Monday, June 29, 2015

Good and Bad News

The good news is that we got green beans, summer squash and zucchini planted this past weekend. We also have some blackberries growing! I don't expect a lot this first year, but they certainly look nice so far:

When I planted the cilantro seeds, I wasn't expecting much to happen. The seeds had been saved over two years ago, and didn't look great in the plastic container where they were stored. So I sowed them all, thinking little would come up. I already took a half bushel basket and donated it to the Castlewood Fresh Stop for the last CSA pickup, and we still have a ton growing. I purchased a cheap clothes drying rack yesterday, and my plan is to dry some of it for seasoning, and let the rest seed so we can have more coriander. And the cabbages they were planted around also seem happy - they are beginning to make little leaf balls:

The flowering tree in our backyard (I still don't know what it is) is beginning to flower, too.

We also have half of the two-bin compost system built - the pieces for the other half are perched on top:

And now for some bad news. One morning we went out and noticed that somewhere in the neighborhood of half our garlic bulbs were missing. Somebody had stolen them! So I decided to harvest the rest. I took the little ones out back and tried replanting them there, but that isn't working out very well. I pulled them yesterday. This is the garlic harvest that we got from what was left after the theft:

The box itself is now empty except for two volunteer flowing plants that I have not yet identified. If you look carefully at the picture below, you will see near the left side of the box, toward the bottom of the picture, I have placed a small marker in the soil. That is where I have planted the last of the horseradish roots. The ones I planted in conjunction with the apple trees have not produced any greenery, and I have a feeling they won't. I don't know if this one will make it, either.

And last, but not least, I was sitting in front of the rain barrel on the back porch, filling a watering can, minding my own business, when suddenly there was a catastrophic failure of the gasket holding the spigot into the side of the barrel, and water sprayed out of the barrel at high velocity. Pete rushed over and grabbed the spigot and we stuck it back in, but it clearly was not going to stay. So I held it in place while he got a bigger bucket so we could at least try and save the water and put it on the garden plants. And then we had to change into dry clothes. :)

Now, this barrel had been damaged before. It's not new, we brought it with us from the townhouse and at one point it had fallen over and the original spigot was broken. So this was a replacement spigot. The spigot itself seems undamaged, and we have another gasket as well. I had an idea to fix it in place with some marine grade epoxy, which we had on hand somewhere... When we finally found it, Pete read the instructions on it and it says it doesn't work well with flexible plastics - which the gasket does appear to be. It is certainly flexible, and it may be rubber (hard to tell these days what is petro-chemical based and what is not, sometimes). So he is reluctant to try it. We spent some time at Lowes looking for an alternative, or perhaps some metal or rigid plastic piece that could be an intermediary. But no luck so far. I suggested Pete stop by Chevy Chase Hardware and talk to the guys there. They are usually quite helpful when I have strange hardware problems that need to be fixed, and they are much more knowledgeable than the guys at Lowes (at least in my experience). So hopefully we will be able to solve the problem soon.

If not, that means I will now have three more rain barrels on my "to do" list instead of two (the one on the far side of our garage and the one on the neighbor's garage). The nice big ones aren't cheap, either.

Oh, well. I will post soon on some of the harvesting and canning we have done so far. I also have a small chest freezer for the basement on my "to do" list. I also plan to try some dehydrating. I have a small machine a friend didn't want. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Hope everyone has a fun and safe July 4th weekend!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Making progress, slowly but surely

It seems that the work has gone painfully slow at times, but we are making progress. Here is a current pic of the pear trees, the blueberry and blackberry bushes that we had planted earlier:

We had a scare with the far tree in this pic - one day it lost almost all its leaves and I thought for sure it was a gonner. But we watered it and I said encouraging things to it, and it appears to be on the mend. The close one and all the bushes have fluffed up nicely. We even have a few blueberries and will get a quart or so of blackberries, if the bird don't get them first.

If you recall, to the right of the porch we had used some scalloped concrete dividers that the previous owners had left behind to mark out a future flower bed. I had planted bulbs in those - 4 straight lines that I hope will fluff out and take over the whole box. They seem to be doing nicely so far.

On the other side of the porch, we left the pretty flowering bush and have installed the other front rain barrel. In fact, all four corners of the house now have rain barrels, as well as the porch side of the garage. We had planted tiger lilies which came back nicely. And, I don't know if you can see them very well in this pic, but we have a patch of wild strawberries, too.

Out in the front yard, we have added to the original retaining wall block box.

As you recall, the box nearest the sidewalk has garlic in the larger section and kitchen herbs in the smaller portion. In the box that is parallel to the neighbor's driveway has asparagus in half of the taller portion, and basil in the other half of the taller section. The lower section has two varieties of eggplant. The center box has cilantro and cabbage. The peace tree, as you can see, also continues to do well.

On the other side of the front yard, we have planted two varieties of heirloom apple trees. We got these from Trees of Antiquity:

You may recall the retaining block strawberry bed we had started in front of the back porch off the garage, which is now lush and has produced a gallon size freezer bag of strawberries so far. These will be made into jam in due time.

You may also remember the baby cherry tree, which appears to be doing nicely. Behind it, along the back fence line, two boxes were added. The last of the retaining wall block was used to make a permanent bed for two concord grape vines. When they get tall enough we will attach a cover to the two standing trellises so they can grow across. A friend donated the daylilies currently occupying the center of the box. To the left of that is a cedar raised bed with three small raspberry seedlings. We don't have enough soil yet to fill the box, but we had to plant them nonetheless, as they were beginning to die in the pots.

As you can see, we have a platform for a rain barrel beside the neighbor's garage. But at this time, we don't have a barrel to put there. Also, we have not yet arranged for the new no-clog guttering I hope to get for the house and the garage. At that time, we will recycle some of the garage guttering to catch the rain off the neighbor's garage roof. (With her permission, of course.) In the meantime, both that platform and the one for the other side of our own garage stand empty. It is a little difficult to see, but it is behind the wooden plats:

That area immediately behind the garage we are clearing and leveling in order to use the plats to build a two-bay compost system. We will assemble the plats in a stylized "W" shape: |_|_| and line the interior with hardware cloth.

We have also added to the cedar boxes along the neighbor's fenceline out back.

The larger box is the original first box we built. We have harvested and eaten radishes and a few peas out of it so far, and canned 10 one cup jars of picked radishes. The smaller box is new this past week. It is planted with cucumbers for one trellis, butternut squash for the other trellis, and black beans in the middle. We have two other cedar boxes also planted, and two empty.

The two boxes on the far left are not yet planted, but I hope to take care of that tomorrow. The smaller one will have zucchini and yellow squash on the trellises which we will put up, and pinto and/or red beans in the center. The larger box will have beets and green beans inter-cropped. Of the two that are obviously occupied, the one next to the empties contains pepper plants that are up and parsnips that have not yet sprouted (and may not, I am guessing), and the one to the right of it contains mostly tomatoes, with a few carrots and other odds and ends left over from the original box.

We do not yet have a tilled area, as this requires the removal of a couple of trees that right now is simply not in the budget. We did get a small electric chainsaw, but we seem to have trouble getting the chain to stay on. I am probably going to donate it to Seedleaf. If anybody has any expertise in felling small trees, let me know!

That appears to be all we can do right now, as both finances and the advancing summer make getting anything else tilled, built, and planted seems unlikely until time for fall crops. Next up: Making Jam!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

A Bit of Progress

Over the intermediate days of Pesach I have been working diligently in the yard, dodging rain here and there.

This is the right-hand side of the house. Nearest to the camera are six blackberry bushes, 3 of each variety, alternating one then the other. Further toward the back are six blueberry bushes, again 3 of each variety, alternating. I got the bushes at Lowes, primarily to keep the expense down. The two trees are two varieties of pears (it also takes two to pollinate), also from Lowes. Pear trees are quite versatile in that they can be trimmed and even trained to trellises and still produce. We will keep them close to the house, so as not to annoy the neighbors. The peonies were there when we moved in. I weeded them a bit and gave them some mulch.

In the front, in place of some of the planting beds I had originally proposed for near the house, I have planted a peach tree from Lowes. It is self-pollinating. We need to cut one of the retaining wall blocks, which I hope to do on a drier day, lol. I am hoping that this tree will provide shade for the large picture window in the summer as well. That side of the house is nearly due west and in the summer the sun glares in the windows and makes it quite hot in the house. As we are trying to avoid over-using the A/C, all three of the baby trees in front I just planted, and their friend the redbud who was already there, will greatly improve the energy efficiency of the house even if they don't bear a lot of fruit.

