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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.