Old ways/new ways

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Dear friends,

A few days ago I started an extended visualization and brainstorming journey that seems to be producing about one "chapter" a day of a storytelling set in February 2001, whose summary is, "Here's what happened to us and our neighborhood when the world crashed". So I'm starting this thread to add the segments as they are produced.

(c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

February 16, 2001

It is a cold winter morning in Kansas City. The household rises with the morning light. Everybody climbs out from under layers of blankets and quilts, already dressed warmly (flannel shirts and sweats). Pants and shoes are pulled on. The curtains are opened to let light and a bit of warmth in.

Breakfast comes out of a hot-pot packed the night before. A small propane stove converted to run on methane gas was used to bring breakfast to a boil, then it was packed in a box lined with grass and straw harvested during the summer, and aluminum foil conserved from the days of mass manufacturing. It's a tasty breakfast -- oats and raisins and dried apples, all grown and harvested in the summer. The oats were traded from a farmer, apples and riaisins came from the back yard. Slices of home baked bread are brushed with butter and toasted on a cast iron skillet on the cast iron stove. Yesterday they had biscuits and gravy, with the biscuits baked in a stove-pipe oven on the wood stove.

After breakfast, Tammie starts the day's batch of bread dough, and Bob, Sean, Shawn, and Nick go to work in the greenhouse. The greenhouse began as an improvised plastic cover on the back deck, and through the summer "grew" until it took over the entire back of the top floor of the house. Sunlight comes in through windows salvaged from ruined houses (it has a pleasant home-made look about it, several different sizes and kinds of windows put together). Nobody in the house had ever built a greenhouse before, but hunger is a very good teacher, and it is really amazing how fast you can learn stuff when the pressure is on. There were times in the past few months that the learning curve seemed almost miraculous.

Basically, we tore the roof, siding, and inside sheetrock off the room on the back on the top floor, leaving only the floor and the frame for the walls and the roof. We basically nailed window frames over the inside and outside of the frames. Some of the windows we put in we fixed so they would open or shut, to allow for cooling and escape for humidity. It looks a bit on the amateur side, but it makes for an extremely sunny place. Putting it together was labor intensive, but labor and time we had.

The green house is currently growing salad crops, plus starts for the early spring garden (onions, carrots, and tomatoes, mostly), plus herbs and a couple of specialty items, like the little cinnamon tree and the miniature orange tree that yielded these little very tart oranges. Bob had seen them advertised in the back of a Sunday supplement in the newspaper, and ordered two just for kicks. The starts are in trays, the salad crops are in columns made from chicken wire and burlap.

The back walls and floor were lined with concrete blocks and bricks (all salvaged) which, together with barrells of water painted black, act as heat sinks during the day, and heat radiators at night. Also at night, covers made from blankets and quilts are placed over most of the glazing. A small propane heater converted to run on methane gas is available for the really cold nights.

About three hours into the morning, the water cooperative truck comes by. The KC Water Cooperative is a joint venture of people in neighborhoods and the former employees and management of the water department. Each household provides five hours of labor per week, plus 5 Neighborhood Bucks for water delivery twice a week. Everybody has become very conserving of water. People still take showers, with hot water provided by wood heat (natural gas water heaters were being converted to wood burning units by March of 2000). In our particular case, everybody has to use the shower in the basement, as we built our water tank (out of cement) on the main floor, so the only place we get good pressure are the basement and the kitchen (which is lower than the room where the tank was built).

The water cooperative truck runs on soybean oil, which they get from farmers, trading them either Neighborhood Bucks or barter certificates or other items of value traded to them for water. In the days before the year 2000, the truck had run on diesel, but it smells a lot better now, sort of like baking bread.

Tomorrow is one of the two neighborhood market days, and so everybody is busy working on whatever it is they are taking to the market. Tammie, Shawn, and Ashleigh are making up packets of dried herbs, while Bob and Sean look over the salad crop to see what is available and ready and can be spared. The Truman Street Market is in the parking lot of a former grocery store, now (literally) a ghost of its previous self. Like many corporate owned properties, it had been abandoned. Some people in the area basically homesteaded the property, and organized market days for the neighborhood. If you didn't mind a bit of walking, or had some silver or something to trade for a ride, there was a market every day of the week within a couple miles of the house, but with transportation being the way that it was, going five miles was something to think about. It was either ten miles worth of walking (five there, five back, half a day's work easy), or alcohol or methane fuel and wear and tear on a vehicle. Most people walked, as there were other more important uses for methane and alcohol fuel.

But everything you needed was right here in the neighborhood anyway, so there wasn't a need to drive to 30 miles to a Home Depot (that's a three day round trip journey now!). We have bars and theaters -- little restaurants with different kinds of music, story-tellers, public and private libraries, it's kind of amazing really, when you think about this area being such a slum in the old days, with stores that had bars on their windows and bullet proof glass, and those stores being few and far between anyway. People live in the back and run a coffee shop in their living room, with jazz on Mondays and Wednesdays, blues on Tuesdays and Thursdays, reggae on Friday, rock on Saturday and gospel on Sunday, seven days, seven different artists or musical ensembles. Live music is a lot more pervasive these days, especially since most people are out of batteries.


Robert Waldrop http://www.justpeace.org/nuggetsindex.htm Preparedness Nuggets Index http://www.justpeace.org/better.htm Cookbook and almanac of useful information for poor people http://www.justpeace.org/simple.htm Simple living, prudence, preparedness pages http://www.justpeace.org Access to Catholic Social Justice Teachings http://www.y2k-civil-society.org Civil Society preparedness for Y2k

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 20, 1998


Old Ways/New Ways (c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

I should tell you more about our greenhouse.

In the summer of 2000, we extended our back deck across the entire back of the house. For materials, we harvested six tall wooden utility polls that were in the alley behind our house. We cut each of them in half and thus had 8 sturdy pillars the height we needed plus 6 crossbeams. We had a big family debate about this, in the spring of 2000, and decided that since there was no news about any return of electricity or phone service, we would just homestead them. We also harvested quite a bit of the various cables strung on the lines. I should note that none of us are construction workers or engineers or architects, so we over-engineered everything, relying on brute force and not worrying too much about elegance of appearance. Not knowing how to calculate how much load a wall could or should bear, we relied on common sense and trial and error. We only collapsed the floor once (and so we then went and got another telephone pole for that spot).

Our house is an old house on a hill, with the front being one level, and the back being two. The deck, which is the second story from the rear of the house, was on the same level as the front of the house. To expand the size of the greenhouse, we pulled the walls off the back room that opened onto the deck, leaving the frame, and the roof, leaving its frame. We used windows from ruined houses, fixing some of them so they could open, in various corners of the structure. We also harvested planks and lumber from such houses for the floors. The total surface area of the greenhouse is 729 square feet. We have a combination of trays, buckets, and columns as growing areas.

On the ground floor below the back bedroom, now converted to a greenhouse, there was a room in the basement with a door that opened to the outside. We converted this room to our waste processing and energy generating center, and expanded it by turning the space below the deck into another room (we used COB construction for the walls for that, basically mud and stones with a little bit of scavenged cement mixed int). This area contains three methane digesters that we built in the summer plus our compost operations.

Our only household toilet is in the greenhouse (the back bedroom had its own toilet and sink). The toilet is dry, and empties into a bucket in the room below. On a scheduled household rotation, the bucket is emptied into the digester currently accepting raw material. When its filled, its capped and starts accumulating gas while we start dumping into another one of the digesters. Everybody in the household agrees that an investment ought to be made with a plumber to rig up something more satisfactory (nobody likes dumping the bucket), so we are going to fix up an offer and go talk to one of the plumbing contractors who comes to the Truman Market. The digesters and compost help heat the greenhouse above. We use either a little methane or alcohol fuel stove for whatever additional heat is needed. If we had parts, wed put in a small wood stove, but those parts havent materialized yet, although weve certainly been looking.

As for other trash, well, we dont have any. Paper is way too precious to throw away (Im writing my diary on the backs of pages of information I printed in the old days with my computer printer), and the same is true for tin cans, lids, plastic containers, bottles, all the other usual American trash. Everything is used and re-used until it cant be used anymore and then we still save it because you never know what you will need in the future and what possible use it might have. Even the illegal trash dump in the wooded area behind our house has turned useful, as we have found all kinds of handy stuff in there (especially tires, cans, and bottles, all of which have many uses in this new world.)

