Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

June 24, 2009

Brooms are ancient and useful tools!

Filed under: Paula Mariedaughter,Subsistence Living — Paula Mariedaughter @ 2:57 pm
Kitchen Broom from Henson Brooms

Kitchen Broom from Henson Brooms

Brooms are ancient and useful tools! A well crafted broom made with natural broom corn works well on either our hardwood floors or on the section of the house floored with river rocks. Brooms are quiet and consume no electricity! But, well-made brooms of natural materials are hard to find. I don’t want plastic brooms and I cannot tolerate the roar of vacuum cleaners. In the 1970s I found a horsehair hand broom at a thrift store that I use with a vintage metal dust pan. My horsehair broom may be fifty years old and it is still performing well. These three tools are all I need to sweep dog hair and debris from the floor. When I went looking to replace our current broom after five years of use, I could not find a local source that met my standards. No one in northwest Arkansas carried a broom to meet these standards!

We know from family lore in Jeanne’s family that one of her Dad’s first sales jobs in the 1940s was to sell the new household cleaning tool–the vacuum cleaner. Of course he approached his extended family first to try his sales pitch and to try to make his first sale. Despite his persuasive personality there was a problem with selling vacuum cleaners. Most people did not have carpeting! In fact, a well made broom still did the best job sweeping up debris on bare floors. Brooms are portable, easily stored, not heavy or noisy. Not until carpeting became the norm did vacuum cleaners become ubiquitous.

Jeanne and I have an ancient vacuum in a storage area far from the house, but I dragged it out yesterday because I need to suck up as much dust as possible because we were having part of the ceramic tile entrance area replaced. Vacuum cleaners are superior for this task. We had plenty of sunshine, so I did not have to be concerned about the pull of electricity required from our solar energy system.

Ideally, I would be growing broom corn and learning to make my own brooms or trading my skills with someone locally who made brooms. Instead, I bought this Kitchen Broom from a family business called Henson Broom shop in Kentucky ( and paid to have it shipped to Arkansas. Our new broom performs well and is a pleasure to use.

I feel good about bringing this product into my home. Often I have mixed feeling about the things I choose to buy and use–from my favorite yoguart because it is packaged in plastic containers, to the electronic devices I use to make a living like our computers and the printer/scanner.

Brooms do not require nuclear energy or coal to produce the electricity to move them. Brooms are not noisy. I find that vacuums drown out thought! In most parts of the world, wall-to-wall carpeting is uncommon and homes have tile or hardwood floors, which are easily swept, wiped, or mopped.

Is it cool to use a broom? What urban hipster knows how to make one? Try this trick when you are next looking for a good broom: five years ago a Kentucky broom maker told me that a good broom will stand up on its own and proceeded to demonstate the fact that his brooms will do so. Do you have a broom well balanced enough to stand alone? Do you have a broom story?

May 25, 2009

Sustainable or Business Almost As Usual? (III)

My mother and father moved into a suburban house with a large yard in the late 1960s, after living many years in more constricted living arrangements. The yard seemed to call for a dog and for my father’s 54th birthday I bought him a six week old Dalmatian puppy. My father went with me to pick out the puppy, but we did not consult with my mother ahead of time. When we arrived home, puppy in arms, my mother opened the garage door, screamed “Oh no” at the sight of the puppy, and slammed the door in our faces. Within a day or so mother was completely enchanted with the puppy and she dearly loved him until his death at age 17.

I eventually found out that part of her reaction to seeing the new puppy came from the loss of her family’s dog when she was in high school. Her family had recently moved to Kansas City due to the failure of my grandfather’s trucking company in the Great Depression. Their dog was out in the residential street in front of the house when a group of young males gunned their car right at the dog and purposefully ran him over. They had attempted to run the dog over before and were jubilant that this time they succeeded in killing him, loudly exclaiming “Got it”. Over thirty years later my mother did not want to risk loving another dog.

This story of male cruelty and violence is one among millions that women have told during the centuries of worldwide feminist resistance to patriarchy. Feminists have called western patriarchy a death-loving culture in part because of its long history of violence and bloodshed including, but not limited to, rape, war, cruelty to animals, sexual degradation, lynching, racism, incest, slavery, and environmental destruction. Feminists have already had plenty of evidence of the death orientation of western patriarchy, but by now everyone else should be wondering too.

A consensus has emerged among the scientific elite that industrialized society is creating dangerous climate change that, unless stopped soon, will put as many as 30% or more of the world’s species at risk of extinction. What does it mean that this society has acted in a way that endangers a third or more of earth’s life forms? What does it mean that most of the concern about global warming focuses on its effects on human societies, not other forms of life? Global warming provides indisputable evidence that globalized, capitalist patriarchy is a powerful life-destroying force. The fact that many feminists, indigenous peoples, and other resistors have known for a long time is now the province of everyone in the developed world: something is terribly, terribly wrong here!

