09 December 2008

Return of the Instrument Junkie

My friends have done it to me again.

The good folks in the Performing Arts Guild, Extraordinaire (PAGE) celebrated my recent birthday with ice cream and apple cobbler (and candles! just not as many as necessary, thank you!). Then they handed me a gift.

They weren't supposed to do that.

I unwrapped it and found a Yamaha Tenor Recorder. I was nearly speechless, and I wasn't putting together complete sentences.

I have a hard time with gifts.

Part of my problem is that I'm not good at accepting gifts, and I HATE feeling indebted. I'm also bad at giving thoughtful, meaningful gifts: the more time I have spent on deciding what to give, and the more effort I have invested in procuring a gift, and the more certain I am that the gift is PERFECT--

The more likely I'm going to see that "What were you thinking?!?" look.

(This is why gift baskets with floral soaps, bath oils, and the like are NEVER the right gift. Somehow, the message received is, "You stink. Take a bath.")

So, receiving gifts, especially really good gifts, puts me under real pressure. I want to reciprocate, and I know I can't.

Also, when it comes to gifting, I tend to be a cheapskate. I'll buy dinners, and movie tickets, and fill gas tanks, and never notice or care. But I hear what other people spend on gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and I can't even IMAGINE what they spend it on.

My ideal of gifting is to give someone something useful that they wouldn't buy themselves. I mean, if it's not USEFUL, then it's USELESS, and who would want a useless gift? ("The Ronco Turnip Twaddler! Similar items sold in stores for up to $150.00, yours for just three easy payments of $59.99!") But if it would be useful, you've probably already bought it, or it's too expensive, or it's so utilitarian that no one else would even THINK of buying one of THOSE as a gift.

(This is why vacuum cleaners are ALWAYS the wrong gift, even if your wife ASKED for one. It's too utilitarian, no matter how practical or expensive.)

And once you have a reputation, it can backfire.

(This is why a string of pearls can STILL be the wrong gift. It's so extravagant that they MUST not be real, and so non-utilitarian that they couldn't be from him...)

In other words, I have NEVER been able to give the right gift. I have been told, "Oh, I don't want anything!", and then I am castigated for giving nothing. I have been told, "Oh, anything is fine," but it isn't. I have given exactly what was requested, and been told I should have been more original. And I have tried to be original, or extravagant, and been told, "What were you thinking?"

So, if I seem ungrateful, or overwhelmed, or surprised, or confused, or WHATEVER, it's because I KNOW that I can never be as good to my friends as you are to me. My gifts to you will be well-intentioned; they are unlikely to be good, original, clever, or terribly expensive. Or even on time. It just doesn't work. My experience tells me so.

Thanks for the recorder, PAGE. I love you all.

16 October 2008

Book Review: Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country

Ok, here we go. I'm reviewing a book I haven't finished reading.

Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country, by Les and Carol Scher, covers some of the same ground as How To Find Your Ideal Country Home by Gene GeRue. But where Gene tells you what to look for, Les and Carol are your angels telling you what to look OUT for.

There are forms, checklists, anecdotes, maps, diagrams, charts. There are addresses, websites, and email addresses. They tell you where the rainfall is, where the good soil is, and where the toxic waste dump is. And they tell you how to get detailed information about the land YOU want.

They give you advice on how to proceed without involving lawyers, and tell you when you absolutely MUST have one. They give you sample contracts, deeds, and checklists. They abound in good, sensible advice on how to find property, evaluate it, and negotiate the price. They inform you about water and easement rights, zoning issues, and eminent domain. There's even a chapter on specifically-Canadian issues.

The book is so packed with information that you have to take it at a slow crawl. I checked it out from the library, renewed it once, and had to return it unfinished because someone else had placed a hold on it. So, whoever you are, good luck! I hope you find your place in the country!

Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country, by Les and Carol Scher, is available new and used. You can even read some of it on Google Books.

If you are seriously looking back-to-the-land, buy both Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country and How To Find Your Ideal Country Home.

09 October 2008

Music Is Life

Maybe I should say something about the things I claim I'm interested in.

I've mentioned singing, playing flute, and performing with the Bright Hills PAGE. But the flute is only one of the instruments I play.

