Interview on “Shades of Green” Radio Show

Check out my most recent interview, by the excellent green radio show “Shades of Green.” I’m really pleased with how it turned out! This may be the most succinct overview I’ve managed to provide so far of my book and the Riot for Austerity. Thank you to John Hoffner and the other hosts for their journalistic and editing skills that produced this 20-minute segment. I tend to ramble and digress, so I’m sure it was no mean feat!

“Shades of Green” is based in Austin TX, and has been on the air since 2007. (Fun fact: I was privileged to be one of the original co-hosts, with John Hoffner and Ken McKenzie-Grant.) The current hosts are John Hoffner, Stacy Guidry, Reed Sternberg, and Amy Stansbury. You can find out more about these excellent journalists and eco-activists on the show’s website.

In case you have trouble with the uploaded mp4 I provided above, here’s a link to the podcast on Shades of Green’s website.

Fall Shopping!

(Since I grew up in places where leaves change color, September still means “Fall” to me.)

Today’s finds:
– Enough additional stainless-steel ware to host a decent-sized party.
– Close-toed shoes for winter and for traveling inland. (My Minnetonka suede moccasins, purchased new in 2006, finally wore out for real; now that I live on the Atlantic coast of Florida these gently used Hush Puppies — made in USA, same as my old Minnetonkas — for $2 will do!)

All items came from Halifax Health Hospice thrift store, total $9.85 (silverware items were $.25 each). I’ve always been a fan of non-matching silverware, because then, unlike with a “proper matching set,” it doesn’t stand out if pieces are missing or different! And it fits my urban-rustic-bohemian aesthetic.

Riot for Austerity notes: Thrift-store purchases, being donated items, don’t add to one’s consumer-goods total under “Riot for Austerity” rules. According to statistics used in the Riot for Austerity, the U.S. average for consumer purchases comes to $10,000 per year per person. The Riot calls for us to reduce our footprint by 90% of the U.S. average; accordingly, the Riot target for purchases of consumer goods is $1,000 per year.

Since I mainly buy thrift (when I buy stuff rather than make it or scrounge it), and donated items do not count in the Riot total, I almost always come well under the $1,000 target without even trying. This year is an exception because I needed to get a new roof on my house. The Riot rules say to count necessary home improvements at 50% of the total ticket amount. Since the total I paid for my new roof was $7,000, I have to count $3,600 of that. So far, my Riot consumer total for the year is still under $4,000, or less than 40 percent of the U.S. average in the “consumer purchases” category.

My Lovely New Deep-Green Well: Replacing Electric Pump with Manual

Bye-bye electric pump! It looks like you served the previous homeowners for a good long time. Now your electric switch doesn’t work, and I feel I can in good conscience replace you with something quieter and simpler.

When I bought this house a few months ago, I was delighted to discover it had a working well and that the water was sweet, not salty or sulfurous.

The pump was electric but a good friend who is handy just helped me replace it with a manual pump. (I ordered the pump online from Lehman’s, a supplier of hand-tools, hand-powered kitchen appliances and other goodies highly conducive to low-footprint living). Nice boost in household disaster-preparedness!

Note: I’m not mechanically inclined, and neither do you need to be to do a project like this. I suggest grabbing a friend or neighbor who is “handy” and likes to teach. You’ll expand your knowledge, have a great time (even if there are some frustrating moments when you hit a glitch, as we did numerous times), and at the end of it all, you’ll have a new asset for you, your family, and your community.

You could also watch YouTube tutorials but I find that a live human companion boosts the joy, the learning, and the odds of success. Particularly for someone like me who tends to get discouraged easily by unfamiliar challenges in the physical universe. Person-to-person learning is gold! And really what a delightful way to spend a day, or part of a day.

If treating your “project expert” to a nice meal doesn’t feel like sufficient compensation for their help, you could offer money or barter. You might have a skill they would love to learn!

