Praying to Mary… and to my kids?

A Seventh-day Adventist gentleman who uses the handle @ScuzzaMan posted the pictured post on SocialGalactic in response to an image that I shared. As a former Seventh-day Adventist myself, I can understand exactly where he is coming from. Many times when we Orthodox are asked by Protestants about praying to Mary, the Theotokos, we might say that we do not pray to her, but we ask for her intercessions. What we mean is that our prayers to the Theotokos are of a qualitatively different sort than our prayers to Christ, and that we do not worship the Theotokos. However, Protestants are unlikely to understand what we mean when we say this. If I say I do not pray to the Theotokos, and then a Protestant sees on my bookshelf the prayer book Mother of the Light, which exclusively features prayers and hymns to the Theotokos, he is far more likely to conclude that I am a liar than to understand what I actually meant. I think there are better ways to speak about this.

Of course, the first thing though is to determine if you should talk about it. If the interlocuter is not actively seeking to understand the Faith or at least to understand your faith, its probably better not to engage. Arguments and debates over spiritual topics are often not edifying or profitable.

The image I posted, which ScuzzaMan was referring to.

However, if you decide to discuss the issue, this seems to me a better way to communicate with those coming from a worldview like ScuzzaMan. In ScuzzaMan’s first two lines, he implicitly links prayer with idolatry. This is an incorrect linking that should not be allowed to pass without comment. According to Merriam-Webster, idolatry is “the worship of a physical object as a god.” While these physical objects can occasionally be natural, they are almost always man-made. Although it is probably unnecessary, I will point out that the Theotokos is not a physical object. Neither are Thor, Odin, the Atman, or Brahman. Someone who worships a false god, such as Odin, is not by definition practicing idolatry. This does not mean that it is proper to worship a false god, or even to worship the Theotokos. As Orthodox Christians, we worship only the All-Holy Trinity.

Another false assumption implicit in ScuzzaMan’s linking of prayer to idolatry is the assumption that prayer is worship. This assumption is also false, which should be obvious but is missed by some due to the liturgical use of archaic language. When we say to God “hearken unto me, I pray Thee, and have mercy,” we really aren’t saying anything that a peasant might not have said to a judge a few centuries ago when that was the vernacular. Yet we can all recognize that the peasant in that situation would not be worshiping the judge. According to Merriam-Webster, “pray” means to entreat or implore, not to worship.

Mother of the Light, an excellent prayer book.

And this brings us to how the misunderstandings ScuzzaMan articulates in his final three lines really underlie the misunderstandings in his first two lines. If he understood that the Theotokos is alive, he would be able to understand why we ask (pray) for her help. Likewise, if he understood that Saint Phanourios is alive, he would not think it any odder to ask Saint Phanourios for help finding his car keys than he would think it to ask his brother. As a Seventh-day Adventist, ScuzzaMan holds a view of death and the afterlife that is foreign not only to early Christianity, but also to the Jewish and Mohhamadean religions that Seventh-day Adventism borrows so heavily from. In fact, he holds this Thnetopsychism so dearly that he states “Only Christ’s tomb is empty,” explicitly denying the testimony of Matthew 27:52-53, Hebrews 12:1, and Jude 1:9. While Seventh-day Adventists teach this openly, even most Baptists, who ostensibly believe in an immortal soul, seem to believe it implicitly.

This is why I think it better, when we are asked about praying to the Theotokos or the saints, not to try to explain how such praying differs from our prayers to the All-Holy Trinity, but rather to talk about how such prayer is similar to our prayers to our living relatives, friends, and associates. When a Protestant accuses you of idolatry for praying to the Theotokos, stating you also pray to your children is more likely to get his mind working than saying that the way you pray to the Theotokos is different than the way you pray to the Trinity. If he thinks it ridiculous to ask Saint Phanourios for help finding your keys, but thinks it reasonable to ask your son for the same, you can be assured that he is operating from an assumption of Thnetopsychism, even if he ostensibly believes in conscious souls.

