Posts tagged about me

UPDATE: Commitments and your future self

Time to check in on the great experiment that started this whole thought blot that is my blog. After a few months, how am I doing in my quest to detach from the grid? Here’s the report:

Solar Cooking: I constructed two solar ovens and have been testing them out whenever possible. Lately, there haven’t been too many hot, sunny days. I think they’re spraying too many chemtrails to keep the temperatures down. (If you don’t know what a chemtrail is, consider yourself warned: the government is spraying us with heavy metals and other carcinogens in order to better control the weather and possibly do a host of other nasty things… look it up on Google.) I have successfully cooked several foods, and have found that squashes are by far the easiest to cook, as they have a fairly high water content but are not actually liquid. Next, I plan to branch out more into cooking fruits.

Haven’t gotten that solar panel dissected. I’m a little afraid to cut into the circuitry without expert help. But it will happen, undoubtedly once I figure out the perfect application for the modules.

Avoiding Fast Foods: Um, not exactly going to get a A+ on this one, but I have cut out a majority of the fast food joint trips. And replaced them with frozen dinners from the grocery store. Yeah, need to work on that. I still hit up Del Taco for some tostadas and salads, but try to avoid anything with meat. The frozen pasta dinners, on the other hand, do have some meat in their sauces, and who knows what else hiding in those highly processed packages. Drinks are falling somewhere in the realm of sodas (healthy is harder than I thought on a budget!), whole milk, and gatorade. Judge as you will.

Adopt a Block: I selected the block that I will keep clean. I have done preliminary study to see what sorts of trash accumulate there: it’s your usual city detritus, mostly plastic bags, party fliers, and paper cups with various name brands emblazoned on their sides. At home, I’ve started a few seeds of edible varieties to do some “guerrilla gardening” as I pick up the trash. They are just now maturing to a size where they can be transplanted, and I will probably put them out this weekend. Stay tuned on that.

Transportation: As reported, I sold the car, and have been hoofing it since. In the city, there’s a lot of public transportation available, and I’ve simply been taking the metro, and occasionally the bus. Since the Metro is more than a mile from my place, I’ve been doing plenty of walking lately. Luckily the weather has been beautiful for that. Taken the Greyhound several times now, and it’s doing just fine for long-distance needs. Otherwise, I don’t miss the car too much, though I did have to skip attending the magazine release party for my latest article due to lack of appropriate transport. All in all, a small price to pay. Still looking for a great deal on a scooter or bicycle on Freecycle, whenever that may happen.

Far West AlmanacIf you live in Southern California, check out my latest article in this month’s Far West Almanac!

Website: As this whole blog is a labor of love, I’ve been trying to make lots of useful information available for all of you who are fellow travelers on the road to off-grid living. That does take a bit of time and applied effort. You’ll see that recently, several pages have been added to the site, outlining several aspects of low-impact living. I am continuing to update and add to these pages as I do research. Keep an eye out soon for an all-natural recipes page and a survival skills page. Of course, I’d love to hear more about what YOU want to see here. Please comment if you are looking for information you can’t find, or if you see something that was especially helpful, so I know what to add.

So that’s the round-up. It’s important to check in every once in a while on your progress, so you know whether things are going as you planned or if you’re headed for uncharted territories. For an automated way to do this, I like to use http://www.futureme.org, a service that lets you write an email to your future self. You have to write more than three months in advance, so it’s not a daily reminder service… it’s a way to remind yourself of what was important to you at a particular moment. It’s humorous to talk to yourself this way – you think you’ll remember what you’ve said, but trust me, you won’t. Try it!

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Bathing Al Fresco

Ah, nothing like the wilderness to make you reevaluate your relationship to material goods. This past weekend, I arrived on the trail as the clouds and fog lifted from atop the mountains I was entering. A man told me it had been raining for three days… not good news (or so I thought) in the flash-flood prone desert. But it turned out, hiking after the rain was like a hidden secret ritual for many, who avoided the 100+ degree weather by following a storm through the hills. It was beautiful.