You might be asking, how do we get all of this done? We now have 8 adults and 3 kids in our household, and everybody works, every day, at something. Its not that we dont have time off  we do  but some things (like dumping the toilet bucket) have to happen several times every day and attention has to be paid to details. Otherwise, we lose an entire digester of methane, or a batch of sprouts, or a gallon of alcohol, and we cant afford losses like this. Bread has to be baked every day. Food has to be cooked every day.

But youre right, theres no way that one or two people could keep an operation like this running. Around here, nobody lives alone anymore, and very few people live as just couples  and even those people are hooked together in community arrangements with their neighbors, or they wouldnt be able to survive. This is one reason there is so much raw material available for harvesting. In the first place, a lot of people left the cities, especially the suburbs. In the second place, all this living alone and as single couples by themselves has passed from the scene. So there is lots of surplus housing. In the third place, nobody lives in those big apartment buildings anymore, and a lot of the commercial apartment space is empty. The owners of some of those buildings are involved with scavenging their old buildings, in some cases, I suppose theyre laying the groundwork for their next fortune by scavenging the remains of the old, although what one means by fortune these days usually relates more to security than to becoming a zillionaire.

Our energy operation is varied and interdependent. We distill alcohol fuel (we traded our mechanic some food and labor in the late spring to convert our old pickup carbueretor to run on alcohol). We make and compress methane gas. We walk, fetch, and carry a lot. Basically, we only use the truck if we have to haul something or if there is a dire emergency that requires carrying wounded, sick, or injured people to medical care. Anything else, we walk.

All of our organic waste goes one of four places: methane digester, compost heap, alcohol mash, or the animals (pigs, cats, chickens). By the end of February, farmers were bringing animals to town, live and on the hoof, cattle, sheep, even pigs, and they were all brought the old way, driving them across the land (or in this case, down the interstates, generally). I tell you, we were right glad to see those cowboys on horses driving their pigs down the street, -- its funny how the old cowboy shows never showed them driving pigs to market, but my great-grandfather used to do it all the time. Im glad they remembered. We heard on the shortwave that farmers elsewhere had frozen to death bringing grain, soybeans, and oats to cities.

Little Ashleigh was the one who spotted them coming, she went running down the street to tell us, and we all moved very fast to see this amazing site. I asked a cowboy where he thought he was going with his pigs, and he said, well, if you want some, well sell them right here and now. They drove the pigs into the parking lot of the abandoned Thriftway, and made a pen by pushing abandoned cars around and started dickering with the crowd.

So we went back and ransacked the house, coming up with $5 in assorted silver change, 4 old silver dollars, and some miscellaneous fairly cheap gold and silver jewelry, and the cowboy said, You can have a breeding pair plus one. Best deal I ever made. So each of the occupied houses on Oakley street got at least a pig to slaughter and eat, and there were 6 breeding pairs acquired.

We had our pig to eat, but none of us had ever slaughtered a pig; the most I had ever done was a chicken, and that had been about 25 years ago. We were hungry, and the idea of fresh meat was rather appealing after two months of canned and dried foods, I could already taste the pork roast, but a live pig is a wiggly and inconvenient thing and this one weighed a couple of hundred pounds anyway, and we never got around to buying a shotgun or any kind of gun.

Just as were thinking, Well, my grandfather used to hang them up by their hind legs and then slit their throats, a guy came down the street, shouting, Pigs slaughtered, Thriftway parking lot, share of the meat. The former butcher of the Thriftway had heard what was going on and was setting up in the parking lot. Hed butcher the hog for 10% of the meat, plus the hooves, hide, and innards. He also hired some of the guys in our household to help, and they brought home ground meat for sausage as their pay. We had to bring our own containers for the meat, as he was low on butcher paper. It was still cold, so refrigeration was immediate, but we also got busy making sausage and we built a smoke house in a day using plans and instructions in one of the books I found in the library for the hams.

We got six chickens and a rooster a week or so later, and believe me, we treated those chickens like they were gold, certainly, their eggs were more useful than gold, at the time anyway. I chased everybody out of one bedroom and gave it to the chickens until we got a secure coop built. We had to chastise the cats severely, to keep them under as much control as you get with a cat.

We hear things are about the same all over. We manage to listen to our shortwave (EWTN remains on the air!) for the news every day, but thats only a half hour at most.

How were making it is simple. We work together with our neighbors. The old way of living in isolation, one or two or three people just doesnt work anymore. Everybody is gathering into small communities, in both cities and the rural areas. Our area, Blue Valley, is about 2 miles wide and centers on the intersection of Truman and Hardesty, where there is a supermarket and big parking lot/commercial area, plus the St. Paul School of Theology, whose large open spaces are now gardens and little shops/markets. There is a second center at Hardesty and Independence, centered on the old now-defunct Price Chopper supermarket/strip mall lot and the areas public library (one of the most important buildings these days).

But right here on Oakley Street, you can buy all sorts of things, we even have two cafes, each of which has music on various evenings. Up on Truman, there is a veritable mall. Its obvious that no city planner has been near whats going on up there. The roads are being encroached upon (there is so little traffice, Truman which is formerly six lanes, has become two plus some walking trails amid the new urban spaces people are building. Sure, theres plenty of existing construction, but already by the end of the summer of 2000 people were deciding that it was easier to tear down some of the old buildings and rebuild more sensible structures. The really old ones (1920s or so) werent the problems, it was the new stuff, especially anything built since the 1960s. Windows dont open, everything dependent upon centralized heating and air conditioning, cold in the winter and stifling in the summer humidity. They depended upon the use of brute force to make them habitable, but we dont have that kind of power anymore. They are great sources of raw materials though. Now we have to work with our environment  what a concept! If we had thought of this years ago, we wouldnt have had so many troubles in the winter of 1999-2000! Fortunately, there are plenty of raw materials around. When we needed something to seal parts of our greenhouse, we dug up some asphalt from the edge of a street and melted it.

What are we using for money you ask? Well, personally, being a Catholic, I prefer Catholic Bucks, but we also use Blue Valley Bucks, or silver, labor, barter, whatever it takes to get the deal done. It is not anywhere near as simple as money used to be, but somehow it seems more personal, and being someone who has always liked to shop, it is a lot more fun. At the markets, there are lot of people who basically make a living by making deals  putting buyers together with sellers and taking a small percentage on the initial deal. Whatta you got? is becoming as common as how are you on Market Day.

Plus, we dont need money as much as we used to. I have no clues as to what happened to my landlord. He has never showed up. If he does, Ill offer him a ham, I bet he takes it He lived a long ways away, in another state. So our need to pay rent kind of disappeared. Not everybody was so lucky, but some people who were evicted by greedy landlords ended up better off, because they got a jump start on building sensible dwellings and urban spaces. Most of them simply homesteaded vacant land; various churches who owned properties made them available, and the yards of government buildings were generally considered fair game for desperate people. Here in Kansas City, most such people dug in  literally  building earth sheltered homes using scavenged materials, dirt, and human labor. Ive had dinner in some real nice places that people built like this.

We use (as mentioned above) a variety of money, the monopoly of the United States dollar is gone. There is no one money that everybody accepts. Some people will take the old US dollars, but they sure wont buy what they used to. Catholic Bucks, on the other hand, backed by the full faith and credit of the Catholic Diocese of KC-St. Joseph, and in accordance with the emergency legislation of the city council can be used to pay local taxes, buy water, medical care, and as a result, are a valuable medium of exchange for other things (no the local taxes did not go away, although nobody pays much attention to the federal taxes anymore, since there isnt much federal government these days). The same is true of Blue Valley Bucks, authorized by the Blue Valley Community Association. Both of these programs were authorized as an emergency measure in early March 2000, to help jump start some economic activity.

Which is to say, local government hasnt gone away, but it is sure changed. My most important government is my neighborhood association, which are like the old cities and towns. These are grouped into some regional associations, which are like the old states, and then the city council is like the old federal government. Its most important jobs are regulating the issuance of money, and providing police and courts.


Youre probably wondering what happened in January 2000. Things got tough immediately. Kansas City had no power and no natural gas and very little leadership in the beginning. Here on Oakley Street, there are 36 addresses housing 140 people before January 2000. About half left in December 1999 or January 2000. At first there were a dozen houses with heat (kerosene, wood, or propane), but by the end of January, we were down to three houses with heat (two with wood, one with propane and wood). So initially, we went door to door and organized people taking in other people. January wasnt too bad, everybody had food (with all the scary news of late 1999, virtually everybody had stashed some staple foods). But February was another story altogether. By then we were back up to over 150 residents divided among 10 houses, as people from some neighboring streets drifted in, families came home.

