Pockets of the Future Blog

Striving to live now as all will live in the future.

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    Something Simple YOU Can Do to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint (plus videos)

    Posted by pockets

    When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, I find that the ideas and systems that get the most attention are always the big, expensive ones. They are always about electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines and other big ticket items which most of us can’t afford. Often the necessary work of changing how much energy we use gets lost in endless circles of ‘meta’ type discussions and nothing ever really gets done. There isn’t a lot of interesting information out there about what individuals and families can do in their real lives to reduce their personal footprints. Well intentioned people often have little to no idea about how or what they can do on a daily basis to conserve resources other than using compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycling plastic but there is so much more to do than that.

    My family and I have been particularly focused on reducing our footprint, conserving resources, and living more simply for the past five years or so. Gradually we have implemented one simplifying and natural system after another with considerable success. Several months ago, my wife came across an incredible way to cook food that uses 20% - 80% less energy, increases nutrition of the food, saves time, space, money, resources, and electricity plus it lets you come home at the end of a long day to warm, well cooked food you don’t have to do anything to but serve. This way of cooking is called retained heat cooking, fireless cooking or cooking with a cook box or hay box. We use it practically every day now and it has made our lives a lot easier.

    Scientifically speaking, “cooking” food is not really what most of us think it is. “Cooking” isn’t necessarily boiling or simmering food on your stove top, for instance, because technically food is being cooked whenever it is at 180° or higher. No matter what method you use to keep your food at a minimum of 180°, that food is cooking. You can accomplish this conventionally by setting your pot on a hot burner and continuously forcing heat up from the bottom of the pot over a long period of time until that food is completed cooked OR you can recognize that stove top type cooking is really done best as a two step process. In step one, you create a low insulation set-up in which you add heat to the pot and its contents until they are over 180°. In step two, you transform your set-up into a high insulation arrangement whereby that built up heat is retained in the pot so that it can proceed to cook the food gently and evenly with no additional energy input until that food is completely cooked. All the energy required for complete cooking has already been provided. You are just retaining it within the pot until it has done its work rather than allowing it to dissipate into the surrounding air. In other words, put ingredients in a pot, bring them to a boil, boil for 15 minutes or so, take the pot off the stove and then insulate it in a simple cook box or basket until the cooking cycle is completed. Depending upon what you are cooking, in anywhere from a half hour to several hours later, you can take a pot of piping hot, perfectly cooked food out of your cook box and serve it up just as it is.

    My wife has just completed a 50 page e-book about this process entitled Retained Heat Cooking … The Wave of the Future Again: Discover how easy it is to make and use your own off-the-grid cook box to cook uncommonly good food of all kinds. It includes detailed instructions on how to assemble your own retained heat cook box as well as sections on the history behind this method of food preparation as well as the scientific principles behind how it works. She not only includes recipes and other cooking instructions but also a section on the importance of retained heat cooking in developing countries which are so often characterized by deforestation, shortages of potable water and grinding poverty. My family strongly believes that the resources we over-consume here has everything to do with the lack of enough resources elsewhere. So we feel happily compelled to use retained heat cooking regularly in our home as well as any other measures we can manage to reduce our load on the earth’s resources.

    Putting together your own cook box can be as simple or as involved a project as you want it to be. Design specifications and ideas are in the e-book. You can make your own from boxes, baskets, drawers, or coolers and insulate with anything from hay, cardboard, or blankets to rice hulls or Styrofoam. Cook boxes are very simple to put together and can be made to fit your kitchen, your wallet and your design sense. You can probably get up and put one together right now from items lying around your house and use it to make a meal right away. That is what my wife did and we are still using that instant cook box she put together months ago. If you have a laundry basket or a similar sized box, an old comforter or sleeping bag or blankets, a few old towels and a trivet then you can can get started right now at reducing your energy bill.

    While you are reducing your carbon footprint with retained heat cooking, you will be reducing your energy costs as well. Cook box cooking saves 20% - 80% of your energy costs over stove top cooking, with the most savings coming from long cooking foods like grains, beans and meats. The food in a cook box is cooked slowly over a longer period of time which is actually the most beneficial way to cook many foods. Cooking at a lower temperature preserves nutrients, releases flavor, and increases digestibility. We have learned through personal experience that food cooked by the retained heat method comes out perfectly every time with each ingredient done just right.

    The only real adjustment that most people will have to make to use a cook box is to plan meals in advance and start cooking them ahead of time. In the instantaneous microwave world that we now live in, this may appear to be difficult but it really isn’t. Besides it is a small adjustment to make so you that you can help to reduce your contribution to global warming, overconsumption of water and other negative environmental damage. Any little changes many of us make can add up to big changes that can reverse our current disastrous course. All of us pitching in with such small changes is basically mandatory at this point. We are going to have to make adjustments. Making the adjustment to retained heat cooking is easy because it costs nothing to implement and makes the food taste better anyway.

    In terms of our 50 page e-book, Retained Heat Cooking … the Wave of the Future Again, it is available at our Bamboo Grove Press website for $5.95. My wife is an incredible researcher and a great cook. Her e-book has all of the information you need about how and why retained heat cooking is the best available method for cooking most of your food. My wife has also released a shorter 10 page e-book about solar cooking entitled On Your Way Towards Solar Cooking:The Why’s and Wherefore’s of Solar Cooking in Brief priced at $1.99. In this book you get a brief overview of solar cooking along with over 50 links to all the information you need about solar cooking, buying a commercial cooker or building your own, solar cookbooks and more.