Review: Honey Hog Farm’s Pit Sauce Deodorant

Most of my life, I’ve had issues with deodorants. When I was going to high school and working in the ungodly Arkansas heat, I’d quickly sweat out both my shirt and undershirt. I got in the habit of only buying antiperspirants with the maximum amount of aluminum in it (I think it was 21%). I knew the aluminum wasn’t good for me, but nothing else worked. I’d still sweat out my shirts, but at least I wouldn’t stink. I kept the habit up through college, and when I ended up in Miami I of course stuck with it. Brut brand is what I settled on. When I got off of active duty and moved back to Wisconsin, I decided to try to go to regular deodorant. The fact that I was now married probably made me less afraid of stinking, too. Regular Old Spice burned my armpits and left a bright red rash after one use, so I stuck with the Brut Antiperspirant.

One day, I was at Wal-Mart (I know. This was years ago though. I almost never go to Wal-Mart anymore) buying some deodorant. They had raised the price on the Brut by a dollar. So I decided to go with the Arm & Hammer antiperspirant, as I had used it before, it was effective, and it was now less than the Brut. When I went to grab a stick, I noticed a new product, Arm & Hammer Naturals deodorant. Aluminum free, and I could pronounce most of the ingredients. They also had a woman’s version, so I bought a stick for myself and one for the wife. From that day on, this is what we both used. It didn’t make my armpits break out, and it was tolerably effective.

By tolerably effective, I mean that I would put 25-30 strokes under each arm in the morning, and as long as I didn’t work out or do any heavy labor, I’d smell OK at the end of the day. Heavy labor or a workout would result in me needing to shower and reapply deodorant. I had no plans to switch deodorants, until I discovered Honey Hog Farm’s Pit Sauce Deodorant. Not only did it have half the ingredients of the Arm & Hammer, but they were also ingredients I was already familiar with from Courtney’s soap and lotion making. Courtney had talked about developing a deodorant recipe to accompany her homemade soaps and lotion bars, but lately she’s been pretty busy sewing custom dresses. So I ordered a stick of Pit Sauce for each of us to try.

I have overall been quite happy with Pit Sauce. It costs more than the Arm & Hammer, and there is less deodorant in a stick, but I also think I use less daily. With Arm & Hammer, I’d do 25-30 strokes under each arm. With Pit Sauce, you don’t really do strokes. You simply cover the entire pit (once) and you’re done. It is important to cover the entire pit—the one time I had a stink come through was because I had followed the directions and just done 3-4 strokes under each arm. One one side, this had resulted in full coverage. On the other, it left an uncoated strip that I discovered by smell. Once I switched to visually covering the entire armpit, I never again had this problem. In general, I think Pit Sauce is more effective and better smelling than the Arm & Hammer

The other thing I noticed is that because I wear merino wool undershirts, which remain odor-free for days, I am often putting on the same shirt over freshly applied Pit Sauce for several days in a row. After a few days, a fairly thick layer of Pit Sauce does build up on the shirt. If your wear cotton undershirts and thus a new one every day, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it does get annoying with the merino undershirts. However, the Pit Sauce does seem to wash off fine.
Courtney has one synthetic dress that is her fancy dress, and she found that the Pit Sauce did not wash out easily from it. However, she found that it washed out just fine from her natural fiber dresses. Courtney also felt that the Pit Sauce lasted longer than the Arm & Hammer deodorant, and that if she didn’t take a shower one day, she also didn’t have to reapply deodorant, while with the Arm & Hammer she was applying at least once a day and often twice a day. In conclusion, I fully endorse Honey Hog Farm’s Pit Sauce Deodorant, and it will continue to be my daily go-to. Give it a try!

A Short and Very Belated Non-Answer for Eric, Who is Patient

Eric raised some good questions in the comments on my last post. I have been meaning to respond to those questions for some time (though not necessarily to answer them). Hopefully this response can make more clear a vision for the less-mechanized future that is inevitable.

