Independence Days

I’m back: A quick review of the past few years

2848799530_393821c521_o

I’ve been reading back over some of my old posts recently and have really enjoyed hearing from ‘my younger self’. Life has been busy these last few years and unfortunately I haven’t had the time or inclination to blog. We started a family nearly two years ago, with the arrival of our son Caelym. Between full-time work and raising a small human, I haven’t had the brain space for much else and I feel like I’ve lost a lot of the ‘old me’. I’ve been sucked back into the system, but now I really want to change that and reconnect with some of those values that were really important to me 3-4 years ago.

In January 2010 I wrote a post on Self sufficiency, independence and lifestyle planning  in which outlined new ways to be more self-reliant by making improvements to my level of self-sufficiency and decreasing my dependence on the system. In October 2010 I updated my goals in a post on Self-Sufficiency and Resilience – Plans upon Returning to Australia. Reading back over these posts has been illuminating. In some cases I have made great progress against my goals, in other instances I’ve gone backwards.

Let’s have a look.

1. Getting off the Economic Grid

I’m really happy with the progress we have made against this goal. The mortgages have been paid off since 2010 and we’ve since put our effort into saving as much cash as we can. We’ve been mostly living on one income since the arrival of our littlest human, but we are still pretty happy with what we’ve managed to achieve. We sometimes second guess our decision to hold our savings in cash, because the interest rates are quite low and we’ve been programmed all our life to buy shares or houses as the way to wealth. However, we still believe there is a large downside risks with shares and property, so for now cash is king for us.

Brendan has officially exited the rat race. He now shares his time between the most important job in the world (raising a good human aka Caelym), working on a couple of alternate income streams and adding to his skill set. That’s one of us who has escaped. Now we just need to work on a plan for me too, but for the moment I’ll continue to use my job to build up our cash buffer.

2. Reducing Energy Dependence

We are so happy with the decision we’ve made to rent a detached townhouse just a 15 minute walk to the city centre. We can walk to shops and cafes and rarely need to get in the car which means we can do without a second vehicle. My daily commute to work is about 4km each way and although I had grand plans to commute by bicycle, the extreme cold for six months of the year has been a big barrier for me. I mostly use the car, but am trying to use the bus more. We’ve recently bought a bike seat for Caelym, so now Brendan can venture further afield during the day, rather than just relying on walking.

Our home is centrally heated with natural gas, but we do find that heating expenses are the largest energy expense we have. Our house seems to leak hot air and we need to do a better job of sealing it. Our first winter in the house we kept the thermostat at 15 degrees and just put on more clothes, but with a baby in the house we’ve had to increase the internal temperature to 18 degrees. It’s amazing how much those extra three degrees costs each year.

3. Improving Food and Water Security

I must admit, I’m not as happy with our progress on this goal. We do have a compost pile and a small vegetable and fruit patch in our courtyard, but we are yet to master winter crops. It is certainly a lot more difficult to grow food here than in was in California. Although the garden hasn’t been hugely productive, I do love that Caelym gets to see food grow and ripen. He loves to pick and eat strawberries (our most successful crop) straight from the plant and waits patiently for the strawberries to ripen. Most of the time we beat the local possums to the fruit. Now that we have a bit more time on our hands we want to try harder to grow something through winter this year.

We’ve also become very slack when it comes to stockpiling some food and water for emergencies. There are few natural disasters likely to impact us here so we haven’t been as conscientious about our preparedness plans. This might be something we need to revisit.

4. Building Community

Again, I don’t feel like we’ve done as well on this goal. For various reasons, we’ve actually found ourselves quite isolated for the first 18 months of Caelym’s life. I feel like we are coming out of that now and we do know a lot of our neighbours and have some friends that we catch up with on occasion.  We don’t really get involved in the community very often but we do feel the desire to find ways to start living a bit more closely to our values.

Now that I’ve had a look back at the goals I had set myself in 2010, I really feel the desire to start mapping out the next few years. We have reached a significant milestone in terms of our economic independence and we need to work out what’s next. More to come I’m sure.

