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Our debt riddled society

13 Sep

Last week I had a minor car crash. It was minor in that no one was hurt in the slightest, but the impact it had on my life was major. My car was ruined. I only had third party insurance, as my car wasn’t really worth very much and I didn’t have much money for insurance. It was a horrible day. When the crash happened and I got out to talk to the other guy, my heart just sank. I was in total shock, but I knew instantly that this was A Big Deal.

I spent the next few days incredibly stressed trying to figure out how I was going to pay for a new car. My nanny work requires me to have a car; the kids are 11 and 14 so they don’t really need much supervision, they just need to be picked up from school, reminded to do a few things, and taxied to their various extracurricular activities. So not only was I facing a large expense, I couldn’t work. There were several occasions when I really needed my car and it just plain old sucked not to have it.

I know this is a very first world problem. And no one was hurt in the crash. My son wasn’t even in the car, thank goodness, otherwise I would have felt like the worst mother in the world. I still had food to eat and a roof over my head and good friends, etc. But it made me realise all over again how incredibly dependent I am on cheap oil and my car.

 

Last night I bought a car on borrowed money. I borrowed it from my own business, so I don’t have to pay interest or sign my life away to an unscrupulous loan shark. I’m lucky for this, but it still made me realise how vulnerable I am that I don’t have enough money saved to bail myself out of this kind of serious situation. I got a cheap car but it works really well and is lovely to drive.

It was a strange experience though.

The auction itself was terrifying. They speak so loud and so fast, and there’s a whole lot of gesticulating and yelling and pictures flashing on the screen and people barely moving to flash their cards and spend money. When it got to the car I wanted, lot 19, I wasn’t even quite sure when the bid was mine and when it was the other person. I won it, but I was shaking the whole time. What made it even more nerve wracking was the fact that I know next to nothing about cars. I did several test drives, rejected several cars outright, but when it came to the one I chose I had no expertise to check if anything was wrong. It got it’s warrant of fitness last week, so I trusted that. I hope it doesn’t blow up on me or anything. The consultants, one in particular, were actually genuinely helpful and did make the process somewhat more pleasant for me. But still,  I do not want to do that by myself ever again!

I was struck by a sign which said:

NEVER
NEVER
NEVER
Let finance stand between you and your dream car.

And I almost wanted to cry with how stupid our debt driven society is. How about:

NEVER
NEVER
NEVER
Let your dream car stand between you and a sensible choice.

? ?

I love having a car again.

I’m so dependent.

Eeek.

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Who Killed Economic Growth?

8 Aug

Wallowing in self pity

5 Aug

Today I attended the second CYF workshop on Ways to Care, which is preparing people for becoming foster or adoptive parents. I’m not going to go into details about that, but I have been feeling rather bummed out ever since. Nothing to do with the workshop, even.

No, I’m feeling bummed out because most of the people in that room were extremely well dressed, in what appear to be solid relationships [I know it is not always clear from external appearances], with important jobs (judging from the amount of phone calls and txts that happened on expensive phones in the breaks). Although I am a fairly confident person and they were all nice, and I contributed plenty of valid ideas, I felt self conscious. Because I was there in my op shop clothes, on my own.

I know plenty of single mothers, and I think they’re great. But I don’t want any of their lifestyles. All the single mothers I know stress about money on a regular basis. I’m not someone who’s inclined to stress, and yet I began to really stress about money when I became a single mum. I think of all the people I know who have several beautiful children, big houses, loving husbands, plenty of money, etc. And I just feel really really bummed out.

I was raised by a single mother, and I have never known what it’s like to not worry about money, what it’s like not to feel like it’s a constant battle to ‘get by’, since I knew what money was.

I wanted a big family, and a loving husband, and a nice place to live. Well, I married a jerk (and subsequently left him after his behaviour became increasingly unacceptable), and have never lived in a place I really liked.  My pregnancy was so traumatic that I’m scared to go through it again, and given that I needed so many medical interventions (five anti nausea drugs, two heartburn drugs, various supplements, IV fluids, NG tube, a lot of monitoring and ultrasounds and tests, a cesarean section), I feel I would be unlikely to survive another pregnancy if I did not have access to all that free medical care. Which is entirely possible, given what is happening in the world.

I don’t want to be alone forever. I tell myself: I’m still young. I’m only 24. I have lots to bring to a relationship. But I don’t know how to meet people, how to date. I met my husband when I was 19. I was in the dating phase so briefly that I barely remember the rules. I miss having someone’s hand to hold. I hate doing the housework and I get really bored with the mundane things in life, because there’s no one to do it with. No one to have conversations with or laugh with. I spend too much time on the computer, hoping someone will talk to me on Facebook or Skype, reading chatty blogs – because I’m so lonely once my playgroups are over and my son is in bed and my friends are spending time with their ‘other half’.

I don’t want to get trapped into thinking a man will ‘save me’. I was raised by a feminist, after all. But I don’t think it’s their manliness that I perceive as the saviour. It’s having someone to share life with.

