

Tzatziki, for those unaware, is Greek yogurt made of sheep or goat's milk and mixed with all the things I love: garlic, cucumber, olive oil, etc.  When I ate it, I don't know if it did me any good because I felt sick after.  Did the friendly bacteria help me on its tortuous way through?  Who knows... it seemed to only serve as a reminder that I can't have yogurt.

What's frustrating is that most people who are lactose intolerant can still eat yogurt because the proteins are broken down more easily or something like that.  Humans have eaten yogurt for thousands of years... but I suppose the universe likes to play little jokes now and then and leave someone out.  I have never had a dietary decision made me feel so left out.  When you don't eat bread, you can still eat many things that most people eat.  When you are a vegetarian, it's so mainstream you can eat at most restaurants easily.  If you can't eat dairy, it's as if every meal has been downgraded. When you inform your host that you can't have dairy and to make a meal accommodating you, you will see panic in their eyes as they realize that every tasty meal has some element of dairy in it.

Besides all the great calcium and vitamins in yogurt, the benefits of the active cultures of yogurt are well-known.  Because it is fermented it's supposed to be more easily digested, and it's made all over the world by just about everyone.  It is even enjoyed by cultures who don't traditionally eat much dairy at all.

I suppose I rant on about this because I woke up this morning and I just really missed having some simple strawberry yogurt.  It's a beautiful sunshiny day with blue sky and it's really warm in the bus.  A yogurt smoothie would really have been nice. :)

And now, for your entertainment, my favorite yogurt quote, from the movie Spaceballs:
Lone Starr: 'Who hasn't heard of Yogurt!' 
Princess Vespa: 'Yogurt the Wise!' 
Dot Matrix: 'Yogurt the All-Powerful!' 
Barf: 'Yogurt the Magnificent!'
"Please, please, don't make a fuss. I'm just plain Yogurt."


PS. I also want to add, on a completely different topic that the real reason I needed to post today is to give you fair warning that I am building a brand new blog.  I will be leaving Blogger behind and even the name of the blog will change out of necessity to my own name.  Don't worry, you won't lose anything!  It will be much easier to keep track of me and see what I am doing, and all the old posts will still be there.  It's going to be simply smashing!  

A Brief History of Man and Rat

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Posted on : 9:30 AM | By : Nic | In : ,


The history of the struggle between man and rat has been long and dangerous.... for man.  Many people, dreaming of the country, imagine an idyllic green countryside, cosy fires and innumerable lambs dotting the grassy hills.  They forget to paint in the manure, the insects, and the rodents.  When you live any distance away from an urban area, there are a hundred times more bugs.  At least.  It is also guaranteed that at some point a rodent will make its way into your home and decide it likes you.

Rats are not big versions of mice.  They are two entirely different things.  A mouse will run along a wall, hit a corner, and run right back the way it came because it is timid and doesn't have the critical thinking skills to look around and examine its surroundings.  A rat, on the other hand, is smart and confident.  It will stroll in, check out the scene, and may decide to relax by the pool and have a drink while you are away.

We thought we may have killed 'the rat'.  What we have discovered is that this is not a few rats, but many rats, sending one rat into our bus every day to bring back whatever we have left in payment for their little rat mafia.   Yesterday, I was sitting at the computer and Ana came into the front of the bus quite loudly and talking, and suddenly yelled out, "The RAT!"  We all froze, and I quietly ran up to see.  Sure enough, a rat was strolling in quite cheerfully.  He looked up at me, then went along his merry way to find whatever we had left.  Obviously they liked our rat poison and wanted more of it.  I got a little closer, and looked around for a weapon.  A broomstick?  Not lethal enough.  A shoe?  There were only children's shoes.  The only thing that would kill was a hatchet.  The handle was so short though!  I hesitated only a moment, grabbed it and tried to aim for the neck.

My short sighted lack of depth perception landed my blow in the middle of his back, which broke his spine but left him in pain, and I had to hit him again.  I flipped him on his back with a piece of bus metal laying nearby and as I saw his mouth hang open and his little rat teeth sticking out, it struck me that while this rat may have been using me as part of a big experiment in a Douglas Adams-like conspiracy, killing him was futile.  Another rat would replace him tomorrow.  We left another pile of poison out, and it is gone again today.

This isn't unusual and everyone that I told had their own rat story.  One person happened to have a shovel in their hands, another a rake. Rats and man have always been fighting.  In the 1600's fleas carried by rats that were living prolifically in people's houses ended up killed 1/3 of Europe.  One-third!  One of the reasons there were so many rats is that people were superstitious and thought cats were evil.  They killed cats, and the rats laughed as the people died.

I knew rats were smart, but coming face to face with the enemy really proved this to me.  I felt bad after I killed such a worthy opponent. After doing some research, it is interesting to know that rats have metacognition, an ability only found in humans and some primates.  This means that rats are aware of themselves and their own thought processes.

It doesn't stop many cultures from eating rats, and the rats don't really care that they are invading our homes so it's a strange situation.  This isn't an insect that comes in and needs to be squashed... this is an intelligent creature that doesn't care that it is taking your stuff.  The Chinese respect the rat - if you were born in the year of the rat, you are said to be creative and ambitious, honest, generous... and wasteful.

Amazingly, I almost almost wanted a pet rat, just because of how smart they are.  Apparently, rats laugh when you tickle them.  lol:

Steampunk Bus - Roughing It - (04/13/10 - 012)

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Posted on : 2:05 PM | By : Nic | In : ,



This video glitched when uploading and it took 3 more tries to get it to work... so this is the same video with the audio fixed. Enjoy!

The Pieces of Paper

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Posted on : 1:09 PM | By : Nic | In : , , ,



 A long while ago I posted about a job plan under the unjobbing category, and I wanted to talk a little bit more about what has happened since I posted that. Since I wrote the so-called 'Five Step Plan', the recession hit full force (although not unexpectedly), and at least six of my friends with college education, two of them with post-graduate work, can't find work.  Out of all of my friends, one person with a college education has a job in their field of study.  Everyone else is doing construction, retail and whatever else they can find to pay the bills.

What is surprising about this is that every single unemployed person is in science or engineering field, while the one employed person has a degree in English ( I forget what specific major).  It may be significant that she is also working from home doing contract consulting, and has more work than she actually wants to do.

The total debt these college graduates carry is somewhere in the half-a-million dollar range, and many are now forced to go back to school simply to avoid paying intensely high payments on their debt, and hopefully attract an employer.

I went to school for a year, and after the recession hit I faced a dilemma... continue to go and take on more debt and just hope to get a good job in three years, or stop while I have relatively little and pay off what I already owe while I am still ahead.  John didn't start school, mostly because he is one of the lucky few people right now with a good and stable job.  Yes we need to plan for our retirement but we realized there were some things we needed to prioritize first.  The game has changed.  The piece of paper you pay so much for doesn't mean as much any more, and the pieces of paper you used to buy it with aren't worth nearly as much.  All of that stuff has lost value.

So where is the real value?  What are the priorities?