In the last post I wrote that “natural-scale agriculture requires smaller farms than machine agriculture, which in turn means more farm families. The switch from human/animal agriculture to machine agriculture drove many farm families from their land and into the cities, and this process continues as the machinery gets bigger.” Let’s look at some of the numbers behind this. In 1900, over 50% of the US population lived on farms, meaning more than 38,047,000 people lived on farms. By 1990, this number had declined to 1.6% of the population, or 3,991,020 people.

If we assume that human scale farming would require roughly the same number of people living on farms as 1900, the would require about 34 million people moving to farms. I believe that a return to human-scale agriculture would actually require far more people than this to move to farms, but let’s use this number for now. That’s 34 million people whose food no longer has to be transported. A fair amount of those 34 million no longer have to drive to work either. This results in fresher food for those folks, plus significant saving in fuel and transportation costs.

However, a return to a human-scale agriculture cannot happen in a vacuum. It must be accompanied by a return to human-scale cities. These cities, by virtue of being human-scale, will be more numerous than current cities. Rather than shipping tomatoes across the continent in three days in a refrigerated Semi trailer, they will be transported to the local market in a horse-drawn wagon. Transportation will be drastically reduced, because the people will have been relocated to much closer to where the food comes from. This solves many of the “difficulties” of human-scale agriculture. Most of the others are solved by the personal attention that is absent in large-scale machine agriculture, but present in human scale agriculture.

Yes, Human & Animal Powered Agriculture can Feed the World

“You can’t sustain current population with only human and animal powered agriculture. We need machines to feed the world.”

This is an attitude that I’ve run across more than once, and yet it seems that those who express this attitude are always unwilling to provide any reason that it should be believed. I would have liked to take the argument of someone who believes this as my starting point, but being unable to find such an argument, I have been forced to create my own. After considerable thought, the below is the most intelligent argument I can make against the idea that the world could be fed by human and animal powered agriculture (hereafter, natural-scale agriculture).

1. Natural-scale agriculture requires smaller farms than machine agriculture, which in turn means more farm families. The switch from human/animal agriculture to machine agriculture drove many farm families from their land and into the cities, and this process continues as the machinery gets bigger. A current 1,000 acre mega-farm was likely at one time 25 or more natural-scale farms. More farm families mean more farm houses and barns, which means less land in production. If a 1,000 acre mega-farm was divided into 25 natural-scale farms, that would mean 24 more houses, which might take a total of 12 acres (on the high side) out of production from the total of 1,000. Extrapolated across the board, this could mean a 1.2% reduction in farmland in production under natural-scale agriculture.

2. Natural-scale agriculture requires different farming methods. For example, natural-scale agriculture does not lend itself well to the spraying of glyophospate or herbicides on crops. While natural-scale agriculture does not preclude the use of hybrid seed per se, natural-scale farmers are far more likely to choose heirloom varieties and save their own seed. Because overhead irrigation is not available, rows must often be planted further apart to ensure each plant receives adequate water to thrive. All of this results in a lower yield per acre. According to Purdue University data, from 1866 to about 1937, US average corn yield held relatively steady at about 25 bushels per acre. In 2019, thanks to technology and machinery, average corn yield was about 170 bushels per acre.

3. Horses, mules, donkeys, oxen, and even farm hands require food. Unlike a tractor or combine, which only uses fuel when performing work, humans and animals require food at all times. If it rains for a week, and no field work can be done, humans and animals still require food, while a tractor will sit in the barn consuming nothing. The part of the farm devoted to pasture or grain for draft animals is land that is not producing food to “feed the world.”

4. Growing crops with 1/7th the yield on 1.2% less total land, and then devoting part of that land to feeding animals instead of humans would result in far less food being produced for humans. Such a reduction in the amount of food available for humans would cause widespread starvation and a failure to “feed the world.”

Hopefully this argument is not too much of a straw man. Unfortunately, it must be somewhat of a straw man, as I have been forced to create it myself. However, perhaps this article will spur discussion and provide me with other arguments to interact with.

