Thursday, May 30, 2013

On my book: "Extreme Simplicity"

EXTREME SIMPLICITY: Homesteading in the City

[Note: You can get an autographed copy of this at the store at]
"Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City" is perhaps my favorite of the books I have written because it is like a personal diary of how my wife Dolores and I worked towards our goal of "living lightly on the earth," even though we had a small budget and lived in a small suburban Los Angeles home.

We were doing what our Appalachian friend used to describe as "living country in the city."  We pursued all aspects of self-reliance, and wrote about it. Starting as soon as we moved in to our new home in 1986, we began task by task with limited income.  We used our front lawn  to grow food, we recycled our wash water, collected rain water, had chickens, a duck, bees, and a pig, had solar water heating and solar electricity, a wood stove, and we planted fruit trees and food everywhere.

We describe our efforts to do "integral gardening" on every bit of usable land, to produce food (for people and wildlife), medicines, fragrance, shade, and useful tools. We describe the details of what it meant to raise earthworms, chickens, rabbits, bees, a goose, a pig, and our dogs in their typical suburban back yard.

We took the reader along their journey to installing a wood fireplace, solar water heating, and a solar electric system.

 Though there is much "how to" in this book, it is full of personal stories and rich reading of the learning they experienced along the way. There is a section on recycling, and a unique section about the economics of self-reliance.

It’s worth noting that this is not a book we planned on writing. In 2000, we were called by the Mother Earth News magazine to write an article about our meaning of "alternate health" methods, and we wrote about the methods that could be called "new age" and could be called Hypocratean.  We were on the cover, and a book publisher contacted us to see if we could turn that health article into a book. We said yes. But when we submitted the manuscript to the publisher, they said, hmm, not exactly what we were looking for.  [That book, Integral Health, will be published eventually]. So they asked us if we could just write about how we live, which we did, and it became Extreme Simplicity.

Extreme Simplicity, first published in October of 2002, will be re-released from another publisher in August of 2013.  It will be available wherever books are sold, from Amazon, and from the School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041; or
When Ramah actually died, Christopher was holding her head in his hands. She cried out a loud farewell as she died. He doesn't like to admit it, but Christopher cried most of the day.

A dear friend of our visited us that afternoon, and we spent the next seven hours discussing death, canine friends, and Ramah. Our friend had brought along a "Dear Abby" article about a boy who had wanted a priest to help him hold a funeral for a dog. The priest agreed. The boy asked Abby if there were dogs in heaven. It was quite an interesting article and made us realize that we weren't the only ones who had such a close relationship with our dog....

Christopher carried Ramah to a spot in our "Island orchard." He had dug a large hole in a spot where he felt that a tree might grow. Christopher carefully buried her with her favorite bedding - his old sleeping bag - and then he planted an avocado tree over her. It all seemed so right, so proper. Dogs are not the same as humans, yet our attachments and feelings can be intense.

A week after we buried our dog, we had a memorial gathering where we invited some close friends to remember Ramah....

In telling the story of Ramah, we have gone full circle, from describing here as a close friend - a member of the family - to acknowledging how her body now fertilizes an orchard tree. Where possible, we choose to let our animals fulfill their whole lives right here, on our little urban homestead. Even in death they play their role, promoting more life. Such "complete cycles" are something that many more people took for granted a hundred and more years ago, when most folks lived in rural environments. Today, by our passive choices, we seem to have lost this understanding.
Our freestanding fireplace has completely transformed our home. We would strongly encourage anyone without one already to seriously consider installing one. On very cold nights, we had been using those small electric heaters that really drive up your electric bill. The fireplace made the house really feel like a home, and we now are uncertain how we got along without it.

In our case, the transition to wood heating was fairly easy, because we had plenty of firewood readily available. We were actually doing a neighbor a favor by cleaning up and carting off large amounts of dead and fallen wood from his property. Our first season of firewood came entirely from our weekly cleaning of his yard, just for the cost of our labor. How's that for a win-win situation?
Many people today believe that they're spending all their time working, yet with very little in return. Unfortunately, such realizations may come too late to be remedied.

