Archive for the ‘lifestyle’ Category

The Joy of Riding

Hubby and I are several months into our weekly riding lessons now, and it has been everything I hoped it would be and more. Those of you who aren’t into horses or riding will have to indulge me with this post. Bringing riding into our lives has been a big deal around here.

There’s something about riding that is like meditation. I suppose there are many hobbies or pursuits that leave one with this feeling, but for me nothing comes close to it like riding. No matter how bad your day, no matter how sour your mood, getting up on a horse results in your mind clearing of everything. For one blissful hour I am focussed on my body and my equine partner, working together, with constant back-and-forth communication. It is really an honour to engage in such a conversation with another creature, one who is so strong and powerful and yet willingly submits to carrying me on his back.

My lesson horse is named Boomer and he’s a Quarter Horse. My trainer is working on getting her official Equine Canada certification and Boomer is the horse she is using, so she is schooling him in dressage and jumping. I’m so impressed with him – he looks lovely under saddle whether he is doing a cowboy-ish lope, flying changes in a lovely dressage frame, or hopping over jumps with controlled enthusiasm. I have to confess, Quarter Horses have never been my favourite breed. I’ve always thought of them as the workhorses they are, not as elegant and light movers. But our trainer’s two lesson horses have really won me over. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with her skills in horsemanship – she understands horses on a level few people do, and her skill is reflected in her horses. Her little “cow pony” is turning into a lovely little dressage horse (he recently won Training Level Champion at a local dressage show!), and since Dressage is my favourite equestrian pursuit I am very pleased to have a well-schooled horse on which to practice.

Meanwhile my husband has discovered the magical, meditative powers of riding. He seems to really enjoy the relationship he’s developing with his horse, Partner. My husband is not known for being effusive, so seeing his face light up as he excitedly talks about his lesson is truly amazing. I couldn’t be more thrilled that he is enjoying it so much. Riding with him is a real treat.

My husband on his very first trail ride.

I can’t believe I survived for 10 years without riding in my life. Now that it’s back I am so very grateful. Horses will be in my life from now on, I’m certain!

This was an exciting day: our trainer came to our property and we set out on a trail ride from our own driveway.

One day, a horse.

 

I have loved horses since I was a very young girl. I hung pictures of them in my room, I practiced drawing horses until I could get a decent reproduction on paper, I collected Breyer models, and I dreamed of one day owning a horse of my own. But I lived in the suburbs and, at the tender age of 7, I felt it to be a simple fact that I would not be able to have one until I was an adult, which I equated with turning 19. When I am 19, I promised myself, I will have my own horse. And then sometimes I would start to panic – what if, by the time I’m 19, I don’t want a horse anymore? What a cruel twist of fate that would be! I laugh to remember that, back then, I was certain that I would not recognize myself as a grownup and certain that I may even be a completely different person by then. I wish I could go back in time, visit that little me, and reassure her that, at 43 years old, I am still horse crazy.

When I was 9 years old my mother sent me to a dude ranch camp in the outer rural suburbs. To me it was a world away, an entire vacation trip just to get there. In reality it was only about an hour’s drive, but it was far outside my realm of daily experience. I went for a week, and learned how to ride a horse Western style by going on daily trail rides and being in charge of grooming the horse assigned to me. I was in heaven. I dreamed of “horse camp” all year long, and soon I had convinced my mother to send me for two weeks each year. Looking back I realize it was a lot of money for my mum, but those really were some of the happiest times of my childhood. There was nothing fancy about the riding, just bombing around the trails with friends, but I knew in my heart that riding was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Once I started University life got very busy, especially my social life. But a few years into it a friend called me up one day and said “Hey, I’ve signed up for English riding lessons, wanna come?”. I learned that there was so much more to riding than just going on trails. I learned to jump, and participated in a few little schooling shows, but then I discovered Dressage and I was hooked. It not only appealed to my love of horses but there is a rather large academic component to the sport and that appealed to me as well. I spent the next 8 years training and competing in small, amateur shows. My performance was always mediocre but I had no professional aspirations and I loved every minute of it. I eventually rented a basement suite in the neighbourhood where I rode. I never tired of hearing the clip-clop of horse hooves as people rode down my street on their way to the local riding club. And throughout graduate school I had part-time jobs in the local stables, was an active member and volunteer at the riding club and our local dressage club, and was just completely immersed in the world of horses and the joy of riding.

