Friday, June 19, 2009

Have YOU got this disease?

It's not my fault...I've got a disease—a disease I've had to live with for over 10 years
now. It's called boredom. I'll bet some of you have it, too.

It's a
dis-ease with sameness. A dis-ease with our replicated, dull, assembly-line living.

Oh I know, the process of replication in the manufacturing, housing, textile and automotive industries has led to much more affordable goods—and services too. Thank you very much Henry Ford!

Mr. Ford's assembly line has crept into all areas of our lives bringing us not only cheaper cars, but cheaper food, cheaper housing, cheaper clothing...cheaper everything.

But as is true in all areas of life, every plus comes with a minus. In the process of making life more affordable for everyone, we've lost something.

That something is individuality, a uniqueness that sets us apart—each from the other.

Are you bored with your choices of cars? Cars that all have the same parts, share the same engines and all look alike—many being the exact same vehicle with the only difference being the name plate?

Are you tired of everyone always wearing the same styles, the same footwear, the need for everything to be the "in" thing? If no one else is wearing it, it must not look good.

Builders all use the same lumber—of the same dimensions and lengths. The sheet goods are all a perfect rectangle—each 4 feet wide and 8 feet long.

And so, our houses all look the same, too. I don't know about you...but it all dulls me out—puts me to sleep.

Sameness is rapidly expanding throughout the entire globe.

To deviate usually means you have to pay more...sometimes a lot more. But those of us who are afflicted with this dis-ease have a hard time living with the status quo. Something inside us needs to break out, be different, be unique.

The price we are willing to pay for being different varies from individual to individual, but for each of us the payoff is worth the price.

Do YOU have this dis-ease? If you're not sure, sometimes you can tell by the symptoms, though they may be lying dormant just below the surface, biding their time, waiting for the right moment to burst forth.

Here are just a few examples of the numerous symptoms this dis-ease can manifest. If you have one or more of the following, look out...other symptoms are sure to follow:

Do you "personalize" your vehicle so no one can say,
I drive the same thing?

Or do you eat and grow your own organic vegetables?

photo courtesy: Flying Concrete

Maybe your house isn't exactly normal on the outside...

"Round house" photo courtesy: That round house

...or the inside.

photo up, courtesy: Flying Concrete
photo right, courtesy:

Or, maybe you just dream of such things, a constant haunting of your soul, an itch you just can't allow yourself to scratch.

It isn't always easy to tell if you have this dis-ease. Sometimes the symptoms lie dormant till something triggers them, then...out they come.

If you think you might have this dis-ease, but you're not absolutely sure, you will want to order my book, The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon's Guide™ to DIRT.

In it, you will find many more symptoms associated with this dis-ease:

- Creativity—you just can't stop thinking outside the "box"
- A fixation for obtainium
(making use of found objects)
- Square-corner phobia
- A
need to do things your own way
- A compulsion to always ask
- An aversion to building codes
- An obsession to do things as cheaply as possible
- And a host of other symptoms too numerous to mention here.

But that's not all. Inside, you'll also find the formula to "cure" what ails you—step by step instructions on just how to scratch that itch!

So if you think you have any of the early signs of these symptoms—one of which will be an overwhelming desire to find out more—you'll find yourself developing a
need to order this book—you'll just have to have it and you won't be satisfied till it's YOURS!

So, get your copy today, discover the's just a click away!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"DIRT" — Review by Jennifer Morkunas, Eco Metro (Celilo Group Media)

Michael Van Hall’s The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon’s Guide to DIRT offers a fresh perspective on building outside the box, and some great advice on avoiding the shape of a box.

A whole range of topics are covered, from building with your own earthen building blocks without having to wait for them to cure, to interior walls and making your own doors.
His trademarked Self-Locking Pour-in-Place System is a time-saver, and his easy-to-read style convinces you that all you need to do is cast aside your doubts about what you are able to do with your own two hands, and show some willingness to get them dirty.

Van Hall is in touch with the creative process, and guides you through developing your own. Have you ever considered that DIRT is your greatest asset? The book is full of useful tips that would be hard to pick up anywhere else, such as using cactus juice as a non-toxic waterproofing agent. Who knew? I love how he placed cans and bottles in his bricks to add insulating properties. Now THAT’S what I call recycling! Not since Frodo and Sam’s journey with the ring has a story about Mortar been so riveting. This guide has come at a great time, when many people are seeing the benefits of changing (i.e. downsizing) their lifestyle, voluntary simplicity, and the Freegan movement. Van Hall has some sustainable suggestions that hardly cost any money. The illustrations are also really amusing.