The strawberries arrived from Territorial Seed Company, and we planted them as planned. By this time, also, the peas that my son Will and I had started in the indoor plats were getting a couple of inches tall, so it was time to buy some materials for raised beds.

This is the first one. It is made of cedar siding and pine 1x2s for the corners. There is also a strip of 1x2 reinforcing the center of the cedar slats on the inside of the box. We measured about 15" out from the neighbor's fence, to be sure we had enough room to weed whack, for the time being. Later, I will remove the sod from the areas between the boxes and put down landscape fabric and either mulch or gravel - I'm not sure yet which will be better.

Along with the peas, the box contains radish seeds, which we planted directly into the ground and have not yet sprouted. Those are in the space between the sets of peas for shelling that are nearest to the fence. Between the middle and the closest sets of peas (the closer set being snap peas for stir-fry) are celery cuttings from the kitchen. We took the bottom few inches of organic celery we bought at the store and put them in water in a windowsill to begin rooting, and they seem to be doing nicely. I also tried doing scallions the same way, but they didn't look healthy and didn't last long. The next time I buy organic scallions I will put them directly into the garden and see if that works.

And last, but not least, when I ordered the strawberries, on a whim I ordered a cherry tree as well. It was on my list of things to ponder, and it was on sale. Surrounding it are some spring bulbs that we dug up from the back part of the lot, in order to save them from whatever coming scorched earth policy is going to be utilized there to get rid of that viney sh*t. I may even resort to spraying something awful, and just plan not to have a tilled area this year. The more I look at that area, the more dismayed I am that digging up that stuff completely is doable.

Next up: Rain Barrels!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Then there's the back yard.

Just so you see what we had to work with, I wanted to post these pics:

What you are seeing here is a side porch off our detached garage. It faces west. The previous owners had that clematis growing on that rickety trellis, and had some nondescript flowers growing along the edge of the porch. As you can see, we are putting in a raised bed planter, where I intend to put strawberries. I also intend to replace the frazzled trellis with a new one.

This is looking toward the back of the house. On your right is the garage side porch. The two white protrusions in the yard are sheathing that we made from PVC pipe last fall. They are set into the ground about 18" below grade. When the weather is cooperative, we have laundry line poles that we will bring out and slide into the sheathing. Being able to dry laundry outside is something that I very much wanted to be able to do, since it was forbidden by the HOA where we used to live.

Along the fenceline is where I intend to put more raised beds. They will start out as cedar boxes, and eventually be replaced with more retaining wall blocks as they wear out. The original plan calls for four beds, 4' wide and 10' long.

Turning around to face the back property line, the fence ends at the edge of the neighbor's garage. I plan to take the length from the back property toward the house a bit in front of the flowering tree, go to a width of about 15 feet, and fence that space in for a few chickens. I doubt that will happen this year, probably next spring at the earliest. I am not sure if we will buy a pre-fab coup or build one, but it will rest against the neighbor's garage. I also intend to put up guttering and a rain barrel to supply the chickies with water to drink and maybe a little wading pool. The neighbor has been very friendly so far, but we'll see how that goes when the time comes.

On the left side of the back of the property will be a regular unraised garden area, along with the compost piles. As you can see, one sad little pile has been started already, which we will enclose as soon as all the retaining wall blocks are off the pallets. Making a garden space will entail removing the two flowering dogwood trees in the back portion of the lot, and possibly those two trees along the very back fenceline, depending on what they are. There used to be a very overgrown row of bushes there, which had been partially consumed by vines. We removed those last fall. You will notice the ground in the back area is not grass, but rather is covered by some apparently very invasive plants we call simply "that viney sh*t" because the roots run very deep and it is extremely difficult to remove. Even burning the back yard wouldn't help, we are told. And just breaking up the roots is ineffective - the stuff can spawn from tiny root pieces. We will literally have to dig it all up and remove it by hand. This makes me unsure whether any regular gardening will in fact occur this year, as this will be a huge project.

And finally, the driveway side of the house, which is a north/northeast facing bit where the back door is located.

This area is notable for one reason - the driveway is, at this point in its life, pitched slightly toward the house. This is bad, because it directs water toward the basement window, and during heavy rains, into the basement. I have therefore decided to remove two sections of the driveway. I have an estimate for this already, but we can't do it until the blocks are out of the way, obviously. This will, besides solving the water issue, enable me to plant a couple of trees - probably apple trees. The goals here are to 1) get apples, and 2) shade part of the upstairs, which gets very hot and has poor ventilation. We can then either use stepping stones to cross the divide from the back door to the gate, or perhaps install some sort of pervious paving (around the trees) that would allow water to seep into the ground naturally.

So that is the back yard. Next up: getting some plants in the ground.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Grow, little plants!

Our next stop on our gardening journey is starting some seeds indoors. We got organic seeds from a variety of places. Locally, we shopped at the Good Foods Co-op, which has a nice selection of organic and heirloom seeds. I also ordered some from Territorial Seed Company. They have a very nice catalog. We also have catalogs from Nichols Garden Nursery, Seed Savers Exchange, and have some great Hadassah Flower Power certificates for Proper Plants locally. Each certificate you buy gives the Lexington Chapter of Hadassah a small percentage of the proceeds. So you can have beautiful plants and do a mitzvah, too. [Contact Vinnie Dubilier or email for more information.]

We only have a few sunny windows available in the house - this one above is in the new food prep pantry, on a dresser filled with canned goods. It faces north, so I have been rotating the plats to my office, which has the only two southwest facing windows in the house.

The pie shelf below was actually out in the garage holding gardening implements, but I dragged it into the house and placed it in my office at the sunniest window in the house. When it is past time for indoor seed starting, I will put it back in the garage.

So far, we have several garden plants started: Asparagus, Broccoli, Cabbage, Peas, Peppers, and Tomatoes. I started these particular plants after receiving my weekly "personalized planting reminders" from Mother Earth News online. They have a variety of helpful tools to get your garden planned and growing, indoors, in pots and containers, or in the yard.

I also started several herb seeds. These can technically be planted anytime, and can be grown indoors as houseplants. But several varieties are perennials, which means if you plant them outdoors they will come back year after year. We are going to be putting those out front in the permanent raised beds (which aren't built yet, lol). While I was at it, I also bought several nice indoor pots for some of the herb seeds, just in case a late freeze or some other mishap kills the ones planned for outdoors. We also had herbs growing at our townhouse, in the landscaped area outside our front door.

Thyme, Oregano, Sage and Tarragon are herbs I use frequently, as well as many annuals such as Parsley and Cilantro/Coriander. We are going to plant two varieties of Thyme, English and French. I hope they will be far enough apart not to cross pollinate, but it won't be terrible if they aren't. I started several new rosemary bushes as well, to replace the dead ones. They are in pots, and I will bring them indoors in the fall. Apparently, our winters, usually mild, have since climate change included too many polar vortices (presumably, the plural of vortex though the spell-checker doesn't like it). Rosemary doesn't do well outside in sustained very cold weather.

Speaking of climate change, you can contact the Fayette County UK Ag Extension Office for the latest news on our planting dates and varieties of vegetables and fruits that do well in Central Kentucky.

If you would like help pondering what things you can grow in your space, let me know and I'll ponder with you. In the meantime, Pesach preparations continue apace. Hope you are enjoying the crazy spring weather, too - seventies one day, snow flurries the next. Ah, Kentucky.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First Steps Toward an Urban Homesteading Odyssey

Well, well. It has been a while. As you probably do not recall, in May of last year we were in the nerve-wracking process of trying to sell our townhouse in a condo-style development run by a clique of people who have literally run the place into the ground. We didn't take a bath on our unit, as some who sold later did, but we did lose $2500 from our original sale price. That made me very unhappy, as after ten years our home should have appreciated at least $25,000 from our purchase price. But because of the bad management and the fact that realtors had all heard about the place and steered their clients elsewhere, people trying to sell were having a hard time. I hear it is no better now. There are several angry lawsuits. Essentially, we got out just before the major meltdown.

We did end up living in a hotel for 9 days, as the closing on our townhouse was on the 14th, but the closing on the new house was delayed until the 22nd. We chose a cheap place, not very clean, but conveniently located. Such is life.

So fast forward to last fall, and we're thinking about gardening. Here is the original plan of raised beds for the sunny side of our front yard:

We built the first two boxes, the continuous bed closest to the sidewalk. Those odds and ends blocks you see were holding down clear plastic sheathing, which we just removed:

The whispy things are garlic bulbs, which we planted last fall and covered. They seem to be very happy, though not all of them sprouted:

Now, I'm glad we didn't get to build the rest of the boxes before cold weather set in, because over the winter I noticed something rather important. This picture below, taken today, looks sunny. But from November to February, that part of the yard up near the house received zero sunlight. You see, this is the north-west side of the house. And the building is angled in such a way that during the mid-winter period, the scalloped edged mulched area was in darkness. The rosemary I had planted there is dead as a doorknob. I did not realize the low angle of the sun would never reach that area under the front picture window.