When I graduated and moved to the US it only took me a few months to settle into my new life before I was out looking for an instructor. I was just getting settled into my new barn, meeting fellow horsey folk, when I met got married and got pregnant. My husband lived in another state so with my pending move and pregnancy I decided to take a wee break from riding.

Kids, cross-continent moves, career decisions, and fluctuating incomes prevented me from seriously looking at riding again. Before I knew it that “break” had turned into ten years. When we moved to this rural area last year I knew one day horses would be in the picture, but it still seemed a long way off. And yet, I’d pass by people riding all the time. There were horses living on our street. Riders pass by the front of our property to access the miles of trails that stretch to the west of our place. And I’d stare with a big, silly grin on my face. Still, I thought, my time hasn’t come.

And then suddenly it did.

Having kids can leave you in a bit of a fog for a while. It’s all about babies and toddlers and preschoolers who have needs that demand so much of your time and attention. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved every stage of my kids’ lives, but it does go by very fast and one day you wake up and realize that you have kids now, not babies, and that you are finally in a place to step back, take a look around, and rediscover yourself. And when I did I realized just how much I’d missed riding, and became determined that somehow I was going to get back into it.

Shortly after this private resolution, Husband and I decided it was time for us to take up a hobby together. I was surprised (and thrilled) when he told me that he’d always wanted to learn how to ride. He is attracted to backcountry horseback riding, and we live in the perfect spot for such activities, being right on the Trans Canada Trail as well as several other “off-road” trails that run for miles. We began looking into it, and this Monday he and I are going for our first lesson with a holistic trainer who works with Natural Horsemanship principles, is multi-disciplinary, and who I believe could possibly take us a long way on this new journey. Because horses really are a journey that can last a lifetime.

Our goal is to become competent riders and horse handlers, to get involved with local trail riding clubs, and to eventually get horses for ourselves. Yes, we’ve decided that there will simply have to be a place for horses here at the ol’ homestead. We’re also hoping the kids might eventually get interested enough to give it a try, though sadly neither of them appears to have inherited the horse-obsession gene from me. I will probably dabble in Dressage, while he may decide to do some cross country jumping. But I’m also thrilled that my husband will be joining me in this journey, and I’m looking forward to riding with him, learning to pack for backcountry riding trips, and sharing the wonderful world of horses with him.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about this new stage in our lives. I feel like, for the first time in my life, I’m in a place where owning a horse could actually be a reality for me. I keep thinking back to that little 7 year old girl I once was, lying in my bedroom at night, promising myself that one day I would have my own horse. It took a whole lot longer than I had originally anticipated, but I’d be happy to let her know that she needn’t have worried about getting old – I still love horses as much as I ever did.

 

We have Piglets!

Aren’t they adorable? I must confess, I love piglets. So much so that Husband and I are considering breeding them ourselves some time in the future. These guys (well, three are boys and one of the black ones is a girl) are currently about the size of a large cocker spaniel. The spotted one in front appears to be the “boss”. They move around in a little pack, and are often hard to spot since they really enjoy hanging out in the woods (they are forest creatures, after all, and that is very evident to us this time around). We often find them sleeping in a heap under some brush. They are slowly figuring out that humans = food and are starting to come slowly and tentatively when we show up with a bucket of pig feed or scraps. They also seem to be getting a great deal of yummy stuff from the ground, as they are already rooting effectively and churning up the soil. They seem very happy with their new digs. It’s great to have critters around again!

We’re saying Good-Bye to Carbs

For the last few years I’ve been making a conscious effort to “know my food”: what’s in it, where it comes from, and how it was grown or raised. I eat what I thought was a healthy diet, with limited processed foods, mostly whole foods, and meals made from scratch. Recently my Husband and I have embarked on a rather dramatic change in eating habits. We’re still in transition mode, and I’m still processing my thoughts about it all, but that’s what today’s post is about.

