Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some books

Some great books:

The brown book at the bottom left was written by my grandfather. The one at the top left is Joy of Sex.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"My influences include"

There are a few people who have influenced in the last decade, and I was just thinking about who they are, how I found them, and how they are connected.

While visiting my in-laws we were served home-made kefir and raw milk. I was definitely hesitant at first, but we didn't get sick. My mother-in-law (MIL) also showed us Nourishing Traditions (NT). We read & discussed the whole visit, and came away with a bunch of new ideas.

The MIL bought us our own copy of NT, as well as a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, aka Sandorkraut. This book blew my mind. It's not just a recipe book. It continued to change my thinking about micro-organisms and about industrial vs. home-made food. It also got me thinking about issues beyond food: death, compost, and social change. When he wrote a second book, The Revolution will not be Microwaved, I bought it and read it immediately. Both of Sandor's books have a safe home on my small bookshelf.

While trying to learn more about Ginger Soda, I came across an article called The Economics of Fermentation by Charles Eisenstein. Something about this guy's writing spoke to me. It was wonderful to read, and made complete sense to my way of thinking. I looked for more, and found his book The Yoga of Eating. It blew my mind. For the first time I understood Yoga Breathing. I now read everything he writes (book, blog, audio, video).

Sandor Katz came to Seattle to give a workshop in the summer 2006. My twins were just 5 months old, but I went anyway, exhausted but enthusiastic. He was teaching Wild Fermentation, while Frank Cook was teaching Wild Foods. I had never thought of eating wild, and Frank was way over my head, but he sure got me thinking. He recommended a book called Botany in a Day by Tom Elpel. Tom had self-published 4 books, and offered them all together at a discount, so I went for it. The others are Direct Pointing to Real Wealth (which fell flat with me, but maybe it's time to re-read), Participating in Nature (which got me thinking about primitive living skills; now I go in to the woods almost every week), and Living Homes. Now I'm working on plans to build a new house for my family. While I won't be building in quite the same way as Elpel, his thinking about the how & why of homes has shaped me greatly. More recently I read Rob Roy on Cordwood & other topics, and realize that I match Rob's outlook on life more closely than Tom's.

There's another thread, and I can't remember all the details. Even though I love learning, I deeply disliked going to school. So much about it seemed wrong. I heard claims that I was supposed to be learning math, science, literature, etc., but actually was learning very little of those things for the time I was there. It was such a cruel place at the same time. I decided early on to homeschool.

As a young adult I discovered Lies my Teacher Told me by James Loewen, although I can't remember how. At the same time I read A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn and some of the work of John Taylor Gatto and John Holt. They got me thinking about how school works, and why. Eisenstein talks about it, too: school is perfectly suited to preparing you for an adulthood spent doing work you don't care about.

As a parent of a spirited child, I was grateful to discover Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. More recently I've watched some of his videos on Youtube and it has moved me deeply. Both Rosenberg and Eisenstein explore the way that our language is structured to a society of good vs. evil, the separate self, control of nature and human nature, etc. The roots of these values go very deep indeed.

Any reading on homeschooling quickly leads you to Unschooling. I have been a parent for 8 years, and I still haven't figured out how to be an unschooling parent. I used to think it was because my son was so spirited, but now I think it's because I wasn't ready for it: I still had work to do on myself.

My step-brother turned me on to a podcast by Willem Larsen called The Learning Revolution. The podcast immediately preceding was both exciting and confusing. It was an interview with Evan Gardner, about his method for learning languages quickly, called "Where are your Keys?". WAYK is an amazing way to learn languages, but also shows us different ways to think about learning. Ways that don't fit the conventional model of education, with its hierarchies, systems of control, and misery.

All of these things are connected.

The world is in crisis: global warming, coral reef death, peak oil, H1N1, the heart disease epidemic, rising asthma and Asbergers rates, obesity, economic collapse, the war on drugs, the police state, the prison industry, the growing gap between rich and poor. There are many more for this list, and they are all the same problem at root.

Similarly, these work of the people mentioned above is part of the solution. The coming turning of the age. From fermentation to unschooling to home-made houses, these people are seeding the ideas that will help us remember a new way of being, if that makes any sense. Living in the gift, believing in the more beautiful world that our hearts tell us is possible, recognizing that you and I are not separate, but instead expressions of the same universe.

I hope you will read the works of these folks and let them move you, and become a mover yourself.

Build a house

We've been looking for a house to buy, and haven't quite made it. We got close - an offer on one that didn't stick, and another that was already pending when we found it - but for now we're still looking.

Eventually I decided to revisit what I had learned about alternative house construction. Materials with low embodied energy, reclaimed materials, build-it-yourself, insulation, thermal mass, solar gain, and integrated design.

That last one is important. Integrated design. By that I mean thinking about how each part of a house design relates to the rest. For example, laying out the floor plan so the plumbing can all be together ("wet wall").

In Permaculture (and in nature) every element serves multiple roles. Chickens don't just produce eggs; they also consume food scraps, protect the orchard from pests, turn soil in the garden, and produce fertilizer. In conventional house construction, we use studded walls, meeting the needs like this:

strength - studs, OSB sheathing
fire resistance - drywall
insulation - fiberglass batts
beauty - drywall, siding, paint
thermal mass - none

Contrast that to Cordwood, my current DIY favorite.

strength - cordwood
fire resistance - cordwood
insulation - conrdwood
beauty - cordwood
thermal mass - cordwood

Furthermore, Cordwood is cheap and accessible for the amateur. No fiberglass to make you itch, either.

In addition to building our own house, we'd like to grow much of our own food. Chickens, ducks, goats, honey bees, a small orchard, and a big garden. Maybe pigs. You don't need a whole lot of space to do that, but I don't want to be buying a lot of food for the animals: I want them to roam and forage for themselves a lot. That means having a little land. I don't need to produce enough food to sell, but I do hope to produce more than we need and trade or gift the surplus.

Then again, I don't want some sort of rural McMansion. A hundred acres I can call "mine". 3000 sq. ft. of house at $120 / sq. ft., with active solar heat management and laminated "green" floors. Driving 20 miles just to see friends or by shampoo.

We've found 1.7 acres for a reasonable price. That's more than enough to grow all the food we can eat, but not enough to feed all the animals we could want. That's OK.

It's outside the city limits, which gives us more leeway with codes & construction methods. However, it's right over the line, so we're close to stuff, including a bus line. It also has city water in the street.

It's wooded. I have reservations about clearing land. But the alternative is to buy land that someone else has already cleared, which isn't much better. However, land that has been abused (e.g. gravel pit) and is super-cheap would be an opportunity to bring rich life back, which I like. Anyway, I love the woods so being wooded isn't terrible. And having a supply of wood for building and fuel is good, too.

In the new year we plan to put an offer on the land. Then we'll build an outhouse to explore the building techniques we're thinking about. Then a temporary shelter. We have a year on our current lease to get all that done and then start building.

I also hope to inspire others with my example, and by teaching what I learn. You don't have to have an enormous, expensive, toxic, wasteful home. It can be modest and comfortable and beautiful and cheap and healthy.

More to come, I hope.
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