BOOK covers. I’m between the BOOK-covers of one of the hilarious social commentaries novels penned by Charles Dickens—and this particular copy of this particular book has me thinking…
I really do love the heft and the presence of a real paper book. BUT. Because I don’t have the shelf-space for a thousand books; and because a thousand books are portable on the iPad; and because I pick up all kinds of books for a couple bucks a pop from the Apple bookstore’s “sale bin;” and because I can look up, with a touch, anything I become curious about; and because I can read in bed without keeping a light on when my husband is sleeping; and… Well, because of lots of “becauses,” I do almost all my reading these days onscreen.
Still, when a mention (in another book) of this book prompted me to pick it up, I definitely went for the paper version. Because for this book I have a copy that belonged to my great-grandpa.
As I turned the pages I got to thinking (in that rabbit-trail manner with which my mind works) about what age a work of literature gets to be before it begins to merit designation as “a Classic”—and that, then, got me wondering what age this printed copy of this classic might be, given what I did know of its provenance.
An easy answer was not forthcoming. Nowhere on the book could I find a publication date, edition number, or any other reference to the year. (Fitting, I suppose, for a novel that opens, “In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise...”)
Ultimately,I ran down my answer in a history of the publishing house, which went belly-up in 1898—the year after printing its run of Dickens novels. Huh, I thought, that’s kinda cool. (I mean, I knew it was Great Grandpa’s—but age-wise, that only guaranteed its birth-year preceded mine.)
Considering the hundred-and-twenty-three-year age of the book in my hands, my mind jumped next to pondering how new the novel itself was, when this copy of it went to press. (Did I mention a propensity for looking-stuff-up?) The answer, to frame it differently, is this: when this book printed, Our Mutual Friend was the same age of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games NOW. Or Robin Cook’s Outbreak. Stephen King’s It. Fried Green Tomatoes. The Whale Rider. Mrs. Doubtfire. Where’s Waldo?
Imagine a Dickens novel being even a relatively recent piece of pop culture! What a shift in perspective, to think of Dickens in any light but “Historic”…
In my own mind that word—“Historic”—used to mean “before ME.” And when I was young-ish, that was a pretty decent working definition. But closing in on my own half-century mark, I acknowledge that the boundary line, the one delineating “History” from “Regular-Stuff-That’s-Familiar-to-ME”… Well, it’s moved. In fact, that line scoots right along, keeping pace behind me like a stick tied to a string tied to my belt loop, all the time converting some portion of Regular Stuff Familiar to Me into that “Other” category I think of as History. (Did I think only other people’s lives slipped into Historic rear-view? Did I think that regardless of how long I might live, my entire life would feel to me like “Now”?)
This book imparts an unexpected lesson of… Perspective.
As in… It Doesn’t End Here.
As in… I am not some grand culmination of everything History was building up to; in fact, I rank merely as “someone else” to everyone else in the world.
As in… What shall I DO with this role of “someone” in everyone else’s History?? It’s lovely to imagine, in 120 years, a great-granddaughter enjoying a book from my shelf. Better yet, from my pen. Maybe even, by then, “a Classic”?
I’m enjoying the book. Though I do miss the built-in Definitions I’m accustomed to summoning with a touch. (Because I don’t care how great your vocabulary is—Dickens requires a dictionary!! …Terpsichorean?? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? …Nah, me neither. I’m gonna go look that up.)
So I hear the Super Bowl was last Sunday! Who knew?
Well, okay—everybody else knew. This is one of the “social side-effects” of having no television channels. Last weekend’s Super Bowl actually came to our attention accidentally a few days before the game, when a nursing assistant asked us which team we’d be rooting for.
Gosh, I dunno… Who’s even playing?
Keoni underwent spine surgery last Thursday, so we got to stay several nights in the extravagant austere accommodations of a local hotel hospital, enjoying amenities like the every-thirty-minute-wake-up service (“How are you feeling? Are you getting some sleep?”) and the test-your-specificity-meal-service (“Silly Patient, why would you think a toast-request would include any spread ON the dry toast?”) and the how-many-ways-can-we-mess-up-your-meds challenge… AND …(drum roll please)… Cable Television!
We don’t have TV at home, so we took this opportunity to geek out on the Food Network, just for the pure novelty of it. Keoni scribbled down recipes and ideas, and now I’m looking forward to oxtail soup and menudo with tripe… But by the time the the hospital turned us loose, the novelty of watching TV had been pretty well exhausted. (There’s only so much a person can take of Paula Deen stretching every syllable into three phonetic units, y’all.)
It’s actually amusing at times to see people’s reactions to the idea of having no television channels. What, no channels? Not even the antenna-channels? But… Why?!?
As our son Christian has observed: “A lot of times when someone asks ‘Why?‘ … ‘Why not‘ is a pretty good answer.” In this case, we can also add the observation that we truly don’t miss having TV.
We read. A LOT. And we really get our money’s worth out of our seven-bucks-per-month Netflix subscription. Streaming TV shows through Netflix has thoroughly spoiled us, actually, because we get to watch without any of the blasted commercial interruptions, and we can always go straight to the subsequent episode instead of having to wait a week to find out what happens next! (Yeah, patience has never been my strong suit…)
Depending on my writing topics—and how much focus they require of me—I often play programs on Netflix while I work on freelance assignments. If my assignment isn’t a real “thinker,” I can keep at least part of my brain entertained while I’m writing mindless and repetitive tripe.