Growing up in the land of Reagan-era tract homes, I can really appreciate and advocate Van Hall’s concept of creative building and tuning into your surroundings. His section on windows is a must-read in this respect. For example, it’s common to want to make windows as large as possible, but Van Hall recommends using them like frames that narrow down a view to a specific scene. You will learn to always ask, “Why do we have to do it that way?” and to question conventions.

I also didn’t know that houses used to be made out of sod, and they were warmer than a lot of stucco homes. That's wild! It is empowering to start to learn how to create very basic building structures, as well as cabinets, desks, and countertops, The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon’s Guide to DIRT is enthusiastic, accessible, and encouraging. Check out what Michael has to say and get in touch with that child inside who wants to play in the dirt.

-Jennifer Morkunas, Celilo Group Media

Find the best of what’s green and local with our EcoMetro guides and at

Celilo Group Media publishes Chinook Book in Portland and Seattle/Puget Sound, EcoMetro Guide in East Bay, CA and Blue Sky Guide in Minneapolis/St Paul.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Reversing corruption and greed in America

One man, one vision...

Here is a book that I have really enjoyed, so I thought I would share a few passages with you.

Excerpt from the book The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eustace Conway created Turtle Island—the thousand-acre perfect cosmos of his own design—the ultimate teaching facility, a university-in-the-raw, a wild monastery. Because, after years of studying primitive societies and after countless experience of personal transformation within the wilderness, Eustace has formed a mighty dogma. He is convinced that the only way modern America can begin to reverse its inherent corruption and greed and malaise is by feeling the rapture that comes from face-to-face encounters with what he calls "the high art and godliness of nature."

It is his belief that we Americans, through our constant striving for convenience, are eradicating the raucous and edifying beauty of our true environment and replacing that beauty with a safe but completely
faux "environment." What Eustace sees is a society steadily undoing itself, it might be argued, by its own over-resourcefulness. Clever, ambitious, and always in search of greater efficiency, we Americans have, in two short centuries, created a world of push-button, round-the-clock-comfort for ourselves. The basic needs of humanity—food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, transportation, and even sexual pleasure—no longer need to be personally labored for or ritualized or even understood. All these things are available to us now for mere cash. Or credit. Which means that nobody needs to know how to do anything anymore, except that one narrow skill that will earn enough money to pay for the convenience and services of modern living.

But in replacing every challenge with a shortcut we seem to have lost something, and Eustace isn't the only person feeling that loss. We are an increasingly depressed and anxious people—and not for nothing. Arguably, all these modern conveniences have been adopted to save us time. But time for
what? Having created a system that tends to our every need without causing us undue exertion or labor, we can now fill these hours with...?

Well, for one thing, television—loads of it, hours of it, days and weeks and months of it in every
American's lifetime. Also, work. Americans spend more and more hours at their jobs every year; in almost every household both parents (if there are two parents) must work full-time outside the home to pay for all these goods and services. Which means a lot of commuting. Which means a lot of stress. Less connection to family and community. Fast-food meals eaten in cars on the way to and from work. Poorer health all the time. (America is certainly the fattest and most inactive society in history, and we're packing on more pounds every year. We seem to have the same disregard for our bodies as we do for our other natural resources; if a vital organ breaks down, after all, we always believe we can just buy a new one. Somebody else will take care of it. Same way we believe that somebody else will plant another forest someday if we use this one up. That is, if we even notice that we're using it up.)

There's an arrogance to such an attitude, but—more than that—there's a profound alienation. We have fallen out of rhythm. It's this simple. If we don't cultivate our own food supply anymore, do we need to pay attention to the idea of say, seasons? Is there any difference between winter and summer if we can eat strawberries every day? If we can keep the temperature of our house set at a comfortable 70 degrees all year, do we need to notice that fall is coming? Do we have to prepare for that? Respect that? Much less contemplate what it means for our own mortality that things die in nature every autumn? And when spring does come round again, do we need to notice that rebirth? Do we need to take a moment and maybe thank anybody for that? Celebrate it? If we never leave our house except to drive to work, do we need to be even remotely aware of this powerful, humbling, extraordinary, and eternal life force that surges and ebbs around us all the time?

