Thursday, February 21, 2013

How I Got Here, part 5: Planning for Decline

You can find the previous posts in this series here, here, here, and here.

Moving from a small house on 1/8 acre to a small house on 1 acre provided many advantages. The much larger lot would allow me to raise both a larger proportion and a greater variety of the foods we eat. A small flower garden near the house included several peonies, a favorite flower of mine, and a magnolia tree graced the front yard. The property was located in the loess hills created by glacial processes so I knew it had deep and decent soil, and it sloped slightly to the south and east for a good solar aspect. The house was located close to the street and faced south, suggesting a potential for some passive solar heating. Mike and I had invited his parents to join us when we toured the property with the owner before negotiations began; we knew his father would be sure to tell us about any structural flaws the house might have. While the house did not show well due to worn out carpeting and linoleum, peeling plaster and paint, old fixtures and finishes in both kitchen and bathroom, and evidence of mold in the basement and the two back bedrooms, none of us could find any serious structural flaws. The cosmetic issues meant we could get the house for a price we could (barely) afford. Both the refrigerator and clothes washer were 1960s vintage, thus well past their expected life span, so we could replace them with far more energy efficient versions. The stove and oven unit and the clothes dryer were relatively new so we would neither need to replace them nor would gain an energy efficiency advantage in doing so. The previous owner told us the furnace and central AC dated from the late 1970s, so replacing them with much more energy efficient versions also made sense. We could replace all of the elderly appliances from what remained of a small inheritance I’d received a few years previously. The only work we needed to do before moving in, in addition to replacing the appliances, was to remove the carpeting and linoleum layers to expose the wood floor we expected to lay beneath them and hire out the floor refinishing work. We encountered a few surprises while removing the old flooring: some of the rooms had two layers of linoleum, others had a layer of carpet on top of linoleum, and some of the flooring had been installed using ring shank nails, making for slow progress in removal and plenty of cuss words uttered during the process. Once we got down to the wood floor, we found it was pine rather than oak and in the living room it had been stained darker than the rest of the flooring but along the edges only. We learned this pattern of staining was common to houses built around the same time as ours (1928). Typically a large rug covered most of the floor area in the living room so only the edges of floor that the rug didn’t cover were stained to whatever color the owner wanted. Oddly, when the floor was refinished the stained area ended up lighter in color than the rest of the floor!

By the end of April of 2002 we moved into the current house and sold the previous house. I dug up a few of the plantings from the old lot -- most of the herbs, some native plants and daylilies, and a few of the smallest trees and shrubs -- and brought them to the new lot, planting them into the front and side yards to keep them alive until I knew where they would find a more-permanent home. After the stress of the move I wasn’t up to more gardening that year, and just as well because I wanted to take the time to produce a good design.

I’d been studying permaculture design on my own for the past few years and now I wanted to use the permaculture design process to create a design for our yard. I had the first edition of Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture in hand as well as various issues of the quarterly magazine The Permaculture Activist (PCA). Hemenway’s book was the first book to focus on applying permaculture design in North America. It laid out a design process I felt I could follow without taking a permaculture design course that I didn’t have the money to take, so it became the main source I consulted in developing my design.

Part of the design process was to observe patterns of sunshine, wind, soil, and water flow for some time in order to best work with those crucial energies. The usual recommendation is to observe for a full year before beginning the design process. I didn’t wait that long to develop my design since I wanted to get the trees and shrubs I’d brought over, and others I purchased that spring, into their final locations by the end of autumn, but I did observe the energies from spring through mid-fall while I worked through the design process Hemenway described. When I was finished with the design, I’d laid out the bones for an edible forest garden for the front, side, and near back yards; a large sunny vegetable garden area occupying the middle back yard; and in back of the vegetable garden, on the highest, flattest, and most northerly part of the property farthest from the house, a prairielike area where the previous owner’s vegetable garden had been that will eventually be shaded out by large oak, pecan, hickory, chestnut, black walnut, and wild cherry trees, evocative of the oak-hickory savanna or woodland that was probably here before European immigrants turned it into an apple orchard and then a near suburb of St. Louis.

