Archive for the 'anyway project' Category

13 Ways of Looking at the Future, the Anyway Project and the Blogger’s Dilemma

admin April 25th, 2011

Three seemingly unrelated thoughts.  The first was reading a magazine profile of Andrew Sullivan, which observed that no more than a few thousand people in the US could be said to make a living as bloggers, mostly by writing on mainstream politics – ranting about Sarah Palin (one way or another) or mainstream popular culture.  I admit, I found myself wondering whether the disasters that we are facing – the real ones, not the Hollywood “outrunning the bomb” disasters could garner enough attention to actually support someone who focuses on those issues.  And I admit, I took it as a challenge – because I’m way cuter than Andrew Sullivan, plus I’m sick of Sarah Palin and I know you are too ;-) .

Second, I’m presently working hard on the Adapting in Place book, I’ve also found that I’ve written a lot in the last few years on how to view the world we’re entering into which doesn’t really fit in a book about the nuts and bolts of how to keep warm, keep fed, etc…  but that I think is just as central.  This larger project of imagining our future, looking at it and then figuring out how to make a life for ourself is something that needs to be gone at in a number of ways.  I keep looking at these essays, and seeing something that needs saying, but that I don’t have a place for.  That too became a challenge.

Finally, as a part of our “Anyway Project” analysis of our finances, I did something I’ve never done before – I ran the numbers on my work as a writer.  What came out of this was the realization that for the 7 years that I’ve been writing various permutations of blogs here, at blogspot, at Science blogs, as well as writing books and the occasional magazine article, my husband has essentially been subsidizing my writing and speaking habit.  I’m not sorry about it – but again, there is an emerging challenge here.  This one is a little more daunting than out-cuting Andrew Sullivan, however.

In a way, this has been a really good thing – I was able to write three (with a fourth forthcoming) books for a tiny little environmental publisher that uses recycled everything and offsets its carbon.  I’ve been able to write whatever I liked without feeling beholden to anyone – because, after all, I wasn’t making any money.  I could take the speaking gigs I really liked – little engagements that paid a few hundred bucks and barely covered the losses of my being away, rather than the corporate talks that I never liked doing anyway.  I could talk for free to churches and community organizations whenever I felt like it.  I was making a little bit of money, and I was having a blast.

The problem is that when I did the formal accounting, it turned out that I wasn’t making much money.  My book advances were all in the single digit thousands of dollars – mostly the low single digits, and I was spending hundreds of hours writing them.  The speaking engagements ended up costing us money in most cases, or at a minimum making us so little it wasn’t worth the time away from home and family.  Our family has been pretty comfortable living on a combined total income that most years comes in substantively below 50K, and thrift has never been our problem, but all the time spent at the computer was starting to have a negative outcome – I had less time to save money and cut the budget, so our expenses crept up, and the work wasn’t returning what it might have.   The thing is, I have no regrets – I like the little speaking gigs, I like the environmental publisher, I like writing what I want, when I want.

Over the years, I have actively resisted making more money a lot of the time – I’ve declined to run advertisements on this site.  I turned down a paid blogging gig for a site I found totally appalling and couldn’t respect.  I’ve turned down a lot of corporate speaking gigs or “energy and sustainability fairs” that were mostly vehicles for greenwash products.  I haven’t done product placement.  I’ve been grateful to be freed of the blogger’s dilemma – ie, the problem that a successful blog takes up more and more of your time, and then eventually, you find it takes up so much time it has to return money, which is harder.  Both Eric and I felt that this was a community service, time well spent and pleasurable for me, and compatible with our basic way of life.

Besides, while Eric was the primary breadwinner, in some ways this was true of his job as well – instead of getting tenure in his field like most of his colleagues, Eric had taken the opportunity to concentrate on science education, and to developing courses that introduce concepts like peak oil and collapse to his undergraduates through Environmental Physics and even a course on Space (wherein he points out that earth is a planet too…and that most of our imaginary exit strategies are just that…imaginary).  Most of the people he knows with Harvard Ph.ds and MIT BAs in Physics make three times or more his income – but Eric is happy teaching on the edge, with a large contingent of first generation students.  For a physicist who wants to concentrate on education, rather than bench science there are two choices – a pricey private college where most of his students would be more affluent, or no tenure and less money.  We chose the latter, and we’ve never regretted it – how many people get to be happy with all their work?

Unfortunately, over the last year or two things have changed.  Our property taxes spiked, and then spiked again as our rural school district tried to compensate for lost state and federal revenues and declining incomes.  Eric’s job as a non-tenured Professor of Physics seemed safe for a while, but we’ve just learned that while his department and Dean both want to re-hire him, voices from on high are suggesting that no job security can be offered to non-tenured faculty, and they are threatening cuts – and we both feel strongly that particularly with more kids joining our family, either of us need to be able to be the primary breadwinner.  While our farm income is growing, and my longer term goal is to build the farm up to be a larger portion of our income, most of the projects we want to do are slow growing – the medicinal woodland herbs take years to mature, the goat herd is growing slowly, but in the meantime, until we get to where we want to be, we’re retaining goats and buying stock, more than selling.  Some of the projects, like opening up the farm, require some major infrastructure work – and since I hate debt, that means making the money to do the work somehow upfront – by writing.