So now I am thinking we will not build the two boxes diagrammed to be closest to the house. I fear they will not get enough thermal mass from lack of sunlight to keep roots warm and promote good growth. So in the interest of not having any more dead herbs I am modifying the plan. The side yard area, next to the neighbors driveway, will be planted in blackberry and blueberry bushes very soon. I will post pics of them as soon as we get them in.

The other side of the front yard is the northern-most section of the property. I plan to plant trees there. I have some ideas as to what I would like to plant, but I need to do a bit more research and pondering before I decide.

Also, my DH is taking a master gardener and master composting class with Seedleaf, a local nonprofit that promotes community gardening, food security, and self-sufficiency. I encourage you to find a similar organization in your area, or to contact your local ag extension office, to learn how you can turn even the smallest yard, or no yard at all, into a productive space. Join together with members of your shul, dayschool, or other group and create a community garden - or join a CSA. Every little step is a good one. As Pesach approaches, we are encouraged to reflect on ways that we might need to free ourselves from bad health, bad habits, inactivity, and apathy. A garden can help with all of those things. It is a political, economic, social and environmental statement - as well as a step toward good health - all rolled into one. It doesn't get much better than that!

Shalom, and have fun with that pre-pesach clean-a-thon - also a good time for decluttering, I might add. :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Anne's Story

I am not sure what the moral of this story is, yet. One, at least, is why people are walking away from churches in droves. The younger generation, especially, can’t stomach the hypocrisy, hatred, and vindictiveness. There are several object lessons to be learned here. So sit back and read a sad tale about not one but two churches, apparently vying for the title of the Bluegrass’s own jr. Westboro Baptist Church wanna-be as they heap their “Christian love” on a Jewish widow with a developmentally disabled child – Bethel Presbyterian Church and Woodford Christian Church.

If the word "presbyterian" sounds familiar, it should. The leaders of the Presbyterian church recently instigated an anti-Israel divestment campaign in order to attempt to force Israel to give up even more land (how much more does the reservation need to shrink, exactly? apparently to nothing!).

This tale starts some years ago when a nice Jewish girl fell in love with a man whose family is Christian. Well, they profess Christianity, anyway. The future father-in-law only “found Jesus” seriously when he was caught having a 10 year affair with another woman. We can’t help but be skeptical that his new-found enthusiasm was far more rooted in an attempt to save his reputation and his marriage than any genuine repentance. But I digress. They were not amused at their son’s Jewish fiancĂ©e. They were also not amused that he did not take their backward beliefs seriously enough to marry within their faith. They were especially not amused when later, after he had been married some time, he decided to convert to Judaism.

His conversion was finalized days before their first and only child, a son, was born – in what should have been weeks before the boy came into the world. The baby’s premature entrance into their lives, and the health problems that followed, were all her fault, they whispered. She enticed him to convert, that evil Jewess. Their grandson was struck down because of their son’s conversion. Of course, I use the term “whisper” loosely. They made sure she knew their feelings. When their grandson was older, they told him confidently that his mother was going to hell.

Infidelity was not the only problem in the in-law's family, however, her husband's mother had health problems, too. Specifically, she had a hereditary heart disease that caused her to have a quadruple-bypass when she was only 38. Anne knew this, but did not know that her husband had inherited the same disorder. No one told her, her husband not wanting her to worry. When her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at a very young age, just 3 weeks past his 40th birthday when their child was only 7 years old, she was caught unprepared. Having lost his job in this bad economy some time prior, he had no life insurance. Anne was left with nothing. You would think this would be the point where the good Christian people of her in-laws church or the church who rented the house to her would show the world their quality. Well, they did alright.

It began at the funeral, which had two officiants, one being the pastor of the in-laws church, at their insistence. The other was a dearly beloved community Rabbi of a Lexington synagogue. The Rabbi's words were kind, compassionate, and endearing. He reached out to the family and offered hope, healing, and peace.

The pastor of the in-laws church, not so much. He basically said that the deceased Jewish man was in hell, and if the rest of the attendees didn’t want to end up there, too, they had better give money to his church. Not to the widow and the disabled child, mind you. They were not offered anything. To the church. They took up a collection. For the church. At the funeral. Anne became physically ill listening to this garbage and was then berated by these good church people for throwing up in the hallway. After all, it was all her fault, you know. As ill-bred and tacky as all that is to the rest of us, it gets worse.

The in-laws, afterward, apparently with the encouragement of their church, continued to heap psychological abuse on the child, trying to shame him into hating his mother and Judaism, and telling him hell awaited all Jews. The child, confused and frightened, regressed in his therapy and did not do well in school. Though Anne does not now have health insurance, she did not take her son out of his essential therapy, either. The bills are piling up. As you can guess, the in-laws were certainly not interested in helping to pay the treatment costs for a therapist trying to undo their perverted mental warfare against the child.

When it became clear that their proselytizing efforts were not going to cause the Jewish lady to suddenly convert to their heartless and hateful church, the Presbyterians decided to evict the widow and her child from the home they had been renting, which was owned by the church. Anne was asked when she and her husband first rented whether or not she was a "Jew for Jesus." That probably should have set off some alarm bells. Fast forward to after the funeral, now claiming they had never agreed to wait each month until her social security death benefits arrived, they said she had not paid her rent on time and ordered her and her child out with no recourse. They wanted another month's rent from her as well, even though she was being evicted, but of course she had to use her limited available funds to put a deposit and pay the first month's rent on a new place. They are now claiming she owes them over $1000 dollars for a month's rent on a home she was forced out of and could not occupy during that time.

So, the widow and her son packed up, and moving day was stressful and traumatic, especially for a developmentally disabled child. Worse, the child’s pet kitten escaped during the move, ran out of the house and could not be located. Though the child was upset, at last they had to leave without the kitten. They simply didn’t have hours to continue looking for it. The church had demanded they leave, and the move had to go on schedule.

Then, the church appeared to relent somewhat of their vindictive and hateful behavior, and said the widow’s sister-in-law, the daughter of her in-laws, “fine” Christian people (but not Presbyterian), could finish out the lease. As she was moving in, however, they changed their minds and ordered her out, also, and sent a notice to the widow indicating their intent to sue her for “damages” to the property. You will notice from the pictures below, there is no “damage” to speak of, other than perhaps normal wear and tear of living there for 5 years.

The church, of course, did not maintain their property in any significant way during that time. An outside outlet that caught fire due to their failure to repair it in a timely manner was removed only after Anne was forced out, since they apparently did not want any new tenants to realize how lackadaisical their stewardship actually is. Here are pictures of a missing smoke detector, a missing outlet, and an electric box which failed inspection that the Presbyterian church refused to repair from the time Anne and her husband first moved in, as well as accumulated water damage along a roofline that they were apparently not sufficiently concerned about to fix.

Nonetheless, Anne spackled the nail holes in the walls to prepare the place to be painted for the new tenants and cleaned everything thoroughly as they prepared to move. (Hoping to buy the home from the church at some point in the future, Anne and her husband had actually installed some beautiful tilework and put in a patio at their own expense before he died, too. It was actually in nicer shape when she left it than when they arrived, except for the church's own deferred maintenance issues.) In an apparent attempt to extort even more money from the widow, they are suing anyway.

And for good measure they called and filed a complaint with Animal Control, claiming the widow and child had “abandoned” the kitten on the property and left it in a shed.

So now the Jewish widow has hastily decamped to a rental home that is far away from the school where the special needs child was receiving remedial services and therapy, thanks to these wonderful Christian people whose hatred of Jews and Judaism, whose spite-filled hearts and corrupt spirits, give decent people a bad vibe, to say the least. And they wonder why she didn’t want to join their church!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My own personal Exodus

I am sure pretty much nobody has been wondering what I've been doing lately and why I haven't posted much lately, but I will tell you anyway. It has been a stressful journey of ups and downs.

Late last October I quit my job for good reasons. Very good reasons. I applied for unemployment and my boss decided to fight my claim, a particularly insane move because it meant I would have to tell the STATE why I quit, which was sure to cause him problems. Long story short, he lost. I began receiving benefits at the end of January.

From October until this week, I have stepped up my volunteer activities. Of course, I was required to apply for at least one job each week, and I did. Informing the potential employers I could not work on Shabbat or Jewish holidays was a pretty good poison pill. This gave me plenty of time for volunteering and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Yea?