The next couple of years I concentrated on planting the tree and shrub layers and on getting the first few vegetable beds dug and planted. I did not design the herbaceous layer of the edible forest garden since I wasn’t sure what I wanted there and didn’t have the money for large-scale herbaceous plantings in any event. Instead I observed how what was there changed as the trees and shrubs grew. When I saw the lawn grass slowly weakening and violets, a favorite spring wildflower whose flowers are edible, taking over as shade increased, I was quite pleased (I’m not a big fan of lawns) and decided I could continue to wait to design the herbaceous layer while I concentrated on expanding the vegetable garden to the point where it provided us with the majority of the vegetables we eat. That basic design, with tweaks introduced as some plantings died and others proved disappointing, remains in place today and has proven to be well suited to the site energies and to our goals.

After the older appliances were replaced, we didn’t do any further work on the inside of the house. I wasn’t sure what to do about the mold problem and didn’t want to paint the walls till the mold problem was corrected. We knew the house needed to be sealed and insulated to further reduce energy usage and cold drafts but we didn’t feel up to doing the work ourselves, plus we were no longer saving money and did not want to reduce our interest income any further by using any of our investments to pay someone to do the sealing and insulation for us. For the same two reasons, we did not do anything further to enclose the south-facing front porch to turn it into a sun porch and solar heat source. While we didn’t give up on any of these projects, they would have to wait until we had the financial means to hire them out.

Until 2004 I hadn’t heard of the growing concern about peak oil (the time when oil production stops increasing from year to year because consumption has grown to the point where production can only keep up). I had kept track of our energy usage for the past 10 years, and we worked to reduce energy usage, for other reasons: because it cost money that we could better spend on things and activities we found more fulfilling; because we knew that fossil fuel consumption released carbon dioxide and that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threatened to push climatic processes into a different state that would probably lead to hotter and drier summers for us; and because we were attempting to live up to our practice of voluntary simplicity, of using less of everything so there would be more to go around.  It was reading Richard Heinberg’s book The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies that woke me up to the imminence of the peak of petroleum production and the difficulties we’d all face as we hit and passed its peak. A review of the book in the winter 2003-2004 issue of PCA inspired me to read it. It is one of only a handful of books I have stayed up almost all night to read. As a chemist I was already well aware of the ubiquity of oil as feedstock: after oil is broken down into a variety of components, those components are then combined into many essential materials such as textiles, plastic and thermoset polymers, medicines, pesticides, cleaning products, and many others. I also knew that agriculture relied heavily on oil in the form of diesel fuel and that natural gas contributes the hydrogen to form ammonia via the Haber-Bosch process; the ammonia gas thus formed is the fertilizer of choice for the huge farms of the Midwest in which I live. With all of this background, the information I gained about peak oil and natural gas from Heinberg's book, and knowing that the end of energy growth is also the end of economic growth, I immediately understood the seriousness of peak oil and peak natural gas. It was time for us to get serious about further energy use reduction.

Some internet research through the Energy Star website led me to a concept called home performance. Home performance assesses potential problems with moisture levels and other air quality issues, leaky ductwork and other sources of air leaks into a house, missing or inadequate insulation, improperly sized HVAC equipment, and related issues by doing home energy audits and providing the owners with a detailed report and suggested improvements. In some cases the companies can also do the work needed to fix the problems. Mike had recently received a small inheritance and was willing to use his inheritance to pay to have this work done on our house if I found a contractor. In 2005 I found a contractor who could do the audit for us and who could do some of the work the audit indicated should be done and subcontract the rest. Once all the work was completed, a drainage system and sump pump had been installed to keep the basement dry; the crawlspace under the two back bedrooms had been sealed; the ductwork had been cleaned and sealed; other air leaks into the house had been sealed; the basement ceiling, attic floor, and walls had been insulated (the attic to R-44 and the rest to the extent the cavities allowed); the moldy wallboard in the back two bedrooms had been removed and new wallboard put up; and the leaking electric water heater had been replaced with a natural gas water heater. Testing after the work was completed revealed that the rate of air infiltration into the house had been reduced by 41%, our contractor told us. My records indicate that electricity usage went from 5237 Kwh in 2004 to 3103 Kwh in 2006, a 41% decrease, while natural gas usage went from 477 to 338 Therms, a 29% decrease, in the same time period. It had been work well worth doing.