If you are still reading, please leave a comment. I’d love to know if anyone is still out there 🙂

Photo by: Jef Safi

 

Independence Days: Camping With the Coyotes

This weekend Brendan, Zoe dog and I went backcountry camping up in the mountains with some of Brendan’s climbing buddies. We found a fabulous little clearing surrounded by boulders and pine trees and enjoyed being outdoors for the weekend. Brendan enjoyed some climbing and Zoe and I hiked in with them one day to watch and then spent the next morning back at camp where I read and Zoe kept an eye out for squirrels. It was quite cold at night and even with two layers of thermals, a polarfleece jacket and two sleeping bags, I was still cold. I think it’s about time I invest in a good cold weather sleeping bag. Despite the cold it was lovely sleeping out in the wild. We were awoken a couple of times through the night by the howling of wild coyotes. You don’t get that in the city.

On our hike from the climbing area to where we would set up camp for the night, we lost one of our party members. She ducked off to attend to the ‘call of nature’ and then we didn’t see her again. We backtracked to where we last saw her. After 20 minutes with no sign of her, we decided to head back to where the cars were parked, assuming she would make her way back to them. Unfortunately there was still no sign of her back there so we started getting worried, imagining that she had either been attacked by a bear, tripped and hit her head or been bitten by a deadly snake. As it was already dusk we decided to split up and go in search of her and meet back before dark. I waited at the meeting spot in case she found her way back while the guys headed off in different directions. Finally, just before dark descended completely she arrived back at the meeting spot in an unfamiliar car. All was well. She had just got turned around while out in the bush and ended up walking in the wrong direction. Luckily she eventually came across a dirt road which by chance some friendly climbers were driving along. I can’t imagine how many ways this could have ended badly.

This experience certainly made me think about a few things. What if she hadn’t found a road and come across someone to bring her back?  By the time we were hiking back to camp I was out of water. I hadn’t kept any aside because it was a reasonably easy trip back. Was she in the same situation? Did she have any water left? Also, it got down to near freezing during the night. Would she have tried to find somewhere sheltered to stay the night, or tried to keep walking in the dark? It just goes to show that even a seemingly innocuous outing could turn into a survival situation very easily.

Preparedness

  • In light of this little adventure, I think I need to read up on some basic survival skills. I’ve taken these skills for granted because I learned that stuff in military training years back, but a refresher is well overdue I think.
  • It was also good to see what sort of ‘stuff’ we needed with us for just one weekend of self-sufficiency. Shelter, water, food and hygiene all had to be considered given that we were nowhere near shops or even toilets. Water was interesting. We brought in our own but if we had got stuck there we would have had to find some more. The only water I saw was a muddy puddle so having a method of water purification is really important.
  • Our backcountry camping kit closely resembles our Short-Term Emergency Preparedness Kit, so you can check out that list if you need some ideas.

Reduce Energy Dependence

  • Having a small solar charging device was really handy to have to recharge batteries for headlamps or cell phones. You can get some really small and light devices which can easily be packed on a trip like this. It’s also included in our Short-Term Emergency Preparedness Kit.

Photo by: Vork 22

Independence Days: Refinding my Vision

This weekend I reconnected with my vision of voluntary simplicity, self sufficiency, sustainability and independence. I had been feeling a bit down about all the gloomy things going on in the world, but a healthy dose of vision and action always seems to help.

On Saturday I spent quite a lot of time in the garden: Taking out the last of the cool season crop, spreading the compost we’ve been ‘cooking’ for the last few months and mulching garden beds in preparation for planting of our warm season crops. There is something so satisfying about hard work and getting dirty when you know the outcome is going to be food to feed your family.

On Sunday, Brendan, Zoe dog and I headed up to the mountains for a morning of hiking. I just love it up there and even though it was a hot day, there was a cool breeze blowing and we could get some respite in the shade of the pine trees surrounding the meadow. Spring is in full bloom up there at the moment. I thought the flowers must have been done for the year, but I guess they come later at altitude. The meadow had seen snow this year, and it was the greenest I’d ever seen it. The wildflowers were swaying in the breeze and the insects and birdlife were humming with activity. We let Zoe off to splash in the shallows of the lake and saw that it was teeming with tadpole life. Most of them had their two hind legs already so in a few more weeks there are going to be thousands of new frogs up there. We stopped in a shady spot overlooking the lake and enjoyed the peace and quiet. It was just such a fantastic morning and I don’t know why we’ve left it so long since we last visited.

Even though I know this already, I’ve re-realised that it’s unlikely that our society is going to avoid some sort of collapse. I’m resigned to the fact that we just have to let it go and rebuild something better. There are weeks when I mourn the loss and get angry about our society’s lack of foresight. However, I hope I’m now back into the acceptance phase and once again moving into action . 