Efforts at abating global warming focus on lower carbon use, more renewable energy, and reduced waste and pollution. But there has been so much delay and resistance by the developed countries in initiating these changes on a large scale that even a lower carbon “developed” lifestyle cannot extend to 7 or 9 billion people. Extreme and immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are now needed. A “developed” lifestyle cannot safely be extended to developing countries, nor can the U.S. continue with anything remotely resembling “the American way of life.” We must face up to this reality honestly and scale back our society in a purposeful way, eliminating much while reconstructing institutions that can be of real value such as education, health care, or disability supports (see The other options, denial or Business Almost As Usual (BAAU – see Part I and Part II of this blog) are a catastrophe for humans and for huge number of species likely to become extinct if temperatures rise much further.

Global warming has reached an emergency level with temperatures rising and ice sheets melting at far faster rates than projected by the most recent IPCC reports issued in 2007 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, 2007). The IPCC operates using a form of consensus that results in assessments that are overly influenced by conservative forces such as the OPEC nations and the former Bush administration. Most of the research (118 scenarios) included in the latest IPCC report focused on what will happen if CO2 levels reach 485-570 parts per million (ppm – 560 ppm is double preindustrial levels). The IPCC barely studied scenarios of a world that put more serious limits on greenhouse gases: just six scenarios studied projected CO2 levels of 350-400 ppm. Even these lowest studied CO2 levels are predicted to increase global temperature 2.0-2.4°C over pre-industrial times.

Many nations, including the European Union, view a 2°C change in temperature over pre-industrial times as a maximum for preventing “dangerous climate change.” Increasing numbers of scientists and non-governmental organizations now call for limiting temperature even further, with some suggesting 1°C over pre-industrial as the long term goal (see Worldwatch’s 2009 State of the World for a summary). However, we are already at .7°C (387 ppm) and there is a time lag, which means that even if no more fossil fuels were burned, temperatures will continue to rise to well above 1°C over preindustrial.

The earth requires an immediate lowering of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet emissions have continued to rise despite the Kyoto treaty and escalating worldwide concern. Although there are some hopeful signs from the Obama administration such as the decision that the EPA will regulate CO2 as a pollutant, both the Obama administration and the proposed American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) legislation propose much smaller cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than the European Union advocates. [The EU calls for emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The Obama administration wants to skip the 25-40% cut and return to 1990 levels by 2020. (Kansas City Star March 29, 2009 and New York Times March 31, 2009.) ACES confuses the issue by calling for 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Of course, 2005 levels were much higher than 1990.] If there is any hope of reaching any of the lower goals for greenhouse gas concentrations, emissions must peak by 2015 and begin a rapid decline.

The BAAU plans are running out of time, have probably already run out of time. Ross Gelbspan, the Pulitzer prize winning author who has written two books on global warming, says that we have waited too long to make the necessary changes and there is no hope now of stopping the rising temperatures at a safe level ( The Worldwatch 2009 State of the World report recognized the need to limit temperature rise to 1°C, but could not project a way to reach this goal without relying on carbon capture and storage, a technology that has been used only on a small scale trial basis. The safety of carbon capture and storage, which buries CO2 captured from power plants (or even from the atmosphere) underground, is highly questionable. Imagine an earthquake and the earth burping out massive quantities of carbon unsafely stored underground. This is not a comic book fantasy. A similar event happened 55 million years ago when a natural methane “burp” released over a trillion tons of methane from the ocean floor and sent temperatures soaring by 18°F causing mass extinctions. (See Fred Pearce’s book, With Speed and Violence:Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change.) Technological solutions, like carbon capture and storage or far more science fiction type possibilities, are the wave of the future if BAAU plans are followed and are likely to cause far more problems than they solve.

We must instead begin to realize that BAAU plans won’t limit climate change adequately or create equity among the peoples of the world. But, there is still a way to turn climate change around and end world poverty and inequity by making radical, not BAAU, changes. Radical change is change that goes to the root of the problem.

First, we must recognize that industrialization on the enormous scale it is currently practiced must be severely curtailed. I don’t know if there is a safe way to use limited industrial production or not, but at the very least we need to reduce industry to producing essential and very efficient, durable goods that help take care of the basic needs of all the billions of people on earth. Perhaps any industry is so destructive of nature and of our human nature that it will best be eliminated altogether.

Second, we must address the root of our problems by bringing an end to the social system of globalized, capitalist patriarchy (and other forms of patriarchy as well). Economically, as Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen (see their book The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalised Economy) have explained “Subsistence is the Alternative”. Politically, Matriarchy is the Alternative. By matriarchy I mean an egalitarian society that is strongly based in bonds between women, similar to many of the matrilineal, matrifocal societies that exist now or that have been described by anthropologists in the past. By turning to subsistence and matriarchy, societies can develop that are able to meet the needs and hopes of people in a way that globalized capitalist patriarchy never even attempted. The time for change is right now, before each of us in developed countries becomes responsible for the extinction of many of the earth’s species and the creation of a world that will give all of the earth’s children and grandchildren a life no one wants for them.