I was born in a very musical family. My father played trombone, my mother piano; my sister played clarinet, one brother played tenor saxophone, and the other brother is a professional musician who started on baritone, moved to euphonium and valve trombone, and then to slide trombone. At one point, as a music teacher, he could get a scale out of just about anything, from strings and woodwinds to brass.

I played the stereo.

We had the requisite recorder lessons in 4th grade, and the "concert" where we played Little Brown Jug and Caisson Song. Is it a concert if no one plays together?

They tried to get me into school band on trumpet, but the band didn't need another trumpet. So they asked me to play French horn, and while it's a PRETTY instrument, it took more skill and more effort than I was willing to exercise in 5th grade.

That was it for formal music lessons until 11th grade. Then I joined the Junior Choir at my high school, and moved into the Acapella Choir (a misnomer, we usually had an accompanist) in 12th grade.

Around that time, I began banging on the piano in the basement. I wasn't PLAYING piano--I just wanted to have some harmonies around the vocal line, and the easiest way was to use the guitar chords written above the melody line, or around the lyrics in the songbook. After awhile, I realized it would be easier to play the chords using my thumb, middle finger, and pinky than to use my index, middle and ring fingers. Then I realized I could play a bass note with my left hand. And exposure to the chords began to show me how they were constructed, and how they related to each other.

Then I went to college, and after my freshman year decided that since I was playing guitar chords, I should get a guitar. After all, pianos are just not PORTABLE.

About 1984, I began writing songs. At first, they were piano-based; I could play almost any chord at this point. But as I became more comfortable on guitar, I wrote and played more for guitar than keyboard. I was in the church choir through Easter 1986, took a semester of guitar lessons that didn't help much (classical lessons, folk guitar :-( ), and stuck with piano, guitar and voice for the next TWENTY years.

Now, I'd been in other church choirs in this time, and played piano and guitar for various events. My professional brother even PAID me to provide guitar accompaniment for a series of evening Lenten services at his church, so I guess I'm a professional musician, too.

Around Christmas, 2006, my Uncle John came into possession of a Yamaha PSR36 keyboard which a neighbor was throwing out. This is an 80's vintage synth with full-size keys and a MIDI interface. I got it as a Christmas gift :-) And I won the church talent show at New Year's, which bought me a synth stand and some MIDI cables.

Come September 2007, I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and visited the House of Musical Traditions shop, where I bought my flute, a bamboo D instrument by Windwood Flutes. Then, having read the accompanying pamphlet, which stated that this instrument was played with the same fingering as a pennywhistle, I bought a D pennywhistle (one octave higher!) from a local Music & Arts store.

Late in October 2007, I attended the Bright Hills SCA event, "T&T". Every year, the letters stand for something different--I don't remember what they were in 2007. It was a dog-friendly event with heated dorms, which was a good thing--it was a rainy weekend. I was sitting in the feast hall, playing my flute, guitar and soprano recorder (not at the same time--I wish I could get 2 more arms and another mouth installed), when in came a lady with a LARGE harp. Now, this is not a picture of Bruno the harp; but it is the largest available instrument from the same manufacturer. Bruno is walnut, 5 feet tall, and has 38 strings to the comparatively-diminutive 36 in the picture.

The lady was Lady Yseulte Trevelyn, who loves the sound of flute and harp, and happens to live about 3 blocks from me. She invited me to join the musician's guild of Bright Hills, which met every Sunday night to play and talk. And since she had to carry Bruno anyway, she would chauffeur me! How could I refuse?

While browsing the website of House of Musical Traditions, I came across an instrument that intrigued me. It looked like a cross between a clarinet and a recorder, a keyless reed instrument called a Xaphoon. I bought myself one for my early-December birthday. I still can't get out of the first octave, but it CAN be played in 2+ octaves.

Then for Christmas, my mother gave me a Yamaha alto recorder.

You'd think that would be enough for anyone. After all, I've got 5 woodwinds in 3 different keys, guitar and keyboard. But wait! There's more!

BACK at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2006, I saw another instrument that I wanted to try. It took a year and a half, but I am also the proud owner of a Bowed Psaltery from Lark In the Morning. Again, I can't play it very well-YET.