Nobody resisted the thought of taking in their neighbors. This neighborhood wasnt particularly close, before all this happened there were a lot of feuds, fights, disagreements; I was the only resident of the street who attended the neighborhood association meetings, etc. In other words, a typical American neighborhood. But now there was no TV, very little radio (many people were losing battery power even in the first week of February), no gas or other transportation, no jobs, no money, no government benefits, and people were very, very scared. I spent most of January going door to door and talking  actually, preaching  to people. Especially as time wore on with no good news, things got shaky. And so people wanted company, and managed to put up with quite a bit of discomfort, especially as February wore on and things got progressively worse.

The biggest problem was that people initially resisted doing much to improve the situation because they kept expecting the power and the tv and the radio and everything to come back on and get back to normal. But by mid February, that attitude was pretty much gone, and people were scared enough that they were willing to listen to sensible talk about what needed to be done. In January, about the only thing that managed to happen was that we dug latrines to take care of the human waste (the digesters were a summer project), and we quit producing trash.

When the first house ran out of kerosene, we moved those people in with the other 9 houses. I had been wracking my brain trying to think of what to do about heat, and the fact is, we never found a magic bullet. We managed to fit two additional houses with wood heat, one using an extra barrel stove kit that I had bought for this kind of eventuality, one using an old previously blocked fire place and chimney. Thus, by the second week of February, we were 145 people in five houses, strictly a lifeboat arrangement, and very troublesome, but people put up with it, because the alternative was death by freezing. My preaching theme during this time was spring is coming, things will get better, but we have to make them better. No cavalry is coming to the rescue, we must rescue ourselves.

Food was already a problem. By that same second week of February, the only food on the street was what we in our household had stored, which was 3240 meals (3 meals/day, six people, six months). In the first six weeks of 2000, we had consumed 800 meals, so we had 2400 left, or one meal a day for 150 people for 16 days. In addition to this planned food storage, I also had 500 pounds of grain, 500 pounds of rice, and 750 pounds of beans that I had bought in the summer. The grain and beans I bought directly from farmers, the rice I bought at grocery stores cheaply. This would provide 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of beans, and a half cup of rice per day for 150 people for a little more than 2 weeks. So anyway you look at it, we were really hurting.

By the end of February, it seemed to me there would be no more food, at least in terms of what we had laying around ready to eat. I think it was the second week of February that everything seemed the most hopeless and I came very near to giving into despair. I would grab one of my housemates and we would go outside and talk, and wonder, should we just cut and run. I was sick of people everywhere, no privacy, you invite 33 people to move into your house and restrict yourselves to the three rooms that you can heat, and not have much water to bathe in, and see how comfortable this is. (We were using melted snow for water.)

But there were fish in the river, and we even managed to catch some of them, and within two miles of our neighborhood there were huge terminal grain elevators. The third week of February, a police car with a loud speaker came through the neighborhood saying that wheat and soybeans would be distributed the following day at all public school buildings in the area. I was very glad I had printed out all that stuff from the Preparedness Nuggets about what to do with soybeans.

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 20, 1998.

Old Ways/New Ways Part 3

(c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 20, 1998.

Old Ways/New Ways by Robert Waldrop

Part III Te deum laudamus

So there we were, the third week of February, 150 people huddled in five houses, drinking melted snow, using latrines in the backyard, and now we were sitting around looking at 500 pounds of wheat and 500 pounds of soybeans. Im remembering that the last time I had tried to deal with a whole soybean in the kitchen was in 1975, using a soybean casserole recipe from Laurels Kitchen. As I recall my roommate and I ended up going out for hamburgers that night.

But we met this challenge too. I had my recipe books and stuff I had downloaded from the internet, and even though I dont necessarily cook with soybeans, this country does produce a lot of them, and it seemed likely to me that if there was a big problem with food production and distribution, that sooner or later we would be faced with the question: What do I do with this big bag of soybeans?

When it comes right down to it, there are actually a lot of things you can do with soybeans. True, we never managed tofu, but we did make soy grits, and soy flour, and soy milk. As it turned out, we didnt even have to manage tofu, because some Vietnamese folks who lived two blocks over brought ten different kinds of tofu and other curious concoctions made from soybeans to the very first Truman Market in March. They even kindly explained to us what we should do with it.

The arrival of the soybeans seemed an opportune time to start publishing a neighborhood newspaper, so the threat of immediate hunger being temporarily abated, and no other immediate emergencies at hand, we decided to reach out to neighbors beyond our street. I had stored some plain gelatin and carbon paper, and with these two items, I had the makings of an old-fashioned spirit duplicator (most people remember them from gradeschool). I had also stored several cases of paper, but I was never able to find a working manual typewriter, so we hand-wrote the first edition of the Blue Valley Reporter, published from Oakley Street in Kansas City, Missouri. Because we were short on paper, it was nothing very fancy, but it did have a headline:

Civilization Crashes, Blue Valley Survives! Millennium Bug Bites Hard!

And this was the first article: Early on January 1, 2000, the technical infrastructure of the US crashed due to the Year 2000 bug. Many people have left the area, it is likely that some are dead of cold and hunger, but many more are alive. You are one of them. Congratulations! You have survived the end of the world as we knew it. Most of us are now asking, What do we do now? According to the instruction book, After the End of the World, immediately begin to build a new one. Remember the mistakes of the old, and do better with this one. Heres some ideas on how to get started.

The rest of Volume 1, Number 1 consisted of information on what to do with soybeans, how to make an expedient grain and soybean grinder from metal water pipes, and the importance of starting a compost heap immediately. It had an advertisement for the Better Times School, which would offer classes in gardening, composting, and surviving in new circumstances starting the first week of March at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church. It announced the First Ever Truman Road St. Patricks Day Parade for the upcoming March 17th and that St. Josephs Tables would be available for visitation and prayer on March 19th at all the Catholic parishes in the area, with the food distributed in the evening.

We printed 100 copies and took them to each of the churches in the neighborhood, plus the other houses where we were aware of people sheltering. We also gave a copy to a policeman on a bicycle who came down Truman, and asked him to pass it along to whoever was in authority downtown.

The churches were all doing important work. They were sheltering large numbers of people. Initially, most of them had access to some kind of propane heating, usually brought in by church members. But as propane supplies were depleted, they all cobbled together wood barrel stoves. They were glad to get the information on what to do with soybeans. We also decided to send people from our house by several of the churches with my grain grinder, to help their feeding efforts several days a week (kind of like a circuit riding miller). Most of them had started schools to keep the kids busy, many with teachers from existing schools in the neighborhood.

But we had another problem looming, and that was water. And it was a more difficult problem than dealing with soybeans. The reason the cattle were coming to town at the end of February was that snow was melting (we didnt have a meteorologist handy to explain why this was happening so early). We had filled every possible container with melted snow (and its amazing how many containers you can find when you go scavenging), for drinking and washing and other such purposes, but it wouldnt last forever.

So I was glad that I had talked with an old friend back in 1999 about how to make an expedient water purification system. We were only a couple of miles from the Missouri River, but that water was pretty dirty. We lived on a hill, and thus were dubious about the possibility of digging a well. There was an artesian flowing well in a park in the area, but it was actually further away than the Missouri River. Our household had about 30 gallons of gas (the tank in the car and the truck were both full, having been used only to charge up the car battery to keep our radio going, and for one trip to my place of work (a Catholic Church in a suburb) to tell my priest I wouldnt be able to come to work anymore, and to make some suggestions about what they should be doing. We had another 20 gallons in gas cans in the basement, but any way you looked at it, driving back and forth to the Missouri River or the artesian well was an expensive proposition.

We decided to start with the artesian well, while we worked on water purification. We used a portable swimming pool as the first stage (settling). We would pour Missouri River water into it and let it settle for a couple of days, then siphon it off into a rube goldberg contraption consisting of several buckets with alternating layers of sand and charcoal. Im not talking about charcoal briquets, of course, but charcoal that we made ourselves the old fashioned way. The water that came through this process would then be boiled. Maybe this was overkill, but we didnt have a health department handy to give us advice. As it turned out, we only had to do this for about 6 weeks, because by April, water deliveries were being made by truck. When the people from the water cooperative came by and made their offer, we were quick to agree. You could pay with all labor, or with labor plus other value (such as the Catholic or Blue Valley bucks which had just been authorized by the city council, which turned up in March.

