Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mother Earth News Fair

Like a greeter, a woodchuck sat in the road blocking the entrance to the parking area. The delay seemed appropriate. We were attending the Mother Earth News Fair at a resort in Seven Springs, PA. Finally, while traffic lined up behind our car, the woodchuck ambled off on it’s own business.

Although the name “Mother Earth News” evokes an impression of wackiness, the magazine is actually rather practical at least for those seeking a simpler life. According to Wikipedia, “Mother Earth News embraced the revived interest in the back-to-the-land movement at the beginning of the 1970s, and combined this with an interest in the ecology movement and self-sufficiency. Unlike other magazines with ecological coverage, Mother Earth News concentrated on do-it-yourself and how-to articles, aimed at the growing number of people moving to the country.” Their national fair reflected this distinctive by providing information with dozens of “how-to” seminars and demonstrations. Kit and I, avid culture watchers, were also interested in observing the diverse and likeable group.

Where else could you see Amish at the same venue as a religious group wearing full length purple robes and dreadlocks?

A recruiter from the American Association for Nude Recreation distributed illustrated literature and guest passes for a nudest colony. She challenged us to, “Come check us out!”

One man was demonstrating clothes lines as a “green” energy saver. Could this be be a new idea to the younger attendees who grew up with electric dryers?

Someone brought two half grown pigs and penned them on the lawn. Nobody seemed to notice or care as the pigs joyfully rooted up the resort’s lush green grass. Their porker snouts can flip out hunks of sod as easily as I could do with a spade.

Three earnest young men tinkered with their invention, the “Bikerator”, to use static bicycles generating electricity. Finally, they got it working. It takes a lot of pedaling to power a single light bulb. We wondered if pedaling all day to read at night was worth it.

A crowing rooster kept interrupting the seminar leader on alpaca ranching. The alpaca expert insisted that the recession has made alpacas affordable for just $5,000 each or “in some cases for free.”

One seminar leader was an MIT graduate who dropped out of engineering at a young age to pursue carpentry. We wondered if he was still paying off his student loan.

Solar power was prominently featured. Unfortunately, solar electrical systems are still very expensive to setup with a marginal payoff, if any. Kit commented, “You need green, to be green.”

For me, two massive Belgian horses were the highlight of the fair. Their purpose is removing whole tree trunks from woods without disturbing the environment by heavy machinery The giant horses were as gentle and as friendly as labrador retrievers. They were very curious about the strangers petting them and offering apple treats. Beats hauling trees for sure.

You don’t have to leave America to experience other cultures and meet interesting people. The Mother Earth News Fair was charming. And the Pennsylvania countryside looked like a nostalgic fall painting with brown corn stalks, apple orchards, golden rod in bloom, and colorful maple trees. Post-employment is going to be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Who hasn’t winced when receiving a bill from a plumber or other service? Now, post-employment with no income, the bills that once made us wince could bring on heart palpitations. And we’ve discovered how hard it is to make money through home based enterprise. There’s lots of competition raising vegetables, making soap from goat milk, selling on the Internet, or writing articles for magazines.

Although making new money is hard, the field is wide open for eliminating some of the heart stopping bills by learning new skills and Doing-It-Yourself. And we can add to the enjoyment and value of our home by DIY improvements. Here are a few of Drew’s DIY tips:

Most skills can be learned

I worked with an engineer who used to say, “If someone else can do it, then you can learn how as well.” Obviously, that doesn’t apply to ballet or professional football. But, most service skills are learnable. The library is full of illustrated “How to” books that explain nearly anything. I particularly like the Home Depot “1-2-3” DIY books, because you don’t waste a lot of time finding what’s needed. Home Depot sells every tool or material they specify.

