Monday, August 25, 2014

On Deciding Not To Raise Livestock

When you hear the word “homesteading,” like as not you get a picture of your head that includes a chicken coop, cows or goats in a pen, and perhaps a pig or two wandering around the yard. Many homesteaders do, in fact, keep some small livestock so that they can be self-sufficient in animal protein.

We have decided – tentatively, of course; life is a journey and we may change our minds down the road – not to do this. Why?

1. Animals require constant care.

They need to be fed and watered every day. Nanny goats and dairy cows need to be milked. What if we want to get in the car and go on a one- to two-week road trip? We’d have to beg a neighbor or acquaintance from town to come by every day and take care of them. Even finding reliable people who would do this for pay is difficult.

Especially with a young child who is full of curiosity and wonder, we don’t want to be tied down to our place 24/7/365.

2. Animals can get expensive.

I don’t care how “self-sufficient” a particular breed of hen is said to be, she will have no chance to prove this character if she is eaten up by an eagle, mountain lion, or coyote. Around here, to have free-range chickens would require at least a couple of well-trained dogs. Dogs cost money to feed and maintain. The other option is to either keep them in a well-protected run, or a chicken tractor. And of course you need a coop. These things require extra money, as well as time and work to maintain them.

And if you’re on raw land like we are, you have to put out quite a chunk of change to buy fencing for larger livestock, like cows and goats – not to mention a place to shelter them. It could take a while to recoup your investment in milk and cheese.

3. Neither one of us wants to butcher.

If all you have are laying hens, this isn’t an issue. But numbers one and two apply to them. My most recent idea was to raise quail for meat. If I would die without doing this, I could. However, I don’t want to kill a living thing larger than a wasp. I just don’t.

J is even worse. He’s an animal lover.

4. Everything else we’re doing already takes a lot of time.

I’m not going to lie and say we wouldn’t have time to milk goats or grow fodder for chickens in the winter if we had them. But having been on our homestead for seven months, we’ve discovered that we keep quite busy without having to take care of animals to boot.

We have almost five acres of forest to manage, a large garden to care for during the warm months (and a smaller one during the cold months), an active boy to raise and educate, various chores to complete throughout the day, (within a couple of years) an orchard to monitor and maintain  - Let me give it to you straight. God has not called us to be full-time homesteaders. To live simply, yes. To go off-grid with water and reduce our electricity usage, yes. But we didn’t move out here so that we would spend eight hours a day caring for critters. There are other things we’d rather do with our time. Other things God has called us to do.

5. We can be healthy without eating meat and eggs several times a week.

Sorry, you Paleo/high-protein diet fanatic, you. The key to good nutrition is in reducing grain consumption, avoiding processed foods (which grains, even a whole-grain porridge, basically are), and making sure you’re getting the right amount of fat-soluble vitamins, plus vitamin C, via nutrient-dense whole foods – and supplements, when necessary. 

Oh, wait. I heard that. I heard somebody say, “But if you eat a high-meat diet, you’ll never need to supplement. You’ll get all the nutrients you need.”

Okay. Now show me the double-blind completely unbiased scientific experiment that has been repeated at least twenty times with at least a thousand random people in each study that proves your assertion.
(I’ll give you a hint: nobody in the nutrition world has ever made any such study – if for no other reason than unbiased nutritional studies are as rare as walruses in Africa.)

My point is, you don't need two to three servings of animal product every day in order to get the nutrition your body needs.

6. Animals need water.

A lot of water, in the summer (recall that we live in southeast Oklahoma). We are off-grid for water. We do not have a well (too expensive and complicated with too many potential things to go wrong), do not have  a pond. We catch our water in two large rain tanks.

Enough for the three of us. Not for animals.

7. Somebody out there is praying that we will buy their product.

We have the money to buy milk, cheese, and – when we want them – eggs and meat. Thousands of full-timers around the country are struggling to make an income by selling their goods. If we have the money, and they have the goods, why should we bust our butts trying to do something we’re not really excited about doing, when other people are counting on us to buy from them?