Nikki, Jeanne and Chase, Zora, Shyla

Nikki, Jeanne and Chase, Zora, Shyla

Tonight (9 PM) there is a low fire in the woodstove. Paula’s antique irons are heating on top of the stove. We have one 15 watt light on in the center of the house. Women, dogs, and one cat are drawn together to the heat and light. Two flats of tiny seedlings – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil – are stashed behind the stove keeping warm overnight. I am not at all certain what the future will bring, but tonight I am warm and content, happy to be sharing this 40 year old couch with dreaming dogs. Tomorrow the dogs will go on the run they are dreaming of now (their legs are twitching) and I will take another step toward subsistence.

May 7, 2009

Foxgloves in Abundance

Filed under: Homestead garden,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 10:56 am
Lush foxgloves, photo by Paula

Lush foxgloves, photo by Paula

One packet of seeds purchased in the early 1990s has brought a forest of foxgloves into our lives. At the time, I was operating Everlastings Etcetera where I was growing and crafting dried flowers and herbs. I poured over seed catalogues and books looking for information and possibilities. Mark and Terry Silber’s book The Complete Book of Everlastings is still my favorite resource about drying flowers and herbs. I knew that foxgloves could not be dried, but I wanted to experience the beauty of those tall spires of bell shaped flowers. I started flats and flats of seedlings and then planted them outside as the weather permitted.

With so much to do as I grew and harvested, then crafted wreaths and bouquets that I marketed at craft fairs and the farmer’s market, I neglected my foxglove seedlings. The everlastings were my bread and butter. By August I was desperate for help with planting the overgrown foxglove plants still in the seedling trays. As a birthday request, I asked Jeanne for help in getting them moved into the ground. The foxgloves were amazingly tolerant of the crowded conditions and the delayed move to a permanent home. Most of them thrived in the eastern exposure where they are protected from the hottest of the afternoon sun.


As biennials the plants must go through one winter before they bloom. In early May, Jeanne and I were rewarded with dramatic spires of long lived flowers in shades of white, pink, lavender and magenta. Each individual flower throat was marked with dark dots leading the way for fat, buzzing bumblebees to drink their nectar.

Foxgloves are prolific self-seeders if you leave the stalks in place long enough to set seeds. For the past fifteen years we have allowed the foxgloves to wander where they will. The seedlings seem to thrive at the base of the rock walls we use to retain the soil of our raised beds. Other exotic tall flowers with spires that I have tried to nurture along are delphiniums and bells of Ireland with no success–probably because of our hot summers.

Foxgloves are one of our garden successes. I have developed a gardening philosophy that embraces success. Rare specimens of individual plants do not usually intrigue me. I’d rather have lush groupings of ordinary plants with the emphasis on lush. With this philosophy, I can gather large cuttings of ordinary mint to scent the house. My eyes can feast on masses of a self-seeding dark green hosta or wild ferns like the maidenhair fern and christmas fern that thrive in our woods. I can pot up seedlings of the volunteer hostas and gather up seeds from the foxgloves to share with friends. Some gardeners regard self seeding plants as unwanted additions, and sometimes they are–for example perilla. But I consider foxgloves and others to be durable goods for the garden. Plant sellers want you to return again and again for their products. Why not grow your own whenever you can?

I use masses of ordinary plants who often chose new settings for themselves. These new combinations of textures put together by Mother Nature can delight the eye. You can see in the photo below how the huge wild mullein leaves add a silver grey texture among the foxgloves. The mullein plants volunteered in that spot. I do weed out some uninvited visitors, seeing my action as a form of editing. A tightly controlled garden does not appeal to me. Each spring can bring new adventures and discoveries especially when we welcome the abundance that self-seeding plants offer us.

Path among the blooms, photo by Paula

Path among the blooms, note the large mullein leaves, photo by Paula

May 6, 2009

Durable Goods Can Last a Lifetime!

Filed under: Economics,Homestead garden,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 4:52 pm

The concept of “durable goods” has been on my mind. I remember my shock when I realized that economists defined durable goods as something that lasts three years or longer. How did this come to be? As buyers we want excellent quality and a long life for our purchases whether it be a refrigerator, a wheelbarrow or a garden fork. Sellers tend to want to sell us products of poor quality needing replacement as soon as possible. In fact, economists have coined the term “interpurchase time” to describe the time between two successive purchases. The seller wants you to replace your purchase as soon as possible. Planned obsolescence can produce profits, but assaults the planet.

This desire for short term profits controls many business operations in a way not known in previous decades. As consumers and citizens we can be trapped by this perverse and shortsighted goal. Unless we actively resist we will be trapped into participation in the assault on the planet. Durable goods that are not durable are the norm. I believe we need to evaluate every purchase or acquisition we make by considering how long we can expect the item to remain useful. This is the opposite of a throwaway mentality. Authentically durable products are “green “ by definition!

