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I started my first batch of home-brewed beer last night. How many mistakes did I make?

1. I didn’t clean the kitchen before starting, so I ended up having to work around a lot of dirty dishes taking up counter and sink space.

2. The largest stock pot we have wasn’t really large enough. I had to use a half-gallon less water than instructed and still had a boilover. I may look at getting a larger one before the next try. (I think this one is a 3-gallon pot; I need a 5-gallon.)

3. I let the grains boil when they should have just steeped in water no warmer than 170 degrees. Lesson learned: Be more patient to get the temperature stable before steeping; stay at the pot and monitor. This might be a fatal mistake, since I read that letting the water get too hot leaches tannins into the wort and makes it bitter — and not in the good way that beer can be bitter. We’ll see when the batch matures.

4. I may not have disinfected the equipment adequately. I’m not sure I like the powdered no-rinse disnfectant that comes with the kit. Most of the books I read advocate using a bleach or iodine solution, which I might try next time. Also, I didn’t know what to do with the thermometer, hydrometer, etc. after disinfecting and before or between uses. It may be that  I need to disnfect multiple times, before the equipment touches the wort. I need to mull on that one some more.

5. I transferred the wort to the fermenter when it was a little warmer than recommended, but not by much. The main concern here is whether it’s hot enough to kill the yeast, but I think it was fine.

6. I wasn’t able to get an exact reading on the hydrometer, due to not having used one before and also due to a lot of foam on the surface of the liquid, making it hard to tell exactly where the instrument was settling. I got an approximate reading though that seems to be in the right range.

I’m going to go ahead with fermentation and bottling, even though I suspect this batch may be lost, mainly because I want to make any further mistakes now rather than on the next one. Even if this first try, fails, I learned a lot that will come to bear next time.

The main lessons come down to two key words: Patience and Attentiveness. A few of the above mistakes (1, 4, 5) happened because I was rushing things, and number 2 because I wasn’t paying close attention as I needed to. The others were born of inexperience and unfamiliarity with the equipment, and will be less of a factor next time.

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One of our many goals for building a life together is to buy as much of our food as we can from local suppliers, and eventually, grow some of our own.

The growing our own part isn’t off the ground yet — I need to learn a good bit before getting started — but the buying local is going very well. We’ve found three nearby farmer’s markets and have gone to two of them each Saturday to stock up on vegetables and meats. We’re getting good quality, delicious food that hasn’t traveled more than a hundred miles (usually less) and the prices aren’t much different from supermarkets.

We’ve signed up for deliveries by a creamery, so we’ll be getting fresh milk and eggs from free-range chickens every week, with the option to add other items as needed week to week. And there’ll be more to come.

We’re seeing this both as a move toward better health and environmental responsibility, and also a spiritual practice. As Drudiry emphasizes, it puts us in closer connection to the rhythms of nature, as the items available to us vary with the growing seasons. We’ll learn how to store them — rather than resorting to supermarkets — so we can enjoy them out of season, but we’ll become more aware of when things grow in our region.

Developing the skills to grow our own will only add to that awareness.

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The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered
is a rare kind of book — the kind that can make you feel a brilliant light shining into dark corners as you read it. John Michael Greer brings a keen insight to economics and explains in accessible language just why it is that we’re in the economic condition we are today.

Departing from standard economics theory, Greer divides the overall economy into three: The Primary Economy is the wealth of nature — oil, arable land, water and so on; the Secondary Economy is the world of goods and services, the products we make and buy; and the Tertiary Economy is the economy of finance — debt instruments, stocks, bonds and other “wealth” that exists on paper and in computer records.

He builds his thesis on two previous books, The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age
and The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World
. But where those were about the declining availability of fossil fuels and the world that he predicts will emerge as cheap, abundant energy evolves into scarcity, this one starts there and moves in new directions.