    Please forward this post and links to these e-books to anyone you know who might be interested in cooking with a cook box, improving the taste and nutrition of their food, and reducing their carbon footprint with virtually no start-up investment. It will improve their lives and help the earth tremendously.

    Below are two videos we made about our experiences with fuel efficient, retained heat cook box cooking. I hope you enjoy.

    All the best,



    Announcing the Release of Our First Two Bamboo Grove Press E-books!

    Posted by pockets

    Bamboo Grove Press is the publishing arm of Pockets of the Future and today we are releasing our first in a potentially nearly endless series of e-books on a wide range of subjects related to natural living, homesteading, herbalism, homeschooling, old paths/new ways of thinking, innovative building techniques, frugality, preparedness from the inside out and the outside in and so on. I am so excited to have our first two e-books ready for you that as I share this, I am trying to type and jump up and down at the same time!

    Our first e-book is:

    Retained Heat Cooking … the Wave of the Future Again

    by Leslie Romano

    Discover how easy it is to make and use your own off-the-grid cook box to cook uncommonly good food of all kinds. This is a frugal, time honored method of cooking that saves time, space, money, resources, nutrition and electricity. Includes sections on the history and science of retained heat cooking, how to make and use your own cook box, tips and suggestions based upon personal experience, recipes, related homeschooling ideas and ten incredible advantages to cooking highly nutritious, perfectly cooked food with this natural, easy to implement retained heat cooking method. Only book of its kind on the market. 50 pages. $6.99

    Our second e-book is:

    On Your Way Towards Solar Cooking: The Why’s and Wherefore’s of Solar Cooking in Brief
    Plus Over 50 Links to Solar Cooking Information, Reviews, Directions for Building Your Own, Places to Buy Commercial, and Cookbooks From Which to Make It All Happen

    by Leslie Romano

    Once you discover the significant benefits of cooking in ways other than on an industrially made stove in an electrified kitchen, you just can’t stop! Here on the farm, we have become so enamored with retained heat cooking that we are eager to learn more ways to cook alternatively. Solar cooking will be our next endeavor. Become more prepared and more self-sufficient through solar cooking. This e-book will get you started with a brief overview of the why’s and wherefore’s of solar cooking as well as over 50 links to all the resources you need to make solar cooking an effective way to save energy and cook nutritious food for you and your family. 10 pages. $2.50


    More titles in the works:
    We have several more e-books already in the works on a special herbal tea you can forage yourself that provides surprising benefits, easy to make herbal personal care powders, and the wonderful benefits of raising rare breed livestock on your family farm or homestead. And those are just the titles we have already started writing.

    If there are subjects you would like to see addressed by us in e-book format, please leave a comment and let us know or contact us personally.

    This is so fun! Come join us. There is much to learn and share.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    Sometimes My Mind Lags Behind My Actual Experience

    Posted by pockets

    Today as I was grinding grain to make bread, I glanced over at the shelf that holds our garlic. It was empty!

    I thought, “Oh no, what can we possibly do about that? How will we go without garlic when we use it so much?”

    A moment later I realized, “Oh yeah, not too long ago we chose to go without garlic for months and months and did just fine. I guess this is not a big deal. Whew.”

    This made me laugh. See how the mind works? It contains so many entrenched ideas about what we have to have that even strong, successful experiences of living without an item or condition can be quickly forgotten.

    Hopefully my sometimes limited mind will catch up to my actual expansive experiences sometime soon …

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    Our Refrigerator Unplugged But Then Plugged Back In

    Posted by pockets

    A few months ago, I was really keen on unplugging the refrigerator and making a go of learning to do without one, at least until our cow calved and we were deluged with milk. My husband was reluctant because these innovations always mean more work (both mentally and physically). He rightly pointed out that we were already pretty overwhelmed trying to manage what we already had going on and that going without a refrigerator is probably a pretty big project. At least at first until you get the hang of it.

    “Yes, that is all true,” I said, “but this would otherwise be such a great time to try this out. Our refrigerator is practically empty these days which is expensive to maintain and it is freezing outside so we can use our breezeway to keep some foods close to the kitchen. Please could we try?”

    He graciously agreed and we did try it out. First I did some rearranging with his broad shouldered help. We have a freezer in the basement which was situated clear across on the opposite side from the stairs ever since we moved in for reasons lost to me now. I asked him to please move it to the plug near the foot of the basement stairs (which lead from the kitchen). I then rearranged our food shelves down there so that I could empty a smaller one and move it next to the freezer right at the foot of those stairs. This would give pretty good access from the kitchen to cool storage and frozen items.

    The door next to the basement door in the kitchen is the outside door leading to a breezeway (at least that is what we call it). It is like an indoor hallway with windows. It was empty when we bought the place but not too long after moving in, my husband installed shelves down one wall under the windows and hooks along the opposite wall. It is filled to the brim with boots and shoes and coats and bins of hats and mittens and jars of children’s experiments as well as some tools and the odd outside toy interspersed with lovely bits of wood and stone that have caught the children’s fancy. I rearranged the shelves to clear a few feet of a shelf right next to the kitchen door. I also reclaimed a cooler that was out in the “granny house” holding grit for the hens and put it in the breezeway also.

