Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leaving for Maine today

We are loading up the car and leaving for Maine in an hour or two. I don't know when we'll have our internet access up and running, but will post as soon as we do.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Our off-the-grid set up

We completed the first leg of our trip yesterday and now are at my parents for the next two days. It is lovely to have no packing or un-packing to do. We are getting some much needed rest before our off the grid adventures begin.

And just what is this off the grid business? It simply means no public utilities or services connect to your property, no electricity, no water, no natural gas, no sewage. How this translates to any given living situation differs drastically. In our case, it does not mean we will be reading by the light of a kerosene lantern, cooking on a wood-burning stove, fetching the milk from a root cellar filled with ice blocks packed in sawdust, and pumping water out of a well. We have solar panels with a back-up gasoline generator, a drilled well, and a propane tank which fuels a cook stove, a hot-water tank, and a rinnai space heater. We also have a wood-burning stove in the living room, which will be our primary heat-source. And for sewage there is the typical non-urban set up: a flush toilet, a septic tank, and a leach field. However, as mentioned, until we fix the leach field we'll be using the outhouse. But as long as the sun shines, or we have gas, we have hot and cold running water.

And, yes, we have a refrigerator and will be getting a washing machine, the two main amenities I get asked about. I have no interest in feeding two kids without proper refrigeration or in spending the majority of my time hand-washing clothes. On the other hand, we do want to minimize generator use, so we are already making plans to build a root cellar, have purchased a few kerosene lanterns, and are hoping to get the old spring well going, that way we could have the option of pumping water. I also am keen on getting a wood-burning cook stove someday, but have yet to convince Aaron that it makes sense. I argue that we have the propane stove for the summer or quick cook jobs, but in the winter we can add heat to the house and make breakfast or bread or whatever off the same logs of wood. If anyone has experience with cooking on a wood-burning stove, I'd love to know if you would vote for or against getting one and why.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What awaits us in Maine

I lingered a little in the shower this morning, despite all we have to do. Showers feel really good and this was my second to last one before 12 weeks of bucket baths. Packing and getting the apartment ready have been so consuming, I barely notice the blueberry plants and haven't been thinking about where we are going and what we'll be doing. So, yes, bucket baths. Even though we do have hot running water up in Maine, we also have a failed leach field and broken faucets in the bathtub. Thank goodness there is already an outhouse on the property. With all we need to get done, I doubt we'll get to fixing the leach field this summer.

Here is the cabin:

It is a 1,000 sq ft log cabin built in the mid-1970's on 14 acres of land. It looks much worse now. The cabin is on piers and we had to pull out the insulative straw bales from around the base (covered in white Tyvek in this picture) to dry out under the house. Several floor joists were already pretty moldy and now need to be replaced. So that is one item on our to do list: jack up the house, switch out the eaten away floor joists, pray no one gets squished.

Tomorrow I'll talk about what it means to be off-the-grid.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #6 Discuss, Discuss, Dispute

Take time to discuss the need for a plan, but don't actually make one. Then, when you are behind schedule, over-tired, and over-anxious, you can take time to dispute whose fault this all was.

No need to go into the details on this, but it is remarkable (and embarrassing) how much time Aaron and I have spent talking, happily and unhappily, without doing.

Tomorrow, I'll be taking a break from the 7 Habits to talk about what awaits us in Maine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #5 Be Perfect

If you can't do something just right, don't do it at all.

A recent example from my life: Our downstairs neighbors hosted a farewell-for-the-summer/Mother's Day brunch, this past Sunday. The food was extensive and delicious, the company delightful. I wanted to be sure they understood how much I enjoyed the whole affair and appreciated all their efforts, so I decided a thank you email wouldn't be enough, it had to be a hand-written thank you card. But, of course, our cards are packed away somewhere, and the days have been passing without my taking the time to find them or remembering to buy a card. In the meanwhile, I got an email from one of these lovely neighbors with the recipe I requested. But how can I answer it? It would look like I couldn't be bothered to say thank you for the brunch until I had to email for other reasons. So now, that email sits unacknowledged, and I look unresponsive in addition to ungrateful, a whole new color of Highly Ineffective.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #4 Be a Pit Bull

Once a possession comes into your life, clamp on like a pit bull. Whatever you do, don't let go. Austerity, clean lines, and uncluttered surfaces belong in a monastic cell, not your home. Streamlining is for monks and nuns, for the rest of us there is The Container Store. (Happily, they have a reputation for treating their employees well; so I can feel all warm and fuzzy about loving them as much as I do.)