First, natural-scale agriculture fits in smaller places than machine agriculture. In preparing for this article, I asked a current farmer who farms a very large acreage with machines what size field is the minimum size for such agriculture. He told me that 10 acres is the cutoff, and any field smaller than that is not likely worth planting in machine agriculture. However, in natural-scale agriculture, 10 acres can be an entire farm! The acre itself is a remnant of the medieval measure of the amount of land that could be plowed in one day by one man behind one ox. So for a one-ox plowman, fields as small as a a half-acre are worth plowing—its a half day’s worth of work. And human-powered agriculture, using wheel hoes, rotary cultivators, or simply hand hoes, can productively farm a much smaller field, which we tend to refer to as a garden. There are many small fields and other marginal areas that are not conducive to machine agriculture but are perfectly farmable using natural-scale methods. So natural-scale farming would increase, not decrease, the total amount of farmable land.

Secondly, the much lower yield of natural-scale agriculture would be a concern if the entire yield of machine agriculture was going to feed humans. However, this is not the case. According to the USDA, in 2019 13,620 million bushels of corn were produced. Of these, 6,257 million bushels went for “Food, Alcohol, and Industrial Use;” 30 million bushels went for Seed Use; 5,897 million bushels went for Animal Feed; and 1,778 million bushels were exported. This adds up to roughly 300 million bushels more than was produced, which was made up by using previous stores and imports.

Now lets look at the 6,257 million bushels that went for “Food, Alcohol, and Industrial Use.” Of these 6,257 million bushels, 4,857 million bushels went to “Alcohol for fuel.” In other words, 36% of the corn grown went for Ethanol fuel, which is clearly not human food and does not “feed the world.” If we convert that to acres, it means that there are 29 million acres currently farmed, but not used to grow food, and which could easily be converted to food production. However, that’s not all: 232 million bushels went for industrial starch, 419 million bushels went for high-fructose corn syrup, and 356 million bushels went for glucose/dextrose. Since none of these are foods, that’s another 6 million acres available for food production, for a total of 35 million acres.

We’ll assume that natural-scale farming would require as much seed as mechanical farming, and leave seed use alone. That brings us to the 5,897 million bushels that went for animal feed. The vast majority of this is feed for cows in commercial dairies and feedlots. In one sense, we could consider this as going towards human food and “feeding the world,” as humans eat beef and dairy products, which are more nutritious than corn. However, if we consider trophic losses, and the fact that cows can eat grass on pastures that are too steep, rocky, or otherwise featured to plant crops on, or on land that is going through a necessary fallow cycle, it becomes clear that it is unnecessary to devote prime cropland to feeding cows. This frees up another 35 million acres of cropland, bringing the total to 70 million acres.

70 million acres, when only 81 million acres of corn were harvested! 86% of the corn harvested does not go to feed people. Since only 1,859 million bushels of corn for human food were grown on 81 million acres of corn, the human food yield per acre for 2019 is 22 bushels per acre, below the average yield of 25 bushels per acre from 1866 to about 1937. Furthermore, average corn yields for natural-scale farmers today is likely much higher than 25 bushels per acre. I do not know what the figure was for 2019, but Wendell Berry cites 70 bushels per acre as the lower end of corn yields for natural-scale farmers in the late 1970’s. If you wish, you can look up the USDA data on soybeans, the 2nd largest crop in the US, and see how much of current crops go to non-food use, but I think the corn numbers alone are enough of an illustration to make the point in this article.

Finally, while draft animals do indeed eat even when not working, they are capable of subsisting entirely on pasture or hay when not working. As mentioned above, pasture and hayfields can exist on ground too steep, rocky, or otherwise featured for plowing. Once the pasture is fenced, there is no cost to letting the draft animal graze, and because cover crops and fallow cycles are necessary to responsible land use, there is very little additional cost to harvesting hay. Furthermore, oxen, donkeys, and mules are all capable of performing work on nothing but pasture/hay. Horses will require a little grain when being worked, but like the other animals, will subsist comfortably on pasture/hay when not being worked.