Bovine-bellySidebar…It strikes me as ironic that the cow intestines (tripe) in my menudo have fantastic flavor, but the same term applied to writing indicates “worthless rubbish.” A case of offal vs. awful, I guess…
We tend to go “marathon style” when we find a show we like on Netflix. We’ll start with the pilot episode and watch all the way through the seasons available on Netflix. And when that mid-show pause hits in the middle of each episode—a few seconds of black screen where the ads would normally go—Christian utters an exaggerated sigh and deplores the need “to wait through all those darn commercials”… We still haven’t gotten tired of the joke—maybe because (even in our fifth year without television) it’s still a celebration. We really hate commercials.
We do find it interesting to observe, though, how there’s a sort of “missing slice” of cultural/social awareness that comes from NOT being exposed to advertising. I didn’t used to notice how often people reference TV ads in conversation, until I’d begun responding to those references with a shrug and a “don’t-have-TV” explanation. What is it about ads that they butt into conversation so regularly? Maybe it’s just because the jingle-writers are doing their jobs and the things are sticking in people’s heads. Or maybe it’s because ads are a cultural common denominator, a “language” everyone knows. (Except us, anyway.) People use advertisements all the time as examples to illustrate what they’re talking about. “It’s like that ad where that guy does that thing in that place”…
And of course we’re also completely out of the loop on what’s current—we’re totally clueless. Movies, celebrities, cable shows and “reality” programming, trends, styles, fashion, new products, pop culture… Unless it’s available on Netflix, we have no idea. (And even then, it’s at least a year old by the time it’s available for streaming.) Last time we were in a movie theater, Keoni & Elena Grace saw “Ice Age 3” while Christian & I saw the 6th “Harry Potter,” so… 2009.
Another gastric side note (“Harry Potter” fans will get the tie-in): the word “Mundungus” means tripe. Who knew?
We’re not entirely disconnected—we do read. I prefer the “Zite” iPad app that works kind of like Pandora radio. I tell it the categories that interest me, and as I read the various articles it pulls up, I can give them “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” essentially teaching it what I like to read. I might read about popular shows or advertising–I just don’t see them myself.
I end up getting more of a techie-view of current events. Case in point: Tweets during the Super Bowl. My real-time exposure to the game happened entirely through Tweets (or “hoots,” as I jokingly call them, with my @KanaOwl account named for my totem). I hear that even the advertising was disappointing this year (a real bummer, since this is usually the one event where commercials can be worth watching), but @KanaOwl brought me some entertaining coverage of Super Bowl Superb Owl Sunday.
If the hospital had kept us one more day, we could have watched the game ourselves, and I could have continued my little game of imagining what anthropologists would deduce about our culture if all they had to go on were television advertisements. Nevertheless, we were very content to trade in our television-watching privileges in exchange for the comforts of our own bed! And our own ad-less Netflix streaming…
And our own kitchen. Within two hours of getting home, Keoni was up and baking cornbread from scratch! Two days earlier, he couldn’t sit up in bed without a struggle—but he’s healing up with near-miraculous speed, just as he did after last year’s knee replacement. I thought he’d be toddling around with his walker for at least a couple weeks… but the walker has been “parked” all week, and the other morning I woke up to find he’d gone to the grocery store while I slept! Good grief.
I should know by now not to underestimate the stubborn determination of a Large Hawai’ian… He IS going to have a large-Hawai’ian-size scar up his spine… I think he’s considering a zipper-pull tattoo at the top!
On that note, I’ll leave you with a couple of the Super Bowl tweets that made me smile… (For those of you who are also without TV, the jokes refer to the 35-minute power outage at the stadium, and the Ravens being one of the teams…)
A few months ago I started on a mission to explore some technology-stuff I might want to use, and (having done the research) reported my opinions findings here… In my first expedition, I went prospecting on Pinterest (which has continued to serve me well—and has continued to be FUN), and I followed that up with assessing various photo sites for storing & editing & organizing & sharing family photos.
I still have a substantial list of tech-stuff I want to check out (with the idea of streamlining and organizing life, rather than adding more “time-sucks”), but I’ve gotten diverted and distracted by… oh, I don’t know, Life. Un-streamlined and disorganized as it is. But here we are, resuming the series again because I had reason to go hunting once more. As I wrote recently, we’re playing Budget Limbo (How LOW can we go?), and one of the creative cuts that occurred to us was the idea of dropping our phone service.
Maybe this should have been a no-brainer for me a long time ago. I’m pretty sure I tie (with my sister, and possibly our dad) for the title of Most Phone-Phobic Person Ever. I have always hated talking on the phone. When I had jobs that required phone contact (like program coordinator for the Girl Scouts, where the majority of my arranging-of-logistics for events around the state had to be accomplished by phone), I would habitually fill the first couple hours of each morning with all the other tasks I could find, all the while working myself up to a state of readiness for having to pick up the phone. Total dread, every time—completely irrational, but there we have it. There is one person in my life that I can dial without difficulty—my mom. And even she would complain (correctly) that I still seldom DO so.