In the first week of March, we had several things going for us. We had food and water -- you would not believe how good soybean grits, sausage, and biscuits can be, even if you eat it every day. The weather was warming up, we still had some gasoline if we needed it, people were going back to their own homes so the house wasnt so crowded. And most importantly, people were starting to adapt to their new circumstances.

It was like somebody exploded an Idea Bomb in the neighborhood. There was very little time wasted on meetings, but everybody was interested in learning. The methane digester idea was found in some old Mother Earth News copies that somebody had in their basement, it seemed like a really good idea to everyone, as the whole outdoor latrine situation (or carrying buckets outdoors to pits) just grossed everybody out. Pouring the buckets into methane digesters that we had built ourselves was a bit less gross, at least it seemed we would be getting something back from our efforts. To use methane in propane or natural gas appliances the jets had to be drilled out so they were wider, but there were people willing to do this, and most of them were willing to accept a future favor for doing it right now, it only took a few minutes and drills and batteries to run them were available. So you can see that very early in all of this  March  we were developing new economic arrangements, labor was already re-specializing, and commerce was commencing. OK, it wasnt the Kansas City Board of Trade, but it worked.

Green houses and cold frames sprouted everywhere. Its amazing how much seed is available in a neighborhood, and this was before people from the University Extension and Kansas City Community Gardening Association came through in April. Our diet was pretty much the same, and everybody was ready for fresh vegetables.

I remember the day I saw the first early flowers peeking through the ground. I found myself thinking, Look at this, all of our technological infrastructure crashes, but here is this flower, doing what flowers do, poking its way through the ground. If that flower can survive, so can we.

Robert Waldrop http://www.justpeace.org/nuggetsindex.htm (Preparedness Nuggets index)

As always, please feel free to comment, correct, instruct, or suggest. You can email me at rmwj@kc.net

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 21, 1998.

Part 4 (c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

We heard that one of the states that is doing really good is Oklahoma. Oklahoma, like all states, is divided into political precincts. Ive heard theres about 186,000 such precincts in the nation, each of which would have an average population of about 1400 people. Every one of those precincts has an existing political party organization, usually two, sometimes three or four. In Oklahoma, for once the Democrats and Republicans got together on something and provided each of their precinct organizations with a packet of information in 1999 about what to do if things got really bad regarding the millennium bug.

In most areas, people were pretty disorganized for the first couple of months, but those Okies hit the ground running, with a dozen or more people in each district going door to door and seeing to the emergency situations, helping people rig for stormy weather, and generally being a calming presence and a nexus of organization and cooperative effort. Quite a redemption for a political organization, if you ask me. When I first heard about this, I could hardly believe it, but apparently it really happened there. The committees had already scoped out their areas  these were the places they lived, so nobody downtown would know what was happening there like these committees would. Thus, they already knew the best places to establish heat shelters, which were typically schools and churches.

I wish we had thought of that in Missouri. Having pre-positioned information and organizers in every neighborhood would have been a big plus. Less reinventing of wheels, or even worse, reinventing of flat tires.

But anyway, we were talking about how we got through in Kansas City. March was lean, but we had soybeans and wheat and everything we could make from that, plus we had sausage and some beef (the cattle came into town after the pigs, and while we couldnt afford a whole beef, but we got some anyway as pay for helping the butcher in the parking lot). Id say the opening of the Truman Road Market was one of the real major events of a very busy month. We were all rapidly becoming generalists, but this doesnt mean that specialization was a bad thing, or that it couldnt help us journey through. If we hadnt had a butcher, we still wouldve gotten the pig eaten, but it would have been a lot harder and the time we spent doing an inefficient job of butchering could have been invested elsewhere, doing something that we were better at.

Plus, everybody needed something (usually, some things). The stores were closed and empty, the shopping rush to end all shopping rushes happened in late December & early January (most stores did stay open, even without electricity, until they had no stock left, and prices went sky high). A lot of stores had seriously stocked up in the final quarter of 1999, especially grocery stores. Sales had been climbing all year long (it was a good year to be in grocery stocks, provided of course you got out before December, hehehe, and then managed to spend the money). Theres no doubt that this last minute movement of goods from producers to consumers saved a lot of lives. If we had run out of food the last week of January, we would have been up the creek without a paddle, and it wouldnt be sweet smelling pure mountain water in that creek either.

So a market was essential to rebuilding our community. Fortunately, a market is easy to organize. All you need is space, merchants, and buyers. We had lots of space, and everybody was becoming a merchant and of course, we all were buyers. Never underestimate the ability of human beings to get together and make deals.

About a week after we put out our little newsletter, some people knocked on our door and asked how much we would charge to print them 100 announcements for a new market they were organizing at Truman and Hardesty. So, the famous phrase, Whattya got? came into play. As far as I was concerned, probably the most useful thing for us at this point was livestock, and it turned out that they knew somebody who had some chickens. So we ended up with a rooster and four hens and they got their flyers plus I threw in showing them how to make their own spirit duplicator. The first market was set to coincide with the St. Patricks Day parade.

We immediately began to plot how we would win fame and fortune for ourselves at the new market. Its not that we expected wed become the J.P. Morgans of Old Northeast Kansas City, but I had stashed stuff for bartering purposes, just in case. I had quite a bit of extra spices and sewing thread and other notions, and a bunch of hard candy. We also had a printing press (it worked at least as good as Gutenbergs), with limited paper, so we would ask more if somebody wanted something printed and needed paper than if they had their own paper. At that first market, in fact, we did a brisk business printing, JOHN SMITH WHERE ARE YOU and JOHN SMITH IS at X ADDRESS. We also printed sign bills for tailors, carpenters, plumbers, and several other trades. People were starting to put up large sheets of wood at the heads of streets, and people would come by and tack notices on them. Kind of a substitute for the daily news on the TV or in the newspaper.

We did a lot of printing business on credit for favors (especially the advertising, one never knows when you will need an expert at something) as this was just before the neighborhood bucks program began, about which more will be said presently), but we decided we needed to see some hard goods before letting loose of any of the spices, sewing notions, or candy (other than the free pieces we handed out as samples). We took a little US money, but if you were paying with dollars, prices were sky-high, which is another way of saying that the value of the dollar was low. The government had really let people down, most people figured, and so its money was suspect.

A barber showed up and was busy all day cutting hair, people were doing hair wraps and weaves, offering all sorts of consulting services, announcing meetings, classes, some people brought drums, there were a dozen bars operating in various corners of the lot, and of course, there was all the typical Irish craziness; the end of the world may come and go, but the Irish will party on St. Paddys Day. I guess people bought green dye as part of their emergency preparations because there sure was a lot of it around (grin). . Imagine crossing the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert with a St. Patricks Day parade and throwing in a large flea market/garage sale, and youll kind of get the picture. Much more interesting than any mall ever even thought about being.

The day began with a big mass concelebrated by all the priests of the area parishes, and the recessional procession of the mass was the initial unit of the parade. Three processional crosses led by a half dozen altar boys and girls swinging incense and carrying candles, followed by a statue of St. Patrick carried by the Knights of Columbus (in full regalia), then the priests and parish banners. There were Irish setters, leprechauns, and lots of clowns, Chinese and Vietnamese dragons, Native American dancers, Korean drummers, the Guadalupanas were out in force and we even had a bagpiper. When I heard the skirl of the pipes, I realized that I had truly forgotten something in my preparations: I hadnt bought any bagpipes! What else had I forgotten! Anyway, one didnt have to be a rocket scientist to know this was a diverse area, but it was nice seeing it all together marching down Truman Road. In the afternoon, a military truck pulled up and some National Guard troops started handing out MREs; they were liberally repaid with beer (there were some very potent and raw home-made beverages available). I hope they didnt get into too much trouble when they got home.

After the days business wound down, the partying intensified. People brought instruments, and pretty soon there was a 20 piece orchestra carrying on (with minimal direction, but great enthusiasm, and there were some experienced players there), everything from a plastic wastebasket drummer to a flute, clarinet, several string players, and one group even hauled a piano down on rollers, so I got to get in a lick or two. People were dancing, singing old songs, everybody went home quite happy and satisfied. I noticed the next day that there wasnt any trash at the market site either, not even the containers of the MREs. We were learning about this new world, and it would appear the learning curve was accelerating sharply.

