Empower House
A home is considered a refuge not only from nature’s elements, but from societal pressures as well. It’s a basic need, right along with food and clothing. But I’ve got a question for you; Is your home living up to its’ potential?
Turning our homes into a place of production, rather than consumption, can help us produce the food, energy, water and products we rely upon and can even produce extra income in a pinch! To really become resilient, we need to make sure our homes are able to provide for at least some of our needs.

Here’s an example:  Let’s say you have a beehive and a little coop with a couple of laying hens in the backyard. And let’s also say you have a modest vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, a strawberry patch and some blueberry bushes planted out by the shed. The one thing all those things need for survival is water. Now, suppose your region suffers through a drought like the one that’s been going on in the midwestern states for several years now and water rationing becomes a reality in your town. Or suppose storm-produced flooding or power outages overwhelms and shuts down your city’s municipal water system. How would you take care of your water needs? Our great grandparents had wells, springs, cisterns and outhouses for dealing with their water needs but we modern urban dwellers are completely dependent on complex, energy- intensive water systems.Why not put in place your own water system? Here’s some ideas to help you do just that:

  • Landscape your yard with a rain garden to capture and divert excess rainwater into an area that your bees and fruit trees can easily access
  • Set up rain barrels, using your roof  as the channel device
  • Install an underground tank in the yard, a dirt-floored cellar or even under a deck to store even more rainwater. If underground storage isn’t feasible, above ground tanks are available, and now you can buy slimlined tanks that form a fence, serving dual purposes:


One option for an almost endless supply of drinking water is to purchase a gravity-feed counter top water filtration system that uses no electricity and very long-lasting carbon filters that can clean raw, contaminated water well enough to allow you to drink it. This is our home’s ‘drinking station’ and I’ve read where this particular type of filtration system is used by Vista and Peace Corps workers to enable them to have clean drinking water while working in third world countries.


At the very least, you can also store extra drinking water in jugs in the basement or even under the beds-anywhere it won’t freeze. Humans and pets can go for weeks without food but only a couple of days without water. When tornadoes or storms are bearing down on us is NOT the time to think about emergency water.  Plenty of clean water can be provided right from your own home with a little advance planning.

What are some other ways your home can become empowered to support YOU?

  • A small solar array can provide you with some hot water or generate a bit of electricity, and with prices at an all time low, coupled with tax incentives, solar has become more affordable
  • Using your backyard to grow a mini orchard, a  garden- and perhaps raise some meat rabbits in hutches- could go a long way towards feeding your family
  • Hanging your clothes to dry outside on a clothesline or inside on a rack
  • Growing fresh herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes
  • Brewing your own wines and beers in the basement can make hard times a little less so
  • Adding a small solar greenhouse over a south-facing window of your home can provide you with fresh food in winter AND be an extra source of heat
  • Building a wood fired brick oven on the back patio can provide you with a wonderful way to cook food and heat water if the power is out-or not
  • Or convert that patio into a full-blown screened in ‘summer kitchen’ with running water from, you guessed it, your stored rainwater
  • … the list of things your home can be empowered to do is almost endless.

Many people make money by using part of their home for a purpose other than simply shelter and refuge; from renting a spare bedroom to offering daycare, the possibilities are endless. One very popular family owned pizza shop in the heart of  our downtown has built a wood fired brick oven that’s used for baking their pies, and they live upstairs. Root cellars and basements can be mighty useful for food and pantry storage as well as work space. Garages can be converted to workshops, studios and more.

The systems you put into place in your home make you able to produce more, become less dependent, and live a better life.  Whether it’s a water, energy, or food system, the synergies between these systems compound this effect. Just like in the case of modern-day financial assets, savings or investment accounts get increasingly valuable due to compounding over the long term. Empower your home to take care of your needs!

Gardening As If My Life Depended On It

I can’t believe February’s almost over and I haven’t written a post all month. I’ve been quite busy working on some small home projects, tackling a small mountain of sewing repairs, finishing up January’s library loans, and taking part in some time consuming committee work at my church. They’re all fine, indoor activities for what I’m hoping will be our  final Winter month, but I’ll be sooo happy when I can get outdoors again and begin planting and gardening.