And if you looked at the photos from Chalice of the Sun God, you saw me playing a harp. Well, not really. The harp DOES get played, very simple chords, to give me the starting pitch for my songs. But it is more a prop than an instrument, won't stay in tune, and sounds -plunky- at best. Of course, I play it just barely better than "Not at all." It's not my harp, anyway; I am currently holding it on behalf of the Bright Hills Performing Arts Guild, Extraordinaire!

One last: Yseulte says that I am an "instrument junkie". Who could argue? But as a joke, she brought me a $5 souvenir "Indian flute" from New Mexico after a business trip. This thing had too many holes, too close together, in the wrong places. It's made of bamboo, which is not native to the American Southwest. And it's made in PERU for sale as a gen-yoo-ine Indian flute in NM.

But I find a way to make noise out of everything that surrounds me. I did some experimenting and found that if I closed off 4 of the 7 existing holes (duct tape saves the day!), it whistled the first several notes of a diatonic scale. Then I drilled 3 more holes, and managed to effect a full octave. Of course, it plays in Bb, which isn't much use for me. But I keep it in my kit, mostly to annoy Yseulte.

The last year has been a wild ride for me, musically. Let's see what happens next!

07 October 2008

Book Review: How To Find Your Ideal Country Home

In How To Find Your Ideal Country Home, Gene GeRue takes you step-by-step through the process of identifying your ideal location. As a one-time real estate agent, he focuses on "Location, location, location!" as the three most important aspects of your place in the country.

In the discussion of terrain, climate, water rights, mineral rights, culture and culture shock, access, taxes, pollution, and more, Gene shows how to narrow your search to the specific regions most likely to meet your goals. Then he piles on the advice:
  • Don't fall in love until AFTER the sale;
  • The real estate agent isn't working for YOU;
  • Practice the 10/1 Rule: Visit ten properties, rank them by your preference, then buy the first one you find that is BETTER than your highest rank;
  • Know who has the mineral, water and timber rights;
  • Buying next to Federal land guarantees NOTHING.
This book, carefully read and religiously applied, will help you zero in on your ideal country home. All you have to do is be HONEST with yourself: what are you looking for? What do you want?

The copy I read came via interlibrary loan; used copies are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Shopping, and probably every used book store on the web.

28 September 2008

Siege of Glengary

I know that it's autumn when I go to the Siege of Glengary.

Glengary is an annual interkingdom SCA event between the Shire of Sylvan Glen in Aethelmearc, and the Barony of Highland Foorde in Atlantia. I first attended in 2005, and annually ever since. It's a terrific event, with heavy weapons, thrown weapons, archery, fencing, youth combat, arts & science, bardic, and silent auctions. They provide meals throughout, including Friday night and Sunday morning. You can tent if you like, or stay in the dormitory of the 4-H camp. Hot showers! Bardic circles! Bunk beds!

Glengary has been a very good event for me over the years I have attended. In 2005, at Siege X, I won the bardic competition with a performance of my song, The Ballad of Estrella 5. In 2006, at Siege XI, I won the bardic competition again, performing my poem Bothersome Beasts and Marauding Monsters. In 2007, at Siege XII, HRM Queen Rowan of Atlantia attended, and was so pleased by the musical backdrop I provided for the event that she awarded me the Silver Nautilus. And finding that I had been part of the Society for 22 years, and feeling I had been overlooked, she gave me my Award of Arms.

But HRM Rowan said one more thing: "Keep doing it!" And so, by ROYAL COMMAND, I have chosen to spend most of my time at every event playing music. This has caused me to fall in with a faire company, the Bright Hills Performing Arts Guild Extraordinaire! Siege XIII was no exception, and we gathered enough other musicians around us to create some rather extraordinary, if simple, polyphony. "Dona Nobis Pacem" sounds GREAT with 2 harps, alto and tenor recorder, and drum!

And once again, of course, I entered the bardic competition. I find in general that in competitions where the winner is selected by popular acclaim, and the performers of similar talent, the one who can be HEARD by the back of the hall is the one to be chosen. I have never had a problem with reaching the back of the hall! And so I told the story of Orpheus and his descent to the Underworld to reclaim his bride, Eurydice, complete with appropriate songs.