Husband has struggled with his weight for many years. Recently, he brought home a book that changed the way we think about food. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes debunks the myth of low-fat and low-cholesterol being “good for you” diets, and instead points the finger squarely at carbohydrates as the main culprit in the so-called “Western Diseases” (obesity, diabetes, heart disease). He presents some impressive evidence for this, gleaned from credible sources such as scientific papers and government reports. The story of how we all came to believe in the “low fat solution” is a fascinating one all on its own (in a word: politics).

Being thus convinced that a diet heavy in carbs may be unhealthy I started looking into low-carb diets. I soon became overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. There’s low-carbno-carbPaleoGAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome), SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) and a host of others. While all of them aim to reduce carbohydrate intake, they differ on what is allowed and not allowed. Some forbid dairy (though others allow butter and/or ghee). Some say lighten up on the nuts and seeds, while others rely on them as grain substitutes. Some forbid all legumes, while others allow certain legumes prepared in a certain way. It all gets very confusing very quickly. Each side has their argument about why such-and-such a food is okay or not and it gets hard to figure out who to believe.

Ultimately, with my head swimming and confused about whether anything I’d ever enjoyed eating was good for me, I had to stop and take a pause and ask myself the most important question, one I heartily recommend anybody else considering a major dietary change ask themselves: why do I want to change the way I currently eat?

Different diets are skewed towards different theories of nutrition and their relation to disease. GAPS, for example, links gut health to mental health, suggesting that autism spectrum disorders can be treated this way. SCD is geared towards those with digestive disorders such as IBS or Crohn’s. Some people claim they are fatigued all the time, suffer from chronic aches and pains, have food allergies or sensitivities. Some are athletes in training looking to maximize performance. Others want to reduce their food budget, or eat with a mind to being more environmentally responsible. Many others are looking to control their weight.

I fall squarely into the last category. I don’t have any health problems. I tolerate wheat and dairy just fine. I am not lacking in energy, and I don’t suffer from chronic pain. By mainstream North American standards, my diet is already pretty darned healthy. However, I am overweight, and possibly more so than I thought. When I was in my early twenties I weighed around 125 lbs. Now, at age 43, I consider an ideal weight for me to be 142 lbs, mostly because that’s the lowest weight I’ve been able to attain without depriving myself of food and going hungry (a miserable way to live, particularly when it’s self-imposed). I simply accepted that one gains weight with age, but the fact is I am not any taller than when I was 23. Based on my ideal weight I am currently about 10 – 12 pounds overweight. However, if one argues that I should be where I was 20 years ago, then I’m actually 25+ lbs overweight. That’s entering scary territory.

I recently watched Robert Lustig’s viral YouTube talk Sugar: The Bitter Truth (it’s worth the whole hour to watch, but you could skip to the last 15 minutes to find the conclusions) and was deeply affected. Having taken my share of biochemistry courses I really appreciated the strength of what he was saying, and it added to my growing suspicion (especially after reading Taubes’ book) that sugar was much more of a problem for me than I wanted to believe. I’ve had a sweet tooth all my life and I love baked goods, breads, and other starchy foods including rice, pasta, and potatoes. Switching to home-made and organic doesn’t change the way they affect weight, however.

So, having decided that weight loss is my primary goal and that sugars (including starches) may be my main issue, I considered any other desires I might have for a new dietary regime. I do exercise, going for long walks and bike rides regularly, and doing hard labour on our property in the warmer months. I do NOT want to have to exercise simply for the sake of burning calories: that has never worked for me. I don’t want to be counting the hours that I walk, the steps I take each day, nor do I want to be counting calories or going hungry at any time during the day. So, with these considerations in mind I decided to go for the Paleo diet, which eliminates all grains. Fruits are okay (Lustig says the presence of so much fibre affects how the body handles the fructose, for the better), and it meshed well with Husband’s decision to go low-carb and grain-free. The philosophy also appeals to me since I tend to look towards our evolutionary history when trying to answer other questions in my life such as how to care for my babies (thus, attachment parenting), or how children learn (thus, unschooling).