One of the things I decided to get rid of is the condo where we are currently living. Some years back I sacrificed my yard and vegetable garden so the boys could be within walking distance of a good education, in a neighborhood with like-minded people. Now that my youngest is in his first year of college, I decided I wanted my garden back. Thus began the quest for a new house. We put our condo on the market in December, and was promptly confronted with the worst winter this area has seen in decades, wherein each weekend more and worse snow and ice prevented anyone from looking at our home.

And I said "$%(*@#()$*%" because March rolled around - time to begin preparing garden plots - and we had only had one showing. Meanwhile we half-heartedly looked for a new house because the sale prices for the condos in this development were pretty wildly disparate, meaning we had no idea what sort of down-payment we would have on a new place. Of course, I had a vague idea of the price range I wanted for a new home, knowing how much of a monthly payment we could afford and not wanting to go beyond that (regardless of what the mortgage brokers say. Let me tell you, they are STILL trying to get people to sign up for mortgages they cannot afford). Our real estate agent was also dismayed by my firm insistence that I know what we can really afford. Her commission, of course, would be better if we bought what we were "qualified" to buy. Not a chance.

So in April two things happened, one is someone else finally looked at our unit and decided to buy it. Yea! Then we found what seemed like a nice place to buy, in a very walkable sustainable area, only to find out the place had some rather serious foundation problems in the back, so we withdrew our offer. Boo. Then we found another place which was great in every way - Yea! - except it is located rather far away from everything I want to be near. Boo. With the closing date on the condo careening toward us, we decided it would do. Ok.

The inspection on this one went well. Yea! But the appraisal came in below the price that we had agreed to purchase, which was a problem for our credit union. Boo. Looking at losing the sale, they accepted the slightly lower price. Yea, because I didn't want to have to find a short term apartment lease or live in a hotel. Double-yea!

Then our buyer got her inspection, and decided we needed to replace windows - expensive boo. Also the attic fan was kaput. Boo again. I call the electrical guys to come fix the fan, and they do. Yea. I call the glass company the buyer recommended, and that has been a fiasco. Two large windows "needed" to be replaced, one they didn't even try because when they unwrapped the glass, it had a giant scratch in the middle of it. The other window they broke trying to install. It will take another week to re-order the glass - which is AFTER the supposed closing date! Uber Boo!

So I have a closing date from the realtor and I line up the movers and the cleaning service...and the closing date may not now work. Also, because it is apparently going to be in the middle of next week, after the deadline for payment, we will have to pay another @#$%(*$ condo fee for May. Boo.

So now my stress level is off the chart.

Also, in December, I decided to prepay for my certification exams. I have a year to take the exams - Yea! But I only had until May to have free online training classes, and that time has now passed without me having completed all of them. Boo. No worries, the textbooks are good - yea. But expensive - boo. I haven't had any time at all in the last few weeks to study at all. Boo again.

On the upside, I did find a new half-time job with a Jewish employer - yea. I start work in the middle of the upcoming move. Boo. Also, no vacation time will be accrued for attending the Hadassah national conference this summer. Boo again. On the other hand, I work from home and still have time for volunteering. Yea!

Still don't have health insurance. Boo. Neither do the boys. Boo again. That's a long story for another post.

Diet is going poorly, to say the least. I am a stress eater. Uber boo. Right now, the house is a wreck, half the stuff is packed and the rest is scattered around to be sorted, categorized and packed or donated. My poor hormones are so whacked up at the moment I have experienced "that time of month" every two weeks for the last month. Hubby not happy. Of course, he has an eternity of vacation hours accrued that he has not used and could certainly stay home and help pack and do the minor repairs instead of me having to do it all, so I'm not feeling much sympathy for him at the moment. Meh.

Have been spending way too much eating out, and it's not like that stuff is healthy, organic food. Boo again.

When everything settles down, though, we will be in a better financial position with lower monthly mortgage payments, no condo board fee, and a bigger home with a nice yard and garden, and even a garage that could grow up to be a catering business someday. Uber yea!

So as I type this at 4:25 am EDT being too stressed and wound up to sleep, breaking Shabbat in the process, and having to be at shul at 9:30 to heat the food and prepare the social hall for kiddush lunch, I am hoping that peace and calm will finally prevail. The promised land is within sight - will I ever get there?

**Also, I am sad to see that Jblog central has closed up shop. No more A's on my papers, I guess. Boo.**

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Official "I told you so."

Last Monday after our weekly local food policy group meeting I popped into the library branch across the street. I had a few minutes to peruse the recent releases section, and found an interesting looking book called:

Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars and Suburbs
by Eric W. Sanderson, author of Mannahatta

Now, I blast through books pretty quickly, but this one has gone very fast because this guy apparently loves charts and graphs as much as I do. But what made me stop and say, "Ah-ha!" appears in a section that starts on page 206 near the bottom, called "Roads to Rails." Yes, you read that rightly. Roads to Rails.

"...When imagining the [coming] streetcar revolution, don't rely on your experience of public transit today, with long unpredictable waits, dingy subway tunnels, and motorbus diesel fumes. Instead, imagine what every city once had - lots and lots of streetcars running all the time along every big street. ...Streetcars...are [part of] the beginnings of a new transportation network, reaching...across America and bringing people to light rail trains running along major thoroughfares. Light rails are close cousins of the subway and elevated railway, except they run on the ground.

...America already has a world-class freight rail system. ...Today freight railways connect to trucks for the final delivery; in the future, they will connect to streetcars, and in the cities, the old subway tunnels. ...At night specially designed flatbed streetcars will pull up to businesses or neighborhood stations. ...Curb cutouts with loops of side track will provide lading sites out of the main flow [of traffic].

...We make this happen by committing roads to rails, literally. Dedicating road space to rails resolves two problem simultaneously. First, the roads turn out to be excellent places to build railways at lower cost. The budgets of most rail projects today are based on an assumption that automobile traffic will continue on ad infinitum. ...they literally have nowhere to go in today's world because all our [urban] land is already given over to established public and private uses. ...As a result, the budgets of [projects] are swollen with funds for purchasing rights-of-way and to construct tunnels, overpasses, elevated lines, and other extraordinarily expensive acts of engineering necessary to find a route without disturbing the [angry gods of the] car. Making the counter assumption of [limited] cars provides extraordinary relief - now there is lots of space and reduced costs. Roadways are already engineered for transport, with bridges and tunnels in place. The electricity is already there... Dedicating roads to rail means that capital costs drop dramatically because land acquisition and grading expenses evaporate; it also means we need less land dedicated to mechanized transportation, so we have more room for sidewalks, bike paths, parks, and garden cafes.

...Deploying railways down Main Street provides a second great advantage: it competes with the cars that remain. As streetcars...become more prevalent [and are given preferential treatment at intersections, etc.]...congestion worsens for automobiles, fuel costs rise [and insurance, and taxes, and mileage fees are implemented, not to mention the costs of just buying more cars], and free parking vanishes [I think it pretty well already has downtown here where we live!], more people will see the wisdom of giving up on cars [for urban transport, and utilize the streetcars, trolleys, bike paths and walkable neighborhoods]...

Do you hear that jingling in your pocket? That's the 20% of your income now free to be deployed elsewhere in the economy...."

Any of that sound familiar, class? Wait for it...Yes! That is pretty much exactly what I told the LFUCG at the planning commission meeting back in 2007, right down to the freight delivery at night.

Just think, if our area had inter-urbans running between Lex and the surrounding towns, if we had regional rail to Lousiville and Cincinnati, and streetcars serving every neighborhood. Since republicans plan to sell off all the highways and interstates as toll roads, commuting will be even more annoying than Mr. Sanderson imagines, and more costly.

The city would install and own the basic infrastructure, as well as the actual streetcars and rail cars, he goes on to explain. These then could be leased to private companies to run, or kept as a govt affiliated non-profit public service with an independent board. (Leases to for-profits would only be 3-5 years in length, and a public town meeting would decide whether the customers were happy with the prices and service or not.) Since transportation is a necessity of life, I am far more in favor of the non-profit solution.

Vehicle Miles Traveled - VMT - has fallen and will continue to fall, despite claims of a so-called "recovery." Tax revenue for maintaining roads for cars continues to fall and efforts to boost revenue will only drive more people away from the market, no pun intended. There is not enough gasoline tax revenue to maintain roads now. Continuing to commit to more roads is foolish in the extreme. There is no economic model that enables families with falling wages to continue paying higher and higher taxes and operational costs for cars.