1. Get out of debt.  This is common sense.  I was watching Kitchen Nightmares with the girls last night on the computer and these restaurant owners were running their business into the ground, racking up debt, but instead of saying, "Oh I am in so much debt and the burden is killing me!" They said, "We could lose our house!"  Your house?  Your house is a building.  Lose your house!  It represents debt! It is a liability.  Sell your house, sell your car, sell everything of value because it is just stuff.  Live in an apartment for a while, work hard and then you can earn the reward of owning a house later when you can afford it.  A house isn't an investment any more unless you bought it cheaper than it will ever be and paid for it cash.  Don't get in debt for ANYTHING, not even education.  I think the only education that may be worth while right now is one that you do because you love, not because it has a good future, and I'll explain that more below.

2. Decrease your living expenses.  This is part of getting out of debt, but it will help you achieve anything else you want.  There is an increasing movement of people, not just older retired people, but young people and families, who are giving up traditional modes of living and are going with the ultra-cheap lifestyle of RVing.  The Families on the Road website has become increasingly popular and the Facebook group now has 492 members.  Even if you don't end up on the road and stay close to home, living this super simple lifestyle is incredibly cheap and will help you save money and do the things you want to do.

3. Save money.  We opened our Tax Free Savings Account and put money into it faithfully, then withdrew it to use for our building project, the Albatross.  When this project is complete, this account will be put back into use.  We now simply keep money aside every month for emergencies, and it's a good thing too because we've needed it.  When the hood of the van flew up and smashed the windshield when John was going down the highway, we immediately went out and purchased another $1000 van and the insurance needed which ended up costing us a total of $1500.  This van will last us another year at least, and even if it needs a new transmission it will still be cheaper than a new car.

4. Which brings me to the 'doing the things you want to do'.  Retirement doesn't mean anything any more, and in fact everyone I know over the retirement age still works.  So somehow that whole 'work a good job and then retire' plan just doesn't function any more.  The new strategy that makes the most sense right now is to get as good a job as you can get, and try to utilize the talents and skills that you have.  Build up a network of people who can give you opportunities and support, and learn to recognize opportunities as they arise.  In general, it takes about 10 years to get successful at something, so pick something you really love, work at it for 10 years, and you will be successful and rewarded.  I'm not talking about dabbling in a hobby - I'm talking sweat and tears kind of work.  If you can start off young and do it, all the better. Then, decide what you want to do with that.  You've lived cheaply, you've saved your money, you make money doing something you love and it doesn't take much to support yourself because you already live frugally, and what do you have?  You have a good life, and you are practically retired.  The less money it takes for you to live, the less you have to work, and the more likely you can do things you love to earn your living. Being self-sufficient helps, of course, but it's not for everyone, and it doesn't have to be if you live smart.

Crabbiness and Rats

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Posted on : 5:14 PM | By : Nic | In :

We had a rat climb into our dashboard and eat some wires!  YUCK!  In the middle of the night last night we discovered the intruder.  We knew we had a rodent, so we set some mousetraps.  We kept hearing them go off, but nothing was ever there.  So this time when we heard the snap, we ran up to the trap and there was a HUGE rat.  No wonder the little mousetrap wasn't working. And she was bold, and angry.  She ran back into her hole in the dash while I sat with a hatchet ready to kill her if she came out, while John ran for something to do her in with.  I think we've killed her, but now we have an electrical problem.  The starter isn't working which means our bus (which started up like a dream just a couple of days ago), no longer starts.

I've also been a little crabby.  Sometimes I use my little internet confessional for some parenting accountability and I admit that I have yelled quite a few times this week.  The problem with yelling, however, is that when you yell, you can't listen.  Today we made peace and had a wonderful homeschooling day reading stories, memorizing the Pharaohs of Egypt and the poetry of Longfellow.

I need a new strategy for not yelling when I am frustrated.  It seems as though on those days I am tired they push me harder to make sure I am still consistent.  But I'm only human... and it's tough to be consistent when I haven't had enough sleep and the power goes out because of record-breaking windstorms and rats invade and children start fighting because they've been cooped up in the rain.

We started a little morning ritual... we light a candle and pray for peace and love throughout the day, and express gratitude for what we have.  I am hoping this helps keeps us all mindful that peace is something we make ourselves.

I think that one way that I have interpreted continuum parenting differently from most other continuum parents is the concept of authority.  Most families take what is referred to as a 'non-coercive' approach, where they will never try to coerce their child into any kind of behavior, whether positive or negative.  Often this is exemplified by asking a child something, and if they don't want to do it, then it isn't pushed or forced, and simply dropped.  We, on the other hand, require obedience.  When I read The Continuum Concept, the children of the tribe obeyed unquestioningly and instantly.  They wouldn't dream of simply ignoring a request or simply deciding not to do something an adult asked.  It is true these children are treated as free individuals, and have much more choice and decision making over their lives, but obedience to an adult who says, "Do this," is unquestioned.  This is the kind of authority I am striving to have in my home.  My girls have a heck of a lot of freedom and very little censorship, but we require a few things.  They have to study hard, do some chores every day and learn how to do a good job at it, and go to bed when we say.  We demand that they respect everyone in the family.  That's pretty much it.

Even when we say to go to bed, it is usually pretty late.  We have to say it because they are night owls like us and would have the power to stay up forever, lol.

I mention these things because I was recently watching some parenting styles of some friends, and also watched Away We Go not too long ago.  In the movie they make fun of some kinds of continuum parents, but unfortunately there is some accuracy to their portrayal.  It's funny, too. :)  Anyway, lots of children I have met who are parented this way are very mature and calm and wonderful.  Many are also out of control and desperately seeking some boundaries.  This is because each child has different needs, and that's what continuum parenting is all about.  My girls want me to give them the responsibility of fulfilling a demand, which both puts me in a leadership position and makes them feel in control as well.

At the same time they want to choose to wear pajamas all day and wake up in the middle of the night to hear about the rat, and that's fine with me.

My Kitchen

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Posted on : 5:40 PM | By : Nic | In :

Today I gained a table made of a wheel-well cover.  This is my kitchen and our heater.  It is also a construction zone. :)

I just participated in the killing of a chicken.  Next time is my turn to wield the ax.  (Maniacal laughter.)

Living in Tight Quarters

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Posted on : 8:29 AM | By : Nic | In : , ,

I'm not sure I want to post a picture of this but I will later once everyone is awake and we get everything squared away for the day.  Yes, we are camping in an unfinished bus, but our living space is not the whole bus.  I have explained before that our actual living space is an area divided off with plastic that basically fits our queen bed, the playpen and two sleeping bags.  There are also a few corners for homeschool books and the buffet stove and toaster.  The area we've been in for the last 4 weeks is about 150 square feet, if that.  The more insulation we put in the bigger it gets, and once we also get the new windows and a proper door I'm pretty sure we can take out the plastic and live in the whole bus.

So how does a family of five live in this tiny space?  The key is organization, and only keeping the bare essentials.  We don't allow the girls to bring too many things inside and they have to entertain themselves outdoors or by drawing or reading a book.  Right now they are playing quietly with Hot Wheels cars in their beds.  Luckily, girls don't play with Hot Wheels the same way boys do, lol.

