Sunday, April 23, 2017

Reducing Our Dependence on Electrical Appliances

An excerpt from Self-Sufficient Home by Christopher Nyerges.  "Self-Sufficient Home" is available from Amazon, and from the Store at

Not everyone has the ability to jump right in and install a photovoltaic system to get all their electricity from the sun.  But a good first step towards greater self-reliance is to question each of our electrical uses. Here is an excerpt from the "Self-Sufficient Home" book, available wherever quality books are sold. 

Electric Can Openers:  Ever hear of someone who couldn’t even open some canned goods after a blackout because their power was out because all they had were electric can openers?  Get a good manual can opener and keep it handy.  Also, most Swiss Army knives have a blade specifically designed for opening cans – and everyone has a Swiss Army knife – don’t they?

Electric knife sharpeners:  For the most part, these cause damage to quality knives.  Get rid of them!

Electric juicers:  OK, some of these are quite good, like the Acme and Vitamix juicers.  You simply couldn’t do the same thing manually.  Still, if you simply want to make orange juice or grapefruit juice from the fresh fruit, buy the simple devices where you squeeze each half of the fruit and twist it around to extract the juice. 

Microwave ovens:  Though generally not a big electrical use, I choose to not have one.  There is still some controversy about the relative safety of this method of cooking food.  Plus, it is worth noting that, in general, microwaves are ideally suited to cooking highly processed “fast foods” which are more expensive and less nutritious than whole foods.   Part of becoming energy self-reliant is to re-think everything we do, and how we do it, and why we do it.   Since good food, properly prepared, is so fundamental to good health and good well-being, shouldn’t we look at why we are in such a hurry to eat that we feel compelled to use microwave ovens?

Automatic dishwashers:  Yes, there are some which are energy-efficient, and if you insist on having one of these, get the most energy-efficient one possible.  I have long found that it is somewhat meditative to stand before the sink, where I can look out the window, and silently wash each dish, rinsing it, and letting it drip-dry in the dish rack. 

Stoves:  In most cases, your stove is fueled by gas.  Use the smallest flame possible, and keep all pots and pans covered while you cook.  This not only saves gas, but reduces some of the scorching of pots and pans. I recall a sign in a kitchen that said “If you can smell it, you’re losing it.”  This was an admonishment to keep all cooking foods covered, since if the aromatic oils and essences were in the air, they were no longer in your food!

Garbage disposals:  These are fuel hogs that also use up lots of water, simply so your compost can get washed away.  You should use all your kitchen scraps to feed your pets, or add it to your compost pit/worm farm.  I have long believed that the main function of garbage disposals is to keep plumbers employed.  In my homes that I owned, I have always removed the garbage disposals, put the kitchen scraps into the compost pit (or fed to the chickens), and had fewer plumbing problems as a result.

Having a compost pit/ worm farm in the back yard is one of the easiest ways to “be a part of the solution.”  It is something that should be in every residential backyard in America.  They are easy to make and to use and maintain.  It isn’t necessary to buy a commercial composter, since a compost system of some sort is easy to make (see The Complete Book of Composting by Rodale Press), though many of the commercial models are not very expensive. 

In an elevated society of the future, I envision a composter as the norm for every backyard, something that is taken for granted.  It is the ancient way in which each plot of land can be enriched by the alchemical conversion of the “wastes” of the residents.
When purchasing a new washing machine, look for the best EnergyStar rating.  Some of the newer models are more efficient not only with electricity, but also with water.

Also, if you are able to do so in your location, you should disconnect your washing machine drain from the sewer line and direct the rinse water into your yard to water your fruit trees and garden.  This is a big no-brainer.  It is easy to do and allows you to use the water twice that you use to wash your clothes. 

If you choose to use the rinse water in your yard, here are a few things to keep in mind.  1.  Make sure you are buying a detergent that is not toxic to plants in your yard.  2. Make sure you are not allowing water to puddle up somewhere, breeding mosquitoes. 3. Test your system to make sure it works well and drains well and doesn’t over-strain the washing machine.  In general, you can attach a large hose to the drain line of the washing machine. This new hose should be at least as large in diameter as your washing machine’s drain hose, and it must be as long as necessary to get to your yard, by gravity. 

