Monday, April 28, 2008

I read a blurb on the Internet the other day that was intriguing. It was about a study that found that mothers who ate a more nutritious diet during pregnancy had a higher likelihood of having a boy (56/100 as opposed to 50/100). I didn’t read the actual study, so some of my inferences and information may be off-base. The article noted that in the US, the birth rate for girls has been going up, so this study may be implying a growing nutritional deficiency in women. Which makes a kind of sense. Despite the fact that we have an obesity epidemic, people are eating crap (I think it’s now around 50 percent of calories in the average American’s diet coming from high fructose corn syrup!) and since the Green Revolution, as our soils have become more and more depleted and sterile, the actual nutritional value of foods has dropped dramatically. It’s sad that in a land of so-called plenty we could actually be malnourished (yet fat). The article suggested this male/female fluctuation serves a biological function in times of famine. I forget what their theory was, but mine was slightly different from theirs. In a time of famine, more children will die before reaching reproductive age. Therefore you want to produce a surplus of girls to ensure an adequate base of surviving adults to bear a new generation. The boys don’t matter as much because they can impregnant many women, even if they are few in number. In times of plenty, more boys mean fewer available wombs, which helps to keep the population from exploding (and thence creating a new famine cycle). It’s all very fascinating stuff.

I find it so astounding that people mindlessly put so much crap into their bodies. All of these chemicals (aspartame!) and manufactured food products, instead of basic, real food.

I’m still trying to grow mold on my piece of commercial bread. I left the ziplock bag open for a day to give the moldies a chance to move in, but they didn’t take the bait. I’ll leave it open for another day, then add a little bit of water and see if that’ll produce any mold. If this bread is not even life-sustaining for mold, how can it possibly even be considered a food?

In my opinion, shelf life is a thing to avoid. If the food doesn’t spoil, it’s probably not a food anymore. If the little critters that make food spoil aren’t willing to touch it or digest it, it probably has no life-giving value. Why waste the energy to send it through your digestive tract? And not only may it have no life-giving value, it may possess life-destroying properties--chemicals, pesticides and preservatives that do real harm to your body.

The diet I’m striving for is closer to a hunter-gatherer diet than anything else. I doubt I will ever completely wean myself from grains, but at least I’ll continue to incorporate more kinds of whole grains. My meat consumption is kind of hunter-gatherer in style, not what I’m eating but how I eat it. Meat is occasional, as if the men had just come back from a successful hunt. Most days are vegetarian days, but here and there are meat days. I think that’s a good way to do it. My body isn’t constantly being taxed, every day, by having to digest meat, but I still get the nutritional benefits that meat provides.

I still find myself breaking out of the consumer mind-set, and it’s often surprising to see the ways I’ve been caught up in nonsensical ideas, once I escape them. These beliefs that you need certain paraphernalia in order to participate in activities are often a real load of crap. When I decided to start growing sprouts I went to all of these websites to find sprouting guides (how long each type of seed needs to soak and how long they take to sprout). It was amazing to see all of the specialized sprouting equipment they had for sale! All you need is a Mason jar and some kind of mesh (cheesecloth or window screen). But I’m sure there are plenty of people gullible enough to think they need special equipment to grow sprouts.

But then, I find that I’ve been gullible in thinking about something else. For the longest time I’ve wanted to get a hand-cranked pasta roller so I can make my own homemade pasta. Collin eats so much pasta, and the store-bought pasta is probably as much of a health disaster as the white bread. Now of couse I didn’t want a motorized pasta machine—I like simplicity, after all. But even the mere $30 price tag on a hand-cranked model has stood in the way, given my budget constraints. So we’ve continued to eat store-bought pasta. The other day I was browsing through my favorite cookbook and there was a section on homemade pasta. It listed the various methods: hand-kneading and machine-kneading, hand-rolling and machine-rolling, hand-cutting and machine-cutting. And Mel’s very sluggish light bulb finally went off--oh, you can make pasta by hand! Well, who knew! The ridiculous thing is that I’ve been making my own egg noodles for several years now for my chicken noodle soup. It never occurred to me that I can also use the same old rolling pin to roll out dough for spaghetti, and ravioli, and tortellini, and fettuccine….

