Monday, January 25, 2010


Quite a bit ago, we got rid of our television. The Barracuda still has one in his room for the sole purpose of watching movies. We wanted our family to improve its ability to communicate and enjoy each others' company, but we realize the importance of some cultural knowledge to a small boy. Like it or not, television and movies provide for a significant amount of conversation for young children. With this in mind, he has a small selection of old Disney classic movies.

However, this has not stopped our sneaky little son from locating a website on the Internet which contains most all network childrens' programming. Don't ask me how the child found, but he did. This is what I get for helping him learn how to sound out words! He can now actively use Google to locate just about anything he could possibly want.

Tonight he requested that I "watch one of his shows." I was thinking classic Disney, perhaps really terrible childrens' NetFlix that you can now direct stream. Um, No. He just sits right down at the laptop and starts tapping away at the keys like a total pro. Mom just sat back amazed and highly caught off guard thinking, "Do I praise the child for his self directed learning or take away his personal computer completely?!" I couldn't really come to a conclusion because in mere moments the child had produced the show, in full screen, and was so happily snuggled up to watch it with me.

The show is called Huntik. I was totally blown away. Not only does it have a complex story line which builds from episode to episode, but there are flash backs and he actually has to watch the show. He is engaged in trying to figure out a rather dense plot which includes some highly subtle foreshadowing. There is character development. There are twist and turns. Not only that, there is some serious intellectual content going on.

The main premis is that there are Titans which appear to help in epic battles between good and evil. The undertones of Greek and Roman mythology are incredible. One of the Titans which can send messages through flight is named Icarus. Another which is a spider-like thing is called arachnys (or something to that effect). Two of the main characters are named Locke and Dante. Their traits and personalities are highly similar to the philosophers works. Words like amulet, incinerate, invoke, stride, and behemoth are used in normal speech. There are strong female characters who, regardless of short skirts and way too tight pants, are not played up as sex objects. In fact, many times they are underestimated by the "bad guys" only to be the valiant heroes who win the battle for the entire group. Many of the characters are complete nerds who use their brains to figure things out. The theme song is about standing up for yourself even when things seem dark and bleak, seeking your inner light and having faith that you can make it through with your mental strength and perseverance. That is something Mom can get behind. The settings of the two shows I have now skimmed are The Valley of Kings, Egypt and Vienna, Italy. Another episode takes place in Prague, Czechoslovakia. What is more, there are distinguishing landmarks in all these places, yet not stereotypical vast dramatizations. I will say it is frustrating that everyone, everywhere, always, speaks English. But what are you going to do! I'll get over it.

As I was watching I realized that 90 percent of this content was flying over the Barracuda's head. He has no clue who Icarus is, who the Titans were, or why in one episode they are battling Argonauts. However, he is really into this show and why not spring board it into some Greek Mythology schoolwork!

The Barracuda has agreed to begin some spelling words. He wants to be able to write without sounding words out. Though he can now tackle "the", "and", "are", along with a few other sight words, writing fluency is a subject he really wants to get better in. I figure we will take five words from each episode to define and spell each week. The Barracuda is highly excited. If school means he gets to watch Huntik, he is all in! This might fall under the category of extortion...I've decided I'm not beneath that.

This week's spelling words are: hyper, titan, amulet, stride, behemoth. Today he used three of them, defined them (loosely), and is very excited about upcoming Spelling work. Infact, he asked for next weeks words: artifact, scepter, pulse, incinerate, venom. He wants to do ten a week, not just five. He is also now coming up with words himself which he want to learn. Searcher was suggested today. Perhaps this whole freedom equals responsibility thing might just be working.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Oh goodness! The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog arrived mid-December and I have been very good about only looking through it a couple dozen times. I've held out much restraint but you might not see me for a week or so. This is my favorite time of year. Seed catalog time. ::Swoon::

It contains 100s of varieties, full color pages, and spread after spread of delicious veggies. More than anything, it contains possibilities. If I wanted to only grow heirloom gourds, I could. If I wanted to invest 50 dollars in kohlrabi, I could. If I merely had the desire to grow a dozen different types of rare tomatoes from all over the world, I could. I don't plan on doing any of these things, but the point is, I could. Perhaps one year we will go crazy and decide to grow celeriac, or European melons, or cow peas, or possibly Celosia and Cockscomb. I have no idea what any of these are, but I could buy the seeds for all of them!

