Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Where to Get Seeds - When Everyone is Out

I was reading this article this morning. According to the article, more people are gardening, because of COVID, which is both a positive and negative thing.

Obviously more urban and suburban gardeners in our world is a really good thing. The environmental impact of 1000 gardeners with quarter acre homesteads, who are cultivating a variety of plants for a diverse dinner plate, will be significantly less than one 250 acre monoculture of corn or soy beans. In fact, replacing lawns with gardens with have a huge positive impact on the ecological diversity.

The negative, as shown in the article, is that the demand on seed companies has been huge, and in the early days of the pandemic, many of them had a hard time keeping up, and in fact, there are many varieties of seeds that are now very difficult to come by.

Seed companies have had to get creative, doing all sorts of things from temporarily disabling the ordering function on their websites to less appealing responses – like that of Johnny Seed, which is favoring commercial growers over home-gardeners, and will not fulfill orders of the latter if there is a conflict.

If one is even thinking about (even, if it's a maybe) adding some edibles to the landscape, the time to order seeds was probably a few weeks ago, and while it's not too late, finding some varieties (like beef steak tomatoes or purple carrots) will likely be difficult. Some seed stock may be completely out, which means if the goal was to grow cucumbers, green peppers may end up taking that garden space.

While seed companies have proved somewhat resilient after last years panic buying, they will still probably have some deficits, but that doesn't mean that finding seeds will be impossible. Sometimes, we just need to look closer.

I used to love looking through the seed catalogs. The variety was impressive, but also a bit overwhelming. The problem for me was a little like a kid at a buffet – my eyes are bigger than my garden, and I would end up with $100 worth of seeds and only plant a quarter of what I'd purchased.

In my novice years, I figured it was fine. I could just plant them the next year … and for some seeds, yes, that's true. If the seeds are properly stored, they can be used the next year, but as anyone who sells/saves seeds will tell you, the efficacy of those seeds starts to wane over time. That's why seed packets have dates on them – and some seed companies will let you know up front that IF you plant the seeds THIS YEAR, you can expect an 80% germination (that is, for every 10 seeds you plant, you can expect that 8 of them will grow). The germination rate will vary (be lower or higher) depending on the type of seed, but the older the seeds are, the lower the germination rate will be.

The lesson, for me, was that I couldn't purchase a stock of seeds that I could just save forever, because they don't last forever.

And I stopped ordering seeds through seed catalogs, because I found that there were so many ways to fill my garden that didn't include ordering from Johnny Seed.

So where do I find seeds?

When I started looking, I started finding seeds in some places I hadn't never considered that they would be.

Feed Store

I'm not sure why this one was a surprise to me. Since their primary customers are folks who have livestock (and presumably a farm), it shouldn't have surprised me that they would also carry seeds. I'm no sure why it did. In season, they sell seed packets, but they also have seed potatoes, garlic, and onion starts. Sometimes I can get deals on other stuff there, too, like frozen beef, some bulk vegetables, vegetable plants, and local honey.

Tractor Supply

I usually prefer to shop local, as we all know, and I prefer the chicken feed from my local feed store, because it's a better quality feed, but the fact is that the feed store is less “local” to me than the Tractor Supply with regard to driving distances, and so, sometimes, when I'm pressed for time, I stop at the Tractor Supply, because it is on my way.

I guess this store is a cross between a feed store and a hardware store, at least that's what it is here. Ours has an incredible assortment of all sorts of homesteading supplies from tools to livestock feed. They even have outerwear (like jackets and coats), tee-shirts, jeans, and boots. In season, they have baby chicks and ducklings – with varieties suitable for both meat and eggs. 

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, when everyone else is heading to the grocery store, I'm going to Tractor Supply. Just sayin'.

At my local TSC, I recently picked up several packets of organic, heirloom seeds from the Seeds of Hope company.

Hardware Store

Not only have I been able to find seeds at the hardware store, but the seeds I found were both local and organic. My local Ace Hardware carried seeds from this company here in Maine. The Ace Hardware is a locally owned franchise and the seed company is a locally owned company, which feeds my need to support local businesses. They also have canning supplies – usually year round – and real straw brooms.

In TEOTWAWKI scenario, I will be stopping at the Ace Hardware, on my way home from TSC.

Grocery Store

A few years ago, my local grocery started carrying packets of seeds – in season. I started seeing them around March.