I’ve been in a transition period for the last few weeks: trying to wean myself off sugar, move away from grains, and transition to new recipes. I’m glad I tried this slowly; I think it has made it easier to accept and adapt. For example, this morning for the first time in over 20 years I did not start off my day with a cup of black tea. I used to put tons of sugar in my morning cuppa, but over the last few weeks I’ve weaned myself down to only a teaspoon in a large mug. However, truth be told it’s just not enjoyable anymore. I find black tea too bitter. So instead I had some rooibos tea, which goes well with milk and doesn’t need sweetening. My final challenge will be to replace my morning bowl of cereal when I’m finally finished the box.

Lunch has been the easiest. I usually don’t eat much for lunch and I have been enjoying some Hvarti cheese (full fat, wahoo!), a handful of almonds, and a pear or other fruit. Lately I’ve fallen for smoothies. My current favourite ingredients include almond butter, frozen mixed berries, coconut milk, raw cow’s milk, plain yogurt (from raw milk), silken tofu, and spinach. I was adding white grape juice at first but am weaning myself off that now. For snacks a handful of almonds or cashews (or mixed together with raisins) satisfies. Also beef jerky (time to get a food dehydrator).

Dinner meant writing many staples off the list. But it’s also now pretty simple: pick a meat, pick a veg. For meat we choose from beef, pork, chicken, or eggs (all farm-fresh, ethical, local meats). We are also considering joining a CSF (community-supported fishery) so we can get sustainably-caught local seafood. For veggies we either have a tossed salad, broccoli slaw, or stir-fried veggies. No rice, no potatoes, no pasta, no beans, no lentils. Besides making meal planning simpler, I have noticed two main benefits to eating this way. First, I no longer feel uncomfortably full after dinner. I just feel satisfied, not like I need to undo the button on my jeans. I’m also not feeling hungry later on, which I very often did when eating a dish with pasta or rice. The second benefit is that since I can’t fill up on pasta, rice, or potatoes I need to make up for that with more veggies. Thus, a typical meal now consists of a serving a meat and the rest of the plate piled high with greens. I like this; it was the excuse I needed to have more vegetables around.

So we’re still pretty new to this and I’m not 100% Paleo yet. I will allow myself a few “forbiddens” like flaxseed meal (which I eat so little of anyway), and perhaps the odd dash of maple syrup or honey. I’m also fully embracing the dairy, since I have no reactions to it and we have access to raw milk. I also won’t expect to stick to Paleo when eating out, but that is a rarity anyways. And I will treat myself every once in a while, because a life without ever eating rhubarb pie or freshly baked cinnamon buns is simply not worth living. 🙂

Low Maintenance Farming

I was talking with my neighbour today about her experiences growing up on a farm. She remarked on the huge amount of labour involved. She’s in her fifties now and not interested in extending self-sufficiency to such things as growing hay or planting acre fields of crops and veggies. Later, as I reflected on this discussion I realized that traditional farming is associated in our collective consciousness with long hours of back-breaking work and a level of commitment that doesn’t lend itself well to vacationing or lazy days at home, never mind early retirement.

I contrasted this with what I’ve been learning about permaculture, and realized that in planning our farm we were – consciously or not – endeavouring to create a homestead that did not meet the traditional model of hard work. It started with the wise maxim of taking things one step at a time. As Jenna of Cold Antler Farm recently wrote:

…running a farm, even a backyard homestead, is something you work up to. You don’t start with 6.5 acres, a flock of pregnant sheep, 50+ chickens, dogs, bees, geese, ducks, rabbits, an old barn, and a giant garden. You start with a 5×5 raised bed and a trio of hens.

When we bought this land the only things on it were an old mobile home and a newer garage. The previous owner had done nothing with the land, so we were starting off with a zero-labour homestead. We took our projects slowly, one step at a time, not taking on more than we thought we could handle, and not adding more until we felt comfortable with where we were. And somewhere along the way we stumbled upon a way of homesteading that wouldn’t compromise the freedoms we enjoyed.