I was probably the happiest person on the planet (maybe tied again with my sister and our dad) when texting was invented. Hallelujah, I could get my communication accomplished without actually dialing. I do text a lot (especially with our teenager!—I challenge any parent of a teen these days to have a clue about their kid’s life without this tool), and I recognize that having a contact number is still an indispensable evil. We get calls from the kids’ schools, and pharmacist, and doctors’ offices, and (until his heatstroke-prompted resignation) Keoni’s work, and (the one call I’m NOT loathe to answer) from the younger kids when they’re with their dad.
No matter how little I want to use it, it’s just not practical NOT to have a phone number. Still… We had slashed our monthly bills (after rent) down to $300, and a full $125 of that was our phone bill! We’ve been on the most basic plan available with the single carrier that gets service where we live, but that’s quite a chunk of change for the simple privilege of having a phone number.
Enter… The texting-and-calling smart-phone app! A smartphone without phone service still picks up wifi internet just fine… Haha, why didn’t I think of this before?
Weighing the pros and cons of a phone app versus actual phone service, it really comes down to just a single con and a single pro.
CON: the app only works when the phone is picking up a wifi signal. So we can use them just fine at home (i.e. pick up those “important” calls for which it’s necessary to have a phone number, and keep tabs on the Teen), but Keoni at the store won’t be able to pick up a text from me with an addition to the shopping list. I can live with that. We also won’t have phone service if we go on the road–but in Idaho that is usually the case anyway! During out six-hour drive to visit my parents in northern Idaho last month, I got cell reception in exactly two spots. (My parents’ house, incidentally, was not one of them.)
PRO: Easy one. Our monthly bills (after rent) are down from $300 to $175. Score!
All that remained was to find an app that would get us a phone number and allow us to text and (sigh, when necessary) call via wifi. My main search criterion was to find something free, and there turned out to be a rather overwhelming number of apps available that offer free texting, many of them with calling available as well. I’ll spare you the run-down on all the ones I looked at (and installed, and goofed around with) and rejected, but in case anybody else is thinking along these lines, I’ll share the two we found that we’re using (one on each phone).
This app is available in a text-only or a text-with-calling version for free, or if you want to go without any ads on your screen, you can pay a couple bucks for the “Gold” version. You get a regular phone number, and can place calls and send text messages from the screen of your smart phone, pretty much the same as you would do with the phone’s “regular” functions.
The app can be integrated with your existing contact list or address book, as well as your Facebook account, Yahoo and Google contacts, and I don’t even know what else. (You may have already guessed that I’m not the phone-social person who’s going to be using these particular features, but they exist for the rest of you…)
You don’t automatically get free calling by using the app, but you can get free calling. Here’s the deal. Any calls made app-to-app (instead of to a “regular” cell phone number or land line) are always free—kind of like the “family plans” with some phone companies. So if there are a couple main numbers you call most often, you might get those folks to download the app as well.
For using it with outside-the-app phone numbers, though, you start out with just 5 or 10 calling-minutes. Having said that, there’s an option to “get free minutes,” most easily accomplished by watching their free video-ads. (I sat with the phone next to me—and the volume muted!—one day, and just kept hitting the “watch video” button while I worked, racking up more minutes than I’d be likely to use this year…)
One feature that might be considered a negative (but which we didn’t figure out until we’d racked up a bunch of minutes) is that there’s not an opportunity for an incoming caller to leave a voice message. The app shows you that they have called, but they can only send a message if they can text. (Not so useful if they’re calling from a land-line at the school or pharmacy.) This one won’t be a deal-breaker, though, because this app is downloaded on Keoni’s phone, and we give out my number for those things. And on my phone (because it’s so ancient it won’t run TextPlus) there’s a different app:
In most of their layout and functionality, these two apps are super-similar. Same features, same set-up, same deal. A couple differences in practical application… Potentially a big one: TextMe 2 allows me to record a voicemail greeting, and allows callers to leave a voice message for me. However…
When another person calls my number, I don’t get any notification on the phone that there’s an incoming call. The caller just ends up at my recorded voice message—after which I get a notification that there has been a call, along with the option to play any message. As I think about it, maybe that could be considered a positive feature for Ms. Phone-Phobia—kind of like an automatic call-screener… Though I’d like to be able to pick right up at least when the kids call. Still, this is something I can live with.
Well in this case, the “bottom line” really IS the bottom line. Would I consider taking on the inconveniences of dropping cell service if I weren’t singularly determined to cut every possible expense? The answer might be “no,” since I haven’t done so before now. (Of course, the app-idea also didn’t occur to me before now…) But I don’t think I’ll know the real answer until we’ve been using these for a while. I probably can’t answer this question fairly until the time (whenever it may be) when our finances are stable enough to renew regular phone service, and the answer will be found in whether we choose to do so.
Among our options, there’s a pocket-sized “mobile hotspot” we could get from our internet provider, for $30/month more than our current $35 internet bill. It’s not an expense we’ll spring for now, but if the apps prove not to be too cumbersome, we go with the mobile hotspot at some point rather than the more expensive option of “real” phone service…
I’ll let you know. It just won’t be via phone-call.
