Thursday, October 31, 2013

Seven quick excuses

Excuses for why I never blog, that is ...


Normally I think it's a little presumptuous to apologize for not blogging.  I mean, is it really such a suffering to be deprived of my writing for a few weeks?  Maybe no one noticed.  And if you've subscribed in a reader, you'll get my posts as I write them, so the old hassle of refreshing again and again for new content should be a thing of the past.

However.  I started this post four Fridays ago.  So perhaps excuses are in order.


The first excuse is that I'm feeling like a Luddite lately.  So tired of the internet.  The way it breeds debate without discussion, short attention spans, news selected for shock value, the echo chamber of only choosing to be friends with people we agree with, and of course the physical laziness of loafing around on the computer all day.  There is so much beauty and love and excitement on my own street, why am I searching for it online?

Then that famous Louis CK clip about cellphones and this short story
pretty much finished the job.  No more internetz for me!

Nah, I didn't give it up or anything.  But I've been spending a lot less time online lately, and that is great for me.  Not so great for this blog.  Of course if I cut out the random poking around and replaced it with blogging, I wouldn't be behind, but content creation is work, while content consumption is play.


I've been replacing internet time with spinning time and OH MY GOODNESS I am so in love with spinning.  It's absorbing without taking all my attention (I don't have the attention span to knit, I always lose count), it's done standing up so I feel more active and energetic, it's easy to catch the spindle while I run to get Michael off the kitchen counter, and wool is just so .... woolly .... mmmmm.

I think anyone who is into any kind of fiber craft will understand the addiction.  How people buy yarn with no purpose in mind just because it's nice.  How you might end up with bags full of roving or a million crochet projects on the hook at any given time.  It's a sickness.

I think it's the fluffiness.

Anyway I got 12 ounces of Cormo (Corriedale/Merino cross) at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival last month and I have been going to town on it.  It's so sooooooooft.

Marko needed a spindle too...


So then after that I discovered dyeing and WOW THE AWESOMENESS.  Turns out you can do wool (not other fibers) with food coloring.  I did some handpainting of yarn I'd spun this month and it was so fun.  Marko helped, and we learned about how primary colors mix into secondary colors.  He got a little lumpy ball of rainbow color, and I did the rest -- 150 yards of fingering weight, which is my month's work -- in sunset colors, inspired by the painted maple across the street from me.

Yes, it turned out super bright ... I'm okay with that.

Then I tried dyeing some wool blue and green, but the blue never took so it's mostly pale green and white with darker green streaks.  Reminds me of green marble.

When I say 150 yards was a month's work, I don't mean I was spinning for hours a day.  I teased the fleece by hand for about half an hour a day (I don't have carders, and it was rather sticky and matted too) and then spun for about 20 minutes before running out of teased locks.

Still, I have to up my pace, I think, if I ever want to make enough to do anything with.  150 yards is not a lot, at least not for knitting.  Knitting uses bulkier yarn and more of it than weaving does -- which is why knitting got popular after the spinning wheel was invented.  A spindle is great for making fine thread for weaving, but it is (usually) slower going.

You see where I'm going with this, right?  I need a loom, obviously!

Meanwhile, I think I will have to start selling handspun on Etsy in order to fund my habit.  I know there are people who read this blog who'd be interested in that.


This also appears to me one of those winters where we get ALL THE COLDS.  Since September we have never all been well at once.  Marko wakes himself coughing at night.  Michael seems happy enough but he's a snot faucet.  I've had sore throats and sore ears and general misery, and of course there are no sick days for mothers.  (Though one day John was home early and made dinner; I would have kissed his feet if I could have crawled off the couch.)

I worry this is all my fault for not feeding my kids more nourishing food.  But between our ever-tightening budget and their pickiness, I don't know what I can do about that.


Also, something I forget every year and remember on the first real blustery fall day, is that fall is migraine season for me.  This is a shame for me because I love autumn.  I love the weather, the colors, the briskness.  I didn't mind that week of steady rain we had.  But when the wind comes out of the north -- as it spends all fall and winter doing around here -- and everything is clear and cold, I get horrible, horrible headaches.

