Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Broken Branch and Provident Living

Almost a week ago we had a gust of wind break a large branch on one of the locust trees in our front yard. The break wasn't clean, and the branch remained attached to the tree, and touching the lawn. It was next to Bret's house and we waited until he had moved his truck and then I pulled the branch down. Next came some ladder work and handsaw work to get the offending branch down to the ground.

We worked until about 10:30 to get the smaller branches broken/cut to firewood size and to get the leaves and smallest twigs into the truck and the dump, and the big branches into the back yard. I am tired today, and I imagine that Annie is tired as well. We have two big wheel barrows full of small twigs that we snapped and cut to size and will use as kindling this winter in the wood stove. I mention this because it took us quite a while to do this, and it would have been easier to pile them into the truck and take them to the dump.

In 'Big Business' Rose (Lily Tomlin) accuses Sadie of being 'above her raisin' ". Annie and I were both raised by parents who had live through the Great Depression, and were often almost compulsive savers. They grew up on farms and didn't have a lot of money.... Ok, maybe didn't have any money most of the time.... that would be more accurate. They used everything, and as we snapped and clipped those little twigs to be used as firewood next winter I couldn't help thinking of how much both Annie and I are a product of that way of life and those ideals. 'Those ideals' are not the ideals of today, but I think that they are valuable and needed.

You probably all cringe to see where this is going..... is it headed toward the energy situation?? Another rant on oil? Stories about walking to school barefoot, uphill, both ways in the snow? Eating lard sandwiches for lunch at school (One of Grandpa's classmates used to have this for lunch. Not hard to tell why they called it a Depression). The answer is yes, and no. I do get going some times on the energy situation and I guess it is somewhat like the weather - everybody talks about it, but no one does anything about it.

We live in an incredible age of ease and wealth, and we as a people have gotten so used to our surroundings that we can't comprehend that things could ever be different. It is kind of funny to watch the National Geographic or Nova type documentaries when they talk about how man became a tool user. Funny in that we mostly don't use tools and our main skills are becoming shopping, and Internet surfing with some intense computer games and sports watching thrown in. . Not only don't we know how to hunt or gather, but we don't know how to garden or farm. Most people in the U.S. have never even opened a bottle of home canned fruit, yet alone ever processed one. I would bet that there isn't one person in 1000 that has butchered a chicken, gathered an egg or milked a cow. It isn't a phenomenon of just the cities either. It is sad to see the fruit rotting on the lawns in our little town. Nice to see that there still are fruit trees, but sad to see the waste.

We were taught to live providently. Being a provident liver sounds like a medical condition, and living providently is pretty much not even known in our country. I liked that part in this article that said that living providently is the opposite of crisis management (and current market mess). But then where is the adrenaline rush if there is no crisis? How boring is that? Maybe it will be just right.

But things change, and if we are prepared, we don't have to fear. Things are changing now in the world.
We have lived so well for so long that we can not comprehend that change is coming or that it can come at all. We can't comprehend that most of us are only about two months from being homeless. Lose your job, run out of unemployment benefits and you might be living in your car. This has happened to a lot of working class families when factories were shut down or businesses downsize.

When our kids were still pretty young we liked to go to Lake LaBaron in the mountains in the southern part of Utah. I remember the first year that we went there, it was in August. We could never seem to schedule these things before the monsoonal rains came with the hurricane season. We left our little desert home and headed for the hills, the van packed to the gunnel's with kids and food and gear. It is a pretty good trip down there, and it was mid afternoon by the time we found a good place to camp and started to unpack things. Through the trees I was watching the clouds and became a little concerned when I saw that the little white fluffy things we had at home had turned dark and massive and ominous. When you have a raft of little kids faced with a gully washer rainstorm it is very motivating. I ran around then (somewhat like I do now) explaining and exhorting anyone within reach that we had to get the tent up NOW!! No hiking or fishing. Get the tents up and everything inside and safe. Then play. We got the tents up and everything stowed and even played a little and I started supper. The clouds continued to gather and intensify. The tall and shady trees tended to make it even darker. Finally, dinner was ready and we all gathered around to bless it. During the prayer lightening struck about 150 feet away and rang us and the whole campsite like a big bell. Then the rain came down like it had been poured from a million buckets. We ditched the tents and headed for the van. The Swan was still a little girl, and I remember carrying her out of the rain. We were snug in the van, and later found the tents mostly dry and our gear dry as well.

