Tag Archive: sustainability


The Importance of Food

I just finished watching a great TEDTalk featuring Roger Doiron talking about gardening. It was sent to me by a dear friend who was in my Permaculture Design Course this summer, and came at the perfect time as I had just been drawing up plans and ideas for my parents garden that I will get a chance to work on this spring. Doiron Makes the argument that gardening is a subversive act. It is subversive because if people can grow their own food it is putting power back into the people’s hands and taking power away from big corporations. It is putting power back in your hands by giving you more control over your health, diet, and wallet.

Over the past several years food has become an increasingly important subject in my life. I myself am not what I would call a foodie; I will eat just about anything you put in front of me whether it is fast, slow, greasy, fresh, meaty, or vegan, and am probably only a little better than the average American, and far worse then my many foodie friends, when it comes to cooking and kitchen know how. But I do appreciate and highly enjoy good food, which is perhaps why I tend to find myself surrounded by foodie friends.

But beyond that, as I have been wrestling with the ideas of sustainability, community, and social change each strand I follow seems to bring me back to food.

  • If we can grow food sustainably that will be a huge step towards a sustainable earth.
  • In every community I have been in meal times are what literally feed the community.
  • If we want to create social change we first need to make sure that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food.

Food is a basic necessity of every single individual. Therefore, even if you are a microwave meal or McDonalds kind of person, you must interact with food each and every day. It may in fact be this, that food is a necessity, that is the ingenuity behind huge money making corporations like McDonalds.

And amazingly, it isn’t just the food industry that has found a way to make a profit off of our need for food; For every food calorie we eat it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce that 1 calorie. This is in our highly industrialized food system of course, where petroleum based fertilizers are the norm and gas guzzling machines and trucks are used to process and get our food to us from thousands of miles away.

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) Michelle Obama's White House Garden. Compare this to the image below...

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) If the White House Garden were to be representative of our industrialized agricultural system this is what it would look like. Yes, we are subsidizing a system that is 80% soy, wheat, cotton, and corn and only 20% fruits and vegetables.

It seems that if we change our food system we would inevitably change much more than just our food system; We would effect global economics, global health, global happiness, and global sustainability.

So how can we change the food system to create positive change in all these areas? Doiron thinks the key is in encouraging and inspiring more people to grow their own food. That’s right, it might be as simple as growing your very own kitchen garden. You will eat healthier, feel healthier, save money, and be sticking it to the big bureaucratic corporate machine  all at the same time. And, you will probably be happier as being involved in your food tends to encourage community and connection to other humans and the natural world, which tends to lead to greater overall happiness.

I think this last part about community and overall happiness is why I have found myself continually coming back to food.

For me, being someone who grew up with a phenomenal cook as a mother and a father who refused to go to a fast food joint even on the longest, most remote stretches of highway where nothing else was available, I grew to desire and expect good quality, healthy, fresh meals. Perhaps it was this desire that led me to live in coop in college where home cooked dinners were part of every evening. Also, growing up with no TV dinners and coming from a Jewish family where holidays and celebrations often included large, elaborate, and delicious meals I was conditioned to associate food with good company and a time to connect.

For me, the kitchen always seems to be the center of the house. Whether you are preparing a meal, cleaning up after a meal, or chatting with the those who are cooking and cleaning while you wait for some tasty morsels to come your way, the kitchen is where people gravitate. The kitchen and food is also often where conflict arises; people have different dietary preferences, someone doesn’t clean up their dishes, and oh no! My leftovers that I was going to have for lunch are gone! But working through and resolving these issues provide important real life lessons in conflict resolution, community building, budgeting, cooking, cleanliness and more.

Well, this has been the case for me and the kinds of people I have gravitated to in my life. But this apparently is NOT the norm. In Doiron’s talk on TEDTalks he gave the astonishing statistic that the average american now spends only 31 minutes doing food related activities each day. This means 31 minutes a day cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals! It seems a stretch to me to  even fit just eating 3 meals in that time, let alone preparing and cleaning up.

There is another reality out there where the TV room is the center of the house. In this scenario food is quickly taken from the freezer, microwaved and individuals sit silently eating their food in front of the mind numbing television. No time for family discussions of politics, news or current events, or for sharing of the trials and tribulations of one’s day.

Having grown up in a household and in communities where food and meal times were not undervalued I have been attracted to local food cooperatives and farmers markets to do my shopping; another social and festive way in which to interact with food. This of course got me thinking more on where my food comes from and issues of food justice.

The conclusion I have come to is that we need localized food systems. We need more people involved in their food, growing a more diverse array of food that celebrates and preserves more cultural diversity and holds communities together.

Having come to this conclusion I have decided to join the subversive gardening movement and start growing food in my parents yard this spring. I encourage you to do the same! Having taken a permaculture design course and studied agriculture at Cornell University I am well aware that growing food can be quite complex. But it can also be quite simple and you have to start somewhere. I myself have become a bit intimidated by complexity of academic analysis of growing food and “right” and “wrong” ways to do it but I have decided I have to start somewhere, so why not start with putting a few seeds in the ground? Maybe I will start a trend and before I know it the whole block will be filled with front yard gardens. And then before you know it neighbors will be interacting again we all find yourselves out on a sunny Saturday afternoon eating fresh veggies and pulling weeds. This could indeed be the way to revitalize community…

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I recently finished a book called Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan. Reading this book made me think twice about many things, including how much toilet paper I take to wipe my bum after taking a dump.

According to wiki.answers.com, “Twenty nine million, eight hundred thousand trees (29,800,000) are cut down every day in the world.” That is 3720 acres an hour, 62 acres a minute or 1 acre every second! For reference, an American football field is 1.32 acres is size. And these are using the official numbers from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 2005 reports. The numbers have since gone up. Even in 2005 these far under estimated the real numbers which would include illegal logging, muchof which is done within the timber industry itself.

So why am I telling you all these depressing statistics? Well, for me as an aspiring builder, this book has made me think hard about the building industry’s use of wood and it has increased my opinion of the merits of building with earth and other alternative, non energy intensive materials. Yes, wood is a beautiful and practical building material for many of us but do we really need to build McMansions that use clear cedar (cedar with no knots in it, and therefore of higher aesthetic and structural quality) in places where it serves little to no structural purpose and may not even be visible? Do we need to use exotic amazon wood to make furniture that to the untrained eye looks just like a native oak desk?

In terms of my own building practices I am setting an intention right now to only use wood that comes from a local, known source, because as Derrick Jensen says “…in the end, only low-tech forestry operations for local consumption will ever be truly sustainable.” (pg. 130), My preferred wood will actually be wood that has been salvaged from construction sites  or structures being demolished. I also will not build bigger then I need to and I will always weigh the full embodied energy of possible building materials and only use wood where other materials don’t make sense.