Nikki lounging on the mulch

Nikki lounging on the mulch

Last weekend my neighbor and I hauled two loads of wood shavings from a local handle factory to use as mulch for our yard and garden. We borrowed a pickup truck and drove 23 miles round trip to haul the shavings which are a byproduct of making ash handles for tools. I have been mulching with these shavings for almost twenty years. I enjoy working with the shavings because they are a long-lasting mulch and bring no weed seeds and because theysmell of freshly cut wood. The blond color of the shavings help us to see any snake visitors we might have moving in the yard. We have been able to eliminate any lawn mowing by laying down the shavings. We do use a person-powered weed wacker to keep grass down on the outskirts of the homestead. I feel like a sculptor as I spread the hardwood shavings in paths and around beds.

Our ash shavings will last between six months and one year depending on how thick we spread them, how much traffic they receive, and how wet the weather is that year. The ash shavings would be considered a nondurable goods or soft goods because they are used up in less than three years. In previous years, we have had the luxury of having a dump truck deliver a huge pile of shavings about every eight months paying $100 for the delivery. This service is no longer available. The shavings are free when we haul them, but cost us in gas and in our time and put wear and tear on any vehicle we use. Our shavings do not come packaged in plastic.

I use Jeanne’s vintage pitchfork and vintage wheelbarrow to move the shavings to every corner of our homestead. This wheelbarrow and pitchfork were first used by Jeanne twenty-five years ago to muck out stalls when she had horses. Jeanne purchased both tools in 1974 and both are valuable and durable goods to us. We have replaced the hardwood handles of the wheelbarrow twice and had the body repaired once. While waiting for repairs we were forced to buy another wheelbarrow. Searching for a sturdy well-balanced wheelbarrow made us realize once again what a treasure we have. Everywhere we looked the quality was inferior. Planned obsolescence plagues our society–this is one of the reasons I haunt and hunt in thrift stores.

All of us serious about living as if the earth matters want to minimize our participation in consumption. Acquiring products you intend to keep for a long time makes sense. I propose that we the people redefine durable goods. When Jeanne and I bought our garden fork and shovel in 1985 we focused on securing lifetime tools. We have dug our garden beds in the rocky Arkansas soil and cared for those tools. We still use them and I believe both will prove to be lifetime tools. One of the reasons our tools are not broken is because we were given a pry bar to help forcibly lift the large rocks we encountered. Our pry bar was a gift from a friend who is an Arkansas native. She informed us when she appeared one day with this tool that it is a modified axle of a Model A Ford first produced in 1927. Now that is what I call durable!

April 19, 2009

Sustainable or Business Almost As Usual? (II)

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy,Subsistence Living — Jeanne Neath @ 12:11 pm

Part 2 of 3

Temporary clothes dryer

Temporary clothes dryer

Today I’m still worried, yet hopeful enough to stick with my subsistence activities and keep writing about my concerns. We don’t have running water on our homestead and do our laundry at a laundromat. This week I skipped using the gas drier and brought my wet clothes home to hang outside, even though it was raining. The weather radio had promised a dry, warmish day for Friday, the next day. My first activity Friday was to get the clothes hanging, but the weather turned out to be quite cold and very damp and felt like it could easily rain. I hung the small stuff inside near the woodstove and put my shirts and pants outside where it turned out they would not dry. Mid-afternoon I brought everything in the house where it did eventually dry, though things were congested around the stove. I’d probably have been better off with a more radical change – washing and drying a smaller amount of clothes entirely at home instead of washing a large amount all at once at the laundromat and assuming the weather was going to cooperate. Apparently Business Almost As Usual (BAAU) does not work so well even on a small scale.

BAAU (Business Almost As Usual) sustainability plans focus on changes in technology and efficiency without changing the root cause of environmental destruction and social inequity: globalized capitalist patriarchy. The BAAU approach to sustainability is so beneficial to powerful people in politics and business that no other possibilities for change are seriously discussed by government, the political class, or mainstream media. Decades of indoctrination against subsistence and rural living have made most of the populace in the developed world both completely dependent on society (e.g. food comes from grocery stores, not the earth) and scornful of rural life. Even environmental organizations like Worldwatch or Earth Policy Institute that are concerned with both environmental damage and social inequity propose BAAU plans to address poverty, global warming, habitat loss, and resource depletion, while failing to realize that their carefully crafted plans cannot and will not be carried out by a globalized, capitalist, patriarchal society whose very basis is oppression and theft from nature, women, and “developing” countries.

The leaders of the western world have been promising for decades that the “developing” world can “catch up” to the western “developed” world and many people in the West believe this promise. (See the book Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva.) This “catch up” view ignores the fact that “advancement” in the developed countries is made possible by taking the natural resources, lands, and work of the people in the “developing” world. Who will provide the unpaid for and unaccounted for resources to extend western style abundance to the developing countries?