    Then one Wednesday morning after family prayer but before launching into homeschooling, we all went into the kitchen and watched while my husband ceremoniously unplugged the refrigerator. Ah, the kitchen filled with quiet. Blessed quiet. I love the quiet that only a loss of power can give (both materially and spiritually now that I think of it) and I was glad.

    Things went pretty well for a couple of weeks. We put the gallon milk jars out in the breezeway. We weren’t getting enough eggs from our hens to live on so I put the already refrigerated grocery store variety in the cooler with ice from the freezer. I put cream and buttermilk in there too. Produce went on the food shelves at the foot of the basement stairs. Yeast and seeds and so on went in the freezer down there. Ketchup and a few other things went in a cupboard in the hutch in the dining room. Everything accounted for, except maybe leftovers.

    We ran into a couple of problems. One is that the breezeway which is unheated and otherwise perfect for this use has a wall of south facing windows. This meant that there were lots of days - even in the cold of January - when it simply got too warm in there to keep food and milk sufficiently cold. The other problem was that having leftovers that have to be eaten right away changes meal plans and creates a degree of unpredictability. Paul and I have both spent a lot of time learning to cook so that there WILL be leftovers (which takes some doing for a farming family of eight). Now suddenly leftovers were sort of a liability. Furthermore, we were used to having some time pass between meals of the same food. Now, especially with a breezeway that got unpredictably warm at times, we needed to instantly get used to eating the same thing until it was gone. Somehow the “instantly” part of the equation didn’t get figured in.

    Finally my adrenal fatigue got worse again and I started to lose track of it all. The weather warmed up a bit. My husband wanted to put his attention into other things. We had some leftovers go bad which just can’t happen here. We need every scrap. So Paul made an executive decision and plugged the refrigerator back in. I was ridiculously disappointed which he was very understanding about. And there you have it - two and a half grand weeks without a refrigerator to mind our food for us.

    As I am writing this, it still doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. For me, it was the adrenal fatigue with resulting lack of mental energy that did me in. It takes some doing to implement a new system until it becomes second nature. I need enough energy to get from “new system” to “second nature.” I also need to tweak how we store the food. South facing windows is a deal breaker. Maybe we could get a second cooler? Maybe I could use the freezer more for leftovers? That just leaves the milk. We don’t have much now because, as I reported earlier, our cow turns out not to be pregnant. But sometime we will have a cow in full milk. Yikes. That will really be something to deal with. Actually this place has a spring house but there no longer is any water flowing in there. We don’t know if we can do anything about that or not and need to research it.

    Lessons learned from this experiment?
    One lesson is knowing from experience how much we love the quiet that settles after a refrigerator is turned off. One morning my husband woke up and thought for a minute that he was at an ashram. It was just that peaceful.
    Another lesson I experienced is how great I felt not having to depend upon a big metal box to keep my food stores good. I was surprised at how much this affected me. I really felt more “self sufficient” in a very tangible, daily life sort of way. It felt GREAT!
    A third lesson is that houses are not built for this just as they are no longer built for wood heat. You need a north facing storage area or pantry that is accessible from within the house, preferably the kitchen. After the fact adaptations require thought and planning. For instance, we have a small north facing front porch with a cement floor but it is entirely open with just a little roof over it. That might make a good storage area but we have no idea how to suitably enclose it and not have an eyesore as a result.
    A fourth lesson for me is to think long term and get more geared up with making lacto-fermented veggies and sprouts. I need to do this anyway as I think it is really important for our health. Having these two food preparation skills fine tuned, habitual and a long term part of our natural way of eating will smooth out storing produce during the winter a little bit.
    A fifth lesson has something to do with leftovers and my rhythm in the kitchen. For as long as I have a freezer, I could perhaps just stick leftovers in there even if they are going to be used day after next. And/or I could change my rhythm in the kitchen so that almost everything is cooked fresh and eaten on the spot (makes me tired just writing that). And/or I could start thinking more in terms of immediately transforming leftovers into something seemingly new for next day. What did folks do in the so-called old days? I imagine they ate what they had until it was gone. They also probably had stronger digestions and could eat beans every day. Some members of my family cannot do that. So ultimately the lesson here in this category is that I haven’t figured the lesson out yet! I will have to keep working on it and get really geared up for our next attempt.

    This is tough for me because right now our frig is practically empty and it is cold and snowing like crazy outside. This would be a good time to have the refrigerator off, right? But I think it is foolish to keep turning it on and off. That would be like dating in that it pulls for failure. No, I have to be fully prepared, my husband has to be fully on board, and then we will definitely succeed.

    In sum, then, we LOVED having the refrigerator off but it took more than we were ready for to make a long term success of it. However, I cherish living fridgeless as a goal for the future. So I will wait patiently, improve my adrenal fatigue somehow or other, learn some new food preparation and food storage skills, make long term plans that take fridgeless living into account, think more creatively, do a bit more research and then pounce when the timing is right.