I read this blog post about a mum’s trip to Kenya. And I was struck mostly by the statement: Kenyan women are never lonely. For a moment, I actually felt envious of women whose children have aids, who have to get up at 4am to wait two hours in a line to get water, who live in utter poverty. I envied them their community. I can see how that makes their otherwise desperately difficult lives livable.

I’m trying to move back to my hometown, where I have more of a community, where life will be that little bit easier, but my son’s father will fight me. I can understand why. Believe me, the thought of separating my son from his father causes me endless anxiety and guilt. But I felt that way before I left the marriage, and I don’t regret that in the least. And in all honesty, I don’t trust my son’s feelings to be safe in his father’s hands when he is older. Mine never were. I don’t think he is a good role model. I want my baby to have a Dad who loves him, but actually: I don’t want him to be around all the time. That doesn’t change the fact that I could be facing a long custody battle if I try to move away.

I know that I should count my blessings. And believe me, I often do. I’m not depressed and I’m not angry, I’m just bummed. I know that many of those wealthy well-dressed happily-married course participants would give anything to have a beautiful little child like I do. That’s why they were there. I’m usually pretty positive.

But right now, I’m feeling crap, and I’m wallowing in it.

Some encouragement to keep doing ‘this’

27 Jun

I wrote the title of this post and then thought “What is ‘this’?”

‘This’ can alternately be described as ‘turning into the kind of hippy my teenage self would be horrified at’, and ‘becoming a responsible citizen’. It seems that nowadays, being a responsible adult means paying your bills and keeping the wheels of the industrial cog turning. That’s not enough. It never was, but particularly not anymore. So for me, ‘this’ is learning how to live a good life. ‘This’ is following the green dream, and turning it into the norm.

Sometimes it’s really hard. I’d like things to be a bit simpler sometimes. But let’s forget all the difficulties for the moment. The important thing, when it comes down to it, is that this is all important stuff. And in many ways, it’s really exciting and challenging too! (Challenging is usually a positive word in my vocabulary.)

Today I started reading this cool little e-book: Ten ways to Chillax and Have Fun as you Live Your Green Dreams. I recommend checking it out. I think the title is pretty self explanatory, so enough from me.

The Story of Ten Ways to Chillax and Have Fun As You Live Your Green Dreams from Happy Writers on Vimeo.

Some relief

25 Jun

Today I was offered (and accepted) a part time nanny job. It’s always exciting and esteem-building to be offered a job, but the strongest feeling I had today was relief. As a single mother, finances are a constant struggle. It is hard to portion the money to pay the bills and to eat healthily, and there is nothing leftover for savings or treats.

The difference this nanny job will make to my life is massive.

I will be able to save (a small amount of) money, as well as have some of the weight off my shoulders. It’s hard, being poor. I’m not poverty stricken, and I know there are many out there worse off than me. At least I have a comfortable (if small) house, can eat reasonably well, I have the internet and a car, and I can raise my son without having to put him in daycare while I work full time. But it is relentless, this not-quite-having-enough. I am a fairly relaxed and unstressed person, but sometimes the weight of the world is upon my shoulders.

So this part time job, to which I can bring my toddler along with me, is a sanity saver. Hallelujah.

When will it sink in?

23 Jun

Yesterday a friend posted a Facebook status about the high price of her grocery shop this week. Someone posted a reply saying ‘It’s gonna get worse apparently’.

I can’t help but wonder exactly what they are thinking; they and all the other people who complain about the cost of food and fuel and go on living their life the same way they’ve always done. Albeit with more grumbling and probably more debt. Do they not wonder why? Why it is that in the 50’s families could live comfortably off one income, and now it’s a struggle on two? Why food prices get higher and higher on a monthly basis, when wages just aren’t creeping up to match? Is it all attributed to normal inflation?

I want to know when people will realise that there is something more going on. That we aren’t just in a ‘little recession’ and things will go back to normal in a couple of years. That the landfills are filling up and now they’re even building toxic houses on them. That our society is unsustainable and therefore will not be sustained.

When will I stop feeling like the slightly mad one who is given to hippy-ish flights of fancy about the end of the world as we know it? When will everyone else stop feeling a bit ‘put upon’ and realise it’s time to take responsibility? I feel sometimes as if I’m walking round in a bubble, where I can see things with clarity from somewhere else, and yet I can’t escape them. I am doing my best, but it’s not enough. Or am I? I reduce, reuse, recycle. I live in an upstairs flat but I am growing brassicas in the middle of winter in pots on my steps. I am learning how to make things from scratch. I am networking. I am raising a beautiful child with all the goodness and consciousness in me. But at the end of the day, I’m still dependent on my car, the supermarket, and the government benefit that gets paid into my account each week.

‘It’ has sunk in, but I haven’t climbed out yet, to be terribly metaphorical about it all.

Chaos

18 Jun

People were created to be loved.
Things were created to be used.
The reason the world is in chaos,
is because things are being loved,
and people are being used.