I’ve been reading more about building resilient communities and am excited at some of the ideas floating around in cyberspace. We need to concentrate on energy independence, food security and thriving local economies. I’m still brewing some ideas in my mind which we (Brendan and I) might be able to act upon in the next few years, but in the meantime, I can focus on my own plan for Self Sufficiency and Independence.

Getting off the economic grid

  • Even though my debt is now paid off, we are still living frugally and are focussed on saving as much money as we can for tangible assets. We are buying items in the US which we know are going to be more expensive in Australia. When we get back home we have to make all our big purchases, such as a car and appliances so we are focussing on those aspects of our financial plan at the moment.
  • Brendan has been doing some really interesting stuff with this renewable energy start-up. They submitted their first proposal last week with Brendan’s design and it sounds like it might be going ahead. Exciting times.

Stockpiling Food

  • We are tapering off our stockpile of food in preparation for moving back to Australia later this year. Having said that, I’ve been pickling beets this last week. They are so delicious in salads on warm summer days.

Grow some food

  • We have one garden bed already planted with a riot of food. I say riot becuase I’ve planted with no plan other that to abide by companion planting techniques. So, in garden bed #1 we have beets, garlic, onions, leek and a couple of new tomato plants.
  • I spent Saturday preparing our other two beds for planting, by adding compost, mulch and plenty of water. We don’t till the soil after removing the crops. We just add compost and mulch as layers on top of the soil. If a plant’s root structure is big and deep, I leave it intact. I simply cut the top off the plant at soil level and lets the roots decay in place. This adds nutrients deep in the soil and aerates the soil when the roots decay to nothing.

Reduce Energy Dependence

  • I’m back on the bike and riding to and from work. I stopped over the summer when roadwork made the trip dangerous and then we had a wet start to the year. All those excuses are gone now so I’m back on the bike. I actually find that with the traffic as it is, it’s quicker to ride home than it is to drive. Also, now that the roadwork is done, there is a brand new bike lane that goes most of the way to work. It feels so much safer and I’ve seen more people riding this year than during the last couple of years. 

Photo by: Nicholas T

Independence Days: We are moving back to Australia in 2011

It’s been a busy month as you can probably tell by my sporadic posting lately. The good news is that I think I’m over the worst of it.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this month completing an application and preparing for an interview for a new job next year. The good news is….I got the job! We’ll be moving back to Canberra, Australia in early 2011. Prior to learning about this job opportunity, I was really struggling to feel motivated about going back to work in Australia. My mindset has totally changed in the 2 1/2 years since I left and I couldn’t imagine what work I would find stimulating, challenging and rewarding. I think this job might just work out for me. It’s in a new program created recently to undertake reform in my organisation. Everything about the way we do business is open to change and I’ll be a part of the team making that happen.

I have also been working on a paper for the last couple of months which I hope will convince senior management that we need to prepare for a future where energy is scarce and expensive. My new job will be inside the program that will consider such things. I hope that will get me some leverage to make the required changes. I guess only time will tell.

Anyway, I now feel a little more settled knowing what I’ll be doing next year. Now we can just enjoy our last seven months here in the USA.

Now that life is getting back to normal, I want to start refocussing on my  plan for Self Sufficiency and Independence.

Preparedness

  • My goal of getting back in shape was unfortunately put on the back-burner these last few months. Time to make it a high priority again. I do not want to come back to Australia with all those extra pounds gained in America.

Getting off the economic grid

  • When we get back to Australia, we are going to have to set our lives back up. That means furniture and white-goods for the house, and a car purchase. This is a great opportunity for us to set ourselves up for more self-sufficient and sustainable living. We’ll be researching low-energy appliances and a fuel efficient vehicle. At the moment I’m leaning towards a diesel car, but I’m also thinking about something that runs on natural gas since Australia has a lot of that. Time to start saving our fiat currency so we can purchase everything with cash.

Grow some food

  • We’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden clearing weeds which have grown like crazy in the warm spring days.
  • We’ve also cleared out most of the winter garden (except for some things we are letting go to seed).
  • I’ve started a few tomato plants already, but we’ll need to start thinking about the rest of the summer garden soon.

Reduce Energy Dependence

  • I must get back into riding to work. I’ve been really slack recently and have got into the bad habit of taking the car.