But beyond just how I plan to build I also plan to be more aware of my use of other paper products, such as paper and tissue. Its amazing how much of the forests that are cut down end up being pulped and made into these products. According to Derreck Jensen “more than a third of the trees cut are pulped for paper” (pg. 104). Can you imagine huge old growth trees, perhaps even the infamous red woods, being cut and pulped to make measly rolls of toilet paper? There has got to be a better way. And there is. Historically, paper was made from other plant fibers such as flax and cotton (plants that don’t take hundred of years to reach maturity and don’t support some of the most diverse, complex, and precious ecosystems on our planet) and recycled materials like old rags and waste paper. Paper can also been made from agricultural waste products of crops such as wheat, barley, oats, rye, rice, and sugarcane. So there are alternatives, but logging corporations are powerful money making machines with shrewd propaganda tricks that I won’t get into here (read the book if you want to know more)  that seem to have successfully convinced us that we must consume more and more tree products. As a result, America, being the overconsumption capital of the world, “With less than 5 percent of the world’s population… consumes between 25 and 38 percent of the world’s wood and paper products,” (pg. 102).

Yup, thats right. “The average person in America consumes almost 700 pounds of paper per year; the average in Great Britain and Japan is 330 pounds per year; the average in the non industrialized world is 12 pounds per year,” (pg. 122). That means me and you, as individuals can do a LOT to improve. And, that may not even mean lowering your wonderful standard of life. I mean Great Britain is just as modern and industrialized us as by most standards and the average person there consumes less than half of what we consume in paper products! The amount of paper consumed in the U.S. has increased fivefold from 1920 to 1990 (pg. 105). What happened?
So what can you do? A bunch of things. Here are some ideas:
  1. Set your printer to print double sided by default. Or if your printer won’t do that, like mine, go through the 2 minutes extra effort of printing “odd pages only” first (You do this in “paper handling,” which is one of the drop down options before you hit print) and then restack the pages from last to first and print again “even pages only.” So, it took me a few times to figure out how to order the pages to get this right but then I put the steps on a sticky note and put that right on my printer so if I ever forget there it is telling me odd numbers, last to first, face up, even numbers.
  2. Or, are you printing something like a powerpoint or graphs that don’t need to be the size of the full page? Go to layout (another drop down options in the printer window) and put 4 or 6 “slides” per a page! If you want to get advanced you can do this and print double sided and quickly save hundreds of pages.
  3. That stack of one side used paper that you have been saving but not actually using? Start using it! Print on the other side, make note pads with it for shopping lists and household notes, or notebooks to take notes on in class (its fun to read the printed on side when you are bored…. its like having a magazine hidden in your notebook!). If you really get into this and want more one side used paper try asking you local library or office. Many places are either throwing this one side used stuff away or just recycling it, but we should always reuse as much as we can before we recycle. The saying is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and its in that order for a reason.
  4. When you have reduced the amount of paper you use and and reused every single sided sheet so that both sides and every corner are used then…. recycle it! It does make a difference. “In the United States, every 10 percent of recovered waste paper saves a million acres of forest from being cut” (pg. 45). One Million Acres!!
  5. And, when you go to the store to buy paper products look to see if they have recycled goods. If not demand it! I get wanting soft toilet and tissue paper but do you really need baby soft paper towels?
  6. Building a house or doing a home improvement project? Think about the materials you are using and where they are coming from. Demand local, sustainably forested wood when wood must be used. Or even better, find salvaged wood. Places like Restore that do “green demolition” salvage still usable wood, appliances, sinks, etc. from old buildings. These places are becoming more popular. Ithaca has the ReUse center, and I’ve seen other similar things popping up elsewhere. Goodwill, consignment stores, and other second hand stores are great places to find furniture, clothes, and more. These places help reduce  consumption of virgin resources and will help you save money.
There are some places to start. On a larger scale where should our logging industry be headed? Well, Derrick Jensen talks about restoration forestry which helps being forests back to states of biological productivity, biodiversity, ecological stability and resilience. And, unlike the timber industry would like us to believe, this does not mean choosing owls over jobs.
“‘It means that many more people will have to be employed in the woods, not less; using smaller machines and more reliance on draft animals. It means smaller mills… Restoration forestry leads to a steady yield of high value timber. Clear cutting and/or short rotation forestry leads to periodic return of low-quality timber. Restoration forestry makes much better ecological sense and it makes better economic sense.’
           We need to distinguish restoration forestry from restoration ecology. Forestry is for producing a supply of wood. If you are an inteligent forester, you would restore tree stands (such as plantations) to natural, optimal fiber-producing capacity. But you are still a forester, looking for wood fiber, An ecologist would protect or restore fully functioning forest ecosystems, and consider fiber production for human use to be completely subordinate to the full range of natural ecosystem functions…. We must move away from industrial forestry and towards restoration forestry. We must then move away from restoration forestry and towards restoration ecology.” (pg. 131-132)
But getting there will be a long a hard road. The logging industry is full of powerful corporations with lots of money. They know well how to work the revolving door between their corporate world and public office and they have even infiltrated some of the larger environmental groups. But like any change, in the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Note: All quotes with page numbers in this post are taken from Strangely Like War: The global Assault on Forests by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan unless otherwise specified.

Man, I’ve fallen behind on blog posts due to the holidays…. Well, back tracking a bit, lets first go to my last week in Seattle with Penny ( Dec. 12th – 19th)…

This week has been a week full of exciting opportunities, connections, and learnings.

First, Penny got me in the door of one of the largest architecture firms in Seattle; Callison. Although the work that this firm does is, in many ways, on the opposite end of the spectrum from the kind of work I see myself doing I am always interested in learning about the other side and hearing other perspectives. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that at least some of the people in this firm were equally interested in hearing about my side of the building spectrum and what I am interested in doing. John, a wonderful Principal in the firm, was incredibly unassuming and talked with me with great interest for almost three hours! I showed him a bit of some videos about earthship building in Haiti as part of disaster relief efforts, some of my own drawings of houses I hope to build one day, and just shared my knowledge about the natural and alternative building world. It was quite an empowering experience to realize that I could reach across the lines of the building world and find a receptive audience.

After my visit to Callison Penny and I took a break from our architecture/building focused tour of the Seattle area and took a trip to Fidelity where I learned a bit about investing and money managing. Money is something that makes many people, including myself uncomfortable. Often I wish I just didn’t have to deal with it. But Penny has been really helpful in talking very frankly with me about money and walking me through things like why it might be important to start building a credit history or investing, and how one can make the system work for you. One thing Penny does, which I think is quite brilliant, is she uses a zero APR credit card to get miles for almost all her purchases and bill paying which has allowed her to travel on many of her trips practically free. And since she is good about managing her money she has never paid a cent in interest or other fees to the credit card company.

When Penny found out that I also knew nothing about investing she decided to invite me to come with her to Fidelity and learn a bit. I was a bit hesitant at first, and still have my questions and doubts about the world of investing, but I must say that the whole investing process seems much less scary and intimidating now. Here is how I understand it (beware, I am NOT and expert, so don’t take my word on any of this money stuff); there are four “pots” that people generally put their money into: 401k’s, IRA’s, Taxable accounts, and emergency money.