Look for the best EnergyStar rating.  And don’t overlook the utter practicality of the “solar clothes dryer” – a clothes line! 

I was very impressed during a winter visit to the Ohio Amish lands to see that every Amish household dries their clothes on their covered porches, on rack ingeniously devised for this purpose.  They have committed themselves to not using electricity, and so they FIND those natural forces, and natural principles, by which they utilize for their day-to-day needs.

Hair dryers:  Perhaps I am an exception, but a towell and fresh air are fine for me. Still, many women depend on these for quickly drying their hair.  Has anyone come up with a battery-operated hair dryer?

Electric toothbrushes:  Are these really necessary!?

Many of today’s garage tools are powered by built-in batteries, which can be recharged over and over.  Some can even be set up to be re-charged by the sun.  This includes such tools as drills, saws, pneumatic hammers, staplers. and more.  With a small PV system, you can keep all your tools powered by the sun.

I have a very dim view of such “garden tools” as weed-whackers and blowers.  I am Old School, and I prefer hand tools for pruning, and a rake and broom for cleaning.  When called up to cut the lawn, I have used both push mowers, and power mowers, though my belief about the pointlessness of “front lawns” keeps me from using such devices.

The Problem -- and Solution -- of the Front Lawn

an excerpt from “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City”

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. For information on his classes and books, contact him at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

When we first moved into our home, the front yard was ugly – barren and oily.  The previous residents had used the yard to park their cars, an area of about 35 by 15 feet.  Just a bit of crabgrass grew around the edges.  The inner front yard, which we called the courtyard, was almost as barren, though there were a few trees there.

One of our first improvements, once we had removed bits of old metal, wood scraps, logs, and an old shack, was to very heavily mulch the barren yard and the neglected courtyard areas.  Mulch consisted of natural materials such as wood chips, leaves, grass clippings – organic matter that can be spread on the ground to hold in moisture.  As the mulch decomposes, it helps to increase the soil’s fertility.

While driving home one day, we saw a yard that was covered with fall leaves.  We had our rakes and bags with us, so we pulled over and knocked on the door.

“May we rake up your front yard and take the leaves with us?” we asked the elderly man who came to the door.

He was silent for a moment, uncertain what we had said, or perhaps suspicious of our intentions.  We repeated the request.

“We’d like to rake up your yard.  We don’t want to charge you.  We just want the leaves to use for mulch.”

By now, his wife had come to the door and we had to repeat the request again.   They seemed to realize that we were sincere, and agreed. 

As we raked, they began to laugh at their good fortune with sheepish smiles – someone had actually knocked on their door requesting to do something for free that they usually had to pay for.

“Take all you want!” the man told us, cheerfully and loudly.

We busied ourselves filling up about four large trash bags of the yellow leaves, and they watched us from their window with large grins.  We laughed to ourselves too, and wondered if they would be telling and re-telling this curious story to their friends and grandchildren.

When we got home, we scattered all those leaves around the needy front and courtyard areas.  We knew that we’d have to add more and more organic matter before the soil would be fertile enough to grow plants, so we collected leaves from other sources as well and spread them in our yard.

Neighbors watched our leaf mulch project curiously.

We contacted an acquaintance who runs a tree-pruning service.  This man and his crew prunes trees and then chips up the prunings, and when their truck is full of chips, they take it to the local landfill and pay to unload the chips.  In response to our invitation, they were happy to bring a load to our place instead and dump it in a huge pile onto our front yard.

The huge pile covered most of the front yard, and the central peak was nearly five feet tall.   We knew the pile would get smaller over time as the chips decomposed.  In fact, the pile had sunk down about a foot after the first week, and we spread the chips out on each side so we’d have a mulch that uniformly covered the entire area.

If you’ve ever been around a big compost pile, you know how it generates lots of heat as the contents decompose.  We noticed our pile steaming in about two weeks, and we also watered it to help the decomposition process.

One morning, a neighbor form next door yelled, “Your front yard’s on fire!”

We ran out expecting to see flames somewhere but saw only the steaming chip pile.  We assured our neighbor that everything was fine.