I am very strict about my cleanup schedule.  We keep a trash bag in here and every day we clean up anything on the floor and put it away and make the beds.  The biggest struggle is the crumbs.  It is mind boggling how much crumbs a family produces and it has become very visible in this small space.  Because our bed has become sort of a couch/living room/desk, somehow the crumbs end up in-between the sheets.  No one is eating crackers under my sheets, but no matter what I do, when I climb into bed it is as if someone took some saltines, smashed them into a million pieces and stuffed them around my feet and under my back while laughing diabolically.  To combat this, I vacuum all the time.

Which brings me to another interesting aspect - power.  We have one long extension cord running from the house all the way out to our bus and in through one of the windows (remember those school bus windows that are really difficult to open and close because you have to pinch the little gray tab-like buttons? I'm an expert now.) and then down to a hub with three outlets.  Even though this cord has three outlets, we can't necessarily use them simultaneously.  The heater with the fake fire is 1500 BTUs, and the buffet stove is 1000 and if I ran them together I would blow the fuse.  I can run the vacuum by itself, and I can run a crockpot alone, and I can run an iMac and charge by computer while I run the heater, but when I cook or vacuum or if John is drilling then we get chilly.

The irony of the weather is something we can only laugh about.  All through December, January and February we had balmy weather and hardly wore coats because a sweater or even just a long-sleeved shirt was enough.  March brought an onslaught of rain, sleet, snow, wind and below zero temperatures we did not see all winter.  We had said, "Well we'll start in March because it will be spring and it will start warming up."  Usually our island does warm up and you can start planting gardens and thinking about days at the beach.  But since we decided to camp, Murphy decided it was time to actually start winter, lol.

The heater does a good job and I have become very fond of it.  I think I should name it.  When we originally made plans to have a bus we were going to put in a wood stove but we have since decided that a wood stove may not be the best option.  Lots of people do it, it's true, but after much research there are some issues with putting one in.  Those tiny marine stoves are very expensive (over $1000), and so most people put in a full size woodstove which you can pick up used quite cheaply.  These big stoves draw in a heck of a lot of air, which is fine for most conversions because they have not replaced the drafty school bus windows or insulated and sealed everything very well.  By the time we finish the insulation process every wall will have at least 2-4 inches of insulation plus the vapor barrier plus extra caulking to seal any little crevasse, plus proper RV windows.  It is practically air tight and we have to install venting so we don't suffocate.  A woodstove would be a hazard not only because it's just too big for this space as far as air supply, it is also a fire hazard in such a tight area.  I'm not speaking of the box, but rather the stove pipe.  The roof of the bus is steel with a couple of inches of fiberglass insulation, but the pipe can't extend very high over that and it gets hot, heating up the roof of our bus.  Any cabinetry or wood framing we have in the living room would have to be far away, and that would take away vital living space.  Not to mention that the fire itself would be pretty hot and we would have spread out our living space much further than is practical.

So we are relying on electricity and propane for our power and eventually it would be excellent to have solar panels, which we can do in the future if we want.  It doesn't really take much power to heat 320 square feet.  One benefit of starting out the way we have, is that by the time we can live in the whole bus it will seem HUGE.

Goodbye Old Book

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Posted on : 8:41 AM | By : Nic | In : , , , ,

It seems funny to post this on April Fool's, but I am a notoriously bad pranker and so I don't even really attempt it much any more. I just wanted to say goodbye old book...


...hello new book!

It has been a bit of a slow week of ultra-frugal food budgeting and homeschooling.  It has been raining mostly, and it is probably a good thing because we are finding any leaks from windows and crevasses.  Today is a big construction day and we will make some more progress.

On the homeschool front, Ana (the back story is in the autism category) now has a psychologist and we are making strides in her behavior.  While changing diet seems to help temporarily, it seems as though after a time it just goes back to where it was, leading me to believe that these aren't reactions to food but simply disorders.  It turns out my suspicions about her sensory integration were correct, and she also has a serious anxiety disorder which is probably caused by a chemical imbalance somewhere.  I'm still not sure that she doesn't have Aspergers, but it is a mild case.  We'll see what happens when she gets help for her anxiety.

After allowing her to try out public school, she decided it was not for her and she is motivated to learn at home, although we still struggle to focus every day.  She really needs a challenge and we've left unschooling behind and we are back into classical learning once again.  It was an interesting experiment for me to see how they react without the structure and direction and I was surprised how much they learned by teaching themselves.  However, I changed my mind when I met some lovely homeschool graduates who had been radically unschooled, who related to me the very large gaps in their education they would never get back.  They both seemed to be extremely good at understanding and relating with people and their worldview was broad and their minds were sharp, probably much more so than other more traditional homeschoolers.  But academically they had no real knowledge of math, literature, and writing other than the ability to function passably in the world. It may be that homeschoolers lose some social skills as payment for their three R's.  So back to classical education we go, and it has been a relief.  I could see gaps beginning to form and these are the years that they need to be filled.  We are seeking a healthy balance between my direction and feeding their curiosity.

More Parents Deciding to School-Home

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Posted on : 7:31 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

A great article from The Onion, the satirical news that's gets a few too many things right:
http://www.theonion.com/articles/increasing-number-of-parents-opting-to-have-childr,17159/

"In addition to providing better supervision and overall direction, school-homing has become popular among mothers and fathers who just want to be less involved in the day-to-day lives of their children."

Bears and the Bees: Quick Update

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Posted on : 1:08 PM | By : Nic | In : , ,

The adventure continues... it has been almost four weeks of camping now and progress has been made and lots of wildlife has been seen.

Yesterday the girls were playing in the big field which is bordered by a forest leading down to a ravine with a creek. There is a fence, but it is a run down and has quite a few holes. Our neighbor, whom we had complained about for his rowdy, drunken ways happened to see them playing and walked over to tell them to watch out for bears. At that moment, a hungry black bear came out of the bushes and was making his way towards Annie. Our neighbor told the girls to run, and they booked it for the door of the bus, and he scared it off. I happened to look out the window just as the bear was running up the field and back into the woods.

So for the next month or so, the bears will be hungry and we will be living in the middle of their migratory path. I guess the ravine is their walkway to wherever it is they go in the summer.

On the other hand, there aren't any bees. The trees have burst forth in a glorious splendor of pink and white, but I've only seen one bumblebee and a few wasps. It looks like it might be a slim year for fruit.

I've gotten the hang of doing the dishes... I haul the water in my collapsible water container which has a spout. Then I put it on a table and put large bin on the ground under the spout to catch the graywater. I quickly scrub the dishes down with soap, and put them down in the bin. When I'm done scrubbing, I turn on the spout and rinse everything off. The water is generally lukewarm and I have learned to let go of using hot water for this. I was trying to heat it up but we make so many dirty dishes that it would take hours to heat enough hot water on the camp stove. It's been so rainy a fire wouldn't work either on a consistent basis. I now have the additional luxury of an indoor portable buffet stove but it takes quite a while to heat water on it.  When I am done with the dishes I dump the water in the compost pile.