Practice is necessary

The ability to read music and knowing where to find the keys does not make you a piano player. Likewise, many DIY skills require some practice. I had a bicycle flat and so had to hitchhike 20+ miles to home. Lots of cars and trucks passed me, although the cause of my need was evident. Then an undocumented Mexican worker stopped and took me home. Isn’t that a Good Samaritan story? Afterwards, I determined to learn how to replace a bicycle tube on the road. Even though I purchased the tools and parts, I just couldn’t get that tire over the tube, even after going to the bike shop to watch them. Then somehow I got one to fit. The next one was easier. Now I can change tubes quickly. I don’t even know what I’m doing differently. But, practice is necessary for many skills.

Try unusual things

Recently the windshield fluid squirter on our car failed. We found where something, likely an energetic rodent, had gnawed up the line from the pump to the nozzle. I’ll bet that the Toyoda dealer would have charged $150 just to find the problem. Then, if an assembly was required… I don’t want to guess the price. And what if later the rodent came back for another taste treat? So, we found a piece of plastic tubing at a hardware store and spliced the line with superglue for $2.23. It’s working fine.

Don’t be to proud to back off

Kit’s body waves seemed very expensive to me. “How hard can it be?” I thought. So, we bought a body wave in a box for several dollars. Using those curlers was more difficult than it looks, especially for my course male hands. Disaster was looming. We simply gave up before lasting damage was done. Sure, we lost a few dollars. But, we’ve recouped that many times through our successes.

Learning and applying new DIY skills is a sure bet money saver for post employment and can be very satisfying. You also can extend Christian love by helping others with your skills. We haven’t had time yet to start a helping ministry called, “An old man with tools.” I’ll bet it could keep us very busy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer Days by Kit

Whoever wrote the lyrics to the song, “those lazy, hazy days of summer” didn’t have a garden. If he or she did the words of the song would have been closer to the “horribly hot in the kitchen, I can’t fill one more jar, who eats tomatoes anyway” days of summer.

As you can tell from the other articles on our blog my husband Drew is an avid gardener. He loves the promise of each seed he puts in the ground. And it is an amazing thing to see those seeds fulfill their promise in tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash of all sorts, okra, cantaloupe and watermelons. And new potatoes, but they of course don’t come from a seed. It is a wonder that never losses its ability to delight.

Each morning he walks the 50 yard path to gather the abundance of the garden and bring it into our kitchen. The first weeks of the harvest are always exciting but as the vegetables begin to take over all my counter space the excitement turns into anxiety. What am I going to do with all these vegetables?

After using every salad recipe I can find and giving away as much as I can, the vegetables stare at me as they begin rotting little by little, their full potential in jeopardy of being wasted. I hate to waste things.

So this year the canner came out. I canned years ago. But, I was younger then. I wondered if I remembered how. There are lots of things to know and the penalty for not doing it right is not only wasting the vegetables but possibly making people sick as well. But like riding a bike, (an activity that would be included in a lazy summer day) it did come back as I looked through my recipes, bought new canning supplies and took my own journey of promise with the bounty of the earth. The beautiful red jars of tomato sauce make me feel like I had honored both Drew and the seeds he put in the ground.

There isn’t much left in the garden now. The tomatoes and cucumbers are barely covering one small section of my counter space, the last gifts of the garden. Soon Drew will take down the plants and turn over the soil in preparation for next summer. The rush of all those vegetables taking over my kitchen is long over. Strangely when I opened a jar of the tomato sauce the other day I was humming a familiar tune……. “those lazy, hazy, days of summer.” How soon I forget…

My sister’s tomato sauce recipe – thanks Marnie

8 lbs. of tomatoes (I had to use a bathroom scale to get the right amount)
Peeled and quartered
½ cup salad oil
6 cups chopped onion (about 4 small)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 6 oz. cans tomato paste
4 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 TBSP. brown sugar

And I added about a cup or so of lemon juice to give it a bit of a kick

Heat the oil in a large non-aluminum kettle. Add everything and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. Stir often.

Water bath as directed for tomatoes: 30 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts, makes 5-6 quarts