In two  years, after two big truckloads of wood chips, we were able to sink our hand down into the soil in the front yard, and wild plants had begun to grow and thrive. 

FOR THE CONTINUATION OF THIS STORY, get a copy of “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City” wherever quality books are sold.  Also available at the Store at

Friday, April 14, 2017

Turning Over the Money-Changers' Tables

An Easter Week Commentary

[Nyerges is the author of 10 books, a member of the think-tank WTI, and the director of the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

Growing up in a Catholic family, I have always had a special reverence for Passion Week, perhaps the holiest of all the Christian holy days.  The climax of this tradition begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem on a mule while palm leaves and garments are laid in his path by his followers. He is widely acknowledged as a healer, though some are upset that his actions are drawing so much attention. 

Then, later that day, or the next day, he becomes enraged by the “money changers” and ubiquitous vendors along the way to the temple, and knocks over many of these booths.

Of course, it is no different today.  Every holy site on earth is packed with vendors and their booths of trinkets that they hawk to every tourist who passes by.  These booths of vendors are found around the Vatican, the Church of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Chichen Itza, the Egypt pyramids, etc., ad nauseum.

Jesus knocked over the merchants’ tables because he felt their very presence in the temple desecrated a holy site.  This didn’t garner him many friends, especially not the merchants who felt justified in their commerce.  This act set the stage for the various accusations, arrest, trials, and crucifixion.

Today, commerce seems to run and rule every aspect of our lives.  Everything has a price and scant few protest the gross invasion of commercialism, on billboards, on our e-mail, on the bus-stop, in the bus, on the bus, at every sporting venue, on the clothing of bicyclists and car racers, etc.  Yet, we somewhat draw the line at our religious locations.  Somewhat.  

Jesus recoiled that the work of the Temple seemed to be just the work of commerce.  Let it be done elsewhere, he argued.  Of course, his actions were radical, and noteworthy, and look how he was “rewarded” for trying to separate commerce from “the house of God.”

I once experienced what I felt was very similar to what Jesus felt that day.

I was in Guatemala on a Mayan study and tour, we drove to the town of Chichicastenango.  It was said to be a sacred city where the oldest version of the Popul Vuh exists.  We were going to visit one of the holiest Mayan sites, which was once a pyramid in the town, upon which a Catholic cathedral had been built a few hundred years ago.

To get to this site, we had to walk through several blocks of narrow passageways, densely populated with booth after booth selling jewelry, artworks, fabric, clothing, food, herbs, and all manner of trinkets.  There was no escaping the throngs of vendors, to whom any eye contact meant maybe you wanted to buy what they had.  The narrow passageways were so thick that you literally had to bump shoulders with everyone else, and the hired tour guide yelled out to all of us to carry our daypacks in front of our bodies to thwart pickpockets. 

I began to feel that I had descended into a hell of sorts.  I had not been feeling well, and I had just learned two days earlier that my brother had died.  I was in the mindset of entering into a Holy of Holies, but to get there you had to pass through the gauntlet of the most overt commercialism imaginable.  I withdrew deeply into my self, something next to impossible to do in such a public place.

Eventually, our group all arrived at the base of what was left of the whitewashed pyramid.   At the top was the cathedral, where the church today allows the Mayans to practice their traditional religion.  We would eventually enter the church and hear about its history, and see a Mayan priestess performing a ritual in the middle row of the church. 

But outside, with the din of voices and screaming all around, the merchants booths were set up right to the edge of the pyramid.  People sat on the pyramid, and near the base, copal was continually burned and black smoke poured heavenward.  The narrow passageways of all the corridors of booths led to this pyramid, and a constant throng of passersby moved constantly this way and that.

I felt awestruck by that unique spiritual “something” that was an inherent part of this special place.  But why had the commerce been allowed to invade and over run this site. At least no vendors were allowed into the church yard or church!

But outside, at the base of the pyramid, I had a clear mental picture of the wrath of Jesus back at the Temple of Jerusalem, knocking the vendors tables over.  I could see the Rightness in what he did.  I felt such a strong desire myself – to be rid of the hawkers of ware in that holy place. 