Greer makes a convincing case that much of our current trouble stems from confusing money with wealth. Money, he writes, is the yardstick we use to measure wealth, not the wealth itself. But much of our economic activity is focused on money, leading to an ever-increasing debt burden and political policies that just dig the hole deeper by increasing the supply of money even though the actual value we’re producing doesn’t support it.

The other signifant problem we face is the failure to factor in the Primary Economy. Conventional economic theories disregard the contributions of nature to our economic well-being, assuming that whatever resources we need, we’ll have. If that isn’t a safe assumption — and Greer argues convincingly that it is not — then any conclusions based on that assumption are also in peril.

All in all, the book paints a picture that could be grim but is also empowering. There are ways to survive and even thrive in the future that Greer believes is coming, if you’re armed with information and willing to adjust your expectations. This book is an excellent starting point for the journey.

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I am more optimistic than I had been about the prospects of putting in a garden. There actually is a patch of yard on the east side of the lot that gets decent sun in the morning, thanks to a storm three years ago that knocked down two big trees. There are a few other small trees that I should be able to take down myself — with help for the two largest — that could open up much of that end of the yard to the morning sun. And the lush green ivy carpet that had run along the fence has mostly died, and once I pull the dead vines that piece should be usable too.

I learned a technique called “girdling” for removing ivy from trees. (I did not plant the ivy, it was here when I bought the house, but it has spread and has run up the trunks of a good number of my trees.) To girdle the tree, you sever the ivy vines around the base of the trunk and then again 4-5 feet up, and pull them off from there down. Pull out as many roots as you can. The vines above the cuts will (so I’m assured) wither and die over the next few weeks, while I will remain vigilant for signs of new growth at the bottom and pull it when it starts.

Eventually, with diligence, it should be possible to eliminate all of the vines around the tree.

Other moving preparation isn’t going as well. I need to box my books and move them into the room that will eventually become our library, and I need to continue decluttering. I have to pick some shirts for sale or Goodwill to clear closet space, and continue throwing away unneeded things. I keep intending to do these in big chunks on the weekends and then find my weekends taken up. So I’ll have to start doing it a bit at a time in the evenings.

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Homebody

I’ve gotten permission to work from home a day or two a week. As good as it sounds, I’m a little uncertain about it. I work from home now and then when I need to be home to accomodate tradespeople I’ve hired, but I generally don’t prefer it. It’s too easy for me to get distracted and doesn’t feel like worktime.

I am expecting to get used to it with habit, though, and it’ll save me about 40 miles of driving each day I can do it. I support telework as a concept and encourage people to do it, but resist doing it myself. On the list of habits we want to change, it’s really one of the easiest ones, with a tangible immediate cost savings, and yet it still feels somehow amiss.

It started this past week with one day. Next week I’m planning three, but that’s because I am having some work done. After that, I’ll be trying to establish the habit on a schedule.

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The path to a simpler life doesn’t run smooth. We’d dreamed of growing our own vegetables, but the reality is that without about $8,000 to $10,000 in tree-removal costs, it’s not going to be possible on any big scale. Once the spring growth is done and the leaves are back, I will take stock and see if I have any sunny patches at all, but I already know it won’t be much.

So I’ll look into whether any food plants will grow in partial shade (I doubt there will be much to choose from there), and we will take advanatge of CSAs, farmers’ markets and other sources of good quality food. That will help us make the dietary changes we want, but not so much with the energy conservation and self-sufficiency.

When I bought my house 10 years ago, before I had any inkling of the kind of lifestyle I’d want in the future, the shade was a nice feature. It still will be in the summer heat, but it’s an obstacle for the backyard farming life.

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This is just to add a little bit to Michael’s update to catch up on where I am with all this and why.

Back when we first started this blog, Michael and I were searching… we’d gone through a period of a-religion, to reaching out tentacles of interest and curiosity, sometimes together, other times in apparently opposite directions and not at all sure how or if our spiritual ideals would mesh well together or be something to work around.