    Oh, I am really looking forward to it.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    Merrily We Go Off the Grid - A Preliminary List

    Posted by pockets

    In “Natural Was Always Natural” and Living Off the Grid” posted a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned making up a list of all the ways we rely upon the grid to power various activities here on the homestead. I figured that a written and heavily annotated list would help us keep track of the many changes and adaptations we still need to make in order to live successfully off the grid some day. I did make that list a few days later which I entitled “Merrily We Go Off the Grid.” Nothing like positive thinking in the privacy of your own Word documents, eh? Today as a homeschooling/Prepare and Pray exercise, I asked the children to go through the house and make up the same list on their own. Then we compared my list with theirs which was good because we each thought of a couple of things the other had not. I have my list in two columns with Current Arrangements on the left and Future Possibilities on the right. Unfortunately I have no idea how to replicate that formatting here so I guess I will just start with our combined list of Current Arrangements:


    Coffee grinder for spices
    Electric stove
    Stick blender
    Bosch for making bread
    Grain grinder

    (General home)
    Hot water heater
    Water pump
    Sewing machine
    CD/tape player
    White noise makers
    Salt lamp
    Battery chargers for tools, video camera, small batteries

    Heat lamp, heating pad which function as part of incubator
    Outdoor lights - porch light, the Xmas lights that illuminate the barn, the light in the hen house
    Woodburning tool which is used on rare occasions to good effect

    So that is it. That is what electricity powers here inside and out. Alternatives for many of the things are easy to generate (like knocking on the door instead of using a doorbell!) but some require alternatives I know nothing about frankly. I haven’t really officially researched various aspects of off the grid living. Rather I have just focused on living as simply as possible from day to day which has kept me more than busy and occupied. There have always been new discoveries to expand upon just from that approach. But now with our handy dandy list, we can start to pointedly focus on certain areas and begin the process of adjusting ourselves.

    I also note that there is a big difference between going off grid during times such as these in which the industrial system is still highly functioning and producing things like batteries or LED lights or solar panels or whatnot and possible future times in which the industrial system may be in a state of collapse and not producing or able to maintain such gizmos. It seems reasonable to me to plan for the former state at first, although I may be wrong about that. Perhaps we should take living well during the industrial collapse scenario as the goal but plan for living in the intermediate state of going off grid by choice during a time of continued industrial and economic functioning as a welcome in-between step?

    Either way, I will explore my Future Possibilities list, i.e. alternatives to the usual electrical ways of carrying out our tasks of daily living, in future posts. Anyone with ideas, information or especially experiences, please do share! It is such a big project. It feels especially big to me at this moment when it is in the single digits outside, really cold inside and I can’t get the fire started for some reason. My fingers are so cold I can’t type any more. It turns out that a thorough knowledge of Shakespeare is not the only hole in my education. Boy, do I have a lot to learn about building and maintaining fires in our wood stove. Good grief.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    “Natural Was Always Natural” and Living Off the Grid

    Posted by pockets

    Two nights ago it was the coldest here it has been in over 12 years and we were without power for most of it. We were without power from about 1am to 5am. It came back on for a little while and then went out again for some hours yesterday morning.

    I found this more unsettling than usual. Part of the reason is probably because I have a disconnect notice from our utility company sitting on my desk which I have no idea how to pay. Some of my unsettled feeling is due to my deepening thinking about man-made systems and the uncertainty of the future we all face.

    We Americans believe - no, have a certainty - that the power will always come back on. This certainty doesn’t just out of a feeling of entitlement but is embedded in our view of reality. We have never known anything else. To confront going without, not just out of poverty, but because there simply isn’t any (electricity, gas, food, health care…) rocks our world view in fundamental ways.

    But one day, that will all come true. There simply won’t be any. What will we do? How will we respond? At what point will we respond? Tomorrow, first thing? Or the day the power goes off and doesn’t come back on, and not a minute sooner?

    I lay awake most of the night thinking about these things, observing the vulnerability, praying for all of those out there on a bitter cold night with no heat.

    And, I thought, as close as we are as a family to living off the grid - we are still nearly close enough for my taste. We are vulnerable right now because I don’t know how I am going to pay our bill and avoid having our utilities shut off in a few days. We are vulnerable because I couldn’t get the pancakes I was already in the middle of making when we lost power again to cook properly on our wood burning stove. We are vulnerable because we don’t have immediate community around us with whom to share risks and problem solving.

    I am grateful that as hard as we are working on these changes of lifestyle, we still keep getting enough small shocks to keep us highly interested in seeing this homesteading/living a simple life/getting off the grid/spiritually based family life project to its conclusion. Well, “conclusion” is probably a bad word. How could there be conclusions to such things? How about “full expression”? We are receiving enough shocks in terms of worldly bad news and challenging personal experiences to remain highly motivated to see this project through to its fullest expression.

    Yes, and we also receive confirmation in many ways for the direction we are taking. A feeling of peace or satisfaction, for instance. Observing the growing competence and fortitude of our children, for another. Or the positive comments of other like-minded individuals and families or this that our spiritual Master noted recently:

    Nothing is difficult. You just throw away everything and you will find that you are as happy and comfortable as you were before you got hi-tech. What does it take? Leave your computer at home, disconnect your telephone, disconnect your electricity: you are back in the beginning. It doesn’t take much. What is civilisation? It’s nothing but a few instruments of communication and illumination! What else is civilisation?

    You sleep out one night and look at the stars - you are where your original forefathers were. It’s beautiful. And then you begin to wonder why on earth you went where houses are air conditioned 24 hours of the day, where you don’t know from inside whether it’s raining or not. The wind is blowing and you think it’s cool outside and you go and it’s 120 [degrees]! You wonder because it’s all artificial. So to cut off artificial is natural. There is nothing primitive about that. Natural was always natural. Sahaj Sandesh Dec. 29, 2008

    Oh, it meant a lot to me to read those words. “Natural was always natural.” And always will be natural, I might add. It is us who are unnatural. We must deconstruct all that we have piled on the natural state to find our way back to a simple way of life that allows us to re-focus on the goal of human life. That is the only option. We can take it willingly and in a timely fashion or unwillingly and with all kinds of suffering and angst but take it we must.