A 401k is always attached to an employer. It is money that you ask your employer to take directly out of your paycheck, before taxes, and put aside to invest in a pool of mutual funds that they have already chosen. Often employers will match what you put in your 401k up to a certain percentage of your total paycheck. This match is basically free money that you can now use to invest, so I can’t see a reason to not at least put as much money as they will match into your 401k. But, this money cannot be touched until you are 59, at least with current laws.

Then there is an IRA: an Independent Retirement Account. There re two main kinds of IRA’s: Traditional and ROTH IRA’s. Traditional IRA’s are money you set aside to invest that is not yet taxed. So when you reach retirement age (59) and take that money out you will have to then pay taxes on however much you now have. A ROTH IRA, on the other hand, is an account in which you put money to invest after taxes. So, lets say you put $5000 in that account. Then you would pay taxes on that original $5000 but when you go to take the money out at age 59, even if that money has now grown to 1 million through investing, you do not have to pay any additional taxes. That is kind of incredible, if you ask me. Any money put in an IRA cannot be touched until you are 59, but one could at a certain point decide that you have made enough money and do not want to risk a market crash and pull the money out of all stocks, bonds, etc. and just let it sit in your IRA. Or, you could put the money in lower risks investments, such as only bonds and CD’s. There is also something called a SEP IRA which is for people that are self employed. These work like a traditional IRA, so they are before taxes, but one thing I am not clear on is why a self employed person cannot have a ROTH IRA since as far as I can tell IRA’s in general are independent retirement accounts and not attached to an employer.

Then there are your taxable accounts, which are just things like your savings and checkings account from which you can invest money at will and take money whenever you want (You don’t have to wait until you are 59 to touch this money).

The last pool is your emergency money, which is money you will not invest and is basically always available. Remember, money invested is not really available for your to spend until you sell the stock or bond. So your emergency pot is the money you keep under your mattress for hard times, if you know what I mean. And it seems that it would always be smart, if possible, to have at least 1 year’s worth of saving in this pot in case you lose your job and/or the market crashes, or both happen at once….

So those are the four pots of money. And then you have the different kinds of investments you can make with money from each of these pots (except the last, emergency pot. That stays out of the volatile hands of the market).

First there are mutual funds, which are a portfolio of companies or stocks that change in order to maintain the goal of the mutual fund, which, for instance, could be at least 5% returns annually. These are generally pretty low risk but also somewhat lower returns.

Then there are Index funds. These have a predetermined set of companies rather then a predetermined goal of a certain amount of returns. So, for example, an index fund might consist of 5 of the largest companies in the world, or it could be focused on socially responsible, small businesses, or businesses related to the computers software…. My understanding is Index funds can be higher risk then mutual funds but they can also have much higher returns if chosen carefully.

Then there are Bonds. A bond is basically an amount of money you “loan” to a company that they then pay back to you over a set amount of time with a set amount of interest. So you generally know exactly how much you will make if you keep your bond for the life of the bond. These are low risk for exactly this reason. But you could still be screwed if the company from which you bought the bond were to tank.

Lastly there are CD’s, or certificates of deposit. These are like bonds but you buy them from the bank, so they are even more secure. They are actually government insured so even if the bank were to fail, for some reason, to pay you back the government would pay you. But the interest rates are also generally much lower so the gains are much smaller.

Overall, it seems that most people recommend maintaining diversity with all these different kinds of investments; having some in lower risks investments and some in higher, and also diversifying in the kinds of companies and stocks you invest in; large, medium, or small, and once focused more on value, growth, or a blend of the two. And, on a site like fidelity.com you can look at all these different kinds of investments and buy and sell them on your own right from the site if you hold an account with fidelity.

Ok, enough talk about money. Back to architecture, building, and design….

A few days later Penny and I met with Martha Rose, a woman who is doing her part to make an impact on the building world. Martha comes from a construction background but now designs and builds extremely tight homes in the Seattle area. She strives to build homes that are highly efficient, comfortable, and use as little chemically treated materials as possible. Her homes are in many ways catering to those who experience chemical sensitivities. For me, the most inspiring part was to see a woman builder who does not have an architectural background but is designing the homes she builds and is succeeding in making a living building these homes and marketing them to the mainstream.

After receiving a tour of Martha Rose’s latest project, City Cabins,  we went to meet with Terry Phalen, who is the founder of living Shelter Design, a small architectural firm. Terry is a licensed architect but she got her license not by going through an architectural program but by apprenticing with architects and then taking the licensing exam. This is something that can only been done in some states, Washington being one of them, and an architectural license obtained in this way is also only recognized in certain states.  As I learned about Terry’s alternative path to becoming an architect I also found out that another possible way to become an architect is to do a 2 to 3 year master’s program rather than go through the usual five year programs. These were all interesting alternatives that I will keep in mind for myself if I find that a license or degree in architecture is something that I want. But it was also interesting sitting at a table with Terry and Penny and hearing from both of them that hands on building experience is not something that most architects have and both of them seemed to agree that an architectural degree or license may not be necessary for the kind of work that I want to do. They also pointed out that with an architect’s license comes increased liability and responsibility, so in some ways less freedom to be creative or take small risks. Its like being a doctor; once you have an MD you are also liable for malpractice and expected to deliver a certain quality of care.

The finale of our day was meeting Sam, a friend of Penny’s that I knew from way back in Boston and getting a tour of Sam’s kung fu teacher’s place. Johann, Sam’s kung fu teacher, has a sweet set up on a piece of land that he has been working on for years. He has created a maize through an edible forest garden that he has been growing for over 15 years! In this maize he has many different species of bamboo, fruiting trees, and little boardwalks, to name just a few things. His land also had lots of out buildings that demonstrated creative ways to build alternatively but still to code, including a yurt, a beautiful little “god house,” which is basically a little temple, and and kung fu training room with a rope ladder up to a second floor!

For now, I think continuing to gain hands on building skills through apprentice like programs is what interests me most. Two “schools” that I have bookmarked in my mind as possibilities for my future are Yestermorrow, and the Earthship Biotecture Academy.

Yestermorrow especially intrigues me. It is a design and build school in Vermont  that offers over 15o different hands on courses and a range of options for how one can enroll, from taking individual courses that range from a day to 2 or more weeks long when one has time and money to do so, or doing a certificate or semester program, or interning and obtaining a certain amount of class hours for free in exchange for “work,” which really sounds in itself like a hugely educational experience.

So there are my highlights from my last week in Seattle with Penny. It’s amazing how much you can learn without actually being in school when you have a little bit of time on your hands and the freedom to follow your own interests.

My travel luck seems to be continuing. My bus from Seattle to Anacortes, where the ferry’s leave the mainland for the San Juan Islands, got to the dock just minutes before the 2:40pm ferry left. Had I missed it I would have had to wait until 4:30 for the next ferry, which would not have been the end of the world but given that I was filled with excited anticipation it felt good to make the earlier boat and be on my way.