Is cold water...bad? Tradition says yes - every woman in my family washes in excruciatingly hot water. BUT, from what I know of germs, dishes would have to be boiled for a few minutes to be germ-free.  It's actually the soap that is cleaning the dishes, and the warm water helps get rid of the grease. If a greasy residue is left, that eventually could cause some problems I suppose. We don't eat much greasy food though.  So far everything is feeling very clean.

The bus windows that needed to be removed are almost all removed and covered with metal and plywood and primed, and half of them are also fitted with insulation.  This weekend we will finish those windows up, finish bolting down the floor, and create an electrical and plumbing plan.  Wiring has to get done before we finish insulating the walls.

The weather has calmed down and we are enjoying seeing how much wildlife we can spot... bears, bald eagles, robins, hawks, geese, wild rabbits and today I saw a weird white animal off in the field that appeared to be grazing.  It was smaller than a goat but much large than a cat.  The girls have seen it before but we can't find our binoculars.  Hmmm...

Steampunk Bus - Crazy Weather - (03/21/10 - 011)

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Posted on : 5:57 PM | By : Nic | In :

Warning: Wonderful Things May Occur!

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Posted on : 10:44 AM | By : Nic | In : ,



It is with incredible excitement that I announce that my book Deliberate Life: The Ultimate Homesteading Guide, is going to be published by Skyhorse Publishing, who has also published Back to Basics and many other of my favorite homesteading and self-reliance books.

My new book is going to have the cover above, and it will be full color and also have even more information and many, many more photos and illustrations!

The catch is that while I tell you this now, the book will not come out until about January 2011... so you'll just have to wait!  Furthermore, my current book will no longer be available as of April 1st of this year... in only two weeks.   This means that if you want to have the original, self-published edition of my book, you'll have to buy it now.

At some point in April I will be completely redoing my website and I will no longer be hosted on Blogger.  Some of you have been coming to Deliberatelife.com for many years, even way back when I had a forum and you could log in and talk to people and post articles.  I want to thank those people who were there, the seasoned homesteaders that I double-checked all the knowledge compiled in my book, who freely offered their time and encouragement, and all the people who have been reading my blog just because they want to.  Thank you!

Keep your eyes peeled for more adventures!

Sometimes Children Need to Fail

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Posted on : 9:15 AM | By : Nic | In :


I am sick and in bed today and it made me realize how much I do stuff for my girls that they could do themselves.  It's not very 'continuum'.... continuum parenting dictates that you only do things for your kids that they need, which means relying on instinct rather than an emotional response.  For example, Autumn is four now and really wants me to continue to dressing her every day like a baby - but I know she can dress herself quite capably.  It's in my own emotional fear that I am letting her down in some way, or maybe I don't want to let go of her baby age, that has prevented me from saying no to her.

Growing up, like in many families, my parents didn't often allow me to fail.  I love them and I don't think it harmed me in any way because when I grew older and wiser I began to realize when they were letting me win a game or going behind my back to fix something that I wasn't doing very well.  They loved me, and hated seeing me disappointed.

But, in the long run, I think it did give me a big fear of failure, and it made it tough to deal with criticism.    Failure really isn't a big deal, and yet when a parent tries to constantly save their child from it, it sends a pretty big message. Ideally, if a child is allowed to fail now and then, and it is treated as no big deal, and then coached into trying again until success is achieved... they will obviously learn that failure is just a means to success.  Persistence, patience, confidence, fortitude - a multitude of positive character traits will follow.

This morning, not being able to get out of bed, I couldn't open the door of the bus for the girls.  Normally the bus door opens with air when the bus is running, but when it is off you have to shove it open and it gets stuck on this one spot.  It takes patience to figure out the trick and a willingness to exert some muscle early in the morning, but nothing two strong girls shouldn't be able to handle. I can't wait to put in a real door, but it is what it is.  I decided I wasn't going to kill myself to open a door for them that they could spend the time learning how to open, so I didn't.

A hundred screams and a couple buckets of tears, and about ten minutes later, the door opened.  The girls at first refused to work together.  4 and 7 do not like to do things together at the same time, and after heaving and shoving and yelling, "I can't!" they finally realized I was not going to pull myself out from under the covers and they opened the door.

Now, this did have repercussions for me... Autumn decided this was unacceptable and promptly peed her pants in protest.  But after opening the door they both got a huge confidence boost, got themselves dressed for the day, and then Annie cleaned up the bus and swept for me.  So sometimes... it is better as parent to just... do... nothing.

Water, Weather and Technology

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Posted on : 12:46 PM | By : Nic | In : , , ,


Good morning from the Albatross!  It has now been a week and a half and I wanted to update you on some of the practical details of our camping adventure.  The most important aspect of camping is something completely out of our control, and that is The Weather.  The weeks leading up to March 1st, our departure day, were balmy (if wet) days that threatened the Winter Olympics.  The weekdays were sunny t-shirt weather.  The weekend John finally had time to work on the floor, it dropped below zero and snowed.  It has gradually been warming up, but it is still 40 degrees and windy.  Rule #1: Never rely on the weather.

So, to combat this, we wear many layers of clothing, I changed the baby's diaper under the blankets ("Look Rainn!  We're in a tent!"), and I'm not really cooking much in my outdoor kitchen.  This morning the sun peeped out so I used the opportunity to heat water on the camp stove to do some dishes and I made scrambled eggs.  For dinner I will use one of my packs or ready-made organic soup. In a few weeks the weather will warm up significantly so I will be patient.  For now I have a widget on my Mac that connects me to the Weather Channel with radar so I know what to prepare for, because the weather and temperature impacts every single thing I do and our plan for the day changes accordingly.

Which brings me to the technology we are using.  John's iMac is at a friend's house which he can access through screen sharing using my Macbook Pro.  We have wifi in the bus because we boosted the connection from the house with an Airport, but if we lose that connection or just need internet quickly, we use 3G tethering using the iPhone which gets pretty good connection speeds.  We use the computers for work, and also for our bus plans which I will post soon.

The other interesting aspect is that I now know exactly how much water we use.  We drink approximately 3 gallons of water per week, we use about 5 gallons for cleaning per week, and we take 3-4 showers.  Those are family showers at the pool that last about 20 minutes.   Shockingly, a shower uses about 2 gallons per minute, which means each shower is using 40 gallons.  We also do 4 loads of laundry in a front load washer, which uses about 40 gallons per load.  A toilet uses about 5 gallons per flush, and right now we are using a regular toilet and we flush it about 5-6 times per day, so about 30 gallons (when our RV toilet is in that will be much less). Our family total water usage for a week, with four people and a baby, and a dog, is then 318 gallons of water per week.  Typically, a family of four uses about 1,750 gallons per week.  It makes me think that the only way people will learn to save water is to just not have such free-for-all access to it.  I feel like we have exactly how much we need to use and we're not scrimping on the water usage, and yet we are using 6 times less than the average family.