We are now seeing the answer to this question as several of the large “developing” countries, including China, India, and Brazil, have begun to catch up. Elites and middle classes in developing countries like these are moving to a western lifestyle while people formerly living sustainable subsistence lifestyles are forced off the land and into expanding urban slums. At the same time the inability of our living planet to support the level of pollution (e.g. global warming) and resource depletion (e.g. food and water shortages, diminishing oil supplies) for billions more people living a “developed” lifestyle has become apparent. The earth cannot support a new coal-fired power plant coming on line every week in China on top of all the carbon burning already taking place in the “developed” world. Likewise the earth cannot support a meat-heavy diet expanded to billions more people since livestock produce massive quantities of greenhouse gases as they eat and digest the grain needed to feel billions of people.

The idea that billions of people can catch up and live a western “developed” lifestyle is clearly incorrect. But now that the ecological truths have been revealed, the BAAU plans for sustainability still pretend that with greater efficiency, use of renewable energy, and new technologies billions more people could live a modified, “developed”, yet sustainable, lifestyle, all without changing the social underpinnings of patriarchy, class, racism, and capitalism.

Most people living a “developed” lifestyle have (so far) little interest in returning to a subsistence way of life. On the other hand, people living a subsistence way of life do not voluntarily choose development, but are forced out of subsistence when their land and ability to live are taken by the powers of globalized, capitalist patriarchy (See Ecofeminism by Mies and Shiva). These are not parallel situations. Development is not the all desirable good that people in the developed world have been indoctrinated into believing. People living in developed countries are so dependent on society, that the idea of living through direct exchange with the earth is frightening. We lack the knowledge and skills of our ancestors. Our dependence on globalized capitalist patriarchy is no accident. Most of us have ancestors who were once the peoples forced off our lands for the benefit of patriarchal powers. Think of the enclosure movement in England, the Appalachian farmers forced off the land by the coal companies, the genocide of Native Americans by Europeans taking over the U.S. Dependence on globalized capitalist patriarchy keeps us participating and supporting this undesirable social structure.

There must be a way to wash my clothes without a washing machine!

April 14, 2009

Sustainable or Business Almost As Usual? (I)

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy,Subsistence Living — Jeanne Neath @ 9:54 am
Part 1 of 3

3:45 AM and I am awake and worrying again. During daylight hours I travel between denial, keeping our home business going, contending with my mother’s needs (91 years old and a stroke last year), subsistence work, and other constructive activity. But at night I am often afraid.

Tonight we are having a soft spring rain on and off. The air outside is sweet and warm. A few minutes ago an animal screamed nearby, somewhere behind the house. The rat terriers and one cat were inside and now a second cat has crept in through the cat door, but the third cat is unaccounted for. Three years ago we lost our rat terrier, Taylor, to the coyotes. But, there are other predators about: the barred owls and bobcat, possibly a fox or black bear. Probably it is still too cold for the timber rattlers to be out at night.



That scream did put me on edge, but I am not losing sleep over the animal nightlife around me. I am living in the heartland of the USA and it is human activity that has me squirming. Here in the USA we are using up resources 4.5 times as fast as the earth can regenerate. We are stealing our daily life from the rest of humanity, especially in the “developing” world, and from the other species of earth. I don’t want to participate in this grand theft any more, but the task of changing my own way of life toward subsistence in the midst of a society set up for resource gobbling feels close to overwhelming. I am 57 years old and doing hard physical work like digging garden beds does not come easy, though I can still do the work. My biggest fear is of isolation. As a radical lesbian feminist, ecofeminist, and land dyke I am already far outside the social mainstream. How alone will I be as I cut back on trips to town, eating out occasionally, and talk and live more of a life of subsistence?

Talk of “sustainable living” has reached the mainstream, but most people in the U.S., including our leaders, environmentalists and ordinary citizens, believe that the needed changes are largely in technology and efficiency. The scenario goes something like this. We may have cars run on gasoline now, but soon we will have plug in hybrids or cars run only on electricity (though the electricity may still be largely generated by coal!) The switch to sustainability can be as easy as throwing out your incandescent light bulbs and screwing in compact fluorescent bulbs. These changes will be initiated largely by government and business. As consumers people will do their part by buying the new lower carbon, more efficient products as they become available and, hopefully, affordable. Our former president instructed the nation to shop to combat terrorism and it looks like we may be expected to shop our way out of global warming too. (Not that either strategy is sound.)

This Business Almost as Usual (BAAU) – just make it low carbon and environmentally friendly – vision of sustainability may be comforting to many people, but has come to seem Undesirable, Inadequate and Unlikely to me. The primary problem is that a change in technology will do nothing to remove the real basis of the problem: the patriarchal power structures and capitalist economies that ensure inequity among people and among nations, produce massive pollution as they promote overproduction and overconsumption, and fail to honor the earth and all her creatures.