The current buzz-word for this practice is Urban Homesteading, but “urban” doesn’t quite describe us. Our little place isn’t within the city limits of any town (and if it were, even Idaho’s capital city barely qualifies as “urban”)… Perhaps in our case we should call it “backyard homesteading,” or just plain “turning-a-regular-home-into-a-mini-farm.”
Whatever you choose to call it, that’s the idea behind the Urban Homesteading movement: creating a self-sustaining lifestyle wherever you already happen to live. Or if you’d like a more “official” definition:
Urban Homestead.n. The home of a family living by principals of low-impact, sustainable self-sufficiency through activities such as gardening for food production, cottage industry, extensive recycling, and generally simple living.
People are undertaking Urban Homesteading in cities, in towns, in apartment blocks, in suburban backyards… In short, they’re Homesteading wherever they live. (And many of them are blogging about it!)
When Keoni and I talk about our plans to move back to Hawai’i and build a Bed & Breakfast on our Big-Island acre, we always envision that establishment as fully self-sufficient, but for some reason it hadn’t dawned on us until recently that we don’t have to wait for that venture before we start taking strides toward that lifestyle. For the B&B we picture starting from scratch with sustainability in mind—water-catchments, solar panels, composting toilets, fruit trees and garden, fishing-boat… We intend to live entirely off the grid (except for an internet connection). But we realized recently that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” project, and we needn’t wait until we can do ALL of that to start doing some of it. The real point of “Urban” sustainability is making do with what you have, where you are.
If we all waited until we could afford to spend thousands of dollars on solar panels, we might never get started at all. So we’ve been asking ourselves what we CAN do now to live more sustainably… And we’re surprised by the lengthy list. Our little trailer-court plot is on its way to becoming a VERY-mini Homestead. Some of this won’t be new to you Regular Readers, but there’s something satisfying in looking at it all together…
We’re building a chicken coop for laying-hens. This is a project that began with our son Christian’s disclosure of his long-standing wish to raise chickens (who knew?!) and it was in the process of researching “backyard chickens” that we began to come across references to Urban Homesteading… Seed of an idea planted!
We’ve been practicing “kitchen chemistry” in making our own household cleaners and personal care products. This, too, was a project that pre-dated the Homesteading idea, and stemmed not from noble environmental leanings, but from lack of money… Still, it got us thinking more along the lines of sustainability.
We’ve been sharing our neighbor Bill’s vegetable garden, and started growing our own kitchen herbs. And getting creative even on some little things… When sunflowers started sprouting beneath our bird-feeder, we transplanted them along the fence—hopefully by next summer we’ll be able to supply the bird-feeder ourselves.
I’ve written here about our habits of bartering and scrounging—we’re turning the practice of getting-stuff-for-free into an outright art form! Just yesterday we were over at one of the trailers in our neighborhood that was due to be demolished, pulling out some paneling (for use on the chicken house) and a ceiling light (for our living room) and a bunch of mirrors (I have Pinterest-inspired projects in mind) and some other odds-and-ends… We have always practiced recycling (we’re fortunate to have curb-side pick-up, and our Recycle bin is usually more full than our trash), but until recently, we hadn’t explored the practice of UPcycling.
We joined the Freecycle network, which provides a venue for members to give away (and pick up!) used items. We’ve posted a number of items as we’ve been sorting through and cleaning out our two sheds (we moved in such a hurried jumble that most of this stuff hasn’t seen daylight in the year since we moved here), and we have picked up several free items ourselves… Last week we picked up a partially-built dollhouse for Elena Grace (she’s uninterested in the chicken coop, but feeling left out nonetheless—hopefully this will serve as a parallel project with her), a couple rolls of chicken wire for the coop under construction, and materials to build…
…a compost bin! Next summer we’ll probably graduate from garden-sharing to breaking ground on a plot of our own. I’d like to learn canning and drying, and we’ll see how much of a dent we can make in our grocery bills. The composter will be a help in fertilizing the growing-goods, and will materially cut down the amount of trash we’re sending to the landfill.
We do practice some small-scale water catchment, which we use for watering our plants. Truth be told, though, there’s not a lot of rain to catch in our high-desert Idaho climate (annual rainfall here is around eleven inches)… We’re happily situated on an island of the Boise River where the water table is barely below the surface, and we’re living on a well. We have a little timer on our water hose and run the sprinkler regularly—and with very little guilt, knowing that the water will seep right back in to the water table rather than being “wasted.” Our focus here is making sure that our water returns clean, particularly given that whatever seeps into the water table here will be showing up next in our well… Our natural composting (contrasted with store-bought chemical fertilizers) and home-made cleaning products will definitely be a “plus” in this regard.
I would love to be able to switch to solar power (we certainly have enough sunshine here to make it feasible!) but that’s an expensive project. So we’re coming at this one from the other end, and working on cutting our power use. This summer’s project-list (after the chicken coop and the compost barrel) includes an outdoor clothesline—the clothes dryer is the single biggest power-suck in the house! We’re also looking at some serious weather-proofing before winter, because our power bill jumped ridiculously high last year when the cold weather set in. I’m actually looking at a small solar charger that can be used to power small items like phone and iPad chargers, and our internet router. We actually lose power out here with ridiculous frequency—it seems every time there’s a thunder storm or snow storm, we spend a few hours in the dark. The rest of the family doesn’t mind—the kids go straight to books and Legos and other no-power-needed activities—but it can wreak havoc with my writing deadlines when I can’t get online! There are a number of small solar chargers on the market for thirty bucks and under—I might be giving one of these a try.