My New Year’s resolution to slow down to the ‘speed of light life’ is starting to have an effect. I’m finding more time to be spontaneous, and more time to do those things that are most gratifying to me. I gain a lot of pleasure in being a domestic Goddess and don’t consider it ‘gender inequality’, but that’s just me. And even though retirement has certainly given me extra time in my daily life, that extra time had become so filled with activities, that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by them all. Retirement also comes with a fixed income and I wanted to focus my life energy on trying to maximize that income, all the while increasing my happiness and well being quotas. Slowing down and eliminating some of the to-do’s allows that to happen. After a hiatus from gardening last summer due to our mid-season move to town , I truly missed the growing,  preserving and of course, the fresh food that we’ve come to depend on from our garden. We’ve witnessed rising food prices this winter; $4 a pound for butternut squash, for example, along with questionable food products (horsemeat burgers anyone?), Listeria and Salmonella scares at our beloved Trader Joe’s stores, and according to the January 15th ‘U.S. Drought Monitor’, moderate to exceptional drought still covers 58.9% of the contiguous U.S. (And by the way, what the hell has happened to gas prices this week?)


gas prices

So,what’s a body to do? My plan is to grow more food and then find ways to do it more sustainably. This is the year I hope to become more adept at having no- or-low-till beds, seed saving, cover cropping and succession planting, mulching and capturing rainwater to irrigate with during the dry spells, making compost with nothing more than leaves and urban-sourced manures, and tending vermiculture bins- all of which will reduce my dependence on ‘store bought’ inputs. Market prices for food and gasoline, the lingering drought, the state of Georgia making thirsty gulping noises again along with North Korea behaving very badly all serve to make life feel so out of control that I find growing food is the best medicine for my personal angst. It’s a 2-part strategy since it’s not just the food, but the actual being in the garden that offers me peace in troubled times. I’m gardening this year as if my life depended on it.

P.S. I thought some of you might be interested in attending this lecture:

The next event in the Leading Voices in Public Health Lecture Series will be held tomorrow,Thursday, February 21, 2013.
Dr. Robert S. Lawrence will be speaking on:
“Rethinking Water:  The High Meat American Diet is Draining Our Aquifers.”
Dr. Robert Lawrence is the Founding Director of the Center for a Livable Future and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  A brief summary of his impressive career is included in the flyer.
The Lecture will be at 7:00pm EST in the 2nd floor ballroom of the Millennium Centre in Johnson City, TN.  It is free and open to the public.  CME credits will be provided for on-ground participants only. For those of you who will be outside of the Tri-Cities areas, or otherwise unable to attend, the Lecture will be livestreamed from http://elearning.etsu.edu/publichealthlive.htm

Slower, smaller, quieter, poorer

Oh-o, say can you see? What so proudly we hailed…

It’s Saturday morning and I’ve spent this week reading news, blogs, new library books and magazine articles. With the holidays past us now, with the winter veggies under hoops, and my cold body under wraps, reading is my activity of choice. No other time during the year offers me the time to read like I do during these winter months. Because we’re trying to keep the thermostat in this bigger home set low, I’m spending as much time as possible close to the oven or the gas fireplace, so reading and baking help. I wish I knew how to knit. But I digress…

The overall sense of things I’m getting from reading all these current events, is that the fiscal cliff is, in a sense, still a cliff hanger, and that job growth is still cool as the recovery grinds on. Most economists expect the US economy will be held back by tax hikes this year as well as by weak spending by households and businesses, which are still trying to reduce their debt burdens. The US Congress this week passed legislation to avoid most of the tax hikes and postpone the spending cuts. Even with the last-minute deal to avoid much of the fiscal cliff,  most workers will see their take-home pay reduced this month as a two-year cut in payroll taxes expires.

In other words, we’re still in the same boat. Climate change continues to be ignored by Washington, Mountain Top Removal has moved into Tennessee, and the  oil-drilling ship Shell had planned to use to tap oil reserves in the Arctic Ocean ran aground this week (Happy New Year Alaska!) dashing hopes that massive new oil fields would be found there. Same old stuff, different year.