Superstitions after Rain

My hiking buddy and I set up camp by a lovely spring-fed stream in the heart of the wilderness. Barely any signs of humans passing through the area in decades, so the water was about as clean and refreshing looking as any can be. I wanted to go for a swim in the natural rock pools and then bathe in the open sun. But when I pulled my shampoo bottle out of my bag, and then looked in the water at the bullfrog tadpoles and other life, I couldn’t bring myself to use any unnatural products in such a pristine place.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought twice about using that same shampoo at home, though it all ends up in the same water somewhere downstream. Conversely, I wouldn’t have touched water that had a tadpole in it at home, no matter how clearly I could see the bottom. As I said, sometimes it takes a little unfamiliar scenery to make up evaluate our own habits without colored lenses. So I chose to forgo the bath and simply enjoy a swim. Lovely.

When I arrived home, I was determined not to let this happen again, to find myself a potential life-killing polluter in one of the few places not already actively under attack by humankind. So I started researching natural soap, remembering something about “soaproot” from somewhere back in 5th grade when we studied the pioneers crossing the great American plains. Turns out, there are SEVERAL “soaproots”, and had I known what I was doing, there was likely one of them within fifty feet of the proposed bathing locale.

Ever found yourself in a similar bind? Here’s the skinny on natural soap:

Soaproot2

Indian Soaproot, Bouncing Bet, Soapwort

“Wherever Poison Oak grows chances are you will find Soap Root growing. You can harvest Soap Root anytime of the year and it looks the same year round, except for having tall flowering stalks in the spring. The part to use is the bulbous root, so you will need to dig it up. Usually one bulb is all you will need. Peel off the brown, furry outer covering until the white layer underneath is exposed. While using, keep it in a plastic bag to keep from drying out.” – naturalfamilyhome.com

This is the most commonly known of the soap-producing plants. It produces a nice lather for washing both body and clothes, and according to legend, it was also used by the Apaches to catch fish by putting it in the water. It has the most “bang for the buck” of lathering plants.

Yucca

The yucca plant comes in a wide variety of species, but all share the potential for lather. Some people recommend using the root for bathing, but using the root kills the plant. For a small task like bathing, you can simply pull off one leaf from the plant, shred the leaf into strips, and rub them back and forth in your hands with water until a lather forms. (Incidentally, this is also the first step in making yucca twine, another useful thing to know in an emergency!) Use this mix like a pre-soaped washcloth. This plant is so common in the Southwest, you can find it everywhere from ornamental gardens to the untouched National Parks. If I had known, I’d have had a yucca bath that day.

Wood Ashes as Cleaning Agent

Wood Ashes

In an emergency situation, you can wash your skin or pots and pans, etc with ashes from a campfire. It’s important to use clean ashes and not to leave them on your skin too long… ashes are caustic, as they contain lye, an ingredient used in making store-bought soaps.

Buffalo/Missouri Gourd, Mock Orange, Callabacilla

Small triangular leaves and a very spreading habit, this vine has small, orange shaped and sized gourds and a thick taproot that can be up to five feet long. The gourds can also be used as sponges. There is less lather in this plant than others.

Soapberry Trees

These grow in the Southeastern and MidAtlantic states, and are one of three varieties. They have small berries which lather when crushed in water.

Wild Lilac, Myrtle, Buck Brush

Grows in the Western states, covering the land with blue and white flowers in the Spring. The flowers can be used as soap, and are very fragrant, leaving the body perfumed.

Southern Buckeye

A Southeastern plant that is best for washing clothes and fabrics. Like the soapwort, it can stun fish when thrown in water, though this is illegal and should be reserved for survival situations.

Read more about soap plants here

Survival outline that includes a few more saponin-containing plants

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A Memorial to Nature

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend it than getting as far from lots of people as possible to enjoy the splendors of Nature.  So I’m headed into the woods again to get lost for a few days. Stay posted when I get back for inspiration from the trail!

walking away

Happy Memorial Day, Everyone!

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Take a Tour of Solarious

This week, you will be seeing a lot of action at the Solarious website, as I update and expand the back pages with new information for you.  Why don’t you stop through and take a tour?

First, check out the food additives page, “In My Food”, where you can find out more about the ingredients that make up you daily diet and how they may affect your health.  If you have any expertise or suggestions about ingrdients, please share them, and I’ll follow up by posting more on the topic.