Not only that, but also there is the efficiency aspect. While discussing this whole issue with me, J brought out the fact that creating an infrastructure for raising any kind of animal, large or small, is very inefficient for a family our size – unless we are going to raise enough so that we can sell some of the resulting product.
No way.

8. We are heading toward a mostly, if not exclusively, vegan diet.

More on that later, and our apologies to those full-timers mentioned in number seven who may not be able to count on us as customers anymore.

Not all homesteaders raise livestock, and we have decided to join that clan. It’s going to make life a lot simpler, and give us more freedom.

P.S. – Bees we will do. They can feed and water themselves just fine, thank you very much. ;) 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Slowing Down

I am slowing down.

One of the main reasons we worked so hard to obtain early financial independence (click here for info about my book that teaches you how to do that) was so that we would be able to stop stressing ourselves out, trying to make money. So we wouldn’t have to work so hard.

One of the reasons we moved to southeast Oklahoma was to be surrounded by beauty. And not having to work for other people, we should have a lot of time to enjoy that beauty.

But I have to be honest: when you grow up poor, then struggle on a teacher’s salary for over a decade, then “play at being poor” (a quote from the British classic, The Railway Children) for several years in order to have more money to stow away in financial investments, it’s hard to get out of the work-for-money-or-die mentality. And so I’ve been stressing myself out the past couple of weeks writing ten pages a day in my latest novel – this after I had declared to J that if writing became not fun, I wouldn’t do it.

As a result, I’ve been ignoring B, getting irritable from having to fight to find time to write that much every day (gardening is taking a lot of time these days), ditto from having to find PEACE AND QUIET during my writing times, and getting sick of the story. Not much fun in all that, is there?

So I’ve decided to slow down. Four pages a day will still allow me to publish four novels a year – if I decide to write every day and never take a vacation. But until B becomes more independent, I may keep my number of novels down to one or two a year. We shall see.

In the meantime, I am already happier about my decision, and hope to see J and B grow happier as an outgrowth of my chilling out.

I am now almost half done with my latest novel, so you can anticipate its publication between mid-October to early November (2014).

In the meantime, allow me to recommend a couple of fiction books I have enjoyed recently: How Sweet The Sound by Amy Sorrells (intense at times – one of the plot lines is a woman’s recovery from rape), and Courting Cate by Leslie Gould (an Amish romance).

Happy reading!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reversing Our Internet Decision

On a previous blog, I talked about my and Jerry’s decision not to have Internet service at home. On this blog, in a recent post, I said that we had changed our minds.

Well, we changed them back. I can’t say whether we will stick to this decision indefinitely, but for the foreseeable future, we will not have Internet service in our home. The reasons are several and varied.

1. Cost.
Decent Internet connection – and the only kinds available here are wireless and satellite – costs at least $50 a month. That’s $600 a year. That’s almost an entire month of groceries for our organic-eating family.

2. Connection. 
If we have Internet service, we will be YouTube watchers (especially B). Neither wireless nor satellite can be depended upon in these mountains to maintain a good enough connection for online video viewing not to be an exercise in frustration.

3. Addiction.
I might set a strict Internet-using schedule at home, but I’m not even sure I would stick to it. Understand, I’m not one of those who has to spent the first hour of her day on Facebook, or check her Twitter account every fifteen minutes, but it’s easy to get lost in a maze of clicking links and reading blog posts that don’t pertain to anything I’m doing, or want to do.

Then there’s J, who would spend hours at a time reading political news articles and forums if I let him. B, of course, could – and probably would – begin demanding more and more YouTube viewing. Internet in the home is a great temptation to waste time and engage in unhealthy behavior - namely, spending much more time inside than out. 

Keeping our Internet usage to three or so hours a week at the local library (while B watches an educational DVD) may drive some of our friends and family crazy. I have one friend who wasn’t happy when I told her that I don’t do Facebook. (WTH?!)

But guess what? We don’t base our lifestyle decisions on what our friends and family – and especially the world at large – think. We base it on what we feel God is calling us to do, and our goals as a family. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Life Without Electricity: The Myth

Is life without electricity possible? For the past decade or so, I had truly hoped so, and even made it an ultimate goal to live without any need for electrical gadgets or appliances. When I saw this video last fall, my desire increased. It is an inspiring video, and I got super-inspired.

