Category Archives: Home

Authentic Living: The Ego’s Ruin

I recently had a sweet, very dear friend tell me she couldn’t believe we moved from 2500 square feet, down to just 900. We didn’t have to do it, but I explained that I really liked it because of the peace of mind- fewer expenses, smaller ecological footprint, lower bills, less to clean and maintain, etc (the list is endless). ‘Less to clean’ has been a huge plus for me as a busy mom. My friend seemed amazed, and said she wouldn’t be able to do it because of her ego. Ego? For some reason that never entered the picture for us. We’d honestly never even thought of it. Of course, we have egos. I’m closely acquainted with mine, her name is Edna, and I keep her in check regarding other matters. But Daniel and I have never been about appearances, or what others think of us, and we don’t need a large, fluffed-up or fancy home to feel like valuable, important human beings. Granted, we do believe a home should be reasonably clean, arranged well, and that natural beauty is of great importance to our overall well-being. Those aren’t rooted in the ego so much as a general sense of self respect and a need for nature, order, and balance.

The little conversation sparked some thoughts because I’m sure she isn’t the only one reading our blog who thinks what we’ve done is probably difficult, strange, or an ego-blow. I recall sitting across the table with another friend last year and informing her of our recent move. She wanted to know all about the house, our amenities, and what part of town we’re in. She’s very into ‘prosperity consciousness’ which teaches we can have anything and everything we desire if we just set our intentions properly, and trust in the flow of the universe. Amen to the power of our minds, especially when aligned with our true calling. I strongly believe in that philosophy since I’ve experienced many results first-hand. However, the majority of people in  that movement (at least the people I’ve met) make lists of all the material things they want to acquire. That’s fine if it’s what you want, and if it’s where you’re at in your personal process, but it’s so far from my galaxy of thinking and desires that I tend to confuse that crowd. After explaining our scale-down move to my friend last year, she looked at me with the most puzzled and disgusted look (lip curling) and said, “Why on earth did you do that??!” To her, we should be striving for more, not less. After all, we are entitled to all of God’s riches and glory… right? Well, to me, God’s riches and glory do not lie in this world. Not one iota. My only response to that question is “Why the heck not??!” My other friend had it right– the ego just doesn’t get it.

For those who would walk into our cozy, little house, lip curled, unimpressed and puzzled, let me just say we live in a way that is in complete alignment with our beliefs. In doing so, we’ve experienced a level of happiness that far exceeds anything we’d experience with granite countertops, jacuzzis, a tiled foyer, finished basement, 3-car garage, or mammoth master suite. I spend very little time having to clean up the house, and every square inch gets the love and attention it deserves because there’s less of it. Oh yeah! I love the ‘less’ part. Every corner is valuable and sacred. Our family is 110% closer and more intimate; we talk to one another constantly, and I can monitor what my kids are doing easily. We have the huge, tree-lined 3/4 care yard we’ve always wanted instead of a massive and cumbersome home to maintain on an average, limiting lot. The regenerative, therapeutic value of being outdoors far outweighs any desires to materially impress myself or anyone else. My yard impresses me. The earth with her intensity, beauty, cycles and seasons impresses me from our sun room windows. The grandeur is in  the natural world for us, which isn’t easily noticed and doesn’t always impress people. That’s perfectly okay with me, considering I love the feeling of having a secret oasis. We like it simple.

I’d like to add that we have no problems with those who choose to live differently. We don’t think we’re holier than thou, or better than anyone else. We just wanted to simplify our lives drastically in order to experience more peace, happiness, and freedom, and it worked. We’re not selling anything at all, and don’t make a dime from our blog… we’re just passing along what’s worked for us, and why. There have been more than a few folks who have gotten rather defensive with me about their lifestyles, even when we’re not even on the topic. Seriously, they just blurt out, out of the blue, that they don’t like clothes lines, gardening or the smell of chickens, and need way more living space due to company. Okay, I mean it– that’s okay. The ranting can go on forever while I just listen. Reminds me a great deal of what happens when I inform people I’m vegetarian… ugh! I’m not even going there. Again, we make no personal judgments about anything, except what feels right for ourselves.. that’s what we believe everyone should do– live in complete authenticity with yourself and your surroundings, however that looks to you. So, please don’t take any of what we do or believe as an attack. In my experience, when people take what I’m doing in my own life personally, they’ve probably got some self-examination to do.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Clean Planet, Home, Materialism, Order & Balance, Peace, River Living, Simplicity, Small House Living, Thoughts & Insights, Wabi Sabi

