Tennesseetransitions


Radical Home Economics

Back in about 1967, (you know, when dinosaurs walked the Earth) all 7th grade school girls were required to take “Home Economics”, while boys had to take “Wood Shop”. I still have the sturdy footstool by brother made for our mother but I happily no longer have the ugly red dress I had to make-with darts and a zipper! At the time I resisted the sewing and cooking skills taught to us by Mrs. Fuller, but the concepts stuck with me, and for most of my adult life I’ve been able to sew a complete wardrobe- from a Barbie dress to a wedding dress- or cook a 10-course meal from appetizers to dessert. Too bad  most folks don’t still consider those valuable skills, but with yard goods now costing more than many fully-made, store bought garments, and convenience foods costing less than many food basics, I can understand the reasoning-if pure frugality is the only criteria. Having raised four daughters, sewing and cooking skills were invaluable to our family.

sew

 

Now that I am beginning to see the light at the end of my chemo tunnel, I am reminded anew that those skills and more are part of me now and frugality is not the only criteria. I just don’t know how to live my life any other way. Michael and I deliberately chose to live a life of voluntary simplicity when we took early retirement in 2002-I at 49 and he at 55, a decision we’ve never once regretted. Sure, we’ve had to make choices, but those choices were often very agreeable ones: did we want 150 channels of Cable TV or could we be satisfied with a roof top antennae and a converter box? The extra time not spent watching so much television opened the door to many other pleasant activities, like playing music and volunteering, gardening, writing this blog, joining a church and other organizations that hold similar values to ours. Over the years we also discovered that using our house as a center of production vs using it as a center of consumption fit right in with a simpler lifestyle, all while enabling us to live lives that feel very rich indeed! We’ve had to make some concessions recently due to lingering health problems and increased medical expenses, but  growing and preserving food, reusing and repurposing, all while making the house as energy efficient as possible still allows us to live comfortably in spite of the increased expenses. My grandmother used to call it “Pulling in your horns”. I prefer ‘radical home economics’ because the former makes it sound like a temporary situation, but radical homemaking is truly a way of life.

I recently read a blog post about how some middle class folks just like us are buying older, smaller homes in well-established neighborhoods and using every inch of available space in the home and yard to increase the home’s productivity: some are renting an extra room out, others are converting former garages into home office space or workshops. Others are tending small flocks of hens and beehives; but what about rabbits? When my daughters were  young and involved with 4-H projects we started with a buck and two does and within 6 months had 32 rabbits! A quiet, high protein source of meat that could easily be grown, harvested and prepared for the freezer was the idea-far easier than chickens, pigs or cows, for example. 

rabbits

Radical? not really. But I digress…

Many are converting front-yards to raised beds for growing fresh food and back-yards to clothes lines, compost bins and rainwater storage barrels.

rain

These conventional, affordable homes are being converted to radical  home economies and are substituting beautifully for the large homesteads that were so eagerly sought after in the ’70s and ’80s. AND these homes can often be paid for with the proceeds made from selling their former McMansion or McSpread. It’s heartwarming to me, especially during this cold spell we’re experiencing here in NE TN, to know we are not alone.

What are  you doing to make your home productive vs consumptive? This first month of this new year is a good time to think about ways you might do that in 2016, then share them with the rest of the readers in the comments section. ElmStreetLogo

 

 

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We Have the Tools We Need

grandmaThis blog is mostly about ways to create resilient and prosperous households, neighborhoods and communities, or, as implied in the picture above, ways to “do stuff”. I wrote a post earlier this year on ‘redefining prosperity’ and I’ve been reminded of it several times this week while listening to lunch break talk. As you probably know, stock markets around the world have taken a beating since last Friday, and folks, from economists to retirees to my workmates are worried. Call me crazy, but I’m not worried, even though we lost a lot ON PAPER due to the plunge. I try to measure my personal prosperity based on how wealthy I am in non-tangible ways rather than on what the monthly statements tell me. Of course I hate to lose money, even if it is ON PAPER, as much as anyone. But I don’t feel any real sense of loss. I’m not going to sell out now, I’m going to stay the course and let the blue chips fall where they may. In the meantime I intend to continue doing whatever I can to make my home and family and community more resilient, so that when the economic crashes and recessions occur-and they will!- we’ll still be standing.

On a personal level, that means staying out of debt and paying cash or doing without. It means using what I have on hand, before buying something, whether it’s a jar of our home-grown tomatoes or a bottle of shampoo. It means continuing to grow as much food as I can, saving my own seeds and making small mountains of compost so that I can return what I’ve taken from the soil, and then doing it all over again next year. It means keeping my body as strong and as healthy as I can through healthy eating, regular exercise and sleeping 7 or 8 hours each night. It means repairing rather than replacing, putting food up for the winter, hanging the sheets on the line to dry, using the fan rather than the AC and driving the car less. I have the tools I need…

Resiliency and prosperity is different for each of us though. Perhaps for you it’s working through debt, learning a special skill that might be useful in bad times, or starting your own small business. For ALL of us, it really does mean having a local supply chain, just like our grandparents did during the Great Depression. When China’s economy collapses (and according to recent NPR reports that’s not as far fetched as you may think) that familiar ‘made in China’ supply chain will break and we’ll be dependent on what we can produce right here at home. And if that chain doesn’t break, doesn’t it just make SENSE to supply ourselves with our own stuff, right here at home? We need the jobs here-badly. And by the way, I’d advise China to do the same. Did you know that last month the USDA gave the OK to ship our LIVE chickens that were raised here to China for processing, then ship the meat BACK to the US for our consumption? What would our grandparents have thought of that hare-brained scheme? Would they have raised their own backyard chickens and sent them away to butcher? In direct contrast, check out the message on this poster that the USDA produced during the Great Depression:

Feed YourselfOur recently re-activated neighborhood association met with the chief of police and the sergeant  assigned to our district Monday night to discuss ways we can keep our neighborhood safer and free from July 4th fireworks that go on throughout the month. Working side by side with neighbors on issues that affect all of us is a sure way to get to know one another and be part of a more livable community. There were 33 people at the meeting, with plans to have block captains, neighborhood watches and to be represented in this year’s Christmas parade! That’s the start of better resilience for sure. I’m hoping at some point we’ll begin to talk about public gardens,orchards and vineyards, bike lanes, Little Free Libraries and “Safe Houses”, health clinics and more. We have the tools we need…

And finally, on a larger community level, resiliency and prosperity might mean outlining a detailed plan for community food security or supporting a community-owned energy system, municipal composting facility or ride sharing plan. It may mean a leaner and slower way of life for some, but also a healthier, happier and more peaceful world for us and future generations to enjoy. We have the tools we need… What we do with them is up to us.

hard times to dance




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