I’m fortunate to have a very close friend who totally lives for projects like this (he calls it “old man syndrome”, meaning a strong innate drive to pass on his knowledge and skills — lucky me!), and is happy simply to be taken out to lunch or dinner.

This project was actually pretty simple. For me, since I had no experience, it seemed complicated at first, but once I observed and helped, it’s totally understandable and if I had to I would probably be able to do another one by myself, or help someone else do one. Here, in brief, is what we did:

– Remove the electric pump by sawing the PVC pipe that connected it with the well. Charlie used his small electric saw but a handsaw would’ve done OK too. The electric pump had been installed sideways on the ground, so it was joined to the well pipe by an elbow joint. Once we sawed it off below the elbow curve, there was just PVC pipe sticking up vertically out of the ground.
– Join another piece of PVC to the piece sticking out of the ground. For the joining, we used a coupling component made of rubber. The pump was meant to join up with a 1-1/4″ piece of pipe, while the pipe sticking up out of the well is 1-1/2″. Therefore we needed a coupler designed to join those two different sizes of pipe. Couplers are basic everyday things sold in hardware stores, and they come in various sizes, such as “1-1/2 to 1-1/4.” They can be rigid PVC, or can be flexible neoprene like the one we went with.
– The length of the add-on PVC was determined by the height I wanted the pump to be, both for purposes of being able to fit a watering-can or bucket underneath, and also for purposes of allowing me to pump water on a regular basis without straining my back. This height, in my case, ended up being about the height of three cinder-blocks.
– Mixed a small amount of concrete in a bucket. Easy peasy, no harder than making mud-pies.
– Stacked up cinder-blocks and filled the hollow part with concrete. The concrete set very quickly. This heavy stand keeps the pump from wobbling, and the pipe possibly breaking, when in use.
– The pump has screw-holes to attach it to whatever surface it’s sitting on. Charlie used a masonry bit to drill holes in the concrete, and attached the pump to the concrete with special screws that have anchors designed to attach them securely to concrete.

Recommended resource: Lehman’s, “Experts in Living a Simpler Life Since 1955.” Diverse product selection; well-deserved reputation for excellent customer service.

Outdoor Dishwashing Station and Other Old-Fashioned Conveniences

Setting up a little outdoor dishwashing station is great for a potluck or other gathering. Plates can get scraped directly into the compost bin, a handy alternative to having to cart the plates indoors, scrape the food scraps off the plates and into a collection bucket, and then have to haul that collection bucket and the collected dishwater back outdoors.

I’m lucky to have this concrete slope (though it’s not visible in this photo, the ground slopes downward to the right of the dishpan), onto which I can dump the dishwater and it flows downward to the mini check-dam I created for irrigation. (Dishwater in my household uses the very minimum necessary detergent — or maybe just a bit of vinegar and baking soda — and is safe for many plants.)

Trash tips: For a larger gathering, I have buckets labeled “trash”, “compost”, “recycling”, and also (if people bring disposable silverware) “plastic silverware” (which I usually wash and reuse multiple times).

This past weekend’s gathering at my house was not large and the food was very simple. So, other than having one recycling bucket, I handled things on my own rather than ask guests to scrape their dishes into the compost bucket and such.

When hot dishwater is needed (for oily foods, plastic dishes etc.), I sometimes heat it in the solar oven. Yesterday I used the electric kettle to heat 1.75L of water which was plenty. Speaking of dishes, I love using china dishes at a potluck! How many times have you seen a china cabinet in someone’s dining room, jam-packed with generations of beautiful dishes that hardly ever (or never) get used? I inherited SIXTEEN china plates, and many matching bowls, from my grandmother, and I know she is smiling down from heaven to see them in daily use. On a practical note, china is much easier to clean than plastic plates and bowls (which seem to want to hang on to oil and grease).

It’s interesting how the permaculture design principles “make use of onsite resources” and “closely observe nature” in this case also included observing and utilizing a slope (natural dune) that had been paved with a manmade material (concrete).