Cool Cobb Housing

It’s not just cool, it’s very cool. Cobb houses have been built for centuries, and there are many ancient cobb structures all over the UK. It is one of the longest lasting materials to build with, and one of the most fluid, creative and fun to work with materials. That’s why we’re researching it for Sorin’s little future house. We’re planning to build her a tiny house in the back yard… we’ve settled on a location (nestled under  the trees), and now we’re deciding on the style and materials. What exactly is cobb? It’s a mixture of straw, mud and sand. That’s it. Here are the benefits of building with cobb:

  • Cheap, sustainable and eco-friendly method of construction using local materials.
  • Cob is load-bearing and needs no framework. A cob house uses 60 per cent less timber than a stud frame building.
  • Very durable – cob houses built centuries ago are still lived in.
  • Low-tech, hands-on and fun building method that allows you to become involved in the construction process.
  • Thick walls (2-3 feet) mean houses are warm in winter and cool in the summer – a cob house typically uses 20 per cent less energy.
  • Sculptural material allows for the creation of interesting rounded and organic shapes. **(Of course this is my favorite benefit!)**
  • Versatile material: different mixes can be used to create plasters, paints, and polished floors.
  • Natural breathing building maintains background humidity, which is healthier than dry centrally heated modern homes.

Most importantly, what does Sorin think of cobb? She squealed when she saw  this picture, if that tells you anything. She’s thrilled because she’s always fantasized about living in what she calls a “hobbit house”. I love all the curves and design possibilities. It’s a project that we could mostly do ourselves as a family. To make the cobb mixture you spread mud, sand and clay on a tarp and step in it with your feet to work it together– fun!!! Then you make bricks to form the walls. It’s simple, but time consuming. We’d get a builder to come out and help us with the roof, of course. A composting toilet, and an outside solar water tank will probably be used. Simple, simple, simple for Sorin.

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Filed under Clean Planet, Cobb Houses, Do-It-Yourself, Family Happenings, Home, Home Projects, Kids, River Living, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading

Our Old Passive Solar Greenhouse

 

South side of the greenhouse

the North side, and East door

I’m guessing this structure stands well over 120 feet from our house. It’s quite a little journey to do daily watering, thinning and pruning, but it always feels like a quiet getaway. When we’re inside, the stillness is amazing. Note: That rain barrel is temporarily standing on two old tree stumps, but we’re hoping to find a much better, less silly looking alternative. We also plan to install a gutter to that side which will empty into the rain barrel. For now it’s still filling up during rains. Being so far from the main house, it is imperative that we have a water source for the greenhouse.

The South tinted panels will probably need replacing due to yellowing and aging, but so far they’ve been allowing enough light for our seedlings to thrive. We’re guessing it was built a very long time ago, considering it has a very old fuse style breaker box installed. Possibly built in the 50’s or 60’s. It’s approximately 25-30 feet long, and 12 feet wide. It’s extremely well built, and designed as a passive solar structure. This means it utilizes the sun and earth naturally for heating and cooling. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside when it didn’t feel like a comfortable temperature. It’s built 1/2 underground with a breathable cinder block foundation, and the ceiling is very high to allow heat to rise in the Summer. Whoever built this structure must have been seriously into gardening because a great deal of thought was put into it. It’s all wired for electricity (if we ever opt for it) and it even has a sink and plumbing ready.

 

looking inside

The greenhouse needs a lot of TLC, but only aesthetically speaking. Structurally it’s fine, and it has a newer roof.  There are unfinished parts around the inside of the front door that need insulation covered with paneling, a rotted ventilation door on the West side needs replacing, siding replaced in a few areas, and I keep thinking those white cinder blocks could use some colorful paint. We may have the kids go to town by painting designs on it soon! The upper walls will remain white to reflect as much light as possible. Of course we’ll put in solar wind chimes, statues, and some decorative flowering plants in the two back corners which help to oxygenate the space year-round.

