Forget the Money Market- Invest in Yourself

I had a meeting with my financial counselor recently and asked him where I should invest my small inheritance that I received from my mother. I was thinking a CD, Money Market fund, or some other short-term investment where it could earn a bit of interest, yet not be penalized if I needed to use it. His advice?  Keep it in my emergency savings account because interest rates are so low still that it wouldn’t be prudent to tie it up in anything right now. The assumption is that rates.will.rise. Yeah, and so will the price.of.things.

So I gave a lot of thought to where I might currently get the best R.O.I. for my little nest egg based on that advice, and came up with the some ideas; while CD’s are currently paying less than 1% interest, and mortgage rates are hovering near 5% now, perhaps I could hold a mortgage for someone? Nah. Not unless they intended to buy a tiny house to live in.  The best Return On Investment would come from investing in my household: a new roof, long-term food storage, energy-saving measures or even learning new skills that might prove useful over the rest of my life. Self reliance tools like a pressure canner, a grain mill or sewing machine also came to mind but since I already own those things, I bought a new laptop instead.  My old desktop computer was really outdated, and my daughter, whose computer was even older, can still enjoy the old one. I bought it during Tennessee’s annual back to school tax-free weekend and saved enough cash on the tax to pay for a new wireless printer. Both the computer and printer are tools for me, and learning the new Windows 8 operating system has turned out to be a REAL investment in my brain health (or brain degradation, depending on how you look at it). I don’t have a smart phone, (nor do I feel the need for one and the monthly fees to support its smartness), cable TV, a daily newspaper or any number of available technological wonders of the world. A computer is my tool of choice to stay connected to my family, the world, and to you. Besides, I’m writing the next Great American Novel and long hand is soooo 1980’s 😉

I’ve also decided to invest in a rocket stove and a couple of small solar panels too, so that if the grid goes down, I can charge my laptop and my ‘dumb’ cell phone while boiling the water for a cup of herbal tea, using only a few twigs as fuel. Rocket Stoves rock.

Speaking of herbal tea, I’ve also decided it would be wise of me to invest a bit of money, some time and a lot of labor into a new medicinal herb bed so that I can grow some of my family’s medicines. Learning to grow and use plants like Elderberries for making cough syrups, Comfrey for wound care, Feverfew for headaches, Camomile for upset stomachs, and Hawthorne for high blood pressure should keep me and Michael out of the drugstore, more money in our pocket, and healthier to boot. That’s what I call a really good R.O.I. !


Outdoor clotheslines, a chicken tractor and a couple of hives of honey bees will complete my investments for now. The rest will be saved for when we need that new roof on the house-another good investment in our largest asset, which is our home.

It’s true, you can’t buy happiness. That said,  I’m sure I could be REAL HAPPY with a European vacation -for about 2 weeks. But what could possibly be a more satisfying start to each and every day than eating a fresh egg that I’ve just gathered at my back door, spreading my morning toast with honey from my own hives, and washing it down with a cup of herbal tea, while writing a new book or reading the morning news on my laptop- all while sitting in my garden? Call me crazy, and I’m sure some of you would, but investing in yourself, your health, your home and your own unique ‘good life’ will give you the very best returns. Guaranteed.


It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

mr rogers

I thought you might need some good news, something to brighten this dreary post-bombing day. Here’s what’s beautiful in my neighborhood this week:

* My daily walk took me on a different route, where I discovered a lively new beehive in one neighbor’s suburban driveway! I wrote a card and told ‘them’ I was very happy to see their bees and that I support their efforts, then delivered it in person to their door. If you see your neighbor planting a garden, tending their chickens, hanging their clothes out or some other such similar effort to live their urban life in a way that supports the things you care about, a supportive voice might be appreciated by them~and, you may make a new friend in the process!

* I’m making more of a point to engage the two young men that live next door to us. They have a new puppy, are grad students at the local university and seem truly nice. They’re slowly warming up by asking questions about us, our dog, our current backyard project of raised bed building, etc. It’s nice to know Ryan and what’s-his-name 😦  OK, so I forgot one name, but I’ll make it a point to ‘get it’ again soon-the pup’s name is Pippa)

* We’re taking part in our neighborhood’s annual cleanup tomorrow, as part of the Great American Cleanup. I plan to go over early to help the graffiti cleanup team, then Michael and I are giving a ‘State of the Community Garden’ address at the community center.