We think that the Amish people have the right idea when they keep their schools and work close to home. They don't have to go a long way to a job, thereby avoiding wasted time and energy, unnecessary expenses, and disconnection from their community. They can protect their families from undesirable influence, and there is the added bonus of having youngsters nearby where they can learn a trade from an early age. The Amish are firmly committed to valuing "quality of life" over all the stuff that our modern society deems important or indispensable - car, home entertainment system, fancy clothes, foods bought for "convenience" and prestige rather than fresh garden flavor and nutritional value.
Once, during a period of homelessness before we were married, Christopher was engulfed in thoughts of "poor me" and "I'm destitute," and he could scarcely see a way out of the darkness. Dolores provided him with a simple set of practical tools that anyone can use if only they choose to do so. Here are four "magic" ways to improve your financial situation:
    1. Never waste anything.
    2. Continually improve your personal honesty.
    3. Leave every situation or circumstance better than you found it.
    4. Tithe to the church (or organization) of your choice.

We know that these are genuine practical solutions. We have heard people say that they cannot make these efforts - such as tithing, or improving an environment - because "we are poor." Our perspective is that they have their reasoning backwards. They are poor because they do not engage themselves in the world in these ways. Logical thinking leads to erroneous conclusions when the premise is false.

1. You can do without some electrical devices.
This will probably involve changing your behavior, for instance, thinking twice before switching on an electrical tool or appliance when a non-electric alternative will work just as well or better.

2. You can learn to use your existing devices more efficiently.
 This step, too, requires changes in habit, but once you've understood the extra expenses caused by inefficiency and waste, you'll feel good about it - plus you'll save money by practicing efficiency.

3. You can purchase new appliances that render your household inherently more energy efficient.
 This step requires initial outlays of money, and in some cases higher short-term expenses, but with certain especially wasteful appliances, the best way to save energy and money is to immediately replace the old, wasteful model.

Friday, May 24, 2013

On my book: Guide to Wild Foods

Christopher Nyerges
Why I wrote my books:
Guide to Wild Foods

[Nyerges is the author of 10 books, and teaches regular classes through the School of Self-reliance. He does a weekly podcast at Preparedness Radio Network, and blogs regularly at]

The first book I wrote was “Guide to Wild Foods.”  It represented my attempt to put my various notes and articles about plant lore and ethnobotany into some usable format.  If these notes were organized, others might be able to travel over the path I’ve struggled over a bit more easily.  But I actually compiled and wrote the book for my own personal use  and was happy to see that others found the book worthy of purchase.

I began “Guide to Wild Foods” in 1975, and I began by simply alphabetizing, by common name, all the notes on the various plants I’d been learning to identify, and then learning how to use them for food, medicine, or something else.

In my bedroom of my parents’ home, I kept my crude of my observations, my studies, and my recipes scattered in a somewhat organized fashion over every flat surface.  In 1976, I began by writing weekly columns for the now-defunct Altadena Chronicle as my first attempt to begin publishing my book.

With the help of various mentors, I began to more fully organize the notes into cogent chapters, got illustrations, and got the whole book printed and bound.

The first edition was a dream come true, but contained many typos.  By the next printing, I’d cleaned up the errors in the text, improved the drawings, and expanded the text. In fact, since it’s first appearance in 1978, I’ve updated the book nearly every time there was a new printing.

One of my greatest surprises came when I was listening to the old American Indian hour on Pasadena City College Radio early one Saturday morning. Dorothy Poole, aka Chaparral Granny, was talking about the uses of certain local wild plants.  As I listened, it sounded vaguely familiar.  I quickly pulled out my copy of “Guide to Wild Foods” and opened to the plant she was talking about.  Imagine my surprise to see that she was reading directly from my book!  I felt honored that she felt my compilation and personal commentary was worthy of sharing on the American Indian hour.

The book helps the beginner understand the basic botanical terminology, and quickly shows the reader how to best utilize many of the common wild plants for food, medicine, soap, etc. 

Many of the plants listed in this book are not  native, and are considered invasive weeds. They are the plants that gardeners love to pull up and toss in the trash, or worse, to spray Roundup on them so they don’t come back.

But it turns out that some of the wild foods are more nutritious than much of what we find in the supermarket. And they taste good too, if you simply take the time to learn how to prepare them.

In “Guide to Wild Foods,” you learn that the brown pod from the carob trees planted all over Southern California are edible, and are an excellent source of calcium and B vitamins.