It felt very good packing up those foot creams I never use and that wee rubber gasket in a small sealed plastic bag, to mention two little drops in our big packing bucket. They've been sitting untouched for untold months, but if I don't keep them, I won't have to spend the time to unpack them when we get back from Maine and puzzle over where they should go. Besides, what if I suddenly change my ways and start moisturizing my feet? Or find the product that may or may not reside in my house and may or may not function better with a wee rubber gasket?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #3 Honor the Past

What has gone before, even it doesn't work, is for the best.

Allow me to illustrate. As it became clear we were falling behind in our preparations for this move, I kept a focus on keeping most of our meals home-cooked, either cooking them myself or encouraging Aaron to cook. Between shopping for ingredients (at the beautifully inefficient Park Slope Food Coop), doing the cooking, and washing up after (it helps not having a dish washer), I used up a lot of time that could have been spent of packing.

I also continued to keep disposable diaper use to a minimum. Two kids in cloth diapers generate not only a load of laundry each day, but also a minimum of fifteen changes. Factor in the toilet rinse for each poopy diaper, all that hand washing, sorting the dry laundry (including folding the cloth wipes), and you've eaten up an admirable chunk of the day on diapering alone.

Alas, my ineffectiveness has dropped as we use up food from the freezer and cupboards. I suppose I should stop making large batches of food and freezing a portion for later meals. It's really rather effective.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #2: Be In The Moment

Habit #2 is all about focusing on whatever is in front of you and is most urgent. Don't worry about the big picture, don't follow a plan, just respond to the moment.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People - #1: Be a Pinball

All week, as I clean cupboards and shuffle stuff from room to room, I've been muttering to myself that I should write a book called "7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People". With all the work of homesteading ahead of us, efficiency is crucial, and it behooves us to understand where we go wrong with that one.

Habit #1: Be a Pinball
Never do just one task and see it through to completion. Always have multiple worksites going and keep adding them as needed. Bounce from project to project and be sure to maximize clutter everywhere you go.

A little unclear on how this works? Take clearing my two drawers in our dresser today. One of the drawers has pants, shorts, and sleeping togs. Seems straighforward enough. How could this lead to other projects? Well, I quickly realized that before I could put clothes in storage, I would have to know which clothes I was bringing with me. Beautiful! I already have two projects, and all I've done is open a drawer. But wait, before I can pack for Maine, I need all of my clothes available to me. I promptly start filling my laundry bag out of the basket. One load for the washer, and, lo, what is this at the bottom of the basket? Another project: hand wash. Leaving the washer load on the couch since I know Aaron has a load in the machine already, I put the first batch of hand wash to soak, and notice the shelf in the bathroom has items that are supposed to live in my dresser. As I sort these, I figure I may as well clear some of the other clutter that has accumulated up there. Before I'm done sorting the shelf, I notice the pile of clothes on the couch next to the laundry bag and get back to packing. Here, I have to confess, I go on an uninterrupted run, complete the clothes sorting, bag the storage clothes, and box the Maine clothes.

Then, after a quick stop in the bathroom to advance the handwash, I go back to the dresser. The remaining drawer is divided (in my mind, if not in practice) in two. One side is for underwear, while the other side is a catchall get-it-out-of-sight spot. As you can imagine the catchall side was so rich with project potential it isn't empty yet. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow, you're only a day away!

(It really isn't fair to say "we" on this habit. My ADD, pinball ways drive Aaron nuts. He goes project by project. Okay, time to find a spot for that last bit of hand wash to dry.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oh, what a beautiful morning

I did a little work in Manhattan this morning. Walker was along for the ride in the Bjorn and slept like a champ through almost the entire trip. (I woke him up for a snack about half-way through.)