As it is our little victory garden is going to stay pretty much as normal as possible. We have learned quite a bit in the last three years of gardening for food and at this point have a pretty good handle on what we want to grow. But, I still LOVE to look through the seed catalog.

So, next year the list looks something like this:

Carrots - St. Valery
Peas - Lincoln (Homesteader)
Pole Beans - Old Homesteader (Kentucky Wonder)
Spinach - Giant Winter
Celery - Tendercrisp
Cabbage - Brunswick
Pumpkins - Amish Pie
Zucchini - Cocozelle
Tomatoes - Amish Paste, Brandywine, Illinois Beauty, Super Choice

By experimenting with a couple of different varieties each year we are nailing down what we wish to keep as good old standbys and what we still want to experiment with. As the tomatoes go, we grew Manitoba, Mortgage Liter, Brandywine, and Arkansas Traveler last year. I wasn't overly impressed with many of them, though they all did just fine. It might have been the year: late cold, a few weird rains, and an Indian summer lead to a strange year last year. The Brandywines we are going to try again as they seemed to hold the most possibility.

The garlic is already in the ground and going well. The spinach might just overwinter this year and be good to go for the spring. We will see. It is still going strong right now. The collards have held on for three years running. Not a single one has died on us. Jules also wants to try potatoes again. He rather likes digging them up to see what we grew. The carrots, peas, beans, spinach and pumpkins have all been varieties we've grown before and found to love. They are prolific, reasonably fuss free, and have great flavors.

I do know that we need to experiment with a few more things that grow in the winter months. This year we are going to attempt cabbage and celery. Perhaps in a couple more years onions, beets, and a variety of squashes.

This year it will look something like this....All of the beds are 9x4 feet, with the long 2 1/2 x 12 foot beds lining the fence. One 2 1/2 x 12 foot bed isn't pictured because it would make for a ridiculously long picture that would be rather pointless. All it holds is garlic. The small squarish bed is 5x4 and the triangle I have no clue about. We only have the triangular bed to help really delineate a nice pathway from the backyard gate up and around the covered back porch. As it stands, this covers half our backyard and provides us with a significant food supply. It took a bit of math, but I have figured out that by having eight of the 9x4 beds we can adequately rotate the crops so that none of the same families will be grown in the same beds for at least 4 years.

We usually drop about $50 into seeds and that leaves us with enough that we have leftovers. In this way, we try to keep a safety net of seeds in the safe just in case. By saving bean, pea, and spinach seed, we get a second round of each in the fall from just one packet. This year I hope to experiment with saving tomato seeds. Yes, I realize being excited about this makes me a nerd. At least I'm a well fed nerd.

Bell Bell supervises this process and gives her final approval of all seed choices. She does this while guarding the computers surge protector against possible intruders. She is such the amazing multitasker that she makes such dangerous and straining work look easy.

This is her ferocious face.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No Longer Mom-of-the-Year

Well, my possibly of running for Mom-of-the-Year lasted about 18 days. While checking my email this morning, I was in shocked disbelief that my federal (and thus state) tax returns were denied. Denied!?! But my tax return is the easy one. Literally a 1040-EZ it is so simple. One job, part time, no itemized deductions or mortgages or anything. I do it on the Internet in about a half hour. What on earth?! Panic and thoughts of audits ran through my head. I couldn't survive an audit. My water tight filing system is a giant crumpled pile on the shelving next to our bed.

I open the document and then realize that it was returned because...

I misspelled my son's name.

Good Job Mom!

Yeah, see those federal people are rather picky that the Social Security number actually match the name of the person you are trying to receive money for. Quick fix, all better, nicely accepted now in just under 45 minutes. All Good.

Perhaps this will become a funny story for him when he is a parent, or eighty, or if I decided to tell him at all.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Goodbye Big-Girl Job; Hello Big-Girl Life

I have this neurotic desire to search around Craigslist for jobs. It is as though somehow this allows me to waste time makes me feel productive. Normally there are no jobs which would really be worth the hassle of a complete job/schedule shift. This somehow makes me feel better about not pulling in 2,500 dollars a month. However, yesterday I saw this...