Plan to own some productive land

  • Housing prices are still high in Australia and we continue to watch and wait for the correction. There are more signs that China’s bubble is popping which is likely to translate to economic pain in Australia. I’ve also been reading some articles indicating that a high percentage of ‘first home buyers’ are struggling to keep up with mortgage payments due to the rapidly rising interest rates. Who knows how much longer this bubble can inflate.
  • While we wait for prices to become more realistic, we will be renting. Unfortunately Canberra rents are painfully high. I just hope we can find something reasonable, close to the city which will allow Zoe dog to live with us.

Photo by: Sam llic

    Independence Days – Everyone’s in a house buyin’ frenzy

    Photo by: mugley

    Lately I’ve been having quite a few Aussies asking my advice about buying a house. I’ve been telling them that I think that the Aussie housing market is in a giant bubble and due to correct sometime in the not too distant future, but mostly that’s not what they want to hear.

    I understand why they ask my opinion, since I have bought and sold a few houses in the last decade. What I don’t understand is why they ask my opinion if they’ve already made their mind up to buy the house. Is this just a case of people only hearing what they want to hear? Do they just want me to tell them they are doing the right thing? Do they figure since I bought properties in the past that I think that buying property is always the right thing to do?

    During one conversation I was told, “But everyone on TV says the property market is going to go through the roof in the next couple of years!” And I guess this gets to the center of the issue. House buying mania has come to Australia. The media is sprouting on about how the market is just going to keep going up and if you don’t get in now, you’ll miss out. People buy into this, literally. The fact that a number of people in my life have contacted me this month is simply an indication that the mania has spread far and wide.

    Bah! What do I know? I’m not on TV. I hope for everyone’s sake that I’m wrong. I really do. I’d like to be wrong about so many things, but I guess only time will tell.

    Preparedness

    • We had an interesting office function on Friday. It was an ‘Earthquake Preparedness and Team Building’ event. That earthquake last weekend has people here rattled (so to speak). Even long time Californians who are used to the Earth shaking said that they were scared by that 7.2. Most of them take Earthquakes for granted and I think I’m the only one in the office who has an emergency kit already prepared. Obviously we Aussies are not quiet so blasé about Earthquakes since they are rare on our continent. Anyway, the point is: After Friday, everyone has agreed to pool resources and put together a 72-hour kit for the office. This is great! I didn’t even need to be the one to suggest it. I think they already think I’m a little weird, but mostly they put that down to cultural differences 🙂

    Grow some food

    • I’ve been so slack in the garden lately. Watering, weeding and harvesting are all I’ve managed this week. I really should be sowing our Summer crops. Motivation…..Where are you?

    Reducing Energy Dependence

    • I think I briefly mentioned a few weeks ago that Brendan has been doing some consultancy work for a start-up renewable energy company here in SoCal. He has been designing a complete off-grid system to run some equipment for a large company. It’s been a big learning curve for him, but very worthwhile. He asked me last night whether we can go off-grid for electricity when we get back to Australia. Umm…..of course! I always planned to get off-grid solutions set up as much as possible. We’ll likely be renting for some time when we get back, so we’ll probably just set up a small, portable solution to power essentials like a chest freezer, some cooking, lighting and a laptop.

    Hedge against disaster

    • I’ve been reminding my friends here in America to make sure they have some cash out of the bank and on hand in case of emergency. I have an uneasy feeling about the US currency and the banking sector here. It is always a good idea to have some cash on hand in case the banks declare a bank holiday (it happened during the first great depression) or the ATMs stop working due to power failure. News from Citigroup just confirms that something is up:

    Effective April 1, 2010, we reserve the right to require (7) days advance notice before permitting a withdrawal from all checking accounts. While we do not currently exercise this right and have not exercised it in the past, we are required by law to notify you of this change. Read more

    Independence Days – Easter Weekend

    Photo by: Aussiegall

    It’s Easter weekend and I’ve been watching as all my Australian Facebook friends change their status updates to reflect the trips they are making over the four-day weekend. No such luck here in the U.S. Only the standard two-day weekend here, although being between cultures as I am, I have a three-day weekend.

    It’s been a really good week; very productive. After my week away in D.C. I managed to get a lot of work done in the office and have spent the last few days working on an assignment I have to complete for some post-grad study. Yes, you heard it right. I’m spending the long weekend writing an essay. The funny thing is, I’m actually enjoying it. I’m using the opportunity to write an essay on how Peak Oil will affect the organisation I’m working for. No point wasting a perfectly good essay on some other mundane topic when I could actually be informing the organisation about something I consider to be big news.