Robert Waldrop

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 21, 1998.

Part 5

Getting ready for the winter of 2000-2001

One of the differences about these new times is that you have to pay attention to what's going on. You can't wait until it rains to buy yourself an umbrella, because there might not be somebody around with an umbrella to sell you when it starts raining. So you had to think ahead and plan, and it helped that people were forming themselves into large extended families to work together on the basics of life. No one single person had to think of everything; indeed, it would be impossible for one person to understand, plan, provision, and accomplish all the tasks necessary to life these days. Thus, our extended families and the localized neighborhood and community links and networks took on major importance for everybody.

As we came out of the initial shock and emergency reactions (better weather really helped a lot with this), we began to think not only about the summer, but also about the next winter. Having just had a particularly miserable one, we were highly motivated to make sure the next one was better. It was also possible that the next winter could be worse, much worse, this knowledge helped focus our attention and keep people on task.

As summer progressed, more and more farmers brought produce to town -- in the most amazing parade of alternative fuel vehicles that you could possibly imagine. It was like every rural tinkerer-with-machinery in the entire country had just become some of the most important people around. And all those people out there who have dabbled with alternative energy for years and years suddenly found that their experience and knowledge was very important to people.

The farmers were happy to take Blue Valley and Catholic Bucks, as well as US dollars, or silver, or other informal barter deals. People would post signs at their market stalls, "Need gasoline" or generator, or hair pins, or whatever. Trades happened. We had made it a point in 1999 to meet some farmers and we bought some food products from them in the summer and fall of 1999. Some of them were bringing stuff to town in the summer, and we continued our relationship. We also made arrangements for grain, and our neighborhood was looking for straw bales.

Straw bales were very important to getting through the winter of 2000-2001 in comfort. We could no longer afford the obscenely expensive energy expenditure required by our typical American urban houses. The homeless population had skyrocketed, and many of them had become "urban squatters" on public properties, and in the spring they were already dug in, often literally. We weren't the only people to harvest wooden utility polls.

When the cowboys had brought the pigs to market, I asked them about wheat, because often where there's cattle there's wheat. I was interested in grain, and I was interested in straw bales. The cowboys ears perked up. What's this about a new market? I told them that I thought they could sell or trade every single bale of clean wheat straw that they could bring to Kansas City. I've always been interested in alternative construction, and straw bale construction is ideal for this country and climate. Cool in the summer, warm and cozy in the winter, cheap, do it yourself, accessible, not rocket science.

But nobody in my neighborhood felt up to tearing down their old house and building a new house, while at the same time putting in a garden and gathering and preserving other food enough to feed yourself for the next year, and etc., all in one summer. Plus building a new house involved a lot of trades like plumbing and such that would drive the price way up. But it seemed possible and practical to put a layer of straw bales on the outside of the house, and cover this with plaster, and get many of the advantages of straw bale housing while maintaining the familiarity and investment of the existing structure. Think of it as an urban housing makeover.

As the Kansas harvest began, grain and straw bales began making their way to Kansas City, on vehicles powered by methane and horses and mules and steam and ethanol. Bricks were harvested from ruined houses and laid as a foundation right next to the original construction. Re- bar and cement seemed readily available; I guess there is a lot of this laying around all the time, and with the sudden end of all major construction projects, that meant a lot of product sitting around waiting for a purpose. We did our street the old fashioned way. The farmers delivered the bales as scheduled and we just went down the street, doing each house barn raising style. The farmers had brought extra people with them, and they stayed to help, mostly (they claimed) so they could see how it was done and learn from our mistakes.

Another thing everybody was doing was building ice houses in a shady spot. Typically these would be partially buried, with three foot thick earth walls and a thick roof. In the winter we would make ice and pack it back in there in sawdust. We had read that even in a hot summer ice can be maintained until late in the season, so we were gonna put that to the test. We had buried buckets of ice in February, and the last one was still frozen solid when we dug it out in July. An ice house seemed like less work, however, in terms of regular digging. We tried to think about the amount of work involved in something in the way we used to think about the price of something. A person has only so much time and effort and intelligence that can be expended in work, and so it is important to think about how best to utilize that "bank account." So while we could have ice by burying buckets, and that was fine for the situation we were in last February and March, now it made more sense to invest the labor and materials necessary to construct ice houses.

So here is Oakley Street, late August 2000. The houses have all grown new exteriors, white washed plaster exterior (except for where a couple of our more artistic neighbors decided to add some bits of color). No lawns, most of the surface area planted to vegetables, permaculture, or animal pens. Houses have sprouted greenhouses (the idea was too good and useful for people to ignore, an interesting twist to keeping up with the Joneses I guess). Several yards have outdoor bread ovens (these were mostly built in the spring, one of the first construction efforts). Typically, each oven serves about 4-6 families. You can hear cows, pigs, sheep, chickens. You don't hear the roar of traffic, or any gunfire. You do hear people talking, music, and other ordinary noises at a bearable audio level.

We did a lot more than this in getting ready for that winter, but the straw bales and ice houses are two of the important activities that summer. I like the straw bales. Gives the entire street kind of an interesting look, especially with the traditional roofs sticking out the top. Maybe kind of an art deco-ish southwestern look.

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 23, 1998.

Old Ways/New Ways Part 6

Christmas on Oakley Street December 25, 2000

About ten PM on Christmas Eve we could hear them coming. Drums and trumpets, a bagpipe, many voices raised in song, O Come All Ye Faithful, then We wish you a merry Christmas, the First Noel, Silent Night, a big crowd of people coming down Truman. Outside on Oakley Street, people were walking up the street, carrying candles and torches, to join in the procession. The route had been planned by the Northeast Ministerial Alliance, to go through the entire neighborhood to maximize participation. Little Ashleigh, dressed like an angel for the Christmas pageant at church, was already at the front door, inviting us to hurry as if we didn't they would leave us behind.

As we passed churches -- Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God, some people would drop out and go in, our group ended at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, where we entered a church gaily decorated with holly and evergreen branches, lit with candles and torches where we had more singing and listening to choirs while we awaited the hour of midnight. At midnight, the bells began to ring, and the organ and small orchestra began to play (courtesy of a couple of gallons of gas and a generator outside) and we sang Adeste Fideles as the procession entered the Church, led by six acolytes with a smoking censor, processional cross and torches. We paused between the second and third verse and the priest blessed the Creche, finishing the third and fourth verses with a loud crescendo of bells, organ, trumpets, and cymbals.

It seemed so normal  the golden vestments, the decorations, the music  that it was hard to comprehend how different things were now compared to last year. But we still had Christmas, and what a joyous time it was.

We had been preparing since November. After working frenetically through the spring, summer, and fall, we discovered these new ways also provided extended times for a change of pace, when work wasn't so hard, and what needed to be done could be passed around. We weren't working 9 to 5 wage slave jobs anymore, and so when the winter's food is laid into the pantry, and the fuel is gathered for the winter, a community can afford to shift its focus from survival to other things. Like parties, celebrations, and holidays. And talking, reflecting, thinking.

In the late spring, the Catholic Bishops of Missouri had restored the ancient practice of regular fasting and abstinence as a matter of Church discipline, doing so in conjunction with a general call from the leaders of the Jews, Muslims, and Christians to all people of good will. Catholics were called to abstain from meat and dairy products every Wednesday and Friday, and to fast those days, eating only one meal. The ancient pre-Christmas fast had also been restored, and after the first day of Advent, meat and dairy products were banned, except for Sundays, until Christmas. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and the sick were of course exempted. The requirement of abstinence would continue throughout Lent, in addition to the weekly fast days. Translated from religious concepts to survival facts, this one change of a religious discipline meant that on almost half the days of the year (172 out of 365), no meat or dairy products could be consumed by most adults. At the time, it seemed to me, "Well, sounds to me like one of the major results from this will be a much healthier population." And yes, as time went on, we became ever more creative in our food preparations on those days of abstinence, so that the "inconvenience factor" of the fasting almost seemed set aside since we were coming up with such great tasting foods to serve on those days.

The Bishops recognized the spiritual value of fasting, but they and the other religious leaders also saw a community necessity therein. In a society such as ours, which had become very poor, it is sometimes necessary to not eat, or to not eat certain foods, so that supplies can be stretched out through the year, and those who are at special risk can have what they need. This is a particular issue with your pigs, sheep, cattle, chickens, ducks, and rabbits, all of which were being kept in the city for meat and dairy products. If you eat all your chickens, you won't have any more eggs OR chickens, and if you kill your cow, no more meat or milk. I think it's called making a virtue out of a necessity, which is a way of ensuring that the necessity is satisfied.