Home Improvement Store

I'm not a fan of shopping at Big Box stores, in general, but last year, when I couldn't find garlic seed anywhere else, I was able to find it at Home Depot. It wasn't great seed, and I ended up with a lot of tiny garlic heads. The seed wasn't well labeled, and after I had planted and harvested my garlic, I discovered that it was a soft neck garlic (I was waiting for the scapes that never grew ;)). I discovered that for storage purposes, I prefer the soft neck garlic, which can be braided. It looks pretty hanging in my kitchen. So, this year, I was proactive, and when I ordered my garlic seed – back in September, not from Home Depot – I ordered the soft neck variety.

They have other seeds and plants, also. I am not comfortable purchasing plants for my garden, because I am not confident that their plants are not treated with bee-killing pesticides, like some of their flowers reportedly are, but in a pinch, I could be compelled to purchase some seed from them.

Local Nursery

I suppose this one is a gimme. Obviously anywhere that sells plants will also have seed for sale. Makes sense. 

 We have several nurseries in my area, and I have always been able to find a fair selection of seeds at most of them. I've even found some unique seeds (like nettles) at one of the higher-end nurseries.

But what happens when one has exhausted all of those options, and the seed companies have a back log of weeks?  The growing season is short, here in Maine, and if one has waited too long and ends up on the back-order list, the season may be winding down before the seeds even germinate.  

So, what do we do?

Buy Plants

This isn't the most economical option, obviously. I can get a six pack of tomato plants at the nursery for $2.50, and I have six plants. I can get a packet of tomato seeds for $1.79, and I could have 20 plants. The issue, for me, is that I don't, necessarily, have the space for 20 tomato plants.  As such, some plants are a better option for me, and in fact, I do plant a variety of both plants and seeds.  

Also, while some plants will do well with direct sowing, some seeds need to be planted in a protected place before the last frost to give them the best opportunity to develop fruit (or produce those tomatoes) during our short growing season here in Maine. I can direct sow lettuce seeds, and even do subsequent plantings, because lettuce is more cold hardy, and I can direct sow the seeds earlier than I can tender tomatoes, and also, lettuce matures much faster than tomatoes. I might need 75 days from seed to harvest for a tomato. From seed to plate for lettuce, I need 28 days.

That means I can direct sow my lettuce seeds in mid-April and have a fresh salad from my garden by Mother's Day. Common wisdom here in Maine is to not plant the warm-loving plants until after Memorial Day, which means I can't even hope for a tomato until August, if I direct sow the seeds. If I buy tomato plants that have been grown in a greenhouse and hardened off, and put them in my garden on Memorial Day, I might have tomatoes for my Independence Day celebration.

Buying plants is more expensive than buying seeds, but it's still less expensive to grow your own than it is to purchase them.

Unfortunately, the nurseries only grow so much, and only have certain plants available at certain times. Once they've sold out of those vegetable plants, that's it for the year.

So, what to do if you've missed the boat on buying plants, and the seed companies STILL have a back log of weeks?

Go to the Grocery Store

I realize I have already mentioned that the grocery store has seed packets – in season. What they also have is vegetables and fruits, many of which have seeds or are seeds. There are a surprising number of plants that can be grown from scraps or from seeds saved from vegetable scraps. For starters, pepper and tomato seeds can be regrown from “organic” peppers and tomatoes purchased at the store.

I have grown potatoes, onions, and ginger from grocery store purchases.

Look beyond the produce aisle, though. A fact many people don't know is that the dried beans can also be sprouted and grown. As this article points out, many of the seeds won't be viable, but some of them will be. In the absence of other choices, a pound of dried beans costs $2.50 and might produce several plants. Worst case, the beans that were soaked, but didn't sprout, can be cooked for supper.

Another potential food source is raw peanuts, which can be grown from peanuts purchased at the grocery store. They have to be raw though. They don't have a great success rate, but any are better than none.

Also check out the bulk bins and the grain aisles for chia seeds (remember “chia pets”?) and flax seeds, which might sprout. And if you have a health food store near you, you might also find a seed sprouting mix. If the seeds will sprout, they will grow a plant.

When planning a garden, obviously, the best option is to plan the garden well in advance of the growing season, and to order or otherwise procure any supplies one might need before the ground is even ready to plant.

Unfortunately, in our very busy world, sometimes stuff happens, and we don't get done the things we intended to do. If that's the case for your seed ordering, don't despair. You still have options.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

It's a Good Life

Today is overcast and cloudy.  Snow is in the forecast ... again.  I live in Maine.  Snow SHOULD be in the forecast during the winter, and that we're going to get snow, in February, shouldn't be a surprise or an emergency.  