Rubbish free solutions – supermarket shopping

11 Jun

Food is my biggest source of rubbish. So, aside from overnight disposable nappies, it is my first port of call to reduce my waste.

Dairy

I LOVE cheese. Any and all kinds of cheese. One day I will learn how to make it and then I will be cheese-rubbish-free, but til then, I’m allowing myself a block of cheese. A 1kg block of tasty cheddar lasts me a month, so it’s not too much rubbish. But I also sometimes buy camembert (about the only cheese I can afford outside of cheddar!) so I will cut down on that. If you have a larger budget than mine there are specialty cheese shops and delis where you can buy a chunk of cheese off the round, and wrap it in your own cloth or reused plastic bag.

Milk is fine, because I can recycle the bottles. Thanks, council. But even better would be to get it direct off a farm in a reused glass bottle. I’m not in a situation to source that, but you might be! Same goes for juice here; the bottles are recyclable.

Yoghurt containers can also be recycled where I am, which is handy. But I might try making my own. All you need is milk and some active culture. (And pots and thermometer and spoon.)

Personally I prefer butter to margarine. I don’t use a lot of it, so a block of butter lasts a while, unless I have a baking spree. According to myzerowaste.com, you can compost the butter wrapper, but fatty foods can attract rats so only compost it if you have a well fitting lid.

Fruit

Plant some fruit trees.

Arrange a swap with your neighbours fruit trees.

Order an organic vege box. This is my favoured option.

Go to a farmers market and take your own bags.

If you must buy fruit from the supermarket, reuse plastic bags, or don’t use them at all. If the checkout operator gives you a funny look as your fruit rolls on to the scales, smile and say ‘I’m cutting down on plastic bags’. Or ignore it, smug with the knowledge that you are helping the planet, even if they think you’re annoying.

Veges

Same as for fruit above, except it’s easier, quicker, and takes less space to grow veges.

I love the organic boxes. But farmers markets are also good.

And unlike buying multiple pieces of fruit, you usually don’t need plastic bags for vegies anyway.

Snacks

Cutting down on rubbish around snacks requires more of an attitude shift. These things are all about the packaging. Here are some snacks I like, and how I’m going to reduce my rubbish with them:

Bhuja mix. Crunchy and peanut-y, yum! This stuff comes in the bulk bins at the supermarket, so I’m going to reuse the same bag. It’ll even have the right number on it already! This goes for lots of things in the bulk bins. Nuts, rice crackers, dried fruit. All good snacks that have reusable packaging.

Crackers. I usually buy the organic corn thins because they don’t have lots of extra ingredients; emulsifiers and preservatives and MSG and flavours and all that. So they are a handy snack to give to the toddler. The outside plastic bag can be reused as storage as I won’t be buying clingfilm, but I’m not sure what to do about the foil inner. Maybe this is one of the things, like the cheese wrapper, that I have to accept for the meantime. I’ve tried making crackers a few times before and they were failures. So I don’t really want to try again and waste food.

Biscuits. Yummy but not terribly good for you. Still, it’s nice to have some on hand for when visitors pop round or you want a quick sweet munch. Easy way to cut down on waste – bake them yourself! I have even made raw cookies and they were delicious.

Chips… just don’t bother. I used to love chips, but when I gave in to my weaker self and bought some the other day, I found that I finally didn’t enjoy them. Woohoo!

Muesli bars are fairly easy to make. I don’t buy them usually but I’m quite tempted to make some.

Grains

I will now only buy my grains in the bulk bins and reuse the bags.

Bread

Now that I know I can successfully make wholemeal bread, I plan to make two loaves at a time, and that will mean no plastic waste. My flour comes in paper bags which can be recycled or composted, the oil comes in glass, the honey and yeast in reusable containers. The only thing that comes in a plastic bag is the salt, so I will have to investigate other options for salt.

Meat

I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I might suss out the local butcher for the little that I do.

Frozen goods

I do tend to keep frozen peas, corn, and pastry in the freezer. I guess I’ll have to make pastry from scratch (and if I can’t be bothered, that’s probably better for me!). As far as the veges go, I think I will allow myself that. It’s good to have backup veges and they don’t get used up quickly so it won’t be much waste. Once I have a garden I can obviously freeze my own produce.

Cleaning products

I thought there wasn’t a Bin Inn in Wellington, but apparently there’s a new store in Lower Hutt. Great! Bin Inn have bulk cleaning products on tap, as well as all the ingredients you need to make your own. Their website has recipes and tips if you click on the ‘Cleaning’ tab. I will have to do this bit slowly, as I have cleaning products and it would be silly to waste them.

Cutting down on waste

10 Jun

Remember these guys?