How do these silly blind spots persist for so long?

I still think a pasta roller would be a nice gadget to have, but at least now I know I don’t need it and I can start making pasta now. In fact the other day I made a small batch of ravioli and they turned out beautifully.

A good practice for me would be to ask myself, whenever I start to think I need a gadget: how was this task performed before this was invented? Is there a simpler, less contrived way?

As a species, I think we’re going really soft. Basic skills around food especially are being lost, and food after all is the main reason we’re able to be here at all. Why are we allowing ourselves to lose such core knowledge?

When I move back to Pennsylvania, I want to achieve food self-sufficiency. I want to grow and raise all of my food, the food for the animals, my green cover crops, and I want to create my own seed bank. I want to use a combination of canning, drying, a little bit of freezing if I have a freezer, root cellaring, and solar and cold frame gardening to get me through the winters.

I may still buy exotic things I can’t grow myself, like bananas, coffee, sugar (although I may try to grow sourghum), avocados, and mangoes, but I won’t need any of those things nutritionally.

My goal for the rest of my life is to earn enough money to buy land and build my modest off-the-grid house, without ever having a mortgage again, and to become as totally self-sufficient as possible. If I can save enough to pay for my house and land up front, after that I will need very little cash, and will largely be able to escape the cash economy that I so despise.

There will still be things like property taxes and I’ll probably still need a car, unless I live close enough to a town, in which case a bike would do. I’ll need new tools periodically and incidental things, like toilet paper.

(Oh, by the way, my experiment with no-deodorant/no-shampoo has more or less fallen by the wayside. As far as the deodorant, yes I will definitely need something, although not necessarily a commercial product. For now, I’m finishing up my stick of aluminum-laced stuff. As for the shampoo, I’m back to using up my chemicals-soup shampoo and will try to find a good homemade recipe for when that runs out.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yesterday I started a new blog on the Internet. It’s about voluntary simplicity like my old one, but more focused. My old one (which I haven’t written on for over year) was about voluntary simplicity in the context of my small quirky town. It was more bounded by concrete, day-to-day reality. My new one doesn’t include the small town aspect, so it can more easily go off into the realm of ideas. I want to be able to explore my vision for a new paradigm and other more ethereal things. I’ll still include practical and grounding entries too--tales of my journey or concrete things I’ve learned from all of my research.

The blog is part of my master plan for building a life as a writer. It’ll be useful in a number of ways. For one, it gets me writing every day (okay, maybe that’s not totally realistic, but it’s something to shoot for). For another, it encourages a more relaxed writing style than what I’ve been able to produce so far in working on my book. I think it will help me find and get comfortable with the right voice. For another, it’ll be an asset when I go looking for a publisher for the book, especially if I can drum up a decent following.
Yesterday I brainstormed a list of blog topics and came up with roughly 90, so I’ve got plenty to say, and the ideas just keep coming.

At some point I might also try to come up with a workbook that I could self-publish and offer through the blog. Of course, that won’t be feasible unless I can create some amount of traffic to the site.

And the blog I think is really going to help me figure out my organizational issues with the book. It still doesn’t feel right. I still struggle with whether to include pieces of my personal story or not, interspersed with the more scholarly stuff. My gut says it will make the book much more engaging, but I haven’t figured out a smooth way to do it.

The blog structure makes it very easy to do just that. One day’s entry can be scholarly, another day’s personal. It can very naturally shift focus and still seem relatively coherent. I think (or hope) that it will offer up some clue on how to organize the book.

Then, lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m even writing the wrong book. It may be this book is too ambitious for a first book. Maybe I need to write something that’s almost a self-help book, very practical for the most part. And then later I can write this book. Again, I think the blog is going to help me clarify what the best direction to pursue now would be.

Two nights ago I had an odd little dream. I’m still trying to decipher its meaning. There was a wide dirt path (or a narrow dirt road and this may have been back in time several centuries so there were no cars). It was going straight through a young forest. There was a boy of about eight or nine walking along the path. Along one side of the path ran an embankment. It was like the abandoned railroad grades you see around here. A tangle of young trees and bramble grew on it, creating almost a tunnel-effect on top of it. I was walking along the top of the embankment, following the boy secretly from several paces behind, and partly obscured by the brambles. The boy turned at one point in my direction and I instantly froze to the spot so he wouldn’t notice me, but as I froze I also swiveled my body to look behind me. There on the embankment about ten or fifteen paces behind me was a man, who also was instantly freezing to the spot as the boy turned in our direction.