The globalized capitalist patriarchy that has created worldwide inequity and a depleted planet requires inequity to function. As Maria Mies explained (in her book Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale) capitalist patriarchy cannot function without colonies to provide free or cheap resources and labor. For Mies, “colonies” includes “developing” countries (former colonies), women, and nature. Nature and subsistence economies are the essentials for human life and capitalist economies are like a parasite draining life from their host. For example, women typically bear children, socialize children, maintain home and family, all within the subsistence economy. These activities are essential to human life and to capitalist patriarchy (where would business be without the next generation of workers?), but are unrecognized and unpaid by capitalism. To satisfy its need for continual growth the capitalist economy constantly seeks new human and natural resources to appropriate. Therefore, as long as globalized, capitalist patriarchy continues it will produce poverty and ecological destruction.

Turning to subsistence living is not a cold turkey type of change for me. I’m slowly negotiating the change and can’t fully envision what my life may look like in five or ten years. Cutting back on carbon emissions seems primary because global warming poses such a huge threat. Our homestead uses an odd mix of beneficial and not so great energy practices. Electricity is all solar. We have just eight panels and live very carefully within our means. The house is also passive solar, with huge recycled south windows and is very toasty on sunny winter days. Our only other sources of heat are an energy efficient, low emission Harman Oakwood woodstove and secondarily, for zero degree nights, an antique wood cookstove. So we don’t use fossil fuels except for cooking. Our partially owner built house is small (800 square feet), but not very tightly sealed so one of our major focuses is sealing up the air leaks and figuring out how to keep the heat inside in the cold months. And I’m just not going to get into talking about rural life and automobile dependency right now, other than to say that there is no way eight solar panels will ever run an automobile!

April 12, 2009

Ragged Treasure from the Recycling Center

Filed under: Needle and Thread,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 8:40 am
Rescued Quilt: Golden Sunrise

Rescued Quilt: Golden Sunrise

Look at the ragged treasure of a quilt I found for two dollars. I could see the potential in the dirty, ragged quilt they were selling for dog bedding! Our recycling center here in Madison County, Arkansas gives me a chance to shop when I drop off my sorted items. It is a poor county, yet we have access to a large recycling center. A dedicated core of local citizens over a decade ago pushed local government to fund the Recycling and Transfer Center as it is called. Any reusable items donated to the recycling center are offered for sale in the adjacent resale shop. Books, clothes, flower pots, tools and more can be recycled to my house for a small fee.

As an avid quilter and amateur quilt historian I was excited by the graphic sunrise design on the tattered quilt made circa 1930. It had seen hard use as the batting was coming out of threadbare fabric in many places on the top and one edge was torn and tattered. But the biggest problem was how dirty it was. I could not begin my repair efforts until I had washed this quilt. And that would be a risk. It could disintegrate in the washing machine. I stabilized all the weak areas with multiple safety pins to minimize the affects of agitating the quilt in water. I used a commercial washing machine because those machines tumble the clothes.

Special Exhibit of Two Color Quilts

Special Exhibit of Two Color Quilts

My risk paid off. I now had a clean quilt to restore. I named the quilt Golden Sunrise. An Arkansas woman unknown to me had hand pieced and hand quilted the blocks and added triple sashing and border to create a bright and cheerful quilt for herself and her family. I decided the ragged border on one edge was beyond repair, so I cut that border off and sewed a new binding around the whole outer edge. It looked good except for the batting popping out in many spots.

I used the trick of applying a circle of fine beige tulle or net over the delicate spots and carefully stitching the tulle to strong sections of the quilt. Once this is done the repair is nearly invisible even up close. As you can see from a distance in the picture, the quilt looks intact. I believe I spent about one hundred hours recreating this beautiful piece of folk art. I added a label noting where I found the quilt and documenting my repairs because I had become a co-creator of this treasure.

Paula at the quilt show

Paula at the quilt show

Sharing My Vision

Last weekend my Golden Sunrise quilt was a centerpiece of the special exhibit I put together called “The Drama of Two Color Quilts.” Three different groups of school children visited my booth at our Quilt Guild’s biennial quilt show at the Springdale Holiday Inn Convention Center. I showed them the vintage coke bottle with a sprinkle top on it for sprinkling clothes before steam irons were invented. I used a sprinkler like this almost every day growing up in Miami, Florida in the 1950s. Many of their eyes widened at my story of our putting the rolled up, sprinkled clothes in the refeigerator if we had to leave off the ironing for awhile. Some seemed to believe that I was “pullling their leg”, but I explained that once damp we wanted to keep the clothes damp without going sour until we could accomplish the ironing. Then I showed them the heavy iron that I currently use by heating it on top of my wood stove. I explained that our only source of power was the solar energy form solar panels on our roof, so we were very careful about any electricity we used each day. This was how I iron my quilt projects all winter. I pointed out that I was using energy that would have gone unused. I commented that irons and refrigerators are some of the largest energy hogs in our households. One boy spoke up and said that some things like a TV even use energy when not turned on. Obviously someone in his life is talking about energy use in a positive way.

When I pointed out the gold quilt on display and described the ragged and dirty quilt sold as dog bedding for two dollars I had their attention. This was a “rags to riches story” to capture their imagination. In fact, the next day at the show one of the teachers told me that she had asked the students to write about their experience at the quilt show. One girl had carefully listened to each detail about the quilt discovery and the restoration because she described it all in detail in her paper.