When I first saw this segment on Campbell Live I remember being almost disbelieving. Only one plastic bag of rubbish? How is that possible? Do these people eat? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that they were really on to something. Rubbish plays a huge part in our modern lifestyles. We are so used to being able to pick up a packet of anything, and then throw it away. You can buy apple slices in the supermarket, wrapped in plastic. You can buy individually wrapped slices of cheese and crackers, which are then packaged in a container. It’s quite absurd. It has got to the point where we don’t think things are safe unless they are triple wrapped. Last night I stopped by the Organic Gypsy wellness blog, written by one of my readers (hi!). Her top post was about how zero waste is hard. It is! But not impossible. I figure it’s like transitioning from a standard to a raw diet. It requires a radical change in thinking and habits, and may involve slipping back before the change is complete. So I’m going to start now.

According to rubbishfree.co.nz, there are now estimated to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square kilometre of every ocean in the world, and in the past 25 years in NZ, we’ve increased what we throw away by 73%. If we put our waste onto a rugby field we’d have a pile 30 stories high – every month!

I feel like I want to justify myself to Waveney and Matthew on the rubbishfree website. But you don’t have a baby. It’s harder with a baby. For example, although I have used cloth nappies with my son from birth, I have also put him in a disposable nappy overnight. They hold more moisture and pull the wetness away from him so he doesn’t wake up wet. I really like getting a good nights sleep and it sucks to be woken up and have to change his nappy (and his outfit) and get him back to sleep. But having said that, he occasionally wets through his disposable too, so I may as well at least give it a go with the cloth nappy overnight. I have enough inserts; I just hope it won’t be too uncomfortable for him with that much padding round his bum.

So this is my first thing to address. I am feeling myself really resistant to not putting him in a disposable overnight! It’s also winter, and I am occasionally using disposables during the day as well, as I just can’t seem to get the cloth nappies dry in time. It takes a good few days to dry them in this weather. I have one small rack in the hot water cupboard, and a larger rack in the hallway.

The next big thing to address is food waste. I am not particularly careful about the food packaging I buy. To give myself some credit, I do take my reusable shopping bags, and I buy my organic produce in a box, so there aren’t a zillion little plastic bags for each type of fruit. But I don’t think twice about buying a block of cheese, a packet of crackers, some ham in a bag from the deli, frozen peas and corn, snacks. So much plastic! This is going to be a BIG change to make! I’m rather nervous, if I’m totally honest with you.

Another big issue for me is that I don’t have a compost. I left my worm farm behind when my husband and I separated. I now live in the upstairs flat in a block of two. There is a small grassy section at the front which isn’t fenced and is right on the road. The small back section is almost unusable; it gets no sun and is very steep and borders on to bush. I don’t feel comfortable gardening out there with my son toddling around. So, thinking of solutions… I could ask my nice landlord if I can put a compost on the back section – there is a small area that looks reasonably flat, and it won’t be used for anything else. Although some of these changes are difficult, not having a compost goes against the grain. It’s something I have had everywhere I have lived, except for a few months in an apartment when I didn’t cook much anyway. I feel reluctant to ask anything of my landlord, given that I flooded the place the second night I was here, when the washing machine hose popped out of the sink. The floors are having to be relaid and it is a drama. They are very nice, but still…

This post is getting a bit long, so I’ll do another one on zero waste solutions shortly.

I really like my car

8 Jun

Today I had a busy out-and-about-day which involved a job interview for a part time nanny position, grocery shopping, taking a meal to a sick friend with a sick baby, dropping my son off to a friend for babysitting, going to an info evening about Home for Life, and picking my son up and taking him home well after his bedtime. I am so grateful for my car. I could not have done all that with a toddler on board if I had to use public transport.

I didn’t get my license until I decided I wanted a baby. I had driving lessons with a rather large bump, and sat my test while a friend took my 4 week old newborn for a walk. So it’s been less than two years that I have been independently driving. For many years I walked, cycled, used public transport, or got lifts from friends. It was fine, because it was all I knew, but once I started driving life became a lot easier.

The day after I got my license, this is what I did, with my newborn son in the backseat, while parking at the library.

(The numberplate wasn’t mooshed. I photoshopped that bit.)

I got a hell of a fright. My baby didn’t even wake up. So much for acing my test; I crashed the car while parking, for goodness’ sakes. Why did I press the accelerator instead of the brake? I don’t know. I had freedom and mobility for a whole day, and then it was back to being stuck at home because the Auckland public transport isn’t even worth bothering with. $750, a wrangle with our insurance company, and a few weeks later, my car was restored.

It’s a good car. Getting a bit old, but it does the job nicely. I’m going to be sad when I can’t use it any more. I almost wish I didn’t get my license, because then I wouldn’t know what I was missing out on in the future when I can’t afford to use it anymore. I know that I should be taking more steps to reduce my dependence on my car, but it’s hard! I know I should reduce my carbon emissions, but I feel like I am being forced to restrict my driving anyway due to petrol prices, and I shouldn’t have to reduce it even more. I’m entitled, right? Isn’t that what my generation expects? I live in a city. Many of my friends are far away. I have a toddler. I can’t give up on my car yet. But I hope I am ready by the time I have to.