You also learn that dandelion is the richest source of beta carotene (not carrots), and that purslane is the richest plant source of Omega 3 fatty acids, and that the common lambs quarter is like nature’s mineral tablet.

I include many of the Native American uses of plants, such as the yucca plant which was a valuble soap and fibre source, as well as three types of food. And you learn about many of the natural cures to poison oak, including the seemingly unusual treatment that I’ve done for the past 30 years.

“Guide to Wild Foods” is available at Amazon, at bookstores, and at  I hope you enjoy your copy!

On my book "How to Survive Anywhere"

Why I wrote my books:
"How to Survive Anywhere"

Nyerges is the author of 10 books, and teaches regular classes through the School of Self-reliance. He will do a blog on most of his books over the next month or so.  His books can be obtained at

Two of my books are closely related, “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” and “How to Survive Anywhere.” 

I began teaching a survival skills class at Pasadena City College in 1980, and have taught it at 3 other colleges as well, not to mention endless lectures and workshops. For me, the act of teaching forces me to organize information in the most useful and easily digestible manner (boy, I sound like a chef!).  I worked to organize the subject matter and to cover one topic at a time. I know this may sound like a no-brainer, but I remember some classes on survival and related-topics that were rambling discussions with the students with no sharp focus, and no show-and-tell.  I wanted to present to the student a situation that I felt would facilitate quicker learning, and more retention.

Over time, my survival skills courses began to cover not just the skills that the lost hiker should know, but also the skills that every urban dweller should consider in the event of a disaster. In my early years of teaching, the subject matter more-or-less organized itself into discrete categories: Water, food and plants, fire, shelter, tools and weapons, first aid, navigation, alternatives to electricity, toilet alternatives, and woven throughout all this has been the necessity to have a good mental outlook.

These categories have become my classes with their endless permutations, and constant updates. I found that one of the best ways to involve the student was to ask questions rather than just make statements. I gradually developed a series of questions for each category, which I used as the basis of my classes. Most of the questions had common-sense answers and were not intended to trick the student, but to cause the student to think logically and to see the relationships of things.

As I refined those questions into my class passouts, Peter Gail (of Goosefoot Acres) suggested that I turn them all into a book. So I compiled them into my spiral-bound book, “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills.”  Scouts and schools have since used the book for their own educational programs for years now.
In time, I developed my questions into a survival manual that I hoped would benefit not only wilderness travelers but anyone living in the cities and rural areas as well.

I filled in all the gaps from my “Testing” book and answered all the questions and added a lot of photos from my classes, and the result was “How to Survive Anywhere,” my most popular book to date.  The title was the publishers’ idea, not mine, since I thought it sounded a bit presumptuous.  However, it has worked, and is my most popular book to date. 

It is divided into chapters similar to my class topics:  Water (finding it, purifying it, storing it), Fire, Lighting, Energy (all the things you need to know when the power goes out, as well as how to make a fire from the most primitive to the many modern methods), Health and Hygiene (how to stay clean, how to make a toilet, how to use plants for soap, etc.), Clothing and Shelter (obvious topics), Fibre (all the ways to create and use plants for rope, weaving, clothing, etc.), Food (wild foods, growing foods, storing foods), Tools and Weapons (knives, primitive weapons, make-do, etc.), First Aid (though I defer to the Red Cross manual), and Navigation (again, I defer to other complete books on the topic).

The last chapter is called “What is Survival?” and it is this chapter which has drawn criticism, since I include a discussion on how all our choices affect our destiny, all the moral, ethical, and spiritual choices that we like to kid ourselves and believe it’s all “private.” In fact, I list the 10 Commandments and The Golden Rule as some of the best “survival tools” of all time. What you sow, you shall reap.

I was criticized for including in a “survival manual” John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, the greatest coach of all time, who always said he wasn’t training basketball players but was training people for life. To ignore these principles is the greatest ignorance. The critic felt that I should only include “Boy Scout skills” in a survival guidebook.  OK, there are many survival manuals out there – mine is different.

I also include economic considerations, though only briefly, since there are detailed books that cover “economic survival.” 