We enjoy our lazy days at home, like to go camping on a whim when the opportunity arises, relish sleeping-in (which really means just getting up when our bodies tell us we’re ready, and not being dragged out of bed for some other task) and aren’t interested in committing to daily chores that can’t be worked around somewhat to accommodate life off the property. When we first announced to our family our plans to move to a small acreage and provide a semblance of self-sustainability we were met with dire predictions that we’d never be able to get away from home, and that we were perhaps too used to a sedentary lifestyle to appreciate the amount of hard work such an endeavour would require.

But we’re learning that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Over the winter we reflected back on our first experience with raising pigs. It was not only fun, and resulted in a freezer full of delicious home-grown pork, but frankly it was pretty darn easy too. They were only here for 5 – 6 months and they required little more than being fed twice a day and watered once or twice, and that only because we did not have a proper setup that could have reduced these inputs to once a week or so. When we went on vacation, we hired a local homeschooling teen to come and feed the pigs and the cat. And just when the weather was getting cold and nasty, and the chore of ensuring ice-free watering troughs was looking rather unappealing, off they went to the processor.

We’d originally planned to get chickens, but we didn’t get it together in time for last year. After the winter-without-pigs it occurred to us that having laying chickens would not only be a daily commitment, but would be so 365 days per year. When considering that we have no less than 3 farms on our street that sell their own farm-fresh eggs, via an honour system setup that means I can get a dozen eggs pretty much any time of day, and for a very good price, it kind of seemed silly to take on a year-round commitment for something that would end up costing us not much less than what we currently pay for the same product.

On the other hand, the appeal of raising meat birds couldn’t be higher for folks already used to the idea of “seasonal livestock”. Meat birds reach maturity within a few short weeks, and are raised during the warm months of late spring and summer. We love farm-fresh chicken and having a good supply of our own birds in the freezer would be a real treat. Based on the price of local farm-fresh chickens we could do it for much less, too. There are no eggs to collect when you are raising meat birds: a simple moveable paddock or “chicken tractor” system is all you need. Feed and water them, and move them around as their foraging requires. Our local farm-sitting teen could easily handle feeding and watering the chickens should we decide on a holiday, so they wouldn’t impinge on our summer wanderlust either.

We’d been toying with the idea of getting goats. At first it was to clear the land, but then I wondered what we’d do with them when there was no more to clear. And then we changed our plans and didn’t need any more clearing than pigs could handle, which left me wondering why we would have goats (other than the fact that they are super cute!). I briefly considered justifying their keep by having a couple of dairy goats but really, as much as I enjoy chevre cheese the amount we eat is so small as to really not make it worth our while (and finding ways to use a resource that isn’t currently missed didn’t seem like a good enough reason to take on such a big responsibility).

Since pork and chicken are our main (and preferred) meats, sticking to these two endeavours would be enough for us in terms of protein. But what about plants? Well, thanks to our discovering permaculture, we’ve learned that we can obtain high yields of food with relatively little maintenance. The appeal to us was not just being able to harvest food while at the same time actually enhancing the health of our soil, but that we could do so without the massive commitments of time and labour that are required on a regular basis with conventional farming practices.

I’m not ruling out the possibility of adding to the farm some more. We’d like to have ducks and geese (the former for slug control and the occasional roast duck, the latter because my husband wants to try his hand at ethical foie gras). And who knows, maybe one day we’ll fall in love with a couple of pygmy goats and just add them to the dog and cat as family pets. But so far we are convinced that it’s possible to maintain a productive homestead without the heavy labour, year-round commitment, and lack of “get-away” time that is traditionally associated with such endeavours.