Cheap childcare

3 Jun

I confess, the idea of putting my toddler in daycare really does not appeal. I have a couple of close friends who are early childhood teachers, and I mean no disrespect to their wonderful profession. I hope that my son benefits from early childhood education when he is older. But it is simple, as far as I can see. No one except family is going to give your baby the loving and focused care you do. Although there are good things about daycare, it is just not for me while my son is under two years old.

But sometimes I need a break, sometimes I need to work, sometimes I need to get things done. So how do you get quality childcare when you have no spare moolah? Cheap childcare doesn’t have to mean bad childcare. Here are some positive ideas for single and two parent families:

Babysitting co-op

Say you have a few friends who are keen to swap some evening babysitting. For those on low budgets, having to pay a babysitter can make the difference between being able to go out once in a while, and having to stay at home all the time. I remember babysitting for $10 for a whole evening; these days the going rate is more like $15 per hour.

So you all get together and agree on some basic rules. Safety, screen time, food, etc. Whatever is important to you. I like the idea of buttons or poker chips, or some other ‘babysitting currency’. Each member of the group gets 10 buttons. Each button represents half an hour of babysitting. This means that you don’t have to do a direct swap. You ‘pay’ your friend to babysit, and receive buttons when you babysit for them. No money needs to be spent, and you can all be sure that your child is being cared for by someone you know and trust.

This one is a bit more difficult for single parents, because you can’t necessarily leave your child at home with the other parent. But they could sleep where you are if that works for both parties. And if it’s during the day they can easily come and play with the other children. Also, a word of caution to Dads. I have a friend who was part of a babysitting co-op who eventually got fed up of doing all the babysitting while her husband did none and still got the benefit of a cheaper night out. You can have as many members as you like in this co-op. The more you have, the more likely it is you will have someone who can be available when you need them. Just make sure all members know and trust each other.

Childcare swap

This involves one friend, and a direct swap. For example, my friend Jess and I have toddlers two weeks apart in age. We look after each other’s child, along with our own, one afternoon a week each. The day and time changes according to our schedules. We both trust each other and because our kids are close in age they are on the same level. I can imagine it would be harder with an 18 month old and a 6 month old, for example. Although still possible of course! We work it so that the babysitter goes to the child’s house. We figured that it would be more relaxing for the child whose parent wasn’t there to be at their own home.

Private creche

This is a bit like a cross between the swap and the co-op. Say one morning a week, you have an extra two children at your house. It helps if the children are similiar ages and get along. In return, your child goes to the other children’s houses on another two mornings a week. So you get two free mornings in return for one morning looking after two other children. You already have the toys and a childproofed home for your own little one; chances are it will be even more exciting when he or she has a couple of friends to play with.

As the children will be awake (as is unlikely with the evening babysitting co-op – although there’s no reason the co-op can’t be operated during the daytime) it’s important to agree on things like safety and discipline. The other parents can drop off their children with nappies and snacks, or you can agree to provide snacks for all the children on your duty day.

Playdates

This isn’t childcare, exactly, but it is amazing how relaxing it can be to just sit down and have a cup of tea while your child plays with another. I have found that when we are out and about my son is far too absorbed in what’s going on to get grumpy about anything, and having a whole new set of toys to play with, as well as another little person, really stimulates him. No cost, no pressure, just hanging out. I kinda feel like I’m having a break, even though I’m still on call for nappy changes and feeding. It’s hard work entertaining a 14 month old boy, so it eases that aspect of parenting for a couple of hours.

Grandparents

Wish I had some of these around. Having someone look after your child who does it for the pure joy of it is priceless in more than one way. My brother is a really helpful and loving babysitter which is wonderful, but he does expect some fiscal compensation.

Au pairs

This option is well out of my budget and unnecessary for me. But if I had a few kids, a spare room, and worked full time, or at least more part time, I would totally hire an au pair. Part of their cost is offset in board, and in my opinion, being exposed to a different culture and language is brilliant for children.

And last but not least…

WINZ childcare subsidy

If I were to put my son in an approved daycare, I would receive a subsidy of $3.84 per hour. Currently my work commitments don’t require me to put him in daycare but it’s possible that in another 6 – 12 months I may need to have him in care one day a week or something like that and the subsidy would certainly help. If you are in NZ, it’s definitely worth investigating the childcare subsidy – even if you’re not on the DPB.

Community currency

If you’re a hairdresser or you have some spare honey from your beehives, consider joining a community currency programme like LETS, Green Dollars, or other. You could ‘trade’ your skills in return for childcare. (Obviously hairdressing and honey aren’t the only useful things you can trade.) I haven’t yet found out what my local community currency is or who to contact to join it, but you can be sure I will!

An update and some thoughts on eating organically

29 May

My lovely toddler and I are now settled in to our new two bedroom flat. It is clean and tidy, well insulated, with a new kitchen and practical layout, and convenient to lots of things. The downsides are that it is an upstairs flat and there is not much of a garden to speak of. But, good-life-geek that I am becoming, I have already asked my landlord for permission to have herbs and vegies in pots on my porch, and will work on having a small vege garden in the grassy area downstairs once he forgets about the fact that I flooded the laundry and kitchen on my second night here.