Thus, by Christmas, we were ready for some feasting, and feast we did on Christmas Day. We had ham and roast chickens, deviled eggs (with homemade mayonnaise), pumpkin and pecan pies, green bean casserole (OK, OK, but it tastes a lot better made with green beans that you canned, mushroom sauce you made, and french fried onions that you french fried), a dressing side dish made with corn bread, biscuits, and various dried vegetables, a variety of pickles and relishes, in other words, a traditional American Christmas dinner. The end of the world may come and go, but Americans are gonna feast on Christmas.

We gave and received gifts, some hand made, some bought or bartered at the Truman Market. A big part of our giving was among households. We gave each family on our street some herb seed packets, including some of the rare plants that we had collected. We received a nice bolt of hand-woven wool cloth from a cooperative of families up the street that was building looms and spinning wheels and trading with farmers for wool and cotton. In the old days, they worked at various minimum wage jobs. Now they are among the leading families of this neighborhood. The cloth is very nice and soft, and most ingeniously colored in a rainbow progression.

We had given them some seeds for dye plants as a gift when they showed up at the Market wanting some hand bills made to announce that they had thread available. We did their handbills for free. We needed a local source for cloth. They in turn had helped provide resources for another cooperative that started raising sheep for wool and meat right here in Blue Valley. There was a lot of this kind of thing going on, growing a new and sustainable economic network, one enterprise at a time, with a lot of mutual support, solidarity, and cooperation.

We carefully unwrapped the packages and saved the wrapping and bows for future use. The days of Christmas being the Big Trash Day of the year are long gone. Many packages were wrapped with actual cloth of some sort or another. I was happy I got two packages wrapped in diapers (fresh and clean, of course). Diapers are about one of the most useful all around pieces of cloth in existence. It's a pity so many people used those disposable diapers in the old days; there was a real sudden scarcity of diapers early on in this. If I could send a message backwards in time to the summer of 1999, it would be, "Buy cloth diapers!"

On the Feast of St. Stephen (the day after Christmas), the Blue Valley Winter Festival kicked into high gear, complete with a Good King Wenceslaus (people from Eastern Europe settled here in the early 1900s, there was an old parish here that had been dedicated to St. Stanislaus) presiding over games, concerts, speeches, dances  square dancing is back, but like most things, it's evolved a bit, especially in terms of the music, always retaining that Celtic ancestral sound, but there were some new rhythms and harmonies. And quite a few new dance steps have been developed. Swing is also real popular, in fact, there is a type of square dancing that uses swing steps, very aerobic. I sit in on the piano sometimes with a swing ensemble, and we also do a little blues. Anyway, it was kind of like a Christmas-Epiphany (the traditional 12 days of Christmas) Mardis Gras/neighborhood party/medieval revel.

We were drinking the last of the alcohol from the old days, the rums and whiskeys and wines, but we weren't too worried, as just about everybody had jugs of wine and kegs of various kinds of beers, wines, and distilled spirits aging in their basements. When you're making alcohol for fuel, it's not a problem to make alcohol that's primarily for social purposes. So far no sign of revenooers, even though the whole neighborhood was making "shine". We had tasted some of our first whiskey, at the stage when it's raw enough to cure what ail's you, but I'm sure it will be a lot better after it's had a chance to age in the oak barrels we learned how to make at the library.

The whole Kansas City area seemed to be one big festival, in different, very localized manifestations. Down at 18th and Vine a huge Kwanza festival was a going concern, and they truly had the best barbecue and the best jazz. We walked down there one morning and had a great time before heading back in the late afternoon.

So these are a few of the snapshots in our family album of memories of Christmas in the year 2000. It was a time of renewal, and certainly we needed it, because the depths of winter were still ahead of us.

(c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 26, 1998.

Part 7: Give us this day our daily bread (c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop, but feel free to print this page for personal use.

We had to have some cornbread with our black-eyed peas on New Year's Day, and so I mixed up some pancakes using cornmeal instead of flour and they tasted great. Since it seemed likely to me that we would need all the luck we could get in the new year, I made sure that everybody ate some of those black-eyed peas. We cooked them on a propane cook stove, bringing them to a boil and then putting them in a crockpot insert which we then put into a box packed with newspaper. We were still learning how to do this, so we pulled the peas out a couple of times and heated them to boiling again, which wasn't necessary, but oh well, all of our mistakes should be so minor.

It was necessary to get busy on making some yeast-raised bread, however. So on January 2, I made a sour dough start using flour, water, yeast, and some sugar. I had quite a bit of yeast on hand, but figured that I might as well make my mistakes in sour dough cooking now, while we still had yeast, rather than later. If worst came to worst, I figured we could gather wild yeast from berries in the woods, or hope that some wild yeast in the air would seed a start, but why borrow trouble. Better safe than sorry was already an important value, day 2 of this new world.

Our first bread oven was in the back yard, made from several stones. We used a flat piece of broken concrete for the base, and set that directly on some nice hot coals, and stacked stones around three sides, and covered the top with a final stone. We found by trial and error that it took about an hour to bake a nice loaf of bread (we often put some coals on the top stone). We baked our first loaf on January 3rd, using an aluminum loaf tin.

But we knew that we needed something better, so we started accumulating materials. I had plans for a homemade outdoor oven which were pretty straight-forward. We scrounged some concrete blocks and ordinary building bricks, some concrete reinforcing wire and chicken wire, a few boards, and traded a half gallon of gasoline for 3 bags of cement and a 28 gallon paper drum.. The only other requirement was soil, and we had plenty of that. In retrospect, I wished that we had bought a dozen sacks of cement and just stacked them in the basement for use afterwards, but even in 1999 it was very hard to envision just how changed things would be. Cement was readily available in the spring, but people wanted a lot of value for it.

So we laid a foundation of 16 concrete blocks, and then on top of them we put 2 layers of bricks (this figured out to 96 bricks). We put a stack of bricks on the sides and back 3 bricks high, about 4 inches in from the edge of the other bricks. We cut the paper drum in half and set half right on top of the bricks (we also cut a whole in the top of the paper drum the size of a #10 can for the chimney. We put concrete reinforcing wire over the drum, and then chicken wire over the top and back of the drum, and around the front opening (cutting holes for the chimney in each layer of wire. OF course, the first time we built a fire, the paper drum burned, but that was the idea.

The next step was making a door using 2" thick boards, and we put a handle on the door. To make the mud, we mixed 1 shovelful of cement with 3 shovels of garden soil that we had mixed with water so that it can be forced between the wires by hand, yet it isn't runny. We molded the mud all over the wire, making the walls about 4 inches thick. We covered the floor with a 1 inch layer of mud. We put the #10 can in the chimney hole to keep it open. We then put the door in place and molded a close-fitting oven opening, taking the door out when the mud had firmed a bit. We also put two large metal hook-eyes in the top of the oven so we could secure a sheet of galvanized metal over it to protect it from snow.

We put gloves on and smoothed the surface of the mud, dipping our hands in water. We covered this with wet cloths, a plastic sheet, and let it dry for a week, keeping the cloths damp. When it was completely dry, for a nice touch we painted the exterior with latex paint.

Baking bread in this oven is easy. We had to make some tools, the first being a baker's "peel", which we made from a broom handle and a thin piece of plywood large enough to hold a loaf of bread.

About 2 hours before we are ready to bake, we remove the door and open the draft hole and build a fire inside. By the time we are ready to bake, there should be about 4 to 6 inches of embers and ashes covering the floor of the oven and the outside is hot to the touch. We scoop out the embers and ashes and put them into a metal rubbish can. If it's winter, we often reuse those embers to help warm the inside, or maybe we pour them over a Dutch oven to cook the rest of our dinner.

After scooping out the fire, we close the draft hole with a stopper we made of tin can lids and rags. We dip a broom in water, sweep the floor of the oven, and use an oven thermometer to check the inside temperature. If it's hotter than 325 or 350 degrees, we open the door to let it cool. We sprinkle the peel with cornmeal and slide the first loaf into the oven. We usually shuffle the loaves a bit as the rear of the oven is hotter than the front. We also pour some water on the floor alongside the loafs twice during the baking time (about 45 minutes) to create steam.