Apparently not. Because we seem to have stopped paying attention. Or this is what Eustace Conway perceives when he looks around America. He sees a people who have fallen out of step with the natural cycles that have defined humanity's existence and culture for
millennia. Having lost that vital connection with nature, the nation is in danger of losing its humanity. We are not alien visitors to the planet, after all, but natural residents and relatives of every living entity here. This earth is where we came from and where we'll all end up when we die, and, during the interim, it is our home. And there's no way we can ever hope to understand ourselves if we don't at least marginally understand our home. That is the understanding we need to put our lives in some bigger metaphysical context.

Instead, Eustace sees a chilling sight—citizenry so removed from the rhythms of nature that we march through our lives as mere sleep-walkers, blinded, deafened, and senseless. Robotically
existing in sterilized surroundings that numb the mind, weaken the body, and atrophy the soul. But Eustace believes we can get our humanity back. When we contemplate the venerable age of a mountain, we get it. When we observe the superb order of water and sunlight, we get it. When we experience firsthand the brutal poetry of the food chain, we get it. When we are mindful of every nuance of our natural world, we finally get the picture: that we are each given only one dazzling moment of life here on Earth, and we must stand before that reality both humbled and elevated, subject to every law of our universe and grateful for our brief but intrinsic participation within it.

Granted, this is not a radical concept. Every environmentalist in the world operates on a philosophy based on these same hypotheses. But what sets Eustace Conway apart from every other environmentalist is the
peculiar confidence he's had since earliest childhood that it is his personal destiny to snap his countrymen out of their sleepwalk. He has always believed that he alone has this power and this responsibility, that he was to be the vessel of change. One man, one vision.

We may not all agree with this one man's view of the way things are or how they should be, but after reading this book, you will have to admire the man's clarity of purpose. His convictions are unwavering. His vision is focused and sharp. He has himself a mission, a goal. He has taken the three-point stance, has lowered his horns and is plunging forward with everything he's got, holding nothing back—Lord help anyone or anything who gets in his way.

What wouldn't we all give to have so clear a picture of who we are and why we are here, on this planet?


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Take the Eco-Color Test - Just how "green" ARE you?

Just what is "GREEN?"

Lately, I've had a lot of trouble communicating with others about "going green." There is a wide range of what people think that really means. Is it owning a Toyota Prius...or walking to work? Is it a dual-flush toilet...or an outhouse?

When one person says they are "going green" they may mean something entirely different from what the listener thinks.

So I have taken it upon myself to start promoting
"BROWN"—to give brown a slice of the green pie.

Here are
my definitions:

—not green at all.

GREEN—new, expensive, cool stuff. Live the same life as red without wasting quite so much.

BROWN—A whole different way of living and being.

So take the Curmudgeon's "COLOR TEST" to see where you fall—are you nearest to RED, GREEN, or BROWN? Be honest now...just how eco-conscious are you? To what degree do you really care about the environment?

Your Stove/Oven:

Is still my old, non Energy Star rated clunker, but I love it just the same.

Is Energy Star rated.

Is a solar oven. Or an earth oven and wood stove—powered by deadfall wood.

More on earth ovens HERE.

Your Dish Washer:

Is old, not Energy Star rated, and makes noises it didn't use to make.

Is Energy Star rated.

Dishwasher? That's me!

Your Refrigerator:

Is NOT Energy Star rated and the door is ready to fall off.

Is Energy Star rated.

What refrigerator? You use an ice box, evaporation cooler box, and/or a root cellar.

HERE and HERE for more on living without a refrigerator.

Your Water Heater:

Is old, not
Energy Star rated and is leaking a little out the bottom—but you figure it will go another year or so.

Energy Star rated. Or even greener—has solar assist.

Is solar-only, with an insulated storage tank. Or browner yet—you set your plastic jugs out in the sun to heat your water or use the wood stove/rocket stove that is already heating your house.

HERE for more on rocket stoves.

Your Washer/Dryer:

Is NOT Energy Star rated.

Is Energy Star rated.

I don't even have hot water hooked up to my washer, and I dry all my clothes outside on a clothesline. (Believe it or not, clothes will dry outdoors even in sub-zero temperatures.)

Your Shower:

You're still using that leaky old shower head.

You've installed a new water-saver shower head (1.5 gallons used per minute).

You use a solar shower (1.5 gallons used per shower) or a "beer bottle" shower.

More info Here

Your Toilet:

You use an old 3-5 gallon flusher,
but boy does it flush great!

