Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change, And Justice for All, Community Building, Creating Community | Tags: bike lanes, biking, biommass, capitalism, cob ovens, community building, energy savings, public safety, resilience, self reliance, sharing, sharing economy, solar heating, tipping point, walkabillity
Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation: using L.E.S.S. just might be a meaningful part of our response to the crises of our age. If you’re a new reader to this blog, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “what IS the crisis of our age?”. If so, check out my ‘about’ page for a bit more information. If you’ve “been there, done that”, then just pick one…crisis, that is. Adopting new measures of prosperity needn’t be considered a bitter pill to swallow, but instead a new and exciting taste of freedom and resilience!
A recent (and quite long!) article I read titled “The End of Capitalism has Begun” touched on how Greek citizens are creating a new economy via food cooperatives (as is Cuba!), alternative producers, local currencies and exchange systems. According to the article there are hundreds of smaller initiatives there too, ranging from land squats to carpools to free kindergartens. I recently wrote in this blog about what I called “An Informal Economy”, but I have since learned that the media has dubbed this meme as “the sharing economy”. I believe I like that better. Whatever it’s called, it’s going to be the new global system eventually because the capitalist system we have now is simply not sustainable. All together now, “perpetual growth is not sustainable”!
Let’s start with energy: Even though my own energy use for transportation has been greatly reduced since moving from our old home that was located out in the country into the urban neighborhood that we live in now, I’m a long way from energy independence. Our newer location allows me to walk or ride my bike to many of the places that I need to go: from the dentist to the grocery store, I can get in my daily exercise while running those errands and keep the car parked at home most of the time. Many towns, including mine, are adding bike lanes and racks to make cycling safer and easier, but don’t forget carpooling and mass transit options to lower your own energy dependence. Car sharing has long gone on in families, and extending that to communities could be a logical next step, and has in fact begun in larger cities.
Home energy needs can be provided via a variety of ways, but lower prices on solar panels and wind turbines, along with tax incentives in many states, are making renewable energies a more affordable alternative. Biomass, waste recycling and community owned power stations are all viable ways of providing our energy needs on a local basis. Natural gas quality landfill gas that is produced from the methane that my town’s local landfill emits, is piped to the nearby VA Campus, a hospital and the university campus to provide their energy needs. How cool is that? Conversely, on a very low tech scale, I enjoy using my solar cooker whenever I can, and I’m exploring the possibility of building a large cob oven in a nearby local park where the community garden has its’ home. In this picture you’ll see a tiny one, next to a larger one, that was built last summer by kids at the site of our local “Tree Forest”, proving that this low tech combination of clay, straw and water is doable by any of us! And CLAY is an abundant natural resource right here in Tennessee…
Cob ovens can be used to consecutively cook breads, pizzas, desserts and more with just one firing
I completely understand these alternative ideas may not easily integrate into your home, your lifestyle or your neighborhood but I believe the benefits can outweigh the hassles if appropriate technology and community assistance is applied. It really does “take a village” and that ‘sharing economy’ I mentioned earlier is the only way capitalism will ever be replaced with an economic model that works for all of us, not just the privileged few. I also encourage you to never underestimate the sheer effectiveness of cross breezes, cotton clothing, deciduous shade trees and awnings in the summer, and eliminating the extra heat that using dishwashers, clothes dryers and ovens can create. Washing your dishes by hand, hanging your clothes outside to dry and preparing meals in a crock pot or on the stove top will easily eliminate that unwanted heat completely. Reflective window coatings, insulation and weatherstripping, fans, kiddie pools and cool showers are excellent ways to cool down in summer heat without turning on the AC, while layered clothing, space heaters, and passive or active solar gains make good alternatives to turning up the thermostat in the colder months. If we all did nothing more than grow some of our own food, preheat our water with a simple batch solar collector and travel car free as often as possible we could decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our personal resilience factor tremendously!
But let’s talk about our ‘Stuff’ now. We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well. But that’s not the way things have to be. Together, we can build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division. The way we make, use and throw away the stuff in our lives is senseless and shameful. I have never asked my readers to do this, but I’d like you to see this profound 52 second video that graphically shows just how far we’ve sunk within our capitalistic lifestyle of stuff. These 52 seconds really impacted me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMTu4ixp9kw With renewable energy, sustainable use, reuse and “upcycling” of resources, and the smart design of everything from candy wrappers to cities, we can have both sustainability and abundance.
