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,


    On Freezers, Computers and Electricity Usage

    Posted by pockets

    I seem to be writing about electricity usage a lot here lately. It is not that I am obsessed with the subject or anything. It is more that I don’t like the noise electrical appliances make and I am haunted by these darn utility bills that keep coming in each month demanding action. Imagine not having a utility bill. Wouldn’t that be grand?

    I wrote recently about our attempt this winter to go frig-less. While I definitely want to try that again, now is not the best time. So instead I consolidated items and turned off our upright freezer. I was sort of sorry to do this because I actually prefer the freezer to the refrigerator for a variety of reasons. However it seems foolish to run both at the moment when we don’t have enough items to fill both so I turned off what I could - the freezer. I will be interested to see how much this lowers our bill.

    Secondly, an online friend recently mentioned that her family is reducing the amount of time their computers are on in their home as a part of their efforts to reduce their electric bill. I was surprised by this. I would never have thought that computers used enough electricity to warrant severely limiting the time they are on, especially when you have appliances like refrigerators running anyway. I did a bit of research to learn more. How Much Electricity Do Computers Use? gives a detailed explanation of which computers use how much electricity and why. Questions About Computer Electrical Use From Readers is another article by Michael Bluejay which is also helpful although he notes that the former article is probably the one you are looking for. I found both useful to read. Finally, Can Computer Use Increase Electricity Bill a Lot? is a useful brief summary.

    The short answer seems to be that energy usage depends upon how high powered the computer is, whether there are multiple graphics cards or not and so on. Either way, computers do not cost a lot to run. However, sleep mode was invented for a reason and should be used. It saves energy! Also turn off the speakers when you are not using them.

    Reading this made me realize that the computer we recently set up upstairs for the children to use for homeschooling is set to automatically go into sleep mode after so many idle minutes. Our main computer, however, is not set up to do this. So my computer-y husband set it to do that. That felt good. Except that a couple of days later, the computer went into sleep mode and wouldn’t come out. I about had a heart attack… After turning the computer off twice, it finally responded by going into regular mode. Was that a Vista thing? Who knows. Too scary. My husband took it out of automatic sleep mode in short order. I put it into sleep mode manually sometimes when I think of it and that hasn’t caused any problems so far.

    I guess I will mostly stick to living without a freezer for now and let it go at that. Meanwhile, there are always lights on around that could stand to be turned off!

    From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,


    When You Stop to Consider Rainwater …

    Posted by pockets

    When you stop to consider rainwater, you realize that it is nothing short of crazy to not collect it somehow!

    I have had putting together a rainwater catchment system (gosh, that sound official doesn’t it?) on my list of things to-do for years and years. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, I guess, and neither have we gotten around to footing the bill for special rain barrels or cisterns or whatever other equipment is now considered necessary for “harvesting” the rain. And yet all this time the rain falls and we miss it.

    In addition to our snug little 1940 farmhouse, there is another small two-room house just a few yards behind our house. It is rather tumbledown and we use it for storage and to hold tools and feed and so on. We all call it “the granny house” only because our then 9 year old started calling it that when we moved in. We understand nothing about why it is there but it does have a nice metal roof and is tucked under two very large chestnut trees. In the fall, the chestnuts fall off and bounce off that roof with a loud thumpity-bump before they smartly smack the ground but I digress. In the spring, the snow on it melts slowly and cascades down to the ground with no organized results whatsoever.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was investigating a new publication by Yesterday’s Classics called The Sandman, His Farm Stories by William J. Hopkins (find it on the bottom of the page in the lefthand column). This is a collection of bedtime stories told over and over again to a young boy sometime before 1902 when this book was first published. Each story is very small, proceeds very slowly and provides each little detail of the actions and way of country life from earlier in the last the century. It is almost hypnotizing to read these carefully paced stories but for me it is also fascinating because learning the details of that way of life is important to me.

    The first chapter is called The Oxen Story and is about fetching water with which to wash the clothes. After describing the farmhouse, it proceeds thusly:

    Not far from the kitchen door was a well, with a bucket tied by a rope to the end of a great long pole. And when they wanted water, they let the bucket down into the well and pulled it up full of water. They used this water to drink, and to wash faces and hands, and to wash the dishes; but it wasn’t good to wash clothes, because it wouldn’t make good soap-suds. To get water to wash the clothes, they had a great enormous hogshead at the corner of the house. And when it rained, the rain fell on the roof, and ran down the roof to the gutter, and ran down the gutter to the spout, and ran down the spout to the hogshead. And when they wanted water to wash the clothes, they took some of the water out of the hogshead.