For the next few years our main efforts focused on the nonprofit organizations we were members of and in two cases on the boards of, and on continued expansion of the vegetable garden as I waited for the fruit trees to mature enough to bear fruit. While I slowly got better at vegetable growing, the lack of further progress in energy reduction and continued excessive driving to execute our various responsibilities to the organizations we belonged to were a source of some frustration to me. The frustration grew as we added another Stream Team to our list of organizations. In early 2009 we and three other people began what the Missouri Stream Team program calls a Cooperative Stream Investigation (CSI) project in our home watershed to better understand the amount and distribution of E. coli and chloride pollution in Watkins Creek and its tributaries. This entailed monthly visits from April through October to six different sites to collect water samples for E. coli analysis and to do the other chemical tests that we’d been trained to do ourselves; then we had to drive the samples across the county to the laboratory that could do the E. coli analysis because the lab had to begin that analysis within six hours of when we obtained the first sample. By this time Mike’s father had died and Mike picked up the additional responsibility of visiting his mother, who lives about six miles away, twice a week and driving her on her errands since she’d never learned to drive. Our gasoline consumption had jumped and we knew we were being pulled in too many different directions, but it took awhile until the stress built up sufficiently to jolt us into action.

Another PCA book review led me to Sharon Astyk’s first book, Depletion and Abundance, in 2008, but it wasn’t until we upgraded our computer to a slightly less obsolete model that could handle Mac OS X that I could read her blog. Reading her book and blog got me interested in trying to achieve the 90% reduction in average U.S. usage that was the goal of her Riot for Austerity project, discussed in that book. For us that meant reducing monthly electrical use from about 233 Kwh to 90 Kwh and reducing yearly natural gas usage from about 377 Therms to about 100 Therms. And those were the easier targets ... we were so far above the Riot gasoline target of 50 gallons per person per year it wasn’t funny. I didn’t see how we could reduce our usage any farther in any of these categories. Meanwhile, now that the vegetable garden was over 1000 square feet in size I found I didn’t have enough time to properly care for it and still execute my responsibilities toward the groups I was involved with and the two bands we now played in. Once the work started on our Zen center’s major fundraiser in the summer of 2009, a fundraiser for which I had taken on the overall organizational responsibility for the past several years, I knew something had to change; I was stressed out to the point of it affecting my health. I’d enrolled in Astyk’s online Adapting in Place course during that time, hoping that I’d learn something to help us further reduce energy use. But instead I learned that our first goal had to be prioritizing our responsibilities. Until we did that, no further progress in energy reduction or reducing the complexity of our lives would be possible. Over the next two months we dropped out of the food co-op we had belonged to for 14 years (it was too far away and took up too much of Mike’s time) and the Dances of Universal Peace band. In 2010 I dropped the farther away Stream Team in order to concentrate on the CSI project on our home stream, a project which continued through last October. In early 2012 I resigned from our Zen center’s board and we reduced our attendance there from once a week to once a month. With these changes our lives came into better balance.

It was through Astyk’s blog that I learned of John Michael Greer’s Archdruid Report blog and his book The Long Descent. Mulling over what I learned from Astyk and Greer, I realized that in the long run we’d do better to cash out some of our investments so we could hire out the work to glass-in the south facing front porch. We’re quite pleased with our sun porch, completed in December 2010. Even though the large pin oak trees in our neighbors’ yards to the south and west shade our sun porch too much in the afternoon, reducing the solar heat gain, it still gives us a place warm enough to overwinter subtropical plants such as citrus trees and rosemary as well as a warm spot to enjoy a cup of tea on a sunny winter day.

Astyk’s and Greer’s examples kind of shamed me into lowering the thermostat to 60F most of the time in the winter. I dislike feeling cold more than I dislike feeling hot, and I have difficulties with circulation in my feet and hands during heating season, but taking Astyk’s online course (now available in book form as Making Home) helped me figure out how to dress to manage in a 60F house. I still don’t like it but I can tolerate it, at least on most days. Having the sun porch warm up to near 70F on a cold sunny day in December and January really helps ... and opening the windows and door between it and the house can raise the temperature in the living room by 2F as well. When the sun is stronger in fall and again in late winter and early spring the porch warms up the house even more. With the addition of the sun porch and lowering the thermostat our electricity usage dropped to 2384 Kwh and our natural gas usage to 201 Therms in 2012. We’ll need to install a wood stove to achieve further reductions, something we hope to have done sometime this year or next.