There was no way I would kick over a table of jewelry or other goods. For one, I was not feeling well and didn’t have the strength for such an act. For another, I was well aware that I’d be spending time in some out of the way Guatemalan jail cell, and that notion was very unappealing.  I simply took in the moment, tried to feel the reality of the commerce that  has  overtaken us, and looked forward to my departure.

Yes, Easter is about the death and ressurection, a theme that is found in numerous religious traditions world-wide. It is a worthy theme to study and to plumb its mysteries.  It is all about each of us allowing our ignorant ways to die, and to allow our spiritual divinities to be resurrected from the ashes of our pointless lives.  But don’t forget that Jesus desired to kick out the love of money from the spiritual temple.  That too is something that each of us should do in our own private lives. 

And if and when we get the courage to actually do this, do not expect your friends and family to smile in approval.  You would be wise to look at story of Jesus to see what you should expect, and to plan accordingly. 

Considering Easter

[Nyerges is the author of numerous books such as “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books. He can be reached at www.Schoolof or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

It is a time that millions of people the world over look forward to – the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  What day is that, you ask?  Easter, the day (and season) that Christians worldwide commemorate the trial, death, and resurrection from the dead of Jesus.

I grew up in a Catholic family, going to a Catholic school, and know well the Easter motif, beginning with the “giving something up” for Lent, Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey (in fulfillment of scriptures), and then turned over the tables of the vendors.  He was still invited to speak in the Temple, but the Temple authorities considered him an upstart, someone who seemed to know “the Truth” in a way that they had forgotten, a man who didn’t have the Temple training and no formal training to become a Rabbi, and yet, there he was, attracting crowds, purporting to heal, innocent, seeming to know the answers to life’s deepest questions.

His trial and death were almost predictable, as most societies do not like the rabble-rousers among them. 

Every Easter I have enjoyed the inspiring messages that movie-makers have given us in their efforts to interpret the practical meaning of the Jesus message. I have particularly liked the over six hour presentation of “Jesus of Nazareth” produced by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Robert Powell as Jesus. It is a rare presentation that brings the story alive, and takes it out of the pages of dry church reading.  You cannot help but cry, and laugh, often when viewing this unique presentation.  I have kept a Bible (Lamsa translation) handy when viewing this, to see how well Zeffirelli brought alive these ancient writings. You will likely agree that he did a great job. Actor Robert Powell said once in an interview that this role “changed my life.” Indeed.

Though too many of us have gotten lost in the pre-Christian “Easter” symbolisms of eggs, bunnies, chocolate, etc., it is still worth fighting to realize that there is still a real story here, about someone who worked hard, was ridiculed, laughed at, even killed, in order to  help us to save ourselves.

I have chosen to see the Easter story as a pattern that each of us should find and follow in our own lives. And are there other stories out there which show this pattern in the so-called secular world?

Movie-makers have given us many such stories, but we don’t always see them for what they are.  If we consider the themes of the Easter story – humble birth, hard work, trying to rise above mundanity, showing The Way to others, some sort of “death,” and rising up again – then there are some excellent movies that give us this tale.

For example, you can’t go wrong with the classic “Whale Rider”.  If you’ve not seen it, get it immediately.  The grandfather of the  traditional village is hoping for a grandson to carry on the ways.  A girl is born, and grandpa figures he’ll  have to wait some more.  But the girl is “the one.”  She persists in  her path of learning the  traditional ways.  And when a test is given to the boys to see which one will become the new spiritual leader, the girl nearly dies, but passes the test.  She is the one.  You have to see it, and feel it, and experience that Saviorness can occur at any time, anywhere.  Of course, there are certain requirements, but the chief among them is the willingness and desire to do the work required, and then doing that work.

“Powder” is another good movie that somewhat depicts the elements of the Easter theme, though not precisely.  It’s still worth watching to see how most of us treat our fellow man.

Yes, some of you who will read your Encyclopedia today will learn about the pre-Christian roots of Easter.  There is no denying that the Holy Day, as practiced generally today, has so-called  ”pagan” roots. So what?  You can still observe this day and find the way to use the major themes for your personal upliftment, and for the upliftment of those around you.