Saturday, March 28, 2015

Doing it different

This was one of the first alt-farming videos I saw demonstrating that there is a movement to change things substantially.

One of the big issues, as this person says, is knocking the global addiction to fossil fuels. Right now the world's food supply is totally dependent upon oil. But whether you believe in Peak Oil or not, this is an enormous problem.

And something that is probably too politically incorrect for the BBC to mention, kicking the world's fossil fuel habit would also render the threat of Islam null. Right now, the only reason the Mad Mullahs have become a resurgent threat is the oil money buying the bullets and bombs.



Today is the first day in a while that we've had any sun. And the difference a week or so makes at the end of March is amazing. The grass and wildflowers are everywhere, the hedges are sprouting, Stellaria media, shepherd's purse, nettles, prunella vulgaris, ranunculus, hazel, plums and whitethorn all blooming and sprouting all over. And all week the clouds and fog curling over the tops of the mountains and rolling down the slopes and down over the valley floor.

It's so gorgeous here that it's actuallyl hard to concentrate. I find my attention drifting out the window when I ought to be watching cat videos and brainlessly drifting around Facebook. If I'm not careful, I'm going to start liking the real world more than the internet.

Actually, in all seriousness, I've been getting more and more frustrated and annoyed by the internet. So, I took a bit of a step yesterday, and cancelled my home account. No more full time wifi in the house.

Also took a long walk, happily splashing through the puddles in my English wellies, down to the garden centre and bought one of the biggest planter boxes they've got. What I hope to do ultimately is build wooden planters straight onto the ground, but for the moment, I think I'm going to go with containers.

You can do a lot with containers.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Permanent Culture

I walked past one of the local realtors' offices today, and had a long look at one of the postings. It was for 5300 sq m. of tereno agricoltura, that's a little over half a hectare or about 1.23 acres, for €8000. It has water access and some structures for enclosing animals.

I keep thinking about it...

And about this.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ancient Japanese building techniques: We're doing it wrong


Natural building primer

A friend in the UK has expressed an interest in building her own house, and we were talking about our shared ambitions to not live in the standard middle-class type of dwelling that most people in our culture take for granted as "normal". I have been a member of various internet groups that talk about "natural" or "sustainable" building techniques that are starting to grow in popularity around the western world.

They take their inspiration mainly from ancient, pre-industrial techniques that were used nearly everywhere in Europe for thousands of years. Most significantly, they were used by the people who wanted to live in the dwelling. In other words, it used to be normal for people to build and maintain their own housing. The idea that the only way to own a home is to buy one ready-built, the suburban model, seems to be a product of Modernia that really took off after WWII and the great suburbanization of our populations. Which is itself an outgrowth of the post-Industrial Revolution thing of packing everyone together into cities so they can take a "job" working for someone else. It is, in other words, the final defeat of the old Catholic feudal/agricultural model, and one that I believe is perhaps the single most morally, socially and physically destructive development of human history.

Back in the day, and not too long ago, it was considered unremarkable for people to acquire a piece of property and build a house on it. My grandparents did it. Back when Vancouver Island was a remote backwater hardly anyone wanted to live on, they bought a 1/4 acre for $2000, high up on a cliff above the sea, with a fantastic view of the Nanoose inlet off the south side of the property. They built a small but beautiful two-bedroom house and a garden, mainly on the flat part in the front of the property, and a rock garden and container vegetable garden on the little bits of flat at the back of the house. They lived there until my grandfather's death, and it is still to this little pocket of paradise that my subconscious goes when I am anxious about the world or about life.

My friend agrees that the mass-produced, cookie-cutter, suburbanised direction our societies' domestic architecture has taken since the War has been gravely damaging. The idea of getting "on the housing ladder," that is, "buying" a "starter-home" by locking yourself into a titanic morgtage for the rest of your life is a thought that fills me with horror. Because the reality is simply not what we are being told. You do not become a "homeowner" this way; you become a mortgage-slave to a bank, who are the ones who really own your home and rule your life. This seems to me to be like voluntarily enslaving yourself to an evil macro-culture that is bent on the destruction of everything I love and hold dear. When my friend told me that she and her husband were considering "just getting on the housing ladder" I felt depressed and a little suffocated at the thought.

One of the "hippie" things my mother instilled in me that really stuck was a horror of debt. I would rather have a ball and chain attached to my ankle than be in serious debt, either with credit cards or student loans or a mortgage. When I was a kid, my mother got a bill from Visa that had attached interest at a rate of 22%. My mother, being ahh... somewhat less reserved than I... wrote a very elegant letter to Visa along with the cheque that said that if we were in biblical times, the entire pack of them would be stoned to death for the capital crime of usury. Along with this, she included the tiny little pieces of plastic that were all that was left of her Visa card.