Which leaves me on the horns of a dilemma – because my work at present does not support us, we need a plan to make it do so.  Which leaves me with a few choices.  1. I could get a job.  I’m qualified enough – there are a number of ways that could happen. I could teach nonfiction writing, I could do a variation on my present work only professionally – perhaps focusing on food and agricultural policy, or I could a writing/blogging gig that would provide enough income for my family to make ends meet.  I turned down two in the last year, one the aforementioned at a place I’d rather not be associated with and another which I should have taken, but which seemed to preclude another, better opportunity that seemed definite and then sadly didn’t actually come into being (bird, hand, bird, bush, duh!)

2. I could take most of the speaking engagements I get, particularly the ones that pay the most.  The problem with this is that it is tough on my carbon budget, I still don’t love talking mostly to the rich, and most of all, it is hard on my family.  This one isn’t my first choice – I love doing speaking engagements, I’m good at them, but I don’t want to be away from home so often.   I’d like to be able to keep doing these without worrying too much about the money – but that requires some financial success some other way.

Or, 3. I could make a job.  That is, I could keep doing what I’m doing, only make it financially viable for us.  This could happen one of several ways, and my guess is that it would have to be several ways.  My teaching is the one thing that does make us some money, so that will be part of it. I’ve long wanted to bring more people to the farm and do on-farm classes, so I’m working on making that possible.  I could commercialize the website – either wholesale with lots of ads or, since the former makes me a little nauseous, with ads for things I actually think are worth having.  I could run more content and offer more material, perhaps some by subscription.  I could sell books through Amazon.  I could sell other things.  I could do more publishing for myself so that I got to keep more than a buck and change or so per book sold – possibly some fiction as well as my non-fiction.  I could raise the traffic of this site and awareness of peak oil by providing more basic content along with the other things, and use that audience growth to help subsidize my blogging habit.  I’m not sure how this will work with my principles, but if it were possible, this might be the best option.

One way or another, unfortunately, things have to change.  I think there’s a decent chance that Eric is going to lose his job, and our expenses are not going to be met by my present work model.  I’ll miss my present work model – at the same time, I think how rarely anyone has the luxury of treating their day to day work as an avocation, as a largely volunteer project.  It has been a lovely run, but I can’t say I’m ashamed of having to make a living – it is, after all, the norm.  I expect my financial situation, indeed, all of our financial situations, to change a number of times in the coming years.  Given the necessity, Eric and I will chop wood, pump gas at the convenience store, or do any other job necessary to feed our kids and keep our farm going.  But while I like chopping my own wood, I think I’m probably better off playing to my strengths and sticking with the writing – I do it better than pumping gas.

Whatever the trade offs actually end up being, they will come.  If I get a job that is not a writing job, what will happen is that I will write less.  If I get a writing job I will write more, but somewhere else. If I make a writing job here, I will write more – but the site will change.  I’m curious about what the rest of you think would be the best outcome?  I think my own preference would be do more work helping people reduce their impact and come to terms with the nitty gritty of this life here, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

This site has been somewhat neglected since my move to Science Blogs, which is a real pity since I like it better ;-) .  I am hopeful that perhaps I could begin to do all the things I’ve really wanted to do with this site – a barter board, more discussion, better community support.  I don’t know what’s possible, but if you’d asked me in 2004, when I started blogging what I could accomplish, I’d never have guessed as much as I have.   I feel like there are so many fun and interesting things that I haven’t been doing at my home site that just require a new energy.

One thing I am going to do is publish those essays that I’ve been thinking about for so long – I’m putting together a short book of essays called _13 Ways of Looking at the Future_ – riffing on Wallace Stevens’ famous poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” I will offer a range of perspectives on where we’re going and how to think about getting there.  Some of them may be essays you’ve seen, some will be new.  I’ve been debating how to offer them – I could sell them for a fixed price, enough to make a profit, but honestly, I want to make them as affordable as possible for my low income readers, while also being in the spirit of my new need to make a living.  So I’ve decided to do this – I will send a signed essay collection (the publication will be sometimes in June) for any donations to this site over $10 (plus $3 for US shipping and handling – email me at [email protected] with your address and email to find out about international shipping).  Donations can be made through paypal to [email protected] (I’ll put a button up just as soon as I figure out how to do it).  I’m not going to pester anyone, I won’t do fund drives, and if you don’t have $10 spare, don’t worry about it – in fact, I also promise to do a raffle for some free copies once they are published as well!  If you’d like to make a larger donation and want multiple copies, just email and let me know.

