Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Hard Sell

A couple days ago, we returned from a week-long vacation. It's our second road trip this year, and likely to be our last for a while. Among other things, traveling with Amelia is just really hard, especially when it comes to sleep.

Anyway, on our way back from visiting beaches and relatives near Charleston, SC, we stopped to spend a couple days with some old friends in North Carolina. We have a running joke about relocating near them just so I can keep my tractor running.

But when we got there, they gave us the sales pitch on moving there for real. Now understand that these are people who have lived in twenty different places - from Branson, Missouri to Adelaide, Australia. And that's just since they've been married! Now after all that, this is the place they've decided to put down roots. This is the place they've fallen for.

So we arrived tired and disheveled on Friday night, and mostly just chatted and then went to bed. As we're milling around in our jammies Saturday morning, trying to wake up, there's a knock at the door. It's their neighbor, with a big platter of cantaloupe, sausage patties, and biscuits - leftovers from their own breakfast. Seriously, how many places can you go where your neighbors bring you a hot breakfast out of the blue? She was a wonderfully nice woman, and I'm not just saying that because of the food. She and her husband (also very nice) have five kids - two of whom are autistic, and at least one adopted.

So while Lori and I are marveling at the neighborly good will, the kids are all outside playing. There are a ton of kids in the neighborhood. Everybody knows everyone. The older kids watch out for the younger ones, and the parents watch out for each other's kids.

In the afternoon, we split up for a bit. Casey and Lori stopped into a "crunchy" mom-oriented consignment shop, with cloth diapers, attachment parenting books, used clothes, etc. then a 99-cent book store, and a yarn shop. Will took me on a driving tour of the area. There's little more than a crossroads of a town, with a gas station / sandwich shop, a few newer buildings, and quaint old homes. And a sort of weekly summer block party, with live music, a giant slip-n-slide, local produce, and other such coolness. We saw numerous roadside farm stands, many small farms with livestock of most every sort, and half-million dollar homes interspersed with old farm houses, mobile homes, and typical suburban-looking houses. Rolling hills, woods, pastures, streams, ponds, the whole beautiful countryside bit.

After that, we drove half an hour away to the lovely UNC campus, where we had the best Mediterranean food I've ever encountered. Behind the counter, the deli proudly listed the local farms that supply their produce.

From there we headed for a local dairy farm to get some ice cream. On the way, we saw a beautifully vivid double rainbow. As we pulled into the parking lot, the rainbow appeared to descend right into the ice cream shop. It overlooks the picturesque dairy farm, which was made even more picturesque by the addition of a lovely sunset, complete with migrating geese flying in formation. Ice cream never tasted so good. The crescent moon was adorned with wispy clouds by the time we made it back to their house.

I have to say we were impressed that our friends were able to arrange for the Breakfast Fairy, the double rainbow, the sunset, and everything else. We wondered if we'd wandered on to the set of the Truman Show or something. They really know how to make a sales pitch.

Then, just to really make us crazy, Will found a house for sale on the local Craigslist site: An old homestead, with 2.5 acres. The house has 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. Custom cabinets in the kitchen, with another side kitchen with oak countertops. There are two fireplaces - one in the kitchen and one in the living room, as well as a Quadrafire wood stove. Thouse has a wrap-around porch, metal roof, built-in china cabinets, a cedar closet, hardwood floors, and new low-E windows. The property has a 30x40 garage, a woodshop and a shed, all three with electric. The garage also has water and cabinets, and a pool table. There's a deep well, as well as an old hand-dug stone well and a natural spring. I could go on.

And this property is for sale at a price about 25% under our current mortgage.




Monday, August 24, 2009

Parenting and perspective

Earlier this year I had lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in many, many years. We were catching each other up on our lives, our families, and what we'd been up to all that time. The subject of my daughter's medical & developmental issues came up. She was asking questions and I was answering, trying to paint a picture of the complexities of Amelia's world. And then she said something strange: "It's so tragic."

It's probably not strange, really, but was strange for me to hear. Anybody who has ever met Amelia knows she's a happy kid. Even strangers can't resist her contagious giggle. Put her in a on a beach or in a swimming pool, and she is purest joy, personified.

Sure, there are bad days, and more often, bad nights. I've complained about them here on occasion. But there's no sense of loss, of grieving. There are plenty of tragic stories out there, but ours is not one of them.

I don't fault my friend for thinking what she did. It's probably pretty common for those who haven't been around kids like Amelia very much. For us, she's just another kid; another family member; another person to share the love. We deal with the challenges of an autistic kid the same way we deal with the challenges of our other kids. We struggle, we whine, we adapt, we fail, and succeed, we laugh and cry, and we keep going.

All of this is really just to reinforce Sharon Astyk's great post from today:
Asked, most of these parents probably would have said they could not handle a child with autism. I suspect I would have as well. And yet, when a child with autism came their way, they were not only able to “handle” it, but to make a life of joy and beauty, and moments of pure happiness and celebration out of that reality. It can happen to all of us - and almost all of us manage, not just to survive, but to find new ways to be happy and grateful and feel that they got lucky.

(All this after a vacation which was most certainly not made easier by the presence of our pint-sized, mess-making insomniac. )


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Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Evil Plan

I'm happy to say that I've recently started implementing My Evil Plan.

For long-time readers, My Evil Plan could probably be considered a spin-off of My Crazy Scheme. For non-long-time readers, here is the Reader's Digest version of My Crazy Scheme. The four part opus, or as I prefer to call it, the Director's Cut, can be found here:
Part 1: Big Hairy Deal
Part 2: Little Tiny Steps
Part 3: Magnification
Part 4: Change the World?

