Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Prepping and Pocketknives

Rob - who blogs at One Straw- recently posted a genius, if somewhat generalizing, thought about how to tell people who are interested in preparedness and self-sufficiency from those who are not.

"I have often thought that one could draw a loose, but fairly accurate, line through male society along the line of Those That Carry Pocket Knives and Those That Do Not. Go to any birthday party and when the stubborn ribbon hits, there is always one or two people there that quickly reach into their pocket to produce a small tool to do the job."

I grew up around men who carried pocketknives, almost to a person. It seems like a silly little thing to make note of, but it really is indicative of a broader mindset - when push comes to shove, I'll try to do things for myself. I always carry a small folding pocket knife and a leatherman-type tool. I think it's also indicative of the mindset of young people raised in a dependent, frightened, urban environment that most of my students express fear or anxiety when I get my knife out to use it for something. In most of their eyes, a knife is a dangerous thing, and the only reason that someone would have one on them is to do bad things. I hope to raise my kids to understand how to properly use and appreciate tools, and to have an "I'll do it for myself" attitude. In short, I want them to be pocketknife carriers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

132 pages of Spring

Last year' Baker Creek Seed Book

Winter kicked into high gear this past weekend here in St.Louis. On Saturday night, a cold front came through that dropped a couple inches of powdery snow and frigid temperatures on us. The high today was 19 degrees, with a low of 3 degrees! For the next 7 days, the high temperatures aren't expected to get above freezing. While this may not impress anyone from the mountain states or the great white north, it feels pretty damn cold to this Missouri native. Not unseasonably so, mind you. We seem to get a couple of these cold snaps a winter, although they usually don't show up until January or February. Never the less, everything is pretty frozen around here. The heat lamp in das Cluck Haus went on yesterday, and the girls got some extra straw to help keep them warm.

In spite of the cold, however, it feels pretty sunny in the house right now. Today I got the 2011 seed catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I order pretty much all of my seeds online, but there's something about holding an actual magazine in your hands that's nice. It reminds me of looking at old Burpee catalogs at my Grandma Lorenz's house as a kid. The Baker Creek seed book trumps anything Grandma ever had though. It's large formatted, square bound, and chock full of big, beautiful pictures of a bazillion different kids of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs. It's like a coffee table book. And the kicker is, they send one to you for FREE. In a day when most places will charge you $5 or more for a raggedy black&white catalog on newsprint paper, Baker Creek gives away something that you might buy at a bookstore. Go to their website and look around. Then request one of their catalogs. I guarantee it'll take the edge off of winter's cold when it shows up in the mail.

Jere, Sasha, and Emilee Gettle, and the single ugliest outfit ever worn in human history

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Butchering Day 2010

Last year on the day after Thanksgiving, my family revived a tradition that I remembered from my childhood: A family hog butchering. We hadn't done one in 20+ years, and it was a ton of fun. I was happy earlier this year when my dad talked about making plans to butcher again this year. We butchered 4 hogs this year instead of 3. It made for a full 1 1/2 days of work, even though we had a local processor kill and gut them for us. In spite of all that had to be done, it didn't feel like hard work, and it certainly wasn't drudgery. Instead, it was a day of telling jokes and old stories, giving each other a hard time, and doing meaningful work together. Und viel Deutsch gesprochen wurde. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy. Friday lasted from 6:30am to 9:30pm. By 10pm, we were tired. But it was gratifying to know what we had accomplished.

This year's work netted us the following: 8 hams, 8 huge slabs of bacon, 60 lbs of pork steaks, a tub of pork chops, 4 big packs of tenderloin, 175 lbs of pork sausage, a few ham shank roasts, 9 sticks of liverwurst, about 100 lbs of gritswurst, and 4 1/2 gallons of snow white lard. Not too shabby, if you ask me.

Herrick Kimball's awesome blog, The Deliberate Agrarian, had a bit about a webpage for the Virtz family who held an annual hog butchering. Mr.Kimball noted that all of the photos appeared to be circa the 70's or early 80's, and also that there were virtually no boys in the pictures, only grown men. When he contacted the family to see if they still butchered, they said that they hadn't done so since 1998. If the younger generation isn't taught how to do things and made a part of family traditions, then those traditions will die with the last people who learned them as children. I mentioned last year that I hoped this would become a regular event with my family. If we keep this up, instead of saying "I remember back when I was a kid..." my children will be able to say, "Butchering? We've done this ever since I was a kid..."

My mother wasn't her usual shutterbug self this year, so unfortunately there aren't the plethora of pictures like last time. I'll leave you with a picture of this morning's breakfast: 'Burbstead eggs, homemade bread with my brother's apple butter, and fresh gritswurst. Delicious!