I think it takes a little geekiness to obsess over water usage the way I am right now, but when you have to carry it around in your arms you suddenly appreciate how much it really is.  And my arms are tired!

Camp Albatross

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Posted on : 11:44 AM | By : Nic | In : ,




Steampunk Bus - Moving Day! - (03/6/10 - 010)

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Posted on : 1:52 PM | By : Nic

Life in the Albatross

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My current internet is tethered through the iPhone but we are working on setting up wifi so I can post photos and videos.  I wanted to tell you what it's like out here.

As you know, it is very early March and this is Canada after all.  Vancouver Island is the warmest place in Canada but we are still seeing some below freezing temperatures when the sky is clear.  Before we moved in, John finished sealing the floor with an anti-rust paint and an anti-corrosion paint that actually coats the floor with aluminum.  Then he laid a heavy plastic vapour barrier, then 2" pink foam insulation with an R value of 10, and on top of that is some high-quality plywood that is quite smooth.  These layers still need to be bolted down and sandwiched with large bolts that go through to the underbelly of this beast.  For now the plywood is so big and heavy it doesn't shift when we walk on it.  It is surprising what costs the most... the floor ended up taking $1100, but he sheet metal that will cover the outside of the school-bus style windows will only be $200.  Rather than removing all the windows, we are only removing some and replacing them with double-paned RV windows, and the rest will be covered with metal and painted to match the exterior, and sandwiched between insulation on the inside.

But camping is the best part.  The way we have it set up right now is our queen mattress, the girl's sleeping bags and blankets, the playpen, and the dog crate are all within a a 15' area in the center of the bus divided on either end by leftover vapour barrier plastic.  In the center of this is a little electric space heater fireplace. This increased our night-time temperature by about 20-30 degrees.  Everyone is also wearing warm polar fleece pajamas, the baby sleeps in our bed, and everyone has double blankets.  Fortunately this is as cold as it will ever get in here.  The first night we were here it was actually way warmer and we didn't have the plastic and our beds were all spread out, which is what I ended up showing in the video I will upload later.  Insulation will be added in the next week and the bus won't experience such extreme changes from a greenhouse in the sun to a freezer at night.

One reason I was so willing to do the bus this way is that I am fascinated with how humans function differently when their lifestyle changes to one with less convenience.  Whereas my mind used to wonder what to have for dinner, I am now also concerned with how to cook it and how to keep things fresh without a fridge.  While the cold temperatures make us bundle up, they also keep the ice in my cooler frozen and the food from my fridge is still good while we eat through them.  I now have a George Foreman grill, and a crock pot.  I have made grilled fish, pitas, sandwiches, and bean soup for dinner and all of it tasted so delicious.  There is something about spending time outdoors that makes anything taste just that much better.  We sit and eat in front of our fake fire surround by blankets and it is quite cozy.

We do have access to a toilet, and access to plumbing.  However, the well here isn't safe to drink so we buy water in a big jug for that.  But I just fill up my other water container for washing up.  We also get to use the washing machine and dryer.  We have electricity in the form of an extension cord, which is where I plug in my crock pot on the floor by the heater.  We also are using the bus batteries to power lights, and they are being charged by a charger so they don't die when we use them, which actually isn't very long.

So, we wake up in the morning a little bit after the sun, put our hair up, take the long walk to the bathroom, and have our breakfast.  This week it has been cold breakfasts, but when I get my canopy and set up my camp stove we will have eggs from the chickens here on the farm.  Then we do our homeschooling.  The way I have this set up is each girl has a box with an assortment of books I put in.  They just go to their box, pick what they want to do and we read and draw and learn for a couple of hours.  I will rotate these books around eventually as the rest of our books come out of storage and into the bookshelves in the bus, but for now they are keeping them busy.  Then I bundle them up and send them outside where they stay until they get hungry.  Then we have lunch.  Today it was peanut butter on a tortilla and fruit and apple juice and chips and salsa.  Then back outside they go while Rainn has her afternoon nap.  Then they come back when they are hungry and tired, they change into pajamas early and we might watch a movie on my computer or read in their beds until dinner.  A few times a week we go swimming at the local pool, get clean and wear the kids out even more, and by the time they climb into their sleeping bags they beg to go to sleep.

The adjustment from being inside most of the time in a wet and rainy urban environment to being outside most of the time in a somewhat wet early spring homestead environment has been exhilarating and exhausting. I am so relaxed and feel so at home in the outdoors, and I have so much energy even though I am working harder and my sleep gets interrupted more.  I walk the dog through the field and follow the paths that the deer make, and listen for geese and birds returning to the island.  When I take a shivering walk in the dark to use the loo and I can't help but stop and marvel at how many more stars there are to see.  I've missed the sky.  I've missed how noisy the forest is.  I've missed that heavy, heavy dew in the morning from the mist that hangs over a valley just before dawn.  I've missed the sunrise.  I've missed seeing the girls running and screaming until they run out of breath and can't run anymore, instead of running into a fence.  I've missed tire swings and the rooster crowing before dawn because he tries to beat the other rooster to it.  I've missed not caring that we get muddy in the mud and grassy in the grass and dirty in the dirt.  I've missed the quiet.  I've missed falling into bed and slipping into deep, deep sleep quickly and painlessly.

Feeling symptoms of stress, tension, anxiety, panic, nausea, heartburn, perfectionism, obsessiveness,  tiredness, etc. etc?  Let me write a prescription for you...
Step 1: Get rid of everything you have that isn't Useful.
Step 2: Find a way to live very, very cheap and as close to nature as possible.
Step 3: Do it!

Living Life Backwards

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Posted on : 4:26 PM | By : Nic | In : , , , , ,


There was a time when I lived in a 1500 square foot condo on a golf course.  It had a very big kitchen with nice cabinets.  We also drove this car:

It was a nice car with all the features, and the best fuel economy ever.  We worked hard, had nice things, and even though we had a lot of debt, we had fun times as a family and seemed to be achieving 'the dream'.  I wasn't too attached to these things, but they were nice to have.  I planned to buy a farm somewhere and retire. 

I am telling you this because we are embarking on a journey that will completely change our life and how we live in radical ways.  We will be moving into our bus in the next two days, but The Albatross will not be finished.  The bus is parked on a farm, and it will only have an insulated plywood floor.  We will put our beds on it, and we will set up an outdoor kitchen and we will camp while we finish putting our steampunk home together.

At some point after we left our condo, I started living my life backwards.  I started living is if I am an old woman looking back at my own life giving myself advice on what I would regret.  Will old woman Nicole regret leaving behind the condo and the BMW?  Of course not.  Would the elderly me regret not spending more time with my family?  Would I regret not going more places, seeing more things, eating healthier, giving more, being more, living more? Yes!