My current challenge, as I mentioned before, is to figure out how to feed me and the baby on my limited grocery budget. I have made a step towards this (before the separation, in fact) by buying organic vege boxes. I would really like to buy all organic food, but I just don’t think I can afford that. If I buy healthy food like grains, and bake my own bread, I can probably eat fairly healthily on a budget. But the more I learn the more I don’t want to compromise. I want to eat all organic, and morally, shouldn’t I be able to?

However, my government, who pays my bills, doesn’t really care about eating organically. If all I can afford is white bread, they think we’re still being fed. Alas and alack and all that. I will find a way!

Here are some tips I have learned already in this new journey.

  • Johnsonville Salvation Army have a 2 course meal for $2 every Wednesday night at 6pm. Now it appears I’m not that committed to organic, because I’m quite happy to go along and eat their beef casserole with peas and potatoes, with custard and pear for dessert. Because I don’t have to cook. And it’s $2. And I don’t even have to clean up afterwards. If you’re not local to me, chances are your local church or community centre has something similiar. It’s not full of seedy characters; being a church there was quite a family atmosphere, and I was happy to sit through 2 minutes of preaching between courses in order to get all the benefits I mentioned above.
  • Invite friends round for dinner. You can make a meal for 2 or 3 almost as cheaply as for 1 – especially if it’s a stew or such like. Just add a bit more split peas or potatoes or stock. There are lots of cheap meals that can be made fancy. And in return, they’ll invite you round for dinner, so that’s another night you don’t have to cook or pay for food.
  • Buy quality. I have discovered this really delicious peanut butter. It’s about $6 a jar, which is almost 3 times the price of crappy peanut butter. But it has no sugar or emulsifiers or anything in, and it’s so yummy I actually want to eat it. This saves me having cheese or pesto or ham or something else expensive on my cracker. The same with cheese; I buy Mainland tasty cheese (other brands of tasty cheese aren’t really tasty at all) and it’s strong enough that you need to use less, therefore saving money. It’s about $12 a block compared to $9 for colby or cheap tasty, but it lasts me a long time.

Organic vege boxes

19 May

I have discovered a wonderful thing. Delivered. Organic. Boxes. Of fruit and vegetables.

I don’t have an established garden, but I love organic vegetables. People argue over the health benefits (which seems stupid, really; obviously something that is natural is going to be healthier than something that isn’t… it’s that simple) but aside from all that, organic tastes so much better. No wonder veges are so uninspiring and people have to force themselves to eat them, when they buy sterile supermarket vegetables. I can’t afford to shop at the organics store, but the delivered boxes are actually not much more than I would pay for fruit and veg at the supermarket.

It’s also a good way to make sure that the largest portion of my grocery bill is made up of fresh, healthy, fruit and vegetables. And although it can be somewhat inconvenient to not choose the produce myself, it’s also rather cool to get a mystery box of deliciousness, and have to use what I have to figure out some different meals than I might otherwise make.

I have been getting baby boxes from the Organic Connection and they are pretty good. But I have also come across the same service through Commonsense Organics which is a bit cheaper, so I am going to trial that in a couple of weeks. Their website is crap, so I haven’t bothered to go through the process yet. I also got a voucher through groupy for Organic Boxes – $25 for a $50 box – so I am going to use that next week.

I will report back in a few weeks or so with the results of my market research.

UPDATE: The Organic Boxes box was less plentiful than the Organic Connection one. It was good quality, but I wouldn’t have thought it was enough for a couple for a week. I tried to go through the Commonsense website again to order one of their boxes but they really don’t make it easy… I have given up for now; maybe once they upgrade their website I will have a crack at it. I am sticking with Organic Connection for the moment.

Oily rags stink

8 May

Her purse and lipstick are worth more than my weekly grocery budget.

I haven’t written much in the last week or so. My husband and I are in the process of separating so I’ve been a tad distracted. My thoughts are less about preparing for Peak Oil, becoming self sufficient and moving to a farm, and more about how the heck I’m going to raise my child on the DPB. I thought things were tight on my husband’s salary. Now I’ll have most of the same expenses, and not much more than half the income. It’s scary.

So all my ideas about being more self sufficient are becoming at once more important, and more difficult. Living off the government is a blessing that allows me to be there for my toddler while he most needs his mama. I’m glad to live in a country with a social welfare system. Glad that I won’t be homeless or starving. But it ain’t a well paying job. Being smart with money is now my top priority second only to taking care of my son.

I have a book called How to Live off the Smell of an Oily Rag. It is a very handy book. But it stinks too, that life is about to get so much harder. I know I can do it. I’m not stupid. This isn’t forever. And it’s not like I was raised in a wealthy family; I was raised by a single mum and I know how to live on the cheap. It just stinks, that’s all.