I heard the overwhelming applause for my main competitor, one Lady Margarita, a local bard of Sylvan Glen. But those running the competition could not judge between us. "Was there any question?" I asked. But they asked for the acclaim of the populace again, first for me...and then for Lady Margarita.

I interrupted, "My lord, why embarrass me? I bow to the lady!" And kissing her hand, I conceded the contest, to subdued calls of "Well played!"

Lady Margarita claimed the prize, a leather-bound journal with an embossed cover--and I knew what to do next!

"My lady!" I cried, "I must speak! May I see the journal?" And taking the journal, I said, "It is as I feared! My lady, an acquaintance of mine had such a journal--you must take great care, lest you suffer the same fate!" And with that introduction, I launched into Under The Gripping Beast, by Cat Faber.

Perhaps I didn't win the competition. But I got more compliments than I can remember, on both my Orpheus and Gripping Beast. And I got the last word ;-)

I count that as a win.

23 September 2008

Book Review: Ten Acres Enough

When I think of homesteading, I think of self-reliance and independence. My dream is to do it all myself, unrealistic as that may be. I'm NOT thinking about truck farming, on any scale.

Your dreams may differ. Certainly Edmund Morris' did! In about 1853, at the age of 49, he sold his business in the city, and moved with wife and six (!) children to a New Jersey farm of 11 acres. There he successfully built a profitable enterprise, selling fruit and vegetables to suppliers in New York City and Philadelphia. He even managed to turn a small profit in his FIRST year, which he admits was due more to a stroke of luck than anything else.

Although the dollar values are all clearly outdated (I was multiplying everything by 100 in my head throughout the book), his methods seem reasonably sound.
  • He knew his market, and grew for sale what the market demanded.
  • He provided quality product, not quantity.
  • He practiced preventative maintenance.
  • He lived frugally and economically, for which he completely credits his wife's management.
  • He bought the best tools he could afford, and cared for them properly.
  • He constantly worked to replenish the land, with compost, manure, lime and ash.
  • He stuck with what worked, but also experimented with new things.
  • He didn't pay any attention to what the neighbors thought, but was also happy to learn from their successes.
One passage I found interesting was his account of a German farmer who had started from nothing to build a successful farm (Chapter 19). Morris relates how this farmer had collected the contents of the family "water closet" to use in manuring the fields, which reminded me of "The Humanure Handbook" by Joseph Jenkins, available in print or online at josephjenkins.com

By 1857, Morris was well-established, and was economically unworried when the Civil War ("the late slaveholders' rebellion") broke out.

There are lots of lessons to be found in this book. Maybe I need to expand my dream.

"Ten Acres Enough", Edmund Morris, 1864, is in print and available through Amazon and other bookstores, or online at dozens of locations. I saw it first at http://www.soilandhealth.org/, but also at http://www.archive.org/details/tenacresenoughpr00morrrich, where you can download a complete PDF from the 1905 printing.

21 September 2008

Science Fiction Cover Art

As you might have noticed from my "What I'm Reading", I've been zooming through David Drake novels, in particular the Leary-Mundy series. I'm on "Some Golden Harbor" now, and there was something about the book that bothered me. It wasn't the writing or the story, and it took me a while to figure it out.

It was the cover.

I was sure I had seen the girl before. And I couldn't place her.

I've only read the first three books in the series on the Baen Free Library, and I haven't paid much attention to the covers. And the cover of the 4th book in the series, "The Way To Glory", although drawn by the same artist, Stephen Hickman, used different models. Who was she?

Well, I've got it figured out.

It's Podkayne of Mars.

Stephen Hickman did the Baen cover for Podkayne back in 1994. And 12 years later, he did the Baen cover for "Some Golden Harbor". All I can say is that she has certainly aged well--she doesn't look a day older.

She hasn't even changed clothes. The beret, the turtleneck, the scarf tying back the hair, the hairstyle--it's all the same.

What's even funnier is the similarity in composition of the covers. Planets floating in the background, with a spaceship zooming by in the middle distance, and the protagonists in the foreground. I do think that 12 years has improved the execution of the subject.