The world that we live in is an artificial construct that is dependent on almost limitless supplies of cheap energy. Our food production and distribution system is built around transportation- lots of it. If you want to see how far we move our food, try to have a "20 mile dinner" where everything you eat has been produced within 20 miles of where you live. If that doesn't work, try a 100 mile dinner. That can be tough enough as there are few local orchards, vineyards, or even farmers markets. And if you do it, it is likely that it will be a vegetarian meal, unless you supply the fish or fowl from your own hunting endeavors.

Other clouds gather now. Never in all the history of the world has mankind had the opportunity to use as much energy as we use today. From a historical perspective the amount of energy that we use and mis-use defies understanding. Yet, to us this is how the world is. This is not how the world has been, and it is not how the world will be forever or even for very much longer. We are sucking hard on the straw that is sunken into the richest and easiest to use energy pool that God has placed upon the earth. What will happen when energy becomes dear? When we have to suck really hard to get a little more out? I don't know. But things will change and the world that we look upon as so permanent, the world that we have all of our expectations built on, our skills honed to will change, and the change might be wrenching.

The changes will be less wrenching for those who have been living in a provident manner. Those with an education and a wide range of skills will find opportunities. Those with stored food, water, and fuel will be able to stay out of turmoil and strife and remain safe at home, warm and fed. Those with gardens and fruit trees will be able to harvest new food, and perhaps barter some food with others. Those with some supplemental and independent power will be able to surf the Internet, as well as have hot water and refrigerated food.

This is not something that you wake up one day and decide you will accomplish before noon. So don't be discouraged if you are not there yet. But then most good things are built line upon line, precept upon precept. We are living the years of the fat cattle and the full ears of corn. It might be three millennia later but the concept is the same.

I admit to being a boring crank about both the economy and the energy situation. I don't think the 'they' in the government actually know what to do in time to avert some uncomfortable times. It is doubtful that we as a voting public would support them in doing the things that are needed to be done in order to avoid catastrophe. So I think it is up to us as individuals and families to make the changes in our lives that need to be made in order to be ready for the storm clouds that are gathering. Open your eyes and ears, use your education and skills to understand what is going on in this complex and confusing world. Plan. Pray. Act. As much and often as you can, stand in holy places.

Monday, July 30, 2007

We'd like to keep the lights on for you, but.....

Lots of coal power plant projects are being cancelled. This is kind of disturbing. We have been kicking this around at work for a while, as we have been aware that there is a huge new ground swell of opinion against coal fired power. But we also havea big concern that there is almost no infrastructre of wind or solar generation. What to do? As we talk about it, there is not a person that I have talked to at our plant that doesn't believe that it won't be long before we see power outages. There really isn't any other options if electrical demand continues to grow as it has in the past. They can't just build these plants in an afternoon. It looks like our planned expansion will not be happening, although 'taps' hasn't been played yet it would take a major change in California polictics and a change in California state law to allow our expansion to take place.

As you can see in the article, there are many, many more proposed projects that will not be built. Nuke plants take about 15 years from proposal to permit, and maybe another 5 years for construction. Natural gas plants will provide EXPENSIVE power. Oil isn't an option. You do the math.

So, strange as it may be to think of, unless you like using your storm candles, you might want to make some plans for supplemental power. A generator will provide some stop gap power, PV panels will become expensive when everyone else figures this out. I haven't figured this out yet, but really don't want to shower in cold water in the dark.

I realize that most people would find a comparison between Africa and the U.S. not to have much validity, but the point is that Africa's electrical woes have roots in poor planning, little modernization or investment and a good deal of bad luck. But poor planning, with no investment tends to create bad luck as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Thoughts on Immigrants (1)

Annie's mother, and both of my parents were descendants of ethnic Germans that had immigrated to Russia in the late 1700s to early 1800s. They had moved to southern Russia in response to and invitation by Catherine the Great of Russia, who was also a German princess.

