THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 31, 2012            7:00 AM

69 F indoors                 44 F outdoors

My vacation from the world – that’s what this month has been for me. 


The days of the THANKS FOR NOTHING month have been filled with writing, doing chores, milking goats, mucking out stalls, receiving visitors, and savoring the moments.  Frankly, I don’t know where the time goes.

Since I’ve based my writings on my definition of the HAPPINESS FACTOR, and written daily about some part of it I thought I’d write my last blog for this month with a little summary that is told more in photos then in words.


Meaningful work  Image


High expectations  Image  University of Dayton ETHOS engineering students working on the Earthship eyebrow


Education  Image New recipe:  Sweet Potato fries – YUCK!  They turned out to taste horrible!  We’ll do better next try.


Friends Image  Four of interns enjoying their time together – Anne-Lise, Beth, Marie and Sarah


Community  Image Annie leading the OEFFA Women in Ag summer tour


Health Image  Covered in critters while reading an interesting book


Family  Image Annie, Jay and Miss America at the McConneslville Opera House for our 25th anniversary celebration


Personal freedom/personal values   

 Image  Loving other people’s children, making time for others, investing in the future


Sense of security

 Image  The dream of the land, the lifestyle, and the freedom of Blue Rock Station

I’ve shared my thoughts, and my stories with anyone who cared to read about them.  And, at the end of the day there was no live news, except for Jay’s and other visitors’ summaries; No real trauma, except the young rooster dying suddenly; And one big change – Miss America announcing that she is taking off a year and not going to the university next year.  This has been a month of some normal worries but mostly no worries at all – the stuff that dreams are made of and I’ve loved every minute of it.

One thing I am sure about though is that I’ve been re-written in so many ways through the experience this month has given me.  And, I have not suffered, or felt deprived of anything but a hot cup of water for a proper cup of tea when I wanted it. 

As time goes by I think I will see just how significantly this family has been influenced by the month we lived without spending money, or other resources.  I could make some predictions but I won’t.  Today I am going to weed strawberry and onion raised beds, and clean out the barn so I can help unload 100 bales of hay.  Tomorrow is February 1st, and it will be the beginning of the next big adventure in our lives.   I’m ready.





THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 30, 2012                      5:20 AM

62 F indoors                 21 F outdoors


 ImageDiane Luers is the one holding the stuffed toy.  Annie and Miss America (the blond beautiful one) are at the other end of the row.

This month of living without money has given me a stronger picture of my overall state, particularly as I’ve begun to measure life, not in terms of money, but by the Happiness Factor. 

I’m not sure exactly why I’ve felt so content. I think I need to figure out more of the reasons.  What matters is that I have allowed myself the time to erase money from how I feel about myself – after Sunday’s “garage sale” birthday swap I can see I need to seize more of these opportunities.

Quite honestly, maybe I haven’t used the opportunity to erase money to its full extent, but I still feel like I’ve been on vacation from the world.  The mail still arrives with bank statements (I didn’t look at them yet), and Blue Rock Station has received quite a few book orders, and workshop registrations in one month – let’s say it is a record for us.

Jay tells me the news (although he didn’t have school last Thursday so I’ve had a week-long break).  I do see some news headlines Online that friends send, but I haven’t found any of it worthy of reading in depth. 

But how not spending money has influenced me is a little less clear.  No errands, no thinking about what to buy at the grocery,  using no energy at night or to cook, and most importantly, no going to a restaurant to eat a single bite of food.  

I do confess that I have mentally built up a tiny list of things I must buy to get ready for kidding season, and as the chicken scratch bin has gotten low I tell myself that I must go to town on Wednesday to buy them food.

Another truth is that I enjoy having a break from creating menus, buying food, and preparing it.  Jay’s given me quite a good vacation this month from breakfast food preparation in the mornings, and the rest has been taken care of with the menus.  We’ve almost always followed menus, but not for one whole solid month at a time, and, possibly this is the important part, we have had to stick with them even if I was too busy to have the food ready by mealtime.

Yesterday I went to Jeanette Weinberg’s “Garage Sale” birthday swap but I didn’t drive myself, as I reported I would have to do.  Instead Diane Luers telephoned to insist she was coming to get Catlyn and me so we could all go together. 

ImageJeanette – the birthday celebrity – notice her tiara (on loan to wear the day of the birthday)

Diane’s gesture may possibly be what all of THANKS FOR NOTHING is about.  As I thought through how I felt about her using her gas and taking her time to retrieve us, I felt a little guilty.  But then I also felt guilty at driving the car, and breaking my promise to myself about not using that form of energy for a month.

As I looked beyond the guilty stuff (after all I was raised Baptist), I was able to see that Diane’s kindness created a whole new afternoon for all of us.  The sun was shining when she arrived – full of smiles and a gift of dried mushrooms. 

We spent some time visiting with each other, and then loaded the car with all of our goodies for the swap.  The drive to town was filled with laughter and tidbits of gossip and more catching up.

For two hours we sorted, tried on clothes, laughed, ate food and generally enjoyed ourselves with the other wonderful women.  When we arrived back home we had a proper cup of tea and visited some more. 