I know I’m not the only one out there who has harbored dreams of not only going “off-grid”, but completely eliminating the need for electricity altogether. But is that a realistic goal? Does the couple in the video really live without electricity?

They have a faucet and a toilet. While they do not have a washing machine, they must have some sort of tub in which to wash their clothes. I’m sorry to break the news to them, but electricity was used to make all of those things. It was also used to print the beautiful books that adorn the single beautiful bookcase, handcrafted, I believe, by the husband of the couple who live in this non-electric Tiny House.

Shortly after watching that video, I did an online search for “life without electricity.” Lo and behold, I encountered two blog posts where the bloggers explain how they live without electricity.

Hello! You cannot blog without electricity. Computers and Internet connection both require electricity. While those folks may indeed not be able to get online at home, they obviously do elsewhere. They are not really living without electricity.

Let me bring it home. To my home. We live at least two hours away from a health food store where we can buy organic food. It’s going to take at least three years before we are producing all of our own produce, so in the meantime we have to buy things in bulk and freeze some of it. A freezer requires electricity. Where we live, a car is a necessity. Manufacturing a car requires electricity; so does running it. Over time, the solar lanterns we bought and use for lighting are much more economical than buying candles. But they work via electricity.

The house we are going to have built next spring will require ceiling fans for air circulation (why? – I will answer that when I choose to reveal the whole Secret; i.e, what kind of house we have selected). And since we live in very humid area, we will have to run a dehumidifier or air conditioner sometimes, no matter what kind of house we live in. Electricity, electricity, electricity.

And what about all the stuff we order from Amazon? The supplements, materials for Benjamin’s amusement and education, food, occasional household goods – every single product involves electricity at some level, even if only in the printing of the label on a bottle and the shipping process.

Is it possible to live without electricity – totally and completely? They say that anything is possible, but how many people do you know are growing their own flax, cotton or hemp, or raising sheep, and making their own thread and weaving into fabric and sewing that into clothing, all by hand? How many people provide 100% of their own food, and either consume it all raw or use fire for cooking? How many people have homes where every single piece of furniture was made by hand, using old-fashioned, non-electric tools? Get my drift?

Today, electricity is a great part of what makes the world go ‘round. If that upsets the caveman/woman inside you, figure out how to reduce your electricity needs as much as you can. And then be happy that you have way more freedom, prosperity, and opportunities in your life than your grandparents did, thanks to electricity. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tiny House Pros And Cons

What are the pros and cons to living in a Tiny House? Is this really the home of the future, the most eco-friendly kind of house there is?

The way some Tiny House fanatics talk, you would think the answer is yes. And there are definite advantages to living in under four hundred square feet.

Advantages of a Tiny House

  1. If you want to build it yourself, it doesn’t take nearly as long as building a modern-sized house.
  2. Most people can cash-flow it, instead of having to take out a mortgage or otherwise borrow money.
  3. The utility bills are ludricously small.
  4. There is little space to clean.
  5. You save time and money on maintenance and repair, because there is not a lot to maintain or repair.
  6. They can be built on trailers so as to be moved whenever the owners want to move them.
  7. You don’t have to walk fifteen feet from one end of the kitchen to another three or four times during meal preparation because everything is so close together.
  8. If you gotta “go”, and go bad, the bathroom is always just a couple of steps away.

We didn’t originally plan to live in a Tiny House, but I realized after spending a few weekends in the twenty-one foot travel trailer we had bought and parked on our land before moving here that there was no way I was going to spend several months living out of it.

So we decided to live in the converted Tuff Shed we had built last fall so that we could begin collecting rainwater from its roof. A week after moving in, Jerry and I talked about keeping it as our permanent home. But however attractive the advantages to Tiny living might be, over the past few months we have discovered several distinct disadvantages of Tiny Houses for our family.