We think that whoever designed the structure was very tall, or had some type of step stool inside. At 5’5″ and 5’8″ Daniel and I reach the close rows just fine, but the rows against the walls are difficult to get to (we have to jump up and stretch). Because of that we’re planning to build a raised wood plank floor on top of the gravel flooring, and that should do the trick. You can’t tell by the photo, but there is A LOT of growing room in there. We haven’t even taken up half the space, and we have spinach, carrots, broccoli and lettuce growing… all doing beautifully. Daniel will be adding chard this week.

Oh, and do you see the cinder block with the holes? It has at least 4 of those blocks, probably for aeration and drainage. I bent down to look inside once, and noticed the soil goes down about three to four feet, and then it turns into about two feet of gravel for excellent drainage. Again, a very well thought out design!

 

spinach babies!

I took this picture a few days ago, and they’ve already tripled in size. We can’t wait to eat our very first greenhouse spinach salad! The best things about having a greenhouse are: We don’t worry about pests or animals eating our crops, we can grow food year-round, and last but not at all least we have a reason to get away from  the main house every day and experience some major stillness and quiet. It’s really an excellent place to sit and meditate, so we’ll probably be adding a small stool in the future.

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Filed under Collaborative Love, Greenhouse Gardening, Home, Home Projects, Peace, River Living, Shashwat, Solar Power, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening

Studying Solar

Daniel has been diving into introductory courses about alternative energy, primarily solar power. He’s studying through Solar Energy International (SEI), a non-profit organization based in Colorado. Unfortunately, he found out last evening that the sun only has about 5 billion years left, so maybe all these solar projects would be a waste of time. Haha!

I’ve never seen Daniel as ‘on fire’ as he’s been lately, and that’s saying a lot because Daniel is a pretty ‘on-fire’ kind of guy. He has a real passion for solar, and can discuss it forever. The more he studies, the more he walks around our house and turns off electronic devices, checks the efficiency of windows and doors, etc. His latest concern has been all the devices we leave plugged in all over the house, such as stereos, TV’s, computers and appliances (dryers are unGodly!) It adds to our yearly electric bill, and many things are using even more power when not in use. On a worldwide level, this is something that drains an incredible amount of energy. It’s annoying to unplug and plug back in, but we use power strips/surge protectors for most devices and we can turn the whole strip off an on conveniently with one switch. This also prolongs the life of electronic devices by months, possibly even years.

It’s called stand-by power or vampire power. Granted, one device isn’t that big of a draw, but it’s the combination of all our electronics that becomes significant. The largest electronic drain comes from cable boxes and digital video recorders. Other major vampires are flat-screen TV’s, hand-held vacuums, DVD players, VCR’s, computers, and printers. Stand-by power consists of nearly 10% of residential usage.

These little facts and tidbits are going to keep rolling out as Daniel learns more. He’s hoping to eventually install solar panels to the South roof our our home, making us (mostly) off the grid, electrically speaking. Possibly by 2012 if all goes as planned. He’s even talking about a solar water heater. We’re considering pulling Sky into the endeavor since he’s very science and math oriented, and has an obsession himself with solar power. Maybe Daniel should have Sky read all three textbooks so that he can teach Daniel a thing or two! Seriously, Sky has a way of explaining how solar power works that sounded pretty accurate. Me? I’m just going to sit back (with my chickens), and watch this exciting process unfold.

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Filed under Clean Planet, Do-It-Yourself, Home, Home Projects, Simplicity, Solar Power

If It’s Good Enough For Oscar…

…it’s good enough for me. One trash can, that is. As a family of seven, we typically fill up two large garbage cans a week. Occasionally we have an extra bag or two overflowing next to those two cans. It’s too much, and I always feel guilty on trash day. I wrote about how depressing our throw-away mentality is in this country in the recent post “Shopping With New Eyes.” The whole consumer thing had been getting to me, and then I happened upon a news story about a family who has almost zero garbage. You can watch their story here.