I don't want anyone to think this happened overnight.  This involved a series of unfortunate events, and two years of hard work to get out of debt, move into a more modest rental home, exchange our bimmer for a used minivan, and save the money to buy our bus and bring it home.  Last night we were talking and we realized we have lost track of exactly how much we have spent on this project, but it must be over $10,000 now.  We estimate that when we are finished it will have taken about $20,000, but its value will be at least double that.  Don't think it's cheap to convert a bus (although maybe it is if you're not doing it right). In our minds, however, the value will be in the experience and the fun of designing something so unique ourselves.  I'm not sure how long we'll live in the Albatross, or if we'll even travel all that much except for in the summer.  We love our island and British Columbia is indeed the best place on earth.  

I will be posting more videos soon as progress is made and I will show you my outdoor kitchen when it is set up.   I also did a footprint calculator for how we live today to compare when we move.

Through our efforts the past year we currently use 38.42 global acres which means if everyone lived like us, we would only need 1 earth (which would mean we would all be sustainable).  The average is almost  double that. This means that we eat very little meat, have one vehicle, never buy new stuff, buy local food as much as possible, etc. etc.  I haven't always gotten this result, and I think it fluctuates, but we're doing pretty well since most people live as if there are 1.5 earths to live on.  In the bus we reduce our footprint to about 30.9 acres, and if everyone lived like us we would only need .8 earths.  To me, this seems like a win-win.  We get to have fun living in a bus, the natural world benefits, and third world benefits because we are not using them for our life of luxury.  

Here we go!

Real Food Challenge

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Posted on : 8:55 AM | By : Nic | In :


Not Dabbling In Normal has presented a challenge to only eat real food.  This is something I've been working towards anyway, so I am going to do this too.  The rules are to cut back on commercially processed foods and only eat food made from ingredients in their simplest forms.

Now that we are living in our bus as of two days from now (roughing it while we finish it), there are certain foods that I can no longer make myself.  I can't make my own bread, or bake anything at all really.  I have a crockpot, a toaster, a toaster oven, and an electric grill.  I can, and do often, buy handmade breads from markets locally, and even the local grocery store has fresh baked bread made from real ingredients.  We eat dry beans cooked in the crockpot, BC grown chicken and eggs, fish, BC grown fruits and veggies, and bulk foods like nuts and raisins.  The bulk foods are not necessarily local, but they are whole foods.  I have yet, however, to develope the ability to make tortillas and pitas.  Mine always turn out hard and poofy, not at all like a tortilla, and I've tried all sorts of 'guaranteed' recipes.    I also love chips and salsa, so I buy organic Vancouver chips and the tortillas are usually made in Vancouver too (Vancouver is 50 miles away by ferry). I usually make my own salsa unless I find a really good deli-made salsa.  Actually the deli is a great source of pre-made foods, for some things.

We don't eat much pasta, just rice or potatoes.  Our diet is very,very simple, which makes it both cheap, and Real.  What are you doing to eat Real Food?  I think I am doing pretty well, but I better make an inventory of processed foods we do eat:

ketchup
mayo
Cheerios
pitas
organic corn chips
bulk shelled nuts
soy or rice milk
soy cheese
tofu

That's the processed foods we do eat, some of which I use because we can't eat dairy.  I add the mayo sauces to make them creamy, and the soy cheese to scrambled eggs because we just miss cheese so much.  We don't need it, but it's hard to let go of.  Let's see how they grade for being local, and unprocessed...

The tofu is Sunrise Soya (extra firm) made in Vancouver with non-GMO soybeans grown in Canada or the US.

Like I said before the chips are from Vancouver too.

The MySoy Cheese is made by Paradise Island in the same city as me and I had no idea!

NOTE: when I first posted this there were so many grammatical errors... never post in a hurry!

The condiments are not so great.  I have a Jamie Oliver ketchup recipe I want to try, and it's not that difficult.  I can do without the Cheerios, they just make an easy baby snack but I have other stuff she can eat as well.

I am using Hellmann's mayo for all kinds of things... to make creamy sauce and soups, spread on sandwiches, to make egg salads and tofu salads.  It doesn't have dairy, and satisfies our cravings for creaminess, lol.  It is made with eggs, oil and vinegar, and while they are moving towards cage-free eggs only, it is made by Unilever.  And why do they call them cage-free eggs instead of free-run eggs?  Unilever is not a company I want to support, so I'm going to have to make my own, except that I'm paranoid of uncooked egg yolk so I'll have to think on that.  The Hellman's stuff is pasteurized. Hmmm....

Which Fish?

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Posted on : 9:30 AM | By : Nic | In : ,


It is undoubtedly expensive to buy organic meat for a big family, especially on our island.  As much as I want to eat a good burger now and then, it is cheaper to be vegetarian.  But, I still crave protein and I get sick of beans.. or at least the beans make us sick of each other.


The only inexpensive solution to this is seafood, but not all fish is equal.  I used to always get salmon because it supports the B.C. economy, but the sockeye salmon run was terrible this year, the worst it has been in 50 years.  Then I get paranoid about what to get because you don't know if it is farmed or full of toxins like tuna is.  That's when you need a sustainable seafood guide.


The following is a list of safe, sustainable, organic, free-range food:

Arctic Char
Barramundi
Pacific Halibut
Herring
Jellyfish
Atlantic Mackerel
Mullet
Mussels
Oysters
Pollock
Sablefish
Sardines
Squid
Trout


I've only had oysters, squid, and trout.  Pretty much all other seafood is suspect, which is such a shame. So yesterday I got myself some sardines, which are supposed to be very healthy for you.  I haven't quite figured out what I will do with them, but I'm sure they will be tasty.

This week my posting may be a bit sparse as we are in the middle of moving, but videos will soon follow.  Stay tuned!

Steampunk Bus - Paint Fumes - (02/20/10 - 009)

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Posted on : 8:10 PM | By : Nic | In : ,

The Most Energy-Efficient House

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Posted on : 9:44 AM | By : Nic | In : ,


If you've been watching the Olympics, hopefully you've seen Austria House, located in Whistler, which is supposed to be the most energy-efficient house in the world.  It uses passive solar, with big windows on one side, and over 30" of insulation.  Even though it has no traditional heating or AC unit, the temperature stays the same inside no matter what.  This is because it uses a sophisticated heat pump built by drexel und weiss.  This unit is designed to circulate the air through a passive home, heat water and pump it through the house which also warms it, and provides hot water for domestic use.

The house is 3000 square feet and comfortable which is an amazing design feat.  Admittedly it is  like spring here... it's colder in the mountains but it is spring at sea level.  It's difficult to remember it is still February. A drexel and weiss isn't available easily in Canada, but I wish it was.  Germany and actually most European countries are on the forefront of renewable energy development and sustainable technology, and that needs to spread to North America.

Dear Mom

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Posted on : 4:30 PM | By : Nic | In :


Dear Mumsie,

This is the most difficult letter I have ever written, and I am not really even writing it for you.  I am writing it for me, because I want to feel at peace that I've said everything I need to say.  Last week you were diagnosed with breast cancer.  I haven't been able to say it out loud yet... I've only written it because it is such a scary word.  It has been a long week of waiting for your appointments with your oncologist, waiting for a number that tells us how bad it might be, filled with a roller coaster of emotions and periods of time trying to distract myself from the dark thoughts and fears.