* Our ‘neighborhood association’, a fun, loose-knit group, is planning a walk-about porch party May 4th. Similar to the Christmas walk-about, neighbors walk to the designated hosts porches this time, where we’ll be served each family’s signature drink and a #!hor derve?&% snack. I love this idea and am already looking forward to my new hood’s annual July 4th party too! You can start a similar group for your hood by signing up at: https://westholston.nextdoor.com/refer/?is=nfhd (and if you let me REFER you before you launch your own website, we’ll BOTH win a $50 Starbucks gift card. It’s an easy, relaxed way to stay connected with your neighbors, I promise. And of course, if you ever ARE in a ‘lock in/cell-phones-down’ situation like those folks are in Boston today, you can still connect and communicate.

“From oil dependence to local resilience”. I feel strongly that building community with our neighbors is going to be KEY to our ability to respond to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity that we are facing.  Seeing the residents of cities and towns come together when they are under duress-from Newtown to Boston-proves that it’s our neighbors and friends that we’ll turn to when times are hard. Making those connections is so much easier, and definitely more fun, when you’re NOT in a stressful or tragic situation. It’s spring- get out and find out what’s beautiful in your neighborhood too!

Just Sayin’…
April 4, 2013, 9:21 PM
Filed under: Frugality, Green Cleaners, Sustainability, Urban Hens | Tags: , , ,

It seems about once a month I have several little ideas I want to share with you, none of which could make a complete post by themselves. So I’ve decided to make ‘Just Sayin’ a regular feature of this blog so I’ll have a way to do just that. Many of you have told me you like it and it gives me a way to clear my head of what I wanted to tell you-any of you that know me well, know that my memory sucks, so it’s best if I do it this way.

I’ve come across an idea that is so simple, frugal and useful I can’t believe I haven’t tried it before now. You know those household cleaners that are orange based? If you’ll save your orange peels (minus the white, pithy part) in a jar covered with white vinegar, let it sit a few weeks, then strain it into a (repurposed) spray bottle, you can use it diluted or full strength for cleaning anything but wood and clear glass. It smells nice, uses up all those winter citrus peels, and is One.More.Thing. you don’t need to buy. Just sayin’…

orange peel

Speaking of vinegar… did you know that if the vinegar you buy doesn’t say that it’s made from ‘whole grains’, ‘fruits’ or ‘wine’ that it’s made instead with a starter that comes from petroleum? How UNsustainable is that? Check the labels on off -brands of vinegars since I assume if you are eco-concious enough to be making and using your own homemade green cleaners, you care about such things. One of these days I’m going to make some vinegar from my own starter and when I do, I’ll write about it here. In the meantime, check out this new Heinz Cleaning Vinegar, with 6% acidity, compared to 4 or 5% for other brands. Just sayin’…

heinz cleaning vinegar label 1

Another ‘a-ha!’ moment came to me recently. Years ago, when I first began using cloth bags for carrying my purchases, I’d forget to bring them to the store with me. That is, until I started keeping them in the car. I don’t eat out often, but I’ve noticed that many times, it’s more food than I can eat so I’d have to ask for a f-f-f-ffoam container to hold my leftovers. I solved the problem by keeping my own takeout container in my car too. Ditch the foam. Just sayin’…


I’ve attended a couple of city commissioner candidate forums recently and have narrowed my choices down to the two that I feel will best be able to guide my community during these transitional times of energy depletion, climate change and economic sequesters, fiscal cliffs and recessions. They also assure me they’re okay with backyard-hens, and that sounds good to me. Please find out where your candidates stand on issues that are important to you before you vote. Just sayin’…

vote with your fork

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!

A month of FOOD

Naturally dyed eggs

I’m going to try something new, in this newish month of this New Year. For the rest of January, I plan to write about everybody’s favorite subject-FOOD! We’ll discuss seasonal eating, growing and preserving tips, local food,  plant-based recipes, nutrition, food costs, food waste, food storage, and…well, you get the idea. I may run out of month before I run out of topics!

Michael and I have kept track of all of our expenses since Day One. So after a dozen years of tracking, we know what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not. We’re seeing an upward trend in our monthly food costs, and in trying to figure out why, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all aspects of our food, which is why I thought this may be a good month to write about all things foody. I’m betting many of us have resolved to eat less, spend less, waste less, cook more, or in some way do something different where our food is concerned. May these January posts inspire or in some way be helpful to you.