Disadvantages of living in a Tiny House

  1. Sleeping lofts are uncomfortable in hot weather. In the Deep South, where we dwell, summers are hot – and this year, miserably humid to boot. Most Tiny Houses, especially those built for families, have sleeping lofts – including ours. Warm air rises. Benjamin’s bedroom has been very uncomfortable many nights this summer. If it were a normal summer where the temps rise to near and beyond 100 degrees every day, he would be hot every night. Of course, our “sleeping loft” is really a second story, which exacerbates the “warm air rises” problem.
  2. In hot-summer climates, a lot of energy is required to keep a wood-frame Tiny House cool. There is only so much you can do to keep such a dwelling cool (an earthbag Tiny House, having some thermal mass, would be able to be kept somewhat cooler, but one would still need supplemental cooling). How is running the A/C almost 24/7 eco-friendly?
  3. It’s not that great at holding heat in, either. Our heating bill this past winter was only 1/3 the cost of what it had been in our suburban house that was seven times the size of this Tuff Shed (if the bill had been proportionate, it would have been 1/7 the cost of the suburban house heating bill).
  4. There is no room to spread out in inclement weather. When it’s either too cold or too miserably humid to be outside, I can’t escape into another room to play the keyboard, sing to a CD, or write. Benjamin has no room to run around. Can you say, “Crazy parents”?
  5. There is no room for hobbies. Jerry has no space to set up his art easel (part of the reason to gain financial independence and quit one’s job is to have time and energy to engage in fulfilling activities). I have no room to dance. Etcetera.
  6. Storage is at a premium. Our clothes “closet” consists of two shelves on the taller of our two metal shelves. It’s hard to keep our items tidy, and most of our clothing is in large storage boxes. Go ahead and tell us just to get rid of all our extra stuff we’re not wearing. I’ll send you the bills as we are forced to buy things to replace that which we had in storage until you got in our business and convinced us to get rid of something we would need in the future. FYI, we have each edited our wardrobe down by half over the past couple of years. And I never had nearly the amount of clothing as the average American woman. So there.
  7. We can’t sit together as a family to eat. Only two people can sit at a time at the dining room table.
  8. Jerry and I don’t have our own bedroom. At least an entire floor separates us from our son at night, rather than a curtain as was the case in the travel trailer. But, still...Also, we have to move furniture in order to unfold our “mattress” in order to go to bed at night, and fold it back up and put furniture back when we get up in the morning. It’s gotten old, people.
  9. When someone goes “number two”, everybody else gets to smell it. Thank God for vinegar, which is a good odor killer when you spray it undiluted, but not as good as it needs to be. Of course, this problem may have more to do with the fact that our bathroom “door” is merely a curtain, rather than a real door. Still, odors fade after so many feet, but when you’re living in a Tiny House there aren’t enough feet.
  10. Our cat is always underfoot. If I’ve told Benjamin once, I’ve told him a hundred times: it’s a cat’s prerogative to be in your way. However, in a Tiny House, there is almost no other place for him (the cat) to be.  (By the way, we also get to smell the cat’s feces every time he lets it go in his litter box.)

When I got into watching Tiny House videos about nine months ago, I thought the concept was really cool – to the extent that I wanted to adopt it for our household. Having lived in a Tiny House for about six months, I have come to realize that for some people, some families, the glamour of living Tiny does not extend any further than the computer screen displaying the YouTube Tiny House videos.

If you are single or married without children, have no hobbies that require indoor space, are willing to live a real minimalist lifestyle, and live in a moderate climate that can be kept comfortable in the summer without running the A/C all the time, a Tiny House may be a good, eco-friendly and economical choice for you. If not, seek other alternatives. The choice we have finally settled on – and yes, it’s eco-friendly even though it will be far from Tiny - will be revealed soon.

Until then, keep life simple!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"The Secret" Revealed

No, I don’t mean the Secret about positive thinking to get what you want. I mean the secret I mention back in this post.

A former neighbor and friend (not former; she’s still our friend) who reads this blog dragged the truth out of me, so Jerry and I decided we might as well go ahead and reveal it: we’re having a new, larger home built this coming spring (of 2015). What kind of home? Ask that friend. Hee, hee.