Temporary math teacher needed at our small, non-profit, relationship-based alternative school for students in 6-10th grades. Our student population has typically not been successful in larger, public-school settings and many of our students come from dysfunctional and/or high-risk situations. We utilize a strong, team-based approach. Teaching credential is preferred but not required. Knowledge of and ability to teach math through algebra is required (through trigonometry is preferred). Position also requires demonstrated skills in communication and rapport with alienated, disaffected middle to early high school students who may require very individualized curriculum planning. Experience working with a diverse, multicultural population is preferred. This position is expected to last through the duration of the current school year; there is a possibility of the position transitioning into a regular, full-time position for the 2010-11 school year. Please submit cover letter and resume to......
It is as though a light shone down on my laptop. The inhabitants of the coffee shop all began to move in slow motion and I believe there was choral music in the background which seemingly came from nowhere. Well, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but this job description could probably not been written to better suit me. Oh fate you fickle mistress!

It is a position which is open immediately. Apparently someone left mid-year. That may sound strange to many who are only familiar with traditional schooling, but some of these kids can be tough! Especially when you don't know what you are getting into. I tend to have a fondness for those whom no one else wants. The snottier, most disrespectful, attitude ridden kids seem to make me smile. Whether that is a curse or gift, I do not know but it probably has something to do with the fact that I was one of the snotty, disrespectful, attitude ridden children. :) Middle-schoolers are my favorite; Jules tends to lean toward the older ones, preferably Juniors and Seniors.

Discussions began between Jules and I. He recognized the opportunity and was amazed the likeness of the job description to my talents. His first response was like mine: apply tomorrow. After really thinking about it, the decision was not that simple.

My main struggle occurs when I think about the teaching profession and recognize how few people there are like me who really want to work with "screwed up" kids. I don't want to work with "normal" kids. They bother me. However, I have my very own un-normal child right here at home which needs me as well. Our un-normal household needs me. My un-normal relationship needs me.

Let me just state upfront, I am not an anti-feminist. When Jules couldn't tell me who Susan B. Anthony was my look of shocked disdain warranted his instant apology. As a child my mother attended NOW (National Organization of Women) meetings and I was very conscious of the fact women have significantly more rights than previously. That being said, I knew we still had a long way to go to hit "equality." The fact I have lived in a time when a female had a decent shot at becoming a president still slightly amazes me. However, much of feminism lately does not seem to be aimed at "equality" as much as women leaving the house. To me this reeks of the idea that parenting, nurturing, and the entire process of household management is somehow a lowly or degrading profession; a burden of some sort. I don't really care if it is a man or a woman, but someone needs to take care of family. In our household it just made more sense at the time for that person to be me. (I will say, however, when I am at work Jules is one heck of a good dad.)
The current state of family in our nation is a bit disturbing to say the least. One of the reasons I so dearly love the "screwed up" children is that what I see in them is a lack of nurturing family. I don't think they are bad kids (most anyway, sometimes there is one that just isn't hardwired right), but they lack any semblance of the idea someone cares about them. In our rush to have women out being "equal" we have forgotten to fill the incredibly important role which women had - tending to house and family. Secondly, it aint easy people! Running a house is equivalent to running a business or managing an entire department. Whether you have one child or twelve, motherhood and household husbandry should never be looked down upon as beneath someone. I'll step down from my soapbox now and focus a bit more about our decision.

I don't know about many others out there, but I find my role as a housewife quite fulfilling and rather important to our ability to keep bills low, stay healthy, and enjoy each other. Sure, I could have a larger income, eat out more, and put our child in fabulous preschool but I don't quite understand how that is helping our household. It seems to me that entire mindset is about avoiding the household. No one would be here during the day as we would all be at work or childcare. We wouldn't be eating meals cooked in our kitchen, picked by our hands, around our table because we wouldn't have time or energy. We would go out to eat and to a gym to exercise. While exercising at the gym our yard would remain a disaster; Jules would be using one machine, I another, and the Barracuda in childcare at a third place. We wouldn't have time for each other because even while at home we would be working to maintain our outside jobs rather than maintaining our family.