Next, visit the “Success Stories” page to see how others in your position have overcome challenges and maintained inspiration and vision to complete alternative energy projects.  Again, please feel free to share any inspiring stories or learning lessons you know of so that others may learn too.

And finally, see the brand-spankin’ new section, “Box it Up”, for an ever-incomplete listing of companies that incorporate recycled packaging and goods into their product lines.  I say incomplete, because more companies recognize the need for such sustainable practices every day.  Here’s to wishing for that day when ALL companies use recycled goods in their products, reducing our virgin material needs close to zero.  Until then, support these companies’ decisions to ensure that they view sustainability as a wise business decision.

In regularly scheduled news, everything here is going great.  After a solid week of grey days and spitting rainy weather, the sun is out and blazing.  It’s time to get cooking!  Over the “down time” of cloudy weather, I walked around the city distributing a new magazine for whom I write.  Plenty of time to check out the neighborhood and look for a block to adopt.  And… I’ve found one!  It took a bit of looking, because in my neighborhood the “Clean Team” (ie. people who’ve gotten community service hours to complete) come around once a week and supposedly clean the streets, so I didn’t want to overlap their areas.  And because there is just so much mess to choose from!  I’ve chosen a two-block area near my house to start with, and will expand once I figure out how much maintenance that will entail.  When I go next week to begin picking up, I’ll post before and after photos.  I also found a community garden near where I travel regularly with available plots.  With any luck, I’ll be able to scrape up a little cash and get a plot there to feed my growing demand for veggies to steam in the sun!  If you’re in the LA area and have a neglected backyard that you want planted for a share of the organic produce, holler! We can help each other out… and isn’t that what life is all about?

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COMMITMENT: Community Service

So I just finished doing a few days of community service around Los Angeles. Out here, you can end up doing community service for almost anything. Jaywalk? Community service. Broken headlight? Community service. Forget your seatbelt…? You guessed it. Specifically, I was in Macarthur Park, made nationally famous by Donna Summer in 1979, but integral to the history of LA much longer than that. Back in the early days, it was owned by the governor’s family, and became a garbage heap, then a huge park at the turn of the twentieth century. In the eighties and early nineties, it was famous more as a place to find drugs (and bodies floating in the lake), but these days, it’s settled back into a respectable place, albeit one where the shop keepers don’t speak English as often as they do.

So as I picked up trash off the grounds and skimmed the lake with a long skimmer, clearing more trash and several varieties of dead animals, I started thinking about trash. What else, it’s all I’d been looking at all week! Even as a kid, my family and I used to go a few times a year and volunteer at the local park cleaning trash, mostly stuff that had floated downriver in a flood and somehow ended up on the banks. It’s not that people didn’t use the park. Sometimes it was downright crowded in the picnic areas. But I don’t remember people leaving a lot of litter behind. And I’m not that old yet, so this isn’t a “I remember when…” story!

Now Macarthur Park is a different story. It’s almost all human trash, and people just have a picnic on the lawn and leave everything there when they leave, like the lawn is some plastic dinner tray that can just be picked up taken to the dishwasher at the end of the day. If I’d melted down the plastic bottle caps I swept up those few days, I’d easily have gotten a chunk the size of myself. And as all you greenies know a plastic cap on the ground isn’t going anywhere anytime soon from biodegradation. At several points, the park director said not to worry about little trash, just newspapers and boxes, and plastic cups… big things you can see from across the park.

This illustrated to me the national situation we find ourselves in with our waste systems. We produce SO much trash that we end up only trying to clean up “the big things”, because we think we don’t have time to concentrate on all the little things. Well, I disagree. You see, if you’re going to do a job, do it right. That’s the motto of 90% of successful people, rich or otherwise. After a day of doing what was asked (and watching people throw things right back onto the half-cleaned areas), when skimming the lake I thought, why do this halfway? A lake that looks sort of trashy will quickly invite people to think of it as a place for more trash. A pristine lake is a scene for enjoyment. So I started skimming, and then when I finished, I went and did it again, checking my work. In the end, the whole lake was clear, and I was feeling pretty good watching the ducks feed their ducklings in an area free of plastic bags and soda bottles. And to prove my theory, I saw a man take out his camera and take a few lovely pictures of the now clean park, and several patrons even stopped and thanked me for cleaning up their lake, asking questions about the wildlife and the lake itself.  All that positivity for a few hours work!