I quickly camped myself at the very front of the boat where I could stand in the wind, looking eagerly out over the beautiful water at what lay ahead; a much anticipated opportunity to work one on one with a skilled natural builder.  I had heard lots from Peter about Ryan and his cob house that he has been building on his own for the last three years, but now I am finally going to get to meet Ryan and see and work along side him on this house!

A beautiful afternoon on the ferry from the mainland to the islands

The ferry ride over was beautiful. Islands dotted the horizon in front of me, the sun was out and the water was blue. A seal poked its head out and said hello, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a pair of dorsal fins disappear under the water.

As a lone traveler it has always been easy for me to make friends on my travels. On the bus ride over to the port I met a man who was on his second sail around the world! He had gone to University in Binghamton, NY, not too far from Ithaca but had gone to the virgin islands after graduating and had ended up staying 6 months longer then he intended, learned to build boats, and has been doing that ever since.

On the ferry ride over I talked with a woman who was a holistic veterinarian. She was headed to the islands to learn from and film this woman who works with horses, developing an equal partnership with them rather than having a domineering relationship over them. I love hearing the stories of people I meet while traveling.

Upon arriving at Friday Harbor I sling one back pack on my back an the other on my front and head out to meet Ryan. There he is waiting for me right at the top of the ramp, with unmistakable shoulder length blond hair. This is our first actual meeting, although we have exchanged e mails and skyped a bit, but we give each other of hug hello and my adventure on the islands has begun!

The first evening we drove around the island a bit and went on a short hike near and old limestone mine. The views are breathtaking and conversation is easy. My first lesson in plants begins with learning about the beautiful Madrona tree that has an unmistakable red-purple bark that contrasts with vibrant yellow wood. Apparently this tree has the ability to photosynthesize through its wood so it often purposely sheds its bark where the sun is hitting it to make use of the light. So cool!

Rocky outcroppings right in front of the beach house.

He treats me to dinner and then after running a few errands we head to his parents beach house. The approach to the house is long and windy but then we arrive. The house is sitting just a couple hundred feet from the water, with huge glass windows that face southwest. The waves crash on rock outcroppings and you can hear the wind blow through the open fields.

Over the course of the week I  learn that much of the grasses growing around the house are not native. There is also a Himalayan Blackberry that seems to be aggressively taking over, and although the berry’s are yummy, the thorns are vicious and they choke out all other plants. Ryan has been working to cut back some of these Himalayan Blackberry bushes and give some of the native species a competitive advantage. The native species include a type of rose and a shrub called snow berry.

The view from the beach house porch.

After calling it a night I retire to my loft that will be my home while I stay here. It is a nice big open loft from which I can see right out the big windows to the ocean. I wonder if I will be able to sleep as I am so excited to see the cob structures the next day!

Indeed I find myself awake at 4am with anticipation. I manage to fall back into a light sleep but am up as soon as I hear Ryan moving about downstairs at about 6:30, before the sun has even risen.

So we are up before sunrise, drinking tea and making eggs with some beans a cheese for breakfast. We eat a relaxed breakfast, pack some lunch and are on our way out the door by about 8:30 or so.

First stop is GD cat. I soon learn that Ryan is responsible for taking care of his parents cat, who stays at their town house (which I am thankful for as I am allergic to cats).  This means each day begins and ends with a stop at the town house to feed the cat and let it in or out. The abbreviation, GD, stands for a not so affectionate term that Ryan occasionally uses when the cat is being particularly difficult.

Then we are off to The Pump House. The pump house is exactly that, a cob pump house that Ryan is building for someone on the island whose old pump house had partially burned down. When we pull into the driveway I am amazed to see an almost finished, adorable little round structure with a cedar shingle roof on it that makes me think of an owl’s wings. Yes, something about the structure makes me think that it is just going to lift off and fly away! It is absolutely wonderful.

The pump house from the front.

Ryan begins with a bit of an orientation to the site, the project, where he is at and what he has left to do. He points out to me the little stone borders he has used to create walkways, reminders to himself

and others to stay on the path and minimize impact to the area. He shows me how he decided to build the pump house right on top of the water tank, which already had a cement top, there giving him a pre-made floor and preventing him from having to create much more disturbance to the site. Then we get down to business and do a bit of cobbing, just adding a few more inches around the windows and the door. You can’t put too much on at a time without giving the cob time to dry because the wall will slump with all the weight. Because Ryan is pretty far along now he likes to do just a little bit of actual cob work each day, sealing up holes around windows, doors, and ceilings, and doing finishing work.

The pump house from the back.

Now it is off to the “Mud Hut,” or the real cob house that I am SO excited to see. After a short drive we are there. Before we pull into the driveway Ryan asks me if I can see the house. I look, but all I see is woods. This is what he hopes for as he wants his houses to blend into the landscape. Then we pull into the driveway and walk down a short little windy path, also bordered by stones. And there it is! Tucked back into the hill, an adorable little cottage!

 

Although it is not quite finished it is beautiful, with a living roof, earth bermed in the back, and as inviting as any little cottage in the woods I have ever seen. As I enter the house there is a large blue stone inset into some beautiful sunburst woodwork in the floor – quite impressive. On the right is what will be the kitchen area, with a water and electrical line already coming in, and a large wood stove that Ryan obtained for free from someone

Approaching the cob house from the path.

replaces theirs. Then in the right back is what will be the bedroom; a kind of raised loft with a partial wall. This structure wraps around a little atrium that Ryan calls the tree room; a little out door room with a tree standing in the middle. He thinks the tree will have to be cut but he may put a little table and an outdoor hearth there. From a separate entrance a root cellar wraps around the back of the structure helping create an air barrier between the cob structure and the living roof that becomes the hill. Lastly, the roof extends a bit on one side giving Ryan a bit of a covered shed where he can store stacked wood and other things.

The cob house from the front, in all it's glory.

But before I go too much into the building itself I must tell you that Ryan spent three months on the land just deciding where to site it. He wanted the building to blend in and he wanted to create as little additional disturbance as possible. He tells me how he knew the site had been quite disturbed previously from looking at the soil horizons, the plants that are growing, and some of the clearly chain sawed stumps that are around. Ryan also has an amazing ability to see and anticipate succession. He points out a few pines that he says aren’t very happy and are probably on their way out. Also there are a few deciduous that he anticipates will be shaded out soon by the Douglas Firs  that dominate the island. He explains how the fact that the trees are rather small and still growing quite close together means that it is a young forest in which it is basically a free for all race to see who can survive. But as the forest matures it will thin out and probably lose some of its diversity in trees as early transitional species get shaded out and die.

All of this is fascinating to me and as the week goes on I find that I will be learning lots about not just cob, woodworking, and building, but also plants and ecosystems. By the end of the first week I am learning to be able to tell the difference between a Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, and Pine up close and even at a distance as we drive by. Ryan is also really good at identifying what kind of tree a piece of driftwood came from – that one is more difficult for me.