Granted, the family’s home appears unusually sterile and sparse, and they may be over the top for some, I think it’s important to stay focused on the fact that they have been successful in producing almost NO garbage. That is absolutely incredible. Did you notice how they store food in glass containers instead of plastic ziploc bags? I can’t imagine how many plastic baggies we’ve gone through over the years, but Americans use them excessively, and they contain chemicals that have been proven to lurch into our food. Prior to watching this story I’d purchased a box of 50 biodegradable ziploc bags at the co-op for $2.11, but we’re planning to switch over to mostly glass after seeing the story. Now, back to the issue of garbage- they produce almost zero. UNBELIEVABLE. It got me thinking, could we simply cut our waste in half?

To find out, I got on Freecycle.com and gave away one of our garbage cans. Yup, just gave it away and it felt great. Then I made sure that everything, and I mean every single solitary thing that could possibly be recycled went into our recycle bags. I signed us up with a locally owned recycling service, Sunflower Curbside Recycling, because they take all types of plastic and more materials than I was able to recycle on my own at the local do-it-yourself recycling center. Then I started paying close attention to the products I brought into the home, and how much packaging they had. I chose minimally packaged items whenever I could, and chose bulk foods from bins- no more oatmeal or granola in boxes for us. I believe recycling is great, but what’s even better is having less waste to recycle. We’d eventually like to cut our recycling pile in half, too!

Well, tomorrow is trash day and I think we made it. We have one trash can full of trash out there. That’s it, and it’s a first for our family. An accomplishment that wasn’t all that difficult by putting our minds to it and paying attention to every single thing we purchased and threw into the trash. I’m hoping if we do this for three weeks, it becomes a habit. Who knows? Maybe after we accomplish that, we’ll be down to just 1/2 a trash can.

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Filed under Clean Planet, Home, Recycle, Simplicity

Home Sweet Ashram

When we first moved here last Summer, Daniel and I felt such harmony that we described our home as a little ashram. It felt more like a retreat style home- a place of privacy, affording peace and quiet. You ask, a small house crammed with seven souls can have even one moment of peace and quiet? Yes, definitely. Something about our little slice of heaven prompts us all into a deeper state of calmness and contentment. During the seven months we’ve been here, we have forgotten or taken this for granted. This doesn’t mean we don’t have periods of chaos and excessive noise. We do, just far fewer than we used to.

This morning, after the kids left for school, Daniel came to me with an idea. He asked if I’d be in support of having designated quiet periods. Periods in which every person in the home was required to practice silence. Intentional periods of silence? That sounded brilliant to me. After all, we require them on long road trips and the kids are very good at it. Believe me, ten to fifteen minutes of pure silence is heavenly on the nervous system when you’re all crammed in a car!

We realize there would be exceptions, of course. Amelie, being two years old, would be making all the noise she desires. The rest of us would be expected to witness the vocalizations, smile at her, knod and gesture, but without speaking. For anyone who has ever practiced silence, either at a weekend retreat or just a few hours, you understand the peace, insight and deep awareness that comes from the practice. Our kids have experienced this in smaller doses during travel, and Daniel is suggesting we try it in our home on a regular basis. Both children and adults in our culture are bombarded with stimuli and haven’t learned how to appreciate or even bear silence. We become addicted and restless. If our kids learn to practice and appreciate silence, they will be more likely to embrace meditation and have a more peaceful mindset as adults. Plus, there is nothing more sacred than shows of affection that are made completely without words; through eyes and physical touch alone. Words minimize feeling, no matter how descriptive and rich they are. To experience that with our kids will be a great gift.

Liam, having autism and not fully understanding the practice of silence, would be exempt from the practice as well. We’d actually schedule the silence during times he isn’t home. He goes on several outings, and spends some weekends at his dad’s in Kansas City, so we’d have a lot of opportunities for real, pure silence. This would mean engaging in quiet activities, too. No noisy devices, no music, keyboards, or headphones. Just silence, the way it was meant to be heard and experienced. Maybe we’ll have one silent family dinner night… now that would be a beautiful experience! We always call this home our little ashram, and these periods will reinforce the feeling. Does it have to be hours of silence? No, definitely not. I’m proposing a minimum of 30 minutes based on Sky and Prasad’s ages, but we can do two to three periods a day of we want to. This idea is going on our list of discussions to have at our next family meeting, and I’m very excited about it.