I’ll give you hints here and there in future posts.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stop Worrying About "Daily Values" (formerly known as "recommended daily allowance")

Do you really need to intake every known nutrient every single day? Do the federal (United States) nutrition “requirements” hold any water?

The story of my most recent nutritional epiphany is coming up shortly, but first, let’s examine the concept of Daily Value, what used to be known as Recommended Daily Allowance, taking the mineral iron and vitamin C as examples. The Daily Value of iron, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is eighteen milligrams for women. That means that a woman’s body needs to minimally absorb eighteen milligrams of iron every day in order not to develop iron deficiency anemia. The Daily Value established for vitamin C is the amount one’s body needs in order not to develop scurvy. In other words, the Daily Values are those which a person supposedly must absorb every day in order not to develop the deficiency diseases or conditions related to the various nutrients.

There are several problems with these established Values. First, if you are only getting just enough not to manifest symptoms of a deficiency condition, you still may be deficient in a nutrient. Second, note that I am using the word “absorb” rather than “eat” or “consume.” No matter how healthy you may be, your body will never absorb 100% of the nutrients you take in through your mouth.

In fact, some of the numbers are quite discouraging. If you eat meat or eggs, you will absorb only up to 30% of the iron in them. Notice “up to”, meaning depending on you and/or the particular food eaten, you may actually absorb less. Eat a plateful of spinach or other iron-rich plant food, and the numbers are even sadder: you absorb up to only two to ten percent of whatever iron may have gone down your esophagus!

So let’s say you’re looking at a food label that says that one serving of that food provides 100% of the DV of vitamin C. You may have to actually consume two, three, even more servings to absorb all that you supposedly need for that day. If we’re talking about processed foods where synthetic vitamins have been added back, the actual absorption will be even less.

Finally, the Daily Values do not take into consideration individual differences. For one thing, most of the time when you see the percent of DV of iron a food has, the percent is related to a man’s needs, not a woman’s needs (a woman in her childbearing years needs about ten more milligrams of iron per day than the average man).

For another, we all have different body chemistries, and experience different health challenges. I believe I will have to take at least 500 mg of vitamin C (that’s 833% of the DV) every day for the rest of my life because of the deficiencies I have suffered as a child (which have resulted in eye issues – easily strained, get tired after reading for a short while, hypersensitive to the sun, etc.). When a person is under chronic stress, he generally requires a higher magnesium (and perhaps other macro minerals) intake. My body might need less potassium than yours does, but more vitamin D, and so on.

“So, what’s the point of looking at the DV?”

Exactly! There is not a point – unless you want to get stressed about your nutritional intake, which might cause you to become deficient and/or make absorption even more difficult.

Keep in mind, as well, that the honorable people in Washington, D.C. who have come up with the Daily Values and Four Food Groups/Food Pyramid/My Plate diagrams have been influenced by many green pieces of paper handed to them by agricultural lobbyists. It may be possible – it just may be – that the established DV of the B vitamins, of which wheat contains several, has been so established to incite you to eat more bread.

“How do I know if I’m getting enough?”

Ah, now we are getting closer to my story. My favorite way to spot deficiencies is by muscle testing. I describe it thoroughly in my book Crazy Simple, so I’m going to refrain from doing so on this blog. Do on online search for “how to muscle test yourself” for further explanation.

Muscle testing is free, easy, and instant. You simply go through a list of vitamins and minerals and ask your body if you are deficient in any of them. Hair analysis costs, and only tells you how your body was doing four months ago. Blood tests cost as well, and unless you have insurance and are working with a health care practitioner, it will be expensive to find out whether you are getting enough of all the nutrients (I’m not even sure every known nutrient can be detected in the blood).

Besides, blood testing is not always fully accurate. A test I had a little while back showed that I was getting sufficient magnesium. But if I don’t take the supplement, I told the chiropractor who was interpreting the results, magnesium deficiency symptoms (like restless legs) return with a vengeance! (The chiropractor told me to stay on the supplement).