The fact is the expenses of private automobiles are no longer sustainable and will become increasingly less so, as cost creep drives more and more families away from automobiles being affordable. It is time Lexington and every township take an honest, hard look at our priorities for transportation spending. We should not be subsidizing a dead-end, obsolete product, and should instead re-direct our efforts at democratic and egalitarian solutions, accessible to all, and not-for-profit.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A ghost of 2007

This past week there was an exchange between my Dear Hubby and one of his fellow bloggers regarding steps for dealing with walkability and growing economic constraints preventing millennials and even middle class people from buying cars. It was suggested that there was no plan for dealing with these issues, and that the local government did not know what to do.

Bull malarkey.

This is the text of a 10-minute oral presentation that I gave to the LFUCG Planning Commission in February of 2007 (updated just a wee bit). I handed out printed copies to every commissioner and my speech was entered into the public record. DO NOT EVER let the LFUCG say they didn't see this coming, or had no idea what to do.

Here is the presentation I gave them, slightly updated:

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I think it is time for us to realize that one way or another, the issues of peak oil and climate change are going to rise up and bite us in the our exalted posteriors. Reports from respected governments, NGO advisers, and think tanks all over the world, even the German military, have published reports sounding the alarm. To say that there are hundreds of years worth of reserves in the ground is a fallacy as a reason to not take energy issues seriously. Just because they are in the ground does NOT mean it will be economical to develop them, or that the average family will be able to afford the end products. The decline rate of fracking wells is scary - their production becomes negligible in less than a decade.

And they cannot be operated at less than $80-$100 a barrel for the oil. Already there are entire neighborhoods in Lexington that are for all practical purposes priced out of the private automobile market, and as costs for cars/gas/insurance continue to rise, more and more of the middle class will be affected. I can tell you for a fact that if one of our cars broke down today, we would not be able to replace it. And we are hardly the only ones living on the edge of paycheck to paycheck in this economy.

To take a middle of the road estimate, we only have about 20 years 15 years to re-configure planning and development as we know it, both for already developed areas and for those now being developed, and most certainly for all future developments. I would like to therefore throw out a list of things that we need to adopt immediately, whether we like it or not, to try and combat the effects that peak oil and climate change will have on our society.

I don’t have any illusions about anyone actually liking or adopting these proposals. I’m a realist, not an optimist. But after having considered the situation carefully, I have come to the conclusion that these things could be done, if anyone was willing. So in 20 years 15 years, if nothing else, I’ll at least be able to say “I told you so,” when everyone looks back and says, “Why didn’t we…”

1. Electric trolley/streetcar systems need to be installed to service every last neighborhood in our urban area. These neighborhood electric systems need to be served in turn by an electric collector system of express streetcars, subways, or light rail. If that means taking up road lanes, so be it. Gasoline powered buses must be replaced with electric ones, starting immediately.

2. A moratorium needs to be placed on “big box” and “mega-shopping” centers. We have enough of these already. The existing ones need to be tied into the electric mass transit system. If that means taking up road lanes, so be it.

3. Every new neighborhood must be absolutely required to have three things:

a) Small neighborhood grocery, pharmacy, and hardware retail shopping within ¼-½ mile of every home built – in other words, within a reasonable walking distance.
b) A children’s playground, adjacent to at least two acres of open field space, with walking tracks, etc. (This open space can also be used for air-dropping emergency rations, medicine, or supplies, and can be a staging area for a “tent city” of government, medical or military operations during a natural or man-made disaster.) These should be no greater than 1-¾ mile walking distance from every home in the development.
c) A “community center” building, with presentation/classroom space and assembly space, hopefully adjacent to the open field, must be provided for each neighborhood.

4. All existing neighborhoods need to be retrofitted to meet the above requirements. (“Retrofitted” is a nice, polite way of saying that the division of planning needs to select a block or two in each existing neighborhood that more or less meets the walkability requirements and raze it to the ground in order to put in a-c above.)

5. All new development (both residential and commercial) must, starting immediately, be required to have solar panels or solar shingles to supplement the building’s electrical needs. In order to put the electric mass transit in place in an already near capacity electric grid, we are going to have to get serious about this now.

6. Existing development must be retrofitted with solar panels or solar shingles, and the government is going to have to systematically do this in each neighborhood and provide substantial subsidies for owners of buildings to do so. This is not optional. It is not enough to reduce the electric usage of just the new developments. Old neighborhoods MUST be brought “up-to-speed” with solar power. We have a 20 year 15 year time frame to do this. There is no reason that it cannot be done in that amount of time. It is probably too little too late at this point if only half-hearted measures are taken, but it is not impossible.

7. The driving age needs to be raised immediately to at least 18.

8. The government now offers tax help for those who buy hybrid or electric cars, but this is not enough. Starting immediately, a tax adequate to deter ownership must be placed on all households or businesses starting at the 3rd registered standard gasoline vehicle. No exceptions. In five years, that needs to fall back to starting with the 2nd standard gasoline vehicle. No exceptions. In ten years, every standard gasoline vehicle must be subject to the tax. No exceptions. In addition, a substantial sales tax in addition to the regular state sales tax must be placed on the sale of standard gasoline powered vehicles. No exceptions.

9. Toll roads must charge higher tolls for standard gasoline powered vehicles. Ditto for parking permits, etc. You get the idea.

10. Rail freight must be encouraged and provided for both big and small businesses with land for standard rail yards and tie-ins to the local electric mass transit system for special electric “freight trolleys” which can deliver rail freight to local businesses at night or during non-peak hours. Alleys behind and between existing and new businesses can have spur rails for these trolleys to unload so they don’t block passenger service. Underground or basement unloading is also an option.

11. Free or heavily subsidized wireless internet must be made available throughout the urban area. Government must also encourage full or partial telecommuting with tax breaks for businesses – for each employee who telecommutes at least half-time.

12. All government employees should be given free passes for mass transit. Government should encourage businesses to do the same, using incentives of some sort. All students should receive a free mass transit pass from their schools, both k-12 and college (with expiration dates clearly marked).

13. Unlucky 13 I’ll add as my personal wish: All new development must be required by law to be at least 10% “affordable housing” – “affordable” being defined by something like affordable to someone with about 50% of the area’s median income. There are several ways of calculating “affordable,” and most of you already have some way of doing this, so I won’t belabor the point.

14. “Zoning” needs to be changed to allow non-industrial home businesses in all areas, and “homeowner association” rules against home-based non-industrial type businesses needs to be made illegal effective immediately, as well as forbidding HOAs to restrict laundry lines, gardens, composting, backyard greenhouses, and other food security activities.

15. Conservation of electricity and resources needs to be given a top priority. Small wind turbines on buildings and other green energy projects need to be encouraged, and the local government should lead the way.

So here they are – 15 things you can do soon or start doing right now that will greatly help the city deal with climate change and peak oil. There are surely other things, such as bike routes and the new “walkable schools” initiative, but they are just a drop in the bucket. Thank you for your time.

When I submitted this presentation to Planitizen, I added this conclulsion:

The two biggest problems we will face are lack of gasoline and hence lack of transportation, and addressing those will need to go hand-in -hand with electric conservation and alternative electric generation, and eventually the acknowledgement that it is morally wrong – a crime against humanity, even – to let electricity (and water, and local phone service) be for-profit privately owned ventures that can deny people basic necessary-for-life services due to inability to pay. – but that’s another post.

Nothing has changed today, class. Nothing has been implemented. Not one thing.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

My sad experiences so far with the KY healthcare exchange.

Does it really have to be this hard?

Adventures with some back ground information

In October, I went online and filled out the application, since I and my two remaining kids at home do not have health insurance through my employer and I was curious what it would cost. I am not in any way interested in handing over my hard earned money to some for-profit insurance executive who is just going to use it to buy another yacht instead of providing me healthcare. After all, every last bit of that “profit” reported by insurance companies was money paid by people for healthcare that didn’t get spent on their healthcare. That should be obvious.

I left the system then without buying any insurance, because the least expensive plan I was offered was more than 25% of my take-home pay, which is ridiculous and certainly not “affordable.”

So when I quit my job recently (a long story – long and short of it I was being asked to do things that are illegal, like file false tax forms for clients), I wondered if this would change the application status in any way. Perhaps I would be offered a more reasonable plan. So I went online, but I could not figure out how to change the info on the app. So I decided to try the “get help” button.

First off, in order to get help, you have to login. Then, in order to activate the online help option, the “customer” is required to give a detailed explanation of the issue at hand, which I did in the fields provided. After doing so, this is the result:

Take 1

jessica : Hi, my name is jessica. How may I help you?

Me: Did you read the information I just entered?

jessica: I'm sorry I didn't receive anything.

Me: So...what was the point of typing this stuff in? Here, let me cut and paste it for you to this box.

