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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

To be radical
is to be whole
where so much is broken
and grateful for what is
in the face of all that isn't.

Let's be radical today.
And tomorrow, too.
Thanks for being you.
That's all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Fridge Story

For nearly six months the supermarket down the road has been doing most of our refrigeration for us.

It's been an interesting experiment.

Not that it began as an experiment. (Do these things ever?) It began with some cussing. Okay, a lot of cussing.

When the big fridge in our kitchen died this past summer we looked at the hole in our family wallet where the money wasn't, looked at the car repair that we'd just committed to and would be another six months paying off, and didn't see how a fridge purchase was going to fit into the picture.

Fridges are expensive, people. In case you didn't know.

So we decided we'd get creative until our money picture changed. I had a small dorm cube in the garage that I'd bought when I had my gallery by the river, and I brought it inside, and for the last six months, that's what we've used.

Now I realize that not having a great big fridge in the kitchen is a First World problem.  And no, this isn't a post about our "sacrifice" and our "making do" and "going without."  It's about something else.  But I'll just tell the story, and leave it to you to glean any meaning from it.

Anyway.

Anyone who's ever used a dorm cube knows there's not a lot of room in there. Once you add a six-pack and some leftover Chinese takeout, it's full.  Also, my cube had no freezer compartment, so at first we wondered what we would do for ice (nothing -- we did without ice) and how we'd manage without a supply of ice cream and those handy frozen insta-meals (somehow we got by).  It just took a bit of adjustment. Was it a hassle?  Sometimes, but less often than one might think.

And as time went on, some unexpected benefits emerged.  I realized that not having a big fridge meant not having a big fridge to fill.  Or clean.  That it was easier and took a lot less time to think about our food a day or two at a time instead of planning for a week of meals.  That it was a lot quicker and simpler to shop for a few items than a whole cart-full.

I know this is not what they tell you when they tell you how to shop, and no, I couldn't make big pots of soup or pasta sauce for use over several meals. But honestly, small pots of soup and sauce -- enough for a single meal, maybe with a small portion left over for someone's lunch -- taste just as good. And go together quicker.  I'm just saying.

So we created few leftovers, because there was no room to store them. And when we did have a six-pack in the house -- which is infrequent, but it happens -- only a couple bottles went into that cube at a time.  We learned to anticipate our needs.  And to simplify our options.  Imagine that.

For a few weeks I missed my convenient frozen vegetables. And my convenient frozen pizzas. But within a couple months I'd reconfigured my cooking and storage to take advantage of all the stuff that doesn't need refrigeration. Fresh vegetables would sit on my counter instead of in the crisper drawer, and we'd use them that day or the next. Overripe bananas didn't accumulate in the freezer, waiting for the day I would get around to baking a loaf of banana bread. When they were sitting on the counter, getting blacker by the moment, it was clear that today was banana bread day.

I was concerned that it would be more expensive to shop this way. Guess what.  It was not.

This came as somewhat of a surprise, given all we're told about food budgeting and once-a-week shopping. But over the six months of this experiment I've concluded that keeping our fridges crammed full of food benefits the food marketers more than it does us. The truth is, the kind of things most of us put in our freezers -- the frozen pizzas and insta-meals -- are expensive.  And a full fridge means that all kinds of things -- leftovers, for example, and vegetables (which are also kind of pricey) -- get lost or forgotten.  When everything is more or less visible all the time, very little gets overlooked, and almost nothing goes to waste.

Anyway, the experiment was supposed to end this morning, when the delivery truck was scheduled to bring our new, smallish-but-still-more-standard-size fridge. (It's very hard to find a small fridge of any quality on this side of the Atlantic. Or the Pacific. The Europeans and Japanese have it all over us in this regard.)  But alas, the one they brought arrived with a big scratch along its very visible exterior side. They'll return with another one in a few days.

Somehow I think we'll survive.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interspecies Communication

We have a raccoon living under the eaves of our carport.

The carport shares a common wall with our laundry area, and two of our indoor cats have taken to patrolling that wall, shoving laundry products aside to sit on the shelf and listen, occasionally tapping at the wall with their paws.

I have yet to hear the raccoon tap back.  Perhaps he or she only does so in the wee small hours, since everyone knows that's the best time to send messages to the other side.

It's a very big raccoon, by the way.  It makes me a little nervous to know it's living in the eaves of my carport.

* * *

Speaking of sending messages to the other side, here's one I'd like to send: "Is there another planet where all the sane people are?"