For me, this is an experiment – it might be successful, it might not.  What I really want to know is whether I can, in fact, join the comparatively limited number of people making a living as bloggers – even if I want to write on the edge of our coming collapse.  My heart won’t break if the answer is no, but I admit, it would be pretty neat if the answer was yes!

Sharon

Anyway Project Update: Out Like a Lion

admin March 24th, 2011

Life has been proceeding more or less apace, and it feels like a long time since I’ve sat down and contemplated anything, much less my Anyway Project goals. At the same time, all this business is a series of steps on the way to actually many of the things done. I hope that’s true of all of you!

As you’ll remember, the goal of the Anyway project is to integrate our preparations for a harder future with our daily life now, to turn them many parts into a whole. As I wrote previously:

The larger idea of the Anyway Project is to make our lives work more smoothly. Most of us stand with feet in several worlds – our domestic and professional ones, our adaptations to a world with less and our day to day life in a world with too much (in some cases). Making the intersections between these spaces functional, bringing the edges together and connecting them smoothly is the center of my project.

The seed flats are filled with tomatoes, peppers, onions, tomatillos, basil, broccoli, leeks, basil, eggplant, herbs and flowers of all kinds. By now many years the seed flats make occasional forays outside or onto a sunny porch for a sheltered visit to the world, but it is *cold* right now, and winter is hanging on like the old lion he is. The Garden Plant CSA/Herb, Vegetable and Native Plant nursery is growing apace on every window in the house, and with some things under lights as well, as we wait for the cold to let loose. The good news is that next year I should have a greenhouse – our wonderful friend Loren is going to build me one!

Goats are ready to pop in a week or two – today is Eric’s barn cleaning marathon day, so things should be ready when the babies come after the first of April. All the winter’s manure goes on the parts of the garden that get planted later as well. The first batch of chicks is feathered out and ready to start ranging when the cold spell breaks, and there are more forthcoming.

Eric is totally obsessed with bee keeping – and two nucs of locally bred Carnolian bees are coming in early May. I’m very excited about his obsession, which is frankly, good for both of us. This is the first farm project that Eric in all the years we’ve been here has truly taken on as wholly his own. I’m a little jealous ;-) , in the sense that I’ve wanted bees for years, but I’m also thrilled to see Eric so fascinated and entranced. Besides, bees could be gateway drugs to something else cool ;-) .

I’m also mulling over our planned expansion – we have pasture we’re not using, and I have several ideas for how to make it work. For the last four years, we’ve shared sheep with my friend Elaine, who brings them to our pastures for the summer, and then takes them back for the winter. We get lamb and wool in barter, and sheep to keep the pastures down, but it is time for us to be more fully using that land. So I think this will be the last year of the shared sheep arrangement (which is sad, but she’s got other options and it won’t affect the friendship!). So now it is time to fish or cut bait on what exactly we’re going to do. Raise calves on our excess goat milk, and produce baby beef? Our own sheep? If so what breed(s)? Or should we expand our goat operation into meat goats and/or fiber goats. We’re going to do some expansion – I do want to produce Nigora (dual purpose miniature milk/fiber goats) goats, but how far to go? Decisions, decisions….

All of this is also hanging on the fact that once it becomes possible to actually do stuff outside, everything *has* to be done at once. New garden beds. Greenhouse. Planting. Hardening off seedlings. Taking down the old pasture fence and mowing. Running the new pasture fence. Market days and open farm days. Goat baby stuff.

Along with the usual farm projects, there is our family expansion project as well which has taken up a huge space in our life. More than halfway through our MAPP training (foster parent training), I feel rather like I did when the baby started kicking in each pregnancy – “oh, yeah, there’s a *baby* in there – all this hassle (puking, classes, depending on the case) isn’t for no reason.” The kids that will come into our lives aren’t babies (we assume) mostly, but we’re starting to get focused on the mechanics of real people. Friends of ours whose daughter became engaged realized that their daughter will be needing something other than a set of bunkbeds to sleep on now, and are generously passing them on to us – the bunkbeds and some other furniture arrive on Sunday. I still have hopes of painting the kids’ bedroom spring green, rather than the white and muted yellow it is now (boring), but it may or may not happen. We can always leave open the option of painting both kids rooms in the late fall, when everyone can choose their own colors.

We’ve got books in the bookcase, my mother is starting to look around for used twin bedding, a dear friend has kindly organized a project to knit afghans (more on that at the end of the post), the children have done very well with their weekly babysitting nights, we’re still hunting for a van large enough to haul the six of us and two or three more kids (for years we’ve all driven in one Ford Taurus, which believe it or not can safely hold 6 people with carseats and boosters and buckles – we look like clowns getting out of a clown car, though – very environmentally efficient, but as the boys get bigger, its days were coming to an end anyway) – anyone out there in our general region knows someone selling an inexpensive used 8+ passenger van, let me know!