I'm amused by the fact that I was able to identify two covers by the same artist, 12 years apart, from two studies of the same model. I'm even more amused that he USED two studies of the same model. It reminds me of all the Darrell Sweet covers that had EXACTLY the same model, with the same expression on his face. I think it was Darrell.

17 September 2008

Book Review: Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do

In Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, Peter McWilliams asserts that the government has no authority and no right to enact or enforce legislation against "consensual crimes". In the course of his argument, he points out that
  • The prisons are overflowing with these "criminals";
  • The courts are overflowing with these "criminals";
  • The police are overworked apprehending these "criminals";
  • The governmental budgets are overdrawn pursuing these "criminals".
And, in fact, he argues, there is a distinct lack of agreement over whether some of these "crimes" are crimes at all. For example, during World War II, U.S. farmers were ENCOURAGED to grow hemp, to the extent that hemp farmers and their sons (!) were EXEMPT from the draft.

McWilliams takes a distinctly libertarian position: If what I do hurts someone else, it should be illegal. If it hurts only me, then it "ain't nobody's business if I do!"

This book, along with ALL of Peter McWilliams' books, is available at his website, http://www.mcwilliams.com.

15 September 2008

Chalice of the Sun God

This past weekend, I was at the Chalice Of The Sun God event, in the Barony of Ponte Alto. It was held at the Prince William Forest Park Camp 1, where I was ensconced in Cabin D2, if anyone cares.

This is a beautiful site, with two drawbacks:
  • First, it's not pet-friendly. Sadie couldn't come.
  • Second, you can't drive your car to the cabins, not even to unload. I was parked over 400 yards away, and had to walk over 2 miles just to get the car unloaded.
The theme of the event was "Persephone's Story", and the bardic and Arts&Science competitions were required to relate, however loosely, to this theme. I was a member of the "All-Stars" bardic competition team--the Bright Hills Performing Arts Guild, Extraordinaire (PAGE). Our presentation was an original short play, with music, based on the story of Orpheus.

Persephone, you recall, was "kidnapped" while out gathering flowers by the god of the Underworld, Hades, and taken to reign as his queen. (It's actually more complicated than that--Persephone was the ORIGINAL queen of the Underworld, and Hades got tacked on later in mythology, but we digress.) As Queen, she had a great deal of influence over Hades.

Then came Eurydice. She was the bride of Orpheus, greatest of all human bards, who died an untimely death at the fangs of a serpent. Orpheus, in despair, descended to the Underworld, charmed his way into the very throne room of Hades with his music, and begged for Eurydice to be returned to him.

Persephone's heart was softened by Orpheus' plea, and interceded on his behalf with Hades. The request was granted--but Orpheus could not speak to Eurydice, or look at her, until they both had left the Underworld completely behind. Having no other choice, Orpheus accepted the challenge, and began to sing a beautiful song, trying to entice Eurydice's shade to follow him up to the sunlight.

But once he reached the Overworld, in his hope, he turned too soon, and saw Eurydice before she left the gloom. She sighed his name in farewell, and was drawn back down to Hades halls.

Poor Orpheus. Poor Eurydice.

For our little production, I played Orpheus and wrote two songs: Orpheus' plea to Hades and Persephone, and Orpheus' song to entice Eurydice.

The performance went VERY well. Our first round took us through the plea of Orpheus, and won our position in the second round, where we were challenging the incumbent Chalice Champions. The second round included the restrictions Hades imposed, and the journey back to the lighted world (all in BLAZING sunlight and 100% humidity). We were in multilayered costumes--it's a wonder we didn't faint dead away.


Pictures (not mine, or you wouldn't see me in them) are at http://belfebe.smugmug.com/gallery/5969113_Xe2LT/1/372440324_NPXbq

I'm sweating and tuning my harp on Page 6; some photos of the second act are on Page 10.

We'll be back next year to defend our title!

Gas Mileage

It's really quite simple.

If you want high gas mileage, you buy a small, light car with a small, light engine. This is true across the entire spectrum of automobiles, from the SmartCar and the hybrids to the Hummer. If the car and engine are small and light, the car is a high-gas-mileage wonder.

But not wonderful enough.

