Archive for August 28th, 2008

10 Tips For Helping Kids Adapt In Place

Sharon August 28th, 2008

I know all of us with kids or grandkids are deeply worried about their future.  We want to help them have a good one - and it is tough to realize that sometimes the way we can give them the best possible future isn’t by insulating them (although doing some of that is good too) but by helping them adapt to the world they’ll be living in ahead of time.  This is a big topic, and one that I can’t do more than brush against today, but here are the things I think might be the most important stuff we can do for our kids (and here I refer to the young ones, not grownup ones, who have different issues).

1. BE THE GROWNUP.  This sucks.  I hate it a lot of the time.  Every parent knows the feeling of wanting not to be the responsible one, not to have to deal, and suck up their pain and frustration and fear.  Tough.  This is the Mom and Dad (and Grandpa and Grandma) job - to bear the brunt of things, to do the hard stuff so the kids don’t have to suffer, to not make your kids parent you or deal with your emotional inadequacies any more than strictly necessary.  This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, noble or never feel anything, or never cry in front of them - it just means you don’t indulge yourself at their  expense. It just means that except when you just can’t (and those moments can’t be too often) you can’t ask your kids to take care of you - it isn’t their job.  And if you are scared, they are too. If you are sad they either are sad or scared because you are sad.  Your ability to control yourself and be a grownup even when you don’t want to, to say “I’m sad, and sometimes I cry, but now we’re going to go forward” makes a big difference.  

This is a hot button subject for me, because I think honestly a lot of our present problems can be summed up as “no one was willing to be the grownup” - that is, no one thought much about the future, and now the future is fairly fucked up.  It is time for all of us who are grownups, whether we have kids or not, to act like we care about the future, and to be the grownup, not just when it is convenient but all the time.  We will probably not enjoy this, but who cares?  That is, we have to live our lives asking “does this hurt the ability of future people to live and have a decent life?”  And if the answer is yes, then no matter how many good excuses we have, we shouldn’t be doing it. 

I have no doubt that someday the four of my kids will write an expose of “advice my Mom gave online and didn’t always live up to.”  I suspect it will be a long and vibrant essay ;-) .  I don’t always find it easy to be the grownup, which is why I suspect it isn’t easy for most other people (although I shouldn’t assume most of y’all aren’t better folks than me).  But this is, I think, the first and most important job of preparing children for the future - letting them model real adulthood.  And the models they’ve got are us - so we’ve got to do better.  I’m hoping my kids won’t be able to say I screwed this one up too bad when the time comes - I’m trying.

2. Involve your kids - in a kid appropriate way.  There is no need for children to know all the bad news, or your worst fears about the future.  Sometimes, with teenagers, this may be appropriate, but I don’t think younger kids need to be scared by things they can’t fully understand.  But the choice is not “do I wait until they are 15 and spring Peak Oil and climate change on them” or “do I start them reading Savinar at three ;-) ”  Most of my readers are probably already doing this, but some may wonder how to get started. 

Obviously, you can bring them into the garden, you can bring them into the kitchen, give them chores helping you with your home economy, get them to help in your home business, teach them about ecology and environmental issues.  I hope all of us are doing these things, at age appropriate levels.  And there’s more -  one of the things we tend to think in our society is that children should not work - I think this is absolutely wrong. I believe children, like adults, need good work. It goes without saying that young children should work appropriately and have lots of time for learning and play, but children not only can work, they should.  What they should not do is have to do the kind of work that drives adults to despair - that is, they need good work, and to understand why their work matters.  They should get pride in being able to help their household, and know that their accomplishments matter, not in a fake self-esteem sense, but in a serious way.  They deserve, to the extent they are able, to earn respect and serious attention for their work, and if they work with you, once they are old enough, they should have a say in how things are done, and a share in the rewards.

3. Respect what matters to them.  I know it feels like you are trying to save their lives, and they are worried about how crazy it looks that you are storing all this food, or doing some other weird thing.  But that matters as much to them as your concerns matter to you.  Try and be respectful.  Sometimes the needs of kids simply have to be subsumed to family priorities, or their needs/wants aren’t good for them.  But sometimes they need to know that they count, and that you care about how they feel.  So maybe it makes sense to do your shopping only at the store where your neighbor’s son doesn’t bag groceries, or to stockpile lip gloss and zit cream for the apocalypse.  Just because you don’t consider it essential doesn’t mean they don’t - and let’s be honest, you have a few things in there that might not totally be essential too ;-) .