There are a few more steps in the process – Eric and I have to get fingerprinted (think of the crimes I can’t commit now…damn!), my physical is next week, we have to get the well water tested, and we still have a few more classes, but we can see the day coming when we’ll get down to the brass tacks. My mother’s observation is that she’s ready to get to the essentials – ages, gender, clothing sizes. Me too – I always did think that waiting for kids, whether the old-fashioned way or otherwise, took too damned long ;-) . Patience has never been one of my virtues – I’ve always had a “as long as we’re going to do it, let’s get at it attitude” (actually, I felt that way about labor too), but I’m trying to be patient, and I am enjoying the time with just the four boys. We’ve planned some family visits and travel for the next couple of months, since we’ll be staying home for a while after kids come.

The ties between family and community have been really evident in this – we have been able to turn to friends and community members in so many ways. Our friends and family have covered our weekly childcare (non-trivial, since we can’t leave Eli with everyone) for the MAPP classes. Friends have passed along good advice, shared furniture and offered clothing that we won’t have (and there’s that knitting and crocheting thing again…look at the bottom of the post for more!). After some years of being able mostly to offer help, rather than accept it, we have been turning to others, and the kindness they have offered has been intensely humbling and gratifying. While we’re still somewhat flexible we’ve been trying to do our part too to reciprocate – it is harder in many ways to receive than to give, though, and in some ways, better for us.

A lot of my other Anyway Project Goals are sort of mixed in with this – the nursery business obviously has a lot to do with the farm revitalization project. The family stuff seems part of the project as well – life is tough out there already for a lot of people and just getting harder. It isn’t something I can entirely fix, but I’m anxious to do what we can.

We haven’t made as much progress on the reorganization as I’d really like, but we have three weeks of Pesach cleaning ahead of us as we get ready for the Passover holiday, and the rearranging of furniture that accompanies the new acquisitions, so I have hope.

Outside work and finances have also not gotten the attention they deserve. I applied for an IATTP Food and Policy Fellowship and didn’t get it, so now I have to think about what I will do to support my family in the coming year, beyond the usual, and given that because of new children my normally somewhat limited talk and travel schedule will be *really* limited. I do have to finish the Anyway Project/Adapting in Place book, now in progress 3 years (longer than it took me to do my first three books ;-) ), but I’m starting to realize that I probably need to make or find an actual regular paid venue for my writing, because with more family members, our expenses will go up.

Foster parent stipends don’t cover things like eating locally and sustainably, so I might actually have to get a real job! Or maybe not – I’m still trying to figure this one out. In many ways I’ve been so blessed not to be financially pressed – our very low cost lifestyle has made it possible for me to take the speaking gigs that interest me, rather than the ones that pay well, to write for free where I want to, etc… I know most people don’t have that luxury, but I’m finding it hard to entirely give up on the possibility – at the same time, who can complain about something so ordinary as having to work for money, rather than for pleasure? The problem is that other things will have to give if that’s the case – that’s probably less time for the farm, for the things we do that reduce our costs, etc…. Again, this is nothing that everyone doesn’t have to balance, but I’m still clinging to the hope we can make things work without my actually going to the lengths of hunting for a *serious job* – I work more or less full time on my writing and also on my farming, but the ability to be flexible has been so important, and losing that would be a real loss.

Time and happiness – our life is overscheduled right now, mostly in good ways and I haven’t fully been able to manage this. I haven’t kept my “three days a week” resolution as a writer – I’ve got to figure out what would make that possible for me. I find myself looking more and more towards Shabbat every week, to our sabbath that we explicitly clear upfront – time with friends and family, quiet and peace. I’ve always enjoyed it, but as we’ve been busier, it becomes like oxygen, a necessary space for all of us.

After the second week in July, we have purposely planned to stay home, on the assumption that additional children may be part of our family by then. I’m looking forward to this, too. Summer is busy, of course, with harvesting, gardening, preserving, and by July our thoughts start turning to winter, and I’m certain that two or three new kids will turn our lives to chaos. At the same time, just being at home and staying there for a while, building in time to establish a routine sounds satisfying with all the going and doing we’ve been doing.

Did I mention that I was very fortunate to have kindness and generosity coming at me from all directions? One place it has come from is my longtime internet friend MEA (who I have never met in person but hope to one of these days) also known on facebook as Alyss. I mentioned I was planning on knitting afghans for each of the beds for the new kids, and MEA offered to help and suggested others might as well. I think she rightly suspected that if left to me, the afghans might never get finished! So no pressure at all, but if you are aching for a knitting or crocheting project, and would like to make one or more 8×8 squares, we’ll sew them together at a finishing party (hopefully in MEA’s neighborhood – I’ll come down to NJ and we’ll have a bash!). If we get more than we need, we’ll donate any additional afghans to other foster kids – there are certainly plenty of them.