Me: I now am no longer employed. I need to change my application to remove the w-2 income listed as it will not be part of my 2014 income. I do not plan to seek another job.

jessica: Ok, you should login SSP and make necessary adjustments

Through the SSP, the individual or employee can update the demographic information that is on the application. New information can be added by selecting the life event which caused the changes to the information. The information can be updated without a life event if the change does not require a life event to change.
Steps to make changes:
After providing all of the required information on the application data collection screens, the user is shown a summary of their application information on the Application Summary screen.
At this point, the user can go back into any section of the application by clicking the “Edit” link next to that item and modifying the applicable screens.
"Report a Change in circumstance” initiates the process for the user to report any change in family circumstances that may impact their coverage eligibility.
The Settings tab allows the user to manage information related to his/her account. Using the “Edit” links on this page, the user can:
1. update his/her password through Kentucky Online Gateway;
modify their mailing address; and
change contact information through the functionality available on this page.
This page also displays links for the user to report a change and change/reset their password.
[Clearly a canned, cut and paste response]

Me: What does SSP mean?

jessica: Self Service Portal

Me: Obviously I am already logged in or I wouldn't be chatting with you. I didn't see anywhere to change the application.
jessica: What's your case #?

Me: ###########

Me: Clicking on the "applications" tab only shows me an uneditable PDF of what was already submitted. Where is the place to edit?

Me: Also, I don't recall that the application ask anywhere what we are already paying for my husband's health insurance through his job. If the amount we're supposed to have to pay every month for insurance is capped at some percent, how do you know if that percent has already been reached if you didn't ask about the existing premiums?

Me: I meant to say: I don’t recall that the application asked anywhere what we were already paying...

jessica: I don't believe it does ask. It just advises you of insurance options.

jessica: In Overview to make changes, you click into Settings

Me: So how can it possibly calculate what assistance you should receive? If we're already paying more than our mortgage payment for his insurance, that should be a factor in deciding help for me and the kids, I would think. Otherwise this whole thing is a joke.

[I go back to the “overview” tab and look over the options again.]
Me: So, basically it doesn't matter that we're paying more than our mortgage for insurance that only covers him? The rest of us are not eligible for any help, even though we don’t make anywhere near 94000?

[Our actually annual income is very well south of that, even when I was employed 32 hrs a week lately.]
Me: What makes you think his insurance has anything to do with me or the kids? We're not covered by it.

jessica: The assistance is based on household income and family size. For example; household size of 4 max income to receive assistance is $94,000+. Also if you pay more than 10% of income for an employer based insurance, you can opt out and purchase private insurance that at a lower cost.

Me: I don't pay anything for employer based insurance, because I'm not employed. He is required to carry their plan. The XXXXXXX Company is "self-insured" and all employees have to participate. We cannot "go with a private insurer." He has no options.

Me: That leaves the rest of us with no affordable insurance.

jessica: Ok, I didn't know. So what exactly can I help you with? Were you able to edit your app?

Me: I'm trying. I don't know what it is doing. I am hitting "next" a lot.
[The app does not allow you to just change one section. You have to click through the whole thing.]

Me: Now it is to the signature page.
Me: It says it is processing.

Me: Now it says that I and my son Will are not "verified." What does that mean? His information didn't even change.

Me: OK, now it's saying me and my 2 sons need to verify we are citizens. That's ridiculous. I was born here in the US and so were all my kids.

Me: In fact, all four of my kids were born here in [this city, Ky].

jessica: I think you should allow app to process fully. Maybe if you log out and then login. I also believe you need one on one verbal response regarding your app. I don't have the specifics that you require to respond to your statements. So, you should contact customer service @ 855-459-6328

Me: You are not customer service?

jessica: No

Me: Well, thank you for your time. It's a shame this thing is such a joke.

jessica: I just think there is a lot we don't fully understand everything yet. But thank you for contacting Kynect and have a good day.

So, after chatting with Jessica, I go to the applications tab and look at what is there. Now there are two apps – but both have the same date/time stamp, and scrolling through them both shows no changes were recorded in my app.

Take 2

karen : Hi, my name is karen. How may I help you?

Me: I was just in a chat a few minutes ago to get help changing my application since I lost my job. However, the changes that I made did not "save." When I go to the applications tab there are two apps showing - both have the original date in October and neither of them is different.

karen: have you tried to log out and log back in again and make the changes

Me: Why?

karen: so you can see the difference, and it will save

Me: I'm unclear how the date stamp and information on the second app is going to magically change.

karen: what you can call the customer service number which is 855-459-6328

Me: So, I'll be back in a few minutes. Having spent most of my career working with computers, I am pretty sure this will make no difference. A date-time stamp does not change due to logging in or out. Either the file updated or it didn't.

karen: ok

Take 3

karen : Hi, my name is karen. How may I help you?

Me: Me again. And, of course, there are still two apps showing with the SAME date time stamp and NO CHANGES to the second doc. What a surprise.
karen: did you call the customer service number?
Me: No, I'm talking to you.

karen: i cant explain why the time stamp didn't change , which is why im advising you to call them

Me: Well, I can explain it for you. The date-time stamp didn’t change because your program did not record the changes I made to the app. It just made a second copy of the old app.

Me: How is calling customer service going to fix that?

karen: i am not tech support, is there anything else i can help you with today ?

Me: How many times, exactly, will re-entering the same information over and over take to work?

karen: you never know unless you call , i can t fix it here or change it for you.

At which point I terminated the chat box. Obviously these people are pretty useless. Time to try the customer service line, I guess.

Take 4

I was (eventually) informed by the woman on the other end of the line that I could not make changes to my application because I had not yet submitted proof that my kids and I are citizens – even thought that “proof” had not been requested UNTIL I tried to change the application. Go figure.

She also had no explanation as to why, though they use our IRS information to verify our income, somehow this didn’t count as verifying our citizenship status, since it should be fairly obvious that our SS numbers and other identifying information are on the 1040 that they download. She said they were going to need documents uploaded, faxed or mailed in. I asked what was preventing anyone from just photo-shopping a birth certificate. She claimed it would be “verified,” and when they were “verified” then changes could be made to the app. I pointed out that the only way to “verify” the birth certificates was to login to the state office of vital statistics – and why didn’t they just do that in the first place? I can do it at home. They can do it, too. Every state has their birth records online now. She had no explanation.

So I have scanned our birth certificates and uploaded it. Since my birth certificate obviously does not match my current name, I put in the “comments” section: You do know I wasn’t born married, right? At this point I’m a little uncertain about that. I asked her how long this “verification” would take. She had no idea.

So this has been my experience to date with Kynect. It’s hard to imagine that other states are actually worse than Ky.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Just in case you don't know me personally, I should mention that I am a bad person.  I can hold a grudge for a long, long time.  I am happy to an unseemly degree when persons I do not like have bad events in their lives.  I am envious of people who ignore halacha but seem well-blessed anyway.  Since I started working 32 hours a week, my house is not very clean - even though I am wasting money on a cleaning service twice a month. My herbs are sadly neglected.  I cheat a lot on my gluten free diet, leaving me itchy and bloated and cranky often.  I seem to have inherited some of my grandmother's anxiety - I ruin my own day worrying about things.  And I react badly around tea-partiers spewing bull malarky in social situations.  I am often not very forgiving - sometimes I am downright judgmental, though the person in question may not know it.  I spend too much time being angry at the past and hardly any time having hope for the future.  I wonder just how sane I am sometimes, and the answer does not look good from my own POV.  I am sure my forebears are disappointed in me.  I am disappointed in myself.  And the myth of progress left us behind a long time ago.  Right now I am not sure if we can even tread water.  My faith is pretty frazzled.  Also, I am sure you have noticed my bad attitude.  It shows a bit on this blog, lol.

So for the first time in a while I am post-Yom Kippur without feeling particularly renewed or forgiven.  Usually I do.  This year, not so much. I guess I am feeling a bit of an existential crisis.  Just what is the point of all this?  Why pray unanswered prayers?  Is anything even changeable?

Everything seems to be out of reach.  Not "just" out of reach but *far* out of reach.  In fact, untouchable.

This is not what I'm supposed to be feeling during the High Holidays, supposedly.  So clearly I'm doing it wrong.  One more demerit.