I also have to do it by myself.

Hello, new life!

I’m freeeee, freecyclin’

17 Apr

Today I learnt about The Freecycle Network. It’s a global organisation set up to ‘change the world one gift at a time’. Instead of  taking something you no longer want to the landfill, you post it on Freecycle, and if someone wants it, they come and get it. The network has an online registry where you can post offers or wanted items.

It’s all totally free, and that’s about the only rule (no strings attached, like bartering or exchanging). You’re also not allowed to write a ‘sob story’ about why you need something, just wanting it is enough. You join a group for your area: as you are required to pick up items it is pointless joining a region you can’t get to.

It’s such a simple idea, but it seems to work, and has done since 2003 (over seven million members now). I joined today and have already made a connection to go and pick up some 1 – 3 yr old boys clothes, advertised to give away a working keyboard that we have never used, and posted a wanted ad for some chicken wire and wooden posts to build a chicken coop with. We shall see if that comes to fruition!

Why I want this anyway

16 Apr

I have never believed that living life in fear of the future is any way to live life. Take Wellington, for example. I know people who won’t live here, and won’t even visit here, for fear of ‘The Big One’. Well, Christchurch had a massive earthquake (or big few) and no one saw it coming, whereas here in Wellington we are stable. [Touch wood.] If I had allowed fear of an earthquake to get in my way, I may not have made an album, done a tour, started a business, learnt web design, and met my husband. It is part of my philosophy that we should seek happiness, not live in fear or duty.

So when my husband pointed out that a lot of my motivation for moving to a farm or village is in anticipation of Peak Oil, I had to stop and think. Was I going against my philosophy: was I arranging my life around fear? I have decided not. Here is why I would do this anyway (oh man, another list…):

  • Finances. I’m weary of feeling like we never earn quite enough to keep up with the lifestyle we have or the lifestyle we want. We don’t have huge debt and we can pay rent and bills and eat healthy food, but we don’t have any spare. In the city culture, this is stressful. I’d like to live somewhere there is less of a strain with money; due to increased self sufficiency and decreased ‘needs’.
  • Community is such an important and beautiful thing. I’d like more of it for me, and I’d like more of it for my son.
  • It’s more natural. I have always felt this, although often denied it to myself and others. But living more rurally, sufficiently and sustainably is a more natural way of life and a healthier one, too.
  • The baby deserves it. He loves the outdoors. Even when he was a newborn, he would immediately stop crying when we took him outside, and would be more relaxed and go to sleep easier. My guaranteed way to get him to sleep was to put him in the mei tai and walk to the end of the street and back. It was a 2 minute walk. He loves crawling around outside, seeing the trees and the clouds. He bawls his eyes out when I shut the front door, and often crawls over to the ranchslider and bangs on the window, or stares at the trees. For his sake, even more than my own, I want to live in a village.
  • Organic, locally grown, seasonal food. This stuff tastes the best and it is the best. It’s so easy to walk into a supermarket and buy whatever I want, and if they don’t have what I want, to feel almost angry. It’s amazing, really, how far we have come from what is natural.
  • It’s environmentally responsible. It’s somewhat excusable to live a consumer lifestyle if you really don’t know any better. But I know better.
  • Stars. You don’t often see the stars in the city, or at least not as many as in the country. There is nothing quite like the incredible stillness at night when you look up into the black sky, covered with dots of light, and you could swear you’re the only person around. And then you smell the woodsmoke, and hear a dog bark, and you know you’re not, and that’s magic too.
  • Seasons. I never really notice the seasons in the city. Sure, it gets colder or warmer. But you don’t really feel them. There isn’t a proper awareness. I miss that. It’s so much easier to be ‘in touch’ in the country.
  • Self sufficiency. I would like to know that if the proverbial hits the fan, I’d be OK. But I also like the idea of being more responsible for myself and my family even if no fan gets hit.

I think this list is likely to get longer. But that will do for now.

Sterile seeds

14 Apr

I learnt last night, towards the end of ‘Choosing Eden‘, that a type of seed has been designed to genetically switch off a plants ability to germinate a second time. It’s called Terminator technology, or the official wag: Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURTs). It seems strange that I never knew this before, but the very idea is unfathomable: that someone would be stupid and selfish enough to deliberately stop a plant reproducing in order to force farmers to buy seeds over and over again. It’s just another example of how money gets in the way of life.

Imagine if Monsanto actually got away with this. It strikes me as being a violation of human rights. Are company profits so much more important than farmers’ livelihoods? Sterile seeds are almost like forced sterilisations of women. Less immediately hurtful, but just as devastating.

I’m relieved to learn there is an international moratorium on field tests and commercial use, although according to the site Ban Terminator, the Canadian government is trying to overturn the moratorium. Apparently NZ and Australia are in on the act too. Shame on us!

When putting in my garden I plan to use heirloom seeds as much as possible and learning how to save my seeds.