MEA put together a facebook group “Gleanings Knitters” to get us started, so if you’d like to join a knit/crochet-a-long please do! I sometimes get lost in the fantasy of doing everything myself – but the project of expanding our family has been a powerful revelation of how reliant I am on my community. I’ve been reliant on my community here, as many people who have been through the foster and adoptive process have opened their experience to me, and my home community. I feel very lucky that I can rely so much on my community here – thank you all.

So how has this month been for the rest of y’all?

Sharon

Anyway Project Update

admin February 7th, 2011

In all the chaos of having interrupted internet and lots of stormy weather, I never posted a January Anyway Project Update – oops, sorry! So here’s an early February one, and I’ll try and do one in late Feb. as well, because, of course, I’ll definitely be accomplishing double in this short month. Sure.

If you’d like to participate in The Anyway Project – redesigning your life to make it work better – please just join in. There are no deadlines (obviously ;-) ) and no pressures. Wondering what I’m going on about? Here’s a quick summary of The Anyway Project:

The larger idea of the Anyway Project is to make our lives work more smoothly. Most of us stand with feet in several worlds – our domestic and professional ones, our adaptations to a world with less and our day to day life in a world with too much (in some cases). Making the intersections between these spaces functional, bringing the edges together and connecting them smoothly is the center of my project.

In the service of this goal, we’re trying to sit down and figure out how things would need to work to go more smoothly and hold together better, reducing some of the chaos (and increasing other parts, the ones we like ;-) ).

My overarching goals are these:

1. Use what we have better. I find that often we’re so focused on the next project that we don’t necessarily get a firm grip on the current one. There are a host of small things awaiting my time and attention that would simply make life a lot happier if they got that time.

2. Make our daily lives adaptable to the way our present crisis is actually occurring – we have reason to worry about Eric losing his job or being furloughed, and I don’t want to have to worry about it, so we need to cut our expenses. I need to bring the farm back into profitability and find a better balance between writing and agriculture, one that serves our household optimally, since there are only so many hours in the day.

3. Make the pace of our life a bit more relaxing. I’m about to go on a three-day-per-week writing schedule so I can concentrate on other things, and am taking a couple of months off from teaching.

4. Spend more time directly with people – both local folks and in-person teaching. I love the connections I get to make with people I would never have met but for the internet, but I feel like that comes at the cost, sometimes, of time spent with the people who are nearby! I’d like to do more of my teaching here, as well.

January was a wild month – it began with the end of vacation (Eli does not like disruptions to his routine, and was heartily sick of winter break by the end), ran into my January apprentice weekend (which was wonderful!) and flowed further family visits, our first forays into the world of preparing to become foster/adoptive parents, involved a shot at a fellowship (not expecting to get it, though) and a lot of craziness, along with internet disruptions. It was a productive month, but a weird one. Or more likely, my life is just weird and this was typicalish ;-) .

Here’s the results of our adventures:

Domestic Infrastructure

We got the front room cleaned out – in the original Anyway Project plan, this was supposed to become my office and work space, so I’d finally have my own place. In the new, revised plan more focused on additional children, this room will be where the new kids will live. I need to Craigslist a set of bunk beds or other child beds, still need to put a door on the room and otherwise make the room as friendly and kid-like as possible, but it is cleared out, which is terrific. We never did get all the firewood stacked, and thus are digging it out of the snow with a shovel again. Ah well. In terms of the house cleanout, I haven’t gotten rid of as much as I’d like to (it is surprisingly hard to get rid of things at our house, since we live so far from anywhere to take them to ;-) ) but the last remaining untouched spaces are our closets (got to have somewhere to hide stuff you don’t know what to do with ;-) ), the attic and the garage. All major spaces have otherwise had some kind of at least preliminary clean and de-clutter.

Goals for the coming weeks: Get that door on, get the new kids room set up (we don’t need it for a while yet, but I’d like to have it done before the spring rush hits), which means finding some kid beds and maybe a couple of bookcases, finish cleaning my own room, begin to brave the attic.

Household Economy

I was very pleased at how well we did cutting expenses in December and January, and in general. Seed and plant order time is another money outlay season, but overall, we’re spending less and doing more with our money, which is my general goal. We still haven’t sat down and pulled together the farm budget for the year, which is the big project for the coming months.

Resource Consumption

A wave of winter storms has been excellent for gas mileage ;-) with many more reasons to stay home and not do stuff than before. Keeping the house warm for many guests upped our wood and oil consumption a little higher than I would have liked, but generally, we’ve done well. Hoping the worst of the cold is over! Our electrical usage has been nice and low, although I’m still struggling with my “work on the computer only three days a week” policy. Must work on that. Am working on plans for another outdoor masonry stove (we used to have one) to keep use of electricity for cooking to a minimum this summer.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence

After a weak start to the project, a lot has gotten done here – in part with help of friends who really want to be involved. The pastured poultry operation looks to get a big boost from a project to provide local, organic kosher meat in our community, the egg project is also getting a boost from our work with SUNY Albany to provide food scraps for the hens. A friend has offered to help support the herb nursery project, and help us build a greenhouse, and the CSA for the plant nursery will go up next week. Some seeds are germinating, the tax research is done, the goats are pregnant and life is good.

