I have compiled all of my writings from the last 6 years into one place. You can find me now at Seeking Simplicity
gentle living in a complex world
This last year has a period for reclaiming myself. The past year I walked away from everything of old and explored the world outside. For the past few weeks I have been thinking about my household, my role, and how I would like to live my life. Although there are parts of my old life that were difficult and that I do not want to return to, I want to return to many of my old ways: canning, cookstove, cheese and yogurt making, bread…. I do not want to return to carrying 60-70 gallons of water a day (although I may have to — for the goats and pigs).
The period was, in many ways, good for me. You see, for a time I didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it. Was living an AMish lifestyle truly my choice, or was it deemed to be the way we lived? Was it because I wanted to live simply or because my (now ex spouse) was afraid of a post-apocalyptic life? In many ways I don’t know which life it was then, but I do know that I miss many aspect of that life now.
It started with the cookstove. Recently, my ex told me that the people he has living in the old house (renters) are using the wood cookstove. I broke into tears. That stove was the heart of the home. I loved that stove. I loved heating and cooking and dancing with the wood and flame. I missed the slow food and the slow life. I missed all of it (not him). That is when I realized that part of that life was me. It was meant for me. I was meant for it. That eagerness to live differently: slowly, simply, and intentionally was at the core of my person. It is what I love about baking (sidenote: I baked professionally for about 5 months). Baking is part science and part art. So is living as we did when we were “going Amish.”
I spoke to my partner today and we agreed to work toward living that way again. I am done with the “recovery” year of my life and ready to move on to live intentionally — the way we want to live, rather than how we feel that we need to live. C is on the lookout for a cookstove.
I know that I have not updated this blog for a while. It has been a little busy around here. We spent a great deal of the early spring in Madison, Wisconsin — protesting at the capitol. And then the month of April was spent adding animals to the farm (goats, ducks, chicks), building out buildings (chicken coop — still in process), starting seeds, and now putting up fence.
Recently, Sharon Astyk mentioned that she was going to restart the Riot for Austerity starting June 1. The Riot was based on the premise that the average American uses 90% more (and waste a lot more) than that of the rest of the world. So Sharon and I discussed it and we wanted to see what this would look like. Thus we started the Riot (R4A). I did well for a long time, but then through a series of misfortunes and life changes, I stopped rioting. I believe most of us did. We didn’t stop trying, just stopped blogging about it. Heck, I stopped blogging at all.
So, here we are, Sharon and I decided to restart the Riot. (Read Sharon’s post here): http://sharonastyk.com/2011/04/25/revisiting-the-riot-for-austerity/
June 1 is the start date. The riot focuses on 7 areas of consumption. Here are the “rules” from our original discussions…
Here are the 7 categories:
1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR.
-No reduction in emissions for ethanol or biodiesel.
-Public transportation and Waste Veggie Oil Fuel are deemed to get 100 mpg, and should be calculated accordingly.
2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using
1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH
- Solar Renewables are deemed to have a 50% payback – that is, you get twice as many watts.
- Hydro and Wind are deemed to have a 4 to 1 payback over other methods – you get 4 times as many.
3. Heating and Cooking Energy – this is divided into 3 categories, gas, wood and oil. Your household probably uses one of these, and they are not
interchangeable. If you use an electric stove or electric heat, this goes under electric usage.
- Natural Gas (this is used by the vast majority of US households as heating and cooking fuel). For this purpose, Propane will be calculated as
the same as natural gas. Calculations in therms should be available from your gas provider.
- US Average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR
- Heating Oil (this is used by only about 8% of all US households, mostly in the Northeast, including mine).
- Average US usage is 750 Gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% cut would mean using 75 gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. Biodiesel is calculated as equivalent.
- Wood. This is a tough one. The conventional line is that wood is carbon neutral, but, of course, wood that is harvested would have otherwise been absorbing carbon and providing forest. There are good reasons to be skeptical about this. So I’ve divided wood into two categories.
- Locally and sustainably harvested, and either using deadwood, trees that had to come down anyway, coppiced or harvested by someone who replaces every lost tree. This is deemed carbon neutral, and you can use an unlimited supply. This would include street trees your town is taking
down anyway, wood you cut on your property and replant, coppiced wood (that is, you cut down some part of the tree but leave it to grow), and
standing and fallen deadwood. You can use as much of this as you like.