I recognized the man instantly--it was Father Christmas! But he wasn’t round and jolly and he didn’t wear red suit. Instead, he was tall and lean, with white hair and a white beard. He wore a long robe that was trimmed all around in white fur, but the robe itself was tan, like deerskin (reindeer skin??) or suede. I realized in an instant what should always have been completely obvious (but wasn’t)--Father Christmas is a wizard! He gave a subtle nod to me, with maybe the merest hint of a smile. We were both up to the same thing--stalking the boy.

And that was it, the whole dream. What on earth am I to make of it? I was not working with Father Christmas. I had never seen him before (I don’t think anyone is supposed to see him) and I had no idea he was following right behind me until I turned. Yet we were up to the same thing, and I get the sense that I was up to something rather wizard-ish myself. I was stalking the boy, wishing to evade detection, but I think there was more to it than just freezing to the spot and blending in. I think I was actively, maybe mentally, practicing an invisibility technique. It wasn’t the freezing to the spot alone that prevented the boy from noticing me--there was some technique I was using that made it far less likely he would see me.

Let me add that there was nothing sinister in me stalking the kid. I meant him no harm. I never intended to interact with him at all. It seems more like I was practicing on him.

Where on earth did this dream come from? The only thing reminding me of Christmas in the past few days was a book I read about a family who boycotted all Chinese products for a year. Christmas was very trying since they had small children and virtually all toys are now made in China. The four year old boy started making his list for Santa in August and kept adding and adding to it, and everything he added the mom knew was made in China.

But how did my mind make the leap from our traditional American Santa to a wizard in animal skins stalking a boy? Very unusual! But it sure has a neat, mythic feel to it. It feels like for the first time I’ve gotten a glimpse of the real Santa. And I mean that, too, as ridiculous as it sounds.

Okay, so what could this mean? Am I only able to see the truth about Father Christmas because I’ve transcended the consumer paradigm? We’ve taken this wise, sacred being who I’m convinced has some sort of mythic reality, and dumbed him down, made him into some goofy, jolly, materialistic caricature. Gosh, now I’m going to have to do some research on Father Christmas. (Hey, it might make an interesting blog entry.) Father Christmas was a powerful but benevolent wizard and I was teaching myself to be a wizard too, it seems. His subtle nod showed me he was pleased.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It’s a beautiful morning and it’s supposed to get up near 80 degrees today. I’m planning to double-dig the garden once it warms up a bit, and spend as much time outside as I can.

For now though I’m sitting at my desk at the front window, looking out at the bright green grass, blue skies, and sunshine. It’s already 44 degrees at 7:30.

I just came across a quote I had copied down from the book, Beyond Beef, which talks about eating as a way of connecting with nature. I must have unconsciously absorbed the message without realizing it:

Eating, more than any other single experience, brings us into a full relationship to the natural world. The act itself calls forth the full embodiment of our senses—taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight. We know nature largely by the various ways we consume it. Eating establishes the most primordial of all human bonds with the environment, and that is why in most cultures the experience is celebrated as a sacred act and a communion as well as an act of survival and replenishment. Eating, then, is the bridge that connects culture with nature, the social order with the natural order.

I’m starting to read a book called The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, by Karen Armstrong. I think her general thesis is going to be that we have never evolved beyond the religious traditions that began thousands of years ago and there is much that they can say to us in these desperate times.

It does make sense that we have not taken to heart the core messages of the great traditions, because we’re still in the egoic age. But we are on the cusp of a new age, so of course these great teachings are extremely relevant today.

I’m still trying to gain a more in-depth understanding of the rise of ego. This book is perhaps delivering a few more clues. As with Jared Diamond, the author points to the domestication of the horse as being a pivotal moment (along with the development of bronze weaponry).

Before horses, tribes were relatively isolated, peaceful pastoralists. But horses brought mobility which brought strangers into contact, and the combination of horses and weapons gave rise to looting, raiding, and the acquisition of “stuff”. The horsemen had power and by looting they had wealth. They developed a belief system that only the wealthy and powerful would have eternal life. In a sense they were becoming gods themselves as they commanded more resources and became more and more powerful and dominant.