    A couple of weeks ago, a thought boomed into my mind that didn’t seem to come from me. It was, “Nature will support you if you are content to live with what Nature naturally provides.” This keeps ringing through my inner chambers completely unbidden by me. It seems to me to be one of those statements that is deceptively obvious, deceptively simple.

    What does Nature willingly provide? What was the Original Contract between Nature and humans (if we can even think of humans as being at all separate from Nature in order to require a contract)? What is the difference between what Nature is created to provide us and what it will yield when forced to by humans? And how long will this yielding hold out? No. No, I want to get back to the Original Contract. I want what is willingly given and not what has perhaps been reluctantly yielded all of this time. I want to live within the Original Contract, the Original Design. I know it will be better, whether I understand it or not or even know how do it right now or not.

    This notion of living within the center of what Nature willingly provides is how I understand the famous Matthew 6:25-34:

    25″Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life”?

    28″And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

    Notions about Christianity and paganism aside, I take the idea here as being the same as what I am talking about. Live as He would have you live, and the resulting harmony with Nature will provide you with all that you truly need. This is a startling thought when you think about it freshly. Fulfilling our needs comes perhaps not through our great intellect or organizational abilities or sheer (often brutal) efforts. Fulfillment of our needs perhaps comes about most quickly and easily through living in harmony with natural law.

    Run as fast as you can to any corner of the universe and the Law will be there waiting for you. Cornbread Nation 3, p. 14, from Marilou Awiakata’s “Compass for Our Journey”

    So for a long night and following day I considered these matters even more deeply and more urgently than I usually do. This morning I was grinding some cumin seeds for our Sunday morning breakfast in a coffee grinder when I thought, “I am going to make a list, by crackey!” Yes, I am going to make a list of all the ways we as a family rely upon “the grid” to accomplish our daily life tasks so that I can keep track of the changes and adaptations we still need to make.

    I can immediately start my list with:
    mortar and pestle.

    Quickly I can add:
    wood burning cook stove;
    alternative lighting;
    water storage and (hopefully) a hand water pump for outside.

    When I complete our list, I will post it here in the spirit of us all working together. I do enjoy crossing things off of lists. Don’t you? But crossing items off of this list will be a special pleasure and gift, no matter how long it takes. But even more, I look forward intensely to the day that it all just dissolves into a simple life led only in Him.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    As Long as We are Hand Washing Laundry, Why Not Consider This Too?

    Posted by pockets

    I am not a moody person and I don’t wake up in moods per se. But I do sometimes wake up with some kind of call to arms such as “I have to write this,” or “Let’s get rid of stuff,” or “Let’s try ________ today!”

    The idea I woke up with the other day, I cannot just implement off the bat. It will require family enthusiasm as well as strategizing. But I figure I might as well share the idea and some resources with you all in case you can implement it right away. In any case, it is something I am finding very interesting to think about, to mull over, to imagine in the future of the family.

    How about living without refrigeration??

    I know this is kind of radical. And the many “large family” lists and web sites and so on I have been reading for years and years all extol the many benefits of going in exactly the opposite direction, i.e. cooking in bulk and then loading up multiple freezers and refrigerators with spare parts for future meals.There is great utility in this approach. Cooking enough for eight or ten or more people requires enormous amounts of time and planning. It is a significant time-saver to be able to cook up a double batch of beans, say, and then freeze half of them for a future time-crunched dinnertime. I have been doing this for years and, in fact, often wish I had been doing this even more than I have been.

    So no refrigerator at all? Hmmm….

    Well, I know it can be done because it always was done by everybody and often is done today by many people all over the world. Just like hand washing laundry, see? There really is a choice - we just have been unconscious of it because we are so accustomed to the mechanized, technology-driven, whenever possible use a machine to fill in the gaps that require having to exert physical effort or having to adjust to natural ebbs and flows approach. But if we set that particular calculus aside (or change the values of the variables for which we are calculating), we discover that we actually have a choice. If we were to stop and honestly consider this choice of keeping food in a cold, metal box or not, what would we choose?

    Some background reading is in order here! Here are a few of the articles I have been reading since the “no refrigeration” idea popped into my head.

    Don’t Fight Room Temperature - What’s in Your Fridge Does Not Need to Be There
    This is a brief summary of the some of the flow of the “no frig” way of thinking in the last couple of years. A great introduction.

    No Refrigerator - for 30 years
    This was apparently a seminal article from a most interesting blog, Little Blog in The Big Woods. Do investigate this blog for other interesting perspectives.

    We Make Do Without a Refrigerator - South central Texas homesteaders have learned to survive without a fridge and urge you to do the same, regardless of geography
    This is from a 1976 issue of Mother Earth News.

    Living Without a Refrigerator The no refrigeration section is at the bottom of the page.
    This thoughtful bit is written by Jim Conrad, naturalist and world traveler.

    Living Without a Fridge
    This article is from the British GoSelfSufficient site.

    I am always interested in how becoming more “self-sufficient” invariably increases awareness and shifts our rhythms significantly, sometimes dramatically. Along those lines, there are a few observations from these articles that I have been thinking a lot about:

    My experience is that when you have a refrigerator you develop addictions to foods and drinks that are richer, more caloric and more sense-deadening than need be. You don’t know your senses are dead until you have been free of your addictions for some time and find that foods and drinks you thought were bland and characterless begin pleasing in subtle ways. You don’t know how wonderful a cool drink is until you’ve been away from ice awhile.