I realize that this article has tore down no arguments other than ones I invented myself, and which therefore are at least partly straw man arguments. However, I hope that reviewing the information has made you more sure that natural-scale agriculture is perfectly capable of feeding the world, not only at current population levels, but even at much larger ones. In conclusion, I would ask you to consider all the farmers and farm families driven off their land and into the cities by the mechanization of agriculture, depopulating rural areas. This seems to me to be the very thing the prophet condemned, and to me his words demand a reversal.

Woe to them that join house to house, and add field to field, that they may take away something of their neighbors’: Will ye dwell alone upon the land?

Isaiah 5:8

A Short History of my Relationship with Technology

I was recently asked if I had ever written an essay on my “primitivist philosophy.” I don’t consider myself a primitivist, and I don’t know if I even have a fully coherent philosophy when it comes to technology and its use, but my thinking on the topic has certainly evolved and deepened since I last wrote on the topic here. Reading and learning on many topics has effected my views, including philosophy, permaculture, responsible agriculture, history, economics, and religion. I can’t condense the contents of many books into one essay, so this post will just scratch the surface of what people more intelligent than I have written.

Let’s start with the 5 questions for evaluating technology I posed back in 2014:

  • What benefit will I gain from making use of this technology?
  • How much will it cost me to make use of this technology?
  • If I adopt this technology, am I in a worse place when/if it fails than I would be if I had never adopted it?
  • Should this technology fail, is it easier or harder to repair myself than my current system?
  • Will the regular use of this technology cause me to lose a skill that would be vital should the technology fail?

All the above questions are focused on evaluating a newly-available technology. But what about previously-adopted technologies? Things I’ve been using since birth? Should they also be evaluated?

Some rather ubiquitous technologies, adopted by many of my peers from birth, I grew up largely or completely without. I grew up largely without television, and completely without video games. Even today, in my thirties, I still do not own a television. I’ve noticed that this results in me having a completely different perspective on the technology than some of my peers. When a peer and I discuss the role of television, particularly national broadcasts, in the destruction of regional dialects and local cultures, we interpret this fact differently. He sees it as a sad but inevitable loss, because of course we couldn’t live without television. I see it as a needless and wanton destruction, because of course television is unnecessary and this negative consequence far outweighs any minor entertainment value when there are so many more enjoyable means of entertainment anyways.

Perhaps it was recognizing the negative effects of an ubiquitous technology that I don’t use, like television, that prepared me to see the negative effects of technology that I do use, like cars. I don’t think I’d ever even considered the cultural impact of cars until I read this short article in 2017. But suddenly, a lot of things clicked. The unwalkability of modern cities. The much stronger social fabric (and better aesthetics) of walkable cities. The insanity of transporting food across a continent . But mostly, I suddenly woke up to the cultural and societal shifts that the automoble brought about. Perhaps I was primed here too. In 2017, my wife and I shared a single vehicle, and had done so since getting married in 2015. When she went out of state to visit her parents, I rode my bicycle to work. Perhaps this helped me to see the possibility of living without a car (a possibility that I am not currently pursuing, more on that later), and perhaps I had to see living without a car as possible to honestly consider the damages caused by the mass adoption of the automobile.

Somewhere around 2017, I began looking for a grain mill. My wife makes homemade bread, and I wanted to mill our own flour, rather than buying flour. I was going to buy an electric grain mill, like both my mother and Courtney’s mother had when we were growing up. But then we happened to buy a hand-crank coffee grinder. I discovered that I enjoyed turning the crank by hand. And I’d always hated the terrible racket that electric grain mills make. I did some research, and found a number of hand-cranked grain mills, eventually buying one. I found several things that surprised me. First, I was surprised that the mill was far easier to turn than I expected. My 2 year old at the time was able to turn it. Second, I was surprised at how fast it was. It milled enough flour to bake a batch of bread almost as fast as the electric mill I was used to–and ground it finer to boot! Third, I was surprised at how much more enjoyable it was to grind grain using it than with the electric mill. Sure, it took a few seconds longer, but the whole process was enjoyable, while the sightly faster process with the electric mill was not.