I have a friend who lives in Texas, and the news stations down there are warning of the coming snow-pocalypse - according to her Facebook feed.  It's different here than there.  She says the store shelves are bare from people panic buying in advance of the storm.  One of her friends asked if Texan homes even had heat.  It's funny ... but not funny.  Being cold is no fun.

We spend a lot of time preparing for winter, here in our Maine suburban home.  During the summer, we spend many weekends working wood for our winter heat.  Some of our wood supply comes from purchased wood we get from a local firewood purveyor.  

Sometimes we are gifted wood.  One year we received a couple of small trailer loads of coppiced wood that a local tree firm had cut.  They just happened to be driving by our house and saw our stacks of firewood.  They stopped, on a whim, to ask if we wanted what they had in their trailer.  They'd been cutting trees locally, but didn't have anywhere, close, to dump their truck load.  They gave it to us.  The limbs were varying lengths and widths, and our task was to cut it to length and then split and stack it.  I got to try out my new chainsaw, which was cool.

My youngest daughter has really been enjoying our firewood prepping chores over the last few years.  A few summers ago, when were were out at my father-in-law's property cutting wood, she learned to use the gas powered splitter.  We don't have a gas powered splitter here.  Buying one is expensive, especially considering we can borrow the in-law's splitter, but also, we just don't have a place to store it. 

We do have a manual splitter and a maul.  She's learning to use both.

I looked over at her the summer before last, splitting wood barefooted and thought. "What a suburban-kid thing to do!", and immediately ran inside to grab my phone to get a picture - which is a quintessentially suburban mom thing to do, I think. 

Sometimes, I think it's funny that my kids have learned all of the skills that they've learned.  Knowing how to heat a house with wood is just one of the many skills we've forced them to know, because, for us, these skills teach them to do things for themselves.  They can stay warm.  They can eat.  They can survive - in the best of times and in the worst of times.

The reality of our lives is that we live in the suburbs.  Our daughters have lived this balance between going to the mall to hang out with their friends and having to do things, like keeping the woodstove going during the winter and collecting the eggs from the backyard chickens.

They've been given the opportunity to enjoy the best of being an urban kid (trips to see Broadway shows, eating at boutique restaurants, enjoying a latte from a real coffee shop, shopping for books in dusty, antique bookstores) and the best of being a farm kid (fluffy baby animals in the backyard, a healthy garden, county fairs, meaningful work).

Some writers speak of the suburbs as a failed experiment and as the "worst allocation of resources in history."  I don't agree.  I agree that the car-dependence of some suburbs and the unwillingness of some suburbanites to use their land to cultivate food is short-sighted and wasteful, but I also think, with some reimaging, and maybe retooling, the suburbs can be what save us in a powered down future.

For now, though, and for my family, I think it's the best of both worlds.  My daughters have been given this amazing opportunity to work hard doing work that has meaning (stacking wood is not easy, but it's absolutely necessary if we hope to stay warm in the winter), but they've also had the chance to live like a normal, suburban teenager.

That day, we were working wood, and as Precious split a log, she looked at Little Fire Faery, who was stacking the wood in neat rows against the fence, and asked, "Hey, do you want to go the mall later?"

And that's our life.  Stack wood in the morning.  Go to the mall in the afternoon.  Eat a home-cooked meal (slow-cooked roast from locally sourced beef, mashed potatoes from our garden, sweet corn from a local farmer, and baked caramel apples) in the evening.

Good work.  Good fun.  Good food.

It's a good life here in the suburbs.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Coming Home: Revaluing Women's Work

I woke up earlier than usual this morning. It happens some days. Usually, Deus Ex Machina gets up around 4:45AM. I don't even hear the alarm. Sometimes I feel him get up, and I hear him starting his morning routine. I am lulled back to sleep by the familiarity of it:  the soft rustle of him pulling on a pair of sweatpants and slipping into a long-sleeved shirt; the ticking of the dogs' toenails on the laminate flooring in the hallway as they run to the kitchen for their breakfast; the metallic squeal of latch on the woodstove door he opens to feed the fire; the click and whoosh of his opening the sliding glass door to let the dogs into the back yard after they've eaten.  

Sometimes I lay semi-awake listening to the symphony of my house coming alive.