Another thing that I see so often in our current societal system is that we work at odds with ourselves. After three days of cleaning the park, the park managers received word that, in response to anticipated large turnouts at the immigration rallies planned for this year’s May Day celebration, all trash cans must be removed from the park, so they couldn’t be used as weapons against the police (never mind that every barrel was chained down). No plastic bags or paper receptacles either, as they could be torched. What about the trash of the ten thousand or so people supposed to show up? The police’s answer… throw it on the ground. Having just been that person picking up trash for three days, I felt the frustration of someone who watches their sandcastle washed away by the tide. True, picking up trash once won’t cure everything, but couldn’t we as a society learn to coordinate everything a little better so that we don’t expend our resources repeatedly attacking the same problems when we know that by not changing the underlying patterns of consumption we won’t stem the problems themselves?

So community service wasn’t so bad after all. I’m glad not to be getting up at 5 am, but I kind of enjoyed being in the park all day. And when I walked away from the last day’s work, I felt good seeing the green expanses trash-free because of me. It looked like I imagined it in the old days. So here goes, I’m going to make another COMMITMENT. I will find a place, somewhere in LA, and adopt it as my own. It will stay trash free and maybe even sprout a few more plants. People may or may not notice, but hopefully the birds will. Will you do the same? If everyone just adopted a tiny little spot, we could create communities and scenes for enjoyment rather than half-cleaned vistas, waiting to accept another gift of trash.

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Walking Away From Society

You may have been wondering, where the heck is Solarious? Well, I decided to check of society for a few days and get lost in the mountains.  It was hot, but great.  I am back safely now, but my calves are still too sore to let me sit still for enough to write a real post.  So let me leave you today with an image and the assurance that stories will follow.

Blessings to you on your path~

Walking Away From the Grid

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My Carbon Footprint

My Carbon Footprint

It would be hard to properly figure out how to reduce my carbon footprint without even knowing what it is. So, here’s my result, at least according to one website. On Day One of my carbon “diet”, I’d classify myself as plump, but not obese. Obviously, car travel is the main culprit. It’s hard to tell much about a lifestyle from a number on a page, so let me provide a little background:

I don’t use any electricity at home. None whatsoever, except occasional batteries for a mini-TV if there’s something I don’t want to miss (and if you watch any network TV, you’ll know there isn’t much in that category these days!). Now, I do use a battery-operated PDA while at home, which I charge every few days at an internet cafe. And I also bring my laptop everywhere, often spending 6-8 hours a day plugged in somewhere or other. So when calculating my ACTUAL footprint, I’d probably have to include that secondary electricity consumption.

As for travel, I have a car, which I drive only when necessary in the city. Probably once every few days, maybe twenty miles a week. Everywhere else, my two feet do the job. However, as you can see, car travel is the single largest carbon expense listed. That’s because several times a year, I take road trips for work. On average, I calculated the distance as 1000 miles each way (2000 R/T). Given that I can’t just stop taking these trips, I figure that the fuel spent by road is still less than it would cost me to be taking an airplane and renting a car on the other end. One goal is to find a diesel car that can be converted to veggie, or eventually upgrade to a hybrid to lessen this carbon debt.

As for the rest of life, well, I shop at the thrift store and try never to buy household or personal items retail. And when I’m done with things, I try to pass them on to someone else who can use ’em. That’s my main form of recycling. I USED to recycle almost all of my waste, but my living situation right now (no kitchen) means that I eat out a lot. So waste is obviously created. Especially when eating fast food, which is a nasty habit I’ve acquired lately being always on the run. Yuck. To lessen this, I hope to construct a solar food dryer to dry fruits and carry them with me throughout the day. More tasty and earth-friendly! Also a solar oven to cook beans, veggies, and breads, which are the most yummy foods anyway, IMHO. With the money saved by doing that, I could probably afford to buy more organic and local products, too.

So there you have it. My carbon-consuming soul laid bare for the picking. How does it line up with yours? Let the diet begin!

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