The pain centers behind my right eye.  Then it travels down the side of my head, down my neck, and ends behind my right shoulder blade.  I have no idea why that is.  Going outside, standing up, sudden movements, and breathing hard all make it worse.  Heat, rest, and avoiding sugar seem to help.  Nothing puts an end to it, though, except a weather change.

This makes me rather useless for awhile.  I loaf around and try to distract myself and watch the mess accumulate.  I leap up from time to time and extricate the kids from trouble, and then I grab my head in agony because I had to get up.  Or I sit on my butt and yell at them, and they ignore me because they know I don't care enough to get up.

They seem unfazed.

Sigh.  Today is overcast and moist and I feel fine.  But I live in fear that the wind will turn and I'll be back to misery.


Also, I am worried sick about Obamacare.  I haven't really been stressing about it until now; my feeling was that we'd just have to see how it affected us, but aren't we too poor to see much of a rate hike?

Eh, no such luck.  As it is now, John and the kids are on his work plan, for about $500 a month.  To add me on it would be another $500 a month, so I'm on my own very minimal plan for about $100 a month.

Well, of course, if you can afford your plan, you can't keep your plan, so that plan is being canceled and the only "replacement" offered is on the exchange, which we can't log into.  But the estimates we can find offer to cover the whole family for $700 a month or so.  That wouldn't be so terrible -- only $100 a month we don't have, to try to stretch our already threadbare budget to cover -- except the deductible is so high that we have to pray not to get sick just as hard as we would if we had no insurance at all.  $4500 per person.  That means, basically, every baby I had would cost $4500, if I was lucky enough to fit the whole pregnancy into one calendar year.  Oh, and 35% after that.  So, basically, we can't afford to have more kids.  That's the only way I can figure it.

The one bright side I can find is that we are probably exempt from a tax penalty if we don't buy insurance.  At least that's what the Kaiser website says:

"Q: My employer offers health benefits to me and my family. The company pays the entire cost of my coverage but contributes nothing toward the cost of covering my family. We can’t afford to enroll my wife and kids. Can they get coverage and subsidies in the Marketplace instead?

A: You can always shop for health coverage in the Marketplace. However, your employer-provided coverage is considered “affordable.” That’s because the affordability of employer sponsored coverage is only measured with respect to self-only coverage. Because your employer pays the entire cost of the employee-only coverage, you are technically considered to have affordable coverage (even though practically speaking, it was unaffordable to you.) As a result, neither you nor your wife and children are eligible to apply for premium tax credits in the Marketplace.

There are a few other things you should know. First, depending on your family income, your children might qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program in your state. Check with your state Marketplace to find out if your children may be eligible for CHIP.

Second, because the amount you would have had to pay to actually cover your spouse and kids was more than 8% of your family income, they won’t be penalized for not having health coverage."
Well, ain't that lovely.  We are free to take risks with our health and budget.  I suppose that is something. 

Say a prayer, will ya?  We've looked into a lot of options and none of them our good, but the best "out" I can find would be for John to get a job in his field at last, one that pays him a reasonable salary and/or provides decent health insurance.

Otherwise I might end up picking up a part time job.  Because I'm afraid selling lotion and handspun yarn isn't going to cut it.

That's about it -- more quick takes here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A better kind of lawn

There are about 40 million acres of lawns in America -- a number which grows every year.  We use 800 million gallons of gas mowing those lawns, including the amount we accidentally slosh on the ground while filling our mowers: 17 million gallons, more than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.  The average American sprinkles 238 gallons of water on his lawn every year.  About 71 million pounds of active ingredients of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other chemicals are dumped on U.S. lawns each year, or about 7 percent of all pesticides used in the U.S.  Homeowners use more pesticides than farmers -- in fact, ten times as many.  Many of these pesticides are potentially toxic to humans, and pretty much all of them are harmful to the environment.  We spend $30 billion every year maintaining our lawns; I have no idea how many hours, but it's a lot.