    But when it had not rained for a long time, there was no water in the hogshead. Then they got out the drag and put a barrel on it, and the old oxen came out from the barn, and put their heads down low; and Uncle John put the yoke over their necks, and put the bows under and fastened them, and hooked the chain of the drag to the yoke.

    See this? It was unthinkable to them to use well water to wash their clothes. Isn’t that interesting? As much other work as they had to do, if they ran out of rainwater in the hogshead (this was a large cask or barrel, by the way, which also became a unit of measure), they hooked up the oxen and went to the river to get another barrel of soft water. In fact the rest of this story details exactly that and ends with:

    And the next morning, when they wanted water to wash their clothes, there was the barrel of water, all ready.

    Even now, many people know that it is easier to wash in soft water (i.e. rainwater) than in hard water (i.e. well water). Some folks go to the trouble of installing water softeners but how many would go to the trouble of actually collecting the appropriate water? And how aware are we of how much better it is to use rainwater for washing clothes if our clothes are always washed for us by a machine hidden away in a dark corner of our house?

    This passage from The Sandman stayed on my mind these last weeks. Then last week it snowed quite a bit while Friday was warm and sunny. I was outside hanging laundry when my attention was drawn to the steady dripping of the snow melting off the roof of the granny house. Somehow I just couldn’t stand it any more and was galvanized into action. I went tearing into the basement and ransacked the place looking for empty storage bins. I found two large ones, raced back outside with them and put them under the best spots of melted snow water coming off of the roof. By the next day, there was enough water in them to do one load of laundry.

    Yesterday my husband carried the bins in for me and poured the water into the wash tub and the two rinse buckets. Watching him pour that fresh water into our hitherto only filled by well/tap water vessels filled me with awe. It was a gift purely and freely given. All I had to do was stick a bin outside and precious soft water was waiting there next day. It seemed almost magical or Divine or something. Perhaps rain water has a charge that well water just doesn’t. I don’t know. I didn’t expect to have such a strong reaction.

    Then came the next reaction - that water was ice cold! It was so cold that it took some time for the laundry soap to disperse. It was cold enough that my thyroid deprived self felt a a shock so my husband helped out a bit with the laundering. I couldn’t help myself, though, and I helped with the rinsing. I just wanted to experience that water. So even with all of the snowy cold, the clothes sparkled and I was put into a state of wonder.

    In the summer, this will be easier for me because not only will the water be freely given but so will enough heat to at least bring the rain water to something close to body temperature. Two gifts from nature just to wash our clothes. Imagine that. It makes me feel so grateful.

    It’s not like I am morally opposed to using well water or anything. It just occurs to me, though, that well water is taken by extraction or force while rain water is freely given. Perhaps we should at least attempt to use the latter first before falling back on the former?

    Rain for uses other than watering gardens is one of those things that is easy to overlook. It is easy to miss the fact that it is one of the most significant gifts freely given by Nature to all of creation here. It is easy to overlook until you stop to consider rain water …

    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,


    Fuel Efficient Hay Box Cooking in My Living Room (New Lentil Soup Recipe and Video Included)

    Posted by pockets

    A week ago Saturday, I was in the kitchen considering what kind of dinner I could make with the ingredients I had on hand while simultaneously ruminating over fellow bloggers who were suddenly disappearing into the mysterious landscape that lies off the grid (see last post). Interestingly this combination thought process spontaneously resulted not only in my cooking up a new lentil soup recipe but also in venturing into cooking it very efficiently in our living room!

    One of my favorite cookbooks of the last six months or so is Eating Off the Grid, Storing and Cooking Foods Without Electricity. (You can get this cookbook on Amazon via the link below but I frankly found it more cheaply at USA Emergency Supply.) It has a very useful array of simple recipes across twelve categories together with interesting historical information, menu plans, nutritional information and other practical information for off grid living with regards to food.

    Anyway, I decided to try one of her lentil soups I hadn’t tried before AND to try cooking it in a way she mentions which I haven’t done before. Both were great successes. I will first give the very simple cooking explanation for cooking in an insulated box followed by the recipe.