I’m doing flowers for a close friend’s son’s bar mitzvah this year, and planning to make the flowers a bigger part of my business mostly because this year will begin a wave of bar/bat mitzvahs, and i’d like to be able to offer the flowers from our farm as a gift to all of them. The good thing about cutting flowers is that they have to be cut, so I’m hoping to do some flower sales. I’m also working on selling our salad mixes with edible flowers and herbs, because no one near me is doing this, and they were a draw.

The bees are coming soon, which is Eric’s big project (I want in, but he’s so excited about them that I’m letting him take the lead) – while I work on expanding our native plants to support more varieties of birds and insects that already lived here. This is less a remunerative project than a inner-subsistence project – I just plain enjoy it. But supporting the life around us is, of course, wholly a part of sustaining ourselves.

Still plenty to do – more seed orders, much more seed starting, get the CSA material up on the website and start taking orders, and a bunch of new possibilities have opened up recently, about which I’m excited, but where I’m still thinking things through. Plenty of work to keep me busy ;-) .

Family and Community

On the family front, the big project has been the beginning of our move into foster/adoptive parenting. We begin our MAPP classes in a couple of weeks, and arranging weekly childcare for four kids, one of whom is autistic, is an exciting challenge. We have been so fortunate that family and friends have really been so generous to us – we’ve now got all but one week covered through the kindness and generosity of people we love and it is making me feel so grateful!

The boys are interested in this – particularly excited about having new kids in their lives to play with, and we’ve talked a lot about family structures and also about why sometimes families have problems that can’t be solved by themselves and that require help from their community. I’m sure this will bring plenty of challenges, but it is a good learning experience for the boys to begin both to understand the complexities of the world but also to see their family’s role in the community of families as a whole.

We’ve had some new opportunities to work with our community open up, and I’m starting to think that one of the things we can do is open up our home more – maybe host more things at our place. Being realistic, I think MAPP training may take up a lot of our “evening out” time for a while, but we’re hoping to do more hosting, starting up our pastured poultry cooperative and working with friends who run an Inn on building local supplies.

We had an open house the first weekend in January, and while the attendence wasn’t huge, it was pretty good, and we made some new friends and reignited relationships with old ones. Moreover, neighbors who couldn’t come now seem to feel good about stopping by and saying hello even if we’ve never met – the invitation opened a door. All in all, a wonderful thing. We’ll try and do another one in the warm weather, and I’d like to do a clothing swap as well! I don’t think I’ll get that done as soon as this month, but there are lots of community things swelling up.

Outside Work

Getting the fellowship application out was a big project for me this winter – even though I don’t anticipate getting it, it felt good to do the work of clarifying what my larger projects are. I failed again (third month in a row) at keeping my work schedule down to three days a week, although internet service failures did help ;-) . Trying again!

One thing I’ve been trying to do, at Aaron’s suggestion, is to ask myself, as I sort through what’s important, what I can do that other people can’t. That is, I am probably most effective when I’m doing something that other people aren’t able to do – and I have tended to get bogged down in work that I really could share with others. This can be a slippery slope, of course – in its pathological form this is the path to hyper-specialization, and back to the “I’m too important to scrub toilets” but in a benign form, it has me thinking about how i can be most effective in my work time.

Time and Happiness

My main goal here was to make more time for music with the kids, which we’ve done some of, but not perhaps enough. I find myself dancing constantly between all the things I can be doing and the fact that if I do them all, I go nuts. I do find that having my life be in better order is relaxing, but I still feel that there’s more to do in this department!

So how about you?

Sharon

Anyway Project – Update 1

Sharon December 13th, 2010

Just a note: Eric stepped on the overpriced device that allows us to have a slow and primitive but still wireless connection out here in middle-of-nowhere-land this morning. It is still working, miraculously (it doesn’t look like it should be working), but I expect to lose internet access basically at any moment. So if this blog disappears, it isn’t that I don’t care, it is that my husband is a klutz. Since I’m a much bigger klutz, and have broken even more important things over the years, I can’t really whine about it. But just FYI, I’m not sure how much internet access I’ll have until replacement device is procured.

The larger idea of the Anyway Project is to make our lives work more smoothly. Most of us stand with feet in several worlds – our domestic and professional ones, our adaptations to a world with less and our day to day life in a world with too much (in some cases). Making the intersections between these spaces functional, bringing the edges together and connecting them smoothly is the center of my project, and in that regard, I feel like the last month has been a slow beginning. I spent a lot of the last month wrapping up chaos already in progress, but now I am hopeful that the winter will allow some sustained progress.