I have always lived my life from the mindset that I will never, ever make a decision out of fear, and I wish the same for you.  Yes, we are afraid, and yes, it might be bad.  Those facts will not change the idea that you are still in control of your mind, and while your body seems to have turned traitor against you, your amazing mind can still win the fight.

I spent the week thinking of all the amazing gifts you gave me, starting with life, because you have never been satisfied with just mediocre.  When the public school failed me, you pulled me out and homeschooled me.  When life in the city wasn't good enough, you took us to Montana to be near family.  When you weren't happy in your marriage, you set out on a adventure to find happiness.  You kept me safe, you taught me to think and to be independent, and you always give me good advice.  You were at the birth of two of my babies, which I was super-prepared for because you let me witness the birth of my brother at one of the first natural births at the Vancouver, Washington birth center.  You were amazing, by the way. Your life is a triumph of integrity and love.

The more I look at where you are right now, the more certain I am that everything happens as it should.  We wondered why you moved to California... it turns out you live next to the best breast care center in the world.  We sometimes questioned your divorce... but it turns out that my brother is in the care of an amazing step-mom.  We applauded your amazing weight-loss and years of physical training that has put you in the best shape of your life, and now we have that much more hope that your beautiful, healthy body can pull you through.  Because of the place you are in, in your life, all you have to worry about is getting better.

I have always supported you and loved you, and I feel so helpless right now when you need it most.  I wanted to start running for breast cancer and had a race all picked out, and now I have to do it - no more procrastination!  I want you to run with me, and you will, because you are a fighter.  I hope you know how much I love you, mother of mine.

Thinking More About Small Farms and Local Food

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Posted on : 10:19 AM | By : Nic | In : , ,



The picture above was taken by Happy Zombie, a cute little blog from Astoria, Oregon.  Not only is Astoria one of my favorite towns on earth, the photo is of the Pomeroy Living History Farm.  That farm is where my blog was born... while I had a deep interest in farming as a child, I can say that the Pomeroy Farm was a homeschool field trip that changed my life.  I knew that this was where humans should be and how farming should be because of the incredible peace and goodness of the place.  It felt right.  I have been fighting for this ever since.

I posted the other day about looking into what happened to 24 farms in 20 years and the results were disheartening.  I've been thinking about it a ton and here are some of my thoughts...

1. Land is too expensive.  Actually land suitable for farming is expensive.  The urban homesteading movement is gaining support and I believe it can be capitalized on, but small farms are sold every day because they can't stay in business and the land prices are so high that it starts to make sense to sell it.  This has affected me... I can't afford to buy any land where I live currently, and I know many young people who would farm but can't.  There isn't even any land to rent.

2. Distribution is a problem.  Small farms don't have the ability to distribute their products in a way that is convenient to customers in both price and ease of access.  There are problems with both the CSA and farmer's market methods.  With the CSA, you pay money up front for a share, but you don't get all the food you need in one place.  For the average middle-class family, this feels like a hassle, it's tough to put money up front for something, and there's not much choice in what you get.  The farmer's market is similar but without the convenience of arriving at your door.  Some farmer's markets have a wide variety, but then few go all year, and usually only one day a week so the times are not convenient.

3. Prices are too high.  The average middle class family can afford to buy maybe 50% organic, if some of that comes from far away.  I'm generalizing here, but if you have a family like mine (2 parents and 3 kids), then food can get really expensive.  Small farms have to make a profit, but their overhead is too high.  They have to take care of distribution, branding, marketing, labor, selling, production, and then most of the time supplement with tourism and there are cost associated with that.  Organic certification costs money, and yet customers are conditioned to only buy stuff with the certification, which they then have to pay for.

4. It's a tough transition.  For most North Americans, a local food diet is MUCH different from the normal Western diet.  For people used to large servings of meat, fried foods, processed foods, corn syrup, etc. the transition can be traumatic.  Their palate has to completely change and they have to learn to cook new foods.  There's not much support yet for this.  There is a lot of education available as to why this is important but not how to do it.

The problems are easy to see, and the solutions are too.  It's putting those solutions into motion that is the difficult part.  If land is too expensive, then communities need to get together and pool resources or get grants to start or preserve small farms.  Urban farms need to be supported, no matter how small they are. A new method of distribution needs to be devised that competes successfully with a typical grocery store in convenience and accessibility.  The farmer needs to be relieved of the burden of distribution, marketing, branding, selling and tourism.  The farmer should be a farmer, and focus on production.  A free and simple certification should be offered to farmers based on responsible farming practices, since 'organic certification' is currently falling short.  Consumers should be offered free education on transitioning to a seasonal, healthy diet using fun, community-based potlucks, cooking classes and support groups.

Those are all common sense solutions, and they need to be done on a grand scale so that the resources are available.  Why can't they be done?

Anti-Disney Films: Continuum Movies for Kids

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Posted on : 9:18 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

Maybe the title of this post is a bit of an oxymoron, but in our culture movies are a very important social media (and I really love movies, lol). Not all children's movies are created equal, however. Many, many movies are specifically made to instill consumerism and unhealthy attitudes in our children, and if you are like us and you have a very unique lifestyle, it can be tough to expose your kids to other kinds of attitudes in an educational way. For example, my girls love Disney princess movies (or would love them if they had seen more of them) but after having to explain to them why a woman would want to marry a stranger, why all of their family members are so mean and filled with anger, why all of their friends have Disney princess Barbies... etc. etc. I just got tired of it. For a while, I think I will only have some movies that teach children to be out in nature, take on responsibility, work hard, homeschool, and/or be free of the need of consumption. Here's my list of kid's movie DO's and DON'Ts according to our family values (some need explanation, some don't):

Don't:
Babe - This is such a cute movie, and does champion vegetarianism if that's what you are into. I personally feel like it might be unhealthy to anthropomorphize animals, and the children in the movie are atrocious.
The Lion King - You would think I would like this, right? It's that animal thing again... and the Nazi imagery during the hyena scenes. There's a strong political message and lots of consumer aspects to this movie.
The Little Mermaid - As a child I LOVED this movie. But this movie is not ok on so many levels. Ariel basically sells her soul for a stranger and then that big octopus lady bursts giant-breasts-first out of a dress.
The Princess and the Frog - There are several moments when the characters have to make choices. The first choice the girl makes is to sell herself for money. I still don't quite understand why they have a Voodoo shadow man following them - the story is a bit confusing. I like the New Orleans culture in the movie, but the story is weird.
The Fox and the Hound - This was another favorite movie of mine, but now I realize the political agenda behind it and it's not so nice. This was a film about segregation.
Milo and Otis - Remember the cute little cat and dog? Well, it turns out that this was filmed in Japan and it was sort of a documentary about putting two house pets in the wild and seeing how they would react to bears and other hazards. Animals WERE harmed during the making of that movie.
Hannah Montana - Argh! I actually like some of Miley's music and she's so talented. This movie failed in it's attempt to promote small-town values over big-city consumerism.