Then we discovered Davies, and the UU faith in general, and wow… the exploration is actually a part of religious expression, and here was a place and a method of religious expression that lets us each seek as we will without any requirement or even expectation that we must be united in the details.  We’re united by the exploration.

Michael’s signed the book and is UU.  I haven’t yet, but will once I am there as a resident and not just a visitor… and I am UU.  And declaring a religious affiliation like that is a big, big deal for me.  My spiritual views are and always will be pagan, but the religious community that supports me in that is UU.  There!

The 4th Principle of Unitarian Universalism states that we affirm and promote “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.. .and I think that’s a large part of where Michael and I are now in terms of how to appropriately express the spiritual views we are coming to take to heart.

It’s a practical matter, I think, to try to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) before necessity drives the cost out of our reach, or scarcity makes it impossible to continue consuming as we are now.  But it is also a spiritual exercise… if the Earth matters – and she does… if our purpose is more than that of consumer to corporate raping and pillaging of our natural resources – and we are… then something has got to change.  And living aware of what our actions cost is mindfulness.  It is a meditation.  It is a prayer.  It is an affirmation that there is a future to preserve.

But let’s go back to practicality – these last few years have financially been extremely limited for me, and while things will be better from my perspective once Michael and I blend households, I think he’s going to find it tighter than he’s used to, because the financial footprint of feeding, clothing, and sheltering two people is more than it is for one.   So adjustments are coming!

From a more general perspective – our nation continues to have low job prospects, average pay is going down, the housing market continues to be awful no matter what weak little happy-camper reports come out now and then, and I just read this morning that the ‘job growth’ we’re being told to be so optimistic about is somewhat less than it was during the heart of the Great Depression.

Things are not going to bounce back to the artificially affluent culture we were all taking for granted a few years ago.  We never did have any built in right to have it all, and we can either whine and moan about that now – or we can find a saner way to live our lives without being consumer gluttons.

At this point, I think Michael and I are in full agreement that we need to make some major changes in our notions of what normal consumer levels ought to be…and equal still rank beginners at figuring out how to go about making those changes,and not at all sure how much we’re going to be able to do to live more self-sufficiently, either by talent or by physical capability (we’re no spring chickens, y’know).

But we have desire and a growing sense that we can start practicing now, or be one of the many people a few years from now desperately playing catchup to the new reality.

For my part, food preparation seems to be where I most want to start.  I’ve learned to stretch my grocery budget to the squeaking point, eliminated a lot of expensive and overly packaged convenience foods from my regular pantry list, and have made at least experimental forays into making things from scratch many of us have forgotten can be.

I want to learn and develop a habit of canning – hopefully, eventually, preserving the harvest of our own garden.  I want to successfully have a thriving herb garden.  I want to reduce the amount of meat we consume – and switch to locally raised meat, milk and eggs rather than corporate-tortured animal products.  I want to get into the habit of baking our week’s bread myself.   Iwant to make the Farmer’s Market and possible a CSA subscription a part of regular lifestyle.  I want ‘convenience foods’ to be meals I’ve pre-prepped and have waiting in the freezer or pantry for days when we haven’t the time or inclination to cook intensively.

And I say all of this knowing that it’s going to take a great deal of perseverance, in a world that’s run by companies that want to make it really, really easy to purchase a product that includes a massive energy footprint (corporate farms for meat and veggies and grains, chemists labs for all the unpronounceable preservatives and filler, transportation costs for all of that to the factory where it’s put together and then outward to stores, not to mention all the production and transportation costs of the metal, paper and plastic packaging to wrap and seal it.

I still buy plenty of that stuff – and I’m probably going to be for a good while yet.  But I’m learning not to, and plan to take this a step at a time.  As Michael noted – the bottom isn’t going to fall out overnight.  We’ve got room to learn how to do this.

And this weblog is going to be our record of how we do that – what works, and what doesn’t, and a few reminders of why we’re trying.

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