Before I get into any specifics though, I have some wonderful news to crow about. The friend that co-founded the local C.O.O.P. group with me last year received a letter today from the city that said in part: “Thank you for helping resolve the complaints we received. My codes officers tell me they see no health issues at this time…therefore I will close this case.” I was with Emily last Friday when the zoning code/public health officers came to her house to inspect her chicken coop and hens. As always, the hens were clean, quiet, and happily enclosed in their predator proof, moveable chicken tractor. He couldn’t find one.single.problem. He took a picture, and left postcards at her neighbors’ homes informing them of her chickens’ presence in her backyard (they already knew it though) and said he’d be back this summer to further ensure there are no smells. This small revolution is a HUGE HUGE victory in our city folks, and gives new meaning to the terms “Local Food”, “Sustainability”, and “Resilient” for those of us that want nothing more than to put food on our family’s dinner plates. (Or breakfast plates, as the case may be.) 😉  If you are inclined to get your own little flock, please please follow all the rules so that you don’t run aFOWL and ruin it for the rest of us that want to enjoy our own backyard flocks too.  Here are some simple and common sense things to remember:

1. NO roosters!

2. Maximum 4 hens

3. Hens cannot be allowed to run loose, they MUST be in an enclosed area, with a MINIMUM of 4 square feet per bird

3. Feed (grains, scratch, etc) must be stored in a galvanized steel can with a tight-fitting lid, secured with a bungee if necessary

4. No slaughtering of birds

5. Scoop the poop and keep the roosts and nest areas clean

6. Build your coop like Fort Knox or raccoons, dogs and other critters WILL dig under and kill them. Chicken wire is NOT a suitable barrier between your ‘girls’ and predators. Use hardware cloth instead.

7. Be respectful of your neighbors. Talk with them before you get your hens, educate and inform them, and by all means,  share eggs with them! Consider carefully the location of your coop and run area, so that the birds are comfortable and accessible, yet are not looking into your neighbors’ bedroom or kitchen! (All this is to say, once again, that building community with your neighbors is the single best way to help you both transition to a future of climate changes and rising food or oil prices)

8. Attend the free, on-going chicken care classes that Emily and I will be teaching throughout the year. The next one will be held at Mize Farm and Garden, in Johnson City, on Saturday, Feb. 2nd, at 10 AM. Please register beforehand by calling the store: 434-1800

One final word about this initial C.O.O.P. victory: this first-time inspection and approval is fragile and will have to be REconsidered if there are any neighbor complaints. I encourage you to seek out and support those candidates in the upcoming commissioner elections that will support our local food efforts.  We’ll also be monitoring the ongoing city code revisions that are currently being considered and will let you know if the current code regarding hens in the backyard comes up for ‘discussion’. Next post: What’s for supper?


New Normals

The annual local Christmas tree shredding event, “Chipping of the Greens”,  was begun in 1990, with an all time high of 20,000 trees donated for chipping into mulch in 1998. Last year, the number of trees collected was down to 3,000. The is no longer cost-effective and will be discontinued, even though the city will continue to collect trees and shred them for landscaping mulch.  There has been a significant reduction in the number of real trees used in decorations.  Artificial trees are the ‘New Normal’ it seems. Trees can be placed curbside in Johnson City and Kingsport for residential collection beginning the day after Christmas through the third Saturday in January.  Trees may, also, be unloaded at Winged Deer Park boat ramp parking lot.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency creates fish habitats in area lakes by sinking the trees. 

What are some other ‘new normals?’  Serial shootings. Fiscal cliffs. Smaller wage hikes. Cell Phones.  Long Term Care Insurance. No insurance. Staycations over Vacations. Long Term Unemployment. Higher climate temperatures. Lower blood pressure standards. Stronger and more frequent storms. $3 plus per gallon for gasoline. New Iphone releases. Type II Diabetes.  GMO foods. Higher food prices-hey! I thought those GMO’s were supposed to save us all!  Planned obsolescence. 