- Wood not sustainably harvested, or transported long distances, or you don’t know. 1 cord of this is equal to 15 gallons of oil or 20 therms of natural gas.
4. Garbage – the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.
5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.
6. Consumer Goods. The best metric I could find for this is using money. A Professor at Syracuse University calculates that as an average, every consumer dollar we spend puts .5 lbs of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn’t perfect, of course, but it averages out pretty well.
The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods,
not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car
payments, etc… Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the
extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts,
toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper
goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR
~_ _+ Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual
purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5
of your allotment. The reason for this is that used goods bought from
previous owners put money back into circulation that is then spent on new
goods. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc… but not Goodwill
and other charities, as noted below. This rule does not apply if you know
that the item would otherwise be thrown out – that is, if someone says,
“If you don’t buy it, I’m going to toss it.” Those items are unlimited as
well, because they keep crap out of landfills.
~_ _+ Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon
cost. That is, you can spend all you want at Goodwill and the church
rummage sale. Putting things back into use that would otherwise be tossed
should be strongly encouraged.
7. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically
inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here’s the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.
1- is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY* (or mostly – it doesn’t have to be certified, but should be low input, because chemical fertilizers produce nitrous oxide which is a major greenhouse contributor). Local means within 100 miles to me. This includes all produce, grains, beans, and meats and dairy products that are mostly
either *GRASSFED* or produced with *HOME GROWN OR LOCALLY GROWN, ORGANIC
FEED.* That is, chicken meat produced with GM corn from IOWA in Florida is
not local. A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST 70% of your
diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more. I also include locally
produced things like soap in this category, if most of the ingredients are
#2 is is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is,
*whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea,
coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally
produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local
grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to
calculate, because Americans spend very little on these things (except
coffee) and whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet.
These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in
bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk,
tea loose, by the pound, rather than in little bags), this would also
include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and
other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total
#3 is Wet goods – conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices,
oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like
chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no
one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the
above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.
Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or
locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of
So, I am back, I am in, and I am ready to go. Are you?
I also blog at my other site about all of the adventures as a new fish farmer. LOL! (http://www.2lezfishfarm.com)
Andy Gussert said, “Thank you Scott Walker! If we were given a million dollars, there is no way we could have taught so many kids about solidarity, labor organizing, and the power of the people when they unite”.
The other day we brought the children to our third day of the protests in Madison Wisconsin (the 5th day of the protests). The children did not have school, and we decided that they should, as the chants have stated, see what “democracy looks like.” If there was ever a moment to use to teach our children about the power of the people and about civics, this was it.
We explained a little bit to the children about the way that bills are introduced and passed through various houses until they can be accepted into law. We also discussed unions and the reason that unions are important: fair wages, decent work weeks, weekends, child labor, and benefits for work. We talked about how many people (including Martin Luther King Jr) worked very hard to get labor laws and unions into place. We also explained what the Governor wanted to do — removing the rights to bargain through a union. Of course, all of this was in the most simplest of terms. We explained that the protests were not about the employees wanting more money or better benefits, in fact they were willing to give up some of that. What they wanted were their rights to a union. This is where there was disagreement. The Governor refuses to negotiate any of that. He didn’t want them to give up money. He wanted them to give up the Union power.
So the kids had a very basic understanding of what they were going to see. What they did see was shocking, even to them. They saw 40,000 people peacefully gathering in protest. They saw people singing together and voicing their opinion. They heard chants of “power to the people” and “this is what democracy looks like.” They saw people of all ages and of all walks of life: teachers, nurses, farmers, police, firefighters, students, and others stand together and proclaim their desire for rights. The kids stood next to one another, smiling and taking in the energy of the event.
We drove home and discussed the events. They saw what democracy looks like. The participated in the opportunity to speak for their rights and the rights of others. The desire to learn more. This was education.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
- Pastor Martin Niemoller
These words were written about the inactivity of the Germans during the Nazis rise to power. To me, these words are a powerful reminder of our responsibility to use our voice. That is why we have spent the last two days in Madison protesting the Governor’s plan to reduce the deficit. We are not opposed to reducing the deficit. We are not opposed to “tightening our belts.” What we are opposed to is the plan to remove collective bargaining rights. The rights that our forefathers fought for us to have. These rights that state that as individuals we can come together in one voice in order to protect our rights to work in an environment that is fair and safe. The rights of our unions are being removed. It may be public employee unions now but it could be private unions tomorrow. After that, who is next?
