And now for something completely different…

April 12th, 2009

No politics, philosophy, or economics today.  Well, OK, a little philosophy, but not really the kind you’d expect.

C.S. Lewis wrote, during the height of WWII, that we should continue to live our lives.  I couldn’t agree more.  To that end, here are some of the things I recommend to live your life, and I’ll start with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.  Specialization is for insects.

I’ve never had the opportunity to plan an invasion, and the only “ship” I’ve conned was a 45′ sailboat.  And of course, I’m still alive.  I cannot honestly say that I’m good at everything else on this list, but I have done them, and I suspect that just about anyone can.

The point I think he was making, however, was to try new and different things, to be able to rise to the challenge of something new, to not be so important that you are above changing a diaper or pitching manure.  Most importantly, I think he was saying that you should be self-sufficient.

Unless you live in an apartment, a deed-restricted neighborhood, or zoning laws prohibit it, I’d recommend that you raise small livestock.

I raise milk goats.  There is something both humbling and uplifting about having your hands on a goat’s teats.  My 6 goats are confined to about a half acre.  Feed and care requirements for goats and sheep are minimal.  You can find details on goat- and sheep-raising all over the internet.  The milk is tasty, and you can make your own butter and cheese.

Raise rabbits.  I raise Californians (a meat breed, as opposed to show or fancier breeds, though some people show Californians).  Their feed and care requirements are even easier than goats.  They do not convert feed to meat as efficiently as chickens, but rabbit meat is so nutrient-dense that the portion size is about half what it is for poultry.  Again, information on rabbit raising is abundant on the internet.

Put in a bee hive or two.  Unless you want it to turn into a full-time job, I’d stop at two.  Two hives, each with four boxes, can make gallons of honey a year.  Most of the money spent on an aviary is up front—hive boxes aren’t cheap, and neither is the protective clothing.  After that, the only real expense is replacing the queen every year or two, and that isn’t very expensive.

Grow a garden.  You really do not need very much land to have an abundant garden.  Buy a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening.  If you’ve ever thought about gardening but felt it would be too much of a hassle, you owe it to yourself to at least read this book.  You can have an organic garden if you like, but they’re not easy.  In fact, if you live in a temperate area (like I do—Houston, Texas suburb), they are right next to impossible unless you don’t mind giving half or more of your produce to stink bugs, leaf-footed bugs, squash vine borers and the like.  If you’re going to use insecticides or herbicides, follow the label instructions to the letter.  If the label says “1 tsp per gallon of water,” then that’s what you do.  After all, how dead do you want these pests?

Build solar panels or wind turbines to supplement or replace your dependence on the energy companies.  There are instructions on the internet to build them yourself, but do your homework—some are good and some are not so good.  The two best ones I’ve found are Earth4Energy and HomeMadeEnergy.  The plans aren’t terribly expensive (under $150), and the materials are much cheaper than you might imagine.

Learn to speak a foreign language.  It doesn’t matter which one because learning a different language can change the way you think about things.  I’m not much of a fan of the philosophical school called Determinism, but if anything could be deterministic, it would be language.  Software and casette tapes/CDs are plentiful and inexpensive.

Buy a dog and train it.  Or, train the dog you have.  Contrary to popular convention, old dogs can be taught new tricks.  I prefer non-forced (clicker) training, but that’s just me.  I’ve found that smaller breeds are more difficult to train, but it can still be done—you just need more patience.  If you’re really interested, the two easiest breeds (for my money) are Border Collies and Welsh Corgies.  Labrador Retrievers are also a joy to train.  A word of caution on Border Collies—they are exceptionally protective of small children, and can get downright vicious if they perceive that a wee one is threatened.  I don’t think that this is a bad thing, simply something that you should be aware of if that is the breed that you chose.  We raised a few when I was a child, and my father couldn’t spank us if they were around.  They love to work livestock (it is, after all, what they are bred for) and would be a great choice if you wanted to raise goats or sheep.  If this is your first shot at dog training, get a male.  They are generally more willful than females, but they are also more tolerant of training errors, which you will make plenty of.

Practice Tai Chi or Yoga.  Videos are available, but live instruction is better.  The Chinese have been practicing Tai Chi for untold centuries, and the Indians have been practicing Yoga for just as long.  You don’t have to become a Daoist or Hindu to practice them, either.  I cannot even begin to describe the physiological and psychological benefits of both of them.  At my school, we laughingly call Tai Chi “slow motion martial arts.”  If you saw the intro to last year’s Olympic games in China, then you’ve seen Tai Chi being practiced.  If you’re prone to hypertension, anxiety or depression, or joint pain, Tai Chi and Yoga can provide you with relief.