You know what? Just for fun, I’m going to list some POSITIVE ‘new normals’ that I’ve also noticed:

Social Networking and blogs. Civic awakening. A weekly TV show called “The New Normal” about how a gay couple  and a mother form a family unit when she helps them have a child (which I’d never heard of until I began doing some research for this post). Open source software. Crowd Sourcing. Crowd Funding. Eating and shopping locally. Lower thermostat settings. Forever Stamps. Recycling. Composting. Victory Gardens. Farmer’s Markets. Cities in the US that allow backyard chickens. US manufacturers moving their operations back home.  Transition Initiatives.

 Little Free Libraries …

Little Free Libraries

Increased Bike Sales…

2011 was the first year for over 40 years that more new bicycles were sold than cars in Italy.

2011 was the first year for over 40 years that more new bicycles were sold than cars in Italy.

Here’s the point: The world is rapidly changing, and many of those changes are coming about as a response to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity. We can use these challenges as opportunities to transition to a way of living that is  significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. That’s a ‘new normal’ we can all embrace!

Pondering the Positive
December 19, 2012, 9:40 PM
Filed under: Backyard Chickens, Biking, Community Building, Liveable Communities, Local Food, Urban Hens | Tags:

I’ve had writer’s block lately, in case you noticed my lack of posts. Maybe BLOCK isn’t the right word, but more like HURDLE. I started writing a couple of different times over the last week or so, and both times it turned ugly-as in snarly, pessimistic, and disgusted. So both times, I slept on it, and realized that now, more than ever, people need to feel uplifted-including myself. We’re all aware of the sad and bad news going on in the world, I don’t need to rehash it here. The Sandy Hook thing has everyone feeling like we’ve been beat and defeated. But we haven’t, and to prove it, I’ll make this post about some of the good things I’ve witnessed or heard recently.

1. Gun control support is higher than EVER. Even the NRA has ‘no comment’ at this time.

2. My new neighborhood is having their annual ‘Holiday Walkabout’ Sunday evening that’s kind of like a progressive dinner, but instead of dinner there will snacks and libations at each of six houses open for touring, oohing and ahhing over the decorations, and getting to know the family dogs by name. I really missed having any kind of community when we lived out in the country, so I’m hopeful this will help us to get to know our neighbors better. My neighborhood also has a formal association that holds quarterly meetings, manages a neighborhood webpage to keep us all current, as well as a July 4th cookout with fireworks! Recent discussions are about doing some neighborhood recycling and cleanup drives.  I’m happy to be a part of such a wonderful community spirit!

3.  Speaking of neighborhoods… Yesterday I attended the monthly meeting of the ‘Liveable Communities Development Group’  and there were 25 of us there, all looking to make the downtown area a more walkable, more bikeable and more likeable place to live. There are SOO many simmering projects-from the current and long-needed flood abatement project to bike rack installations to exciting plans for the new Farmer’s Market,  park and community center, monthly First Friday celebrations and the annual Blue Plum festival, to name a few. At this month’s meeting we were also  educated about the Unicoi Cannery/Entrepreneurial Incubator project that’s received a $300,000 grant to help make it a reality. That will be a real boon to Farmer’s Market vendors that would like to make and sell their own salsas, bbq sauce or other ‘value-added’ projects, and this fully licensed and inspected commercial kitchen welcomes folks within 150 mile radius!. The more opportunities folks have to sell their products, the more those foods and meats will be grown right here where we live. Thank goodness we’ve left tobacco in the dust and are finding other crops and animals to raise in its place.

5. Which brings me to  ‘growing your own’. My friend Emily that worked so diligently with me earlier this year to bring C.O.O.P. (Chickens On Our Property)  demands before city council got another letter from the city’s zoning department telling her she has 15 days to get rid of her two hens. Yes, two. Emily has decided she’s tired as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore and so found a local attorney to represent her at a private hearing on the matter. The city has given her a ‘reprieve’ until they reach a decision on the matter after the holidays. We are feeling ‘potentially positive’ about the outcome, and that’s a Christmas gift I wanted to share with ya’ll. I was all set to ask you to write letters to the editor, to rally, petition, and so forth, for the right to have backyard hens, but Emily has asked us to refrain from this type of support until she knows more. So, while we ponder the right to bear arms (see #1 above) please ponder the RIGHT to keep a few backyard pets that can be kept quietly, cleanly and safely in your own backyard while they do their job of providing you with eggs and compost.  (Do your dogs do that? Do your guns do that? Just sayin’…)

urban chickens

4. Tupelo Honey Cafe’s impending renovation of the historic train depot and subsequent reincarnation as a wonderful new eatery AND the upcoming One Acre Cafe has both teams talking about working with local growers and farmers to source some of the food they’ll be cooking up for us all. That’s good news for ALL of us, but this news is like another Christmas gift for me… a gift that will keep on giving as these establishments not only make old places new again, but provide long-lasting job opportunities for local growers.