I have a problem with hybrids being described as "alternative" fuel vehicles. They're not. They burn gas, just like my car. The gas runs the engine, which drives the wheels and charges the battery to provide electrical assistance when you need an extra shot of power: pulling away from the stop light, or passing on a grade. They DO get good gas mileage, though. Why? THEY HAVE SMALL ENGINES.

That will change somewhat when plug-in hybrids become common. Then the hybrids really WILL have an alternate fuel: coal, water, uranium, wind, sunshine--all the ways we create electricity. But because of the state of battery technology, they will still need the gas engine, because battery power doesn't have the range. For now.

So let's look at the numbers. The Toyota Prius hybrid is the top of the heap at 46 MPG. Next the Honda Civic hybrid at 42 and Nissan Altima hybrid at 34.

Color me unimpressed. My 11-year old 1998 Saturn SL1, with seating for 5, 140K miles, STILL GETS 35 MPG in my day-to-day driving. How does it do it? IT HAS A 96HP ENGINE.

I think it's ridiculous that I could get that kind of performance USED in 1999, but can't buy it today new. Not EVEN from Saturn.

After all, good gas mileage is like sex: it's not how fast you get there, IT'S HOW LONG YOU LAST! ;-)

12 September 2008

Glacier Photos

More of my photos from my family reunion in Glacier National Park can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com/simple.prudence. Enjoy!

27 August 2008

Book Review: Flight from the City

At the beginning of the Roaring 20's, Ralph Borsodi and his family were forced to move out of their rented house in New York City. But instead of searching endlessly in the middle of a housing shortage for worse accommodations at higher prices, they packed up and moved out to seven acres of land an hour and an half away from the city.

Here they set up to become as nearly self-sufficient as possible. Mr. Borsodi developed and promulgated through his books the theory of "production for use", advocating that products should be manufactured and consumed locally, preferably at the homestead level, and not "produced for profit".

Mr. Borsodi is one of the pioneers of the "back-to-the-land" movement. His works predate those of Helen and Scott Nearing by at least a decade, and his ideas are found, uncredited, on homesteads and in books across the country.

Flight from the City is public domain and available from both archive.org and soilandhealth.org.

26 August 2008

New Favorite Website

I have found a new favorite website: soilandhealth.org , an online library of homesteading and agricultural manuals and books. It is run by Steve Solomon in Tasmania, Australia, according to Australian copyright regulations.

The website explains, "By Australian copyright rules we usually cannot copy books for our users that are currently in print (unless they are also old enough to be public domain material)." But many of the books are public domain, even in the United States. Soil And Health led me to three of the books I am currently reading: Ten Acres Enough, Three Acres and Liberty, and Flight from the City. I also found Construction of a Simplified Wood Gas Generator for Fueling Internal Combustion Engines in a Petroleum Emergency, a U.S. FEMA document from 1989 which seems remarkably prescient in 2008.

I have provided links to all these books in my reading list, but they're pointed to three different providers. Check them all out!

22 August 2008

Book Review: The Humanure Handbook

Joseph Jenkins has written and self-published several books on topics which may be dear to the homesteader's heart, but his 15 minutes of fame is probably based on "The Humanure Handbook". This tome (now in its third edition!) is a discussion of poop, in all its glory.

Jenkins discusses the nutrient cycle, of which every other animal on the planet is part, and shows how humans have broken the cycle (and are breaking the planet!). No other animal, he points out, defecates in its drinking water. And fresh water is becoming a scarce resource worldwide, and only becomes scarcer as population increases.

Jenkins has successfully composted his entire family's--umm, humanure--for nearly 30 years. His process is simple, odor-free, and cyclic, with the compost being reintroduced to the family garden. Many people have an immediate gag reflex to this, but manure from large animals has been used as fertilizer in the fields for thousands of years. Humans are the most numerous large animal on the planet--why should we be any different? This book shows how to do it in a simple, reproducible, sanitary, safe, efficient way.

The book is available from Amazon, or PDF files can be downloaded from josephjenkins.com or jenkinspublishing.com.

21 August 2008

Family Reunion

I apologize for not writing. Again, I've been busy.

On 18 July, I flew out to SLC, UT, where I picked up my kids, borrowed some camping equipment, climbed into the rented minivan, and went to Glacier National Park, MT for a family reunion.