When I was a kid, I used to make a game of pretending my bedroom was a houseboat, and that it was going to float away from the rest of the house on some exploring-adventure. I’d try to set up my houseboat-room so it would be entirely self-sufficient for my imaginary journey. I wasn’t allowed to have food in my room, but I’d stock up on plastic food from my sister’s grocery-shopping set, and put a can in my closet to serve as a (pretend!) chamber pot, and make sure all my favorite things were in the room with me, and stock up on maps (my dad’s old triple-A triptychs)… I don’t remember actually pretending any of the journeys–it was the preparation that kept my interest, the idea of rendering my space entirely self-contained so it could float away on its own…
That childhood game of mine comes to mind again as we fiddle with improvements to our place, make do for ourselves, and work at cutting down outside costs. Truth be told, I hardly ever leave our little plot of yard—my writing-work is here at home, and we don’t Go Out for entertainment purposes or have a lot of errands to run… I could pretty well play my boat-game here, with the yard-boundaries of our “Homestead” being the deck-rails of the houseboat, everything our family needs contained within its small borders… I’m ready to cast off the mooring lines and float away in my imagination. I just hope the chickens don’t get seasick.
Yesterday we made the six-hour drive back home from my parents’ house, and we hope that Grandy and Boboo are recovering from the chaos of their week-long house-full of US! The kids immensely enjoyed their week, though of course it went by too quickly for them—sleeping in a tent in the backyard, roasting marshmallows for s’mores, spending afternoons at the fabulous city pool with its water-slides, fishing for bluegill, beginning a new sewing project with Grandy and a week-long game of “Axis & Allies” with Boboo (both of which incomplete undertakings await our return for another visit next month)…
Staying with my parents means a week of unaccustomed chaos for them, but a week of time-out from Regular Life for us. And truthfully, that was precisely what we needed this week.
It took a few days for Keoni to recover from his workplace-heatstroke, and he wrote his resignation letter on the first day of our visit. Given his heart problems a couple years back, and given his pledge to stick around with us for a LONG time, that 118-degree kitchen just isn’t viable as a work environment. He got a respectful response from Chef, praising his work ethic as well as his cooking, and promising positive references… and a Last Paycheck.
I spent most of the visiting-week glued to the computer with a sizeable writing assignment… The kids were bummed that I wasn’t joining in the swimming and activities, but from a practical standpoint, the timing of that big assignment (or rather, the paycheck that will come from it) is perfect.
Resting beside my computer all week was a piece of paper with our budget (such as it is: a 5-item list of monthly bills) scribbled on it. You could say this is my method of dealing with financial “limbo” and the uncertainties about income in the immediate future—trying to plan what we can…
Before I go on… The second-guessing Critic who lives in the back of my head wonders if I spend too much blog-space dwelling on our lack of money. My answer to that voice: Lack of Money is part of our daily life—so yes, the topic finds its way onto these blog pages with regularity. But that’s NOT because we’re unhappy with our life. It’s simply because I’m writing about our life.
Hell, Keoni and I each used to make more than seventy thousand a year, and we were each trying to drink our way out of the lives we lived then. Trying to drink our way Out of Life.
Today’s life couldn’t be more different. Our days are joyful, and I wouldn’t trade even an hour of Today for that previous life with my bank-balance (as well as my mood) in the black.
Among other thoughts this week, I’m bemused to realize how flexible the concept of “necessities” can be, when it comes right down to it. Last fall when Keoni encouraged me to take the leap into writing full-time, not knowing how much money I’d be able to earn that way, it wasn’t because we felt we “didn’t need” that second income. It was purely a leap of faith, believing that somehow we could make it work. It’s true that we did re-apply for Food Stamps at that point (we had qualified for them even while I worked full time, but had chosen to discontinue them because we could get by without them on my regular wages). Otherwise, we were already on the lowest budget we could think of at the time.
And yet… A week ago, our list of monthly bills was a SIX-item list. We keep finding new ways to get creative. Keoni’s resignation was a no-brainer after last week’s heatstroke, but we’re looking once again at diminished income, and uncertainty. So… It occurred to me for the first time that we could do without our monthly phone bill. That’s what I mean about elasticity of “necessities.” Our choice of phone carrier has been been limited because there’s only one company that gets cell reception where we live. We’ve been on that company’s cheapest, most basic plan for our two cell phones, but that’s still $125 a month.
We don’t use our phones much—we both hate talking on the phone, though we text a fair bit—but it’s just not feasible to be entirely without a contact number. We need to be able to take calls from doctors, our pharmacy, the kids’ schools, Keoni’s job application… It was the kids who gave me the idea of an alternative.