There is the argument that come September, when the Spicy Barracuda goes to school, I could get said "Big Girl Job" since I am no longer needed to home school. While this does have merit, it once again causes a shift of priority from working within the household to support our family to working outside the household to support our family. Jules and I have both agreed that we like our lives much better the way they are currently.

This is a cultural shift that I did not find myself ready for. Being raised post-70's feminism the idea that the best way to help our household is to bring in money seems to be a knee-jerk response. When I step back and look at the idea, I now see how it screams "CAPITALISM! CONSUMERISM!" and the like. Rather than bringing in more money, why not help us spend less. Rather than paying top dollar for other people to educate and socialize our son, why not have me do it (after all, I am a trained educator). Rather than buy organic, why not grow it.

So, yes. When the Spicy Barracuda goes to school I will shift my work schedule to days and probably increase to working five days a week instead of four. But, I will do that being a prep cook. This way work stays at work. This way I can come home and focus on the most important part of my life, my family.

Perhaps some time, much later on, I might venture into the work world of those sophisticated "Big-Girl Jobs." However, that might also never happen and I will have a very fulfilling Big Girl Life instead.

See how sophisticated and mature our Big Kid life is! :)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crazy Eights

So what does our family do without television? We get our butt-kicked by a five year old who is a Crazy Eights poker shark!

At five points a game I think the final score was Dad - 0, Mom - 5, Spicy Barracuda - 30

Monday, January 11, 2010

Resolving to Riot

Jules and I are both just a tad competitive. An eensy amount. It's not as though either of us has ever been caught being overly competitive. Ahem. Or embarrassed ourselves with any slightly out-of-hand competitive behavior. Ahem. Or has to stay away from particular activities as our son gets older so that we don't mortify him with embarrassment from our competitiveness. Ahem-Ahem.

Knowing this about each other, we have decided to channel our mildly competitive nature into something a bit more positive than mowing down other players in community intramural events. We have found the greatness of goal setting and listing things we would like to accomplish. Somehow writing down tasks kicks in our competitive natures and we strive to be able to cross them off. With this in mind, we have decided to Riot.
Riot for Austerity are a group of people who have realized energy efficient light bulbs and recycling just aren't going to be enough anymore. Together, they have pledged and are attempting to reduce their global/carbon footprint by 90% of the average American. According to George Minboit, rich, "first world" (I hate that term) countries would have to reduce their resource usage by 94% to eliminate and begin to reverse the largest effects of global warming. Moreover, in his book Heat: How To Stop the Planet From Burning he states that this is an impossibility without government legislation. In his words, "no one ever rioted for austerity."


So, here we are, Rioting for Austerity. The eventual goal for Jules and I is to pull our household as far off the grid as possible. Perhaps in three years, we will be a sustaining entity; an island unto ourselves in our urban metropolis. Once we have our household established as sustaining, we can then begin to fortify and create many more connections in our community.

There are 7 categories in the Riot. We are using these as baselines for us to really accomplish our sustainability. The nice thing about Riot for Austerity is that it gives me concrete numbers to work with. (I'm the linear sequential math teacher of the family. Jules is the free flowing English teacher. He doesn't need numbers, outlines, and plans the way I do.)

Garbage: The average US consumption is 4.5 pounds per person per day. Whoa! There is an eye opener. We are allowed .45 per person per day. That calculates out to 1.35 pounds a day or 40.5 pounds a month. I honestly don't know where we are with this one. We have done a lot to try and diminish the amount of trash we throw away, but I don't know any real numbers.

Heating and Cooking Natural Gas: The average US consumption is 1000 therms per household per year. This will absolutely no issue. Using the fireplace to heat our house we are on 99% wood power. The wood we harvest for this is all downed logs. Our National Forest does not allow for tree felling due to safety concerns and current Old Growth Protection Acts. (This is a very good thing!) Even if our four chords of wood were counted we would be at only 80 therms.