Working on the mud hut and pump house is slow and steady work, but it feels like it is

Sunburst woodwork in the floor. I can't wait to see what it looks like when it is sanded, stained, and varnished!

feeding my soul. I like the rhythm of our days a lot. We go to bed early and get up before the sun rises. We eat a big breakfast, take a lunch break and eat yummy dinners. Each day we probably do a bit of cob mixing (two buckets of sand mixed with a bucket of wet clay, add more of each to taste and then some straw. All mixed with your feet of course.) and a bit of cob laying on one part or another of the wall. Right now the priority is to try and get all the holes filled before winter really sets in we have been working on getting windows how we want them and installing them. Ryan is a perfectionist who values craftsmanship so we work carefully, seeing how each modification to the window framing and the cob affects the light, the aesthetics of the window etc. At the end of each day we try to do a reflection, noting everything that we did that day and giving ourselves a pat on the back for our hard work. We also seem to work really well together, bouncing ideas off each other and trouble shooting together. I find myself not wanting to stop and we often work past sundown.

All in all it has been a fabulous week. I am a bit sad to leave honestly and excited that I will be coming back after the holidays. The first week, which was meant to be sort of a trial week, has been a huge success. Maybe I could do this for a living….!

Many in the circles I have been in have talked optimistically about a graceful and ethical descent into a life sustaining culture that will occur in our lifetime. But many have also expressed fears that it will not all be graceful and ethical. To me, the Occupy Wall Street movement is one symptom of what I and many others are calling The Great Turning, the inevitable shift away from our current industrial growth, consumer based culture. Hope and excitment lies in the opportunity for a shift to a life sustaining culture while fear comes from the gut feeling many of us have of the possible disastrous outcomes of a failure to make this shift.

Last night things began to escalate in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has become not only nationwide but global. In Oakland, California police threw tear gas canisters, and shot projectile rounds, including rubber bullets into the crowds injuring more then a few. This was after they had forcibly taken down the protester’s tents and shut down their camp earlier the same day. Tonight, those in Oakland are trying to take back their camp and many across the globe are marching or otherwise expressing their solidarity with them.

The occupy wall street movement has caught the attention of the world, bringing issues that many of us have been talking about in our homes and communities to the forefront. The movement continues to grow and I believe that the protests are only a small fraction of a much larger underground movement that has been developing now for many years. This movement is a movement of people who know somewhere inside that things are not quite right in this world and that business as usual cannot continue much longer.

We are reaching a tipping point. People from all angles and all walks of life are starting to talk about a coming change. Chris Martenson has been talking about it for a while, tying in economics, energy, and environment. Joanna Macy has also been teaching on this shift and how to deal with the fear, grief, anger, and despair that many of us often feel as we start to face the realities of what is going on in this world. And these are just some of the bigger names that I have been following who are talking about The Great Turning. Lately, it seems that no one I know, family, friends or acquaintances, can deny the feeling that something is on the edge of change; something has got to shift. In the last six months it has been popping up in conversations all around me no matter where I go and among people I did not expect to be talking about these things.

Although I times I have felt overwhelmed and fearful of what might be coming I am at my core excited to be alive at this time and a part of this shift. Having always been interested in the environment and sustainability the realization that things are going to change very soon has done nothing more then given me a sense of urgency and fueled my passion in pursuing the things I am already interested in and doing my very best to aid in this time of transition. Now I have a framework and a clearer understanding as to why I have always felt so strongly that we must find a way to live more sustainably and in harmony with the natural world. Everyday I am feeling more clarity that I am on my path as I seek to explore ways to create homes, grow food, and live in community in ways that regenerate and support nature’s life supporting systems, and thereby support the human race.

We humans, with our unique gifts of the mind, the power to organize, and our opposable thumbs (among other gifts) have become the keystone species of this planet; our impact on this Earth and it’s ecosystems are far greater in proportion to our biomass. As the keystone species we have a great responsibility to act from a place of wisdom. We have the ability to do great good as well as great harm and we are forever creating change at a faster rate then we can foresee. Knowing this, I am choosing to develop the parts of myself that tend to be left behind in our culture today; the spirit, the heart, the ability to communicate effectively and with compassion, and the soul. By doing this I hope to be better equipped to fulfill the large responsibility of being part of a keystone species on this planet. I hope you will consider joining me on this quest. I think we can make this world a better place.

Over the past year  or so I have been dreaming of building my own cob house. Every time an idea comes to me I write or draw it, leading to the accumulation of many possible house designs. The designs are still rather rudimentary as I consider all of this part of brainstorming, an important part of any design process.

The design process that I do my best to follow is the one used by many permaculture designers (if you want to become a certified permaculture designer click here to see info on the amazing course I took with living routes at the Sirius Ecovillage in Shutesbury, MA). Below is a diagram of this process taken from the blog of AppleSeed Permaculture (click on the link for a more in depth explanation of the design process)- a blog that has a lot of good info on permaculture.

Based on this diagram I have been working on articulating my goals. As of now here is my goal statement for what I am calling my evolving dream. Keep in mind this is my big, long term vision. I hope it will one day manifest!

” My land has all the necessities to sustain a community; a clean water source for drinking and bathing, woods and open space with good solar exposure for growing food and siting buildings. It is surrounded by a vibrant, progressive community and natural beauty.

My home is small but sufficient for me, a partner, and a child. I designed and built it with my own two hands and it is made of all natural and non toxic, sustainably harvested materials. It blends into the land and exemplifies sustainable design. It gets good natural light, and provides for my heating, cooling, cooking, and other needs at little or no cost to me or my environment. It has the ability to evolve over time as my family, needs, and means change.

There is at least one large common space on the land that can be used for small retreats and for educational purposes, including creating and doing art, both visual and movement based. There is also a common dining area with a kitchen, and simple accommodations such as tent platforms, and small dwellings. All structures demonstrate sustainable design, showcasing a myriad of natural and green building techniques, and were built through community builds and workshops.

The whole land exemplifies permaculture principles and is filled with an abundance of wild and cultivated edibles and medicinals. It is a safe and holding space for all people of any race, age, gender, faith, orientation, and culture. We try our very hardest to make everything that we offer at, and through this place, as accessible as possible to all.”

Phew…. That is a long goal statement and, I realize, a tall order. But why not dream big!

So I have my goals articulation, but I don’t yet have a site, making it hard to analyze and assess the site. In permaculture the site often dictates, or at least strongly shapes one’s design so one might wonder why I have already begun to brainstorm building designs when I don’t even have a site yet! Well, part of it is just pure excitement and impatience and a desire to do something while I wait for the time when I feel ready and am able to commit to a site. And also, I have found that through my designs I am beginning to clarify my vision and therefore what I would look for in a piece of land. When I started I did not realize I really wanted land with it’s own water source, including a place to bathe in such as a natural spring, river, or pond. I also did not realize that I really do want land that is big enough to one day house more then just my family and become an educational retreat center. All of these realizations have been immensely helpful and so I am glad that I have started to think about the design possibilities before committing to any one location or site. And who knows! If I am part of a small eco-village or retreat center maybe more then one of these designs will manifest into reality! It has also been fun to see what themes and similarities have emerged as I become clear as to what I like and want, and it has also been interesting to see what has evolved and changed as I have more information and knowledge to inform my design process.