I'm getting nostalgic for NY even though I haven't left yet. Normally, I don't think I would have gotten quite such a kick out of the conductor's announcement at the West 4th St station: "There's something obstructing a door in the front cars. Check ya bag, ya elbow, ya head." His accent was pure New Yawk, as was his bored, let's-get-this-show-on-the-road tone.

Then, after I was done with work, walking down 8th Avenue from 57th St to 34th St to run an errand, I didn't need caffeine to get my pace brisk. The City at morning rush hour is plenty adrenalized.
I wrote the above yesterday, but didn't get a chance to finish thanks to a migraine. And, after my subway ride this morning, I'm less inclined towards fond observations of NYC life. Suffice to say a 40 minute commute (with good trains), took over an hour-and-a-half.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hard to believe

If it were only a matter of packing our stuff, or only a matter of getting the apartment ready for subletters, or if we didn't have a 10-week old and a 2-year-old, it would merely feel like a challenge. As things stand, it is very hard to believe we'll get everything done by next Sat.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nifty McThrifty

Case in point, I got all excited when I found this: DIY washing machine and homemade laundry soap. It is better for my family, both because whoever does the laundry is being physically active and because homemade soap may well be better chemical exposure-wise; it certainly is better for the environment by using less water and less electricity; and finally it is so cheap it verges on free. I told Aaron we should make one. Leave it to Aaron to already know about this way of washing clothes. But, although he is enthusiastic about the idea, he thinks we should get a plunger made specifically for hand-washing since it is designed to move water around, whereas a toilet plunger is designed to create a suction. An excellent point, but I'm pretty sure if we are going to succeed in this endeavor, we have to start changing our attitude about what it means to spend $17 dollars.

Full disclosure, we have no intention of relying solely on hand-plunging our clothes clean. I came across the bucket option as I was researching energy efficient washing machines, the kind that plug in and cost oh-so-much-more than $17.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Closet Hippies

When Aaron and I contemplated naming our son River, we joked that we would finally be coming out of the closet and waving our hippie flag high. But really, we are more bumpkin than hippie. (To wit: we don't like the Grateful Dead or Phish, groom and bathe regularly, aren't vegetarian, and neither of us waves our arms about when we dance.) We do, however, live a fairly rustic life in the midst of all this concrete and bustle.

Our preferred date night is an evening at home watching a dvd as Aaron sharpens knives and I knit. We both prefer frugality over fashion, function over form. Although I don't see muumuus in my Maine future, who knows what direction the desire for comfort and sun protection will take me. Meanwhile, our kids are diapered in cloth (much of the time) and our older son (having teeth) eats oat groats for breakfast. Things like oat groats give me deep satisfaction on a daily basis. Anything that is economical, healthy, and better for the planet--as oat groats are on all three fronts when compared with boxed cereal--gives me a boost day after day after day. It never gets old for me. Aren't these pleasures more country than city, more bumpkin than Brooklyn?

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I love Brooklyn! I've lived here for 15 years and remain a fan. I love Prospect Park, the majestic main branch of the Brooklyn Library, the Park Slope Food Coop, the people, and the food. I love being able to walk most places I need to go. I even love the subway. (Look, Ma, no car!) This burg suits me.

Aaron and I are edgy, man, very Brooklyn. He's pierced, I'm tattooed. And he would be tattooed if he wasn't worried that after just one it would only be a matter of time before he was awash in ink from the neck down. Meanwhile, I would be pierced if all my interesting piercings (lip, tongue, nose, and upper ear) didn't repeatedly get infected, leading me to give up on all but traditional earrings. We listen to NPR, have a Maclaren stroller, used to own a Volvo, and used to drink Gorilla Coffee. Um, okay, maybe not so edgy and maybe more specifically Park Slope than Brooklyn.

Whatever the case, I just wanted you to know the "Brooklyn" in Brooklyn Bumpkin is for reals: this has been my happy home for a long time.

Next post: The Bumpkin