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Filed under Home, Kids, Order & Balance, Peace, Simplicity, Thoughts & Insights

Shopping With New Eyes

Amelie's first trip to Target, 9/2009

Since moving into a little house last Summer, I have an ever growing disdain for shopping. I don’t mind the usual grocery trip or two every week. That’s a utilitarian act that fulfills a need we all have as a family. I actually enjoy picking and choosing the produce, and making organic choices or “votes” as I call them. It’s when I start noticing all the packaging and extra stuff I know will be tossed out in a matter of days, weeks, or months. Since childhood, I have always been in disbelief over how much we throw away as a society. While I’m walking through stores, it’s a depressing reality to me. Not only will the packaging end up in landfills, but the actual items people think they need will, too. Plastic cups and dishes, even ceramic dishes eventually end up in landfills. Hair spray bottles, car seats, blenders, spatulas, vacuum cleaners, CD cases, pillows, comforters, and even those giant Rubbermaid tubs people are so addicted to. Once they get a tear in the lids, people kick them to the curb for pick-up. There are so many things that seem essential, but end up buried in a giant hole of garbage within a very short time.

So what am I doing about this? When I have these depressed feelings they’re trying to tell me something. I don’t want to wallow in them and complain. They’re coming from a very deep and wise part of myself; part of me that wants to leave a better mark on the world. My grandfather said something that always stuck with me: “Just make sure you leave this world a better place than it was before you got here.” He’s since passed away, but his words have echoed in my heart for decades. I pay close attention to my personal impact on people and the earth we all love and share. If we love someone, and have a positive relationship with them, they’re the last thing we’d want to exploit or abuse. As our living, breathing home, the earth deserves our reverence and respect.

Lately, I’ve felt a small amount of empowerment through my choices. Instead of the old wandering style of shopping I used to engage in, I shop purposefully. I make lists, and decide before I leave the house exactly what I’m planning to buy, and why. Americans love to shop for entertainment, and I just don’t do that any more. No need to fill up inner holes where we’re lacking in happiness, and no need to fill up a large house. I watch my impulses like a hawk at the stores because it’s easy to fall prey to ‘things’. What prompted this change initially was the fact that we just don’t have room for much of anything else. Gone are the days when I said to myself  “Oooh, I love this. I’ll buy it and think about where we can put it later.” Our tiny house isn’t designed for that type of life, which is a huge blessing. I’m noticing if I do overindulge in sensory pleasures or material items, it’s of a food nature- pies at the co-op, organic fruits, local bakery bread, and things that enhance my kitchen or cooking experience. This is something new for me, but it’s been a wonderful transition to make.

Then there is the peace I feel after buying things that are recycled. For some reason, this used to be sneered at during my child and teen years, but nowadays it’s a new “green” trend. Thankfully, it’s cool. Freecycle and Craigslist help people swap goods for free or very reasonable prices, which means no goods are purchased new from retailers. They keep things from going into landfills, or at least delays their demise. We recently got rid of our microwave that way, and the couple who took it didn’t buy a new one at Target or Wal-Mart. That feels great. Used goods, either from a Goodwill, Salvation Army store, garage sale, or even a fancy antique store do the earth good. To sneer at it is sheer ignorance in this materialistic, throw-away society. This weekend I purchased an old rolling pin, vintage apron, several size 4T clothes for Amelie, and an old metal pencil box which are all second-hand.

I’m beginning to see very little value in the very American ideal of ‘in with the new, out with the old’ and feel a deep sense of peace, especially after spending only 1/5 of what I would have spent on all these items had they been new. The savings is definitely a plus, but mostly it alleviates some of my angst and depression about all this stuff we’re buried in as a culture. When I go to these stores, filled with 97% throw-away materials, I can rest a little knowing I’m not as much a part of the problem as I was before. If we each took little steps toward lessening our impact, I believe we’d make a tremendous difference.

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Filed under Home, Materialism, Order & Balance, Peace, Shopping, Simplicity, Thoughts & Insights