Previous to the grain mill, in 2016 when we bought our first house, I couldn’t afford to buy a riding mower. So I bought a Fiskars reel mower and mowed our just under half acre lot with it until a friend later gave me a riding mower. I loved mowing with it. It took a little while, and it was hard to push if I let the grass grow too long but it did a great job, and it was so quiet, and it didn’t matter if the grass was wet. Sometimes I mowed at 6am without worrying about disturbing the neighbors. Later, when I was given the rider, I spent far less time mowing, but it also was less enjoyable, a chore to finish. And my lawn never looked as nice. Having had this experience with the lawn mower, coffee grinder, and now the grain mill, I began to consciously choose to use hand tools more on projects and power tools less. I found that this often made the projects more enjoyable. They did take longer, but I also tended to procrastinate starting less, so I didn’t find this really impacted the total amount of work I got done.

Even after I began choosing to use hand tools more than power tools, there was one particular power tool or machine that I wanted. I have wanted a small farm since at least my teens. This farm would be diversified and labor-intensive, making use of small fields that are too small to even work with modern 24-row cultivators. And I wanted a compact or sub-compact tractor with a front-end loader to work this small farm. A front-end loader is an incredibly useful piece of equipment, with essentially limitless uses. There is also not a human or animal powered alternative to a front-end loader. But then I started realizing the harm caused by tractors.

Tractors, by allowing one man to do much more work, greatly reduced the jobs available in agriculture, and were thus instrumental in forcing many men off of farms and into the cities and factories. As the tractors grew larger, so did this dysgenic effect. Furthermore, tractors were instrumental in degrading the land, and in exceeding natural limits, causing monopoly of the food supply as more small farmers are forced out of business each year as larger and larger corporations control more and more of the land. Reading The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry convinced me that when I finally get my little farm, draft animals will be better for both me and the land than a small tractor.

The fields lose their humus and porosity, become less retentive of water, depend more on pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers. Bigger tractors become necessary because the compacted soils are harder to work-and their greater weight further compacts the soil. More and bigger machines, more chemical and methodological shortcuts are needed because of the shortage of man-power on the farm—and the problems of overcrowding and unemployment increase in the cities. It is estimated that it now costs (by erosion) two bushels of Iowa topsoil to grow one bushel of corn. It is variously estimated that from five to twelve calories of fossil fuel energy are required to produce one calorie of hybrid corn energy.

The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry

Philosophically, there are few things that I have learned that have changes how I view and interact with technology. The first is that technology is not neutral. Most of us recognize that every tool or machine has a purpose, but most of us do not see the actual purpose of most technology. For example, if you ask most people the purpose of a gas-powered hydraulic log splitter, they will say that its purpose is to split logs. However, this is not the case. The purpose of a splitting maul is to split logs. The purpose of a gas-powered hydraulic log splitter is to free the splitting of logs from the constraints of human labor. If human limits are a fundamental part of humanity, than machines designed to circumvent those limits are fundamentally inhuman, and we shouldn’t be surprised if they also circumvent other aspects of humanity, including community and sometimes joy.

Secondly, I’ve learned to see labor differently. This is two-fold. First, I’ve learned that labor isn’t a negative to be avoided at all costs, and second, I’ve learned to more fully account for hidden labor. Much of our technology is designed with an assumption that labor is bad. The gas-powered hydraulic log splitter is “better” than the splitting maul because it requires less labor. But, as I learned with my grain mill and lawn mower, not all labor is equal. Some labor is more enjoyable than other labor. I could split my logs with a hydraulic splitter, get done an hour earlier, and use that hour to go to the gym and lift weights. But am I actually ahead of where I am if I take the extra hour to split with a maul, knowing I am getting a good workout, and enjoying the satisfaction of doing the work myself?