    (Please view the video linked at the bottom of the post for visuals for all of this.)
    I have used this method with great results now with soup, beans and grain. In a heavy bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, start cooking your dish in the usual manner. Bring it to a boil, put on the cover and cook at a fairly high boil for about 15 minutes. I adjust the heat here depending upon what I am cooking and how big the pot is.

    In the living room (and this is simply because it was the only nearby spot I could find that wouldn’t be in the way), I set up a laundry basket. In the laundry basket is an unzipped twin size sleeping bag with the center of the sleeping bag squashed down into the laundry basket. Inside that I put a travel blanket that used to be in the car. Inside that is an old bath sheet (you know those giant bath towels?). At the bottom of all of this I put a flat, stable hot plate.

    After the lentil soup boiled for 15 minutes, I carried the pot into the living room and set it into its insulated box. I wrapped the towel around it and then the blanket under it. I then wrapped another heavy cotton blanket around it all from the top and tucked that it all around but inside of the sleeping bag. Then I wrapped the sleeping bag up all around the whole thing. The sleeping bag is nylon so I was careful to have only cotton blankets and towels actually touching the pot. Nylon would melt.

    About three hours later my husband unwrapped the pot for me and brought it into the kitchen. It was still so hot that steam was coming out of it and the lentil soup inside was perfectly cooked. And when I say perfectly cooked, I really mean perfectly cooked. This particular recipe has flour in it which could otherwise have easily burned but didn’t at all from being cooked this way. The lentils were soft but still held their shape and yet everything else was tender. It was kind of amazing to me.

    The soup cooked up so beautifully (and it was such a balm to my soul to cook something mostly off the grid…) that I have since cooked up a big Dutch Oven full of fava beans and right now have a pot of barley cooking away in there. I can’t say this arrangement adds much to the decor of the living room at this point but it surely feels great to only use about 15 minutes worth of electricity to cook meals that usually cook on the stove top for hours.

    Meanwhile, this particular lentil soup recipe turns out to be a nice addition to my repertoire of lentil soups. It is a bit different and a keeper.

    Author Denise Hansen, MS, RD explains that it is a Greek and Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve to “assure prosperity and good fortune.” I figure we can use that any time of year!

    This is my adjusted version which does not include soy bacon bits or beef bouillon. I also made it a bit thicker and tripled the recipe. I doubt many readers will want a recipe quite that size so I will try to scale it back a little. You are welcome to scale it back further or freeze the extra from this for another day.

    1 large chopped onion
    3 carrots
    about a cup’s worth of frozen greens or the equivalent in fresh greens (the recipe suggests Swiss chard including diced stalks - I used mustard greens because that is what I had on hand)
    oil for sauteing
    1.5 cups flour
    7 quarts water
    2 or 3 potatoes, diced
    3 cups lentils rinsed (and soaked if possible!)
    5 tsp. salt
    4 bay leaves
    2 tsp. thyme
    about 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

    1. In a heavy bottomed stockpot, saute onion, greens and carrots in oil until soft.
    2. Add the flour, stirring constantly to make a roux. Unbleached flour works best (she says notes this although I used Golden 86 for this kind of thing all the time).
    3. Slowly add the water, stirring constantly. Then add the remaining ingredients.
    4. Simmer for 2 - 3 hours. (Alternatively put boiling hot pot put into your insulated box and tuck it in for three hours or so.) The flavor improves with longer simmering. Just before serving, remove the bay leaves and add freshly ground pepper.

    This soup is thick and saucy. It also makes great leftovers. We ate this soup for a couple of days plus over a week later we are still enthusiastically using our insulated box for long cooking. Try it - it is extremely easy and is just plain common sense once you start to think about it. Besides, if you happen to have a large family and just a regular smallish stove like I do, it frees up a burner. We are so taken with this recipe that I have added it to my menu plan and we are so taken with this form of cooking that we made a video about it to inspire you. Enjoy both!

    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,


    Does “Contraction” Imply Readying for Bigger Changes? (with Update Winter 2009 video)

    Posted by pockets

    As my husband notes in his video linked below, we have been going through a long period of contraction here on the homestead. There has been lots of selling off and going without and getting by for a while now. There has been lots of, “Where do we go from here?” and “How can we possibly do that?” (which could mean either How do we move forward? or How can we honestly allow ourselves to move backward? depending upon the context).