I like my outdoor dishwashing station so much that I’ve set up a permanent outdoor dishwashing station next to the newly installed manual well-pump. It’s very convenient to wash dishes outdoors because the food can get scraped right into the compost, and the water can go right onto the plants — saves you from having to maneuver a bucketful of collected dishwater from your kitchen to outdoors.

At the potluck, the outdoor dishwashing station sparked nostalgic conversation about how fun and simple it is to do dishes (and laundry) on camping trips. People relax their fussy standards and conventional notions, and the stuff still gets clean! Under the stars, in the fresh air, a mundane task is transformed into a sweet time. And good exercise, stretching and bending!

Being Human

A lot of people get stuck on their green lifestyle path because they try to be perfect, and they drown in guilt when inevitably they fail to be perfect.

This potato chip bag is here for a reason. This EMPTY potato-chip bag. Yes, I wrote a book on low-footprint living, and yet I eat potato chips and engage in other actions that are high-footprint.

Footprints fluctuate. Also, one person’s easy category will be hard for another person. For example, I may never achieve the pristine diet and low footprint of the people I know who grow most of their own food and have no cravings for processed food (or else they ignore those cravings more than I do).

Everyone’s personalities and life circumstances are different. Some of us engage in “emotional eating” at rough times, or just when we are bored and self-indulgent.

I find it easy to use almost no electricity. Other people struggle with reducing their footprint in this category. Ditto transportation, consumer goods, volume of household trash, and so on through all of the RIOT categories.

It’s OK! Just keep moving forward as best you can. And focus on the personal benefits you are gaining, rather than just focus on what you are trying to reduce or give up. I find it much easier to make progress that way.

Back on the subject of potato chips … I often make dip from local yogurt, chopped fresh veggies, and “freegan” spices. And voila, lunch or dinner. Yes, I am a big fan of what I call the “hybrid meal.” Perfectionism in the food category does not work well for me.

The empty potato-chip bag will be a perfect receptacle for cat poop, which I am scooping daily since I am taking care of a friend’s cat this week.

Freegan Hybrid Lunch

Popping it into the solar oven right now … This is what I call a “hybrid meal”. “Freegan” packaged rice dish, with fresh nutritious wild native plants from my yard.

I usually try to minimize purchases of processed food. But as I mentioned, this was “freegan” – in this case, left by a friend who moved. So it doesn’t count in my “food footprint.”

I have to admit my food mix has strayed into too much processed food and not enough fresh local produce lately. Particularly since my Mom passed, I’ve just been lazy and following the path of least resistance. My go-to meals are a mix of not-necessarily-local veggies, and freegan miscellaneous. And maybe a bit too much Boardwalk pizza for my ideal weight.

I get comfort from using up the “taco seasoning mix”, soup mixes, and other packet mixes that I inherited from Mom’s pantry.

But I am still eating wild plants pretty steadily, as I have for the past decade or so. And recently have begun cultivating veggies at my new house. More about that in an upcoming post!

Takeaway from this post: Our lives are always in flux. Don’t stress out if you’re not living as “clean and green” as you aspire to. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Keep on plugging away, accept fluctuations, and concentrate on the personal benefits you’re getting by reducing your footprint.

Up-cycleable Campaign Sign

Deep-green kudos to my friend and neighbor Anne Ruby who ran for City Commission here in Daytona Beach. Her campaign signs were designed to be up-cycled into dishtowels after serving their political purpose.

Besides being unique and up-cycleable, these signs (which Anne stitched together herself) also cost considerably less than the typical plastic ones. Even if not all of Anne’s signs find a new life as dishtowels, and some instead end up in landfill, they will compost!

But who would want to compost such a useful and pretty object, right?

By the way, on the clothesline next to Anne’s sign are 1) one of the hand-towels I make by cutting up abandoned beach-towels and hemming them; and 2) a big brown towel inherited from a friend who works as a housekeeper. My friend has an endless pile of sheets and towels, because her wealthy clients are constantly discarding towels and sheets once they are a year old, even if they’ve never been used.