Good Mood Tea

I refuse to succumb to The Nothing; the feeling that my children’s future is dark and written in stone. Will there be less energy?  Maybe, and certainly less oil and more storms.  But I am committed to ensuring that there will also be more love, more free time, and more community, better food, and deeper thought.  Readers know much of the Big Stuff I am doing with my pals here in South Central Wisconsin to that end -forming 501C3’s, building a more viable Foodshed, expirementing with gasifiers, making biodiesel, talking about sustainable aquaponics and biomass forestry, educating our neighbors on The Natural Step and Permaculture.  We are doing Good Things… we are working daily at Being the Change.

But, of course, lots goes into that – and I am not just talking about reading books and doing research.  Some little things underling the Big Things that help me in my struggle for progressive thought and action in the face of depressing news.

St Johns Wort Tea

I am not convinced of herbal remedies – but I am not convinced of God either, yet I go to our Unitarian church more Sunday’s than not so maybe I am just hard wired to agnosticism.   I don’t care if it is a placebo effect – I like the tea and it really does promote a Good Mood as claimed.  I think better, read more productively, and spend higher quality time with my wife & kids when I have a cup or two.  

Domaine du Sac

I am more of a fine beer guy than a fine wine guy, but  we are lucky enough to have an award winning winery locally situated with the estate of Wollersheim Winery and they have me hooked on their estate red.  And a glass (or mug for that matter) of it often accompanies me when I write – I guess I find carbonation distracting when I type or something.  Their Prairie Fume is also incredibly good.  We go through about 2 cases of each annually which may explain why I write so much.

iTunes Genius

They got me.  It is like free association music or Pandora, but somehow better even though you have to pay for it.  Recent finds have been Chairlift, She & Him, Old Crow Medicine Show, Vetiver, Jose Gonzales, Aidan Hawken and others.  These are a decent clip away from my typical musical preference of Clutch and my inability to leave early 90’s Grundge behind, but it is likely that I am mellowing with age.   Plus its hard to read when your head is thumping to a solid bass rhythm. 

a Book

I have been toying with this for a while, but I would like to write a book.  Hell, I read enough books on sustainability, and I would like to add to that body of knowledge in a more concerted effort than blogging someday.  For now it is in outline form (which is growing), but I would like to make a practical stab at David Holgrem’s challenge to “permaculture” Suburbia or at least make it a much more productive and vibrant place.  Our built environment is with us for 50-100 years and won’t give a wit about Energy Descent or Climate Change.  Our houses and freeways aren’t going to change, so we will need to… and there isn’t enough land for us all to homestead 20 acres.  This may never make it off the MacBook, but in the mean time putting some structure to my reading and writing will doubtless help organize my thoughts.  Really I am just outlining and writing a handbook for what I am doing with our family and network anyway: localizing and building resilience.  It’ll be a fun project to keep my mind occupied for a while since I can’t plant potatoes yet.

The Dark Days of Winter are looking very black indeed this year.  But in my experience, doing is always the best antidote for depression and despair.  Put some verbs in your life (fretting and worrying don’t count) and back them up with some environmental muscle – for me that is good beverages, music and a clear sense of purpose.  


Rob Hopkins Local Resilience

The Transition Town concept is the most exciting part of applied community permaculture I have stumbled onto of late. Hopkins books is also very good.

Being The Change

As something between Thompson’s Fear and Loathing and Sartre’s Nausea seeps into our collective psyche we must consciously pursue a more active approach.  A few days ago I posted -after a long hiatus- about my fears for the future.  I was then presented with comments from three of my respected blogging peers –Bart, FGLB, and Kory.  Again -all are in a similar malaise.  But more interesting is that many of them are similarly struggling with communicating it.  We’re bloggers – all of us are churning out 50k+ words annually regardless of what we have to say is poignant or if anyone reads it or not.  And if we -the verbose- can’t bring ourselves to write, that really is concerning.  