A modern tractor and haycutter can do the work of many men with scythes when it comes to cutting hay. But does that mean the scythe requires more labor? On the surface, yes, but what if we look deeper? The tractor and haycutter were assembled in a factory, and the labor of the workers must be factored in. Before they were assembled, they were designed, so we must include the labor of the engineers, product designers, and product testers. We must account for the labor that built the components, that loaded the shipping containers of components onto rail cars, ships, and semi trucks, and that transported them to the factory. We must also account for the transport of the finished product to the dealer, the construction of both the factory and the dealership, and the labor of the repair technician at the dealership. We must must account for the labor involved in drilling for, refining, and transporting the petroleum that fuels the tractor. At this point, is the scythe still require more labor? I don’t know, but let’s assume it does. We now must factor in the enjoyment factor. Is the labor in the windowless factory mindlessly assembling parts equal to the labor of swinging a scythe in the open air with a breeze on your back and the birds singing overhead? What about the labor of the repair technician, or the truck driver, or the billing clerk for the farm cooperative’s fuel depot? How do the scythe and the tractor with haycutter compare when all the hidden labor and it’s quality is factored in? I don’t know, but I do know that the scythe comes out considerably better in a true accounting than in the superficial one often used.

So how do I currently navigate all of this? Well, I own two vehicles, a zero-tun lawnmower, a chainsaw, a gas weed-eater, a laptop, and a smart phone. Clearly, I am not a total Luddite. However, I do try to make conscious choices. When I put up the frame for my greenhouse, I used a hand saw to cut the joinery, and used nails and a hammer rather than screws and a screw gun. I try to limit my use of automobiles–any trip to a store (except the auto parts store) generally waits until I or the wife is already going to either work or church. We do not have internet service at our house, except for the ability to use a cell phone as a hotspot, which we turn off when not in use. I am considering buying a small (~125cc) motorcycle to ride to work and back to reduce our consumption of gasoline. I built a clothesline to reduce our use of the electric dryer. I installed a non-electric pellet stove to reduce our dependency on our natural gas furnace. We use kerosene lamps for our lighting needs in the winter. I try to take it one step at a time and become less reliant on technology each year.

Perhaps someday I will have a small farm, and breed mules. Maybe I’ll be able to do this somewhere close enough to church that we can do without a car. Maybe I’ll be able to limit electricity and internet to a small office in a shed on the property. But for now I just try to make one small step and a time, to use my labor instead of a machine where I can.

So You Want to Buy a Freezer…

The first thing to consider is what you will be putting in the freezer. Do you plan to buy a whole (or half) beef once a year? Or do you plan to fill the freezer with venison in the fall? If either of these is the case you should consider buying two smaller freezers, rather than one large one. For example, I have a just over 9 cubic foot freezer, which I fill with venison every fall. We really need a bit more freezer space, because the kids are getting older and it takes more venison to last a year, but you can fit 4-5 good size deer in a 9 cubic foot freezer if you debone all your meat and have nothing else in the freezer. This equates to about half a beef. However, if I was to do it again, with a plan to either buy half a beef a year or shoot 4-5 deer a year, I would buy a 3 cubic foot freezer and a 7 cubic foot freezer instead of a 9 cubic foot freezer.

Having two smaller freezers would substantially reduce the energy cost of running the freezers. Freezers are most efficient when full, which is why many people recommend that you add jugs of water to the freezer as it empties. We would eat out of the smaller one until it was mostly empty, then move the remainder to the fridge freezer inside and shut off the smaller freezer. Then, we would eat out the larger freezer until it was about half empty, at which point we would shut off the larger freezer and move the remainder of the meat into the smaller freezer. This would be much more efficient than the current situation, in which our freezer is half or more empty for half the year.