Cook something.  I mean really cook something.  Do it once a week at the very least.  Bake a cake or cheesecake from scratch.  Bake pizzas—make your own crust and tomato sauce from scratch.  Cook a pot of chicken and sausage (or rabbit and sausage) gumbo.  Cook anything that requires you to do everything.  Putting a sharp knife to meat or vegetables is cathartic, especially if it is food that came out of your garden or from your herd.

There are hundreds more things you can do.  Get out there and do them.  Make lots of mistakes, and laugh at yourself when you do.

Enjoy life.  The more independent you become, the more you will enjoy it.  Plato wrote that “man is a political animal.”  He didn’t mean “political” in the sense you might take it, but rather that man is a social animal and we do require interaction with others of our kind.  Interaction, however, doesn’t mean dependence.

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12 Responses to “And now for something completely different…”

  1. doris |

    Then, there are those of us who are set in their ways and fear the new, or change. I can do anything I set my mind to, but repairing vehicles is where I draw the line. Mindboggling to me, voila—my husband is a mechanic. I have planned an invasion, on my children, when being bad, sneakily. Computers also seem to have a mind of their own and hate me. Cooking is a true art and does soothe the soul, also livestock, but to kill one I raised, unthinkable, haven’t been that hungry and would probably turn vegetarian first. I agree, we should all be able to take care of ourselves in any situation and only stupid people are bored. Way too much life to live for boredom and my brain is always doing something, even when I don’t want it to, no sleep for the weary. How on earth can you look in the face of a fluffy bunny and kill it, now chickens, I understand, especially roosters, with their crazy crowing at all hours, not just at sunrise. What’s up with that? You are right. Brian, are you right on the verge of being one of those guys who lives in the woods and is preparing for the worst? Did you think the world would end in 2000? We should all be versatile and capable of almost anything, when faced with it. Any advice for moles? Killing my tomatoes and don’t want to share.

  2. Tom |

    Brian, there’s more than a “little philosophy” there. I think most people realize that this is a great way to live; it’s just that very few of us ever get it together enough to actually do it. The name “Dr. Dolittle” comes to mind….

    It’s obvious from the post above yours that Amber and her sister, Ashley, had a great time learning to milk your goats. That was a nice thing to do—and judging from their reactions, maybe you should open your own “petting and milking” zoo!

    I have to confess, though, that I still don’t know why anyone would want to drink something that comes from the back end of a goat—or the back end of a cow, for that matter. Guess I’m just not a milk person….

  3. Brian Bagent |

    Doris, get a mole trap. It isn’t a pretty way to kill them, but safer for your pets than trying to poison them.

    Really, I just like doing things for myself, knowing that I have a choice, knowing that I do not have to depend on others. Last September after Ike, when everybody around here was scrambling for food and water, I had a ready supply of meat, eggs, and milk.

    As far as killing rabbits, I agree that they are just as cute as can be. However, I don’t raise them because they are cute, I raise them because they are an inexpensive source of meat. I promise, if push came to shove, you’d kill and eat one. It doesn’t make you a savage any more than buying chicken, beef, or pork from Kroger’s makes you a savage. If anything, it makes you realize how precious life is because you are there at its end, and had a hand in it.

    There is nothing wrong with buying meat from the store, but it disconnects you from what is real, from where your food really comes from. Intuitively, you know that your meat doesn’t just fall out of the sky, shrink-wrapped and sitting on a sheet of styrofoam, but few people really stop and think about what it takes to sustain their own existence, and why their existence is even worth sustaining.

    By the way, I have a 4 year old gelding that needs breaking. Interested?

  4. duggy |

    My mother and I often talk about the days of yesteryear. Mom will turn 90 years old this coming September. She is a well informed, well educated old gal. We both agree that the good old days weren’t really always good. However that may not have been a bad thing. It seems to us that Americans while shedding their frontiersman image have also lost their “edge” in the process. Now comes a time when that edge and some good old days knowledge might once again be an asset.

    I’ve never read Robert Heinlein’s work but I’m in agreement with his notion that man is better served by a variety of skill’s. Specializing is fine but only after mastering the basics. My mother points out with great concern the fact that most Americans no longer have the necessary skills to raise their own food or the other “smarts” needed to be self-sufficient in the event of a depression as serious as the 1929 collapse brought about.

    I looked on Brian’s piece as a lament for times passed and his effort to revive and once more live those times. I know the feeling almost too well. Age has a way of doing that to a fellow.

    Maybe it’s me but I’m seeing more and more expressions of concern from folks since Obama has taken office. Almost seems like a dark mood has settled over everyone. Could be the worry of how will we get by under an Obama rule.

  5. Tom |

    Nice comment, Duggy. The advancing years tend to make us reflect on the old days. I suppose nostalgia is, by definition, positive, even though we know that the good old days weren’t always so good. But we were young, and that’s the point.