A lot has changed since then, and I've learned a lot too, but I think the general plan holds up pretty well three years on.

I do have to say that I just love the fact that if you google "my crazy scheme," I've got the top few spots locked up, and even with just "crazy scheme" I've still got the #1 spot.

It also reminds me that I need to start
taking credit for inspiring The Bullseye Diet. :)

Anyway, on to My Evil Plan: Simply put, it is to position myself, at least for now, as the middle man between my coworkers and local farmers.

I have at least four different people at work interested in buying naturally raised chickens (remember the Free Soup bird?) from the place we get ours. I'd pick them up frozen from the farm (which is about 2 miles from our house), bring them to work in a cooler, deposit them in one of several break room freezers (which are essentially empty), and pocket a modest delivery fee.

I'm also laying the groundwork for holiday turkeys, as well as any local produce, honey, baked goods, sides of beef, duck, fruit, or whatever else people might request.

I've been thinking for a long time about how cool it would be to get our production up to CSA level, or at least to have enough of a surplus to make it worth selling. But it's taking much longer than I'd hoped, what with the baby, the special needs daughter, the learning curve, not to mention the laziness and incompetence.

But with my Evil Plan, I can cheat a little bit by leaning on my more experienced neighbors, and maybe even run afoul of local food laws or company HR policies. I can gauge interest in various small farm products with no real risk. I might have people tell me they want okra, but if I can't grow it, or if I do grow it and they don't end up actually wanting it, that doesn't help anybody. If tell them what I can get and then bring them what they ask for, I can find out what and how much they really want, and then deliver a product that's superior to what I can currently produce myself. And at the same time, figure out what to focus on for our own production.

Then again, if we never want to raise meat turkeys or keep bees, I can still keep delivering those things, along with our own stuff. It still helps the local farmers, the local ecosystem, the local economy, it helps my coworkers have easier access to better food, and it helps me establish valuable relationships.

But now that I've written this all out, I don't seem to be making an especially convincing case for joining the Evil League of Evil.

I'll have to refine this a bit...


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Somebody check my math!

There was a recent post in an online forum which was making a case that vegetarianism is better from a carbon emissions standpoint than eating meat. It referenced one of many articles that complain (rightly) about the greenhouse gas emissions generated by feedlot meat. It spurred me to look for some data on grass-fed meat, by way of comparison. Here's part of what I wrote - including some rather surprising numbers:
I'm all for ending the practice of stuffing livestock with grains, and turning manure into sewage. Not to mention the health and disease considerations for the animals as well as the people! I'm also all for drastically reducing the amount of meat consumed.

But (you knew I was going to put one in here!) I just did some quick digging and came up with this*:
Conventional beef:         2.13 kg CO2 / 1 kg meat
Conventional corn: 0.15 kg CO2 / 1 kg corn
Cover crop + no-till corn: 0.06 kg CO2 / 1 kg corn
Grass fed beef: 0.02 kg CO2 / 1 kg meat

* based on numbers in these two links, converted to common units:

I picked corn because it was the easiest calorie dense crop I could find carbon numbers for. I couldn't find numbers for organic corn. I suspect it varies according to scale.

To be fair, I haven't added in electricity for the beef to keep it frozen or whatever. I guess it depends if you're keeping it all yourself for a year, or splitting it among many people, to be eaten relatively soon after butchering.

But even I found the numbers above surprising. (Maybe I should re-check my math.)

Is this a fair comparison? I don't know. Just throwing it out there. Is manure a methane disaster or a fantastic fertilizer? Depends how much you have and what you do with it I guess. Is growing perennials like grass and clover for grazing better for the soil than no-till corn and soy, or is that canceled out by cow farts? Did buffaloes fart? Can people grow veggies and beef using much less than the numbers stated in the referenced articles? (That I'm sure of. I'm trying to do both myself!)

But like I said, I'm all for getting rid of feedlots and cutting meat consumption in any case. And I salute vegetarians. It is a very effective approach.

My only point is that there's more than one workable answer, and the answers will vary based on many factors. There's no way in hell India is going to feed itself on pastured livestock. (I fear I could have stopped that sentence partway through.) Nor Japan. Nor New York or Los Angeles I suspect. But on our little 8+ acres, I'm pretty sure I can raise a cow on grass & hay for less fuel (and less money) than it would take to cover the whole property in annual crops.

(My dream is pastures with rows of mature nut trees in them....)
This line of inquiry was partly spurred by our recent purchase of a quarter of beef from the neighbor whose cattle are currently grazing on our property. He finishes his on grain, but I was thinking about how little fuel (and money) it would take for us to raise Meadow's (presumed) calf on pasture and hay alone. It couldn't take more than five gallons of fuel to cut hay for one bovine for one winter. And that's pasture I'd have to mow anyway! So what other expense would there be besides the butcher's bill? Water is abundant here. We wouldn't need any other feed. A few pennies worth of mineral block. And free fertilizer and mowing.

I bet we could beat that 0.02 / 1 ratio. Of course, if I was man enough to scythe and stack the hay, I could get to 0.00. But I'm not.


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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Going Off

I've got stuff to share, but haven't had time or energy to say it of late. I'll get back to it shortly, but for now, we're switching off for one day a week. Not completely off, just computers, television, game systems and the like. A sort of low-tech family day. We decided we've been spending too much time staring at separate little glowing screens. So off we go. See you in a bit... and join us if you like.