The dogs scratch at the glass slider, finished with their toilet and ready to come back into the warm house from the snowy backyard – perhaps hoping for a second helping of kibbles and bits. I unfold myself from the embrace of my warm bed to let them in. Sometimes I crawl back under the down and snuggle back into the cocoon. Sometimes I get up and join Deus Ex Machina in the living room for coffee and Yoga. This morning was the latter.

After Yoga, Deus Ex Machina heads to the shower. If I'm not awake for Yoga, he will gently wake me after his workout, softly caressing my feet and whispering, “Time to get up. There's coffee” (and there's always a cup of coffee ready and waiting for me on the counter), and I go into the kitchen and make his breakfast. Usually, something with eggs, because the backyard chickens are incredibly generous – even right now when the sun is still low on the horizon and living the Benjamin Franklin advice: early to bed … although not so much of the early to rise happening this time of year with our days still firmly in winter's grip.

After his shower, Deus Ex Machina gets his lunch together (usually leftovers from previous nights' dinners – I always cook too much, and he teases me about being an Italian grandma, even though I'm not Italian). Some mornings he wolfs down the breakfast sandwich I've made for him before he leaves. Some mornings, he grabs a cloth napkin and takes it with him.

Several days a week, he drops Precious off at work. She works at a local cafĂ© and has to be at work before rush hour traffic (and their breakfast patrons). In season, Little Fire Faery, who is a landscaper, has to be at work at the same time. She grabs her coffee and some fruit for lunch and walks next door to her job.  

By 7:00AM, the early morning rush to get everyone coffee'd up and out the door ends, and I'm left to sit quietly with a second (or third, depending on the morning) cup of coffee, a warm cat on my lap, and a few minutes to check email, read the news, and scroll social media.

My life as a work from home housewife is slow, and I don't mean that my days are languorous and long, but rather that the activities that fill my days are the slow kind of life that people who live a life-by-hand lead. Sweeping floors with a real broom. Caring for the backyard flock. Cooking from scratch. Tending the home fires, both literally and figuratively.  In the spring and summer, there is planting and tending the garden, and caring for the baby chicks that will be next years laying hens or next winter's chicken soup.  There's always something to do. 

I often take for granted that what I do every day is just "normal" - everyone's every day life - but it's not true. I live an extraordinary life, and many people, especially two-income households, don't have the luxury I have every day to bake a loaf of bread or mend a pair of pants.

I call it a luxury, and it is ... ish.  I have heard people lamenting that they wish they could have my life – to “not have to work” - but *they* don't think they can afford it.

That's where they are wrong.

It is absolutely possible to support a family on a single income, and moreover, not having a paid job working outside the home, can actually yield a higher “income” than what most women will earn annually anyway.  

But there has to be a willingness to live with fewer conveniences and do more by hand.   

A broom costs $8.  A vacuum costs $40.

The median income for women in the United States is $25,307 (source: https://datacommons.org/place/country/USA). If that amount is for a full-time job (40 hours a week), the average hourly wage for a working woman is around $12. We'll assume that our source is giving us the before taxes rate, which means that the average take home per hour rate is around $10. That's the amount one will have to spend on stuff.  And that's important for calculating what one is paying just to work.

Above I mentioned that I am able to make a loaf of bread. What I didn't mention above about making bread is that we are gluten-free. A loaf of gluten-free bread from the store costs around $6. Gluten-free sandwich loaves are smaller than normal loaves of sliced bread. A loaf of gluten-free bread is only about 12 slices (or six sandwiches), but the pieces of bread are about three-fourths the size of the piece of bread of a normal loaf of sandwich bread. So, basically, for $6, we can get four regular-sized sandwiches.  

If both Deus Ex Machina and I worked full-time and brought sandwiches from home for lunch each day, we would need three loaves of bread just for our lunches (and that's if we each only use two slices of bread and have a three-quarters sized sandwich for our midday meal). If I earned the average wage for women in the US, I would have to work an hour and a half just for a few sandwiches.  Eating out would cost a lot more, for sure, but isn't it a little dispiriting to note that bringing lunch to work costs 15 minutes of wages - even when the food is brought from home?  Oh, and we didn't calculate the cost of meat, cheese, or peanut butter to go on the sandwich.  That's just for the bread.

A loaf of homemade, gluten-free bread costs around $3. If I work from home, I don't have to have a sandwich, because I don't need a quick grab-and-go lunch, and if Deus Ex Machina takes a sandwich to work each day using my homemade bread, we would only need one loaf.

My NOT having job would save us $750/year (assuming $15/week for the bread times 50 weeks) just on sandwich bread.