So, for a few of my designs. I think this is the very first one I did, back in fall of 2010. South in this design in up. I will try to always make it clear which way is south as, at least in the Northern hemisphere south the direction in which you want to orient all major windows on a building if you are following passive solar design principles. Passive solar maximizes the natural light you receive and helps to heat your house naturally during the winter and keep it cool during the summer. You will notice the benefits of being south facing if you look at hills or mountains near you. Notice that the south facing slope is always warmer then the north, appearing sometimes even a few weeks ahead in springtime then north facing slopes!

In this design the front entrance opens up to a patio and greenhouse on the south side. A south facing greenhouse will optimize your ability to grow food in winter months and, if it is attached to the house as in this design, it will help to heat your house in winter months. The shower and bath are also in the greenhouse allowing for the steam and moisture created by these facilities to be released into the green house, which should be a warm and moist environment. Also, it would make for easy creation of a greywater or wetland purification system.

Almost all of my designs, including this one have a proportionally large kitchen. This is because in my experience the kitchen ends up being the center of the house. It is where people congregate, and often where the most time is spent, especially in a household that actually cooks its food. Also, in a household that cooks their food from fresh or preserved (canned, dried, etc.) local food and is trying to be sustainable a root cellar is an invaluable thing. This design has a root cellar in the lower left (NE corner) of the design. Placing the root cellar on the north side of a building is best as that side of the house will naturally be the cooler side with the least sun exposure. It is a bit hard to see but the stairs in this design also lead to a small loft that is above the desk and day bed area. This loft would act as the bedroom.

Another thing I tried to design into this house was the ability to built it in stages. The kitchen is almost circular and I thought could be built first. It is large enough that I could sleep and live in it with my basic needs taken care of until the rest of the structure was built. The patio and greenhouse would be built last, although a outhouse would be built earlier on of course.

Below is my third design and still one of my favorites. It is the house that inspired the image I call home, which has come to symbolize many things to me. I often call this my yin yang design.

In this design South is down. It is a bit hard to tell but the upper half of this yin yang is the structure while the lower half is actually a garden. The diameter of the circle I figure to be about 30 feet, making the area of house, if assumed to be half of the circle, to be about 350 square feet. For most in America this might seem incredible small but I would want the first house that I build to be small and manageable as the one thing about building by hand with cob is that it does take time. Also, as proof that living in such a small house is possible and people are doing it by choice, I have seen a family of three living quite comfortable in a yurt with a 25 foot diameter. That is only 490.625 square feet! And that was in Canada, not some third world country mind you. (I talk a bit about their lifestyle in another post, The Dream)

As an artist I like the contained wholeness of this design. It is elegant and simple. The shape of the upper half of the yin yang in the orientation that it is also maximizes the surfaces of the house facing South and gives both the bedroom area and the kitchen great south eastern exposure. I love the morning light so this is something that I like about this design.

Once again, there is a root cellar on the northern side of the house and this time the toilet and bath area is also attached on the north side. This would be good for cold winters when you don’t want to go outside to use the bathroom. This house could also be a single story or include a small loft above the bedroom area for storage or for a child to sleep.

Because I likes this design so much I also started to play with possibilities for the roof. Below are two possible roof designs I came up with.

 On the left is a more conventional roof design and honestly a design that appeals to me less. On the right is I design I did after seeing some pictures of beautiful cob houses with curved ridge beams, including one on page 232 of the Hand Sculpted House. These curved ridge beams give the house a beautiful, organic shape and I actually think this design would be relatively easy to build. The ridge beam would run pretty much east to west (with east being up in this picture) and the eastern end would be higher, allowing for a loft. Also, I realized that on the SE side of the house you could extend the beams creating a nice trellis over the patio that would be a natural extension of the house. I also tried to figure out where approximately one would need support posts. In The Hand Sculpted House they recommend that you do not span more then 12 to 14 feet without support, and so I drew in some support beams airing on the conservative side with spans no bigger then 10 feet.

My next few designs are for more typically shaped rectilinear plots. These design came after some thought during my green building course  given to the need to start creating sustainable designs for cities and the need for houses to be flexible and able to evolve over time. Much of this thinking came from watching a fascinating movie called How Buildings Learn. One of the beauty’s of cob is the ability to design furniture and individuality right into your structure often making a house that fits like a glove to the lifestyle of it’s inhabitants. But this does not always lend itself well to the possibility of the house changing owners. And so I decided to play around with a few more rectilinear designs that could more easily evolve and contain conventional movable furniture, etc.

The one below I designed specifically with San Miguel de Allende in mind. The houses in this beautiful spanish colonial city are filled with color, interior courtyards, and gardens. It is also a city filled with artists and the creatively incline and so an art studio felt like a must to me. I cannot imagine going to San Miguel and not doing art!

In this design South is up again. It is a bit confusing to know what is the open courtyard and what are encolesed structure so I will do my best to walk you through it. The main entrance to this plot on on the lower North side. You enter into a garden/courtyard space with a structure on either side of you. On the left is the root cellar, kitchen, main area, and a bedroom. On the right is a studio space and a screen in patio for when it is rainy or buggy out. Above both the studio and the bedroom could be a second and third bedroom, giving this design the potential to hold quite a few people, which seems fitting for a San Miguel house which is often rented out to vacationers or passing through many hands. The upper right (SW corner) is where the bathroom and bathing area is, as well as a compost operation from which soil for the gardens could be taken.

Here is another design I did with San Miguel in mind for a friend’s plot. It turns our I got the orientation on the plot not quite right but it was fun anyways to play around with some real dimensions.

In this design South is to the left. The lower left and the right hand side of the plot are outdoor garden/courtyard spaces. It definitely was a bit more of a challenge to design to real plot dimensions and I am honestly not sure that I love this design. The biggest challenge was that I knew there were some big trees on the north side of the plot that the owners did not want to cut down, but that left the south side, where one would usually put the gardens as the logical place to build. I did get to actually see the plot after I did this design and there are definitely things I would do differently, but it was a good exercise and drove home the importance of knowing your site and designing for what already exists in terms of landform, solar orientation, and other things.

Here is one last rectilinear design I did, with more of a temperate, Northeastern climate in mind.

In this design South is up, on the side of the greenhouse. Once again, I don’t know if I love this design as I honestly think I prefer more rounded shapes and spaces. Despite that, I was playing around with another design tool, a book called A Pattern Language and I think I learned some important things from this design. One of the things I paid particular attention to in this design was the need for transition spaces, especially when entering and leaving the house. Therefore the entryway is either through the greenhouse, shade room, or pantry, all of which provide a moment for transition before entering the home life.