Catherine's army had dislodged the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and chased everyone of Turkish heritage out of the area. Catherine hoped to bring in many industrious Germans, and hoped that they would make this area their home and would intermarry with the native Russians that were still in the area. Or so is my understanding. Many villages and towns were deserted, and after the offer was made, many land agents went to Germany and told the trusting Germans that there were houses waiting to be moved in to. This might have been true for some of the earliest arrivals, but not for either my mother's family, or my dad's family.

Mom's family had floated down the Danube from Ulm, Germany to Odessa, Russia in a large barge (Ulmmer schactel) for about 2500 km. A very long float trip. These barges were often over crowded and disease, mostly cholera would rip through the population. When Mom's family disembarked they were put in wagons, along with their few possessions and some lumber from the barge (it was a one way trip, and they took it apart for the lumber and the nails), and hauled out into the steppe and dumped on the site of their new home.

These people were not farmers or builders for the most part. Much like the Saints in the Salt Lake valley, they arrived somewhat late for planting crops and I don't think they had much in the way of livestock or draft animals. For the most part they built sod houses and tried to get ready for the Russian winter.

I don't know much about Dad's family. They settled off of the steppe, up in the Caucasus mountains. Life was very had at first as well, but in the end they built stone houses and had wonderful gardens, orchards, vineyards and livestock of all types.

Annie's mom's family were Mennonite and moved to Russia from Germany as a congregation. When they moved to Kansas, they again moved as a congregation, making sure that no one was left behind.

All of these German families lived in Russia for several generations. Their ancestors had moved from Germany to Russia because life didn't look too good in Germany in the late 1700's. Germany had a hundred little states. Wars were common, opportunity was not. All three of these families were strongly against war and fighting and one of the strongest motivations was that if they went to Russia, their sons would not have to serve in the Russian Army.

So they went, and for several generations things went pretty well. Catherine died of course (1796) and eventually the promises that she made were set aside and taxes were levied and young men were called up at first for duty in the many forests, and eventually into the military. Our families were troubled by these changes and I am sure there was fierce and emotional debate on what to do about the deteriorating situation.

I don't know much about the specifics of the debate, but Mom's family, and the Mennonites left around 1875 and made their way west. Dad's family held on longer, hoping against hope, I imagine that things would get better.

We have a lot of family histories about the people that came. I always wondered about the people that stayed in Russia. There is a Mennonite history book either here or at Annie's mom's house that tells about those that stayed. It wasn't very nice. They ended up having to endure the Russian revolution, and the almost constant raiding of the Red and the White Armies. The reds of course were communistic, and the whites backed the Romanov's. They descended on those little villages filled with pacifistic farmers and artisans, shot anyone who opposed them, and most of the educated people that were community leaders. They stole all of the food, shot and ate the farm animals and then left after extracting a pledge of loyalty. The battle lines went back and forth so on Monday you might pledge your fealty to the Red army while literally having a gun at your head, and Wednesday you might have the exact same experience while pledging undying (you hoped) loyalty to the Whites. Winter, meanwhile took no prisoners and the Germans died like flies in the frost. But, to be fair, the Russian peasants also died like flies. I think about 24 million people died, mostly of starvation in the revolution and consolidation of power when Stalin took over from Lenin.

Early on I wondered how people could be so dumb as to stay and just hope for the best. As I got a little older I realized that it isn't that simple, and in a community like that it also isn't about the person. Annie's Mennonites sold all that they had and sent scouts to Kansas to purchase land and plant crops. Everyone in that congregation came. But that was 1875 or so, and you could still sell property. All of my ancestors came as extended families, but the ones that came earlier found it easier to leave, and also found opportunities in America more abundant than did those that left in 1905. So what do you do if you would like to go, but your family wants to stay? Maybe your parents are in poor health, or just won't leave home.... maybe your babies are sick. Possibly you just can't raise the money. Maybe you have heard horror stories of families being separated by quarantine and decide that, fine, let them come, we will die together and meet together in Heaven.

I don't actually know anymore now than I did then about the ones that stayed. I have thought about it a lot, but still don't know. My Grandpa's uncle went back to Russia because he was just very homesick and was caught up in the war and died of starvation. The Guitar Boy is named after him. Some of my Dad's extended family were separated by a quarantine. The mom was held back, the dad and kids came to America. They started farming and saved up enough money so that the dad and youngest son (who had been a baby when they parted) went back to Russia. The rest of the kids stayed on the farm and worked. The family in Russia got caught in the war and the mom and dad starved. The little boy was sent to Siberia after WWII and died there at about the age of 40.