Rather than being in denial or getting depressed by this buffet of crappy news, I choose to be quietly active about it. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I wonder whether my individual efforts to lower my carbon footprint really make a difference, (especially when I see so much waste around me.) But those efforts are all I’ve got. MY personal efforts mean a lot to me and so I’ve decided NOT to give up but to ‘branch out’, shall we say. I’ve already publicly committed to picking up trash on my daily walks but I’m also quietly committing to living a slower, smaller, quieter and yes, poorer life this year. Michael and I are making plans to challenge ourselves in new, untried, ways in 2013 in order to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels and to live well on less. And herein lies the key for me. Living on less sounds dreary, doesn’t it? But living WELL on less sounds intriguing, yes?  Every piece of advice I read concerning ”how to become an effective writer” tells me to ”know my subject”. So if I’m going to continue writing about the issues that this very blog is based on, I feel I should be able to offer practical ways that we can gracefully transition to a Peak Oil World. Before I even tell you about the challenges though, let me say this: we view them as FUN, not as deprivations or we wouldn’t do them at all.

First, we plan to go for a month sometime this year without using our car. It won’t be January or February though, I can tell you that- it’s too damn cold! (Hey! This is OUR personal challenge so we get to set the rules!) It will likely be in March or April before we get too deeply involved with the community and our own personal gardens (in case, you know, we need to fire up our old 1987 truck to haul manure 😉 ) . The second challenge will be to eat for a month using the same USDA food cost guidelines that are used for food stamp recipients. Again, we get to choose the month, and it may well be the month we’re not driving since those food stamp guidelines do NOT include any restaurant meals anyway. I think these two challenges will  help me to have better insight as to what it might take to live in a world where everything is more localized and one in which sustainable and resilient aren’t just trendy buzz words, but become part of everyone’s everyday life. As a writer, I want to be able to offer you, my reader, some realistic and doable solutions to the problems we’re facing as a society. I believe that the best thing average Joe’s and Jane’s like us can do to adapt to the real world challenges I often write about, is to learn to live in ways that keep us robustly happy and healthy, while being engaged with our neighbors and  ’empowered by our homes’.  Remember that phrase, ’empowered by our homes’, because you’ll be reading  more about that in this blog during the coming year too. Our homes are places of shelter and rest certainly, but also places that can work FOR us, rather than US working to support our homes! Investing in them as infrastructures where we grow and preserve food, supply some of our energy needs, capture rainwater or serve as neighborhood centers could go a long way towards keeping us warm and fed and yes, empowered! in good times or bad.

Constant debt, stress and mindless consumerism makes life harder than it needs to be. A life that’s slower, smaller, quieter, and  poorer sounds like a good alternative to me. And what if we never do fall ‘over the cliff’? Here’s your answer…

Create a better world for nothing-309x197


“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”~ Thomas Edison, 1931.  That’s right~Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and founder of General Electric said that.

We’ve put a man on the moon, invented computers and the internet and a bajillion other things since then, but our dependence on oil and coal has only increased, even though ‘sun, wind and tide’ have proven that they can be strong contenders for powering our lives. I’d like to add ‘human power’ to that list of renewables. These infinite energy sources will never be able to produce the amounts of energy that cheap oil has allowed us to waste use, but if a person were to first reduce their energy usage, they could sure make a difference between surviving and thriving in a lower energy world.

When I think about what I might miss most if we were to have locally the ‘rolling brownouts’ that I experienced first-hand while living in central California, it would be: lighting, cooling, and communication with my family. For others it might be refrigeration, your computer or a washing machine. Our individual wants and needs are as varied as we, the people! I remember one hot summer day at work, in a corporate office on the second floor, when the brownouts began. The first time it happened, we were sent home from work early. The next time we were told to do paper work in offices nearest the windows (for lighting only mind you-the ‘modern’ corporate office windows didn’t open and close!) My job was telephone and internet-driven, so the paper work was quickly caught up with. The next time it happened, we had phone service, but still no computer-or air conditioning! In no time I was sweltering hot and the interior bathrooms were pitch black, and like walking into an oven. Those short-lived brownouts left an impression on me: BE PREPARED!