In “How to Survive Anywhere,” I even address the topic of whether or not a dark age is looming, and I provide some practical solutions that anyone can act upon. 

It’s a great book, and I hope you get a copy.  According to actor Ed Begley, Jr., “How to Survive Anywhere shows us that ‘survival’ is a mind-set, and that by understanding the principles of survival, we’d fare better in the woods, or in the aftermath of an urban disaster.”

The book is available wherever books are sold, at Amazon, and from the Store at  

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

When Shiyo Died -- extract from "Til Death Do Us Part?"

[An extract from “Til Death Do Us Part?” by Nyerges, which is available on Kindle or as a pdf from the Store at  Shiyo was Dolores’ mother who died in 1983.  Dolores died in 2008.]

In the ideal world, we learn from other people’s experiences.  This is most likely to occur when we are direct witnesses to the events from which we might derive learning.  But it does seem that only the wisest among us is capable of real learning via other peoples’ experiences.
            We’re doomed to repeat those experiences so that we (ultimately) learn through our own personal experience.  This is generally how I received my “education” about death.  I felt I wanted to learn more about this unavoidable phenomena – but polite poetry and priestly sermons, despite their sincerity – offered me nothing.
            In 1983, the cancer, surgery, and failing health of Dolores’ mother Shiyo provided us with one of many opportunities to face death.

            On the night Shiyo was dying, I was gone somewhere and Dolores went to Temple City with our friend Todd Pike.  Later, Dolores reported back to me her very unpleasant and sad experience.  When Dolores arrived at Shiyo’s home, Shiyo was not fully mentally coherent, and was apparently entering the first stages of dying.  She was not properly responsive when Dolores tried to talk to her, or ask what she could do.  In her uncertainty and panic, Dolores called the hospital – much to her later regret – and two young men quickly arrived by ambulance, with a gurney.  The two men joked among themselves and chatted about their personal lives, treating Dolores’ mother as some impersonal task that had to be done. They talked with Dolores, and then quickly and efficiently strapped Shiyo to their gurney, much like you might securely strap a refrigerator to a dolly.  Dolores felt that her mother was treated like a piece of meat, some mundane commodity, but not her mother.
            Dolores followed the ambulance to the hospital.  Shiyo was not coherent, and died that evening.
            It was a very difficult time for Dolores, though she did her best to hide her pain She had lots of mixed emotions, and lots of regrets about not resolving her lifetime of unfinished business with her own mother.
            As was Shiyo’s wish, Dolores had the body cremated. 
            Dolores then solicited the help of Todd and I, and others, to prepare a memorial event for Shiyo on the grounds of the Pacific Ackworth Friends school in Temple City, where Shiyo taught.
            Todd and I met Dolores and planned an agenda for the memorial, including readings and a home-made meal.  We all helped call people and mail out invitations.  Dolores handled herself reasonably well during this stressful time, though no one would have blamed her if she broke down in tears.  But that never happened.
            She worked with us to create a serious and touching sendoff for her dearly beloved mother.
            On the day of the memorial, Todd, Dolores, and I met at Shiyo’s home about two hours early and set up the eating and gathering area, and the outside memorial area on the school grounds adjacent to the home.  Lu Kuboshima was there, as well as all the old family friends of Dolores and Shiyo.
            People trickled into the outdoor seating area, around the grand stone stove that was built many years earlier by Dolores’ father Lyle (deceased many years earlier).  I didn’t know everyone on Dolores’ side of the family yet, but I knew many.
            Dolores opened the ceremony with a short talk about Shiyo, and there was some music.  Numerous friends of Shiyo’s stood up and talked about her.  It was very much like the typical Sunday Friends gathering, where people speak as the spirit moves them.  One tall skinny elderly man – he was probably in his 80s – stood up and said nothing, but danced around in a circle while waving a long silk scarf.  It was quite a refreshing spectacle.  Then the man sat back down, never saying a word.
            I read a short poem that Dolores had selected. I had already come to know and love Shiyo.  I already felt that she was my mother-in-law, though Dolores and I didn’t get married for another three years. So when I read the short poem about Shiyo, I found it hard to not cry.  A clay bust of Shiyo, made by one of her art students years earlier, stood on the edge of the large stove.
            I had no preconception as to what such a ceremony should be like.  It was the first time I’d ever actively participated in a memorial.  I suppose I expected something deeper, fuller, even a more-meaningful in-depth look at Shiyo’s life and how she affected everyone and changed the world.
            But I think I was still in the mode of expecting answers, even expecting “enlightenment,” to come from somewhere else outside of me.  As if all that was expected of me was to be in the right place at the right time, to read the right book, to be exposed to the right people.  These things, of course, can play a significant role in one’s development and evolution, but what I didn’t fully grasp was that the external forces could only enhance – but could not replace – the necessary inner condition of being ready, and willing, and able to evolve to whatever one’s “next level” might be.
            Plus, I hadn’t yet learned and realized the Universal Principle of “AS ye give, so shall ye receive.”
            Thus, at Shiyo’s memorial, I was only in a posture to receive a limited amount of learning about death.  I was expecting someone to give it to me.
            But learn I did, little by little.  Along with Dolores, I learned to give, and at times, to give sacrificially so that others might have a better learning experience. 
            But on that day, I could only feel deeply for Shiyo, and try to feel Dolores’ pain.
            When the memorial was over, we all went inside Shiyo’s home and we served soup and other healthful dishes that Dolores had arranged for guests to make. It was a great event, and I’m so glad we did it “at home” and not at some commercial funeral parlor where we’d be quickly rushed out once it was all done. 
            We all sat and talked about Shiyo, and got reacquainted. In that sense, the gathering was more for the living than for Shiyo, for it gave us the chance to see how each of our lives were touched by Shiyo, and how her life lived on in each of us.
            I was still left with many questions, some of which I was attempting to answer through my studies of  the “Thinking and Destiny” book.  Is it possible to really know what happens after death?  Should I fear death?  What is the purpose to these very temporary lives we lead, and then die?  Where is Shiyo now?  Will I go there?
            Lots of questions.  Were the answers “unknowable,” as Joe Hall avers?
            For the most part, those were not the questions or topics that we discussed that afternoon.  We did, of course, talk about Shiyo, and other matters.

