I am an Intentional Lifestyles Advocate…

(Originally published for The Liberty Project)

Stand behind any protest you make with some action that helps solve it.

Otherwise you are only giving yourself the power to complain.”

It increasingly seems that civilization is facing too many woes.  We are surrounded by cumbersome and outworn systems that have been broken by greed and a consumer mentality.  But blame at this point is futile.  And unless you take action on behalf of change, protesting to the same mindset that has either created or turned their eyes from woe in the name of material gain only feeds the world’s problems more of your energy.  As Einstein suggested, problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.  Thus it amounts to insanity for us to keep waiting for the profit-driven Hearts to have an epiphany and aim for a trajectory other than their own gain.

So, what action can we take?  What functional solutions are there in the face of such complex, world-wide challenges?  How do we heal the rifts that alienate us from one another, from the natural world and from our greater hopes and dreams?

We begin with the understanding that the answers are subjective.  Meaning, we all want and need different things so the concerns of each person, each household, each community, and each region are going to be different.  This also means that because we want people to be able to know the freedom of expressing themselves authentically, the answers won’t require us to establish a critical mass or convince a large group to change their ways.  But because the answers are subjective, they must start from within our own lives.  And within our own life, they must be born from inside of us, out from our Heart.

This means that you have the power right now, today, to start changing your experience of the world.  Think about the choices you can make to bring your life and your Inner Truth into a greater sense of accord.  Withdraw your support from all those things you would protest and see changed.  Release from your life what isn’t working or doesn’t fulfill you.  Stand-up for the sort of world you envision in your Heart and thoughts.

But don’t stop there.  For what is certain is that the world doesn’t really change one person at a time, unless that person is networking with others.  This is because the Human organism is a living system, which like any living system requires a certain amount of unity and exchange to not only stay organized but to change and evolve.  Thus the Human is truly a social organism with very real social needs.  This tells us that in whatever problem we’re looking to solve, community (or common unity) is part of the solution.

Once we have figured out what it is we need to make our own life authentic we must network.  We must find others who share our common cause and vision of what’s possible and foster critical relationships with them.  We must collaborate and experiment.  We must become pioneers and pathfinders together, forging a way to put our shared ideals and mindset into practice.

Of course we must also consider that the social organism is likewise a living system, requiring a condition of interdependence, accord and interaction with the surrounding substrate.  That is to say, we all live on and from the Earth.  As much as we need to cooperate with one another, we need to cooperate with the world around us just as much.  For we can’t live an authentic life if we fail to consider that which is natural and intrinsic to the composition of the Whole.

There are no blanket answers or tried recipes.  But in every change we are able to make, the possibility of success is greatly pronounced by assuring that you account for three factors – how you will express your Inner Truth, how you will join in that expression with others who desire the same experience or outcome and how you will account for the interwoven world-at-large in any desire you express.

It all boils down to living with conscious, well-focused intentions.  This is why we say that intentional lifestyles are the solution and call ourselves intentional lifestyle advocates.  Living with intention isn’t just a nice idea or a philosophy for the future.  It is a necessity.  Now.  If there is to be any sort of far-reaching solution, it is this.

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Ramblings: Equinox, Light and Dark, Day and Night, and Keeping Things the Same or Not

Although I’m still in recovery phase and sometimes reduced to typing one-handed, I need to write like I need to breathe, especially when I have so many things queued in my mind to share!

Yesterday (at the time of writing this) was Spring Equinox.  It was beautiful here, and mostly sunny:

The Upper Columbia by Northport WA

The roads have rivulets running through them and every day I look out my window to see the patch of exposed earth expanded and the snow, in retreat.  The morning silence has been replaced by a morning song that makes my heart giddy with anticipation.  Yesterday was especially alive.  I saw Loons returning to the pond next-door for the first time; and familiar Stellar Jays back in the trees that skirt the house.  I also made friends with this Robin, who stretched its wings and pulled at the long stalks of dried grass, but didn’t fly away even when the dogs came out barking.