The six weeks between late October and mid-December are hectic ones – I travelled twice, once by myself, once as a family, and soloed with the farm while Eric and the boys went to visit Grandma. We had three birthdays complete with visting family, parties, etc… Halloween, Thanksgiving and Chanukah, hosted more than 20 guests for stays varying from 1 day to a full week, I wound up my fall teaching and Eric hit the end of his term, with all the grading and etc… Starting the project November 1 was probably doomed to msotly being a wrap up, but I came in with ambitions, some of which were even accomplished.

My overarching goals are these:

1. Use what we have better. I find that often we’re so focused on the next project that we don’t necessarily get a firm grip on the current one. There are a host of small things awaiting my time and attention that would simply make life a lot happier if they got that time.

2. Make use more adaptable to the way our present crisis is actually occurring – we have reason to worry about Eric losing his job or being furloughed, and I don’t want to have to worry about it, so we need to cut our expenses. I need to bring the farm back into profitability and find a better balance between writing and agriculture, one that serves our household optimally, since there are only so many hours in the day.

3. Make the pace of our life a bit more relaxing. I’m about to go on a three-day-per-week writing schedule so I can concentrate on other things, and am taking a couple of months off from teaching.

4. Spend more time directly with people – both local folks and in-person teaching. I love the connections I get to make with people I would never have met but for the internet, but I feel like that comes at the cost, sometimes, of time spent with the people who are nearby! I’d like to do more of my teaching here, as well.

So how are we doing on this? Well, as I said, November was a bit hectic, so I didn’t complete everything I’d like to do. I’ll post both my November results and my plans for December here:

Domestic Infrastructure:

November: I got the food storage moved out of the closet and am almost finished setting it up in the guest room. It doesn’t look too bad, either. I didn’t get to the office, and the firewood is not all stacked, so that’s only 1 out of 3 – and I’m not totally done with 1.

December: Ok, stack the firewood, get the door on my future office and move in to the office. Go through the house room by room and begin cleaning out and de-cluttering. Also, do my big annual spice order – I’m out of way too many things. Given that I only have two weeks left in the month, that’s probably as much as I can accomplish.

Household Economy

November/December: We’ve been tracking expenses, but November was an atypical month, with some big projects, so I want to continue this through December, and see how much we can cut (we’re probably the only people on the planet who spend *less* in December than the rest of the year ;-) ). I have a budget set, but I have some ideas that I could cut even further, but I want to watch how this actually works for a month or two.

Resource Consumption

November: We have continued to cut our electrical usage back as intended, although our gas mileage went up because of a long planned annual visit to my Moms. We used wood extremely conservatively and have turned on the furnace only when we were away (just enough to keep the pipes from freezing) and when we had guests sleeping in the cold bedrooms. Generally, despite the early December cold spell, we’re further ahead than we usually are at this season in heating fuel.

December: Time to compensate for that trip and all the fall travel by staying home and enjoying the winter peaceful season. I expect electrical use to decline as well, as I try to stick to my new work schedule, writing only three days a week.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence:

November: This one was a total failure. I got none of my November goals done – I started the farm year plan, but failed to get my seeds for stratification in, started but didn’t finish my tax research (the boring ones are tougher ;-) ), and didn’t find out about my kitchen certification either. Bad, bad blogiste!

December: Exactly the same list as last month, plus some other business details. Blah. This is my punishment for not doing stuff ;-) . I also need to make up the farm and garden calendar, which at least is kind of fun, and order bottles for product sales. On the fun end, we also need to order our seeds, fruit trees and beekeeping equipment. Woot!

Family and Community

November: We committed to trying to do two outside events every month and work generally on strengthening community ties. We actually did this, but most of it was due to the many, many guests who visited and to previously planned events. Now I’ve actually got to do it purposefully.

December: I’m planning two fun things for the next month – first, a neighborhood open-house for New Years, and second, a winter apprentice weekend. Last year, we had 10 people come to my house for a weekend of goat milking, talking, eating, knitting, and learning about everything from woodstove cooking and maintenence to herb gardening and plant uses. I’m plotting another weekend for mid-January – I’ll announce it this week. I really love being able to meet internet folks in person!

Also on my agenda in the “family” department, Eric and I have been talking for years about the possibility of adopting more children through social services, and we’ve decided to go forward at least as far as the class and possibly the homestudy (on the theory that my house might never be clean enough to pass a homestudy again ;-) ) over the next few months. Scheduling the time commitment and childcare will be challenging, but we want to do this. I’m not sure what the longer term outcome will be, but both of us are thinking that our family might not be complete.

Outside Work:

November: I failed miserably at reducing my work schedule – but I’m ready to start again.

December: Trying that three day per week thing again. Must. Make. Workload. Fit.

Time and Happiness:

I didn’t really set goals for this in the past month, just assumed they would be a natural outcome of getting things under control. They are, I suspect, but I’d also like to make more time for music at home. So more regular music practice and singing time with the kids and husband is on my weekly agenda.