Item: On a day set aside for Remembrance, members of our illustrious Congress refused to debate a particular Veterans health care bill because the means by which it will be paid haven't been specified. Never mind that the bills approving the wars in which those veterans serve never seem to come with a "how will this be paid?" clause.

Notice this is not about arguing the merits of the bill.  Maybe it's a terrible bill.  Maybe it won't do what it's supporters claim it will do. (And what a surprise that would be.)  But how will we know?  They're refusing to debate the thing at all.

Here's another question I'd like to send to the other side: Why do I have to pay these guys' salaries?

* * *

While we're on the subject of inter-species communication, I hung out with some schooly people last night, my first real socializing since Dragonstar and I returned last week from ARGH. The occasion was a new book group.  I've never belonged to a book group.  But there was the promise of wine and tasty things to eat, so I figured what the hell.

All of the participants are artists, but aside from that they're all fairly mainstream people, so in between suggestions for things to read, there was a lot of schooly talk about high school sons and daughters and school discipline and extracurricular this and college-prep that.

When my turn came to say something, I talked a bit about unschooling and the ARGH gathering.  It was not exactly the conversation spark I'd hope it would be.

Now, I've known most of these women for awhile and I know damn well they don't know what to make of me and this whole unschooling thing.  But this is the midwest, and people here are generally polite. Which means they nod in all the right places, and wait until you leave the room to say what they really think.

So they all nodded when I talked of being among our tribe for a few glorious days, of kids moving freely through the campsite, dressed in all their wild unschooly finery, of people grabbing their neighbors for an impromptu porch-sit or a shared meal. I mentioned the sweetness of wandering along the shaded paths among the cabins, feeling satisfied and peaceful and at home.

And then I stopped talking.  And the room got very quiet.

And finally someone praised the hummus.  And that was that.

I like my fellow artists here.  They're vibrant women -- to a one.  But especially coming on the heels of ARGH, it's not nearly as fun to hang out with people when I'm the only unschooler in the room.

I was thinking that it might be too self-serving to suggest we read my unschooling manifesto, but maybe the group can tackle Grace Llewellyn's Teenage Liberation Handbook.

It might get them talking, anyway

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Four Days in a Parallel Universe

It wasn't a completely unplugged experience in the Eastern Tennessee mountains. Dragonstar had her tiny netbook with her and I used it to send a "we have arrived, all is well" email message to the BBPiT.

But still.

Days went by without an internet connection. How (unexpectedly) rejuvenating.

Well, just being in the mountains is (not unexpectedly) rejuvenating. And the ones to the east are particularly so.

At least, the ones whose tops are still intact.

Are we appalled by mountaintop mining? Gah. But all of our cabins had electricity and hot water and central heat and air. Where do you suppose that electricity came from? This isn't windmill country we're talking about. And now here I am, back in my cozy warm house, surrounded by my electronic this and plugged in that, all of it dependent on that coal-fired power plant up the river.

Hell's bells. My life is full of contradiction.

* * *

Anyway, in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee I met a woman who played Old Time music and shared her dulcimers and tub bass and guitar and banjo with anyone who wandered into her circle. We strummed and sang through "Skip to My Lou" and "I'll Fly Away" and "Shady Grove" and she made her case for the value of community music.

"It's not show-off music," she told me. "Bluegrass is show-off music. Everybody just waits for their turn to come around so they can show off. Community music isn't about showing off. It's about everybody playing and singing together."

She wanted to make sure we got the point.

"Bluegrass comes from the flatland up north. This is mountain music."

* * *
We were in the mountains for a gathering of unschoolers. We spent our days swapping stories, sharing meals, connecting.

I mentioned to someone before we went that attending an unschooler gathering is like slipping into a parallel universe, where everything is familiar, just a little slant.

Among our group are vegans and anarchists and farmers and lawyers and professionals and two-income families and military families and those who drive SUVs and minivans and those who drive hybrids. There are hippies and video gamers and nerf-warriors. There are blended families and nuclear families and same-sex parents and single parents. There are nurses and midwives and artists and writers and a former school teacher or two.

In other words, we look pretty much like the rest of society. And we live pretty much like the rest of society, in houses, with central heat, and televisions, and computers, and refrigerators.

We just don't do school. And what a difference that makes.

* * *

Ah, well. Today is not a day to draw conclusions. I'm still in re-entry mode. I expect I'll have stuff to say later about difference and sameness.

And anarchy and unschooling.

And music-making.

And mountaintop mining.

I always do.