Well, it is time for bed. This story doesn't really have a conclusion, at least not one that I am aware of tonight.

Maybe C.S Lewis said it best. In 'The Magician's Nephew', after Digory and Polly have traveled to Charn and are contemplating the bell on the table set with food, and surrounded by royal looking people that look like they have been turned to stone. A sign by the bell said: Make your choice, Adventurous Stranger, strike the bell and bide the danger, or wonder till it drives you mad, what would have happened if you had.

Sleep well.

Monday, July 23, 2007

All you ever wanted to know about Growth, Energy, and Money

Actually this is sort of a bait-andswitch. You probably wanted to know how to buy cheap energy and invest in growth and make lots of money. This won't tell you that.

Dr. Albert Bartlett is/was a physics professor at the University of Colorado, and both a very sharp guy and a very good teacher. For the mathmatically intimidated, this is an easy read. And he is kind of funny. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Arithmetic, Population and Energy

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Johnny Sitting Bull

Thanks for the kind words from the post on Walt. Annie has a whole journal of interesting or inspiring people that she has met or whom have touched her life in one way or another over the years. I like to read those stories, and thought I might share of few interesting stories with you as well. So now you all know a little bit about Walt, and hopefully we can all be inspired a little by his faith, hard work habits, and his patient and enduring love.

Johnny Sitting Bull was young man who we met in central Colorado where my dad was running a construction job. Johnny's last name really wasn't 'Sitting Bull' but that is what he wanted to be called for the Native American ancestry that he claimed. He was probably in his early 20's when I met him. I was about 10 years old. He had a terrible alcohol problem which I suppose was mostly binge drinking.

All though the week he was a good worker but on Friday night he took his check and headed for the bar. I was pretty little but remember him showing up on our door step about 7:30 or so almost every Friday, having spent his check, paid his drinking debts and was now broke and wanted to borrow money from my dad. He always paid Dad back any money that he borrowed, and although Dad didn't really want to contribute to his condition, Johnny was so persistent and sooooooooo drunk that in the end Dad would give him some money and send him on his way.

We were lived in this little town on and off for about four years, and Johnny was a frequent visitor, at least in the first year or two. Always grateful for any help he would get, he sometimes wanted to make Dad part of his family. I remember one night- very, very cold. We lived in a poorly insulated trailer house and all the windows had ice on them, and there was some ice creeping onto the wall. Dad and Johnny were sitting at the kitchen table and talking. Johnny was trying to get Dad to become a blood brother. He had a knife and wanted to cut their wrists and mingle their blood. Dad was trying to talk him into using a needle, but Johnny was afraid of needles.

The last that I saw of Johnny was one of the last summers that we lived there. He had two younger men that were literally supporting him as he made his rounds of paying old debts and borrowing new money. We moved away and I forgot about a lot of the people in that little town. If I had thought about Johnny, I would have been sure that drink had taken him to an early grave. I didn't know anything about his childhood and didn't bear him any ill will. He was just a character that passed through my childhood, and one that seemed to be heading for a tragic ending.

So, as Gomer says: 'Surprise, Surprise'!!! It was probably in the late 70's or early 80's when Mom ran across someone from that little town. They compared notes on people that they knew, and she told Mom the amazing story of the redemption of Johnny Sitting Bull. It seems that some time later in his life, and he probably would have been in his 40's or so, he met a nice mormon girl that believed in him, and helped him to believe in himself as well. I don't know all the details to the story. I don't know if Johnny joined the Church or if the love of a good woman was just what it took to make the change. But it was a happy ending, and the world needs more of those.

The Old Baked Bean

When I graduated from high school, a girl that I liked a lot wrote in my year book not to put my head in an oven and I would never have a baked bean. Or words to that effect. It was good advice I suppose, although at the time I was hoping for something that promised or at least hinted at future intimacies.

But after yesterday and last week, I feel like the ultimate baked bean. The song says that it's 'summertime, and the livin' is easy', which is probably more or less true, but I am getting tired of the heat.