You use a new 1.5 liter flusher; or even greener—a dual flusher.

You use a manufactured power composting toilet;
or even browner—a handmade non-powered composting outhouse.

HERE for more info on a composting outhouse and HERE for info on the book.

Your Sewer Drains...

...into your city's sewer system.

...into your septic system (the leach field waters some plants). Or greener yet—your black water goes to your septic system and your gray water goes to a planter bed.

...What sewer waste? (You use a composting toilet and all gray water is reused or waters your plants.)

Your Water Supply:

All comes from your municipal water system.

Is power pumped from a well. And greener yet—you also water your plants from a rain water catchment system. ($$$)

You hand pump your water from a well and water your plants from that wooden barrel at the end of the downspout.

Your Power:

All your power comes from the electric plant.

Some of your power comes from that $30,000 solar voltaic system you installed last year.
Or greener yet—ALL of your power comes from that $70,000 system you just installed.

Your only power needs are your 12-volt lights which run on one 40-watt solar panel and a car battery. Or browner yet—you go to bed early and read by candlelight.

Your Swimming Pool:

You just love relaxing by your nice big heated pool.

You have a small unheated pool. Or greener yet—your pool is now a koi pond.

You turned your pool into a planter. Or browner yet—what pool?

Your Heating:

You're still heating your entire house with its original furnace.

You only heat the parts of your house that you are using with zone heating. Or greener yet—you get by mostly on a combination of your home's passive solar design and radiant space heaters which only heat your body, right where you are.

Your house has large amounts of thermal mass and is passive solar in design. When needed, you heat it with a rocket stove or box stove. And browner yet—you wear more clothes and use more blankets.

HERE for more on rocket stoves.

Your Cooling:

Central Air...what a godsend. You use it all summer long.

Central Air is nice but you get by some of the time with evaporative cooling. Or greener yet—you have no air conditioner. You only use an evaporative cooler and a few fans.

You get by on thermal mass, passive solar design, and cross ventilation. You open your windows at night.

Your Garbage:

ALL goes in the same can and from there...into that big truck with the huge back-side. It all goes to the same place anyway.

Is carefully separated into separate recycling and garbage cans, then set out for the garbage man. And greener yet—all the table scraps are composted.

ONLY recyclable waste leaves your home. You find a use for EVERYTHING else and you compost your scraps.

Your Transportation:

You drive a normal car/truck. Or redder yetyou drive a big SUV.

You drive a hybrid. Or greener yet—an all-electric vehicle.

You don't have a vehicle. You ride a scooter or take public transportation. Or browner yet—you ride a bike. Browner still—you walk.

By now you should have a pretty good idea where you fall. Are you RED, GREEN, or BROWN?

Most of us will fall somewhere in between colors.

Ask yourself: What color am I now? What color do I want to be?—Are they the same color?

Some would call BROWN "hardcore"—and not living in the real world.

Others would call GREEN "wimpy"—and not living in the real world.

Still others would call both BROWN & GREEN "tree-huggers"—and not living in the real world.

And others would call RED $#@&!—and not living in the real world.

Time will tell who was more correct.

In the meantime, maybe we can get the term
"GOING BROWN" started. At least that way, the greenies and the brownies won't get so confused when talking to each other about environmental issues and saving the earth.

There is no symbol or organization for BROWN at this time. There's no money in it. But maybe we can come up with our own someday. I, for one, would love to live in a LEED certified BROWN house!

Addendum: After all that, there still are questions out there about what I mean by the term BROWN, so here are a few examples of what it is and what it isn't:

BROWN—means small, inexpensive, hand-built, organic, natural, earthen, and one-of-a-kind. Artistic, sculpted, original, quaint.

means incorporating obtainium (found objects) into all aspects of living and building. It's public transportation, riding a bike and using your library.

is NOT about LEED certification, bamboo flooring, dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, no VOC paints, expensive solar voltaic systems and fancy rain water catchment systems.

It's an old wooden barrel under a downspout and a hand-built composting toilet. It's a thatch, rusty tin, or sod roof. It's walls made of mud, paper, straw, stone, tires, bottles, cans, and/or anything else you can get for free. It's rocket stoves, box stoves, passive solar, sun showers and gray water.

It's...well, you get the picture.

Check out the Curmudgeon's new BROWN Tribe: The Brown Building Network. Join the tribe and post your brown pics, topics, ideas, listings, and more!