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We decided to make Equinox a relaxed, family-focused day.  There was a nice breakfast, conversation and music, and hanging out on the deck just to enjoy the invigorating warmth of sunlight’s visible resurrection on earth.  A brief wind swept through the valley, across the hills, and took the power with it, altering dinner plans.  Of course the vote resulted in forgoing the granny stove and firing-up the BBQ, which then necessitated a “quick trip” to the closest store – 12 miles and 25 minutes north of here.  And there commenced the first part of our adventure – getting down the hill and into town, a large portion of that road being unpaved and water-logged, in the little Hyundai rental car my husband had driven home while the 4×4 was getting fixed from its rather fortunate intersection with a guardrail.  (Fortunate because the guardrail didn’t waiver in its charge of guarding against the cliff and deep river below.)  The Hyundai, too, didn’t waiver.   In fact, we couldn’t believe how well it did in this environment and it was nice not to watch the gas gauge dropping as we drove!

The trip was as breathtaking as ever; we hadn’t been for almost a month and the changes were striking.  They have the river at the lowest I’ve ever seen it in preparation for all the melt water, to the point that it is mostly divided in two:

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When we got there the store had a sign on the door, “Closed due to a power outage.  See you tomorrow.”  I hadn’t thought of that!  The beauty of small-town life!  I voted for returning home and firing up the granny stove, but was out voted.  Thus we continued on to the main town, now nearly 40 miles away down the other side of the river.  The highway we were driving on is only a mile due east of “our road” which lines the west-side of the river, but  the two roads seem to be a world different in terms of, well, everything – the forests are different, the topography is different,  the geology is different, of course the views are different…even the play of light and shadow looks entirely different to me.

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We took the the time to stop directly across the river from “our hill.”  Our hill is the land immediately on the other side of the water, on the left. (Above)  The spot where we stopped happens to be a popular boat launch.  There is a map for this place that demonstrates the circle formed by the north and south bridges, the highway and our road, encouraging travelers to drive the scenic circle – the very thing we were doing, even if that hadn’t been our aim.  It seemed strange to encourage travelers to do this, however, given that a third of the trip would be across a washboard of non-maintained dirt; but OK.  It is exceptionally beautiful country and the school bus drives that section of dirt road everyday, so why not include it in the scenic route I guess.

From this map I also learned that it’s exactly 66.6 miles for us to do the circle – from our door and back around.  Seemingly a strange and particular number for display on a map.  Also my anniversary numbers, so maybe it was fate.  However this wasn’t the distance for us right now, as when we got to the place where we’d need to turn to cross back over the river (at the southern bridge), we went the opposite way, another 15 miles further east to town.  All said and done our “quick trip to the store” turned into a four hour expedition.  In the end it was still a day of fun and we had our BBQ.  We even splurged on a seven-layer chocolate cake from the bakery to add to our celebration.  We enjoyed the glorious day, and witnessed the awakening world first hand.  Of course everyone was up until Midnight…

Speaking of which.  I think I know our “neighbors” on the hill are rather suspicious of the fact that we don’t set our bedtime by the sun.  We were told, kindly but pointedly, that going to bed at sunset is “going to bed on time.”   In testament to this, there are no outside lights here, on the property or anywhere around, really.  The previous owners assured us that there is simply no need;  “everyone is in bed when it gets dark.”  In fact, I can’t think of a home with a bright porch light that isn’t a vacation home.  Even the two large bridges remain unidentified by miscellaneous lights or reflectors; even the busiest roads are kept pitch black at night.  I thought I had lived in the middle of nowhere before, but this is truly the rugged, wild wilderness complete with mountain lions, wolves and bears.  There are times when everything is simply the same shade of dark; a little light could be a handy thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m definitely not a move-to-the-country-and-light-it-up-like-the-city type of girl; I prefer the light of the stars.  But I assure you that the Fed Ex man delivering a package in the middle of winter would have really appreciated better a bit of visibility as he traipsed up through the woods.

While most of the westernized world is just coming back around to the notion of living off-grid, here they have never forgotten it.  The oldest generation of locals tend to have spent their childhoods on a remote homestead in one of the lush valleys or carved out of the woods and hills.  The back-to-the-landers came and filled in some of the spaces, mostly in the 70’s.  People my age were raised by them.  The grid didn’t even exist on this road until the mid-80’s.  So it’s a new thing.  And if that sounds sarcastic, it’s truly not.  The large workshop is better supplied with hanging oil lamps than it is with electric lights, and that’s something I love about this place.