    I think it’s more likely that the “dark mood” you ascribe to Obama’s influence is a reflection of hard economic times. I’m sure the mood wouldn’t be any lighter if McCain had won. While I didn’t vote for him, I believe Obama is a very bright guy who can do a great job as president, and I strongly support him. It’s true that he’s very inexperienced and has a lot to learn in a short time, but I think he can overcome that obstacle.

    Brian and Doris, if I had to personally kill a cow, a pig, a rabbit, or any other animal before I ate its meat, I’d quickly become a vegetarian. I even avoid thinking about the fate of the animal who provided the steak, veal, ham, and bacon I eat. It’s not that I haven’t experienced violence and death in my life; maybe there’s just been too much of it.

  6. doris |

    No, Brian, I would not kill to eat, I’m the one because I don’t even like meat and could easily live without it. Why is it that bunny or cow’s life is less important than mine? Because I am bigger and smarter, well I know a lot of folks bigger and smarter than I? I could easily live off vegetation. I HATE spiders, but much prefer to get them out of my immediate vision than let someone kill them. No, I’m not a bleeding heart animal activist, just cannot kill them. Cattle suffer so intensely at slaughter, as do horses, they are not humane, but we, as a nation prefer to not ever allow a story on TV or in the news about the horrible slaughter of our precious steaks. It is extremely cruel, they are stabbed and hit in the head. You haven’t lived until you hear a horse’s death scream. Horrendous.

    I would break your gelding, but I fear I am past my prime and will break easier than the gelding. Sorry, but there is a good place in Livingston, I hear, that will do it. Don’t know if it is reasonably priced, not too many people break horses anymore. I had to give it up, broke all the bones in me at least once, some twice, and just don’t heal as well now, but I wish I could, I love it, and I miss it. Thanks for the offer.

    I don’t feel badly about you killing your livestock, I know why you raise them. When I was a girl of 11, my favorite place, except for on the back of a horse, was a friend’s house; they had rabbits, I loved them, until one day by mistake I was out of school and he killed the feeder rabbits and I saw. I was never the same. He and I cried, and he was sorry that I saw, but the damage was done…I know, grow up already, the real world is harsh.

  7. doris |

    Bryan, sorry if I came across too strongly, I am not opposed to what you do, I just know I can’t. Someone must do these things. Where do you get a mole trap?

  8. doris |

    During the hurricane I, too, was OK. We have a vending business. Plus, the weather guys told us it was coming, so I stocked up on canned goods, and we had plenty+ food. I still have some canned stuff from then. We actually took food and drinks to some of our customers, who had no power at the nursing homes, and S.H.E.C.O., who needed stuff while working on power lines. We didn’t have to kill anything, except time…no power.

  9. Brian |

    I think you both would quickly tire of a vegetarian diet, and I think you both underestimate yourselves. It has only been within the last 80 or 90 years that anyone has had the luxury of not having to kill what they are eating, and only in Europe, North America, Japan and Hong Kong, and ANZ at that.

    I’ve seen the vapid, Hollywood types catch, kill, clean, cook, and eat chickens on Ted Nugent’s show. It is a grounding experience.

    I take no pleasure in it, but it is not something that should be avoided, either.

    There is another issue, though. When I kill my own stock, I know exactly what they’ve ingested – no antibiotics (unless indicated by infection, of course), no steroids, etc. I don’t load the carcasses up with MSG to increase their shelf-life (like some grocery chains do), I know exactly how long they’ve been dead, and I know that the meat handler has maintained good antiseptic technique.

    In a couple years, I will have enough land to run 12-15 head of cattle. Heifers will be sold off, I’ll castrate the males and sell all of them off except for one, which will go into my freezer. My meat will be free, except for my labor. An 800-900# steer will yield 400-500# of beef, some of which I will give away to family and friends.

  10. doris |

    I hear all the steroids in the meat and milk are responsible for all our little girls growing up so fast, 12 year olds look 18, scary. What else are they doing to us?

    Hey, why is that gelding 4 years old and not broke? Getting old…should be done at 2. Just throw a 15 year old boy up there and let him fly. They aren’t too breakable. Course, you will need more of an expert for the training or a good book on the subject. Hey, I bet you can do it, Brian, you seem to be a jack of all trades. Start with the ground work, lounging and driving, first.

    When we had calves, as a child, we played with them, and when they were fat enough to eat, my mother had them slaughtered and gave us a dollar, explaining that she had sold them. We got paid because we fed them. I like that idea, Santa Claus and sold.

  11. Brian |

    Previous owner got kind of busy with his cattle and the other 9 or 10 horses he has. I’ll get some pictures of him and his son (we have them both) and forward them through Lillie. They’re both light sorrels.

  12. doris |

    What did I say before? Color does not matter, what kind–Quarter cross or other? Costs about 450 for 31 days of training in Livingston. That’s feed and board, too, included, a reasonable cost. Lillie can give you my email address.

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