But how can I be prepared, when practically everything requires some form of energy? I’ve found a few things that really can make life easier when the grid goes down, whether for an afternoon or indefinitely…

1. Wind:

2. Sun:

3. Tides:


4. Human (AND solar!)

I rarely endorse buying new things, but this hand-cranked or solar application is an exception because of its’ practicality, reliability, low-cost and safety:

This little jewel is an AM/FM/Weather Radio that also includes a light and cell phone charger!

And this little jewel gets me where I need to go:

OOPS! Wrong picture! Let’s try that again…

These ‘alternatives’ certainly won’t take the place of everything that electricity and cheap oil provides in our lives. When combined with staying out of debt, learning to grow and preserve food, maybe raising a few hens in the backyard, tending a hive of bees, insulating our homes or learning a barterable skill, they can help us keep our heads above water when shit hits the fan! And if shit never does hit the fan, you still win because you’ll have no debt, good food, comfortable shelter and a skill that you can trade.  The end.

Herbs and more
May 4, 2012, 9:29 PM
Filed under: Herbs, Rain Barrels, Transition Towns, Uncategorized

Michael and I drove over the mountain today to attend the annual Asheville Herb Festival at the Western North Carolina Farmer’s Market. I was delighted with the weather, the turnout, and the variety of plants, products and vendors, so I thought I’d share a few things I learned today with you.

The most exciting thing I learned is that on Wednesday, May 9th there is a ‘special event’ being organized by Transition Asheville & The Food Security Cluster of the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council. A panel of the city and county’s emergency response team and community leaders will discuss ‘FOOD SECURITY in times of Crisis, Transition, and Emergency’. It is billed as a community forum on resilience and emergency preparedness. Those topics are the very essence of this blog. I want to be part of that conversation, and then I want that same conversation to take place right here in the TriCities too! But I cannot attend that day, so here’s a link with all the info, in case you’d like to go. If you do, please contact me when it’s over and let me know what you’ve learned, and how we might initiate that same kind of preparedness on THIS side of the mountain.

Another thing I learned: A lack of water to meet daily needs is a reality today for one in three people around the world. Globally, the problem is getting worse as cities and populations grow, and the needs for water increase in agriculture, industry and households. We are, after all, over 7 BILLION strong and growing! Add to that a warming planet, and we have the makings of water wars in the future. So what can I do about it? Harvest rainwater, of course! And these barrels won’t limit you to a measly 50 gallons either! This company not only sells and installs rain barrels but also the hardware for do it yourselfers- from diverters to telescoping downspouts. I especially liked how these barrels are placed on sturdy platforms, making it easier to use gravity to water your garden with.

Of course rain barrels aren’t exactly new…many of our great grandparents collected rainwater in large, underground cisterns. They have long been used in areas where water is scarce, either because it is rare or because it has been depleted due to heavy use. Early on, the water was used for many purposes including cooking, irrigation, and washing. The water could then be accessed with a simple pump or downhill gravity. But harvesting rainwater on any scale, combined with simple conservation efforts like installing low flow shower heads, faucets and toilets, drip irrigation systems and mulching your garden can dramatically lower your water use. If you’re really serious about conserving water though, using a dry composting toilet makes the most sense. Maybe next year the Herb Festival will be selling composted humanure, along with their bags of  compost and worm castings.

Of course, there were flowers, vegetables, native plants and trees, hand made soaps, herbal drinks and baked goods (no, I didn’t see any brownies :D),  salves, tinctures, pots and, oh yeah- HERBS! Every kind imaginable, including…

All I bought was a bar of herbal/goat’s milk soap and a hardy variety of rosemary plant to replace the one we lost this winter. If you don’t want to, or can’t, grow a full garden, consider growing a simple pot of basil or your favorite herb on the windowsill. You’ll save money over the overpriced, over-packaged herbs found at the grocery store, and yours will be so much fresher! By the way, herbs can be easily dried by placing them in a paper bag, stem and all, allowing you to cook with them year round. Herbs are considered the ‘gateway drugs’ to big gardens though, so be very careful!

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