In America, we slaughter 33 million beef cattle every year.  Some is exported, but most is consumed here, to the tune of $262 a year per capita.  Though beef cows and their calves are raised on large ranches, 75% of beef cattle is fattened on feedlots before slaughter.  Feedlots receive a lot of criticism for being inhumane (the cattle weren't meant to eat that much grain, to stand on bare ground instead of grass, or to have so little space to exercise) and for harming the environment with massive manure ponds.

If very carefully managed, one beef steer needs about an acre of irrigated pasture if it doesn't receive any supplemental grain.  (Or so Gene Logsdon says in his books.)  In addition, the same acre can be stocked with chickens which eat bugs out of the cow manure along with a provided grain ration.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

It seems to me you could fit those 33 million cattle on those 40 million acres of lawn with room to spare.  The grass is already very intensively managed.  People could continue watering, but skip out on mowing, weeding, and fertilizing.  No chemicals at all will be needed in this scheme, and no petroleum.

I have knocked around a number of schemes in my head for this, considering that most families don't own enough land for one steer, and don't have the time or knowledge to be cattle wrangling either.  What makes the most sense to me is for there to be a neighborhood cattle farmer who cares for a small herd and rotates them each day, or even twice a day, into a new yard.  Frequent rotating through new pasture is the very best thing for the cattle and the pasture anyway. 

Every couple of weeks you'd have your yard full of cattle for one day.  Then a couple of days later the farmer would bring a mobile chicken coop through.  The chickens would flip over and spread the cowpies, eat any parasites or fly larvae, and move on.  The rest of the time you'd have an excellent yard for your barbecues and games of catch, with no mowing or fertilizing necessary.

I can't figure out -- since this system is so mutually beneficial -- who should pay whom.  Should the farmer hire out his cattle as a lawnmowing service, or should he rent people's yards?  Some fencing will also be required as a startup cost, and who pays for it?  Well, you'd just have to let people try it and see.  You could even run it as a co-op -- everyone pays for their own fencing and shares the purchase price of the calves, and everyone gets a cut of the beef at the end, in proportion to the size of their yard.  The farmer gets an extra-big cut which he can sell for his own wage.  The chickens are pure bonus -- you could do meat birds or laying hens, whatever you want, so there would be shares of chicken and eggs as well.

That's the sort of small-scale solution that wouldn't need to be done all at once. People who wanted to, could participate, and every person who did would be saving oil, money, erosion-prone farmland that's currently planted to corn for cattle feed, and the environment around where the feedlot used to be.  Meanwhile you'd be getting pastured beef and free-range chicken, which we know are better for you, for far less cost in money and resources than what you could buy at the store.  It's efficient in a way you never could practice on a large scale.

This wouldn't hamper anyone from having a fruit tree or two -- those would just provide shade for the cattle.  The chickens would pick up any fruit rotting on the ground, so you wouldn't have to worry about that like I do with my plum tree.  You could do your back yard in cattle and your front yard in vegetables.  If you didn't want to deal with the farmer, you could have a couple pigs in your backyard all on your own, and ask your neighbors for their food scraps for them.  There are any number of absolutely local, sustainable solutions for food production on land that is currently wasted.

And why are we not doing this?

Two reasons only.  The first is cultural, though that's beginning to change.  Some people just don't want cows in their backyard.  (What is wrong with them, I wonder!  I emphatically DO want cows in my backyard!)  And the perfect manicured lawn is something of a status symbol.

The second reason is the government.  First, they zone you residential, and then the next thing you know it's against the law to grow tomatoes instead of rhododendrons.  Why the overreach?  Pesky neighbors who think they have a right to decide what's in other people's yards based on appearance, and perhaps a little bit of fear of what can't be controlled.  Our food system, after all, is a major industry which employs a lot of people and turns over billions of dollars a year.  They have powerful lobbies and they care about beef a great deal more than you do.

However, the law isn't the same in all places, and I've heard of people renting out goats to mow people's lawns.  For real.  I hope this is a growing trend!

N.B.  In the "everything I want to do is illegal" category, look at this gorgeous earth home.  Then read how the government is ordering the family to bulldoze it.  It makes me want to cry.

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