 4. Without taking everything away, make their new normal ahead of time.  This is tough - on the one hand, we want our kids to be regular kids, we don’t want our preoccupations to affect them, and since we know all this abundant cheap energy probably isn’t forever, we may want to do a lot of special things now.  That’s not bad or unreasonable.  But your kids will probably do best if they keep their lives generally about the same as the lives they lived before whatever happens occurs.

That means that most of the time, you should probably model the life you expect to live, with a balance of some things you want them to have that they won’t later.  Too much of the latter, and the new life is a huge deprivation.  Too much of the former, and the child realizes your family is insane ;-) a bit too early, plus, you end up with losses you don’t have to have. 

Everyone’s family is going to be different - but it helps if your routines and sense of what is normal is fairly adaptable - that is, it is tough to replace the “Christmas at Disneyland” routine in a post-peak world - you just have to lose that one.  But “We all stay up late and decorate the tree at midnight on Christmas eve, and then open presents” can work whether you decorate with electric lights and tinsel or just your old ornaments, and whether the presents are purchased or handmade.  The more susceptible to adaptation, the better.

5. Kids need the people in their lives.  I grew up in a family my parents did a remarkable job of essentially creating joint custody long before it was widespread, but where in relationship to other extended family, the issues adults had with other adults in the family frequently intruded into the relationships kids had with those other adults.  That latter is not something I approve of, except in the case of genuine danger to a child.  That is, I think kids who are related to people by biology or long connection, have a right to those connections being maintained and kept up.  The kids have a relationship that can and should be seperate from the relationships the parents have with each other or other adults in their lives.  They shouldn’t have to lose people because the grownups can’t get along.  This goes for divorce (and yes, I know some exes are assholes, and sometimes the courts choose badly and sometimes there is no good choice) as well as larger extended families.  That is, what your kids may have going into this is their parents and the other people who love them.  Don’t take those people away lightly.

I realize that sometimes this is unavoidable - parents have to move, people really can’t find a good compromise.  But in a lower energy world, being far away from people you love is going to be a much bigger thing - divorced parents living across the country from one another who could afford to fly back and forth, or moving for that new job and uprooting the kids from friends and Grandma mean taking away from your kids one of the primary sources of comfort, security, even long term health and safety that they will have.  Don’t do it lightly. If you are divorced or divorcing, please try and stay near one another, and as difficult as it is, play nice.  And if you can, get along with your relatives - because your annoying, intolerable FIL may be their beloved Grandfather, and there are enough losses coming - try not to make more for them. 

6. Be prepared to educate your children.  I was struck by Dmitry Orlov’s observation that in a crisis, education isn’t less important, it is more.  Because you may end up digging ditches, but a person who also knows poetry or music and has a head full of ideas can live in their minds while their bodies work.  One of the most common misconceptions, I think is that the future means that we should concentrate only on professional, manual or technical education, and that every other kind of education is fundamentally useless.

 I think this isn’t true at all - it is true that certain kinds technical degrees may still result in a high paying job when everyone else is poor, and it is true that people will need a career.  But they also need critical thinking skills, a relationship to the world of art, literature and music, ethical and moral principles, good reasoning skills, a deep knowledge of history, religious training for them that want it,  the ability to understand what the world looks like from other perspectives, the ability to understand other languages.  Now it is true that college is probably too expensive a way for most kids to do this - I honestly don’t think that even if you can get student loans, I’d recommend putting a kid into college to get a degree and come out with tens of thousands in loans - period.  But you don’t have to go to college to learn these things - there will be plenty of unemployed people who know about them, and books are cheap now - you can stock up.

Education as it is practiced in the US is very energy intensive, and likely to get less so.  Many of our kids may need to be educated at home, or in neighborhood cooperatives, may need to find substitutes for college or high school.  And while it is important that they learn the manual and technical skills many of us lacked, they will also grow up gardening and cooking and fixing things - so their needs may be for art and astronomy, poetry and history and the life of the mind that they can practice while they weed and build and hammer.