The supplements I take are the supplements that muscle testing has revealed I need. And sometimes, I need less of a certain supplement, sometimes I need more. I muscle test each one at least once a month - some of them, like iron, every day.

Okay, so you have determined your deficiencies. You can try adjusting your diet to eliminate them, or find the right supplement (muscle testing is great here, too – many supplements are subpar, and one supplement that may be perfect for one may not be the best for another).

Then what? How do you make sure that you will continue getting enough of all the other nutrients?
Yesterday (from the day I’m writing these words – and yes, here’s the story), I was begrudgingly eating some white rice with butter for a snack. Begrudgingly because one, white rice isn’t raw but I needed carbs and for some reason my palate wasn’t wanting something as sweet as fruit at the moment; and two, I don’t like butter. I’m not sure why; I used to love it. But ever since I discovered raw coconut oil, butter has given me ever-diminishing pleasure.

I was eating butter from grass-fed cows instead of coconut oil for one reason: to make sure I get enough vitamins A and K. The fat soluble vitamins are essential in order to have healthy teeth, and since I plan never to go to a dentist again unless I have another tooth break thanks to the stupid old mercury fillings my stupid childhood dentist stuck all over my molars, I want to do everything possible to keep my teeth cavity-free.

As I finished the butter, I decided I didn’t want to have to eat it ever again. What else will give me a good dose of those two vitamins? I knew that several greens did, and I headed for my copy of The World’s Healthiest Foods to look them up for the umpteenth time.

Halfway between the plate of recently-eaten rice and butter and the bookshelf where that large, green volume lies, came the epiphany: I don’t have to try to get every single nutrient every single day in order to be healthy. Now, obviously, my body needs some nutrients in large amounts every day, or I could save myself over a hundred dollars a month in supplements. But the other nutrients? I don’t need them every day, or I don’t need “100% of the DV” every day.

How do I figure? What happened at that moment, at that spot in the house, was that I remembered something about dentist Weston Price’s journeys across the world back in the 1930’s. He studied a bunch of different societies that had not yet begun to eat modern food, finding out their traditional diets and whether they had any tooth decay.

The number of cavities he found among any single group was a very small fraction compared to what he was encountering among his patients in the U.S. Very small, like under ten percent of the teeth he studied had cavities. How was this possible? He eventually figured out that besides not eating any processed foods, those peoples consumed dairy from pastured animals, organ meat, and/or seafood at least on occasion. These are the foods that provide the most easily absorbed forms of the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K.

BUT – and here came my epiphany - some of the societies consumed such foods only occasionally, say once a month or even less frequently, or consumed only small amounts each day. They were not consuming anything close to today’s “100% DV” of many nutrients.

What were they doing, the few groups with healthy teeth that were not consuming dairy, organ meats or fish several times a week? They were not eating unnatural foods, and they were eating a variety of natural foods, including – and I must make this point because Dr. Price went out of his way to find a society that was on a pure vegan diet and FAILED – occasional animal-based foods.

Standing in the middle of our Tiny House, I realized that I was still under the brainwashing influence of mainstream nutrition beliefs and teaching. I realized that I - you – have been lied to.

We do not need to get the 100% of the established Daily Value of every single known nutrient every day.

With some nutrients, getting a little bit every day, or even just once in a while will suffice. Which ones will depend upon your individual chemistry and lifestyle.

After receiving this freeing revelation, I muscle-tested it to be sure. Yep. The test confirmed it.

The steps to a nutrient-sufficient diet

1. Get unnatural foods out of your diet; that is, foods that come in any kind of package (the exception being things like dried beans and rice that are sold in bags – they are “whole foods” even though they are packaged).

2. Replace them with nutrient-dense natural foods (the ones you find on the outside perimeter of the grocery store).

3. Uncover any deficiencies and get them turned around.

4. Eat a variety of foods throughout the week.

5. Stop counting milligrams and IU’s of vitamins and minerals. Obsessing over them will not make you healthier.

Besides, there are many other nutrients in foods that remain unknown, and are probably just as important, if not more important, than those that are known. If you can’t obsess over what you don’t know, why bother obsessing over what you do know?