Ok, so how did you do?

Sharon

The Anyway Project: Down to Brass Tacks

Sharon November 9th, 2010

First of all, in response to reader suggestion, I’ve changed the names of the categories. People rightly felt “domestic economy” and “household economy” were too confusing, and reader Apple Jack Creek suggested we change “domestic economy” to “domestic infrastructure.” Claire also suggested that “Farm and Subsistence” was too specific to my case, and that we should just go to “Subsistence” there. I don’t think I quite agree, although I am taking the word “farm” out since not everyone has one, and replacing it with “cottage industry.” Not everyone will have a cottage economy emerge from their activities here, but I do I hope that some people will, and want a way of differentiating between purely subsistence activities and those that generate income in the form of barter, community currency or plain old money.

The new categories for the Anyway Project are:

Domestic Infrastructure - these are the realities of home life, including making your home work better with less, getting organized, dealing with domestic life, etc…

Household Economy: Financial goals, making ends meet, saving, barter etc…

Resource Consumption : in which we use less of stuff, and strive to live in a way that has an actual future.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence:: The things we do that prevent us from needing to buy things, and the things we produce that go out into the world and provide for others. Not everyone will do both, but it is worth encouraging.

Family and Community: Pretty much what it sounds like. How do we enable those to take the place of collapsing infrastructure?

Outside Work: Finding a balance, doing good work, serving the larger community as much as we can, within our need to make a living.

Time and Happiness: Those things without which there’s really no point.

So what am I trying to do in the course of November? What should you try and do in the near term? My goal is to set one or two goals in each category for each month (I’ll do this by the first each month) and go forward. Since I’m getting us started late this month, I’ll try not to overreach. Ok, that’s probably not realistic ;-) .

Domestic Infrastructure: My goals are finish moving the food storage out of the walk-in closet it has badly overflowed and into the spare guest room, where now people will have the pleasure of sleeping surrounded by jars and buckets (this, however, is one of a couple of guest rooms. I’m also moving around the space my office is in, but can’t really finish that until I get a door for said office. So my goal is to put the door on and move the furniture. Beyond that, I hope to get the firewood stacked and some of it moved into the house and get some more garden beds built before winter. That’s probably as much as I can accomplish (and maybe more). If I have time, however, I did make a list of 25 free or cheap projects I could do to improve our quality of life that I’d like to take a stab at.

Household economy: We have several times in the past tracked our expenses, but haven’t done it in a couple of years. So go back to tracking every penny we spend. I think realistically, the most I can hope for this month is to figure out where all the money goes (we know basically but I’d like a closer analysis) and make a plan for shifting our expenses starting next month.

Resource Consumption: This we’ve been tracking all along, so I pretty much know where the problems are. My goal is to drop our electrical usage by 5% over our present use, something I’m sure I can accomplish simply by staying off the computer a little more and by the normal shift to cookstove cooking away from our stove. The major problem will be our mileage – they’ve crept up with kid activities and my travel, and they aren’t immediately fixable, although they will go down after next month, since I won’t be travelling as much. So figuring out where we can cut there is the next project.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence: I need to find out if I can get an inspection that will allow me to produce small scale jams and other food from our spare apartment kitchen – there are permits for this in NY, but I am not sure if we’ll qualify. In the meantime, lots and lots of farm planning for the spring, and garden planning in general. I want to reduce our input costs and increase our outputs – some boring tax research is also required. My goal is to have a plan set out for the farm by the end of the month – a month by month schedule of what we’re producing and what I need to do to accomplish that.

Family and Community: Eric and I are committed to trying to be part of two more outside our home events every month than we had been doing – evening events are tough for us, with almost no babysitting and the fact that we’re usually really tired by the end of the day. But the fact is, human relationships happen at night, so we’re trying bring some new folks to the farm and also go out more. Oddly, this seems like the most overwhelming one – I can handle my finances or declutter my house, but when it comes to actually getting organized to do something at 8pm, I find myself struggling!

Outside Work: I have several times tried to get my outside workload down by insisting I work and check emal only 3 days a week. In principle, this seems doable. In practice, I’ve never pulled it off – but if I’m to accomplish as much as I want to, I can’t do it in front of the computer all the time. I’ve been trying to help get my ASPO commitment stabilized with more hands to do the work, and that seems like it is settling down. My biggest, perhaps most difficult to achieve goal is this – that I will work at the computer *only* on Monday mornings, and all day Tuesdays and Thursdays – and that includes everything I do online – on all other days, the computer will stay *off.* I’m hoping to pull this off by December 1 – and stick to the commitment.

Time and Happiness: I think honestly, accomplishing the above will get me both. I’ll let you know how I do.

So what are your plans and goals? You can post them here or link to your blog and we can talk about it. Let us know what you are struggling with, and what you’ve accomplished. Spread the word – get a lot of people involved. It should be fun – and we can all use a little support!

And the badges, btw, are coming!