    Yesterday we had a picnic in the park to help celebrate our friends’ daughter’s first birthday and then Brendan and I went to a beginner beekeeping class at City Farmer’s Nursery. Bees are fascinating to me and one day when we have our land, I hope to have our own hives. Without bees, half our food wouldn’t get pollinated which I don’t think many people realise. They just see them as pests that sting. As with all things, it’s an education process.

    I also finished a really interesting book last night called The Year of the Flood. It completely captivated me and I had it read in a couple of days. I would say it’s the ‘1984’ of our times.

    Margaret Atwood’s latest book The Year of the Flood is another of her dystopian offerings. It’s many years in the future (Atwood never gives an exact date), and humans have finally managed to destroy much in the natural world. Many animal species are extinct, pollution is rampant, weather is out of control, and society is buckling down to live out the days the best they can. Into all this comes the “waterless flood”, a disaster that has wiped out nearly all the humans in the world. At least two have survived: Toby, the manager of a high-end spa who has barricaded herself inside; and Ren, a dancer/prostitute who was in the “sticky zone” (a type of sick bay) when the disaster hit.

    Today is a gloomy day out, so I intend to keep working on this essay while I remain motivated.

    Grow some food

    • Plenty of snow peas and leafy greens this week. I haven’t had much time to get into the garden, but I really must make the time to start our summer crop seedlings.

    Plan to own some productive land

    • This week we learned how to keep bees. Although this is a long-term goal, keeping bees on our property will be part of having a healthy ecosystem on our land.

    Independence Days – Earth Hour and My Week in Washington DC

    Sydney Harbour Before Earth Hour

    Last night I flew back home to San Diego from Washington DC. In the process I missed Earth Hour. Instead of turning off my lights to show solidarity with a very worthwhile movement, I was undertaking one of my worst environmental impacts…..flying. *sigh*

    This morning I decided to have a look at the Earth Hour website to see how it all went. I was very pleasantly surprised to find some fantastic ‘before and after’ shots from around the world. I am flabbergasted to see the huge difference that was made to the skylines of some of the most famous cities in the world. There must have been a lot of people behind this and that gives me hope. Now we just need to convince people to lower their electricity use every day of the year rather than for one hour. Baby steps I guess.

    Sydney Harbour During Earth Hour

    I really enjoyed my week in Washington DC. I caught up with a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while and attended some very interesting briefings. Let’s just say that is appears that the U.S. Govt is well aware of Peak Oil and the potential ramifications of the impending reduction in oil supply, even though nothing is being said to the public about this issue. Interesting times ahead.

    I also attended a Ball in DC with the Australian Ambassador to the U.S., Kim Beazley. He’s very well-known in Australia so it was great to actually meet him. He had some very interesting stories to tell.

    Yesterday I got to tour the White House, which was another fantastic experience. It is absolutely beautiful inside, with gorgeously decorated rooms complete with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the White House lawn. I imagine that when it was built the White House would have been so impressive…in fact it’s still impressive in this day and age. It was also a beautiful sunny day in DC and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. All in all it was a great week, but it’s also good to be home.

    Photo by: jdanvers

    As far as my Independence Days update, I don’t have all that much to share this week for obvious reasons.

    Preparedness

    Grow some food

    • Looks like I’ll be spending much of today in the garden. I’ve already been weeding this morning and pulling out some of the collards which have gone to seed in my absence.
    • Our fava beans have finally started producing some pods. I’d given up on them, but it seems the pollinators have been busy recently.
    • Our snow peas are really productive now as well. Looks like snow peas are on the menu most nights this week.
    • Some of the beets are ready. I hadn’t checked them closely in a while so I was surprised to find how big they were. I think I’ll pickle a few of the biggest ones and then we might roast some of the smaller, more tasty beets.

    Independence Days – Spring Cleaning is in Full Swing

    Spring has sprung and for some reason I feel like cleaning. If you know me well, you know I never like cleaning. But something is in the air and I’ve been de-cluttering and tidying up various nooks and crannies around the house. Perhaps it has something to do with being stuck inside for weeks when I was sick but whatever it is, I’m embracing it while it’s here. Who knows how long this will last.