The Mother Earth News had a helpful (but not revelatory) article on how to keep you house cool. I am glad that we could comply with the part that advised large shade trees, and very glad that I wasn't planting little sticks with hope for the future. There was a long discussion on how to site a house to take advantage of any stray breeze, which breezes are sort of a hard wind or a dead calm in this little town in the desert.

One fairly practical piece of advice that they gave was not to heat up your house with various appliances. Our house has been moderately cool due to the shade trees and swamp cooler. Parts of the house become uncomfortable during the day and we have an elaborate system of box fans to move the swamp cooler air around the house. This helps not only to cool the house but distributes the moisture that the swamp cooler injects into the house. But our elaborate system is a fragile system that can be over powered by the heat from the dryer (in-house venting), the oven, a long, hot shower or even several loads of wash or a big dinner cooked on the stove.

The dryer and oven use are fairly obvious and we have avoided them mostly during the warm summer. Since I read the article I have been trying to cook with the dutch ovens and BBQ grill outside, and I think it has helped.

Our house is both sprawling and labyrinthian, and has many dark nooks and crannies that need illumination. Most of our lighting is incandescent lighting which is to say mini-space heaters. Annie and I are pretty good at turning of the lights, but it is easy to be in a hurry and forget. If we have the equivalent of 10- one hundred watt bulbs on, it is about the same as if we had a 1000 watt space heater going and trying to overcome that heat source. And that is just with the lights. Anything that uses electricity produces heat, and if produces light and heat, the light will be absorbed and will become heat. If the appliance produces coolness and isn't vented outside, it actually heats your house. So standing by the open refrigerator door is the same as standing near a very well disguised and unconventional space heater. You might get the cool right now, but the compressor kicks on and pumps the heat out of the interior of the fridge, and into the hot coils that are either in the side walls, or in the back. Strange to think about. All this might not even be noticeable if you have an exposed west wall that has poor insulation and/or lots of glass.

This morning it seemed like a biscuits would go well with some gravy that was leftover from dinner last night. The idea if heating the oven up to 400 degrees in a day that would be a scorcher seemed pretty stupid. I also had already showered and was mostly ready for church and didn't want to fool around with the charcoal and dutch oven. Then I remembered that Annie had given me a Coleman oven.... thats right, a collapsible oven that can be used over a gasoline or propane stove. So I put it over the grill and went back inside to make up the dough. It didn't get as hot as I would have liked it to get, only about 320 deg. or so. I don't know if that is because it was over the grill and not over a stove or if that is about all the hotter that it gets. No matter, it did bake the biscuits. I piled them into a pie tin, and that was probably a mistake since it was such a cool oven. The biscuits on the edge got done, but the ones in the middle needed some more time. If you decide to try this, keep the biscuits separate so the hot air gets all around them. I baked them for 30 minutes or so. They didn't get wonderfully brown or anything like that, but were edible and the kitchen didn't get hot.

So that is about it. Nothing too exciting here. It is almost Monsoon season here. There is some cooler air that might be here on Monday or Tuesday, so relief is in sight. The garden is enjoying the heat and the sun, and I almost have Guitar Boy's car back together, so he will be spreading his wings soon. Hope all is well with all of you.

Friday, July 20, 2007


We can be grateful that we have been counciled to keep our weddings simple.......


This article details how a lot of the 'traditions' followed in weddings aren't traditions after all, but were invented by the 'wedding-industrial' complex. Not a long read, but I was amazed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


They say that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. And I guess that also we might have to consider that sometimes you have to pass through a good deal of life before you are ready to look into some books.

Walt is the father of a childhood friend. His daughter is a year older than I am, and his son about 18 months younger. Not much difference at this stage in life, but some difference as a kid. Walt was a sober, hardworking, church going, frugal Christian man. Strict in raising his kids, his rules were exacting, and he required obedience. I knew that he was the foreman on concrete construction crew, and had heard that you never wanted to get on his crew as he gave a very full days work to his employer, and made sure that the rest of the crew did so as well. He could work just about anyone into the ground.

This is the impression that I had of Walt. Not fun loving, but rather humorless. All business. HARDWORKING. That was the Walt that was in my mind when I left home and Annie and I started our home. We moved away from Denver, and lost touch with many old friends. I didn't talk to Walt for thirty years. Then Dad passed away and I ran into Walt and Velma at the funeral. Walt is about 88 now. Small, lean, spare, but he had rather more of a twinkle in his eye than I remembered. I learned that he has no grass in his yard. Both the front and back yards have been turned into garden, vineyard, berry patch, and orchard. So he is still pretty hard working.