It has been from Astyk and especially from Greer that I’ve come to fully appreciate the extent to which we not only live in a (declining) empire, but how much I myself have benefited from living in that empire. The five parts of this series have been inspired by this realization. While I have not benefited as much as some people, I still have to own up to my own part in keeping empire going and living off its spoils. At the same time, as I hope this series also shows, I have been slowly owning up to my responsibilities to reduce energy and material consumption, and we plan to continue doing so.

The story isn’t ending although I have caught it up to the present. With winter coming to the slow and sputtering end typical of the Midwest, another gardening season is beginning. I plan to share more of our daily lives here at Living Low Acre, more of our efforts to use less energy and materials, and also more about the slow evolution of the permaculture design and the fruits (and veggies, and mushrooms) of our gardening efforts. In the meantime, I have a lovely mix of snow, sleet, and freezing rain to shovel off the driveway tomorrow morning. Gentlepeople, grab your shovels!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How I Got Here, part 4: Making Changes

This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I describe my journey from a more or less standard issue middle-class life to the lower energy, lower spending life that is the subject of this blog. Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 if you missed them. I pick up the story after I quit paid employment as a chemist in 1992.

After resigning, I had more freedom than I had had since I was a teenager. True, I continued to do the minimal housework I’d always done, but with no paid employment, no school, and no volunteer activities, I had time to read, to garden, to play music, and to think. At first I felt guilty about having so much time to myself. Mike encouraged me to slow down and enjoy the time, to not rush into something unsuitable out of perceived discomfort with being “idle.”  I was glad to have his support and he was glad that I relaxed and slowed down to closer to his pace.

One of the first things I did was to take a workshop on the process of designing an ideal job and finding a real job that was a close-enough match. I’d participated in a similar process while I was still employed. While both processes provided insights, I couldn’t see how to turn what I learned into a paid position without further schooling. After nine years of post high school education, the last thing I wanted to do was to park my behind in classrooms for however many more years that it would take to get another degree in a different field.

If the time needed for retraining hadn’t been sufficient as a demotivating force, the money needed for it would have been. Mike was making close to median income for the time, we had a cheap house with a small mortgage, utility costs were low because the house was small, and our cars were paid for. All evidence suggested we should have no difficulty living within his income. Nevertheless, within several months we’d gone through most of the savings we’d put aside toward what was supposed to be a temporary period of unemployment on my part. Any retraining I might pursue would require us to go into debt, something we refused to do.

I found home accounting software that would work on our aging Macintosh SE computer and began to track expenses in an attempt to figure out what expenses we could cut in order to live within Mike’s income. But that wasn’t the main focus of my efforts during the first couple of years after quitting paid employment.

Instead, I started to spend much more time outside, caring for a tiny prairie garden I’d started from seed and some perennial plantings as well as a container garden consisting of a few herb plants and a tomato vine. After we’d had the property landscaped, I’d planted the flowers and the bit of prairie, and I took over lawn-mowing from Mike. Mike didn’t mind the flowers, but he’d grumbled about the lack of anything that he could eat in the garden. I hadn’t planted any food plants because I had an idea that I would not be successful at growing them. But now I decided to try growing a food plant or two in containers; if they failed, we wouldn’t be out much, and succeeding would make Mike happy. The tomato plant was for Mike as I didn’t care for fresh tomatoes at the time but he loved them. The herb plants were for me. I’d begun to learn a bit about herbs and wanted to plant a small herb garden; growing a couple of herbs in pots seemed like a good way to start. The first time I snipped herb stems and hung them up to dry, I felt a sense of satisfaction that seemed much larger than warranted by the amount of leaves obtained. I could grow something useful to us after all! Even though the torrential rains of that summer rotted some of the tomatoes (the Flood of 1993 was historic in the St. Louis region) and squirrels took most of the rest, I felt the same sense of satisfaction with the few that I picked. I decided that in 1994 I’d dig and plant a vegetable garden in the side yard, a small rectangle of land that got more sun than what level ground remained in the back yard.

Accounting for what we spent didn’t bring the hoped-for reduction in expenditures, but it did make it even clearer that we didn’t have too many months to go before we’d have to tap into our retirement accounts if our spending kept up at its current rate. Meanwhile, the reading, learning, and thinking that I was engaged in pointed clearly to a like overspending of nature’s accounts. In the mid 1990s, the concept of sustainability, meaning a way of life that could be maintained on nature’s resources for many generations, was surfacing into discussion. I caught wind of it from a local radio show, went to the reference area of the county library’s main branch to find out more, and learned of a periodical called In Context. I subscribed and in one of the first issues I received I read an interview with Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez on their recently published book Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL). What I learned intrigued me enough to check out the book. And once I read the book, I was a woman on a mission.