The construction of this oven was a community event, as everybody was curious as to what we were up to, and while it did provide a large baking area (about 2 feet by 3-1/2 feet), it wouldn't be big enough for the whole neighborhood. Many experts were present and helped supervise the process, but even so we were able to get it built. Within a week, there were a half dozen other ovens in various stages of construction. This added another item to our agenda, as the increased demand for wood for both heating and cooking would eventually put a strain on our wood supply. This suggested a need for cooperative wood lots and other structures for a sustainable wood and energy supply. When we got into methane, we also started thinking about how methane could be used to fire an oven like this.

If it's not one thing it's another, as they say, and it was as true on this side of the year 2000 as it was in the 1990s. In the 90s, it was one bill after another, this money for that expense to satisfy whatever need. We still have those needs and wants, but we're meeting them in ways that often don't involve money. We take knowledge and combine it with creativity and work and some resources to put the daily bread on the table. We are still inter-dependent with our community, but those interdependencies are concentrating at the strongest levels  localities and regions.

A big factor is that we have to really think about the design of whatever systems or processes that we are creating to replace our old ways. In the past, we were just too rich for our own good. We had unimaginable wealth and power, and we made very bad choices. We designed things to fail and wear out, converting capital goods into consumables. Then, when we were finished with it, we just tossed it  out the window of the car, into the trash can, and didn't think any more about it. We actually threw glass and paper into land fills, mixed up with all kinds of other useful materials, in such a way that the end product was pretty useless for anything!

One of the things I worried a lot about in 1999 was trash disposal, but in retrospect that was a completely backwards way of thinking. If you don't think of useful items as trash, but rather as useful items, then you don't think about ways to get rid of them, but rather on how to use them to maximize the security and quality of life of the household. The trash problem disappeared really fast, as people just couldn't afford to throw things away anymore. The various illegal dumps in the area began to be cleaned up as people foraged for useful items and things they needed. Some of the earliest enterprises that developed in the summer of 2000 involved mining the city landfills. Return to Old Ways/New Ways index

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 30, 1998.

Old Ways/New Ways

Part 8

What we did with our basement.

Our basement is large, the back of it opens onto the ground level of the backyard. Ive already told about how we turned the back room into our recycling system. Heres what we did with part of the rest of the basement.

There was one large room and several smaller ones. We lined the walls and ceiling of the large room with aluminum foil (making them very light reflective). Then we set up a bunch of tables and gathered up all of the little containers that we had been saving the past year. It had been more than a year since we had thrown away any container  e.g., all those yogurt, cottage cheese and egg containers, not to mention the various bottles (2 liter, milk, 16 ounce, plastic, glass, you name it, we had a pile of it). We transformed those little cartons and containers into seed starting containers, and placed them on the trays. We then hung two fluorescent light fixtures down low over the tables (4 bulbs total), planted our seed, and set up an automatic watering system that we made by taking a length of garden hose and poking some little holes in it. We also prayed a novena to St. Isidore, patron of farmers.

How did we run the lights? Our budget would not stretch to encompass a generator, and it seemed the wrong solution anyway. Even in the old days, it didnt seem to me that we could store enough fuel to keep it running. So instead we went low-tech and value-priced, and rigged an old lawnmower engine to run a car alternator to charge a battery that would feed power into a small inverter which converted the DC current to AC to supply the fluorescent light fixtures. Each of those bulbs only pulled 32 watts, so the total load was only 128 watts. I know it sounds crazy, but it works. We downloaded the plans for running the alternator/lawnmower engine gizmo from the net all the way back in 1998, printed them and filed them, just in case.

This gives us enough power for the radio and in the early days, we listened to a lot of CDs. Now that there is so much live music everywhere, CDs arent as important (it really is amazing how many university trained musicians there were out there working at non-music-related jobs, until the millennium bug hit, of course). We also occasionally brought one of the light fixtures upstairs if we needed some good quality extra light after dark.

When we started making alcohol fuel, we were quick to fix the lawnmower engine so it would run on our home-brew. We traded a half gallon of gas for additional light fixtures, and expanded our basement nursery as much as space allowed, moving beyond using it for starting to growing vegetables full term to harvest. We had stocked up on early maturing non-hybrid varieties of several important plants, and we planted these containers in quick succession. The containers we used for the larger plants were five and six gallon plastic buckets. We filled them to within a few inches of the top with dry leaves, with about 3 inches of topsoil on the top. We fertilized regularly with a compost tea we made in the backyard. These buckets did not have drain holes; instead, we stuck a wooden stick in each bucket. As long as about 4" above the surface of the container was wet and glistening, the bucket was OK. If there were five inches, it was time to drain the bucket a bit; if there were 3 inches, water was needed. Youd be surprised how much food you can grow in buckets. You can get 25 tomatoes from a bucket. We grew potatoes in buckets, and 20 buckets provides about as much food as a 6 by 20' garden plot, which is the amount of space required to grow enough vegetables to feed a person for a year (using the Jeavons biodynamic/french intensive organic gardening techniques). Between our own greenhouse and yards, plus our share of the community cooperative gardens we participated in, we had enough produce in the fall to put up 200 quarts of veggies plus 500 pounds of dried onions, carrots, zucchini, beans, corn, and peas. We traded with farmers for a thousand pounds of assorted grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats) and 1000 pounds of soybeans (some of which went to our livestock), and 400 pounds of assorted fruit.

Our trade goods included gasoline, diesel, some gold and silver wed accumulated in the summer, various Bucks currencies, some US currency, spare parts, and shoots from our cinnamon tree plus some other unusual but useful seeds. We have rabbits, chickens, pigs, and we participate in a beef, geese, and dairy cooperative. Our membership in these cooperatives entitles us to a division of the production, and requires us to furnish so much labor each month. A lot of that labor is in the gathering of forage for the livestock, or helping with the milking and cheesemaking.

Here it is February 2001, and we have green salad tonight, from our basement and back porch.

We werent doing this well in February of 2000, but we werent starving either, although our margins were becoming dangerously thin. It was increasingly obvious that we were going to have to jump out of our envelope and do some new thinking about the new circumstances. This was true not only of people who had thought about this before January 2000, but also of those who werent expecting anything bad, or at most, some minor inconveniences and localized power losses.

We werent in imminent danger of vitamin deficiency, as there were a lot of vitamin pills laying around back then, but these days such manufactured medicines are increasingly hard to find and expensive and so we have to pay attention to our nutrition. The thinner your margins, the more careful you have to be, the less room you have for carelessness. Throughout all of 2000, except towards the end, there was a real sense of uneasiness, as though we were perched right on the edge of a precipice, and could go falling over it to utter doom with the slightest of provocations. But the danger had its own stimulation, in that it helped to concentrate our minds and make us very creative, plus people worked very hard. There was a brief fad that blew up in mid-summer, where everybody was telling Donner Party jokes. Everyone would laugh, but then it was hard not to shiver thereafter.

A lot of things that we used to take for granted are very important now and require attention and work. And some things that we thought were really important and took a lot of our time and attention and money in the old days are no longer relevant. Thats just the way things are in life. We are all on a journey together, and the road has taken a curious twist.

(c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

http://www.justpeace.org/nuggetsindex.htm Preparedness Nuggets Index http://www.justpeace.org/better.htm Cookbook and almanac of useful information for poor people http://www.justpeace.org/simple.htm Simple living, prudence, preparedness pages http://www.justpeace.org Access to Catholic Social Justice Teachings http://www.y2k-civil-society.org Civil Society preparedness for Y2k http://www.justpeace.org/02-16.htm Archive of Old Ways/New Ways

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 30, 1998.

Old Ways/New Ways Part 9


On January 1, 2000, the homeless population in the United States mushroomed. People were stranded all over, sometimes with only the clothes on their back and a couple of suitcases, maybe a car emergency or 72 hour kit or two. Shelters were immediately opened in churches and schools, but the experience was tremendously dislocating for all concerned.

McCoy School in my neighborhood was one such shelter. It was an old building, fortunately, built solidly in a previous era, chimneys still in place. The place was kept warm with a combination of propane, kerosene, and wood, but the food  especially after the first week when the MREs ran out  wasn't anything to write home about.