    I’ve been a little quiet around the blogosphere this week, so my apologies for not coming by and catching up on your blogs. No excuse, just haven’t felt like being on the internet. We also had a visitor from Australia who we’ve been catching up with. I’ll be even quieter next week because I’m heading to Washington DC for the week with work.

    Anyway, on to a very short roundup of my activities this week.

    Preparedness

    Getting Off the Economic Grid

    • Would you believe that Brendan has had another business proposition this week? On top of his personal training and bicycle repair businesses, it looks like he is now doing some consulting work for a renewable energy start-up. We don’t have all the details yet, but it looks like Brendan will be designing systems and managing projects for off-grid wind and solar systems. This is exciting news. I hope I can share more in the months to come.

    Grow some food

    • Plenty of weeding after all the rain we’ve been having
    • Sowed seeds: Tomato, Basil. WooHoo! Warm season crops are starting!
    • Eating: Collards, Snow Peas, Spinach.

    Photo by: johnnyalive

    Independence Days – My ‘To Be Read’ Pile Expanded

    I’ve been taking it easy this weekend because I do not want to risk a relapse of the illness that’s been dogging me for two weeks. After a couple of cups of coffee yesterday, my brain recovered from the fog and I managed to get to the library. This is my ‘To Be Read’ pile at the moment. I don’t imagine I’ll get through all of these books this month, but I like to have a variety of books at home to choose from as the mood takes me.

    The Librarian noticed I was checking out Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and began singing Jared Diamond’s praises. Apparently he comes to San Diego most summers to give a presentation at the Natural History Museum. I’ll have to keep an eye out for him. I really enjoyed his documentary Guns, Germs, and Steel.

    Because I’ve been housebound all week, I’ve also been listening to quite a few podcasts. These are a fantastic editions to any iPod and I listen to them all the time when I’m travelling or when I want to give my eyes a rest from reading. One podcast I can recommend is Radio Ecoshock. I think it started out as a scientific show based mostly on environmental issues, but since I’ve been listening there has been a wide variety of topics including energy depletion and societal collapse. Two of my favourite authors, Dmitry Orlov and John Michael Greer were on last weeks show. You can also subscribe to Radio Ecoshock on iTunes.

    Ok, onto this weeks roundup based on my self-sufficiency, independence and lifestyle planning goals

    Preparedness

    • We finally bought a first aid kit for the car. We got the large Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit, which is surprisingly comprehensive for a such a compact box.
    • Brendan also bought the Energizer Rechargeable Compact Charger and Energizer DUO USB Charger to recharge all the rechargeable batteries in our headlamps, portable lanterns etc. We have a couple of small solar panels which Brendan is going to try to adapt so that they can charge our batteries via a USB cable. He’s smart like that, so I hope it works.

    Getting Off the Economic Grid

    • Brendan’s bike maintenance business is still growing. One of our neighbours popped over the other day to see whether Brendan could fix her daughter’s bike. This is fantastic, because Brendan had been hoping to break into the ‘local’ market rather than continuing to rely on other ex-pats for his work.
    • Brendan also starts conducting personal training down at our local park this week. Finally, after more than two years here everything seems to be falling into place. I guess it helps that we aren’t always travelling this year. It just goes to show that it really does take time to make yourself a part of a community.

    Stockpiling Food

    • I finally dealt with all those collards in my garden. I chopped back about a third of the leaves, then blanched and froze them to eat some other day.

    Grow some food

    • In addition to freezing the best of the collards, the less than perfect leaves became compost tea; a very efficient way of turning something inedible into free fertiliser!
    • We’ve been eating beet greens, collard greens, spinach, snow peas, onion and leek fresh from the garden. We’re also still enjoying tomato relish, orange relish, apple jam, tomato sauce and cayenne peppers from our garden reserves.
    • I’m still amazed how much food we’ve actually managed to produce in the last year given the small space we have to work with, our complete novice status and limited time we’ve had at home. This started out as an experiment but I think it’s turned into a way of life.

    Reducing Energy Dependence

    • A few months ago Brendan did a hands-on course on Solar PV Installation and Design. He’s very much a technically minded person and has a real interest in energy auditing and efficiency. This week, he has been working on designing a generic document to help some friends in Australia understand the various credits and tariff systems available and determine the correct sized Solar PV system for their circumstances. It seems like there are a lot of people out there ‘investing’ in Solar PV without understanding all the details. There doesn’t seem to be much unbiased advice available so people are relying on what salespeople tell them, and unfortunately that means they are buying Solar systems that are much larger than they need (which can cost many thousands of dollars more than it needs to). If anyone is interested in the information, I’m sure Brendan will write-up a post for this blog.