The quote that got to me

12 Apr

I’ve been reading Adrienne Langman’s book ‘Choosing Eden: the real dirt on the coming energy crisis’. [A very good book, by the way.] It’s about a middle aged couple who up-sticks from their comfortable Sydney lifestyle to move to northern New South Wales and establish a self sufficient farm after learning about Peak Oil. In it, she quotes her friend Richard Embleton:

Even if we could get every last drop of oil there is out of the ground, at the current rate of consumption (the rate of demand actually increases by 2 – 3 per cent per year, but has run closer to 5 per cent these past two years), the estimated trillion barrels of oil remaining [in the world] would last less than thirty-three years.

I’m no oil expert, but even I know that they can’t extract every last drop of oil, and even if they could, it would be so costly that us ordinary folk wouldn’t benefit anyway. Not to mention that demand is increasing… so there’s a max of thirty-odd years, in a best-case scenario. We’re not talking best-case scenario, and I don’t know (does anyone?) exactly how many years until Peak Oil really hits us, but I’ve suddenly been made aware that it’s not far away.

I feel like I go to the petrol station far too often these days; $10 used to last me a week, and now it lasts me a couple of days. I’ve been seeing far too much of my petrol light lately. I’ve stopped going out as often as I used to, because I can’t afford the petrol. Already. Those who have more money may take longer to start thinking about Peak Oil, so maybe it’s fortunate that we aren’t rich.

I’m not a nervous person, but I feel anxious at the thought of rising costs of everything and how tough that is going to be on an already strained financial situation. We literally spend all our money on rent, bills, food, my car, the baby, the occasional flight home to visit parents, and maybe once in a while there’s a little bit left over for a movie. I don’t think we could cope with rising food costs without being forced to have an unhealthy diet full of 50c packets of spaghetti instead of a $1.50 head of broccoli. And even that cheap packet of pasta won’t be so cheap.

It may seem an obvious solution to those on the straight-and-narrow for me to just go out and get a job. Put my kid in daycare. He’s over one now, ‘he’ll be ‘right’. But that isn’t really the solution I’m looking for. To become even more dependent on ‘the system’. I’d like to become more self sufficient, not just have more cash in the bank. Who knows how long that will retain it’s value anyway?

And yet to contemplate a life that’s so back-to-basics we may as well be going back 100 years in time, is scary. It may not be that way to start with, and it may not go that far, but it’s possible that’s how it’ll end up. I grew up with all the mod cons and having what I want at my fingertips. I’m used to flicking a switch, buying from a shelf, or paying someone else to do it, whether it’s bake my bread or fix my car. But then I tell myself: my ancestors did it, and survived long enough to be my ancestors. Not only have I got evolution behind me, I’ve got history and knowledge.

There is a lot to learn.

The question of poverty

12 Apr

OK, so here’s the problem. (Starting with a problem may not be the most positive of attitudes, but the solution is something to work for.)

The negative impacts of Peak Oil are going to take effect at some point in the not-too-distant future, and my family lives in a rented house which is totally dependent on the grid for power and water, with no vege garden or fruit trees, a bike that doesn’t even work, and not a chicken in sight. What’s worse, we have no money.

It’s easy enough (OK, maybe not easy, but do-able at least) to head out to the countryside, install solar panels and a rainwater tank, get a chicken coop and a cow and some beehives, plant some fruit trees and a vege garden and buy an electric bike if you have money. My question is: how does one prepare for Peak Oil when one has no money, few practical skills and not even a piece of land to call one’s own? I don’t foresee a web designer and camera operator being highly sought after when the markets collapse and there is no food.

It would be nice, to ignore it all. I did just that up until a few weeks ago. Despite the evidence, I chose to believe that it would all be alright. Maybe things would be a little tight and we’d have to do a bit more walking, and it might get a little warmer and we might not be able to eat mangoes at all times of the year, but it would be alright. It would be really nice to remain in ignorant bliss. But now that I am no longer ignorant, I can’t ignore it. I just can’t accept that point of view anymore. There’s a precious little boy asleep in his cot in the room next to me who deserves a chance at a good life, not a short one. I can no longer be an ostrich, I have to be a mama bear, fighting for my baby. If that means composting toilets and chopping wood and gasp! getting my hands dirty in a vege garden, then so be it. If that means working so hard that my hands get cracks in them and I can never get the dirt out, so be it.

The trouble is, I just don’t know how. How do we buy a piece of land when we are on a single income living in the city, paying high rent? If we move somewhere that is cheaper to live in order to save, we wouldn’t have an income at all. If we move to a two bedroom instead of three bedroom house, I won’t have enough space to run my business, which is the lifeline I am holding onto in the hopes that I can actually bring in some money we can save. And if we can’t buy a piece of land, there’s no way we can build a house, and if we can’t build a house, there’s no point in having solar panels, even could we afford them.

It’s all well and good to say ‘Peak Oil is coming, run for the hills’. Self-sufficiency is a great thing to strive for. But in practicality, it’s a bit trickier than that.