From the book I learned that we trade the finite hours of our lives for a paycheck, so that anytime we spend money, we pay for what we bought with the time we worked to earn the money for it. When we reduce spending we reduce the hours we need to trade for money and increase the hours available for the other activities of life. By figuring out exactly how much money Mike received for an hour of work, keeping track of expenses, re-calculating each expense in terms of the hours worked to obtain it, and then asking if the hours spent were either or both of satisfying and in line with our values, we could learn where spending reductions would have the most effect with the least pain or even an overall gain. As we reduced expenditures, we would free up money to pay off debts, then to save, and eventually to invest at interest. The final step in the process could be receiving sufficient income from interest to be able to leave paid employment before reaching official retirement age. As I read, I realized that since Mike and I already had considerable savings and only had a small mortgage debt, applying the steps could lead not only to my staying out of work but to making a dream of Mike’s, retirement before age 50, come true.

If you’ve read the previous post in this series, you may be wondering why I would be so excited about investing at interest. After all, since payment of interest and eventual repayment of capital require economic growth, and economic growth cannot continue over the long term on a finite planet, then in that long term investing at interest is as unsustainable as profit growth is. Dominguez and Robin raise the same point on page 325 of the first edition of the book under the heading “Yes, but what if everybody did it?” They then evaded their own question by posing a number of scenarios, all positive, that they claimed would be the outcome of more people following their program. (The current edition of the book, with Monique Tilford as coauthor and published in 2008, does not include this discussion.) Their evasion does not negate the validity of the question because enough people reducing their expenses enough would reduce economic growth enough to make the continued repayment of principal and interest impossible. I ignored that issue, however, so I could turn my attention to implementing the steps in the book. Since we’d already been tracking and categorizing expenses it was easy to add the other steps. At first Mike went along with the added steps grudgingly, as a favor to me. I’d tried explaining to him that I’d learned how we could retire him early, but I couldn’t get it across to him in a way he understood. A few months later I convinced him to read the book. As soon as he did he understood why I was so excited and became as dedicated to the program as I was. With both of us on board, we made fast progress in dropping expenses under his income. Over the next several years we paid off the mortgage debt on our house, began investing the savings we now had from Mike’s wages into interest bearing investments, and gradually cashed out the earlier investments we’d made, taking the tax penalties that applied, in order to re-invest the proceeds as the first edition of the book described. By the late 1990s we looked at our chart of income and expenses and projected it to a crossover point in 2001, when we could, just barely, live off the income from our investments. We decided that Mike would retire early that year once he passed his 10th anniversary with his employer.

Meanwhile, asking the questions each month about whether or not a particular expense category was fulfilling and in line with our values led to consideration of what our values were and then into a greater effort to live by them, pulling me back into volunteer work. Because I found the YMOYL program so valuable to us, I wanted to share it with other people who were ready to hear its message. Dominguez and Robin were offering materials for talks on YMOYL through a speakers bureau organized by their New Road Map Foundation, in order to further publicize the program. Since I like public speaking and the foundation would forward inquiries for speakers to me, I joined the speakers bureau, received the talk materials, and gave a few talks as inquiries trickled my way. As I became more engaged with the concept of sustainability, I started to pay attention to local efforts along those lines as well. In 1995 a nonprofit organization formed to advance sustainability within the greater St. Louis region. I heard about it within its first few months, joined it, and found I could publicize YMOYL through it. That led to more invitations to speak. In addition, I and two other volunteers formed a project within the nonprofit to offer group study courses within the St. Louis region. These courses, developed by a different nonprofit and organized around concepts such as voluntary simplicity, deep ecology, and sustainable living, offered people a chance to read about and then discuss various aspects of each topic with other people who were also interested in it. The group support helped people make changes in their own lives. Co-founding this project was a way for me to advance sustainability from the bottom up, as the more top-down work the St. Louis based organization was attempting to do was, not surprisingly, running into various obstacles.