    It’s beautiful to see wholesome grains, fruits and vegetables on shelves in my daily living space, not sealed inside a vibrating metal box… It’s liberating to not have to pay for the electricity and maintenance having a refrigerator demands.

    And it contributes to my spiritual well-being to know that I no longer require a kitchen with a refrigerator humming away every hour of the day sending out this message to power producers: “More, more, more, send me more electricity, no matter what the cost or consequences… ” Jim Conrad

    I can imagine the truth of this. The less I need, the better I feel. It is just so liberating to be able to do without. Or rather, it is just so liberating to be able to do with what Nature provides. There is always a lesson in it.

    By living without a fridge you will be more in touch with the food you eat. You will be much healthier as a result of eating fresher food, and you are less likely to waste food if you do not have a fridge to store it in (you will not buy it in the first place). GoSelfSufficient

    This would definitely apply to me. Somehow as I get older I become more and more of a “If I can’t actually see it, it no longer exists in my mind,” person. If I see the broccoli, I will remember the broccoli. If it is locked up tightly in a drawer in a refrigerator, well … then all bets are off.

    Much of the rest of what folks use refrigerators for clearly comes under the category of “luxury”. Ice cream; beer, pop.

    Would you be better off if they weren’t so handy? If you’re like me, if the ice cream is there- I’ll eat it. Then buy more. How much of our obesity epidemic is due to having a handy supply of treats in the fridge- all the time? …

    This, potentially, is a big deal. Refrigerator lust is one of the things driving huge energy use increases in the developing world- everybody wants one; it proves you’re modern.

    If we start a movement here in the Overdeveloped World to get RID of them in homes (sure, the restaurants, the stores, need them) - some folks in the OverdevelopING World would pay attention- and perhaps put the brakes on their country’s rush to refrigerate. Maybe.

    I’ve worked in China- in places where the nearest refrigerator was probably 100 miles away. Guess what? They manage just fine- and don’t “need” it, until you tell them they do. Little Blog in The Big Woods

    We don’t have any those luxuries anyway although I would probably be happy to have to gobble up some ice cream all in one sitting once a year or so! Imagine having the nearest refrigerator 100 miles away. That implies so many things.

    Makin’ do without a refrigerator isn’t easy at first. Like riding a bike, however, “it’s simple once you know how”. Mother Earth News

    I really, really want to know how to make do without a refrigerator and then always know how. I think that would be great and I want to learn the lessons just waiting for us within such a shift. I don’t know when, but I am sure we will try this. We are hard at work right now on a very big project which we will be telling you all about next week but maybe after that…? If we could be wild enough to start hand washing laundry just before cold weather sets in, perhaps we could be prudent enough to start going without a refrigerator when the great out-of-doors could make a suitable substitute on most days anyway.

    I will keep you posted.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    How We Became an Outdoor Hand Washing Laundry Family

    Posted by pockets

    Years and years ago, I read a brief article in Countryside magazine written by a woman who washed her laundry by hand. She explained that her wringer washer was set up outside next to a creek and she rhapsodized about washing clothes to the melodies of bird song. The image created in my mind by her writing and experience has stayed with me to this day. Washing clothes outside by hand seemed so refreshing and satisfying, by her report, and I secretly wanted to experience this for myself.

    Quite a few years later - oh about four years ago or so - our washing machine broke. I very timidly showed my husband the wringer washer in Lehman’s and wondered aloud about replacing our washer with that? He very spontaneously and energetically let me know that the idea was nuts and the next day we went together to find a nice, normal, serviceable, inexpensive washing machine. In the years that followed which included moving and setting up our first homestead, I was grateful to him for making that call because there was already just so much work to do. However, my very odd secret wish to wash our laundry by hand outside never went totally away. However I didn’t have time to think about it so it didn’t matter.

    A few years passed which saw us move again and set up this homestead. No end to the work. Yikes. So tired. Yikes. And then a few months ago, I stumbled upon several wonderful blogs such as Lentils and Rice, Ante Family Agrarians, A Process Driven Wife. These headed-towards-off-the-grid living ladies were all starting to wash their laundry by hand! Interesting. Here, for instance, is the Laundry Adventures category at Lentils and Rice. I think I discovered all of this when she was at about here and Kris Ante was about here. They both had nice simple explanations about how they were doing their laundry, together with clear photographs and rave reviews about the results of their labors. My husband happened to be sitting in the room while I read through these posts (and I should mention here that we had just had our washing machine flood the basement due to human error, if I recall correctly). I said, “Oh look, these woman are washing their laundry by hand with plungers and buckets.” He glanced at the photos, jumped to his feet and said, “You wanna try it?” “Well, uh, it just so happens that I do,” I replied barely keeping up with him as he dashed down to the basement to grab empty containers, a plunger and the laundry bin.

    My husband’s enthusiastic approach to doing our first load of hand washing was to dump everything in the laundry basket into the wash water. Ahem … some running of colors ensued which gave rise to his clever invention of dying shirts with good old Virginia clay. I will have to post about that sometime because he turned his very nice, but now red streaked, Lands End shirt a gorgeous color. It looks great on him. Anyway, we washed and we hung to dry and it was fun. We agreed to try again another day.