So no sooner had I concluded that the seeming local resistance to too many light bulbs was a product of their strong off-grid genetics, I realized that even then it boils down to just what the previous owners assured, "everyone is in bed when it gets dark.”  Which is simply another way of saying, “we live by the sun.” Because, you see, we’re not talking about a heritage of off-grid systems with the modern benefits of LEDs and large solar arrays; were talking about woodstoves and oil lamps, generators, 12-Volt and/or the occasional small solar panel.  And the barnyard stirs long before daylight does so it just makes sense to go to bed with the sun, or soon thereafter.

When you go to bed with the sun, what constitutes getting up on time, I wondered?  It turns out that for most of year, for most of my neighbors that answer is 4 am.  That might explain those strangely popular early morning drop-overs!  And this may actually be one of the few places where Daylight Savings Time, though I detest it, manages to make sense to the majority.

Although my husband works more than a full-time job, with strange hours to boot, and although it was a Saturday, one of our favorite folks up here half-jokingly let us know that not being “up, at ‘em and ready to converse” with him at 7 am (the time it happened to be when he stopped in for coffee) could only mean we were “living the life of Riley.”  His tone didn’t make it sound like a positive thing.  He made it sound like we’d put ourselves in danger of catching the plague; dejected and full of warning.  As he climbed back into his old farm truck, I wanted to interject that it was quite an assumption that I even had a functional comprehension of some idiom from before my time, especially at such an hour of the morning, but I held back the feistiness.  I really just wanted to crawl back into bed while the sun was still low enough behind the trees  to not wake the kids.  And I didn’t feel guilty for it, either.  We are quiet and hard-working, but we are night owls all the same.  I’m not up partying; it’s like my brain kicks into gear as soon as the sun goes down.  Should I blame a childhood spent in Las Vegas?  I don’t know.  But I do strangely sleep best with sunlight streaming through my window and my greatest moments of inspiration tend to unfold from epiphanies at a quarter-till-three in the morning.  I have always been that way.

The previous owners both kept full-time jobs as they shaped the 20 acres of productive homestead from raw forest land – of course that required getting up at four and going to bed with the sun. Yes, we’ve put in our own hard work to get to this dream of ours – but good neighbor doesn’t know that.  To him it must look like we have it rather easy coming up here and living a schedule shaped by our preferences as much as by our needs.  

On the undercurrent of this is that we are the first to buy one of the established homesteads up on this hill; literally the first family to come live among the originals who migrated here together as back-to-landers in the 1970s.  That explains a lot.  At the heart of it,  good neighbor simply wants to assure the blood, sweat and tears that he witnessed being poured into this place across thirty-odd years aren’t wasted.  He wants us to see the true value in what we have.  He worries when we’re “burning daylight” with sleep.

The previous owners were nice enough to leave us with a folder of pages that constitute a basic manual on how to run the place.  And perhaps more importantly; how not to offend. The pages tells us how to keep the lights and water running, the house warm and the critters at bay.  When it comes to not setting ourselves apart from the neighbors, it illuminates the appropriate timing for certain events (like shoveling out the mailbox and burning leaves).  But then, stressed by letters large and bold is this:  “Don’t forget to make it your own.”

It’s a sentiment I truly appreciate.  They have passed the torch and it’s up to us what happens next.  They are fully anticipating their energy to change form.  Now, just knowing that the other so-called “newcomer” we’ve met has lived on our road for 19 years and owns two of the ten businesses in town, I’m guessing they may be predominately alone in their thinking – but it is at least nice to know that they aren’t expecting us to keep  things the same.  I believe they recognize that we have our own big dreams.

While we plan on living within a functional, bioregional network of others, which naturally requires a certain foundation of integration, (which I am eager for and strive to remain conscious of), we are all about doing things with a new mindset. I think there’s been plenty of opportunities to see by now that problems aren’t truly resolved by the same mentality that created them and the time has come to shake-up the pattern.  In other words, if the powers-that-be are saying the answer is ‘Z’ – I say scratch that and let’s try A, B, and C first, instead.  We need new solutions born from new directions of thinking.  We need to transcend the ingrained construct.  We need to satisfy our hearts by valuing ourselves above material gain.  Thus we appear to be charged with cultivating the potentials that make our lives truly our own, in true service to our actual needs and what actually fulfills us.