7. Let them be in charge sometimes.  Turn some of the responsibility over to your kids - when they are young, they can help decide what goes in the emergency kits, or whether to make ketchup or salsa with the tomatoes.  When they get older, give them more responsibility as they prove they can handle it.  Let teenagers be in charge of the bulk order, or even the family budget if they have the relevant abilities.  And when you let them be in charge, let them be.  Let them make mistakes, but not life threatening ones.  Treat them with respect, and when they make a mistake, let them fix it. 

Also, if you want them to stay on a piece of land or in a particular place near you, help them see a future there.  That is, they aren’t going to want to live their lives as your assistant farmer forever - make it clear that you will cede control. Help them start small businesses of their own, and grow them.  Help them go forward, but also let them have their own territory, their own responsibilities and do things in their own realm as they see fit.  If they have dreams you think aren’t feasible, well, help them get there anyway - but also insist that they have practical back-up plans.

8. Enter the pass-down economy now.  In most poor societies, what children inherit is what their family collectively owns, and the improvements and investments that their parents and previous generations have put into something.   They can’t afford to buy land - what land they have access to comes from the stewardship of previous generations.

It is disheartening in some ways to realize that what may most define our children’s future is what we can pass down to them - particularly when what we have is a bunch of debts and a lot of plastic.  So it makes sense to shift into the pass-down economy sooner, rather than later.  That means buying things that are of good quality, trying to keep your life unencumbered, and caring for what we do have of value, so it can serve future generations.

It also means our relationship to our children should be about passing on our values - not what we say we value, but what we really and honestly do care most about - and the way to do this is to live our lives according to what we believe.

9. Have fun with your kids.  I’m not suggesting you should be their friend all the time - discipline is important, and being at the center of your parents’ world is a little too scary for kids.  But joy and fun and play are important for kids even more than grownups (and they are awfully important for grownups as well).  So make sure you allow time for fun - if not the kind of fun you were accustomed to, the kind that doesn’t cost money. 

Moreover, *be fun* with your kids - don’t let your fear or anxiety take away the pleasures of laughing with them, or dreaming about the future, or just being with them.  It is reasonable to be worried - but not to let it overwhelm your life now, and it isn’t fair to your kids.

Keep festivals and rituals in place, take time off even when times are hard, make jokes even when things don’t seem funny.  Do it even when they think the rituals are stupid and your jokes suck. 

10. Help them up when they fall down.  Let them fall, sometimes, either because they need to or you can’t stop them, but be there on the other end.   Even in good times they are going to fall. In hard times, they may fall harder and longer.  There may not be as many safety nets.  You can’t protect them from everything, and sometimes you shouldn’t.  But with exception of the occasional addict, what you should do is be there when they fall down, every time from those first steps to the first arrest (which ideally you’ll get to skip entirely, or it’ll be the good kind of arrested ;-) ).  Yes, it teaches them that you’ll be there to save them.  And for some small percentage of children, that’s a bad message, that says they don’t have to be responsible.

But for most kids, I think that helping them up, and maybe resisting the temptation to tell them what an ass they’ve been, lets the stupid thing be the lesson itself.  That is, all the lessons don’t have to come from you.  All the judgement doesn’t have to come from you.  At some point, we can take our hands off and let them know that they have to do their own judging.  That, I think is that growing up thing we’re supposed to want them to do.  And then maybe we’ll have some more people being the grownups to work on the future with.


Ain't It Funny How the Money Makes the Honey Taste Like Nothing? Financial Planning for Tough Times

Sharon August 28th, 2008

 Betcha giving head to a movie star betcha gotta llama riding in
Your car betcha u gotta tv built in your jet skis, betcha giving
Head to a movie star betcha gotta llama riding in your car
Betcha u gotta tv built in your jet skis.
Hidee high, lowdy low, get up and go to the show.

Ain’t it funny how the money makes the honey taste like nothing
You can’t have no more? How we know. Ain’t it funny how the
Money makes the honey taste like nothing you can’t have no
More? Now we know. Ain’t it funny how the money makes to
Honey taste just like nothing - people act like they have but
They’re bluffing now we know that it don’t mean nothing. 
- Macy Gray “It Ain’t the Money”

Ok, time to talk finances.  I have to say, just as security wasn’t my favorite topic, neither is “what you should do with your 401K” - because while I’m a generalist, rather than a specialist, I feel that I’m especially general on this subject, because the exact parameters of the future are pretty hard to parse.  I don’t want to be responsible for someone liquidating their retirement funds and cursing my name later, so please take what I say with several large grains of salt.