But I want my own home, and am starting to want it more and more each year. My friend feels the same, and she is currently living in a beautiful old house that, through various happy accidents, she and her husband live in rent-free. But this situation could be taken out from under them at any moment, and she doesn't like the idea of pouring money down the bottomless rent-hole either. She said, however, that she was open to the idea of building, and I said I was looking closely at this new "natural building" trend that seems to be going around the world among people who also don't want to opt into the evils of the modern macro-culture. I said I would poke around and find some information for her.

Here is a video interview of one of the guys who started this movement, Ianto Evans, a Welshman who feels as we do about it all. "Any kind of loan for something you can't afford is asking for trouble. If you're already in that situation, get out of it. And if you're not, for heaven sake, don't get into it."

I've already posted this video, but it's worth looking at again:

"As an architect who spent five years years in school and at the end of it couldn't build a house, had you told me this fifteen years ago, I would never have believed you, I would never have believed that you could learn to build your own house in a ten-day workshop. But the proof is there by the dozens of people who have now gone out and done that. Once you don't have to be paying a mortgage on your home, then maybe you don't need to have two cars for each of you to get to work... and then maybe you don't need so much income. And then maybe you can keep your kids at home and grow a big garden. And do thngs together as a family..."

There seem to be generally three categories: straw bale, "cob" and, less often, "cordwood". Personally, I am most attracted to "cob,"

which seems to be a reiteration of the ancient wattle and daub technique.

There are a lot of groups in Britain and elsewhere that help people learn how to do this and, as with all these alternative living movements, the internet is the best way to find them and get in touch with them.

Here is the website of Cob Cottage Company, that gives people workshops in Oregon.

Here is the iLoveCob website where there are a lot of quite inspirational photos of the extremely charming houses that are possible to build using this technique.

Here is This Cob House which has more of this stuff.

Here is the blog of This Cob House.

Here's one in the UK, The Natural Building Centre

And this is the little cottage a guy in the UK built for ₤150. This is is his blog: Michael Buck

Here's more

From what I have seen, there is a movement in the same alternative building community, to turn back to other traditional building work, like the use of whole-timber for framing, found timber, recycled and salvaged materials.

And I really see no reason at all why all of these could not be combined to create a home like this:

I will mention only one more thing. I take the occasional look at the boards at the local realtors' offices and there are regular postings of agricultural properties. One of them was 7000 square meters, up on the lower slopes of the Norcia valley, and was selling for €22,000.

I'm just sayin...


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Under Pressure

Got a shiny new pressure cooker for Christmas, and it's awesome. The biggest one they make, 9 litres, and took it out for the first test drive.

Pressure cooker rabbit stew:

It's the simplest recipe you can imagine: you cut up the coniglio into big pieces, chop two carrots, an onion and four cloves of garlic. Dredge the bunny bits in a little flour with a little salt and curry powder, (used the plastic bag method). Brown the pieces in a bunch of butter, then put it all together in the pot with the veg. Add a soup cube and some sage and water just to cover, then bring the water to a boil, put on the pressure lid, and turn the heat way down. Seriously, it'll be done in 20 minutes. It's amazing. And the meat is perfect, tender and done all the way through, and the broth is fantastic. The only thing that could make it better is a little white wine which I didn't have.

What I couldn't believe was the speed. I figure it's basically what a microwave was before microwaves.

Totally get a pressure cooker.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Insult to injury

Mmm-boy! I love me some a yer fancy modern pharmaceuticals!

In the last few weeks, I've had the last fifteen years of typing every day catch up to me in the form of severe pain in my hands, which matches all the descriptions of "computer elbow". This malady is one of those repetitive motion injuries you hear about, that can include actual tiny tears in the muscle tissue, as well as nerve pain as the damaged muscles pinch the nerves that run from your elbow to your hands. It feels like someone is more or less constantly hitting me in the funny bone.

And as a bonus round, it is aggravating the neuropathy caused by the chemo that was better for a year or so, but is now back in a most vengeful way, like a jilted lover. Oh, how well I remember that lovely combo of the feeling like my fingertips are on fire and pressure in the hands and lower arms that builds up until it feels like my fingers are going to explode. Ever get your fingers caught in a door jambe? (Cringing a little now?)

I spend about three minutes in every ten holding my hands above my head and shaking them to try to get the pressure to go down.

It makes touching anything hard, like turning a key in a lock, zipping up my jacket, handling metal cutlery, opening the fridge door, and of course typing, a uniquely penitential adventure.

While there is no cure for the chemo-induced neuropathy except time and luck (with some people it never goes away entirely) there is something to be done about the repetitive motion injury: stop doing the thing that caused it. For at least two weeks, to give the damaged and inflamed muscle tissue time to heal. I suppose eating properly and getting a lot of exercise to boost the body's immune and healing systems would also not be a bad idea.

I've been trying various stretching exercises, which help temporarily. You sit on the sofa (or the pew) with your hands flat on the seat on either side. Then turn your hands around so the fingers are pointing backwards with the palms still down and flat. Now lean slowly backward so the fingers are pushed backwards in an L shape. Then slowly back again. Do this several times during Lauds, Vespers or Mass.