The former owners looked at these acres of wild woods and dreamed of its potential as a homestead.  We look at this homestead and dream of its potential as a sustainable community.  Stay tuned.

Weekly Update – 3/8

I suppose my weekly update should rightfully be called a monthly update.  I can’t believe we’re all the way back to the Full Moon again, now in Virgo!

Not to be too heavy, but since the last time I posted I was diagnosed with a rare sort of cancer and have had surgery to remove the singular tumor.  I spent a week away from most of my family at a large hospital two hours away and am still at the beginning of the recovery-phase.  It has all happened very fast, but the prognosis is good.  I am feeling both “lucky" and well-loved.

I made the decision to go ahead and mention this here because DH and I are convinced it would have all been terramin labelmuch worse, and perhaps more similar to what we were told to expect, if it wasn’t for a product called Terramin Clay (Calcium Montmorillonite).  This is because we had originally been operating under the presumption that I had a cyst which ruptured beneath my skin and my research was for natural home remedies to draw-together and pull-out an infection of this sort.  I initially tried a daily compress of Epsom salts and later a compress of wool-felt soaked in cold-pressed castor oil (i.e. “the Edgar Cayce Remedy”), which may have added to my results.  However, we didn’t notice dramatic changes until the Terramin.

Based on what I read about the clay I started ingesting a teaspoon mixed into 8 oz. of water or orange juice every morning.  I much preferred the taste of it when mixed with orange juice, but mixing the fine powder with water allowed me to brush my teeth with the remaining “grit” in the bottom of the glass.  Being gritty and all, you might imagine that it would be too abrasive to scrub your teeth with, but it isn’t.  The clay is highly absorbent and any grit turns soft on contact.  Studies show that it actually helps harden tooth enamel through remineralization;  I found more than one person claiming that it had completely repaired not only their enamel but large cavities as well.

Although most commonly used for internal applications, I also started applying a thick paste of it to the distressed area that I would let dry and tighten and pull like a face mask might.  This was why I’d purchased Terramin in the first place.  I’d read that the negative charges on the clay give it the ability to adsorb or attract positively charged toxic matter like a magnet.  It seemed perfectly suited to ridding my body of what I thought was the ruptured cyst.  After just four days the affected area was reduced to a third of its former size.  It was indeed drawing together and pulling outward!  I used clay for the eight days preceding my visit to the doctor, and every day both reduced and condensed the lump.

Fast forward to after surgery.  Now we know that what we thought was a subcutaneous rupture was really a quickly growing tumor, spreading – and we know that we watched the Terramin Clay reverse the process before our eyes! Even the surgeon reports that the tumor turned out to be surprisingly self-contained, pulling away from the muscle instead of rooting down into it, which in the end was my saving grace from a much worse scenario.  So of course I think this clay deserves a study.  And a medal.  And more people getting to know it.

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In other news to share, another product.  I don’t anticipate that will happen very often.  Nutiva Organic, Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil.  (I love their Coconut Manna, too, but that’s another story!)  I buy it in bulk, two 15 oz. containers at a time.  I keep one in a liquid stage and one as a solid and now keep my pantry in a regular supply.  When I get down to scraping the edges of the container, I move it into the bathroom shelves because it is a great thing for lips, skin and hair.

I’ve been experimenting with it in place of butter and shortening in our familiar recipes.  I even chilled it really well and made a killer pie crust for the tastiest pot pie ever, and have used it to make a healthier, hint-of-coconut caramel.  Using the solid oil in place of butter also turned out to be the final tweak to our everyday, sandwich bread recipe which I’ll share here with you in the coming weeks.  Now it is perfect in every way.  The oil adds just a faint undercurrent to the aroma and taste, but really softens the loaves without diminishing their slice-ability.  My plan is to wake-up at the start of our week and replenish the bread box with that week’s supply.  I read of a local mother who makes 16 loaves for her family every Monday morning.  My goal is 4 to 6, depending on the weekly menu.