Bring on the Smaller World

I’ve recently finished reading  Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller. The author, Jeff Rubin, is a former Chief Economist at a major Canadian bank and an expert in the global economics of oil. In his book, he provides convincing evidence that the price of oil (and therefore gasoline, diesel, etc) is going to continue to climb over the next few years because of growing demand and decreasing supply. Now I’ve heard of peak oil and I’ve read everything from “technology will save us” to “get ready for the Apocolypse” but my own position had been somewhat undecided. Until now. In this article I will bring up some of the points raised in the book, and add my own musings on what this may all mean.

I really liked the way Rubin explained the problem, simply and clearly, in a way that is easy to follow and very thorough. He deals with the usual criticisms of peak oil and dismisses them with facts – not from the musings of obscure academic journals, but basic statistics from sources well-recognized by any reader. By the end of the first half of the book, I’m convinced that oil is going to continue its upward climb. And it is going to significantly change the way we live.

Despite what some Internet sources will have you believe, Rubin argues that these changes aren’t going to happen overnight; it’s not going to be like the disaster movies where one day a resource just disappears and everybody goes Mad Max trying to secure enough for themselves and their families.  Oil prices flow through a predictable cycle of ups and downs (though with an ever-increasing upward trend), so we will have time to adjust to the rising prices of oil – not time enough some may argue, but enough that one isn’t going to go to sleep with gas at $1.20/L and wake up to $5.00/L. Think about how quickly the Big Box store appeared in cities and towns everywhere – they weren’t deposited there by a freak storm, but to many of us it did seem like it all happened rather fast. That’s the sort of speed we’re talking about here.

Rubin’s first predication is that manufacturing will return to North America and become an increasingly local industry. It’s hard to argue with the logic behind this: at some critical price for fuel, the low wages and manufacturing costs of overseas plants will no longer be enough to provide an economic advantage due to the great distances over which these products must be shipped. (Just one example of the ridiculous extent to which cheap oil has shaped things: in my home province of BC we harvest wood, which is then shipped to China and other countries to be milled and processed, and then shipped back to Canada for export). I can imagine many out-of-work tradespeople who will welcome this new world – although I do hope we can rebuild our industries with a great deal more concern and respect for the environment than we had in the former glory days.

Another prediction made in the book is an end to the suburbs. The current version of “suburb” leaves a lot to be desired, and I might not be the only one to cheer the end of its current incarnation. Suburbs are a product of cheap fuel that people are all too willing to burn in exchange for perfect lawns, air-conditioning oversized houses, and hour-plus commutes in the private vehicle. Not to mention conformity to homeowner association rules that outlaw backyard poultry and hanging laundry as garish descents into peasantry that will lower property values (do members of these associations get how snobbish and elitist such rules are?). At a certain price for gas, people will not only shun the suburbs as a bedroom community, but my guess is that such real estate will be hard to even give away.  We in Canada may witness scenes like those from the US showing entire housing developments abandoned mid-construction.

On the bright side, however, not all suburbs will become ghost towns. Those whose municipal councils can look ahead to a new future will be successful in turning their bedroom communities into thriving, self-contained villages where the residents can work, play, and buy what they need locally. I’ve often thought that, while large cities have their wonders and treasures, there is something lost when human beings live in groups of such high numbers. We aren’t designed to do so, and it seems to lead to the “elevator syndrome” where people stand in close proximity without ever looking at or talking to each other. In smaller communities you know your neighbour. Sure, you may have only one pet food store to choose from – but because of that they know you on a first name basis, and will front you the $5 for kibble when you realize you left your wallet at home. And if someone passes by Old Lady Smith lying on the sidewalk they’ll immediately know that she’s suffered another seizure and the ambulance will be sent for, rather than assuming she’s some old homeless drunk/addict sleeping off a hangover. I hope what we’ll end up with is all the health and value of a small community but – thanks to the Internet* – with a global awareness. Think “Middle Ages”, but without the isolation and lack of information-sharing that kept people ignorant.

The transformation to smaller hubs will provide greater diversity in our products and foods. A piece of Ikea furniture is the same whether bought at a Vancouver store or one in Ottawa. But perhaps in the near future one will live in a community with a characteristic style of furniture, hand-crafted by local artisans from locally harvested or salvaged wood. Rather than travelling to a foreign country, one may only need to visit a neighbouring town to find a different style, using different woods and with a different flair for utility. On our small-ish Island we have many unique microclimates that are capable of specializing in different plant foods, and I can foresee a local economy where seafood from the West Coast is traded for fruits and honey from the Valley, for example.