We have spent the last two days in Madison joining our Wisconsin teachers, public employees, municipal workers, nurses, firefighters and police officers protesting this bill and the unwillingness of the governor to negotiate. We are standing with our Wisconsin citizens in solidarity, telling the country that our Union Rights are Human Rights. It may be public employees now, it could be private employees next. It could be Wisconsin now and Iowa tomorrow. This is not about money. It is about our rights.
We return to Madison today with our children. This is their opportunity to witness history being made. This is their opportunity for greater understanding of the sacrifices of those like Martin Luther King Jr. This is their opportunity to see what democracy looks like. We stand together in one voice. In solidarity. If we do not speak now, who will be left to speak tomorrow?
The nightmare that is the fireplace may someday come to an end.
Not only do we have to replace everything from stove to chimney, but we also have to increase the size of the hearth. The current hearth is made out of concrete. So, although we would love to make something that looks nice, we knew that we should remain with the current materials, and save the expense of something new (for another time).
The project is is finished for step one. We will be adding more concrete and making everything “pretty” this spring.
During the summer months, I spend a lot of time canning and freezing fruits and veggies for winter use. One of our favorite ways to use these fruits is in baked goods and in breakfast foods. Here, we have blueberry pancakes with homemade blueberry syrup. This is one of our Saturday morning rituals.
We’re in the process of trying to decide what to do about this house. It has been a “nightmare” of sorts. First the fireplace fiasco of code issues and now a fireworks display from the electrical box in the fish barn. Yes, there is an electrical box in the barn. The barn is full of water and fish. There tends to be mist (very interesting to see) rising in the cold weather. I love it: the colder the outside air, the greater the mist. The water in the raceways in a constant 48 degrees (yes — I still want to harness that power. Somehow.)
The days are now shorter, which means that often we need to turn on the overhead lights in order to work in the barn. The other day we entered the barn and turned on the lights. We heard a snap crackle and pop come from the electrical box and watched rows of lights flicker and then go out.
We turned off the lights and turned them back on. The same thing occurred. This time, it was accompanied by a fireworks display from the electrical box. We turned off the lights and walked away. The fish had already been fed and the work that needed to be done could wait until morning. Ugh. It looks like we have more fun (and expenses) on the horizon.
I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this house more energy efficient. We are walking around and sealing holes and cracks and seepages everywhere possible. I know that we will need to add insulation to the attic as well as blow it into the walls as soon as we can. This is the biggest and smartest way to make the house more energy efficient — lessen the amount of heat loss. Yes, we have (or will have) a new wood stove, but we also want to simply use less electricity and use less LP. We want to be as much “off-grid” as we can be.
So, although we are looking at various ways to save electricity (by replacing appliances, turning off, unplugging, etc), we are also looking at ways to generate electricity.
We have a few options at our house:
Solar. Solar comes in various types: panels, shingles, and laminates. I am sure that there are other options as well. I like the option of solar. I have a friend who owns a solar business. They are on my call list. (solar panels, solar shingles, laminate solar…).
Wind: we live in a valley. It seems that the days that we don’t have sun, we have wind. A micro wind power generator could be good. Of course, these also tend to be spendy.
Hydro: we have a high volume gravity fed spring which is the source for the fish farm. I have suddenly found that this could also be a good option. I found this guide: http://www.scribd.com/doc/16047612/Canada-Micro-Hydro-Guide I will peruse it further, but it looks like a real possibility for the current set-up. I don’t plan on using the system to produce energy for the entire house, but if it could power lights for the hatchery and grow lights for the aquaponics greenhouse system (that we are experimenting with), then it would be well worth it.
I don’t know if I want to go entirely off-grid again, but I do want to be much less reliant on the system as it is. The only reason that I don’t want to “go-Amish” again is that it was very difficult. It was hard to carry all of the water, heat and cook entirely with wood, and do almost everything by hand. There may also be a household revolt if I chose to do that again. I did appreciate the experience and would love to live closer to that way again, but I don’t think it is entirely necessary. I can still reduce and live simply — I just need to figure out how to do it.