Do:
The Black Stallion - I haven't watched this in a while but all I can remember is beautiful images of a boy riding horses and surviving on an island on his own. Lovely!
Fiddler on the Roof
The Iron Giant
A Little Princess - I loved this movie, which is actually quite different from the book. The little girl is free, responsible and strong, and stands up to injustice.
Little Women - The 1994 version is my all-time favorite movie.
Hook - A man realizes he's become lost in the rat race and returns home to reclaim his own childhood and enjoy his children. What's not to like?
The Princess Bride
Indiana Jones
The Secret of Roan Inish
Swiss Family Robinson
The African Queen
Nim's Island - A homeschooled girl gets left alone on their sustainable island home and survives quite happily by keeping out the tourists.
Mulan - This is probably the one Disney movie that I can't find too much fault with. She doesn't sell out, she's not a princess, and there's not a lot of licensed products for it.
Stardust
The Neverending Story
War of the Buttons - This is a movie about to warring factions of Irish children who run wild and have very little supervision.
Spirited Away - This is a little bit like watching a child's bad dream and then watching that child become independent and strong and beat the nightmare.
Where the Wild Things Are - The monsters are alarming, exactly like in the book. I loved it in the exact same way that it freaked me out a little when I was a kid.

What other movies are missing from the list? What movies do you hate?

The Farms That Survive

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Posted on : 8:49 AM | By : Nic | In : ,

This is going to be a long post. I have a book, printed in 1989, Country USA: Photographed by 102 of America's Best Photographers/24 Hours in Rural America that is basically a coffee table book of photos of farms and landscapes and country people. It is currently out of print, and so I feel pretty lucky to have it. I checked it out from the library when I was about 13 and then found it a couple of years ago at a library book sale.

It has been 21 years since the book came out, and I wondered how many of the farms were still around, and why. Here's what I found:

Maybury Farm, Northville, Michigan: This farm is now under the management of the Northville Community Foundation but they are desperately raising money to try to keep it in operation.

Greg and Merri Lynn Fisher Farm, Baltimore, Ohio: I couldn't find anything on this farm. Either it changed hands or doesn't exist any more.

Bye Farm, Pomeroy, Washington: This farm is still going and raising wheat.

Chennault Plantation, Lincoln County, Georgia: This plantation was for sale and the land subdivided and sold individually.

The Trout Farm Bed and Breakfast, Santa Ynez, California: I couldn't find anything on this farm, so it probably has changed hands. All the working farms in the the valley seem to be wineries, so this has either turned into one of those or is a private residence.

Konza Praire, Manhattan, Kansas: This is a nature reserve owned by KSU that was a part of a cattle ranch at one time. It is used for research.

Leo Cremer Cattle Ranch, Central Montana: This fourth generation cattle ranch is now known as LC Cattle Company and is still a working cattle operation, but it now offers vacation cabins and dude ranch activities.

Kraling Dairy Farm, Harmony, Minnesota: I couldn't find this farm, but the top result was an article from 2003 that forecast that Minnesota would lose 40 percent of their dairy farms in the next four years. With those odds, I doubt the Kralings are still in business.

Diane and Roger Koller Farm, Mayview, Washington: They are still farming, but they are running their farm differently. Now called Cabernet Cattle Company, they have been raising Red Angus beef cattle for 4 years, and just built their website.

T-Bar Ranch, Augusta, Montana: They are still raising Red Angus cattle.

Engel Dairy, Hampshire, Illinois: They are still a working dairy farm, and it is actually called Luck-E Holsteins.

Devling Farm, Plattsburg, Missouri:They only had five cows at the time the book came out. I wonder if they still homestead?

Wilson Farm, Leaf River, Illinois:They had a flock of sheep, but I can't find them now.

Stewart Farm, Waverly, Iowa: Stewart's Duroc Farm is actually two very large hog farms which does intensive genetic development. These hogs are penned up quite tightly.

Branson Farm, Baker, West Virginia: This was a large turkey farm back then which had the turkeys packed tightly into houses, and as of 2003 they were still collecting large farm subsidies, so this farm is probably still going.

Vermillion Gator Farms, Abbeville, Louisiana: According to USA Today, this farm was going as of last year, but alligator ranching is starting to fade. They may not last long.

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer, Alaska: This is a non-profit organization that is raising musk ox to bring in income for the native Alaska people.

Eldredge Cranberry Bog, South Carver, Massachusetts: I'm not sure what this farm is, but most of the cranberry bog area is owned by a theme park called Edaville. The president of their bog is named Eldredge so it is probably the same.

Houtz Winery, Santa Ynez, California: This was bought by the Beckmens among other adjoining properties and turned into a biodynamic organic vineyard.

Cremer Stock Ranch, Melville, Montana: This is still a huge cattle operation.

Stewart Pumpkin Farm, Presque Isle, Maine: This farm still looks pretty much the same and still sells pumpkins.

Peterson Dairy Farm, Grantsburg, Wisconsin: Called Four Cubs Farm, originally this was a young family that had a growing dairy operation and the book had a very detailed section about them. This is the champion family farm that has been passed down through several generations and now is starting to be taken over by their sons. They seem to be introducing some environmentally-friendly initiatives.

63 Ranch, Livingston, Montana: This was always a horse/dude ranch, but they are still going.

Doggett Farm, Windsor, Virginia: This was and appears to still be a large peanut farm.

So now to break it down... out of 24 farms, I was surprised to see how many still exist, but disappointed as to why. 4 of the farms don't exist as businesses. Even though it's possible I can't find them on the internet, almost every farm is listed in the white pages, so either they have changed hands or been sold. According to statistics, they have probably been sold and aren't working farms anymore. Of the remaining 20 farms...

2 are on the brink of shutting down. Maybury Farm and Vermillion Gator Farm are both struggling to make ends meet.

3 are owned by non-profit organizations. Maybury Farm, Konza Prairie and Musk Ox Farm depend on grants to stay afloat.

5 are crop farms, and all over 50 acres.

1 crop farm processes their crop, just the vineyard.

1 farm is diversified, only the non-profit Maybury farm. All the rest focus on one thing. Three of the 4 farms that are gone were diversified, small farms.

9 are livestock farms, 5 of them large cattle ranches that are free range over hundreds or thousands of acres. 2 of the 9 are factory farms. The other 2 are exotic livestock.

2 are dairy farms. 1 of the 4 farms that went out of business was a dairy farm.

8 of the farms offer something to attract tourists and charge for services and/or products to farm visitors.

Only 1 farm, the vineyard, transitioned to organic.

If you look at this cross section of family farms over the last 20 years, the ones that survived were the biggest, or the ones that attracted the most tourists. You could see with a few that there is a very slow shift to sustainability, but the focus of a farm that simply wants to produce food has to be to produce as much as possible. There is no middle ground. Small farmers are forced to supplement their income through the tourist industry. Why don't small farmers have enough market to survive? Probably because they don't have the distribution to compete. They also don't have the volume to make enough income either. This means that while there is a huge demand for local food, the big producers don't want to deal with it and the little producers can't sell enough to make ends meet.