As we talked he told me of how much he liked my parents, what good people they are. We talked about all the water that had gone under the bridge since I used to play at their house as a kid and somehow the subject turned to how he and Velma had met.

I remembered that Mom had told me that Velma had been in a TB sanitarium years ago. Walt told me that he had met her, and she either was already in the sanitarium, or was going to it soon. He continued to see her and visit her there, and one day, after several months of visits, proposed marriage to her. She was terribly torn, but good person that she is, she told him that she couldn't marry him. It wouldn't be fair to him. She might never get better. She might never be released. Walt told her that it didn't matter, and that he wanted to marry her anyway. He said that when she was released, he would be waiting.

And so it was that they were married, and she continued to live in the sanitarium for two more years. Finally she was declared to be free of the disease and was allowed to go home. And Walt was waiting faithfully, like he said that he would.

In these days of instant gratification it uplifts my spirit some, and restores some faith in the goodness of people to remember a man like Walt, and to know that a little romance and tenderness can be found in the most unexpected places. You just have to read the book, and maybe a little between the lines.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day on the Edge of Nowhere

Today our little town celebrated it's 100th anniversary. As the mascot for our local school is the rabbit, at 9:00 a.m. most of the town showed up on main street with paper ears to see if we could set a new record for the number of people at one time doing the 'bunny hop'. We heard later that about 3900 people were in the line.

Getting 3900 people to assemble on Main Street to put on paper ears is something of a feat. Many towns our size would have trouble getting that many people to the parade on a day when they could sleep in. Here, it isn't all that easy to sleep in on July 4 as the local fire department guys cruise around in pickups with a small mortar in the back and starting at 6 a.m. they begin the assault of the sleepy. I am not sure what they are shooting, but it sounds like about a half of a stick of dynamite. They pop them up about 150 feet in the air so the sound isn't wasted. When we first moved here, we were unaware of this service, and my wife was highly annoyed when the artillery opened up that first summer and woke the baby.

After the bunny hop came the overflight of F16s. I am assuming that this is calculated to increase our feelings of patriotism, rather then make us think of any tax deductions that we really weren't entitled to. The planes actually make the rounds at parades all over the state. After they made their double strafing run on Main Street they seemed to be followed by a tanker plane. This is new, and I will be the first to admit that I could be very wrong here, but it was a four engine jet flying fairly low, and we just don't get those here. It looked like a C-130. So if they are going all over the state, they might be bringing the gas station along with them.

We had a daughter and son-in-law come down for a visit, so we had a good time chatting today as well. The social ones of our group (everyone but me) came home after the parade, but went to the park to listen to local bands play. I took a nap and weeded the garden which had gone sadly to weeds in our absence (See Annieofbluegables post on our trip to Taiwan). So it was a good day for everyone I hope. Our youngest son went canal swimming with his friends and then after a quick shower he went to the crash-up-derby.

Demolition Derbies are very popular in this area. This one sponsored by the Lions Club and every year had 3500 or more people packing the stands to watch local drivers crash modified cars into one another until there is only one running. I remember the look of amazement on the face of a young man from Hong Kong one year. He was new to the area, and to this country and not familiar with our customs. I was driving him around town some time after the Derby and the dead cars were everywhere. Dented, squished and not resurrected yet (most cars are rebuilt for several races in a season, and sometimes for several seasons). They have all the windows taken out, the doors welded or chained shut, and the gas tank replaced by a one gallon can. It looked bad. I told him that on our Independence Day we get about 250 cars and organize them into six or seven heats and then they crash them into each other until only one engine is running. He asked me why we do this..... and all that I could do was to shrug.

That was mostly it. We didn't go to the Derby as it is hot, and long. Unless you are cheering on someone in particular, once you have seen one or two of them, you have seen all you need to see. But then I feel that way about all of the _____ball sports as well. So maybe you shouldn't use me for a guide. We did drive down and watch the official fireworks after the Stylist and the Student lit off the rest of the package that they had brought down. And a good time was had by all. Time for bed now. The dawn is already scheduled.