And that's just one, very small example of the cost savings. The fact is that having a two income household does not, necessarily, raise one's standard of living, when the cost of having a job is figured into the budget.

There are so many, other costs that are often ignored or glossed over, because those things are just part of having a job – like putting gasoline in the car.

In January 2018, after working from home for 20 years, I took a job working part-time outside the home. I had a very short commute, compared to most people. My job was 10 miles round trip from my house. Depending on traffic, my total commute there and back was about a half hour per day, five days a week.

My car is fairly fuel efficient, averaging 32/mpg, which means at 10 miles per day, I used one and ¾ gallons of gasoline per week to get back and forth to work. Gasoline has been averaging around $2.50/gallon for the last three years. My annual cost for gasoline was $218.75. 

That doesn't sound like much, for sure, but I had to work 15 minutes just to pay for the gas it took to drive my car to work, which means I lost that money and that time - just to have a job.  If I had to pay for parking, which occasionally happened, it was $5/day.  I lost another half hours' wages just to leave my car in a parking lot while I worked.  I can park it for free in my driveway - just sayin'.  

Most people aren't lucky enough to live 5 miles from where they work, and neither do they have as fuel-efficient of a car as I have. The average commute for folks here in the US is around 32 miles round trip (so three times my commute), and the average gas mileage for a car here in the US is 25 mpg. A worker traveling 32 miles round trip in a car that gets 25 mpg uses about 1.28 gallons of gasoline per day. At $2.50/gallon, the annual cost for just gasoline to travel to and from work is $800.  The person who is bringing home $10/hour has to work for an hour and a half a week just to pay for gasoline. 

That's just for gasoline. That doesn't even include the cost of the car payment (because most people also don't own their car outright), taxes, and insurance.  It also doesn't include the cost of parking fees or turnpike fees - both of which are a reality where I live.  It costs $2 a day for a commuter pass on the turnpike, which is an additional $10 a week - or another hour of lost wages just to get to work.

Before starting my part-time job, I had spent many years working from home.  I was a huge advocate for more people adopting a WAH lifestyle, because I'd done a lot of research on the cost of having an outside-the-home job. I knew the benefits of a one-income family with a SAH/WAH parent/partner.  

In 2017, I dissolved my home-based business.  My kids were, mostly, grown up, and like many stay-at-home moms with older kids, I thought, maybe I should get a job outside the home.  

In December, the organization where I had been a long-time volunteer announced a job opening for an office manager/admin assistant.  With almost 30 years of experience in office work and business management under my belt, the job description could have been written with me in mind, and since I was already doing several of the job duties as an unpaid volunteer, applying for the job seemed like a no brainer.

But, after almost three years in that job, when I realized how much my job was costing in actual money spent just to keep going to work (and that's not including any of the mental or emotional toll the job took on me and on us as a family), it no longer made sense to keep the working there. 

What's worse, though, was that the income I earned going to work every day was basically the same amount of money I had earned working from home all of those years (allowing for inflation, I actually made MORE working from home than I did going to the office), but the cost of going to the job each day was significantly higher.

There is a misconception that is perpetuated by our society that two parent families NEED two incomes to survive, and in perpetuating that myth we are doing a great disservice to ourselves and our families.

In a 2012 commencement speech to the graduating class of Barnard College, then, President Obama told the women in the class, “We know … this country would be better off if more Americans were able to get the ... specific skills and training that employers are looking for today.”

The emphasis of his speech was to tell these women that they needed to work, nay, that they should WANT to work - above all else, because working = value.  

Paradoxically, his wife, the venerable Michelle Obama, was a stay-at-home Mom through his tenure in the White House.  While she "worked", as do many of us SAHM, on various community service projects and served on bunches of committees (unpaid, like my own work as a Board member at my local library and at my local food pantry, and a dog walker and foster care provider for the animal shelter), her professional career was curtailed shortly after her daughters' births and her husband's bid for the White House.

Undaunted by the fact that his wife wasn't a wage earner, he goes further to say that Americans “... are better off when women are treated fairly and equally in every aspect of American life — whether it’s the salary you earn or the health decisions you make.”  

No mention of the nobility of eschewing a wage to be a home-maker.

There is no room for having a conversation about the unpaid work in our lives or for those who wish to do it full-time in lieu of a having a career making money.

Certainly, most of the women he was addressing went to college in the first place because they intended to be financially self-sufficient, as did I, but the problem with speeches like this and the ideas that they perpetuate is that they validate the assumption that women (and men) who don't earn a salary are not “equal” to men (and women) who do.