It’s also been on my list to share with you my ricotta success.  I absolutely love ricotta but unless I find it on a great sale I usually just substitute a farmer’s cheese because it’s easily on-hand.  However, where homemade ricotta is creamy and spreadable, farmer’s cheese (like Paneer mentioned in a previous post) is crumbly and has some melt.IMG_3537 (1024x768)

I used the recipe for Fresh Homemade Ricotta at Epicurious.  The second time I made it, I didn’t have the fresh lemon juice and used a mild, white vinegar without thinking too much about it (or I would have used a stronger variety) – but it worked.  I’m planning on buying a chinois to assist in making this ricotta and soon, Greek Yogurt.  It lets you drain as much whey as possible without losing your creaminess.

If your family is anything like my family, you will savor the whey almost as much as you savor the cheese.  I will usually try to incorporate it into the same meal.  For example, if making Mattar Paneer, I will use the whey to cook the rice and lentils that go on the side.  There is nothing else like them!  Or, if making Italian, use the whey as the liquid in your bread recipe.  However, it’s also worth freezing any unused whey in pre-measured, one-cup increments.  I add it to bread or rice pudding, pancakes, hot cereal, tomato soup… I intend to keep experimenting…

Many Blessings.

Prevent Food Waste, Save Money, Help the Planet

The results of an intensive 10 year study of food loss recently published through the University of Arizona reveals just how wasteful our nation is with its bounty.  The study, which also made use of decades of earlier research by the same UA Bureau, is the first to quantify the nation’s edible wastes with accurate percentages that track the entire production/consumption equation.  For example, at a commercial level the study finds that nearly half of all perfectly edible produce, nuts and grains are discarded without ever reaching intended markets, often plowed under due to failed bets on the high stakes commodities market.  This constitutes a major impact to the environment as mature crops are discarded in favor of a new bet on a new potential crop.

At a consumer level, the study finds that the average household ultimately discards 14 percent of all food purchases.  Nationwide this is the equivalent of 43 billion dollars each year!

So the question becomes, what can be done about it?  I believe we can turn this knowledge into a positive by letting it spur us to action.  In fact, the study noted three consumer actions that will have a big impact on the future direction these percentages take (given in all caps; the expounding is my own):

  1. PURCHASE PLANNING.  Keep a well-stocked pantry, free of lots of store bought cans and processed junk.  Repurpose glass jars and fill them with organic, whole foods bought locally in bulk and representative of everything your family eats the most of (i.e. don’t buy things just because they happen to be on sale).  When something is used from the pantry or you notice the bulk-jar needs a fill-up, immediately add the item to your next shopping list.  This will help you avoid impulsive trips to the store (the most likely time for you to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need; 15 percent of such purchases statistically go to waste).  Plan your shopping trips wisely.  Examine the pantry, look in the freezer, examine the sale-ads for the store(s) you’ll be visiting, and then make a meal list for at least a week, if not two or more.  Buy on sale, but not just because it’s on sale.  For example, don’t let cheap prices lure your family into stocking-up on processed foods.  Instead look for good prices on fresh foods that can be paired with items on hand in your pantry, or turned into pantry items (i.e. a cheap price on strawberries becomes a year’s worth of homemade strawberry jam).  Also look for good sales on your common pantry items.  Try not to buy anything at the store that isn’t on your  list, unless you find a good deal on a healthy item that will expand your running list of meals.
  2. RESPONSIBLE USE.  If you appreciate flexibility like we do, avoid planning your meal list by the day of the week and instead just keep a numbered list of the complete meals you have on hand.  Remove meals as they are consumed and add them as they are acquired.  Put the meals that utilize the most perishable ingredients at the top of the list and make choices that don’t allow those items to go to waste (i.e. take-out can truly wait a night if you have fresh ingredients on hand you are letting spoil).  Save any leftovers from your prepared meals for lunches, save the unused portion of any ingredient for use in other meals (in fact, count on this when planning your list), and save the best scraps of meal preparation in freezer bags (for making great stocks, broths, gravies, casseroles, etc.).  If you see produce moving toward over-ripe, preserve it through freezing, dehydration, or canning; or let it motivate you to make something from it in impromptu fashion.
  3. EDUCATION.  Learn about the ingredients you buy and consume and how they are best stored and preserved.  Always take the extra moment to store things properly.  Label and date anything you freeze or otherwise preserve.