The horse artificially gave individuals a boost up—from nobodies to persons of wealth and wicked power. Obviously, as individuals they were no more special than anyone else, but by using things outside of themselves (horses and weapons) they made themselves look bigger than they really were.

And in a nutshell, isn’t that what ego is? Simply making yourself look bigger than you really are? It starts to seem ridiculous that after all these thousands of years we’re still doing the same childish thing. I guess in the whole sweeping span of our evolution, a few thousand years is nothing, though. So long as we’re not stuck here forever! And there does seem to be more and more evidence of our readiness for the next paradigm.

I read something in a newspaper the other day about scientific estimates of the fate of the earth. I think it said the sun will become a red giant in another seven-point-something billion years, but in only a billion more years the earth will no longer be habitable because of the sun’s rising temperature. Material life is so temporary, no matter if you look at it in planetary terms or in terms of an individual’s lifespan. How comical it seems that we still cling to the material when it is the ultimate illusion. The paradox is that as wispy spiritual beings we are actually far more real and durable than matter and ego.

In the material world, what are the ways we assert our egos? By boasting about our achievements—actions taken on the physical plane for the most part; by boasting about or flaunting our acquisitions—money, things, trophy wives, landholdings, etc; by gaining status—that is, by gaining the consensus of others that our interactions with the material world have been more persuasive or of greater value than other people’s interactions; and by gaining power, which requires that other people value ego in order for that to be conferred on us.

Where I’m heading with this I don’t know. I’m groping around since there’s something here I’m trying to understand….

So all of these ways we assert ego—they’re all artificial extensions of the self. Self plus fast horse plus bronze weapons equals ego. We’re not the horse, or its speed, we’re not the weapon or its honed edge, but we expand our egos to encompass those things as if we could take credit for them. As if they were parts of ourselves. So we childishly think we’re bigger. We allow these external things to define who we are.

And these external things are not us, unless you look at it all spiritually and then everything is us, but that makes us all one being, all equally powerful. And then there’s no point in egotism because who are you going to boast to, and about what?

What keeps coming to mind is my vision a few weeks back of the man who was calling up the weather. In that moment he was egoless, fused with the Divine. He was one with Nature, or Gaia, or the Universe, or God—however you want to look at it. Self has to completely recede in order to so merge with nature that the rain clouds will roil and churn towards you.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I’m trying to piece together several different strands of my recent thinking.

Of all the most recent thoughts, the most important one seems to be the connection between being alienated from the land, and materialism. People have no qualms about exploiting the land when they no longer have a connection to it.

In the last hundred years or so we’ve been moving off the land in droves and often in only a generation or so losing all of our ancient, traditional knowledge. In urban centers and suburbia we don’t ever see the effects our consumption habits have on the body of the earth. There can be no system of checks and balances without the direct feedback you get by living on the land. What we don’t see essentially doesn’t exist.

I’m suspecting that this recent trend of moving off the land is the culmination of our individuation process. The development of ego and the individual self surely started thousands of years ago, but so long as we maintained a connection to the land it could never be complete. We were still a part of nature, a participant in a richly interconnected web.

Moving off the land is the last step in separating and becoming aware of ourselves as discrete beings. It’s a sad state of affairs as we seem to be isolated dots, separate from everything else. Until this historical moment we’ve been connected to the whole, albeit unconsciously for the most part. But moving off the land has to be the last straw. As we see the devastation our sense of separateness causes (and now on a global scale) we can also begin to see how everything is interconnected. The damage we cause to one part of the earth causes a whole web of effects. It’s becoming more and more obvious the more dire our situation gets. But what an opportunity to wake up and see! We evolved out of our unconscious wholeness into isolated selves, selfish egotistical selves. Now we stand at the cusp of a higher state of awareness—a supraconsciousness, of knowing for the first time that we are an inseparable part of the whole. No longer mythically being part of the whole, without awareness, as our primitive ancestors were, but now awake at last to our reality.