Before I end this already too-long post, let me say this about stimulation: from technological wonders and homework, to club meetings and soccer games, too many distractions and activities have robbed kids and families of the unstructured time we need to thrive and be creative and connected. Setting some new limits for ourselves and our kids might be all that’s needed to keeping those distractions in check. Those limits will necessarily have to be personal and adjustable for each of us, but we might begin by adhering to just one simple rule in our households: for example, no phones or Ipads at the dinner table. Families eating dinner together has been proven to be the best thing we can do in order to maintain open lines of communication, good grades, better health and a host of other positive outcomes within our lives and our families.
We’re actually close to a tipping point to address these issues. This is the new world we have to learn to live in. Instead of debating outdated economics, let us come together to forge a new path—one that is practical and truly provides equal opportunity for all, even those desiring to live a simple life. Capitalism served us well, but it’s become evident that working together cooperatively rather than in competition is the foundation for a new economy and peaceful world.
Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change, Frugality, Simplicity, Transitioning | Tags: biking, energy saving, Freecycle, Gardening, hiking, pressure canning, public library, root cellar, star gazing, walkability, yoga
So, we’ve eaten very well this week, completed a couple of home repair projects, ridden our bikes, went star gazing and night hiking, attended church, swapped books with friends, played music and made a bit of money doing so, and enjoyed a simple and impromptu supper out with friends one night, spending less than $20 the whole week. We have resisted the urge to turn on our whole house AC, even during this heat wave, and have found ourselves matching our activities and our pace to that of the sun. Cool showers at bedtime, with a fan blowing on damp bodies is positively chilling and a lovely way to enjoy open windows on summer nights! It was a week of pleasant surprises and some unexpected bonuses…
Monday: I had loaned my pressure canner to my neighbor, who had gotten some fresh antibiotic-free, no-growth-hormone chickens from a farm in nearby North Carolina and wanted to try her hand at canning them. When she returned the canner, she brought me two humongous frozen breasts that she had vacuum packed herself and a pint of shredded chicken meat that she canned! I’m saving the breasts for a special occasion dinner, and the pulled chicken for a cold night when chicken and dumplings will be most appreciated. Anyone else wanna borrow my canner? 😉
Tuesday: The outer door to our root cellar was rotten and in terrible shape. I forgot to take a picture of the old door before the new one was assembled and shingled, but the replacement was built entirely from repurposed and scavenged lumber, then covered with new roofing shingles that were given to me by a friend a year or so ago, and topped off with the original handle. All we had to buy new were some screws because we had the roofing nails left over from building a chicken coop. Total cost? $2.00 for a sheet of plywood we bought at the thrift store and about a dollar’s worth of screws.
Wednesday: You just gotta love Freecycle! A nearby church posted an offer for a load of gravel. I responded, but got no reply. So I waited a few days and responded again, telling the poster I had a truck and would come that day to get the gravel if they still had it. Bingo! Turns out the first two responders had been offered the gravel, but neither showed up. I simply waited until it cooled off a bit and drove the 3 blocks to the church in my trusty 25 year old truck about 7:30 PM. Bingo again! There were 3 teenaged boys inside that came out to offer their strong arms and backs to help load it, then they offered to help with the second load if I could get back before 9 PM. I’d been wanting gravel for our way-in-the-back parking area for a couple of years but since it wasn’t a big priority, just couldn’t justify the cost. Patience always pays off when it comes to frugality…
Thursday: During a free yoga class Michael had attended recently, the sponsor handed out coupons for Free Lunches for Two at a nearby former-hospital-turned-luxury-senior-living-apartments. Hooray for free yoga classes and free lunches that are also near enough to walk to!
Friday: I harvested the last of the spring-planted kale, broccoli, cabbages, cilantro, lettuce, cauliflower and peas and now have my little summer dorm fridge full of green goodies. Planting the lettuce in the shade of the squash trellis turned out to be a good move, keeping it from bolting as early as usual. Live and learn…
My personal transition to a lifestyle that strives to live well on less has become a game for me, even though I am fully aware that my privilege in life allows me to play the game to begin with. A frugal life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty. People living in true poverty don’t have the luxury of playing this game. They don’t have choices like most of us in the developed world do. Yet, so many of us have two (or more) incomes and are still broke. Buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less leaves me with an unshakeable certainty and a deep peace that I’m on the right path, regardless of what happens in this uncertain world. And though trite, it’s true: “Transitioning is not so much about the destination as the journey”.