Well, unless they are the well-educated wives of rich politicians.  

And that idea is the most egregious lie our society has embraced, and by continuing to conserve the notion that men and women must make money, we will destroy any hope of creating a sustainable future, because the fact is that unlimited growth, as measured in dollars (which is how we do it), is unsustainable in a world with finite resources.  We need more people who can make something other than money, for reasons more noble than the desire to earn cash.

We're heading into a new world – one with diminishing resources – and we will need people who know how to do more than make money, but until or unless our society can start seeing the value in those of us who have chosen to be keepers of hearth and home, we will continue to lose the skills that we will need when our lives get slower, and driving 30 miles one way to a job won't be possible, because there won't be a job ... and there will be nothing to drive.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Something Old Becomes Something New

On April 14, 2020, I made my first set of masks using a bunch of fabric I had on hand and some recycled elastics.  I thought I was done making masks.  Back in April of last year, most of us thought, by summer of 2020, we'd be done with masking, done with the virus.  

While most of us are, in fact, *done*, unfortunately, the virus is still with us, and so are the masks.

I've been planning to make some new masks for a while now.  I wanted to add a nose piece, because my hope is that if I can cinch the mask around my nose, my glasses won't fog up.  

So, I've been saving these wire tie wraps from the vegetables that I've been getting from Misfits Market*.

As luck would have it, they are easily cut using just a pair of scissors.  So, I snipped them into 2" pieces.

The masks I make call for two pieces of fabric cut into 6"x 9" pieces.  The ear elastics are 6" each side.  

I sewed everything together using my 1970s Singer sewing machine that Deus Ex Machina's grandma gave me (the machine is a workhorse of a sewing machine!).

Et voila! 

Deus Ex Machina has three "new" masks.

And I even made a new one for myself.  

*Full Disclosure:  If you sign up with Misfits Market using this link, I will get a referral credit on my next order.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Where to Shop Instead of Amazon

Interestingly, James Wesley Rawles and I started blogging around the same time.  He was certainly more focused in his blog topic than I was.  At the time, the purpose of my blog was going to be to promote the work-at-home lifestyle.  Funny where we ended up.  

Mr. Rawles has made a very comfortable living with his blog.  He has over a third a million regular readers.  I am awed.  Frankly, I'd be happy with 1% of his readership ;).  

A very substantial piece of his income, according to this post, has been his affiliation with Amazon, and so it's actually pretty amazing that he has decided to quit them.

Like Rawles and most bloggers, I was an Amazon affiliate in the early days, but Amazon and I split more than a decade ago.  Frankly, as a Mainer, Amazon didn't really treat me very well. I was an affiliate for many years, when the whole sales tax issue came up, and Amazon decided that they would no longer support affiliates from the States that were suddenly requiring taxes be paid. Amazon was already big enough that they didn't want or need us Mainer affiliates. They were influential enough that they decided they didn't have to pay taxes.

They dropped me as a link affiliate. Then, I decided that I was no longer interested in being a Marketplace vendor, and I closed my account with them. I haven't been a regular customer of theirs for years (even though my family still uses the service). Even during the pandemic, I found other online retailers from which to order things I could not find locally.

Deus Ex Machina has still used the service, but his more recent experiences have been very poor. Some of the products are really not what he expected. That's been interesting. I'm hoping for a straw, soon, that will prompt him to seek other online vendors.

For me, Amazon has become the new Wal-Mart, and I have been boycotting Wal-Mart for more than a decade. I've taken a lot of flack and heard all of the excuses from my friends and family who still patronize Wal-Mart, because:

1. They don't have another choice (there's ALWAYS another choice).

2. They can't find what they need anywhere except Wal-Mart (seriously? See above. I haven't shopped there in a decade, and I have never wanted for something I needed).

3. They have the best prices (I challenge this assumption. Some things, perhaps, but I think it all balances out in the end).

Usually the truth is that Wal-Mart is just easier and more convenient, and that is a truth I can understand, even if I don't agree with being a lazy consumer. It's only through very conscience choices that we can make change.

Margaret Mead is credited with having said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  

We all talk about wanting to affect positive change. Taking Margaret Mead's words to heart and being that "small group" who does something different - even if it is just not shopping at a particular store, can make a small difference. And that's what counts, right?