When we’re all awake to that knowledge—imagine the beautiful world we could inhabit (if we don’t destroy it in the meantime)! When I think along these lines, it’s an exciting time for the earth. I just pray we can make it through the transition.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

This process of even just beginning to think about taking responsibility for my food supply is fascinating.

Something clicked in my mind last night while I was reading a book, Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawkins. The author was talking about food and regional cultural identities:

Food has always been at the heart of cultural identity. The loss of its traditional foods is just as devastating to a culture as the loss of its language. Although globalization has caused havoc in all areas in every country, slow movements are not anti-globalization; they are pro-localization. Savoring something--a spice, a radish, a piece of cheese—brings us back home to the world in which we walk and breathe. It slows us down. Taste is social. We come together, sit and talk together around food; we clink glasses and laugh and engage in small gossips and whispers in the presence of local beers or wines, tisanes and small cakes with gooseberry preserves and clotted creams, or thin wafers bearing full-fatted cheeses daubed with slices of purple figs. It is how we share being alive. We can engage in the virtual world of iPod music and TV drama, but there is no virtual world of taste. It is in our mouth, and everyday our mouth connects us to place.

My connection to the land has always been so important to me. We literally are one with the land and the land shapes us. What clicked for me is that until now I’ve been missing a very vital aspect of this connection: food! When we lived close to nature and experienced oneness and rootedness and a sense of place, we were literally being sustained by the land. We were becoming one with the land by eating it, bringing it into our bodies, turning it into our flesh!
The earth fed itself to the plants and we fed on the plants. By eating locally, our place became literally a part of us. How beautifully grounding!

Nowadays, we rootless nomads eat foods from thousands of miles away, from sterile soils in hundreds of different places. We’re not products of our local ecosystems, we’re foreign invaders who remain separate and uninvolved.

I became really moved last night thinking about growing my own food. It’s a way to honor the earth and this place, to be a part of nature again. And I was moved just thinking about my first batch sprouts—how miraculous new life is!

I felt such an overwhelming love for the land and again, like when I was a teenager, I felt the urge to hug the earth. A really deep feeling of peace and contentment washed over me, as if my whole body and soul let out the deepest sigh. I keep getting closer and closer to the real essence of life! I love this process.

Still I feel like I’m being remade. Each passing month brings new realizations and new subtle changes. Bit by bit it’s all adding up (to what I don’t know).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Well, I decided I am going to have a garden this year. Just a small plot—4’ by 25’--but I’m going to try bio-intensive gardening, so I may be able to produce quite a lot from it. And if that goes well, next year I’ll make it even bigger. I spread my three years worth of compost on it, and then a good layer of aged manure that John brought over. Next I need to double-dig it to loosen the deeper soil, and then it should be ready. I’m doing a simple mounded bed (without wood sides, so no expense there) and I’m going to interplant my beans with the corn, so I won’t need trellises for them. I’ll need to stake or cage the tomatoes, but that’s probably it. Peas can climb up the outside of the compost. So, I got around my ridiculous idea that having a garden required the outlay of too much cash up front.

I did buy a fan type sprayer for the garden hose, a V for the outdoor faucet so I can have the sprinklers on one and the garden hose on the other. I need to buy one more length of hose still, plus probably some garden fencing to keep the cat population out. I’ve got most of the seeds already and I’m building seed flats this weekend from lumber scraps. I also got a few clay pots to start some indoor herbs (but I’m also doing an outdoor herb garden as well).

Yesterday I started my first batch of sprouts (for eating, not growing). I’m eager to add them to my regular diet since they’re so full of enzymes and nutrients.

This is one more step towards becoming self-sufficient that I can be doing right now--raising at least some of my own food. I’ve gotten beyond the idea that it all has to wait until I move back to Pennsylvania. I’ve been reading up on bio-intensive methods and it’s so exciting to realize just how much food can be raised in a very small area.

I also took a book out of the library on solar gardening. It combines intensive gardening with solar aids to extend the harvest. It’s cool to know I can have at least some kinds of fresh vegetables virtually year round.

It’s funny how voluntary simplicity reaches into every aspect of life. Food is definitely one of the most vital aspects and it’s so much fun to be delving into it now. Gardening is just the next logical step. I already cook everything from scratch from whole foods, but to be able to grow it too will be awesome.