            Then, afterwards, Dolores had the unsavory task of handling her mother’s estate, which included a yard sale where it seemed that all the vultures descended “looking for a deal” (or was it “looking for a steal”?).  It was left to Dolores to dispose of the many possessions of her mother, which caused behind-the-scenes bickering and accusations for years.  Perhaps that’s just one of the things that “goes with the territory” of handling an estate.  Still, it only made Dolores’ pain of losing her mother even greater.

            Dolores kept and maintained Shiyo’s library of Indian books and booklets, and her many writings.  One such writing was the account of Shiyo’s best friend who married a Navajo man during the Great Depression and moved to the Navajo Reservation.  When Dolores and I rediscovered that manuscript in her mother’s boxes, we attempted to get it published.  We finally succeeded in doing so, and in 2002, Naturegraph books published “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” an incredible true story that reads somewhat like a Tony Hillerman novel.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

In Honor of My Mother

A story about the death of Marie Nyerges, an excerpt from Christopher Nyerges’ Kindle book, “Til Death Do Us Part?”, also available as a pdf from

 There was the cancer diagnosis of 1997.  I was devastated.  I could not believe that it was possible that my own mother could have cancer, and both Dolores and I spent time with Marie (my mother) talking about the possible results of the surgery her doctors were recommending.  I recall some nights at home feeling lost, hopeless, realizing Marie could die from the surgery alone.  After all, she was nearly 80 years old.  I’m sure Marie was fretful, feeling a sort of terror, frightened, hopeful though that something could be done. Frank, my dad, her husband, was quiet, perhaps uncertain of what to do, and probably somewhat unable.

She eventually had a surgery, and lived for many more months.

After the surgery, I visited her in hospital. They said it was very successful.  I met her in hospital hall while she was walking, and she smiled and we walked together.  I told her I was happy to see her.  She seemed to be very spunky, up and about walking. 

After, she seemed happy, relieved, but it was now difficult for her to get enough food, and to eat small portions all day.  My sister Peggy helped when she visited from Canada, and Marie improved, but she still was somewhat on her own.  Marie seemed to be fighting an uphill battle, and was visibly depressed when we were told, sometime in spring of 1998, I think, that cancer was back and spreading into her lungs.  I could feel her pain, her fretting, her desire to live. 