Electricity: The average US consumption is 11,000 kilowatts per household per year. That is about 900 per month. We will attempt 1,100 kilowatts a year for our household or about 90 kwh per month. This seems like a crazy thought during this time of year. Being in a slightly higher latitude, right now the sun doesn't even show up for 12 hours of the day. However, I need to remember come a couple of months the sun will grace us until almost 10 o'clock at night. :)

Gasoline: The average US consumption is 5000 gallons of gasoline per person per year. This gives us 500 gallons a year or 42 gallons a month. Jules' uses 45 gallons a month now. This means that even though I don't drive my car much (if we didn't have the Barracuda, I most likely wouldn't even have it) I will need to not drive it at all! This will be, by far, the hardest category for us.

Water: The average US consumption is 100 gallons of water per person per day. Dear Lord! We are allotted 10 gallons of water per person per day, or 900 per month for our household. We come in dramatically lower than this with our rain barrels. Sustainably harvested water doesn't count and that is over 85% of our usage. Soon we will purchase a Katadyn water filter and pull ourselves off completely other than showers/bathing. We still haven't worked out quite how to do that one. Somehow, just not showering doesn't sound all that great :)

Consumer Goods:This one is admittedly difficult to calculate. The average US household spends 10,000 dollars a year on consumer goods. These would include books, gifts, toys, paper products, toiletries, cosmetics, tools, and household goods. We aren't talking about health care, or mortgage, car payments, debt, and such. Mainly this category is for the other extra "stuff" that you tend to buy. We will be trying to spend only 1,000 dollars this year. Um...yeah....that gives us 90 dollars a month.... probably not going to happen.
Jules and I have agreed to not count the items we purchase which are directly household sustainable goods. Our ultimate goal is not merely to diminish our resource usage, it is to be sustainable with our household/community. Let's not loose the forest through the trees. The Katadyn filter we are planning on purchasing to remove us from city water is 1,200 dollars. However, we will never need to purchase it again and it allows us to completely remove ourselves from the city water supply. The mason jars we purchase during canning season are easily 90 dollars a month alone. However, they are used dozens of times before ever needing a replacement. These items we are not counting. The lids for the jars - which are a one shot deal - fall into consumer spending since they are not reusable at all. So, for us, consumer goods are goods which will need to be quickly replaced.

Also, donated items don't count since they are completely recycled. Goodwill, Salvation Army, Church Rummage sales, these don't count. The other items which don't count are ones which will be thrown away if not purchased. In these instances, the use or purchase removes the item from a landfill and keeps it in circulation. Luckily, this is most all of our spending.

Used items only count for 10% of their purchase price. If it costs 20 dollars, only 2 count. So thrift shops, Craigslist, Garage Sales, Ebay, etc. fall into this category. In this way you are once again circulating and recycling items back into use rather than landfilling them. This is the other large amount of our spending. We are a total thrift store, vintage family.
Food: Food is divided into three categories as follows:
#1 Food you grow or purchase locally (within 100 miles) should comprise at least 70% of your diet.

#2 Dry Bulk Foods transported long distances. This would be the 50lb bags of beans, sugar, flour, that you get in the giant brown paper sack or which you get at the grocery store from the ginormous bin. These are whole, unprocessed foods. Super bulk soup mix which contains gallons of sodium and tons of factory processing doesn't count. This should be only 25% of your diet.

#3 Wet Foods such as conventionally grown meat, oils, milk, juice, dairy products, fruits and veggies, all that other canned, processed, and such should be less than 5% percent of your diet. Currently, this category is over 25% of the average American's food. That is scary to me.
After spending the entirety of last year wrangling in our food budget, this will most likely be not very difficult for our family to pull off. Even our bulk flour, beans, oatmeal, and such are all purchased locally. Our chicken, eggs, and dairy products come very close (they are within the our state and the one just north of us). Coffee will be hard for us. We live in the coffee region of the world. We love our coffee.

What does this all specifically mean to our family?
Our household resolution over this next year is to fine tune the couple of areas where the Riot has pointed out we are very close and just need to fine tune - water and food specifically. As well as these, there are a couple of categories we are not maximizing our usage within - consumer spending, garbage, and gasoline. Mainly for our family, these will be the areas we are our goals.