As my economic literacy slowly grew and especially as I learned more about debt-based capital creation, I realized that our pensions and Social Security were as vulnerable to the effects of a slowdown in economic growth as the interest income gained from applying YMOYL to our finances. From studying sustainability, I knew that that slowdown in growth would likely hit while I was still alive to suffer from it. YMOYL was good as far as it went, but we needed to be prepared for a time when the collective financial hallucination wore off. I needed to learn some practical skills that would help keep us going should our income drop drastically below what our investments, pensions, and Social Security indicated we should expect in our old age. In addition, the more we put ourselves out as examples for living sustainably, the more we needed to do to live up to our example. So we started making a serious effort to reduce the amount of electricity, natural gas, and water we consumed in our household and the amount of trash we put out for collection as well as further reduce our consumption of material goods. Our efforts to conserve energy were made more difficult by the brick-on-clay-tile walls of our house that did not admit of a way to insulate short of building new walls and by the 1950s era leaky building shell. I did not feel up to the job of properly sealing the house and did not think it fair to ask Mike to do it since he had to work for pay. The less-efficient appliances we’d bought during the 1991 remodeling were too new to replace. While we did replace the furnace with a 92% efficient model and we made some simple changes to reduce our energy and water consumption, we were frustrated by the compromises we had to make. If nothing else, however, I learned enough to sympathize with similar difficulties other people faced in their efforts to live more sustainably.

Through the 1990s I expanded my gardening as far as the 1/8 acre lot would allow. I enjoyed the activity and I thought it was the best candidate for a useful skill to acquire, yet I was also frustrated because the yard was so tiny, strongly sloped, and shaded that I had little space to raise food. As I practiced gardening I explored various ways to grow a lot in a small space, such as square foot gardening and Ecology Action’s method, including taking a three day workshop offered in Fairfield, Iowa by Ecology Action in 1999. The more I learned, the more I wanted to do, and the more obvious it became that finding a small house on a larger lot would be required for me to make more than a tiny contribution to the food we ate. We started reading real estate ads and Mike made inquiries on a couple of houses he saw for sale while at work (he worked as a meter reader and thus saw a wide range of houses across the metro area). It soon became clear that it would be difficult to find a good-sized property with a small old house at a cost which would not lower our interest income too much to be unaffordable once Mike retired as planned. Besides that, neither of us looked forward to the work of moving. Instead I began to explore the possibilities of permaculture design to try to squeeze more food out of the shadier areas of our lot.

We wanted to reduce the amount of gasoline we used to reduce our contribution to urban sprawl and pollution. However, because I was giving talks and starting study groups and attending organizational meetings and we had started practicing Zen, and since the St. Louis region is sprawled out and we lived miles away from the areas where all of these events took place, we drove a lot. It bothered me since I well remembered the oil crises of the 1970s and knew that the trends were pointing toward a similar crisis in the not too distant future. I gradually started to pull away from the top-down projects in the organization I volunteered for in an attempt to reduce meeting attendance, but it was harder to give up the study circles since I had helped to bring that project into existence.

2001 brought major changes for us. First, Mike retired in February, making his dream, and mine for him, come true. Almost immediately he joined a small band putting on the Dances of Universal Peace once a month. I attended as a dancer and found them enjoyable enough to join the band myself later on. Around the same time as Mike retired, the project to offer group study courses ended after we received pressure from the organization that had developed them to expand the number of courses given more rapidly than we felt was sustainable. While I understood the sense of urgency expressed by that organization to spread the concepts widely, the conflict that resulted from driving to offer courses that counseled not driving bothered me enough that I could not continue the work. Not long after that I also resigned from the local nonprofit and became a member of a Missouri Stream Team which started working on a short stretch of one of the local streams. And by the end of the year, Mike and I bought a small house on an acre of land a few miles away so that I could put my gardening dreams into practice. Mike had seen the house and met the owner when he read her meter a year or two earlier. She told him that although she loved the house and yard, her children wanted her to move near them and she realized she’d need to do so within the next few years. Mike wrote his name and home phone on a card which he gave to her and told her to call him when she was ready to move because he’d like to buy her house. In September of 2001 she called; by December 31st the house was ours. With that purchase we had more opportunities to respond to the challenges of our energetic, economic, and environmental predicament. I’ll bring the story to the present in the next and last installment, which I plan to post within the next couple of weeks.