But we’re better than that.  FGLB shares a similar situation as me -working in The Real World while walking around like Roddy Piper in They Live -seeing the actual world for what it is.  Like him, I don’t talk about It too much at work – I don’t want to be That Guy either, instead sticking to more practical diatribes on gardening and hybrids and such.  But on our Blogs we can get the release we need to keep going, and much, much more importantly: we generate a ton of ideas & solutions while fostering a critical community of engaged problem solvers.   I write this blog to, in large part, help create the world I want to see for my children.  That world is still possible.  Here are some things that I think are critical to Our Future and areas that I challenge us all to think/write/expirement in as much as we can:

  • Local Food
  • Local Energy
  • Community Building
  • Local Finance
  • Hope, Love, & Laughter

We know the problems -even if they are more daunting and real now than before.  My challenge to myself and all of us is to find more solutions and small victories -and write about them!- for all our sakes.  Being the Change we want to see is the world is critical and becoming much less of a academic exercise by the day.  I’m confident to the point of arrogance in much of my life – and I know that we have the ability to literally change our communities with the skills and ideas at our disposal.   Read more, Think more, DO more.  And tell us about it.  

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

We have much to do, and little time to do it in.  Let’s get to work.

Be The Change.


Hearts and Thoughts

I have found it difficult to write of late.  Its not that nothing has happened –  my CSE group has met and maitained its momentum (virtually all of the original members returned for the second meeting), I attended a weekend long strategic planning meeting for Sustain Jefferson, and on top of the typical holiday madness associated with a retail based career I have upped my reading pace.  But neither am I overworked.  I am leaving much time for reflection, something I feel is uterly imperative in these unsettling times.  No, my lack of posting stems not from lack of time or material, but from either a reluctance to post inconclusive thoughts or, perhaps, a reluctance to actually put my fears into a more permanent form than ethereal thoughts.

One risk always associated with upping my time allotted to reading is the commensurate amount of effect it has on my psyche and thought patterns.  The past several winters have found me reading non-fiction/practical gardening/farming/soil science books with some “lighter” anecdotal/philosophical books from the likes of Gene Logsdon, David Holmgren, John Ikerd or Joel Salatin.   These are practical and inherently hopeful books that fill the dark days of winter to overflowing with the potentialities of the coming Spring.  But this year is different.   The Great Unsettling that occurred in August/September shook even the likes of Greensban, so I, being prone to doom and gloom, am by no means immune.  As many of the books that I am ripping through have introductions by Peak Oil pundit Richard Heinberg (of Power Down, and The Party’s Over fame) my mindset is sliding distinctly south of optimism of late.  And that is with me reading rather hopeful books like the Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook and the Transition Handbook.  When I combine the belief in Peak Events (Oil.Water.Soil.etc.) with Climate Change on top of the lack of Global Will to Change and then look into the eyes of my two young children after coming home from a day in Fortune 500 Land fielding questions of when (not if) my team’s hours will be cut… things are getting rather –real.

I’ve been sliding this way for several weeks, months if I am honest.  But it all came rushing into stark clarity while at the Sustain Jefferson retreat this weekend.  The board and “fire souls” of the group gathered that weekend are mature (most are 50% older than I), intelligent (engineers, public officials, educators), and practical people -well read , experienced, and willing to Work For Change.  These are people I look to for advice and have earned my respect.  Late in the afternoon on Day 2 soon after the formal planning had completed, a retired engineer posited the following question -how are we going to help our community weather the coming storm- failing economies with their rising social costs, the end of cheap energy and the strain it will place on non-resilient towns like ours, and the lack of social cohesion that will be necessary to negotiate the The Natural Step Resource Funnelclosing of The Funnel (right).  Hearing someone whom I think of as educated and level headed give public voice to my Dark Thoughts was extremely sobering to me.   So much so that I had to go for a long , cold hike to shake the  existential nausea that had overtaken me.   While the planning meeting accomplished an incredible amount of work in a short amount of time towards setting our organization on a more productive course, one of the real results is that I am personally more concerned than ever about what Change I will see in my lifetime.  