My mom and her law partner gave their old iPhones to Christian and Elena Grace this week—no SIM cards or phone service, but they work with wireless internet (like mini iPads) for every other function, and the kids are using them for email, cameras, game-playing, reading iBooks, and streaming music and video. It dawned on me that as long as we keep our internet (which IS on the “indispensable” list, since I work online), we can use our phones with VOIP and texting apps, no paid phone service. Sure, that means we’re limited to using our phones when we’re home or near a wifi hot spot, but you know what? We can live with that just fine. Why didn’t I think of this before now?
This evening I’m looking at our (shortened) list of monthly obligations:
Rent on our trailer, $600. That’s the big one, of course. And at this point I’m holding off on making any more payment until our landlord does something about our septic tank and sewage moat. It’s been several months now since we first started asking for attention to the issue, and last week (armed with the applicable sections of Idaho Code) I mailed two pages of documentation, requesting a response of the “fix-it” variety. Still no response of any variety to my “Poo Letter,” so no rent money headed their direction at the moment…
Internet, $35. Not bad, considering that it covers my “commute” to work, among other things…
Electricity, $100 average. Mostly that’s heating cost from winter months, even though we turned the heat off whenever the kids weren’t home. We’re going to work on some weather-proofing before we get to winter again, and in the meantime I’ve discovered the nifty hour-by-hour graphic of usage posted online by Idaho Power—a great tool to help identify (and work on) the “power-sucks” in daily usage…
Car insurance, $24. We’ve been so blessed in so many ways. Keoni’s parents stunned us a few months ago by sending me a brand-new Mac just when my old laptop was dying—this computer is my “office” and has enabled me to keep working from home as a writer… And this week my parents gave us their beautiful ’99 minivan. Wow. Those little words like “thank you“—as important as they are—seem entirely insufficient as a response to either of those acts of generosity. For the time being we’re parking my grandpa’s old Buick rather than keep insurance and registration on two cars (we do fine with just one)—and we’re absolutely loving the comfort and roominess of the van! We drove it home from their house yesterday, packed with the tents they’re loaning us (we’ve promised the kids some camping this summer), and with my dad’s old wooden canoe strapped on top… Keoni wonders if he now qualifies as a “soccer mom”…
And our one remaining expendable expenditure: Netflix for $16 per month. We haven’t had television channels for years, we don’t eat out or go to movies—so this online streaming of shows and movies is our only “entertainment” expense. And one we could drop if need be, though we certainly get our money’s worth of entertainment value from it.
So there we have it. Aside from rent, our lifestyle costs a whopping $175 per month, at least for the regularly billed expenses. Of course are the odds-and-ends like toilet paper, Christian’s lactose pills, catfood, gas for the car (although there won’t be much needed there until Keoni is driving to a job again)… But there’s the budget, more or less.
Mentally running through that accounting this week has helped keep our minds settled in the face of Change. With Keoni’s last paycheck we paid ahead on our electricity bill, enough to carry us for several months. With my next writing-check we’ll do the same for internet and car insurance—and with that we feel “safe,” our Basics ensured for a few months. We’ll trust that my writing-work will be steady enough to have rent money ready when we need to resume paying it… Keoni will be looking for work, and we’re still praying about the Corrections job for which he had applied even before his heatstroke forced the issue…
It’s a game of Limbo, lowering the bar of our expenses while our income-expectations are in limbo themselves… And truthfully, even our challenges still fall in the category of “First-World Problems”—like limiting our phone-use to locations with wifi. In the grand scheme of things, that’s hardly a problem. God’s got our backs.
Okay, okay: “A Tattooed Chicken-Farmer in THE Heat.” That’s what I meant. (Though our teenager, who has learned to approach our door warily if he arrives home unexpectedly, might vote for the original…)
Point is, it’s HOT in high-desert Idaho in the summer. Too hot to think. Too hot to remember all the, um… the little thingy-words that should go in the title. (Too hot to remember what we call the little thingy-words… Oh, articles! Yeah, those.)
It’s just. Damn Hot.
As if to psychically second what I was just typing… Christian is giving his sister instructions for using the iPad’s App Shopper to find new games: “There you go, yeah. For device you pick ‘iPad,’ for the price you pick ‘Free,’ and for categories you pick ‘Games’.”
I piped up with the motherly suggestion that the “Education” category also includes a lot of games, to which he replied with narrowed eyes, “Mom, it’s Summer! That would be bad form!”
[Who taught this mouthy kid to talk like that, anyway? …Oh.]
Did I mention that it’s too hot for thinking?
So today, here’s a mishmash jumble of odds-and-ends that haven’t made it into the blog in the last few weeks. Along with thanks to my friend Le Clown for the “tattooed chicken-farmer” moniker, which had the whole family giggling this morning!
The Art of Scrounging
I wrote recently about the much-maligned art of Packrat-ism, but hadn’t put a name to the activity that precedes Packrat-ing—namely, Scrounging.
Scrounge, v. Finding cool shit in unlikely places.
Keoni is a master at this. Particularly if you expand that (highly technical) definition to include creative use of materials-at-hand to meet needs for which they weren’t originally designed… (Witness, for example, my “watering can” above.)