The psychological effects of this were immense, especially on those caught in holiday traveling. Many of these people had given no credence at all to warnings about problems in the year 2000, and were not accustomed to inconvenience and disaster on this societal scale. Their cell phones, portable computers, and credit cards, wouldn't work, they couldn't buy gas, airplanes weren't flying, and many of their cars were down for the count anyway from one of the many bugs that turned out to afflict automobiles. At the McCoy school, I met bank and university presidents, politicians, and various other members of the A list, who now were seeking refuge in a public grade school in a part of town they probably didn't even know existed on December 31st. Most were hundreds of miles away from family and home, and had no prospects of getting there in the forseeable future, and no way to contact their people to let them know what was going on.

McCoy School had a cross-section of American society, and they all had one thing in common: their status was "homeless refugee". Fortunately, there were poor people among them ("fortunately" for the upper class, not necessarily for the poor) so there was an opportunity to share "poverty skills" with the New Poor. The average upper class person in the United States doesn't know much about how to go about being poor, so it was a true culture shock.

As January progressed, the numbers of homeless people swelled. By mid January, the Holy Family Catholic Worker House was feeding 750 people a day, primarily a porridge made from cracked wheat and soybeans, plus raisins, powdered milk, and oil or margarine. Before January 2000, a big day was 250. There were similar long lines at all the other soup kitchens, and virtually every church in the city had opened a new emergency feeding center. They were feeding not only the people seeking refuge there, but others who had access to a heat shelter (usually a neighbor's house) but had no food, or they had run out of food.

The Harvesters organization, which in the old days supplied pantries and soup kitchens with the excess of the cities' restaurants and markets, continued to supply food throughout January to pantries and soup kitchens, although increasingly it was wheat and soybeans, and deliveries were only made once a week. Many people gave them gasoline and diesel, which enabled this ministry to continue, as well as food. Harvesters remembered the large terminal grain elevators along the Missouri River first of all, in fact, the general manager of one such operation was a volunteer, and was quick to open the doors and fill up the Harvester's trucks with wheat, soybeans, and other grains. There were millions of bushels of such grains within the city limits, so it was an obvious solution for the entire region. The problem of course was getting it around, but that was managed, just barely, but it was managed. Typically, all of the soup kitchens in a given area would send people to a central distribution point, and then often the food was hand carried back to the soup kitchen.

Many factors contributed to the homelessness problem. Some landlords evicted people, usually illegally. The courts were open, but they were operating under a special martial law, and were concentrating on criminal matters, with all civil cases, including legal evictions and foreclosures, put on "hold" for the duration. What would happen is that a landlord would show up with some toughs and put the people right out on the street. This continued to the end of January, as few people in the poor part of town were able to pay their rent (government benefits such as section 8, TANF, and food stamps did not arrive in January 2000. After a family froze to death after being put out on the street, the military and the police started to arrest landlords for making such evictions and the practice stopped. Landlords either abandoned their properties or worked out new deals with their tenants. Generally, the good landlords came out in a positive way, because they already had good relationships with their tenants. The slumlords, however, typically lost everything. In this new world, being a jerk was not a positive survival value, and jerks who got people killed were seen as criminals.

Other people couldn't heat their dwellings, and thus were forced into public shelters or (as happened on Oakley Street) found refuge with neighbors. Some people suffered fires  with all the improvised heating arrangements, there were more house fires than normal, and without the ability of fire departments to quickly respond or water pressure to fight the flames, most such fires completely destroyed the dwellings. There were some serious apartment fires, which hastened the exodus from the big apartment buildings.

Thus, by the first of February most emergency shelters were packed. They were generally orderly, the big ones usually had a small police or military unit attached, and people were cooperative. All of the shelters were equipped with CBs, and most managed to have radios tuned to the remaining stations, especially short wave. There was a certain amount of huffing and puffing the first week, but that disappeared quickly. A lot of high stress corporate survival strategies (e.g. back-stabbing, non-cooperation, winning through intimidation, extreme cynicism, radical selfish autonomy/individualism, whining/pouting/tantrums, being a general jerk etc.), became sudden liabilities. Big liabilities, as in, you could get put out of a shelter, so people behaved, not just out of fear, but rather because most people are better than most people are willing to concede.

We always worry about what "other" people are going to do  that is, we are not worried that "we" will riot and rape, but rather that "they" may riot, turn lawless, act violently, and be criminal. As it so happens, however, most of the possible "theys" are really just people like you and me, and certainly we aren't lawless rapists, rioters, and criminals, even when we got a bit on the hungry side. In some respects, civilization turned out to be very fragile, but in other respects, it turned out to be more durable and stable than we thought. We had made the mistake of assuming that our technology and material goods were our civilization, when in fact, they are only parts of who and what we are. We are a clever and industrious species, and when one set of tools and toys was taken away from us, we immediately started building new tools and toys, and perhaps this time we are learning something from the mistakes we made in the old days.

The new important survival values were the abilities to get along with others, to cooperate for mutual support and security, to improvise and be creative, to put up with inconvenience and problems without undue complaining, to see both the long and short term, to break out of existing envelopes and modes of thought in favor of new thinking about the new problems of life, the universe, and everything, and to see the spiritual realities that are far more stable than any mechanical construction.

All of the shelters organized program activities; given the eclectic groups that ended up in most places, there was staff for a pre-k through university school, plus all kinds of specialized skills that could be shared or used for the benefit of the group. Self-help groups organized and met regularly; Alcoholics Anonymous and Narc-anon were there, Mass was celebrated, Bible studies were organized, and people taught Buddhist meditation and detachment from the material world, pain, and suffering. Babies were born and people got married. In short, people started to put their lives back together again, adapting to their new circumstances.

Many soup kitchens that were not equipped with grain grinders improvised them from metal water pipes (usually three bound together, the grain was ground by pounding and grinding with the ends of the pipes, very labor intensive, but there was a lot of labor), or they used sausage grinders to grind soaked soybeans.

Some of these homeless people, perhaps sensing immediately that something was up beyond the traditional electricity blackout, went out and "homesteaded" parks, and other out of the way public spaces. There was so much going on that the police and the military left them alone. Typically, these people would scrounge tarps, sheet plastic, plywood, poles (utility poles, trees, etc) and tires and build earth sheltered homes that when heated with wood, were actually quite cozy, if unconventional in appearance. People from churches and community groups visited and provided expert advice about issues such as sanitation. New little villages and neighborhoods were born.

We helped one "improvised" family (a number of single travelers who met in a shelter and decided to hook up as a survival household for the duration) build a nice and very cozy home. Here again, there were lots of experts present, but even so we managed to get the place built. Swiss Family Robinson had nothing on us northeast Kansas Citians! As spring bloomed, there was a mass exodus from the homeless shelters in schools and churches in favor of this kind of construction, plus many occupied abandoned properties and structures. There were a lot of new people in our neighborhood, and many of them were living in unconventional dwellings.

In a disaster situation, people often fall into a "monkey-see/monkey-do" behavior. If there is a line waiting to ask for necessary supplies, it is not unusual for people to ask for exactly what the person in front of them asked for, even if the first person's list has items that aren't needed by the second person (an extreme example would be the first person being a woman asking for sanitary napkins, and the second person being a man and asking for the same thing). This kind of behavior was often observed in homeless situations in the old days, and thus it wasn't surprising to see it happening in these new and stressful circumstances. It has some advantages, however, as the good example set by those who exited the shelters early to literally take control of their circumstances by building improvised housing on public lands, was followed as the weather got a little better by virtually all of the others in the shelters.

This same kind of creative thought and smart work went into other things needed by these refugees. Plastic baggies were tied on the outside of socks before putting on shoes, to help keep feet dry. Blankets were modified into ponchos  which, by the way, were de rigeur for post- millennium bug winter fashion. Everybody was wearing them. #10 cans were fashioned into stoves, ovens, and buckets. Wire coat hangers were useful for a thousand things, not the least of which was making handles.

Thus, as the year 2000 progressed, the homeless problem resolved itself through poor people being empowered by their circumstances to help themselves. This isn't what most people thought about when they thought about the year 2000. But a number of "structures of sin" that operated to keep poor people poor in the old days disappeared, and thus people were free to use creativity and hard work to make their lives better. Many people experienced a larger return from their personal effort or work after January 1st than they were receiving under the Ancien Regime. It was different work than they were doing before, but like the fast food workers who became respected and skilled weavers, honest, hard, and smart work was rewarded with success in the new world.

Of course, people's definitions of "success" were radically changed, and not a moment too soon, if you ask me.

(c) 1998 by Robert Waldrop

This series is archived at http://www.justpeace.org/02-16.htm

-- Robert Waldrop (rmwj@kc.net), December 30, 1998.

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