Intermission:  my dh had made reservations for us this evening to hear a band that he likes at a small local venue.  I normally prefer acoustic live music but this is a Celtic folk music rock band wanna-be.  The sound was so loud in that small place that I did not enjoy the first set at all.  The sheer volume made the lyrics unintelligible and the reverberations of the electronics drowned out the folk instrument elements.  At the beginning of the second set, however, I discovered quite by accident that if I rested my chin on my hands and as non-chalantly as possible covered my ears with my fingers that the sound was much better.  It mitigated almost all of the reverberation and just enough of the volume to actually allow me to hear individual instruments - even some of the lyrics.  So ironically, I could hear better with my ears plugged.  I am sure there is some sort of profound philosophical notion in there somewhere.


But plugging my ears won't make what is already in my head go away.  What prompted these musings was a story I saw on Ynet Wednesday afternoon while I was still at work.  An angry estranged husband broke into his wife's home and forceably took his 2 children.  He drove them to the a tall building with an outside elevator up to the 11th floor.  He then proceeded to throw his kicking and screaming children off the roof, one at a time.  They landed with a splat on the ground below, dying instantly, Baruch Hashem, and then he jumped after them and also died.

Now, here in the states it is not exactly unheard of for a noncustodial parent to kill their kids.  But for some reason this story disturbed me profoundly right before Sukkot.  Here we tend to think of Israel as a better place, overall, to live - except for the whole wacko medieval rabbinate denying people freedom to marry and freedom of religious practice thing, of course.

But I wondered - did the mother pray?  Even if she did not, why did a supposedly fair, just and benevolent deity allow this to happen?  Several people reported hearing the children struggle - why did they not do something?  The mother had called the police, and this man was not unknown to them actually.  Granted we only know one side of the story.  But I cannot understand how murdering his own kids seemed like a good idea.

Did he pray?  If so, what did he pray?  Just where was God in all this?

I wondered if there was any situation where I would consider killing my kids.  A painful mortal illness?  Imminent starvation or death by thirst?  During the holocaust, did some people kill their kids to spare them?  To save them?

Was it fear that drove this man, or narcissistic hatred?

Does it make a difference?

Can tikkun olam do any thing to stop this kind of thing?  Or has society become too big, the economy too complex, the world stage controlled by those who simply do not care?

Can you imagine Mitch McConnell commenting on a story like this?

It is the fault of liberals, he would say.  And maybe it is.  How silly of us to give people the idea that there should be some fairness and equity in life.  Social Darwinism is the real order of the day - justice is for the rich (if you can call it that).  The rest of us are to blame for our own problems, right?.

Solutions are only beyond reach if you are lazy, they say.  They are only untouchable if you made them that way, they say.

But I do not believe that.

It is fairly ridiculous to imply those kids were at fault.  And like them, a lot of us were cast, in childhood, kicking and screaming or passively bewildered into situations not of our choosing, for which we had no recourse and no safety net.  No coping skills adequate to the task when confronted with problems far bigger and stronger than we were.  How many of us walked away unscathed?

I should cut myself some slack, stop worrying, stop being afraid, and just accept what happens.  The whole zen thing. Pray and have hope.

But I am still afraid of splatting on the ground  - untouchable.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The view from here.

In a few days my middle son will go on a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel.   My youngest will be entering college this fall, majoring in Psychology (can't help but wonder about that...).   My oldest son still lives in Minnesota, which surprised all of us.  I doubt I would have lasted past one winter.  My daughter is still not talking to me.  It is what it is.

Last Friday, the two younger boys and I prepared Kiddush lunch for our shul, in honor of the trip and of the youngest's 18th birthday, as well as in recognition of all the kids graduating high school at the shul.  My middle son did the Torah service and my youngest gave the drash.  All of this spring's graduates were honored.  A "happy graduation" ice cream cake was served for dessert.  It was a very nice service.

But it's sad that most of those graduates will go away from this community, if not immediately then after college, and probably never come back.  I am pessimistic about this community's future.  It seems that far more people leave, disengage, or fade away than arrive and become active.  And, of course, this community does not have the basic infrastructure to attract young observant families, and does not appear interested in building a miqvah, or a JCC, or a Dayschool.  I have the feeling that the community doesn't particularly want observant families to come.  So it will dwindle away - is dwindling away, actually.  The Reform Rabbi would protest that's not true - why, his Temple has plenty of kids in it.  But statistically speaking, those kids are not committed to Judaism, especially Torah observance, and are not likely to be motivated to do so in the future.  The intermarriage rate of Reform congregants is extremely high - and many kids there have been taught - accidentally or on purpose - that Judaism is not anything particularly special. It's just one choice among many, a social consciousness instead of an obligation.  All the benefits without any of the responsibilities.  The youth have other priorities.

But they came by it honest, as they say here in the south.  My generation, Generation X, is not much better.  Maybe not any better.  We are the reason most of the Millennials have other priorities.  We gave them those other priorities.  Or worse, we didn't recognize their priorities, because we were too busy with our own.

Of course, this problem is not unique among Jewish youth - it's a pretty strong trend in all American youth.  And probably with good reason!  Should they feel obligated to a society or a country that has left many of them without basic healthcare, saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, off-shored most of the living wage jobs with benefits and replaced them with Mc-Wally-Wort useless make-work wage-slave jobs?  Should American youth feel connected to a society that completely disregards the things that are important to them - a clean environment, fair trade, safe natural food, non-toxic products for their homes, and walkable cities?   We tell them it can't be done and they need to just get over it.  Or we tell them their concerns are irrational.  Or we tell them more of the same will somehow make things better than they can even imagine.

Of course, none of those things are true, and they know it.  The kids graduating from high school and college today are inheriting a world that we have come close to ruining.  And it's likely by the time we (the X-ers) wrest control away from the Boomers, and the Millennials wrest control away from us, it will be ruined.  There's really not much doubt about that.  I have spent the last six months reading books, articles, studies and documentaries.  I'm not optimistic about America's future, so why should they be?  They know intuitively - through zeitgeist perhaps - what the rest of us refuse to admit.  Things can't go on the way they are.  If nothing changes, their future is going to dwindle away - is dwindling away, actually.

Israel's future is equally fraught with peril.  Aside from the ever-present threat of rockets, invasion, or chemical/biological attack, the internal political and religious struggles are draining away Israel's vitality.  Every glimmer of hope - the Women at the Wall, hints of a right to marry or a right to freedom of religious practice - seems to come with a fog-bank of confusion making finding the way forward extremely difficult.  Each step forward seems to lead to two steps back - the Chereidi simply have no intention of allowing such changes, and demographically they have the upper hand.  All they need to do is bide their time (and stem their own tide of defectors, but that's a whole other issue).  There's no law people can do now that can't be undone.  Whatever victories we win now will probably just be shot down later - or else the entire country will be shot down, it's hard to tell which.  Israel relies on America for a huge chunk of their defense capabilities.  What if America can't or won't continue to provide?

Certainly the radical Islamicists don't consider the Chereidi to be any real threat.  The more they refuse military service, refuse to be educated and stay in poverty, and become the dominant adult majority, the closer the radicals are to being able to waltz in and exterminate them all with little effort.  So the Chereidi, also, are throwing away their futures with both hands, militarily and economically.

But that day has not yet arrived, thankfully.  So I'm glad my middle son is going to get to see Israel.  I wish I could afford to go see it.  I hope my younger son will get to go one day.    Meanwhile here in America we could, if we wanted, have a social democracy that eschews war-mongering and takes care of our citizens needs instead of lining corporate pockets. It's not like it can't be done - Switzerland and the other Nordic countries seem to be doing it perfectly well.  And if anybody is willing to be honest, it was importing American style banking and American style profit-over-people policies that led the rest of Europe astray.  We could fix it all if we were willing.  But apparently we don't want that.  I can't understand why, personally, but lots of people rationalize it.  And here in this community, we could try and attract vibrant young observant families and strengthen the Jewish nature of our community.  But apparently we don't want that, either.   It remains to be seen if there will be enough X-ers or Millennials left willing to monetarily support this Jewish community after the wealthy Boomers retire south or go to their fate in the great beyond.  I'm guessing not.  I don't see that many people my age either in shul or at Federation events.  Some, yes.  But not enough.  And I'm on the top edge of the X-ers, not far away from being a Boomer, actually.  Just missed it, for all practical purposes.   And I'm the youngest person who attends our local Hadassah meetings, for example, though our chapter is widely regarded, has a high fundraising quota, and meets it - for now.  As the Boomers dwindle away, it's not clear how Hadassah, either, will hang on.  Meeting quota because somebody died and left a nice bequest is not really a great way to meet quota.  Nor is it sustainable as a fundraising model.

So here we are.  The view from here and now is not encouraging.  Of course, things can change.  I hope they will change.  And if they don't, well, it is what it is.  And let's not forget - we made it what it is. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sorry, Class. Peak Oil has not gone away.