Such an undertaking may seem a bit extreme, but in all actuality there haven't been that many changes in our household to get us to this point. The mindset is what has changed the most. Hopefully in blogging our attempts, we will create a "positive ponzi scheme" as Mary Q Contrarie pointed out so eloquently. I am a firm believer that cultural change occurs one small person, one small act at a time. Without the acts of one person beginning, and another following, and another, why would there be need for any kind of legislation? It is important to us that we show our son the power of personal conviction and living by your ideals. We are not thinking we will change the world, but we will change our lives.

It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for their liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection: only then will it be praxis. - Paulo Frerie

Friday, January 08, 2010

Princess Bell Bell

To the untrained eye this may seem like a very nice hand towel for the bathroom. I must say that is what I thought when I looked upon my completed knitting project this evening. Winter is my time to knit and I'm always pleased when I actually follow through with a project, regardless of how small. "Oh self," I thought, "What a nice hand towel that is going to make for the bathroom. I'm so glad I now have another one stocked up."

Bell Bell quickly informed me of my complete inadequate understanding of the way things work in this house. Silly me. This is not a hand towel. Oh no. It is a cat blanket. This is Bell Bell's newly hand-knit, red carpet which apparently needs to be laid out upon the couch for her to grace us with her presence. My apologies Princess Bell Bell. A thousand forgivenesses for my ignorance.

As you can see, our cat is not spoiled at all.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Annual Report 2009

When 2009 began, I had been living with Jules for only a couple of months and things were not looking good. For one, I was in school. My income was small but consumption was high. There were always more things to do than time to do them in. There were always more bills than there seemed to be money for. There was always the matter of trying to figure out how to spend enough time with the Barracuda and who would have him when. The juggle was a bit maddening. Something had to change and the change had to be a bit drastic.

I quit school and focused on our household and our life. Though many cringe at the words "quit school" I do not see it as a bad thing. At this time and place in our lives it has been the best thing! School is not bad; I will be going back. But I think it is also important that people evaluate the amount of time/energy/resources/stress going into an endeavor and the actual amount of benefit coming out. In the current state of our family's life, school was an exceptional drain on everything for a reward that was lack luster due to a lack of time/energy/resources and too much stress. Let's face it, if you are pumping thousands of dollars into something you want to be able to have the focus to maximize the experience. That was not happening. What was happening were mini meltdowns and a few phone calls to Jules from the hallway as I sobbed out "Why am I doing this?!?" Instead, I became a student of life and pulled Jules in with me.

2009 was mainly spent focusing on food and water. Here is the rundown on what we learned and have accomplished this year:

Our grocery bills went from $250 (Jules' budget for just himself) to $120 dollars (including pets) due to me being able to make our food, and having the time to store, can, grow, and pick local foods. Man, processed foods just don't taste very good anymore and they are something crazy expensive.

Now when you open our pantry or fridge, there are about eight products which have been commercially processed:

Campbell's Fiesta Nacho Glop: Jules' beloved nachos weren't going anywhere regardless of whatever chemical, preservatized cocktail is inside that can.
Totinos Triple Pepperoni Pizzas: even at only 1 a month the Barracuda would never let us live it down if we got rid of these little pizzas. This is the sort of childhood depravity he would bring up to a therapist during a mid life crisis.
Blueberry Pop Tarts: There are some things that will never be as good homemade. I think Kelloggs has found a way to smuggle illicit drugs into this product for how much I can crave them.
Cream of Mushroom Soup: Soon to be swapped out for home-canned.
Tortilla chips and wraps: they just don't hold up when they are homemade the way the commercial ones do.
Coca-Cola: Jules grew up in the South, then attended college and lived in Atlanta (the Coca-Cola capital of the world). There will never a time when Coca-Cola doesn't live in our fridge. If the Apocalypse were to hit tomorrow, he would find a way to have cases drop shipped to our house via helicopter.
Mayonnaise: Jules' still believes we once had a fight over homemade mayonnaise vs store bought. In my memory the argument had almost nothing to do with this. (Perhaps, that is why it turned into an argument.) In short, he wants store bought mayo and we don't use it enough for it to really matter.
Pet Food: The dog and cat still eat commercial food since both are pound pets with major Post Traumatic Stress, are neurotic, and have issues with change. Bell Bell is highly allergic to grains and will lick bald patches in her fur if she is fed them. Guadalupe will not eat people food. Even meat sauce. Even pizza. Heck, she won't even eat in front of anyone (we hear her munching at midnight). Like I said, totally neurotic. Rather than fuss with it, we just buy their food.
Other than that, everything from laundry soap and floor cleaner to cottage cheese is made in our household. Both Jules and I are so much healthier and have a much greater sense of place now that we know where our food comes from. In many cases, we either grow or pick it ourselves.