As a school girl, I had a strong reaction to learning about all the tons of rich topsoil lost to erosion because of not plowing fields following the contour of the land. I remember being concerned about the loss of soil and then the harm all the soil caused in the waterways. My young adult career did not reflect that concern, but it was planted deep in my consciousness! When Jeanne and I began to build our homestead in 1987, we knew we wanted our raised beds to follow the contours of the mountainside. Perhaps my story of seeing treasures in ragged quilts and of living off the grid will remain an influence about possibilities with some of those young people.

Photo credits:Each of these photos was taken by Judy VanderHam at the April, 2009 show sponsored by the Northwest Arkansas Quilt Guild. We thank Judy for her generous assistance!

March 27, 2009

Is Poisoned Wood Green in Your Eyes?

Filed under: Homestead building,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 10:15 am
Cedar Gate, 5ft wide,4 ft high

Cedar Gate, 5 ft wide,4 ft high

Have you seen the John Wayne-type character with the huge cowboy hat on the billboards that scream, “Go Green, Buy Yaller”? I was outraged by the boldface lie I saw again and again as I drove around town. Jeanne tells me this same ad is all over television too! Treated lumber is treated with poisons to keep insects and the elements at bay for awhile. Do they think we are stupid? True, the treated-and-poisoned lumber carries a slightly yellow cast, but the declaration that it is “green” can only be considered crass commercialism. Any spot on earth that produces this poisoned wood becomes a hazardous wasteland. The workers that produce the chemicals and the workers who treat the lumber with these toxic chemicals are exposed to serious health hazards.

When a consumer buys this poisoned product we are cautioned to handle the wood with gloves on our hands, to use a mask when sawing the wood and not to burn any scraps. I know a carpenter who regularly ignores this warning and burns the scraps at group bonfires endangering anyone nearby breathing air. And what happens to the infants or pets who crawl all over a deck made from this toxic lumber?

Path to the gate

Path to the gate

Extending the life of any wood we must use is a priority for anyone trying to be environmentally conscious. We have used cedar and local oak with positive results. We used rough sawn local oak for the siding and the stairs on our house. After twenty-two years the inch-thick siding is intact because we have a generous roof overhang which keeps much of the rain off the siding. After twenty-two years of hard use in this moist climate, we did have to replace the oak boards in the steps. “Treated” lumber may or may not last twenty years.

Cypress Chair with lichens

Cypress Chair with lichens

Both cedar and cypress are resistant to the damage from moisture. Pine is not and will rot in less than five years. In 1993 I purchased a Adirondack style chair made from cypress. It served us well for two decades living outside year round. The seat has decayed, but the arched back is intact and I plan to recycle the back into a plant trellis. Last summer we finished fencing a large area behind our house to help protect our rat terriers from roaming predators. We chose cedar boards for the gate and employed a talented woman carpenter to craft the beautiful gate pictured here. As we helped to set the cedar posts, we learned from her that a gate needs to be sturdy because it defies gravity twenty-four hours a day.

Only the constant exercise of our critical thinking skills will counteract the misuse or out right lies attached to labeling a practice or product “green”. “Big Daddy” profiteers will try to lure us to their products and lull our sense of outrage at the audacity of their claims. Mary Daly, radical and wicked thinker, warned us about patriarchal reversals of the truth. In this case, the industry that creates poisoned wood declares their product to be environmentally desirable.

At times, even committed environmentalists will disagree about the benefits and tradeoffs they consider advantageous to the health of the environment. “Best use practices” involve judgement calls–we all need to be referees guarding the health of the earth and the living creatures she supports. “Green” has become a advertising “buzzword” worthy of a buzzard’s contempt. (For the uninitiated, buzzards can reguritate at will when alarmed.) At least the buzzards are doing an environmentally helpful chore of recycling carrion. At times outrage is the appropriate response to outrageous claims for “green” products.

Photo credits: Cedar gate on the east side of the house was photographed by Paula in late 2008

March 21, 2009

Everyday Surprises

Filed under: Homestead building,Homestead cooking,Patriarchy,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 12:23 pm
Vintage Superior range

Vintage Superior range with warming oven and water reservoir

A change of plans took me to Fayetteville yesterday. When in town I usually check at one or more thrift stores. Actually, I confess, for the last thirty years thrift stores have been a favorite haunt in my hunt for items of interest. Yesterday I found something I have been looking for since we got the wood range you see on the right!

We found our Superior range in Paxico, Kansas at Mill Creek Antiques as pictured here in the fall of 1987. The brick red color of the porcelain finish was in good condition. I was thrilled about the ample space of the warming oven and the availability of hot water provided by the water reservoir located on the right side. The chrome finish of the towel bar and trim had seen hard use over the decades. (Our research later informed us of the highly toxic nature of redoing the chrome so we chose to leave it as is.) Visit Mill Creek Antiques online and to see more wood cookstoves: (

Jeanne and I opened doors and explored the three draft controls. We discovered the necessities including the ash carrier, grate bolt crank, and the lid lifter. On the back of the range we discovered this beautiful and useful antique cookstove had been manufactured in St. Louis, MO by Bridge, Beach and Co.

