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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Multitasking

Another rant from your blogista.

A friend noted recently on her blog that low-tech solutions are often best because, unlike exciting, stylish, sexy, cutting-edge high-tech (and lavishly promoted) solutions, they're accessible. Translate: us poor folks can have 'em too. And in today's world, though we may not have really noticed it yet, "us poor folks" is increasingly a way of saying "nearly everybody." So, yeah, maybe talkin' to you, huh?

This blog has been, most of the time, about accessible solutions. La Blogista assumes that some others will find themselves, like her, unlikely to ever own a nine kilowatt solar array, or two Chevy Volts in the garage, or a fiberglass two-story composting toilet, or a Kubota tractor with seven attachments. And writes to that readership: what do you do to prep for a possibly chaotic future on a budget? No, not that budget. This one, with the moths fluttering out of the wallet?

She's aware she's vulnerable to crit here; she's writing from a snug house on an acre of land. Someone in Darfur,  maybe, could not use any of her hypocrisy. Yah. Know it. Guilty. Listen, we all start from somewhere.

Risa has lived on the road: slept under bridges, lived in cars, raided dumpsters, lived on a head of cabbage for a week. She's here to tell you about it because she was able to a) avoid the drugs; b) not sass the harried policeman; c) not steal (dumpsters excepted); d) find work as a temp and work up; and e) find an incredible life partner, the kind that doesn't just know where the bodies are buried but furnished the shovels.

Then we saved money, borrowed from family and friends, bought land, went off and did migrant labor, and paid them back. Then we built, pay-as-you-go, using scrap wood, scrap windows, rough-sawn lumber, and awkward but functional home-made furniture. We're keenly aware we could lose it all, we know people who have, and through no fault of their own. But y'know, try everything: trust God and tether your camel. Something might pan out. So, work plus simplicity plus frugality and if it takes debt to get you started, okay, but single-mindedly getting rid of that debt will improve your chances in the sweepstakes of life.

When it came down to it, the cheap seats in the Titanic's lifeboats were worth just as much as the posh ones.

We've never (okay, seldom) seen the need to feel ashamed of cutting open a recycled fifty-cent burlap coffee bag, hanging it on two nails and calling it a curtain -- that's the secret to low-tech solutions. Let the function be the style, and with the money you've just saved, pay down the mortgage. Let the so-called "embarrassment" of having such curtains go eff itself. We made it to home ownership, and with any luck, our car will never smell like a diaper station again.

Now, where were we? Oh.

One of the adaptations we were discussing in the comments next door is "more clothing, less thermostat." That's true; but at our house, most of the winter, the place to be is in a glider chair by the wood stove, which is in a corner of the dining room. Elsewhere, such as in the kitchen or the main bedroom, temperatures drop to sixty-five or even fifty-five (F), and maybe in a cold snap, the back rooms, cut off from the stove by sheets hung up in the hallways, down to forty. But out forays are relatively brief: until bedtime, we fetch things we want to use or do and bring them to the stove. It's a lifestyle, if you like, but a familiar one. Something very like it is described in all the (must read) Little House books. So we don't bundle up much, because even though much of the house is wintry, we feel snug.


This is why Risa keeps harping on wood cooking. You're there; might as well use the thing. At any one moment, you may be drying wet boots or a rain-soaked hoodie. Or softening honey. Heating up dish water. Seasoning a skillet. Slow-brewing a second mug of tea. Dipping candles. Thawing a roast. Roasting a roast. Raising a loaf. Baking a loaf. Stirring black beans. These things take time, so you bring whatever else you're doing: shelling beans, practicing dulcimer, planning the garden, mending a sock, or blogging on th' ol' hand-me-down laptop.

It occurs to Risa, though, that this is a facet of her privilege; she can do this because she's home, and because Beloved has (wonder of wonders) a job. Well, were always good at this -- someone had to be home a lot anyway; we had a special needs kid. That said, think about this: are there two or more of you, in your domicile? Still both working? Paying on two (or more) cars, dashing out in the morning, running to meetings in the evening, falling into bed practically strangers, at eleven at night, then lying there wondering if your five closets full of career wardrobe will see you through the upcoming conference in Philly?

Golly gee, sit down together and think how you might be able to do a life on half of that. Without even waiting to be laid off. Fewer cars, less outgo on payments, maintenance, insurance, and fuel. Less expense on clothing, hair, power lunches. Now add in how much it's costing you for cable, "999 channels and there's nothing on" -- uh huh, so why not get rid of it? That's what library books are for. Or, heck, buy a few keepers, like Radical Homemaking.

One of you at home can (learn to) cook from scratch, repaint the bedroom, make bag lunches, make and mend clothing, fix the leaky toilet or the draft under the door, flip the yard over from lawn to veggies, and tend a few chickens. You'd have time to shop more efficiently, too, but I'd argue that the point of all this is to absent yourselves, to a greater extent than you may have thought possible, from the consumer treadmill entirely.

Yes, Risa's prejudiced in favor of land ownership or at least land access, but even if the story of your life is bookended by apartment walls, many of the same frugalities will apply. This whole blog post, this whole blog, can be summed up in a four word sentence, and individuals, couples, families, towns, cities, nations and a world will benefit from applying it:

Live Within Your Means.

So here we sit by the fire on a rainy day, with the dishes to do. Drudgery? No more than sitting in a cubicle staring into a screen, eight hours of the ten to twelve you've been away from home. And it doesn't mean a loss of status either, unless you've been listening to too much advertising. Trust your blogista about advertising folks, they're not there for you. Their job is to dig a hole in your feelings for you to fall into so you'll pay them for a hand up.

Once one of you is home, fixing dinner for the other(s), ways to save costs and lower your stress will pop up all over. You're still multitasking, but the dishes, dusting, food prep, and pipe-wrenching get to queue up for your attention in the order of your choosing. In the midst of all this there are books to be read, friends to be visited, and sunsets to be wondered at.

Risa's just started the rice. So, no, she's not wearing a sweater, 'cuz the stove wants to be hot enough to do rice, which is more than hot enough for her to sit by the window with her tea.

There are juncos on the windowsill. One of them hops around in a little circle, peering at the bird feeder first from her left eye and then her right, the little grey head tipping, bobbing and tilting. She stretches one wing and preens her primaries a bit, then shakes her head and looks over the smorgasbord again. Choosing one seed, she takes it in her beak and fluffs off to the nearest willow, to crack and eat at her leisure.

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