    A small personal story from last week:
    Last week, we enjoyed the delights of the Blue Ridge Parkway twice. The first time, we went to our usual spot at Rocky Knob and walked in our usual way on the trail down below along the creek. However events conspired to push us to go beyond our usual ways of exploring down there, luckily, so that we ended up walking much farther along the trail than we ever have before. As a result we discovered an entirely new area with new topography, new atmosphere, new kinds of trees and stone remains of old houses, a new creek so much larger and more babbling than the first and so on. It made such an impression on us - this alluring area full of hints of what seems better to us - that we drove back several days later to explore some more.

    Now the second time some of us were a bit resistant to heading back out there because we were exhausted. We wanted to be there but the thought of getting there and back felt overwhelming (and I am not just referring to myself here with the exhaustion, by the way, but also to some of the children). I happened to have checked Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway out of the library, though, so I looked up Rocky Knob to get a more complete picture of the trail there. I discovered that the trailhead was in a different area altogether we have never visited before. We reasoned that the trailhead was probably not as mountainous as the other part of the trail we were on several days ago. It would probably be less tiring while still giving us a taste of that special outdoor atmosphere we were craving so we packed up food and water, tied on boots of various descriptions and headed out.

    Oh my, oh my, oh my. This new area was heaven on earth. A big roaring creek. Waterfalls literally every ten yards. Huge boulders covered with moss and lichen. Small sparkling stones of many hues so attractive to young children. Wide, easy to follow trial. Rock foundations of past lives. Locusts and pines in abundance. We even discovered a large area where chives were already up which added just the right spice as we drink water and rested for a bit. It was the kind of place you never want to leave and obviously some people never did leave. Once upon a time, people lived there.

    As we walked back to the car hours later, I found my eyes filled with tears. I was exhausted past managing but I couldn’t bear the thought of going back “home” to the usual way. No more stick built, four cornered, uncreative, industrial (even if a 1940 farm house, so called), questionably sited house on a road with suburban type houses on it that demands for itself utilities and cleaning out the gutters. As much as we may be “homesteading”, we are still a darn long way away from natural living. I don’t know for sure what all natural living truly means but I know that it means a lot more than this. I longed to stop and stay where we were and live an utterly stripped down, natural, yogic life with the sound of water ever in my ears and the example of unspoiled nature ever before my eyes to help bring me and my family back, back, back to the Original Design.

    Even though I was almost too tired to walk and a natural life like that takes much effort.

    The somewhat long ride home provided a transition and I was OK by the time we arrived at our stick built, four cornered, industrially built home. I was grateful to have a warm place to rest actually. It turns out, though, that the final movement of this small symphony wasn’t until the next morning.

    The Life of a Prairie Mom is a blog I have been closely reading for a while now. Paula has a very calm way about her. No fireworks. No intellectual feats. No blistering analysis of current trends or groundbreaking ways of gardening. No extraordinary flow of words you can hardly keep up with in the busyness of your own day or noise of your own mind. Rather she quietly spells out certain aspects of her day and instructs along her way of thinking. She is very measured and I have found her writing peaceful and yet inspiring these last months. She writes of things I care very much about like raising and educating children in Him and relating respectfully and fruitfully with her “Beloved” (her husband) and how she organizes her sewing things and cooks real food and minimizes shopping or excess energy use and how determined they are to live off the grid. She has detailed some of the steps that she has been prudently and faithfully taking to prepare them for a new off-the-grid, simpler future and I have identified with all of it.

    So next morning after this heart touching time spent out in Nature in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I opened her blog to read “Going Off-Grid.” She shares with her readers that they are going off grid as of tomorrow. It is sooner than expected but she is peaceful and faithful about it. She can only post further when and if she gets to a library which would be once a month at most. She will post again when she can. “May the Lord’s blessings be with you.”

    It was the timing, I guess. I felt like I had been punched. She and her family were turning and disappearing into a simpler life, just like that, tomorrow. Wow.

    With this story I am saying, and through his video my husband is saying, that we long for more. There is more than this. There is deeper to go. We have all along felt pushed to make the changes we have made so far. We have felt no choice but to go through the contractions my husband details in the video which has left us continually wondering about the future. What are we supposed to do next? We are clearly not at a balance point right now but rather at a point of movement.

    I guess my question is this: does “contraction” imply muscles coiled and waiting to spring into the next level?

    Please enjoy “Update Winter 2009.”

    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,