We traded for the range and soon bought the book, Woodstove Cookery: At Home on the Range, by Jane Cooper. This author and cook described a useful tool called a soot scraper as a “rectangular blade about one by three inches long which is attached to a long metal rod” used to “root around in the air passage surrounding the oven and pull out the soot and ashes.” We needed one, but until yesterday I had only seen the drawing in her book.

Yesterday I knew it when I saw it standing on the floor at the thrift store with the long handle towering over the blade. I snatched it up. Probably no one else in the store would know what it was or even want it. My soot scraper or stove rake cost two dollars.

This morning I tried the stove rake on our new Harman woodstove and it worked perfectly for cleaning out the ashes that collect around the ash pan. You can see the the clean out opening on the Superior range located below the oven door; it measures six inches long and two inches high; the blade on the tool I found measured four inches by two inches. My new tool worked like it was made for this range! As directed, I rooted around and raked the soot out on to newspapers. As I rooted and raked I disturbed a moveable object on the bottom of the chamber. What I discovered hidden there was a broken saucer of fine china.

Gold script letters on the back read “Theodore Haviland, Limoges, France, Patent Applied for”. I scrubbed the soot off and admired the elegant gold painted on the saucer edge and held it to the light to see the outline of my fingers through the delicate porcelain. My own mother had owned Haviland china we used for special occasions.

How and why did this damaged, but still treasured, piece of china come to be in the clean out chamber of this cookstove? How old was the china? We had guessed the age of our Superior range to be the first quarter of the 20th century. An online search revealed that Theodore Haviland took over from his father about 1890. The “Patent Applied for” would seem to indicate an early date also.

Limoges plate

Who hid this gold-edged Haviland china plate in the antique wood range and why?

Limoges saucer

Theodore Haviland, Made in Limoges, France in the early 1900s

Curiosity about the possibilities sent me to learn more about the china maker. But nothing will likely satisfy my curiosity about the person who placed this unusual find in the clean out chamber of my range. My imagination carries me along. This memento pleases me. Simple surprises in the garden are expected pleasures in spring. Unforseen treasures do show up in thrift shops. Now I am reminded of unexpected treasures that exist in everyday chores like cleaning out ashes.

Photo credits: Paula photographed the Superior range when we first saw it in 1987 at Mill Creek Antiques in Paxico, KS.

March 12, 2009

A Thousand Stitches

Filed under: Needle and Thread,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 9:50 am

In my arms is an antique indigo blue and tan woven coverlet. I imagine a possible history because it has no spoken history. Sally, a dear quilter friend, moved from northwest Arkansas to Washington state several years ago and gave me this ancient blue and tan coverlet. I had never touched a woven coverlet before. This treasure smelled musty. It is in poor condition and has lost its provenance. But there are clues in the warp and weft to help me recreate the history!

I have finally aired it out enough to be able to work on it.

But, why would someone want to work on this tattered textile? It has huge holes and the sections sewing the 36 inch widths together have pulled apart and unraveled in many places. It is big: 72 inches by 86 inches, and it is heavy.

Woven into the bottom left corner is the information. “Property of L.S. Orleans County.” The next line of letters is missing most of the parts of the letters due to unraveling. My atlas tells me there is an Orleans County in New York state just west of the Finger Lakes region where my father grew up.

The warp seems to be a tan linen and the weft is a dark indigo wool. Since it was reversible, I had to choose which side to use as the right side. I chose the side where the indigo color is the predominate color. I am stabilizing the large holes using cotton thread and a appropriate color cotton fabric behind the holes. I have already used a thousand stitches, I am sure, in the eight hours I have spent starting the repair. The repairs look good. None are glaringly visible. My goal is to stabilize this fragile textile (or someone is going to throw it out someday).

I appreciate each of the unknown women who did not thow it out in the last 159 years. None are my biological ancestors, yet I have a lot in common with those women. I value the textile and the woman who used her life energy to create it. I believe a woman used her home loom to weave this coverlet about 1850. The intricate design of eagles, stars and wreaths would probably have taken years to create!

I hope to have it repaired by the end of the month to be included in the special exhibit (The Drama of Two-Color Quilts) I am doing for our guild’s biennial quilt show. I am speculating that two-color coverlets were one part of the inspiration women had for creating two-color quilts. Doing something to repair the ragged edges of the coverlet is the next challenge.

I have found the web site for the National Museum for the American Coverlet, but if you have other recommendations to me about learning more about coverlets I would appreciate it.

Why spend my life energy doing this repair? My needle is a magic tool humans have used for thousands of years. My sterling thimble was used by another woman before me. The work is tactile and direct. I can visualize the whole and I can use my needle and thread–simple tools– to make it happen. It is everyday honest magic.

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