Another thing to consider is how much variety there is in what you will be filling the freezer with. Are you buying a whole or half beef once a year, or filling your freezer entirely with venison? Or are you buying a quarter cow once a year, plus butchering 50 chickens and 15 turkeys, plus hunting for deer, duck, pheasant, and goose? If you are closer to the second situation than the first, you are likely to find that every time you go to the freezer to grab something, its underneath a bunch of other stuff. The solution in this case is to get an upright freezer and a chest freezer. Upright freezers are far less efficient than chest freezers, but they are very good at keeping multiple things separate and organized. You can have a beef shelf, a venison shelf, a chicken shelf, a duck shelf, etc. When a shelf gets empty, you can reload it from the chest freezer. This will greatly reduce the time you spend digging through the chest freezer, which often involves taking quite a bit of food out of the freezer and then putting it back in.

Often, you can pick chest freezers up for a good price on craigslist. However, if you decide to buy new, try to look at a few different brands. Figure out what you will use to keep things organized inside. I like milk crates. I can pull out the milk crate of ground venison quickly and easily to access the milk crate of roasts underneath. Also, when the freezer is getting empty, a milk crate holds 1 gallon milk jugs perfectly. You can refill these jugs with water and place them in the freezer to take up space and help the freezer run efficiently. However, some brands and sizes of chest freezer won’t fit milk crates. Find a brand that fits a convenient stackable storage container, because the last thing you want is everything loose in the freezer.

A Must-Read Comic

I don’t know that I’ve ever recommended a comic before, but this one has definitely earned it. Read it here.

How Can You Discuss Liberalism in America Today?

Earlier today, Audible recommended to me through its algorithms the book Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick Deneen. I’d never heard of the book or its author before, so I did what I usually do when Audible recommends a book to me: I read the one-star reviews. Reviewers’ biggest issue with the book, it seemed, revolved around the definition of liberalism. Just from reading the one-star reviews, it is clear that Deneen’s critique of liberalism would include modern American Republicans and self-styled “conservatives,” who are of course squarely within the Lockean school of liberalism. Yet these reviewers clearly did not consider Republicans/”conservatives” as a subset within liberalism, but as somehow opposed to liberalism. The fact that these reviewers are wrong is immaterial–they are expressing the common understanding. In light of this, how does one actually go about discussing liberalism in America today? In a two party system where both parties draw their ideology from liberalism, the larger ideology of liberalism has largely become invisible. Is there a way to discuss liberalism in America today, or has it become so ingrained, so taken for granted, that it has become impossible to discuss, critique, or evaluate?

5 Years

Once again, the blog has been neglected for months. The main reason for this is the amount of time and energy that I’ve had to focus on the final capstone project for a degree I’ve been steadily chipping away at the requirements of for the past eight years. The final project, the culmination of both an intense 16-week class and the whole 8-year journey, has been submitted and now I have only to await a grade. Hopefully, once I catch up some on the many projects around the house that have also been put off due to the class, I will be able to write more. But tonight it is raining, so I have an excuse for writing rather than working on one of my many projects waiting outside.

I didn’t even write the week of my birthday, which is very unusual. This year my birthday came and went with much less reflection on life and goals than typical. Of course, that week an important assignment was due for my capstone project, so my focus was not on the birthday. Now that I have time to think and look back, it amazes me how much has changed from my birthday five years ago to my birthday this year.

On my birthday in 2015, I had not yet met Courtney. Now, not only are we married, but we have three children and a fourth on the way. In 2015, I had never yet stepped foot in an Orthodox Church, yet today I am the father of cradle Orthodox children. In 2015, I rented a room in a 2-bedroom condo. Since then I bought a house, sold it at a profit, and bought another house with more land. In 2015, I had never killed, gutted, skinned, or butchered a deer. Now I am asked to teach others these skills. In 2015, the management of the condos where I rented a room prevented me from growing a few vegetables. This year, we have a separate garden just for potatoes and onions.

In 2015, I was almost ready to give up on having a family. Five years made an incredible difference. Over the next five years, I hope to build further on the foundation established over the past five. I hope to move us closer and closer to self-sufficiency. I still need to get much better at fishing, to establish more gardens, and possibly move again to a larger property where we can have some farm animals, along with countless other projects. I hope to document this journey here.

Hopefully, the next update in this journey will be soon.