A Pattern Language is a fascinating books that uses patterns that the authors found in what appeals to people and makes people feel good in a space. These patterns are then used to guide the design of everything from a room, a house, a garden, a neighborhood, a school or even a city. The book is a big fat book but is set up in an easily usable way where you literally can start in one spot, say the bedroom of a couple, and read about what such a space should include and then at the end of that short little section it will suggest other spaces that often go along with a bedroom for a couple, such as a family kitchen or a house for a couple. And by this method you can slowly work your way through a design piece by piece, leaning about what makes a sitting spot in a garden attractive, and why shifts in lighting between spaces can be important.  If you are a designer, architect, or planner I would highly recommend this book.

Ok, getting close to the end of my designs I promise. This next one though, is one of my favorites.

South is the lower right corner here. I love this design for similar reasons that I love my yin yang design. It is rather simple and feels very contained. This design was inspired by both the yin yang design and the yurt that the family in Canada was living in. I was amazed at how spacious their yurt felt, which only had a 25 ft diameter. This circular design could use the simple roof structure of a yurt and would have about a 30 ft. diameter, including the thick outer cob walls, so the total square footage would be right around 700 square feet. Only some of the inner curved walls would be full walls, while some would be more like space separators with the height of maybe a countertop or a a privacy screen. There is the potential to attach a wrap around green house on the SE side as well.

As you can see, I have stuck with the theme of having a large open kitchen that is the main gathering and social area. In this design the kitchen is also divided from a sitting area by a peninsula like countertop. Then in the NE is the bedroom, placed so that it will receive good morning light and in the North you once again have the root cellar/pantry.

And lastly, here is one possible design for a common space.

Here the entrance faces south, which is in the upper left corner. The center space would be particularly well suited to movement, dance, yoga and things of that nature but could be used for other things as well. I thought it would be nice to have the side spaces as changing rooms or mini sitting areas but they could also serve as offices, art space or some other purpose. I thought the space in the north though should be bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms.

As you can see I have also drawn in some of the outdoors, including an outdoor amphitheater, and my thought was that in good weather the structure could turn into more of a gazebo like space with large doors thrown open on all sides, providing additional seating space for the amphitheater and bringing the outdoors in.

So that concludes my designs for now! I hope they were of some interest. There are many details that I left out, such as the placement of internal thermal mass to store heat, the placement of wood stoves, and other illustrations of sustainable design principles, but I did my best to illustrate some. Hopefully these give you some idea of my designs and the possibilities when doing natural building with cob, an incredibly sculptural medium, or other materials.

The wanderer in the cocoon

Recently I have been wandering. Wandering geographically as well into the depths of my own mind, soul and heart. School, a place I used to love and thrive in, became a prison whose purpose it seemed was keep me from wandering. Everything I knew myself to be; a good student, confident and socially adept and involved, a leader in in world of extracurriculars, seemed in question suddenly. I found myself wanting to retreat, isolating myself  and wishing I could escape all the obligations and responsibilities of academia and society. And I hated feeling this way. I beat up on myself, trying to make myself go out and stay engaged, and yet the more I tried the more I knew I did not want to be there.

Asking my parents if I could take time off from college was one of the hardest things I have ever done. When I finally mustered the courage to ask they were receptive (thank god!) but getting there was a long, hard path of facing many of my demons and fears. My fear of being that college dropout, of not finishing what I started (I only have 1 more semester and then I will have my degree! How could I stop now?), of disappointing my parents, of disappointing myself! But something inside of me was screaming with an urgency, an urgency that I did not quite understand, telling me I needed to be free to wander.

Now, it is October of my year off. My classmates have resumed classes, I will not graduate a semester early in December, but the world has not fallen apart. In fact, I feel a huge weight lifted off me, and I feel myself expanding and growing in profound ways as I am allowed to explore my own depths at y own pace. And, I think I will go back and finish my degree, but I know that for now I made the right decision to take a year off. And in a society where “soul searching” is not always recognized as a valuable and legitimate thing to be doing with ones time, I am incredibly grateful that my family and community was and is able to support me in my decision

Although at this point I do not feel a need for outside validation of my decision, a recent book I have picked up has helped me understand my own need to wander and put things in perspective. The book is called Nature and the Human Soul and is written by Bill Plotkin. In this book, Plotkin, who is a a depth psychologist and wilderness guide, proposes a development model for healthy human development. Reading about his model, which is a circular model of development that is eco and soulcentric, I feel like my own trials and tribulations, as well as my own gut feelings about what is healthy and what I need has been fully validated. Reading his book has given me insight and understanding to why nature, both our own and the that of the earth, is so important for healthy human development. And it has also helped me understand some of the causes for much of the destruction and dysfunction I see around me. Plotkin skillfully explains the egocentric society that dominates today, where the primary objective is socioeconomic gain for the individual while also illustrating a viable alternative for moving towards an eco-soulcentric society where each individual manifests their own unique purpose in the world and acts from a place of deep connection to the whole world or cosmos. What a beautiful and in many ways simple idea! That a mature person would be acting not for the benefit of just the individual but for the whole world! And yet it seems this is not what most so called adults in our world are doing.

But I think things are shifting. Lately it seems that everywhere I go people are talking of and doing their part in The Great Turning, although they may not call it that. To my knowledge, Joanna Macy was the first to coin this phrase, but it is now being used by many across the globe. To me, the work that Plotkin is doing does much to address the third stage of the great turning; a global shift in consciousness. Without this shift actions to slow or call attention to the damage we are doing, such as the occupy wall street movement (which I fully support), or even education and analysis of the causes of this destruction will only take us so far in healing our planet, and therefore our people. We need to also look inward and do our own inner work.

This is what the 4th stage in Plotkin’s developmental work, the wanderer in the cocoon, is all about. This stage is also what Plotkin sees as the transition stage to becoming a true, mature adult.

Here is one passage from Bill Plotkin’s book describing the quest of the wanderer:

“The Wanderer (of any chronological age) seeks to discover her ultimate place in life. Not just any place will do… It’s got to be her place, one that is in keeping with her vital core. It’s a place defined not by the deeds she performs but by the qualities of soul she embodies; not by her physical, social, or economic achievements but by the true character she manifests; neither by her capacity to conform to the masses, nor by her ability to creatively rebel against the mainstream, but by the unique way she performs her giveaway for her community. Her ultimate place is identified not by any social forms or roles but, rather by the symbols, stories, and archetypes unearthed from the deep structure of her psyche and by the way the world invites her to belong to it.” (pg. 251-252, Nature and the Human Soul)

I am blessed to feel that I have reached this stage. As I read this book I know that my family and community has allowed me to fully experience not only this stage, but the three stages before largely from an eco-soulcentric place and I am grateful for that as well.

I have not completed reading this book and I may write another entry when I have, but as of now I feel quite strongly that for anyone feeling lost and confused in this world, or questioning the way things are, whether they are young or old I would highly recommend Nature and the Human Soul. And for parents or anyone working with children or youth or even in just any position of guidance and mentorship, perhaps even to adults, this is, in my opinion, one of the most important books you could read. I am certainly glad I am reading it for myself and long before I have my own children. It will definitely shape how I choose to raise them.