It is these aspects of the post-peak oil world that really appeal to me, probably because I live in an area where community spirit is already high, where local food and art flourishes, and where self-sufficiency has been a goal for some time. I love that I can grow my own food, and that what I can’t grow myself can be obtained from my neighbours. Sea salt, tea, honey, flour, milk, and eggs are just some of the foodstuffs we buy locally. Local food will become much more desirable when the cost of food transportation breaks the bottom line. And I will join in the chorus of Hallelujah’s to witness the slow death of industrial farming and its oil-hungry monocropping culture of maximum yield at all cost. I will similarly raise a cheer for the passage into extinction of cheap, plastic, useless crap that falls apart quickly and is not worth repairing.

Rubin’s book doesn’t paint it all as a rosy picture, however. He notes that millions of people will suffer as we make the transition from global to local economies. There will be a Grand Reshuffling, and it will hurt many. Those in the developing world who have been robbed of their farming traditions and cultural stores of knowledge by foreign “aid” that has rendered them dependent on crops that don’t grow locally without huge inputs of fuel-dependent resources (see Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved), are particularly going to suffer. I also wonder about the future of the MegaTropolis. Places like New York and Tokyo with their populations of millions living in concrete jungles and not enough green space to grow food. I imagine we’ll see some great historic reversal where, instead of peasants fleeing to the cities, cities will be abandoned as flocks of people move out to the country. Not such a bad idea from where I sit, though there is much culturally to admire and cherish when it comes to the world’s great cities. Some places will have a hard time of this, but countries like Canada, where we have vast tracts of uninhabited land, will likely do well.

There’s no doubt that the transition to a world without cheap oil (for there will always be oil, it will just be too expensive for most of its current uses) will be a difficult one for many. Each of us must look to our own situation to determine how much we have placed ourselves at risk, and what we should do about it in the few years we have left before driving a car moves from necessity to expensive luxury. Are you able to grow at least some of your own food, with enough extra to barter for other necessities? Are you a slave to your mortgage? Can you weather significant increases in interest rates, can you survive on far less an income than you currently enjoy? Has your municipal or district council put forward resolutions to increase self-sustainability and decrease dependence on cheap oil? What are the transportation options in your community? All of us must think about these things as the price of oil continues its inexorable climb upwards. Because one thing seems certain: cheap oil is soon to be a thing of the past.

 

it is reasonable to argue that peak oil would affect electricity as well as the manufacture of computer devices, and that the Internet may become as outpriced as driving a vehicle; I would not hesitate in giving up pretty much every other oil-based system we rely on if it meant keeping the Internet and I’m certain many other people assign the same importance to it, especially in a world where old skills will need to be relearned, so I remain optimistic that the Internet is here to stay


 

Earning our Keep

As long as we’ve had the dream of moving to a small acreage and creating a homestead, making a living off the farm has never been part of that dream. The truth is, trying to support a family on a farm’s products is labour-intensive, highly competitive, and not all that lucrative. If we weren’t blessed with careers that can be molded to fit our circumstances perhaps we’d be entertaining thoughts of being farmers. But we’re middle-aged, not cut out for heavy work over long hours, and are able to earn a good living doing other things that take up far less time and allow us to get outside whenever possible, not to mention being with our homeschooled children. There’s lots to do in order to turn this place into a homestead, but it’s about providing good food for our family, a healthy environment around us, and a connection to the land. It’s not about earning a living.