She soon went into hospice care, and Marie did seem happier there at first.  Frank came and sat with her every day. I tried to visit every day, or most days, and visitors could come at will.  I truly pictured that my mother would get better and return home. I still picture that.  I don’t know what Marie pictured.  But in those few weeks there, I was able to come and walk with her at night when the halls were empty.  I felt that we were two friends, that I began to know her from the beginning, and I very much enjoyed our talks about things.  How I enjoyed those moments.  I could feel Marie as a strong spirit in a frail body.  She was often apologetic, about all that everyone else had to do for her now, but I loved being able to assist and to be there.

Think about it -- after a lifetime of what she did for so many others, always buying things on sale for family members, sending notes, phone calls, now it was her turn to be attended to.  I had no complaints.  The days went by, and went by, and it was clear that her food was substandard, and that she was not as happy as she should be.  Remarkably, I still believed Marie would be well, and would be healthy and vibrant, and in my mind, that IS the way she still is. 

One day a few weeks later, Marie told me she wanted to go home, that Frank was looking into her going home and getting a  24 hour nurse. That made me happy, to think she would be back in her own home.  But she became unresponsive a few days later, and I went to see her in the hospice care.

 When I arrived, I put my hand on Marie’s head.  She was hooked up to oxygen, and her eyes were fixed ahead.  She was alive, but not responsive, though I felt she could hear me, and I talked to her.  I cried for awhile, and closed my eyes.  I tried to Feel-into this person, my mother, Marie.  She was breathing with eyes straight ahead. After awhile I felt I was with Marie.  My eyes closed, I began to see pictures, which I assumed were her pictures.  Childhood -- seeing the front of her family farm house in Chardon, Ohio.  I could sense that Marie was “waiting” -- maybe confused, waiting for us, her children, to come around and to say goodbye, that it is OK.  I asked her how she was, and she “responded” “What now?”  I tried to look at the pictures with her, tried to mentally look at her pictures with her, whatever it was that she wanted to see. 

I saw my childhood, the Cub Scout activities at home, counting pennies and dimes, having tantrums on the kitchen floor, her work, her fears, her doubts, and the many interests and activities that she tried to pursue with me, such as learning Spanish, practicing karate, wild foods.  I saw her focus on Virgin Mary and the League of Mary activities at the church, the desire to save the world by alerting people to change their lives. 

This was her world I was seeing, and I sensed that she did well, in this world, and that she had what could be called a good life.

I was mostly silent with her, holding her hand, my other hand on her forehead, and I knew that she was just waiting now.  All was over, and she wanted to go on.  It seemed she was waiting because she thought we wanted to say our final goodbyes.

A priest came to give the Last Rites.   I closed my eyes, with my hands on her.  I am breathing deeply, and I felt my breath as a circuit through one hand, through Marie’s body, and out the other hand.      

I could “see” a pulsating opening, the so-called tunnel that we have often heard about.  It was right there, and she was ready.  Marie was right  at the tunnel, waiting, ready to go on, only waiting for us, to allow us to say goodbyes.  So she is done with the world.  There is only the body, which is now a distant pain, a body that no longer works.  She is free   She is very close to those of us who are here.  She is accepting. 

I told Marie, I’ll never forget you.  You will be with me always.  We are conversing now, silently,  and I told her we could talk by sending pictures to one other’s mind. 

In my mental communication, Marie is smiling. Her radiant smile is not the skin and bones lying on the bed.  She is smiling.  Marie, I tell her, I didn’t know it would be like this.  She is ready for rest, ready for peace, ready for on-going.  She said “please don’t worry for me.  Why worry for me, she smiles. I am ready to go on. I am done.”  She tells me though that she is concerned for Frank, and that we should watch over him.             
 I got a call about 3:45 or so, saying that Mother had stopped breathing.  She had died.  It was over.  I dressed and quickly went over, and Jean Marie and Mary Sue were still there.  I embraced mother and could see her body now noticeably faded.  I embraced her and told her again I loved her, that I was glad the pain was over, that I would miss her always. 

There was a feeling of great relief.  Her friends Jean Marie and Mary Sue said they had just finished saying the rosary next to Marie and then she stopped breathing.