Amazon has the same reputation. It's easier just to find it on Amazon, because they have everything. Ten years ago there were a lot of us small-time independent sellers on Amazon's Marketplace. We depended on Amazon's much larger customer base, hoping that folks would weed through the myriad of choices and find our little store fronts.

I sold used books for a while, but Amazon would only allow me to charge $3.95 for postage - regardless of what it cost me to send the book, and there were so many of us selling books that many titles ended up selling for a penny. The short of it is that if I sent the book media mail, I might earn $2.50 on the book, but if I sent it media mail, and it took too long to arrive in the buyer's hands, I would get dinged as a seller.

One time I sold a transcriber.  It worked just fine when I sent it.  The mail service didn't treat it kindly, and when it arrived at its destination, it was no longer working.  Not only did I have to refund the buyer, but I also lost the postage - both ways.  

Suffice it to say that I didn't earn even a fraction of what Rawles earns on Amazon - not as a link affiliate, nor as a Marketplace seller.  Quitting them as a vendor was easy, for me.

Quitting them as a customer has been just as easy.

So where do I go?

I have found a number of alternatives, and please note that I am not an affiliate of any business.  This is an ad-free blog, and any links provided are for information purposes only.  I don't get a dime (except the Thrive Market link - and only if you use my link - which you don't have to - and place an order).


There are a number of companies and individuals who sell through Amazon, but the fact is that they often have online sales of their own.  

I am a fan of Dr. Bonner's soaps.  I use the bar soap for an all over wash, including my shampoo.  I like peppermint in the summer, because it's cooling, but I prefer almond in the winter.  Unfortunately, my local grocery either stopped carrying almond scent or they have just always run out before I got there.  So, several months ago, I went online and I found the Dr. Bonner's website.  They had plenty of the scent I wanted.  I ordered 10 bars for about the same price per bar that I would have paid at the grocery store. 

Amazon has the liquid castille soap, peppermint scented, for $32.49 for 2 quarts.  It's $18.48/quart on Dr. Bonner's website.  So, yes, it's cheaper at Amazon, but sometimes saving a couple of dollars shouldn't be the ultimate goal.  If cheaper is the primary motivator, there are other options, still.  This company sells Dr. Bonner's liquid soap for $16.99/quart.  Their mission statement includes: "working to increase ... sustainability and social responsibility."  They only sell "natural" products.  Giving back to a company that strives to give back could be a better option and make that extra dollar per quart a bit more palatable.  

Personally, I prefer to go to the source, because, unless they discontinue the scent I like, the official website of whatever retailer is absolutely more likely to have what I want than one of their affiliates. 


When Amazon first started, they were an online bookseller.  Over the years, their business has expanded to the point that sales really are for them secondary to what they really offer.  According to Rawles' website, Amazon is primarily focused these days on their server farm.  Seems the intent is to control what we buy and sell and think and do on the Internet.  Interesting.

I haven't bought books on Amazon for a long time, and even in the midst of the Pandemic, when all of the local stores were closed, I found an alternative to ordering books online.  There are half a dozen locally owned bookstores in my area.  Most of them have an online catalog and online ordering, and started curbside pick-up.

Even better, my local library offered borrowing services, and they would ship it to me, at no charge.  I just had to drop the books back off in their drop box.    

Amazon wouldn't have offered better service.

I know a lot of folks think that Amazon is easier, but what I've found is that they have so many choices and so many vendors, I get bogged down trying to find what I want.  Reading through all of the fine-print is also time-consuming, and then, too often, when the product arrives, it's not what I thought I ordered.  

What I've found is that I prefer online shops that specialize in what they do, and the following are some other online shops I have visited that helped me avoid Amazon. 

Battery Depot - My laptop battery completely died. I ordered a replacement from these folks.  I received my order within a week of ordering it, and it works exactly like it should.  

Wild Berry Incense - I really love my Patchouli incense, but finding it locally is always a challenge.  A lot of places that sell incense have started selling blends, which I usually don't like.  I'm very sensitive to smell and the wrong scent will give me a headache and/or make me nauseous.  I ordered (probably way too much) incense from this company. It's exactly the scent I want without the headache and nausea, and the price was pretty decent, too. 

Thrive Market (if you sign up for Thrive with this link, I will actually get a referral bonus - just FYI).  Amazon now owns Whole Foods.  I've never been a Whole Foods shopper, but in the midst of the pandemic, when our local grocery store was out of the Seventh Generation 100% post consumer recycled materials TP that we usually buy, we started looking around for places we could order it online.  Whole Foods claimed to have it.  So, we ordered.  Then, it turns out that they didn't have it and our order was cancelled - not once, but twice.  The first time, it took them a day and a half to tell us that we couldn't get the next day delivery they promised.  WTF?