For the last several years I’ve been running a small consulting business out of my home. It’s very part-time, the hours are flexible, I enjoy the work very much, and it pays well. About a year ago Husband found a job that fit him perfectly, too. He and his sole partner get along very well, he works almost entirely from home, and his hours are mostly flexible. His partner had already established the business some years before and there’s a steady influx of clients for the foreseeable future. And the pay is good, so he doesn’t need to work long hours to provide an income that keeps us quite comfortable. We’re both very proud of what we’ve built for ourselves, and although we recognize that the socioeconomic situations we were born into certainly helped get us where we are today, we’ve definitely chosen a road less travelled when it comes to the direction in which we took our careers. Husband could be earning a lot more money with a big firm, but he’d also be in an environment he loathes (big business), working long hours, and with little control over his future. We also would not be living here, in this smallish town. We’d be on the outskirts of a major city centre, with a long commute every day and a whole lot less land for a whole lot more money. For me, were I to seek out full employment I’d be earning ten times what I make now, but I too would be working long hours, would have missed out on the vast majority of my children’s lives, and also would not be living in this town. For us, maximizing our earning potential is not part of The Dream. We’ve pared back and chosen a more simple lifestyle, and we haven’t regretted it for one minute.

I’m writing this post because there are two things going on for us right now related to work and income, both of which I’m quite excited about. I’m in the process of re-branding my company. The name I started with is rather generic, as I wasn’t really sure what it would all look like once I got going. As with many entrepreneurial journeys, I found out along the way that there were niches I could fill, ones I didn’t know existed, and the focus of my work shifted and moved until I found my groove. I’m ready to move my business to the next level and work on promoting myself more. Virtually all my business comes via the Internet, so I’m having my website revamped and reworked to up my search engine rankings and include a way to promote those services in which I specialize. I’ve spent countless hours trying to come up with a new name, and I don’t go anywhere now without my scrap paper lists and a pen –  you never know when inspiration will hit you! I’ve found a wonderful woman to work on my website – she’s an old friend from my university and club-hopping days whom I recently reconnected with. Now she’s a stay-home mum with a home-based business and her work demonstrates that she is very talented and creative. It’s not my intention for this to become a full-time job, but I do have room for an increased caseload and I’m hoping this process will result in some more new clients.

The other thing going on is that Husband has begun working on a long-standing dream of his to produce artisan spirits. He spent his teen and young adult years on his family’s winery learning the art and science of distillation, but never really thought anything would come of it professionally. Fast-forward a couple of decades and things have really changed. On a whim he recently looked into the idea again and found that the trend in local eating and artisan food products has cleared the way for artisan distillers. While putting together a business plan we discovered that we can house the facility on our property (gotta love rural zoning) and have planned to build a small barn-style structure for this purpose (we picked the plans out of a book; it’s gorgeous and rustic and exactly what you’d expect on a homestead). What’s so great about it is there are no waste products other than water (which, as the product of distillation, is as pure as it gets) and mash (which the pigs will love). We finalized the incorporation process a few weeks ago and are now making plans to clear some of the property (which we’d planned to do anyway) and put up the barn (using the lumber we recently had milled*) this spring. We’ll be spending the first several months trying out different recipes and working to develop a unique formula and process using locally-sourced ingredients (of course!). Our goal is to produce small batches of a quality artisan product that reflects the unique flavours of our region (which is a haven for locavores). Because of the flexibility of our work schedules (and the fact that our kids are quite independent at home now) we have the time to devote to this side-business. While neither one of us is giving up our “day jobs”, who knows where this might take us? In the meantime, the cash layout is relatively small and we’re sure to have lots of fun along the way.

What’s so funny is that I don’t even drink hard liquor (I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol). But what I’ve learned so far is that making spirits is the perfect blend of art and science. Husband excels at the art aspect of things and the scientist in me is rather excited about taking on some lab work again. Although the setting will be much different than the labs I used to work in, such tasks as performing batch experiments and keeping pristine notes of all processes and variables is right up my alley (they don’t call me the Spreadsheet Queen for nothing). Mostly it just all sounds like a good deal of fun, something Hubby and I can bond over (like having kids isn’t enough), not to mention the source of some fabulous homeschool experiments for the kids. I’m very excited about what lies ahead for us, and immensely grateful and happy that we have managed to craft such a good life for ourselves.

* in searching for a link here I discovered I never posted about our milled lumber; pictures coming soon, I promise!