The Great Outdoors in NYC

My first very own field guide finally arrived today! It is the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to New England. Now you might wonder why am I getting a field guide when my current location is new york city. (and yes, I realize New York is not included in the new england states but I decided there is probably a fair amount of overlap in the flora and fauna). Well, over the last couple of years my interest in plants and animals has been steadily growing. I always loved the outdoors but it has only been recently that I have wanted to know the plants more intimately by name, medicinal use, nutritional qualities, habitat, ecosystem function and more. And the long and short of it was that it was when I came to NYC to live with my grandparents for a month and help take care of my beloved grandpa post op my curiosity finally drove me to buy a field guide. Even in riverside park there is much to find! And I found myself without a more knowledgeable friend close by wanting desperately to know what this tree was, whether that shroom was poisonous, and what the name of that bird is. And so I ordered what I hope to be the first of many field guides.

I have slowly been gaining knowledge by going on plants walks with those more knowledgeable when I can and taking advantage of other opportunities. This summer’s permaculture course made me feel even more strongly about the importance of knowing plant functions in ecosystems. Then in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I have gone with my parents for many years to do art as a family, a took a new interest in El Charco de Ingenio, their botanical gardens. There I saw a totally different desert ecosystem overflowing with a diversity of cacti. Tapping into a recently evolved “green map” of San Miguel I found out about a one day workshop on tincture and salve making using medicinal plants. And so in one short day I found myself learning how to, and actually making, right there on the spot, herbal tinctures, infusions, teas, vaseline or oil based creams, and beeswax based creams- wow! I didn’t know it was so easy! Here are some basic recipes.

(CAUTION: I am not an expert and each individual herb should be researched and used accordingly. Some are poisonous if ingested or if the wrong part of the herb is used, and these recipes are simple basic recipes of a beginner, so please do your own research before trying anything you plan on taking or giving to someone else.)

Tinctures (alcohol based)

1 part dried herb

4 parts alcohol (vodka or gin or glycerin work)

Leave for two weeks in the sun, agitating or shaking daily

Strain out the organic plant matter and put in a dark container and store in a dark, cool place and it should last over a year! Don’t forget to label it clearly!

20 drops of this concentrated tincture in a glass of hot water can be used to make a tea or taken directly.

40 drops in hot water can be used to soak gauze or other material to make a compress.

Tea or Compress

Most of us know how to make a tea but here are a few words of advice if you are using it for medicinal purposes. The water has to be boiling or just at boiling point. Purely hot water won’t do. Steep it for 5 to 10 minutes, not more as it will get bitter. To use a tea as a compress just soak some gauze in the tea and put it where you need it.

Infusions (oil based)

1 part dried herb

4 parts olive or jojoba oil (other plant or fruit oils can work too)

Add Vitamin E to keep oil from going rancid (This is optional but will help extend the life of your infusion to about 1 year. Otherwise it will last a few months. It works well to just buy a capsule of vitamin E and break it open, adding the content to your infusion.)

Leave in a closed container in the sun for 10 to 14 days, agitating daily

filter out organic matter and put in a dark container in a cool place to store.

Infusions can be massaged into skin or heated to release odors of herbs

Solid Cream (beeswax base)

100 ml of olive oil or other oil

5 grams of herb

5 grams of beeswax

Heat the oil and herb for 1/2 hour in a double boiler

Strain herb out of oil (Optional. Some people leave the herb in)

Add the beeswax while still hot, pour into desired container, and allow to solidify

And done! This can also be used to massage into skin, as lip balm or other topical use. Also, you can play around with the ratio of beeswax to oil  to get different levels of solidity.

Vaseline Based Cream

Double boil vaseline and herb together

Pour into your desired container and let solidify.

Then use as is! No straining, no nothing. This is the lazy man’s version of the above solid cream. Personally, I would prefer to not used a petrol based product and it seems you can get the same consistency by altering the ratios of oil to beeswax with the previous recipe!

I also learned a bit about a few common herbs like arnica (do not ingest this one! It should be used only topically), chamomile, calendula, lavander, and mint but I think I will save that for another post.

Then when I returned to Ithaca, NY Peter and I asked our very knowledgeable friend Micah to take us mushroom hunting. And oh did we find a lot of mushrooms!

(once again, a word of CAUTION: many mushrooms can be deadly! A few are even dangerous to touch, so be very cautious. Go with a knowledgeable guide. This list of “ten commandments” for the mushroom hunter are also a good guide to follow).

But we found maybe 6 or so pounds of black trumpet chanterelles- delicious cooked up with lots of butter and garlic. And we also found some old man in the woods, toothed fungi, and artists fungus and oyster mushrooms. This experience in particular made me really want to know my flora. Imagine being able to eat like a queen and not have to pay a cent!

And so when I arrived in new york my eyes were trained to look around me and notice the flora and fauna. And there are so many fascinating plants in riverside park that I do not know! And birds that also intrigued me. I also found Maitake mushrooms, which, after much debate, I decided not to eat due to the possibility of accumulated toxins and pollution in them. And I also found what I think is an artists fungus and some puff balls! But I am excited now to go out and try and identify the many plants and birds that I have not been able to name with my new field guide. Oh, so many possibilities! What was that fragrant plant whose smell I recognized but name I did not know that was growing by the hudson river? I will hopefully let you know in a few days.

The Hidden Leaf

Reflections and the journey of life with tea

Creative by Nature

Glimpses of a Creative Universe, by Christopher Chase...

aatinyhouse

Creating "new" from old has been a preoccupation of mine for a long time, but turned into a full-time adventure in building and living in a tiny "reclaimed" house. Beginning in 2012, I will live in this 120 square foot space for the length of my PhD studies in Literature and the Environment, and perhaps beyond. In this way, I hope to live a little smaller, leave a little lighter, and learn in what ways formal study can be acted in the every day.

Coffee with Collette

a smorgasbord of thoughts, poems & images about everything & nothing from a woman fighting cancer

She Works Wood

A WOMAN, HER WOODWORKING PROJECTS AND A BLOG. I HOPE YOU FIND USEFUL INFORMATION HERE.

FREE FAMILY ON THE ROAD

An adventure towards a lighter and freer lifestyle

Miranda's Hearth

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

A Little Short

Marcy Little blogs

Tiny House Of Our Own, Gypsy Style

Joining the Tiny House Movement

Blog - The Tiny Tack House

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

Choose to Advance

...your inspiration... your journey... your greatness...

Erin and Dondi

Our travels, exploits, and adventures

The Tiny Life

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

Micro Showcase

Tiny house tours and resources in DC

weeds a'tumbling

The realization of a tiny house on wheels.

Granny Earth

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

The New Paradigm Astrology Cooperative

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

JPG: Stories by Etan Doronne.

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

Jiling Botanicals

The blog of A. Miwa Oseki Robbins

Green Prophet

Good news that impacts the Middle East and your world

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