Filed under: Community Building, Contributionism, Creating Community, Herbs, Resilience | Tags: biking, Compost, growing food, Midwife
I write about resilience in this blog fairly often. I read or hear about extraordinary resilience among other people seeking their freedom through their own actions and get inspired. And as I seek resilience in my own life, I often feel as though I’m thriving, in an abundant and meaningful way. My household waste is minimal, and the inputs into my life seem to equal the outputs-some days. But I realize that every time I turn the key in my eco-friendly car, that so-called balance is destroyed. Every time I flip the switch on a compact fluorescent bulb I’m reliant on the electric company. Every time I eat fair trade, organic store-bought food, I’m reliant on a producer, and a truck and some oil somewhere along that long line. Every time I turn on the low-flow shower, I’m reliant on my water company, and rain, and God, and dams and waste water treatment plants. So how resilient am I, really? By myself, not very I’m afraid. Resilient communities are another matter altogether. They are the future. Communities that can supply food, water, energy and needed services are literally a detox for Western countries and are even being embraced in rural India as a way to help individual villages improve nutrition and food supplies, stop migration into large, crowded cities and improve quality of life.
<———–Rooftop solar panels in Saudi Arabia!
Chard and Sweet Potatoes growing in downtown Charleston, SC
This NOT an impossible dream folks. I see evidence of transitioning taking place every week it seems, in one form or another. Author James Kunstler writes: “Much of America east of the Mississippi is full of towns that are waiting to be reused, with much of their original equipment intact. The lucky suburbanites will be the ones with the forethought to trade in their suburban McHouses for property in towns and small cities, and prepare for a vocational life doing something useful and practical on the small-scale, whether it’s publishing a newsletter, being a paramedic, or fixing bicycles.”
So, I traded in my suburban life for a country cabin and now for an urban lifestyle in this medium sized town I live in and love. “Prepare for something useful and practical on a small-scale?” I want to be the ‘Herb Lady’ in my neighborhood. You know, the person you’d go to if you had a headache, a toothache or an upset tummy and couldn’t get to, or afford to go to, a doctor. The sort of eclectic old sage you’d seek out for advice about how to treat a burn, a sore throat or iron-poor blood. I enjoy very much growing things, and have been learning about the many practical uses of apothecary herbs. We’re all familiar with the culinary herbs, but medicinal herbs, now that’s a whole other world! I’m going to start experimenting on myself, beginning with using rosemary to improve memory. As soon as I remember where I put it 😉
So, tell me, what are you doing to become more resilient in your personal life, or in your community? Are you working in community gardens, or planning biking trails? Is serving as a midwife or backyard mechanic your thing? Is your town talking about a future based on local and small scale, rather than always bigger? I hope to have some super exciting news about resilience in my community to share with you very soon. In the meantime, please leave your own ideas and comments below. Inspire us all-please.
Filed under: Biking, Frugality, Healthy food, pressure cooking | Tags: beans, biking, fitness, frugal, growing food, hiking, Hoppin' John, pressure cooking, running
I cooked my traditional dish of Hoppin’ John today, using home-canned peppers, tomatoes, veggie broth and a package of the frozen Sofritos that my Puerto Rican friend Daniel taught me how to make last summer from my garden’s excess.
So today, all I had to do was open the jars, pressure cook the dried peas for 15 minutes, and add 2 cups of last night’s leftover rice, along with some precooked vegan sausage crumbles I had in the freezer. I love this time of year when I’m able to cook most of our meals using the fruits of my summer labor and dried beans and grains bought in bulk! Eating this way also helps me get ‘back in the groove’ of eating healthfully after the excesses of the holidays. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Property taxes, car insurance and the season’s highest heating bills all have to be paid in January and cooking this way feeds us well for mere dimes. Really. I also took advantage of the warm, sunny day to uncover my raised beds and cut some fresh kale to go with this. Quickly stir fried in red-pepper oil, it was the perfect go-with for the Hoppin’ John. We eat this dish (with a coin hidden in the pot-whoever finds it in their bowl will be blessed with wealth) with greens every year. Don’t you love family traditions?
New Year Resolutions; I have two:
Resolution #1. Get Fit. I want to ride my bike UPHILL (important skill when you live in the mountains), run in the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5k race again (along with 5,000 close friends), and climb Chimney Top Mountain on January 1st, 2015 (with a much smaller group of friends) that do it every New Year’s Day. We did it with them in 2008 and have always said we’d do it again. One year from today, we’ll be there and I’ll post a picture. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Here I am after the last time I did that climb:
Resolution #2. Become a better bass player, which is going to require a lot of daily practice on my part. I know, I know, “good luck with that too!”
Eating healthy, staying fit, staying out of debt and living ‘well with less’, making home-made music, gardening and canning, hiking, bike riding and spending time with family and friends is really how I want to live my life, this year and always. May YOU be so lucky too! Happy New Year!