So, I started looking for alternatives.  Thrive is an online purveyor of organic foods.  Like Trader Joe's, they have their own brand, but they also carry a lot of familiar organic and natural brands of groceries and other goods (including the above mentioned TP).    

Royal Silk is a place to purchase high-end men's undergarments.  And we all know that we can get lady's garments from Victoria's Secret, which often has pretty decent sales.  My daughter has her own account with VS Pink.   My friend recently posted a link to this online shop, where I can procure materials and patterns to make my own.   Making them myself is the ultimate in happy-making consumerism.

L. L. Bean - This past Christmas, Deus Ex Machina got a fresh wardrobe both underwear and outerwear :D.  I may have saved money if I'd gone through Amazon, but I trust the commitment to service and quality from L. L. Bean, and if he didn't like it, we could take it to Freeport and exchange it.


A lot of people give a lot of lip service to wanting to do better, to save the environment, to whatever catch-phrase they're reciting, but the bottom line is action, not words, is where it's at, and there's no greater revolutionary act in a Corptocracy than telling the corporations to pound sand and spending your dollars someplace else.

My point is that if we just look, we can probably find everything we want with very few exceptions someplace other than Amazon.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

When Preparing for the Storm is Everyday Life

We had our first, really significant, snow of the season starting last night into this morning.  It's sleeting now, which means that the beautiful, fluffy snow cover will be a crusted, icy mess.  

For the record, I actually love the snow.  I love how clean everything looks after a good snowfall.  I don't even mind clean up, so much, depending on the type of snow.  According to folklore the Intuits had 40+ words for snow, and after having lived in Maine for more than two decades, I can see that.  All snow is not equal.  

The first snow of the season is often a heavy, wet snow - like big, floppy waffles.  Later in the season, as it gets colder and the air is dryer, the flakes are small and light, like ash.  Toward spring, the flakes are bigger, but heavier, again, like leaves.  It's the quality of the air that makes the snowflake what it is.  Dryer air = lighter flakes.

The worst is the storms that bring both snow and ice.  Not only are they a bear to clean up, but they are also the most dangerous.  Ice storms kill trees and snap power lines, because the snow-covered, iced-over branches and cables are heavy.

This particular storm was dubbed a Nor'easter by the newscasters, and in my area, we were told to expect 6" to 12".  We definitely got 6" of snow overnight.  Now, before lunchtime, we have sleet.  It's getting bad out there, and I am very thankful that we were all working from home today, because driving would be a mess - even for those of us who have driven in this sort of weather a lot.  It's just no fun, and it's better if we can just stay home.

What's interesting, to me, is the media reporting of these storms.  I guess since we've had so little snow this season it is big news.  Plus, we have a lot of COVID refugees - people who have moved to Maine from away, because it is safer here, presumably.  Maybe our news-folk are playing to their new audience.

Whatever the reason, this storm, a 6" to 12" storm, was hyped up.  

What's interesting, to me, is how much attention has been paid to issues other than driving.  As with almost every storm we've seen this year - rain or snow ... or just wind - the media warns that we could experience "power outages." 

The fact that we are warned about power outages, though, struck me.  Someone out there knows how fragile our grid system is, and they want us, as individuals, to be prepared to take care of ourselves, because we are going to be without power.  

Before we went to bed last night, we made sure our phones were charging ... but all of us plug in our phones before bed every night.  So, that wasn't new. 

We made sure that our solar/USB lights and head lamps were charged ... but we use the headlamps and such nearly every evening when we go outside to tend to the chickens.  So, that wasn't all that new, either.

I washed a load of laundry, which will go on the drying rack, but I frequently take advantage of the off-peak rates by doing laundry and running the dishwasher late in the evening or at night.  So, that wasn't new, either.

These are things that we do, because this is the way we live.

The fact that we know the power grid is fragile is enough for me to want to live differently, because I don't like the idea of being worried about losing a resource that's unreliable to begin with.  I mean, who wants to live with that niggling worry all of the time?  Not being wholly dependent on 24 hour/365 day access to electricity makes storms, like today's, just a lovely treat - because we all get to stay home and enjoy the day together without worrying about whether the electricity will go out, and we'll be thrust into the cold and dark of a powerless world. 

We won't be.  And that's a comfort.