5. One final positive thing I’d like to share: I’ve had not one, but TWO different friends tell me of their immediate plans to convert their front yard lawns from grass-cutting places to food-growing spaces. I emailed the city’s ‘development director’ a few months ago asking if it was legal to do so, and got a resounding YES, NO PROBLEM! (I saved the email reply, just in case you know) So, even though we’re still getting harassed about chickens in the backyard, at least you can grow food in the front. So many edible plants are beautiful, that it wouldn’t be hard at all to make your landscape edible and attractive. Perhaps it’s not too late to ask Santa for a new red shovel  and some blueberry bushes?


One hour later: I feel better now that I’ve focused on the positive but there’s more: My kids and grandkids are coming from Ohio for Christmas, I’ve lost 5 pounds recently, Michael and I are playing some fun music lately, and I’m daily harvesting the biggest, best tasting broccoli and kale I’ve ever grown, right from my little backyard raised beds. To top off all of that, I hear it may snow a bit just in time for Santa next week! I hope your Christmas is filled with many positive things too. Just look for them, they’re there! Merry Christmas everyone!

The Time has Come
May 30, 2012, 4:02 PM
Filed under: Biking, Uncategorized, Urban Hens, Urban Living

Our grandson is now about 5’8″ tall, with a deep voice and a little mustache!

After 11 months on the market, we’ve finally sold our cabin/homestead and will be leaving it soon. It’s a bittersweet change, since this is the place we got married, buried our grandson’s time capsule (above) when he was 6 years old, and learned to raise bees, chickens and our own food. But it’s also an exciting change for us, one that we thought long and hard about before making the decision to sell.

When we moved to this area from California 10 years ago, we didn’t know a single soul here and fully expected to spend our retirement as mountain hermits. Anyone that knows us well, knows how much we enjoy playing string band music with ‘The Roan Mountain Moonshiners’, attending the local UU Church, being a part of the community garden, volunteering with different organizations that pull at our heart strings, hiking, biking and being part of a growing network of Transition Initiatives.   You might also know that during this decade several family members have moved here too, needing our help with daily living. Those family members have become more dependent as the years have gone by, and so part of this move is to be better able to help them regularly. We are moving to nearby Johnson City-but  not to just any suburban cul de sac. We’ve chosen to buy a 112 year old house right.down.town.

Our new goal in life is to position ourselves so that we can bike, walk and ride the city bus to the places we need to go. My mother will likely be moving to a skilled nursing home a 4 minute walk away, the library is next door to the nursing home, and our plot in the Carver Peace Gardens is a a block and a half away. I think I’ll actually be able to see it from my front porch when the leaves fall. We’ll be within easy walking to the Farmer’s Market, grocery stores, restaurants, post office, the new senior center with swimming pool, and just down the street from a  locally-owned, wood-fired PIZZA shop! (After living for a decade where there’s no pizza delivery, that shop is calling my name) We were lucky enough to find a place that has a sunny, FLAT large-by-city-standards back yard where we can grow lots of food. It also has an old root cellar under the house, a dream come true for me. If Johnson City council members ever decide to finalize a yes vote on allowing residents to have urban hens, the only thing I’ll be missing from here will be my bees. And the long driving times to get anywhere we need to go. (And if city chickens are ever made legal, I’m pretty sure city bees could make an eventual appearance  too-  just sayin’ )

In the years since moving to our current small holding, I’ve learned a lot about sustainability and have accepted the fact that we are now living in a Post Peak World that will never be able to return to an era of cheap energy. That said, our hope is that choosing deliberately to  live in an urban neighborhood that is walkable and diversified will enable us to live more sustainably and self sufficiently than we ever could here in the country. There will be trade offs no doubt, but I’m confident that all that we’ve learned here can be transferred to our urban homestead given time.

So over the next couple of weeks, we’ll dig up the capsule and will rebury it at the new place. The time has come.

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