    Hedge against disaster

    • When Brendan and I recently undertook some short-term disaster planning, it became obvious to us that the most likely type of disaster we could face would be a house fire. Of course we have insurance to cover the replacement of items that might be lost to fire, but there are some things that simply cannot be replaced. For this reason, we purchased a fireproof box this week. In it we’ll keep important documents, passports, photos and backup hard drives for our computers (although I’m not sure that the data would survive the heat). The one we have is rated to survive in fire for an hour which I figure is reasonable based our proximity to neighbours and the fire department.

    Independence Days – So I Hennaed my Hair

    Photo by: Henna Sooq

    It’s been another exceptionally quiet weekend. I’m starting to get quite accustomed to slow days after a hurley burley couple of years. Apart from dinner at friend’s last night, the highlight of the weekend was dyeing my hair using henna.

    I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time, but had been warned that it was time consuming and that I should set aside half a day. Yesterday was that day. I used Light Mountain Natural Color The Gray in Dark Brown and I must say I’m very happy with the result. Yes…it takes longer than chemical treatment and it’s a bit messy to deal with, but the colour looks fantastic and my hair is lovely and soft today. My grey patch is completely covered and looks like golden highlights now. I might set aside some time to write a post on the whole experience if anyone is interested.

    Apart from that, it’s been raining here again this weekend. We can almost set our watch to the rain since it’s arriving so regularly on the weekends. This is not the Southern California I’ve known until now. This morning we were supposed to go on an Edible Bike Tour around some local gardens organised by San Diego Food Not Lawns, and I’m so disappointed that it’s pouring with rain. I’m hoping they reschedule.

    In the meantime, I’m watching the documentary Collapse featuring Michael Ruppert. It’s excellent, but does cause one’s heart-rate to rise somewhat.

    OK…onto this week’s update.

    Preparedness

    • I’m making the most of the rainy weekend to work on our 72-hour emergency kit. We have most of what we need, it’s just spread throughout the house. Time to get it all in a To-Go bag. Once I have it all together, I’ll let you know what we have in it.

    Getting Off the Economic Grid

    • Brendan got a new client referred to him this weekend for his bike maintenance business. He’s really enjoying working on different bikes and learning new skills. This week, he’s also taught himself how to build bicycle wheels so he can now do pretty much anything to fix a bicycle. We’re looking for 2nd-hand bike trailers on Craigslist so we can also transport loads on bicycle in the future.

    Stockpiling Food

    • This week I tried something new with our oranges. We didn’t much like the Orange Marmalade I made last year, so this time I tried Orange Chutney. I haven’t tasted it yet, but Brendan assures me that it’s delicious. We love relishes and chutneys and since we don’t have any of my regular ingredients (apples, tomatoes or peppers) growing in the garden at the moment, I’m pleased to have been able to expand my repertoire.

    Grow some food

    • I may have mentioned previously that we didn’t have much success growing carrots from seed this last couple of years. Of 100 seeds, this is our one success. It’s a little stumpy, but at least it’s the right colour! We had a little ceremony to celebrate the unearthing of our one carrot.
    • See our lovely snow pea plants in the background? They are  monsters and now over 6 feet tall! A friend of mine wants seeds so he can grow them for the beautiful flowers they produce. Clever peas…they suck you in with pretty flowers so humans do the dirty work of spreading their seed!

    • I’ve almost given up on broccoli. Last year they got mauled by caterpillars, and this year they aren’t growing very enthusiastically. Maybe they sense my disdain. One seedling bolted almost immediately after producing a head the size of a quarter. At least it’s pretty.
    • On a positive note: collards, spinach and snow peas are all producing nicely.
    • I sowed the following seeds this weekend: bush beans, onions, leeks and beets. It’s time to start warm season crops, but until the collards are done I have no room for them.
    • My herb garden has also grown back nicely after a dormant winter.

    Reducing Energy Dependence

    • We had a good long chat with our friends last night about reducing energy dependence. They even let us look at their gas and electricity bill and were open to suggestions about how to reduce their consumption. I think when we told them how much we used (less than half their usage) they might have taken it as a personal challenge to cut back. We’ll see.