At the moment we experiencing steady price increases for things we need, like food and energy, but overall deflation - that is, the overall money supply is contracting rapidly, as is the availability of credit both at the personal level and at the corporate one. That means, from the looks of things, we are headed into a Depression, rather than a period of, say, hyper-inflation.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t technically possible that things could shift, but the present trends suggest that our real incomes and access to money is shrinking, while our basic costs are going up. 

Because of this, we seem to be headed into a period where money is hard to come by. That means that debt is potentially a much bigger deal than it is in a period where credit is easy to come by and you can always borrow off your mastercard to pay your student loans, or refi your home, or even just get another job.  Not enough jobs, pay cuts, no credit - these mean tough, tough times for the indebted, and of course, that number is rising rapidly.  Most Americans can’t live within their salaries - and since their inflation adjusted income is shrinking, that makes sense.

So the first advice is “get out of debt.”  But that’s one of those “duh” things - yes, you know this.  And presumably you would if you could - or you’ve been playing the odds that one more month on the credit card bill won’t really hurt - or you don’t have much choice but to use the card to cover that broken arm and to buy groceries.  But if you can, get out of debt.

What if you can’t before the axe falls?  Well, next you have to decide whether to negotiate directly with those you are indebted to, declare bankruptcy, or walk away from your debt.  Those are pretty much the choices.

If you have one major debt that you can’t handle - say, medical bills, the best bet is probably negotiating repayment if there’s any chance of it, because this option won’t hurt your credit or your ability to get jobs that depend on good credit (lots of employers, especially federal and state ones check your credit history, and academic jobs may depend on the ability to get an official transcript, which is tough (but not totally impossible in some cases) to do if you are in default on student loans).  It will also save you wage garnishment and loss of your economic stimulus package.

You can declare bankruptcy, but this will not get you cleared out quickly - student loans and child support are almost never included, and you will certainly have to repay some of your debts under new bankruptcy laws.  It costs money and it leaves your credit trashed.  The good thing is that in 5-7 years, you should have credit again (assuming there is any).

 The third choice is to dump your debt.  This means that anything you may have that you default on will be repo’d - but that may not matter much if you’d lose it anyway during  a bankruptcy.  This actually might be a better option for people wanting to keep their home - if you can keep in payment with your mortgage, and live with the fact that it will be a long time, if ever, before you can get another one, you can probably give back the car and any other big ticket payment options, turn off the phone to avoid the credit card people, and accept that you’ll never get that federal job (they can’t repo your education) and just accept the price.  This is not an easy option, but I suspect it will be the dominant model in the future.  Someone is going to get screwed because of the mass extension of credit, and it would be a nice change to see it be the credit companies, not the average person.

Ok, what if you have money, not debts?  This is good, no?

Well, yes.  But what should you do with it?  How to preserve your retirement funds?  How to preserve your kids’ college savings?

Honestly, I think the most certain bet would be to stop looking at your money as the only means to a particular end, and concentrate on the end itself - that is, if you are saving money so you are not hungry, cold and lonely in your old age, perhaps you might put some of that money into a house for your kids who can’t afford one right now - perhaps one very near yourself, and maybe help setting them up in a peak-suitable local business, that can help support you in your old age.  Or maybe pay off your house, invite others without a house to live in it, and trade them help as you need it.  These are risky choices, of course, but so is leaving your money in your 401K.

If you want an educated child, perhaps the best option would be to add to her college fund a budget for lots of books, and a chance to build relationships with local college professors or knowledgeable people she might apprentice to.  That way, she gets an education even if she can’t go to college.  I’m not honestly sure, that unless you have the money to spend without loans, that I recommend college right now for most kids - the choice to go and come out encumbered with tens of thousands in debt is simply too dangerous.  Education can be had a lot of ways.

I think that gold and silver are probably overvalued right now, and that they will come down, so I don’t know that I think people should buy them.  I do think that investments in oil wildcatting, alcohol, prescription sedatives and escapist videos probably will do well in the coming years, if the stockmarket is your sort of thing.

Otherwise, I think that putting money in things that are likely to cost more later, or have value (not necessarily the same value) in the long term is probably wise.  For example, I think that food producing land will continue to have value (not necessarily the same as now) if you can buy it outright.  So will investments in local businesses, food, local energy production, and investments in sale or barter goods/equipment for your future business.