The difference is Tipping Points or Overshoot.  As recent as 6 months ago I felt we had time to work at the grassroots level to educate and inspire so that we could begin the urgent, but gradual change towards a more sustainable future.  CFL’s, hybrids, Victory Gardens – little things done by a growing number of people adding up to Real Change.  Now I am moving beyond that to Life Boats -what skills will we need to survive Overshoot.  Moving from adapting our lifestyles to something akin to survival.   Why?  Climate Change pundits often speak about Tipping Points -the abledo effect being one (when temps melt the arctic ice, which reflected much of the heat from the water, and the oceans begin to heat even faster); methane released from melting permafrost rapidly accelerating the Green House effect and the news of late is that the scientist are in awe at the rapidity of the current change -its making a mockery of their models.  My fear on the Peak Side is in Overshoot: when the we, in our hubris, “cross the streams” of the funnel – when resource use exceeds resource availability (finance, food, water, oil, soil) – we survive blindly for a time, only to come crashing to reality as the bubble bursts and we are forced live within our means not unlike overpopulated deer overbrowsing a habitat in the depth of a bitter winter.  The food riots of last year and the $140/brl  oil spurred Economic meltdown come to mind.

Like I said – dark.  Thus far I am still able to channel the malaise into energy to keep going.  To learn ways to produce energy from Biomass; to eck out literally tons of produce from suburban backyards; to produce liquid biofuels from waste products from permaculture farms… to build the tools that may (will?) be necessary to soften the landing of Overshoot.  Optimism and Hope are now, if it was ever doubted, very necessary skills to have in your urban homesteading tool box.  

May your hearts and thoughts stay positive and hopeful.

May you continue to Be the Change.


The Season of Learning: 6000 pages and Bildung

I love Winter.  I know I am getting ahead of myself here by a month or so, but I am getting stoked about the coming season.  Why?  Winter is the Time of Reading.  Starting in late March I am elbow deep in the soil, and the way things are going I will be equally committed to local energy projects to boot. In that time it takes me months to finish a book – I work until sundown leaving only about 15 minutes of reading before I pass out.  But from November to March my brain stretches as I read at least a book a week- and right now I is really damn ready.

Part of this is certainly the ebullience of the post election season (for the first time EVER I backed a winner!).  Part of the optimism is that maybe, just maybe I won’t be swimming up stream for once.  Regardless I am buying books at a staggering pace.  I devoured Greg Pahl’s Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook in under a week, and next in the queue: Alcohol Can be a Gas, by David Blume.  We are less than 3 months away from breaking ground on our CSE project and I was nominated to be the Ethanol Expert.  Expect posts soon – the book is flippin Insanely Full of Information, taking permaculture to All New Heights.  

Placed a $100 order at Chelsea Green today (they are having a wicked sale) including Perennial Vegetables (I’ve wanted it for ages), Commonsense Forestry (I own 20 acres “up north, eh” that I need to manage better now that I am into biomass energy), The Transition Handbook (lifeboats writ large), and Gaia Girls for the little ‘uns (my 6yr old is reading at 4th grade level…) as well as Good Spirits (I love Gene Logsdon) and Start Making Sense (it’s $2 and marketing is huge).

bildung-resizeThat should get me through the end of the year at least.  That got me thinking.  I think I might be able to polish off 3000 pages by April.  At dinner I delcared my goal, and my wife Mia took it up a level by making it a family challenge.  My kiddos are just embarking on their Reading Journeys.  Sprout (1st Grade) is completely smitten with the Magic Tree House series – he has been known to read one a night (they’re about 80 pages… he’s on book 14) and Bird (our kindergartner) is all about Fancy Nancy and is just starting chapter books (reading mid second grade level, 2 months into kindergarten – I guess all those night reading to them sunk in!).  All told we should be able to polish off 6000 pages as a family -roughly 3k for me, 2k for Mia, and 1k for the kids.  Sound like alot for 2 early grade schoolers?  Sprout’s at 250 pages for November already… the boy’s a machine.

I love reading and am thrilled that the love of it that I built in college (Philosophy/history major) never left me -which is only topped by the fact that we have so far passed it on to our children.  To that end, I have a new favorite word: bildung.  Its German and one translation (its notoriously hard to pin down German words and bildung is nigh untranslatable) is the enjoyment derived from the constant pursuit of education & development.  Anyhow its cooler than saying “I like to learn stuff, yo!”

May your seasonal bildung be fruitful,

Be the Change.


Yes We Can.

May reality (FOR ONCE!) meet our dreams…for there is nothing false, about Hope.


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