    A day or two later we tried another load. This time time rather too many clothes were dumped in all at once and that created its own sort of difficulty. I clearly needed to take this task in hand and study out how to do it the most effectively. We got through that load, however, and I went off to do a little more research on hand washing protocol. Right around this time, our washing machine again flooded the basement only with no human error involved. To this day, we have no idea why it flooded. There was a washing machine left here in this house which we had used for quite a while. My husband took out our old machine and hooked up the “left here” machine. To our astonishment (read that as anguished astonishment because the clean up involved was no laughing matter), this machine also flooded the basement. Several inches of water covered almost the entire basement floor. We have no idea why.

    It appeared that what started out as sort of a lark quickly became an activity we were sort of pushed into doing full time. No money, no washing machines, plenty of dirty clothes, and several blog posts full of hand washing inspiration added up to officially becoming a hand washing family. Paul and I shook our heads and simply got organized. Hand washing the family laundry was obviously here to stay.

    For various reasons, we had to sell our little Toyota at this time. That was kind of a hard decision to make but one of the things we decided to do with the proceeds was purchase official hand washing equipment. Doing the laundry for eight people on a farm is not a lightweight chore and I was going to need all the help I could get. I will share what I got and where I got it in a separate post.

    We have washed all of our laundry by hand for about six weeks now I guess. Almost all of it has been done outside in what I call our “outdoor laundry room.” It was kind of tough for me at first because it was so physically grueling. My joints are far too loose. All the pounding and other repetitive motions did a number on my joints plus bending over so much did a number on my back. I hate feeling too weak to accomplish an essential task so I looked forward to gaining strength and a positive rhythm with time. I just hung in there.

    I am pleased to say that actually we have all gained strength and a nice rhythm from doing the laundry together outside. The children can and do help a lot. Some of them can even do quite a bit of it on their own. Sometimes my husband helps and that is really great. The other day he and I worked together outside for a long while, plunging and rinsing and wringing and hanging. It was so pleasant to be out in the sunshine and bird song working together quietly on a mutually shared task. Very beautiful. A very natural way to spend time. And the quiet was lovely.

    The latest development is that he and I took our trusty old pick-up truck to town today and bought a half ton of gravel. The “floor” of the laundry room was getting too muddy and I have wanted to put gravel down in several other key spots, like in front of the hen house, for a long while so off we went. Our ten year old has been steadily shoveling out the gravel for hours now so we have a utilitarian floor covering for our outdoor laundry room as well as a margin of safety in front of hen house, milking barn and gates.

    Our next development will be to shift laundry operations to the basement when it gets too cold outside. We get the hot water for doing our laundry from the faucet down there anyway. And we have a second wood burning stove Paul is going to hook up so that it will be warm and toasty for both the laundress and the drying clothes. We have yet to figure out a way to install the wringer down there. We will have to see how that aspect works out.

    Robin Brashear of Prepare and Pray fame told me that they lived near Amish families when they lived in Wisconsin a while back. It was apparently not uncommon for them to build laundry rooms off the side of their houses with water, a drain and a wood burning stove. It gets mighty, mighty cold there in the winter so they found a way to do their laundry with the same methods but under shelter. So while it does not get quite that cold here usually, we will be doing something similar in the basement.

    I have several more posts to go about this topic of hand washing laundry so I will see you there!

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    A Thought Exercise About Preparing a Survival Kit

    Posted by pockets

    After reading Chapter 1 of Swiss Family Robinson in which the Robinson family finds themselves unexpectedly stranded on a nearly sinking ship, the first project suggested in the Prepare and Pray curriculum is to pack a survival kit. Now we couldn’t afford to literally pack such a kit but it occurred to me that even just talking about what to pack in such a kit would make an excellent thought exercise. So first I read my younger children the list that the Brashears include in the curriculum and we discussed each item and why it might be included in a survival kit:

    Solar rescue blanket/space blanket
    Fifty feet of nylon cord
    Waterproof matches/magnesium fire starter
    Plastic whistle
    Small flashlight
    Small SHARP pocket knife, or utility tool with blade of carbon steel
    Water purifier/iodine tablets
    Plastic tarp/small tent
    Metal cup/mess kit
    MRE’s (meals ready to eat), dehydrated foods (hot cocoa mix, complete pancake mix, jerky, powdered milk, TVP, ramen noodles, etc.)

    Pack minimal, nonperishable survival meals for three days to which you only need to add water and/or heat. Multiply items which require individual use according to your family size such as blankets, mess kits. Put whistles on a cord pinned with a safety pin to small children’s clothing. DO NOT hang around the neck of small children.

    A number of these things the children had never heard of so we Googled items like space blankets (which created much wonder) and magnesium first starters and I explained to them what jerky, TVP, and ramen noodles are. I then asked them to brainstorm about what other items they thought should be or could be included in a survival kit. After considerable discussion and adding and subtracting various items, they (10, 9, 8 and 6 year olds) finally added the following:

    Camping towels
    Solar shower bag
    Very small editions of our sacred literature and pictures
    Mama’s daily medicine
    First aid kit
    Wild food ID cards
    Food mixes we make ourselves
    Safety pins (for the above mentioned plastic whistles)

    That night at dinner, I asked our older two children (16 and 13 years old) and my husband what they thought of the list so far and what they might include. My husband talked to everyone about LED flashlights and Carolyn and Rowan added the rest:

    The flashlights should be LED’s
    Insect repellent, depending upon season
    Sunblock (really necessary for me!)
    Emergen-C packets
    Hand-cranked radio
    Any necessary documents, depending upon the type of emergency
    A change of clothes

    It was very revealing to me the kinds of items the children thought to include in a survival kit and how their minds worked over the subject. It was kind of like those homeschooling stories you read about children being schooled in some interesting literary way, say, who have to suddenly take a typical mainstream proficiency test. The parents worry about how the children will do but the children end up doing great on the test, leaving the parents in wonder at how much the children picked up they didn’t know about. So I like the way the children are thinking about the necessities of life. If I had to go through an emergency, I would be happy to go through it with them. They have good heads on their shoulders.