 Will state sources of income keep being there?  My bet is yes on Social security, probably for quite a while. I could see there being age caps, and payment eventually coming in effective scrip, but the political consequences of not paying Social Security to the boomers would be great (don’t bet on it if you are under 50).  Disability is also probably safe for some time, with the same caveats.  But anything socially unpopular like welfare - well, it depends on the political realities, and how many people are actually starving. 

Ok, that’s my take - what’s yours?


Frivolities and the Apocalypse

Sharon August 28th, 2008

I knew it would happen.  I’m just about at the fourth anniversary of this blog, and for the first time ever, I posted two (of more than 400) posts about security and weapons, and I got three seperate emails telling me that they were never going to read me again because I’d turned into a Rambo (Ramba?) type.   Can you wonder I wasn’t looking forward to Tuesday’s posts?

 I also know I still haven’t done this week’s Post-Apocalyptic novel post.  I’ll try and get it up tonight, if not, tomorrow morning.  We’re discombobulated here with the harvest, Eric’s semester started up and the book release and its publicity thingies hitting all at once.   If you are around Salt Lake City, I’ll be on KUER 90.1 between 1 and 2 EST (is that 12-1 or 11-12 in SLC?) today talking about Victory Gardens.  There will be a bunch of other radio interviews coming up as well - maybe I’ll make a sidebar section for them.

Ok, I feel like after Tuesday, we need something much lighter.  So I thought I’d ask what you and your family members might need to store/plan for to be happy if things get messy?  And for this, I’m asking you to be lighthearted about this - nothing about how all you need is your honey (I have a pretty sensitive vomit response ;-) ) or really serious “Well, I’d die without my heart medication.”  I’m talking about little stuff that you don’t want to give up.

Here’s my list, done in the spirit of lightheartedness and far too much information about me.  I probably don’t need to be able to make these things myself or have a stock, but who knows if I’ll have the money for them:

1. Tea - I have a lot of substitutes, and grow betony, mints, bee balm, lemon verbena, etc…  but I want my real, actual, tea, dammit.  So I buy it in large quantities and keep it in the freezer in mylar bags.  Next year, I’m getting a camellia bush.

2. Peanut butter - my kids love it, I love it, my husband loves it.  If I mix it with chocolate, I can make a pretty good impression of my favorite candy bar.  I do grow a few peanuts here, but they don’t really like our soil or temperatures that much.  When we run out of peanut butter, I’m probably going to sit around and whine a lot.

3. Apples - These are my oldest’s comfort food - that and popsicles, which I can’t see any good way to keep coming.  We’ve got lots of trees, and we store bushels of them, but should plant more trees.

4. Beer.  Me, I’d rather drink wine - I like beer fine, just not as much as DH.  Our first brewing experiments were pretty good, and I’ve got a plot of barley planned for next year as well as some hops.

5. Books - have I mentioned the thousands in our house?  I can deal with anything if I can retreat into a novel now and again.  Oh, and if I really ran out of new content, I suppose I could write some ;-) .

6. Batteries and a solar charger.  I will leave to your imagination why Eric and I need these ;-) .  Partly it is to keep the CD players going, since my husband literally cannot live without music.  Partly.

7. Vanilla beans - I can actually do fine without chocolate and if you really push me, I can make do without lemons (sumac isn’t a bad substitute, but I do have a couple of citrus trees in pots), but don’t take my vanilla beans away.  I suppose I could try growing a vanilla orchid in my house, but I have a lot of these stashed away in a little bag in the freezer, more in a jar with vodka over them and some buried in sugar.

Going through the rest of the household, I think Eric will be ok as long as he has the occasional beer and a friendly wife - although he’d probably do even better if I picked up 10 jars of nutella, and he’d really like a set of steel drums (Craigslist?). Eli likes soda, which we generally don’t allow, but which we do know how to make - must up the wine yeast for birthday treats.   Simon likes mustard on everything, all the kids like sugar (duh) -which we’ve got.  Isaiah loves olives and nuts and Asher, among whose first words were “smoked gouda” is really into cheese.  So must store more olives, plant more nut trees, buy more mustard seeds and store more vegetarian rennet.  Oh, and get some more goats or a cow or something ;-) .

 How about you?