We spent more than a week inside and outside the park, hiking some of the trails, playing with the rest of the family.

I got some GREAT pictures. Some I have stitched together into vast panoramas. (Yes, this one has a visible seam, besides the ones in the sky. It was actually taken from two widely separated points.)

The trail in the first panorama leads to the overlook in the second panorama.

And the wildlife was amazing. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep, just as close as they look in the photos.

So now I'm back to work, back to dealing with my condominium association, back to the grind.

I'd rather be in Glacier.

10 July 2008

Imaginary Urban Homesteading

I have been remiss. I haven't posted anything for nearly nine days. As justification, I can say that in that time I have rescheduled my jury duty, cleaned my backyard, painted my back door, and worked a full schedule of hours. I haven't had time!

Yet another reason to homestead: I want to get away from Homeowners Associations and Condominium Associations. Every time they send me a list of "repairs" I need to perform to my house, the "simple" tasks grow and blossom like the Audrey II of "Little Shop of Horrors".

In 2005, for example, the task was, "Paint the rear bandboard" (a 12" plank separating the upper and lower siding). First, I had to wash it, so I wouldn't be painting dirt. That was when I found the soft spot in the corner. "I'll just cut that out and nail in a new piece," I said, and action followed words. But there was nothing to which to nail. Termites had eaten away the stud.

To get 3 estimates was a matter of 3 MONTHS; then the work could not begin for 2 more months. I had to replace all the siding, remediate the termite damage, and replace the glass door and windows on the back of the house--$15,000 dollars--before the job was finished. The loan will be paid off next month.

This time, I am painting and scraping, washing and raking...and trying to convince myself that I'm enjoying it, that I'm creating my homestead. It really does help.

02 July 2008

On Growing Up: Part 2

Specialization REQUIRES community. If you can't do everything yourself, you need a community to support you.

Community ENCOURAGES specialization. If you are a member of a community, you can focus on developing your skillset to the benefit of the community.

Specialization leads to commerce. I'll trade my skill for yours!

A specialist without a community is DEAD, sooner or later.

Dangers of overspecialization: you die faster outside the community.

Sex-based differences lead to the smallest, simplest communities: families.

Commerce leads to Currency. If we can agree on a system of value (valuta), then our exchanges are simplified. Barter becomes complicated when several parties are involved.

But any item only has value because we AGREE it has value. All currency, whether gold or paper, has only the value we agree that it has. All currency is fiat currency.

As skill in a specialization increases, the time to perform a task decreases (within limits). Therefore, the less time the specialist needs to spend on a task, the more his time is worth.

The process of learning and teaching may lead inevitably to guilds. One teacher and her students have different techniques and methods than another teacher and his students, and all it takes is one teacher who refuses to share his work.

26 June 2008

On Growing Up: Random Thoughts

You become an adult when you realize you DON'T know everything. Perhaps you become wise when you realize you don't know ANYTHING.

You can do anything, but you can't do EVERYTHING.

The acquisition of infinite knowledge requires infinite time.

Since you can't do everything, you must have others DO for you. Since you can't KNOW everything, you must rely on the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the race.


Only an adult who knows he doesn't know everything can begin to learn enough to know when a culture's entire accumulation of knowledge and wisdom is WRONG.

Many people NEVER become adults. You must be an adult to join the community, to participate in the culture, to profit from the commerce.

Since the child doesn't have the tools to delve deep enough into the bedrock laid beneath the culture, they do not have the ability to challenge the rule of law. Only an adult CAN do that, and they will have to face the judgment of the culture.

Adulthood is not a matter of age, directly. Being 18 or 21 doesn't make an adult, but it helps because you MAY have accumulated enough experience to THINK about your experiences.

The next step is to put the good of others before self. This builds community. Community IS self-sacrifice.

23 June 2008

Dreams of Homesteading

My earliest inclination to homesteading I inherited from my mother. She had the Reader's Digest "Back to Basics" book, and I would look at it for HOURS. Also on her shelf were the Foxfire books.

But not until my parents retired did she get her place in the country, near her childhood home in Parker's Prairie, MN. And by the time she turned 70, she was wheelchair-bound, and never has really enjoyed her dream.

I don't want that.