And if you really want to see our nation start to break its ties with the specter of mindless insatiability, I recommend a fourth.  Support one of the many programs nationwide that collects surplus foodstuffs from restaurants, grocery chains, produce warehouses, and distributes what would otherwise be thrown away to those who need it most.

An Off-Grid Future

Once upon a time I had the pleasure of living  in the beautiful nowhere of Arizona beneath an old, creaking windmill that rhythmically drew water up from the Earth for our pleasure. I have also lived without power and with a percentage of my power generated by the Wind and Sun.  These are all conditions I would return to.  In fact, I am planning on an off-grid future.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been researching innovations in the off-grid arena and thought I’d share just a smidge:

WIND

According to the Global Wind Energy Council the wind power industry grew 31% last year despite the economy, making wind power a 63 billion dollar a year industry.  Investors are not hesitating to throw their money into the wind.  Grin.

One of the most promising products for home wind energy production is Honeywell’s new gearless turbine, engineered to serve the mainstream.  It was named one of Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products of 2009 and solves many of the issues commonly associated with personal wind turbines.  The gearless turbine requires only a quarter of the wind speed to generate power, compared to geared turbines of the same diameter!

SUN

Another promising product from Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products list that I’d already taken notice of in the Blogosphere is the Andalay AC Solar PV Panel.  Because it’s an AC system, there’s no need for an inverter and a tricky wiring job.  All the mounts, racking and wiring are built right in.  Essentially the closest thing there is to plug-and-play power for the home user!

WATER

Unlike Sun and Wind, which can be more or less accessed by everyone to some degree, using hydro-power relies on being lucky enough to have access to a source of running water from the property.  Yet when there is a spring, creek, or river (or if you happen to live on a boat), a micro-hydro power system is the most constant and reliable source of renewable energy available.   The most recent advances in micro-hydro turbines seem to reflect a similar trends in the wind power industry toward permanent magnet motors with fewer parts.  This improves performance in every way – creating turbines with more responsivity and less parts to wear out.

BIO-DIESEL

As I don’t drive and don’t feel particularly inclined toward fuel-burning engines, bio-diesel is admittedly not my forte.   However, I am savvy enough of off-grid circles to have second-hand knowledge of the glory of the Listeroid, a heavy-duty diesel generator that can be run off of filtered waste vegetable oils.  The Lister diesel generator isn’t anything new.  In fact, it originally came onto the market in 1929 and is today a standard of the Amish.  It is also known for bringing a reliable power source to scores of remote locales around the globe.    It can specifically,  directly power older tools & equipment having belt drives, or newer devices like water pumps, as it works to generate power for your battery bank.  Good for an off-grid homestead!  Put one in your workshop and use it to power the tools, pump some water, and back-up the batteries of your primary system on calm, cloudy days!

FUEL CELL

Is this the future? The Bloom Box has been called technologies’ newest darling, perhaps in part to early high-profile customers like Google and e-bayThis fuel cell device is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it takes only two of these small boxes to power the traditional American household.  The suggestion is that for an initial investment of roughly $6k the standard American home will be able to become their own power center; just order on-line and set it up without having to worry about wiring.   Also, because the boxes can generate both energy and hydrogen the company describes a future where Bloom Boxes are paired with solar and wind systems to enable 24-hour power AND are used distribute hydrogen to “hydrogen fueling infrastructures”, potentially providing fuel for your hydrogen-powered car.  While you still have to feed the Bloom Box fuel after your initial investment, they are capable of using renewable bio-fuels, converting the fuel into electricity and hydrogen at over twice the standard rates.  It is this factor – that fossil fuels aren’t requisite – that is the Boxes’ saving grace and sets this technology apart from other similar (and failed) attempts at the same idea.

There are so many other amazing ideas  in development out there aimed at an off-grid future, from city-powering wave generators to kite-sails designed to harvest electricity for villages of clustered homes…the list goes on.  What I included here I kept on the home-powered, reasonably affordable scale.