    The next day I came across a page I hadn’t had a chance to look at before on a web site I really like and appreciate. Thomas J. Elpel has several web sites tied together which you can enter at Thomas J. Elpel’s Web World Portal. The page I saw for the first time is here under Wilderness Survival Supplies. Here Mr. Elpel has an array of neat survival tools that are small enough to be easily carried. He notes:

    However, I’ve never liked survival kits, mostly because it is too easy to leave them behind. A good survival kit should be there for an unexpected emergency. What if you leave the kit in the glove box because you intend to stay within a few hundred yards of the car? But then you find yourself going just a little farther to see what is around the corner, and around the next corner after that? That happens to me all the time. I want survival gear that is on my body whether I expect to be in a potential survival situation or not!

    Thus was born the Always-With-You Compact Wilderness Survival Kit, featuring gear that I have on me at all times, regardless of whether I am attending a wedding in the city or hiking in the mountains. The kit includes the book 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive, which I do not carry in the field, but it clearly outlines the essentials of wilderness survival. Carry the book knowledge in your head, and the additional equipment in your pockets, and you will always be prepared.

    Go to his The Always-With-You Compact Wilderness Survival Kit page and read about all the tiny items that can do big jobs like start fires, light your way or sharpen knives. Everything there is so practical and well designed.

    Mr. Elpel’s tag line for this page reads

    The best survival kit is one that will be on you when you need it!

    So true and I would add that the best survival kit is one that will be in you when you need it which is why we are using the Prepare and Pray curriculum now. It is giving us all a chance to think together about changing times, memorize guidelines and scriptures, mold ourselves to a new life, encourage adaptability and imagination, and strengthen the habit of praying about the future and looking within for direction. The best preparation for an uncertain future is to become:

    So where is wisdom? Wisdom must be permanent. Babuji said that a fool is wise after the event but not for long. A wise man is wise during the event. He knows, and now he will not do it again. A saint is wise before the event. He doesn’t have to see to know; he doesn’t have to experience to know. Heart Speak 2004, vol. 2, p. 49 –Rev. Chariji

    We gained a great deal from approaching this project just as a thought experiment. I am sure we will gain much more from actually putting such a kit together and using it as a family. Whenever we do that, I will post again only that post will certainly have pictures. It is hard to take pictures of thoughts!

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    Hand Washing Laundry in Beauty

    Posted by pockets

    It is a gloriously beautiful day today. 70 degrees, breezy and not a cloud in the sky. Pretty amazing for November 1 and pretty amazing weather in which to hand wash the laundry outside. Every single extra time I get to wash the laundry outside at this point feels like a “win” to me. So I washed away. My husband helped which takes considerable strain off of my joints.

    In the middle of washing, we had to take our oldest off to a choral audition so Paul decided to load up the back of the pick-up with hay and take the children on a hay ride after dropping off Carolyn. Lucy, our border collie, and Ramone, are human loving Nigerian Dwarf buck, came with us. Everyone had so much fun. I sat in the back on the hay with the children on the way home and just loved it. I could see the rolling hills and the distant Blue Ridge Mountains so much better than from inside the truck. I was awash in gratitude all over again for at last being in Floyd country.

    When we got back, I resumed my outdoor laundering. I save socks for last because I have to scrub each one on the washboard and that takes considerable time and effort. Today as I carefully washed and scrubbed each sock, I enjoyed thinking of each person to whom that particular sock belonged. Washing clothes by hand, I realized, is like the slow cooking of food. The length of time and degree of consciousness required provide an extended time to pray through and over what you are doing. I truly believe this makes food more nutritious and it certainly gives hand laundering deeper meaning.

    As Lalaji said in the movie we have about him, “It is not possible for time to be wasted if it is spent thinking of God.” (rough paraphrase)

    As I washed the socks of my hardworking, visionary husband and my lovely aspiring opera singer and toucher of hearts through song, I thought of a Navajo prayer song I have loved for many years. It was just the thing to muse over and sort of sing quietly to myself as I washed the socks in which they walk. I found I automatically changed the words as I could remember them to “he” or “she” rather than “I”:

    Today I will walk out, today everything evil will leave me,
    I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
    I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
    nothing will hinder me.
    I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
    I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
    I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

    In beauty all day long may I walk.
    Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
    On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
    With dew about my feet, may I walk.

    With beauty before me may I walk.
    With beauty behind me may I walk.
    With beauty below me may I walk.
    With beauty above me may I walk.
    With beauty all around me may I walk.

    In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,
    lively, may I walk.
    In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,
    living again, may I walk.
    My words will be beautiful.

    (There seem to be a number of versions of this beautiful prayer/song. I found this one here.)

    May my beloved family walk in beauty in socks washed in beauty, hanging in beauty under a beautiful sky.

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,