I want to get away from cities and asphalt and Code Red air. I want to get away from prostitutes and tourists. I want to get away from contracts and clearances. I want to get away from Congresscritters and bureaucrats.

In short, I live near Washington, DC.

I live in an upstairs piggyback condo with effectively NO attached property. And until recently, I liked it that way. I don't have any lawn to mow, and that was the way I wanted it.

On the other hand, I have the dream of standing on my wrap-around porch and looking out to the horizon, saying smugly, "Yep. That's mine."

All I want is MY 300 square miles! What's wrong with that? ;-)

The problem is, I have lots of things I'm trying to get away FROM--but what am I running TO? I can picture myself PLANNING the perfect homestead, but I never seem to picture myself in a garden. I can say, "Yes, goats would seem to be an ideal small stock for milk or meat," but I never imagine myself actually getting up to do the milking.

Not that I have a problem with getting up early--my alarm goes off at 4:30 AM now.

I plan, I dream, I ponder, but I never DO what it will take. And I'm afraid to find out that I won't enjoy eating from my own garden, won't enjoy the simple, frugal life as much as I think I will.

When I come down to it, I'm lazy. I only want to do a job once, and make it so I never have to do it again. That's one of the requirements for being a good engineer, and I think in many ways I am. But lazy don't get the crops in, and even though I like to go camping, I have to say I hate getting caught in the rain.

I'm not so much attracted to country living as I am despairing of life in the city. Gas has hit $4/gallon. Electricity has nearly doubled in the last 3 years. Federal energy policy is mandating ethanol from corn for biofuel, ignoring the facts that corn is not the best source, that the transfer of corn from feedstock to fermentation vat is driving up the price of meat and milk, and the transfer of land from raising other crops to raising corn is creating a corporate farming monoculture and driving up the cost of other foods, like bread and vegetables.

And then there's NAIS, and Monsanto, and GM crops, and petroleum fertilizers, and pesticides, and cancer, and, and, and...

I'm not predicting the imminent end of the world. I'm just convinced that being able to do for myself is good insurance--Simple Prudence, to coin a phrase--against almost anything but Doomsday.

But I'm still running FROM, not TO.

And then my "reason" kicks in. "You can't go off and become a subsistence farmer in Rural America! Your daughter is starting college in 440 DAYS, and your sons are following in 4 and 8 years! You can't just Tune Out, Turn Off, and Drop In--you've got bills! You've got responsibilities! YOU'VE GOT A JOB!"

I wish I could shut me up. But I make some good points--I have a responsibility to my kids, and I need to fulfill it.

TALK, TALK, TALK. I'm shutting up now. I'm too depressing.

22 June 2008


Before I go any further, I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Steven, and my canine companion in the picture is Sadie. If you click through to my profile, you'll be able to see my interests. The first entry below reflects my interest in medieval history and the Society for Creative Anachronism (www.sca.org).

Posts are coming on my desire to begin homesteading, my philosopical rantings, and my political opinions (best stated by Douglas Adams: "Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.") Anything that twits my interest is fair game, including your comments.

If you read carefully and are interested, you will soon find enough clues to search out any public information about me. So I'm not going to bother with any of my other email addresses, my last name, my home address and phone number, or where I work. Comment on my blog, send me email at simple.prudence@gmail.com, but don't just drop by the house. It's a mess.

Kingdom Archery Championship

I just got back from the Atlantian Kingdom Archery Championship, in which I did NOT compete. Instead, I and my friends spent lots of time playing music for the entertainment of the masses, and providing atmosphere for the event.

I was in my campsite, after the end of the archery competition and before the feast, when I decided I ought to walk down and see what was happening in court. Good thing--before I had been there 10 minutes, I was called before the Baroness and given the baronial Shell and Crescent award, in part for providing atmosphere by playing music.

One of the pieces I played this weekend was NOT from the Middle Ages. It was the song, "Still Alive," by Jonathan Coulter, as arranged by myself for flute. As I was playing, I caught the puzzled expression on the face of one young man (who went by the name Bubba, of all things). He leaned over to his girlfriend and whispered, "That's the song from the end of Portal!"

Afterward, I congratulated him. I had wondered if anyone would notice.