We hand dug a root cellar with a shovel, adz, and a couple of five gallon buckets. After all, we need somewhere to store a 50 lb bag of rice and a couple hundred cans.

The garden has expanded to half the yard and we fine tuning our knowledge of specific species we wish to grow. Composting, leaf mulch, and digging have become fairly second nature at this point.

The pressure canner we acquired with my tax return has become a staple investment to our household success. A major part of this last year has been figuring out what to can, when to can it, and if it is worth all the effort. We definitely need more jam. We could go a little less insane on the applesauce, and I don't know if soup will ever be the same now that we can make our own. Insta-Food used to mean hamburger helper. Now it is a can of chicken, some wild rice, and gravy.

We have developed a rain barrel system which is significant enough to provide all the irrigation for our garden as well as most of our household needs. Pulling off of the city water system was never a direct intention when we started out, but it slowly became evident it might be possible. Mainly, we just didn't want to pay the high water prices during the summer.

At this point, laundry, dishes, and toilets are all being used without city water consumption. Enough water has also been set aside for our family to survive in an emergency. Our city tends to have run ins with "boil water advisories" due to various contaminants showing up in the city water supply. It's not so much that we have decided to be come crazy survivalists, but more we have enough water set aside to avoid the frustrations which sometimes come about from sewage overflow due to excessive rain. Boiling all of your drinking/usable water is just plain annoying :)

We killed our television. Man, was that weird at first. Who knew it was so hard to have a conversation?!

The Barracuda has discovered card games and I think is secretly training to take on Vegas. The boy can play Crazy Eights so well I'd think he was counting cards!

We spent some serious time, and a bit of money, acquiring all the products I never before thought were important life staples. A sewing machine. A pressure canner. A food dehydrator. A garden. Rain barrels. Firewood. Yarn and needles. Time to enjoy my life. My family.

We eat local food, from the local farmer. Her name is Karen. Her daughter is Ashley. They live about 20 minutes from our house and have you-pick all summer long. We now have to know the season our produce is ripe, about how much is necessary to get us all the way through the winter, and the time it will take to process it all. Most importantly we know exactly where it all comes from and exactly what is it because we have done it all ourselves.

This year gave us concrete evidence of a long suspected truth. The Barracuda has a thirst for knowledge which is not normal. He also has retention level which is not normal and an analysis ability which is not normal. This year his school gave us back test results to prove it. Figuring out school for this child has definitely taken a lot of 2009 and still is a bit sketchy. He is progressing through his studies well and still amazes his father and I regularly. He can now ride a bike on only two wheels (instead of four), can make a fire all by himself, set up his tent to camp out in the back yard, and is honing his skills with his tomahawk.

At the same time our son is putting together complex concepts, he is still acting like an insane 5 year old child. This is a constant reminder for us as parents, knowledge might be a the third grade level but emotionally he still has quite a ways to go! "Take a deep breathe..." is a sentence I am learning to say to myself quite frequently.

The major lesson seems to have been that you need to do it right the first time. We now invest in products which will stand the test of decades rather than months. The sewing maching, the mixer, the clothes we now wear, are Bernina, Kitchen Aide, wool or Carhart. Out is the stretch denim, the discount store, the slightly middle of the road model. We no longer buy trendy; it is all about practical. The idea is that once done well will save so much more in the long run.

All in all, quite year. Much has been done, but it is just enough for us to realize how much more is left out there. Together we are redesigning our life and creating a new one. It is exciting and hopeful, if not teetering on bits of scary here and there. Hopefully the lessons which have carried us through this year will help us maximize the next one.