Just for fun, here’s a (partial) list of his scrounging-successes just in the last few weeks:
A folding cart that’s perfect for rolling our beach-stuff (cooler, portable BBQ, chairs, towels) from the car to the beach. Or, for that matter, from our house to the beach when the car has accompanied Keoni to work. There used to be a roadside vegetable stand near us, and this cart was among the things they abandoned when they closed up…
A 55-gallon soy-sauce barrel from a restaurant supply company, which is now destined to become our compost barrel. After we finish the chicken-house.
Basaltic boulders (cleared from a construction site) to build our planned backyard fire-pit.
A metal fence-post for Christian to use in poling his inner-tube around the lake. (He tried a tree-branch walking-stick but punctured his ride almost immediately with one of its branch stubs…)
A bicycle. When he offered to help our neighbor Chuck, a disabled vet, to assemble the bike-bits leaning against his porch, Chuck said he intended to donate it… Well, we’ve been looking for a bike!
All the wood for our chicken-house project (including the house-shaped end pieces, from the same abandoned fruit stand). He came home on several occasions with two-by-fours strapped to the side of the car as if the Buick had taken up jousting…
…And speaking of Bessie Buick, several replacement bits for her dinged front end—and a pair of jumper cables!—from the “Jalopy Jungle” junkyard…
Leftover wooden fence-post pieces from a ranch down the road, now sliced into different heights and standing on end to edge the boardwalk leading up to our house…
Stackable plastic soda crates (our grocery store let us take them) which have served in turn as craft table, fan stand, outdoor seating, and sawhorse…
Leftover tar paper from a nearby paving-job, perfect for use as a weed barrier underneath…
…the starter beds of wildflowers we’ve dug up from various places, and herbs we’ve transplanted.
In my previous life I would have gone straight to the store when I wanted any of these things—even the damn landscaping rocks—but this is WAY more satisfying.
Father-Son Bonding & Glitter Nail Polish
Our teenage son stood in our bedroom doorway the other night and announced that he had to ask us a serious question.
[Parental attention engaged!]
“Do my toes match my outfit?”
As it turns out, his girlfriend had painted his toenails for him. And as it turns out, glitter nail polish is a bitch to remove. My nail polish remover was no match for the stuff… but luckily the stuff was no match for Dad’s pocket knife.
How [not] to Repel a Brother
Christian pointed out to Elena Grace the other day that she might want to re-think how she labeled her diary if she really didn’t want anyone to read it. I noticed the next morning she had done some editing:
I think it’s been about four months since either of the younger kids have actually slept in their beds.
Around Spring Break our daughter and her wife visited from California, and we shuffled around the sleeping arrangements for a few days with the younger kids in “tent-forts” in the living room. Christian’s tent-fort, under a U.S. Marine Corps blanket draped across the corner of the room, has been there ever since. We moved Elena Grace’s tent-fort into her bedroom after the Cali-kids left, draped between her desk and chair. We laugh about the fact that she’s not using her perfectly-good bed… But it did make things easy when my mom visited—Elena Grace was already installed in her tent, with the unused bed waiting for Grandy.
Christian’s tent-occupation is, to some extent, a matter of privacy. That might seem counter-intuitive, since he’s planted right in the middle of the household now, but unlike his sister, he had a shared room—and suffice it to say that the sleep-habits of 11-year-olds and 16-year-olds are not a perfect match. Christian wakes early to read, but didn’t want to disturb his brother by turning on his lamp. Kapena comes home late from work or friends’ homes and was less observant about how his entrances affected Christian’s sleep.
Even at his dad’s house where he has a room to himself, I don’t think he feels it’s HIS room anymore. He has never been a guy who enjoyed surprises, so he was kind of traumatized when he arrived after a weekend with us to find his furniture replaced, his favorite reading-chair sitting in the street with the trash, and some of his favorite things mysteriously missing. (The kids have noted several times how assiduously their stepmother erases traces of ME in that household… And the reading chair had belonged to my grandfather.)
So bit by bit, Christian has been bringing his most Special Things to this household, and setting them up in his tent-fort where they’re safe. Remarking on the fact that we allow him the permanent occupation of a living-room corner, he told me the other day that I’m “not really a traditional kind of Mom.” Um… Thanks?
When it’s TOO HOT…
There’s only one place for a tattooed chicken-farmer and her family to go. We pack up our little scrounged cart and get our scorched butts to the beach.
Living in a climate that ranges from (Fahrenheit) five degrees in the winter to one-hundred-five in the summer, we sometimes think wistfully of the consistently temperate weather back in Hawai’i… But we’ve also learned not to lose out on the joys of Today by living in our heads anticipating something different. Just think what we’d miss!—Today. Hot as it is, still a day with our ‘Ohana.
I’ve been re-reading (actually, it’s more like re-re-re-re-re-… well, you get the idea) the Harry Potter series this week, occasionally swapping volumes with one of my kids when our progression through the books overlapped… This is the first time through the books for Elena Grace, who (at age eight) is well acquainted with the film versions–but as Readers know, the books (particularly as you get further on in the series) contain a great deal more than the film-makers could have hoped to encompass, so she’s coming across numerous discoveries in her reading.