To get the full Crazy Lady effect, do the other stretches in between during the standing parts of the Mass, putting your hands and fingers behind you into weird contortions, then shaking them vigorously. Doing this during the Consecration is especially effective.

Yesterday I realised I would have to do take a break. I was writing an email to a friend back in BC, and the only way to do it was to hold my arms perfectly straight out, with my fingers splayed out like a starfish, and wrists held in a perfectly flat plane with my arms, no twist. I could type, very slowly and winceingly, with my thumbs.

Right now, I'm busily making things worse by taking strong painkillers, which work well enough that I can forget that it's actually just masking the symptoms enough to send me back to the keyboard so I can continue to do the thing that caused the problem.

I've already injured my way out of one promising career. I'd still be slinging bread dough if I hadn't been stupid and slipped a disk when I was 32.

Maybe it's a sign from God. Maybe it's just plain time to give up the internet entirely. Somehow.


The title of this interesting documentary is perhaps not the best. It's not so much about getting "off the grid". I would have called it Downsizing. The idea of downsizing your life on a personal, individual level, has always seemed like a good one to me. But not only getting rid of stuff, most especially consumer debt (credit card debt) but of getting rid of the desire for consumption, curbing the appetite for Things.

I've seen so many people try to climb up into that strange model of living that involves huge ownership of material things in opposition to huge commitment to people, to truth or knowledge or spiritual benefit. And I think a lot of people are quietly starting to understand that these things are not only largely out of reach (mainly by design) but unworthy of our commitment and personal resources. We have been sold a mess of pottage in the form of the lies of people who want to sell us a lot of useless things, and a great many people are starting to give it a serious re-think.

The hippies had a pretty good idea at the foundation of their "drop out" doctrine, but they ended up getting distracted with the urge to indulge other appetites. In many ways they made an accurate critique of Modernity and their exhortation not to participate in it was much in line with some home truths that can be found in the Bible and in a lot of other religions.

Things are not what life is supposed to be for. We all know it. It's hard to live this truth, but we do all know it.


This is Passion Week, and I've resolved to consider doing things a bit differently, perhaps radically differently (though perhaps not). I realise that despite having been a moderately serious Christian for a while, I've really never approached the Bible in any systematic way. While I was doing the housework this morning, I ran another interesting documentary about a group of Amish teenagers being taken to Britain to experience the outside world. I was impressed with the sincerity and seriousness of mind these young people displayed, even though none of them were over 17. They were, as the Proddie saying has it, "Bible believing Christians" but the first thing they were, clearly, was Bible-knowing Christians. I could do with a bit of knowing what they know.

How about some Passion Week homework: what one thing do you all think you would do well to add or subtract from your life?

I think I might try reading the Bible.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Still life with cliche

I just realised I'm a sucker for a particularly formulaic genre of still life painting, which I only just noticed is kind of cheesy: Stack of Old Books.

The genre comes in several variations:


Stack of Old Books with Candle

probably more than any other...

seriously, I could have gone on all day...

Stack of Old Books with Fruit (usually, but not always, an apple or a pear on top of the books)

(Yes, yes, we get it... snake, apple, knowledge...)

Stack of Old Books with Other Old-Timey Desk Stuff

Stack of Old Books with Tea Cup seems popular

The latest thing seems to be Stack of Old Books with Birds

And of course, my favourite, Stack of Old Books with Memento Mori,

good old "Vanitas"

I've already succumbed to the temptation once. But in my defence, it was a class exercise.

Of course, it might be a bit harsh to call it cliche. In some sense, these subjects and styles are more or less obligatory for artists.

I've got a lot of books, and some of them are appropriately decrepit and dusty. I've also got tea cups, candle sticks, some odds and ends of spooky-looking Dickensian desk stuff and even a skull or two.

Please remind me never to put them all together in a still life.

I'm working on a new skull. Not this one.

One of the sheep skulls I found on my walks. I was thinking of adding a book, but now maybe I won't.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Winnie update

Winnie and I are just finishing our supper and watching a little TV before bed. She's doing that adorable thing again, sitting behind me on the chair and butting her head up against my shoulder while she falls asleep. I've had to push her back onto the chair cushion twice now before she slips off entirely.

Last Sunday she was in such a state, that I was once again sure we were looking at her last day, or at least last 48 hours, but Dr. B. came again and saved the day. For the last few days she's been almost bouncy. I've been feeding her with her all-time favourite thing, chicken livers, which I mince up fine and mix with her special diet food. Every time I feed her, she runs over to the dish. So I guess she's not quite ready to give up yet.

Today, as I was puttering around the garden and watching the eclipse, she came out of the house and nosed around, sniffing the new grass and sat for a few minutes in the sun. I was going to get a pic, but the camera batteries chose that moment to crap out.

As a friend said, we're on her timetable and when she's ready to go, she'll go. Until then, we hang out.