EA Oil Forecast Unrealistically High; Misses Diminishing Returns

...One reason the WEO 2012 estimates are unreasonable is because the oil prices shown are unrealistically low relative to the production amounts forecast in the report. This seems to occur because the IEA misses the problem of diminishing returns. As the easy-to-produce oil becomes more depleted, and we need to move to more difficult reservoirs, the cost of extraction increases.
In fact, there is evidence that the “tight” oil referenced in Exhibit 1 is already starting to reach production limits, at current prices. The only way these production limits might be reasonably overcome is with higher oil prices–much higher than the IEA is assuming in any of its forecasts.
...Higher oil prices cause a huge problem because of their impact on the world economy. The IEA in fact mentions that current high oil prices are already acting as a brake on the global economy in its first slide for the press. Higher oil prices also mean that investment costs required to reach target production levels will be even higher than forecast by the IEA, adding another impediment to reaching its forecast production levels.

If higher prices put the economies of oil importing nations into recession, then oil prices will drop lower, reducing the incentive to invest in new oil production infrastructure. In fact, we could find ourselves reaching “peak oil” because of an economic dilemma: while there seems to be plenty of oil available, the cost of extracting it may be reaching a point where it is more expensive than consumers can afford. As a result, some oil that we know about, and have been counting as reserves, will have to be left in the ground.
...The Problem of Diminishing Returns
One issue that the IEA has not properly modeled is the issue of declining resource quality, leading to diminishing returns and a rising “real” (inflation adjusted) cost of production. This situation is often described as reflecting declining Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI).

The reason diminishing returns are a problem is because when a producer decides to extract oil, or gas or coal, the producer looks for the cheapest, easiest to extract, resource first. It is only when this resource is mostly depleted that the producer will seek locations where more expensive, harder to extract resource is available. Thus, over time, the inflation adjusted cost of extracting a resource tends to increase.

Companies always go for the low-hanging fruit first, because it is the most profitable.  If they can't extract enough profit, they will eventually close up shop.

...producers tend to start at the top, with the “best” of the resource, and work their way toward the bottom. One result of this approach is that the cost per unit of production tends to rise, even as there are technology advances and efficiency gains, because the quality of the resource is declining.

Reserves tend to increase over time with this approach, because as producers work their way down...they always see an increasing quantity of lower quality resources. The new reserves are increasingly expensive to extract, in inflation adjusted terms. There is no flashing light that says, “Above this price, customers won’t be able to afford to purchase this resource any more,” though. As a result, the increasingly low quality reserves get added to reported amounts, even though in some cases, the cost of products made with these reserves (say gasoline or diesel) will send economies into recession.

Of course, we're already in pretty bad shape, and there are already entire neighborhoods of my community that are priced out of being able to drive a private automobile.  That will only get worse and the problem will again start creeping up the economic ladder to more and more people who once considered themselves to be middle class.  It's hard for a relatively affluent Jewish area to understand how we will be impacted by this, but it hasn't gone away and it isn't going to.

...It should be noted that the issue of diminishing returns exists for almost any kind of resource. It exists for uranium extraction, since there is always more available, just harder to reach, or in lower concentration. Diminishing returns exists for gold, copper, and for nearly any other kind of metal. This means we often need more oil for metal extraction and processing, as we dig deeper or find ore that is mixed with a higher proportion of waste product.

The problem of diminishing returns also seems to hold for renewables. The first biofuel developed was ethanol from corn, since the process of making alcohol from corn has been known for ages. Newer approaches, such as ethanol from biomass and biofuel from algae, tend to be much more expensive. As a result, when we add new biofuel production, it is likely to be more expensive, and thus harder for the customer to afford. If we want it, we will need increasingly high subsidies.

Wind energy is also subject to diminishing returns. Onshore wind was developed first, and it is far less expensive than offshore wind, which was developed later. Early units of wind added to an electric grid do not disturb the electric grid to too great an extent. Later units of wind energy add increasingly large costs: long distance transmission lines, electrical storage, and other balancing–something that is generally overlooked in making early cost analyses.
...Tight oil, also referred to as “shale oil,” is supposed to be the United States’ oil savior, if we believe the IEA. The Bakken and Eagle Ford plays are the best known examples.

Rune Likvern of The Oil Drum has shown that drilling wells in the Bakken already seems to be reaching diminishing returns. The choicest locations appear to have been drilled first, and the locations being drilled now give poorer yields. He has also shown that the average well in the Bakken now requires a price of $80 to $90 barrel, which is close to the recent selling price. If increased production is desired, the price of oil will need to start increasing (and keep increasing) to provide the incentive needed to drill wells in less-choice location.

There are other issues as well. If there is a need to drill an increasing number of wells just to stay even, or an even larger number, to increase the amount of oil produced, we start to reach limits on many kinds: number of rigs available, number of workers available, miles driven for water to be used for fracking. Perhaps the issue that will limit production first, though, is limits on debt available to producers. Rune Likvern has also shown that cash flows from tight oil extraction tend to run “in the red,” so an increasing amount of debt financing is needed as operations ramp up. At some point, companies hit their credit limit and have to stop adding new wells until cash flow catches up.

The inability of the usury system to correct itself without banking collapses is well-documented by history and the US is no exception.  Banks have already tightened credit to a point that is strangling people's ability to buy homes and conduct business, and that situation cannot improve in a low-growth (i.e. recession prone) system.   The banks, like the oil companies themselves, are for-profit enterprises and will not loan money to people who cannot pay them back with interest in sufficient quantity to satisfy shareholders.  A business plan of diminishing returns and huge technological expenses is not going to impress loan officers.

...Evidence Regarding Rate of Growth of Oil Extraction Costs 

Bernstein Research recently published information showing that the marginal cost of oil production was $92 barrel in 2011 for non-OPEC, non Former Soviet Union oil producers at the 90th percentile of production. This cost is increasing at 14% per year (or about 12% a year in inflation adjusted terms). Even at the median marginal cost level, costs appear to be increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 9% (or about 7% in inflation adjusted terms). See also this FTAlphaville post.

If we take the $92 barrel cost in 2011 at the 90th percentile of production and increase it by 7% a year (arguably we should be using 12% per year), the real cost will be $169 barrel in 2020, and $467 a barrel in 2035. These are far in excess of the IEA oil price estimates shown on Figure 2. There is no reason to believe that Bakken and other tight oil production costs would be substantially cheaper.

And there's the ugly truth.  Yes, there is plenty of oil. No, middle class families won't be able to afford it.

...My View of What is Happening Now
As noted above, world crude oil production seems to have hit a plateau, starting about 2005. This is working its way through the economy with varying effects over time. The major effect at this point of time seems to be on the finances of governments that import oil, although it started earlier, with different aspects more apparent.

In general, what happens as we reach a situation of diminishing returns, and thus rising real oil prices, seems to be as follows:

As the price of oil rises, the price of food and commuting tend to rise. Both of these are considered essential by most consumers, so consumers cut back in discretionary spending, to have sufficient funds for the essentials. This leads to layoffs in discretionary industries, such as vacation travel and restaurant eating. The rise in laid off workers leads to an increase in debt defaults, and problems for banks. Housing and commercial real estate prices tend to fall, because of reduced demand, further adding to debt default problems.

Governments of oil importers get drawn into this in many ways: (1) Their revenues are reduced, because they receive less tax revenue from people who are laid off from work and from businesses with fewer sales. (2) They are asked to prop up failing banks, and to stimulate the economy. (3) They are also asked to pay workers who have been laid off from work. The net of all of this is that the governments of many oil importers find themselves with huge budget deficits, and declining ability to fix these deficits. This pattern is precisely what we are seeing today in many of Eurozone countries, the United States, Japan.

The statements about rising oil production in the US are just a distraction. Diminishing returns mean that US oil production will never increase very much. Oil costs will remain high, and this will be the real issue disturbing economies around the world.

Readers of this blog are not unfamiliar with these facts.  The question is, how can our communities deal with them in a constructive manner?

Leaders of Jewish communities need to look at the situation realistically and plan ahead.  Where does everybody live?   How walkable is the community?  How will people get to work?  To groceries? To school?  To a doctor?  To activities?  Who will help the elderly and sick get where they need to go? 

Everybody cannot switch to electric cars because the cost is prohibitive and electricity costs themselves will go up - could the community invest in a few?  Set up a taxi service?  Buy a bus?  Can the community order things in bulk from Israel and various companies and have them delivered so they can be distributed locally?  Can you partner with other communities?  Can you become more self-sufficient? 

Each community has a unique mix of needs, skills and resources - but one thing is certain.  Relying on the government to help you is surely a waste of time.    Make 2013 the year your community gets serious about putting its house in order.