And at the same time (not unlike Harry and Hermione when they use the time-turner and end up watching themselves-of-two-hours ago from the shadows) I’m running across myself-from-other-years in the pages of these books. Though I was properly brought up never to mark a book’s page, or even to turn down a page-corner or place a hardbound volume open-and-facedown to mark my place, I admit that I am now a hopelessly addicted marginalia-ist. (No, I don’t think that’s in the dictionary, but in my case it would mean a person who is unable to read without a pen—or, in the case of iPad-reading, a stylus-–in hand, ready to underline, highlight, and scribble up and down the sides of any page that gets me thinking.) So here I am, this week, engaging in a little time-travel by interacting with versions of my former self in the margins of these books.
At the end of every novel there’s a scribbled date with my initials—or in the case of these particular books, now, an entire column of dates—accompanied sometimes by the location where I was reading, if I were away from home. At the end of number five, the first read-through (June of 2003) I noted “Boise National Forest,” and I remember now my relief when my pre-ordered book arrived on the morning we were departing to go camping–I’d so hoped I wouldn’t have to wait another two days for the long-awaited next installment. My handwriting hasn’t changed much over the years, though my initials have. I read this particular book five times as J.V.–during a different marriage and while I still went by my first name…
The when-I-read lists at the end of the books, however, are far less interesting to me than the how-I-read notations in the rest of its pages–and it will be interesting in future (when Elena Grace is able to read the handwritten script as well as the printed story) to see what additional questions I might end up fielding from her.
In the ink that matches the reading-sign-offs from 2005, my attention was captured to references of Hermione (who comes from a Muggle, or non-wizarding family) trying to explain her world to her mystified parents. “Maybe not unlike a school for the deaf…” I wrote in one margin. Elena Grace was born deaf, and I had been overwhelmed by the prospect of learning an entirely new language to communicate with my own child. (And—having just taught her three-year-old brother to read—was entirely mystified about how I’d be able to go about that process with someone for whom the words on the page had no connections to the physical language of Sign, which we expected she would be using.) I’ve written previously about how that story turned out for us (“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the SOUNDS“), but coming across my own notes from the time transports me back with a jolt.
There are bemused notes about parenting among these pages, and about teenagers (I was teaching teens during many of these readings, but didn’t anticipate at the time that I’d soon be catapulted into parenthood-of-teens via stepmotherhood) and classroom dynamics, about some of the perplexing metaphysical questions raised by the uses, abuses, and limitations of magic as it is presented in this series, and a whole slew of comparisons between the Ministry of Magic’s responses to rising danger and the Bush-II administration and Patriot Act, Hitler’s Regime, and the U.S.’s shameful internment of Japanese citizens during World War II… A note in the sixth book reminds me that (the week the book came out, and I knew my class of Physics students had been just as engrossed in reading it as I) my extra-credit question for the week was to answer Mr. Weasley’s dearest wish and explain how Muggles make airplanes stay up! (Answer: Bernoulli’s Principle…)
And there’s commentary here, too, on the deepening seriousness as the series progresses, from the almost-silly first story to a death-strewn finale in number seven, nearly worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy… (Our eleven-year-old son, Christian, just saw Hamlet performed, and compared its ending to the aptly named Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “This book is definitely NOT happy-happy-cupcake-unicorn,” is his precise characterization of HP & the DH… Which–having just finished it yet again–I believe to be its strongest charm.)
Since I started out writing here about my own marginalia in the books, I can’t help but be bemused by the role which marginalia-in-books plays within the stories themselves… The entire sixth book (HP & the Half-Blood Prince) centers on Harry Potter’s relationship-through-marginalia with a previous student who left behind a Potions textbook filled with hand-written notes. And the finale itself, in the seventh book, is unraveled thanks to a clue left behind in the form of marginalia in another book, this one filled with the Wizarding World’s fairy tales. (Christian just recently introduced me to the related series of books by Rowling–she has gone ahead and written some of the Hogwarts textbooks and storybooks referred to in the main novels. And fittingly, the fairy tales of Beedle the Bard are reproduced with the annotations and Marginalia of Professor Dumbledore’s copy–including that clue… Fun extra read!)
Some critics turn up their noses at these books, point to them as a mere pop-culture fad with sub-standard writing… I can’t say I agree–I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed the writing, myself, so they must be applying different standards than mine.
But more to the point, whatever a person’s opinions about the writing, I dare anyone to debate J.K. Rowling’s genius for capturing people. Wizard or Muggle, she deftly portrays the nuances and challenges and humor of human nature–up to and including the fact that the character we most fiercely loathe throughout our reading (well, with the possible exception of Dolores Umbridge) is, in fact, one of the noblest and bravest and best people of all–though he remains loathsome right up to his death. Tucked somewhere in the depths of the fourth or fifth book (though featured somewhat more prominently in the film) is one of the truest observations of all time: “The world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters.” Nothing is that simple–in life, or in Rowling’s writing.
Purists may also turn up their noses at the films, which necessarily omit a great deal of the detail, but I’ll say that–with the unforgivable (according to Christian) exception of an entirely omitted battle at the end of number six–they’ve done a pretty good job of encapsulating the themes, the characters, the messages… and don’t forget the fun! Still, there IS a great deal more to be enjoyed in the books–so if you’re one of the few remaining Muggles who hasn’t yet picked up the first Harry Potter book, I’d urge you on.