When Diane was leaving she hugged Catlyn really hard and said, “It was so good to see you Bunny”.  I can’t say why that touched me so deeply, but I can see that she had given us a gift of herself…something that would not have been so rich if I had merely met her in town, and not accepted her gesture of kindness.

Nans Thomassey is right…money does remove us from each other at so many levels.  I have to try to hang on to how this works so I can allow myself to experiment and learn more about life without money.  Tomorrow is the last day of the month, but not the last day of giving thanks for nothing…I think it’s just beginning.

 Image Miss America, Nans Thomassey and Guillaume Charroin at Blue Rock Station waiting patiently to eat some of Jay’s famous gluten-free pancakes.




Designing a building isn’t easy!

As a brief interlude to Annie & Jay’s Thanks for Nothing Month posts, I wanted to share some of the progress I’ve made on the strawbale design we’ll be building in May.

Here’s a sneak peak at how things are coming along:

Glorified Privy in 3D, roofless
Glorified Privy in 3D, roofless

I’m two revisions into my design for the strawbale composting toilet building and I’ve discovered a few things:

  1. I don’t know enough about living roofs
  2. It takes a long time to design a building

For point number one, I’m struggling with my roofing system because this roof is not only supposed to support the weight of a fully saturated living roof with plants, but also the weight of two or three people and perhaps some lounge furniture and some safety railing to serve as a scenic overlook.

For point number two, I’m over twenty hours into the actual design process and I haven’t even gotten to hashing out the particulars of the pathway that spirals around the building to the top of the overlook! However, some of this time is due to my unfamiliarity with Google SketchUp, the 3D software I’m using to design my models.

At this point in my design process, I’ve got a few things figured out. I know for sure that to accommodate the size of the toilet and to still follow the ADA requirements for an accessible stall, my building will have an interior footprint of 115″ x 61″. I’ve also reconsidered the rounded east walls due to complexities in the design process (and personally thinking it’d be too hard to accomplish in such a quick workshop).

Hopefully a few phone calls with the family civil engineer will help me determine the correct support structure for the living roof, and progress on the design can continue.

As always, you can follow more of my progress and further notes on


THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 29, 2012                      7:45 AM

62 F indoors                 28 F outdoors

COLD and windy


Image Our 30th year celebration at the Miller Farm with lifelong friends.

I’m taking the day off – as “off” as I can with morning chores, preparing food, and writing the blog.  But after I complete the entire regular list of things I must do to keep us moving forward, Catlyn and I are going to Jeanette Weinberg’s birthday swap.

Originally I was going to get a ride with a friend, but she had to cancel.  Then I emailed another friend to see about a ride, and she might not go.  It may come down to the fact that I have to bite my lip and drive “Stella”, my car, into Zanesville.

Jay reminded me that we still have gasoline in the car, and there’s plenty in the tank for him to take Catlyn to school and get to his teaching gig.  I reminded him that gas in the tank isn’t the real point.  I don’t want to spend money – gasoline is money to me.

This entire month I have carefully rationed hay, grain, and milk so that we had enough to meet the needs of the critters and humans.  But then I promised Jeanette I’d be there (in March, 2011), and she sent me a post saying that I had to be there or she’d be devastated.         

            ImageChildhood friends getting together for lunch:  Annie with Marty Delille, Pam Broadhurst Delille, and Carolyn Drown

For the first time in over four weeks I am going to drive the car into town.  It will be full of boxes of cassette tapes, clothes, pan lids and lots of other things I intend to trade with my friends.  I will trade the gasoline I use in Stella for laughter, good food, and another shared experience with friends.  It seems like I’m getting the best end of the deal


THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH             January 28, 2012                      7:34 AM

65 F indoors                 34 F outdoors


 Image  Sophie and Cadeau, waiting patiently for me.

When I opened the door to the chicken chalet I saw his beautiful body resting on the floor, and I knew he was dead.  King Ferdinand, grandson of Antonio Banderos had just died before I opened the door.  He was young, healthy, and good at his job.  As I carried him to the house I felt worried about who would take his place.

Image King Ferdinand enjoying life with one of his hens.

Animals have been a big part of my January experiment.  Because the weather has been so good I’ve had more time to connect with them, and they have been happy to be my partners. 

Every single time I get ready to go out to do chores the dogs are so excited – really thrilled at the idea that the door will open into the outdoor world, and off we will go to the far off barn (800 steps from the house) to meet up with chickens, goats and llamas.

Sometimes when they are at the door dancing around, and Cadeau is turning in circles – just at the mere fact that we’re going off together – I think about how great it is to be happy about the smallest things in life, and I am grateful that they remind me of this.

I’ve taken a lesson from the dogs, I must admit.  On many days, when I am about to sit down to eat with my family I feel incredibly happy at the thought of it.  When Jay and I go to town together, or explore some new place I have this same sense of delight about life.  During my time in France I felt delighted almost every moment – looking at familiar things I cherished when I lived there, experiencing new people and new ideas.

This month has provided me with delight at every turn.  Each morning and each evening when I walk up to the barn I feel a sense of being nourished.  It is a great thing in life to have meaningful work, and I definitely feel that taking care of our livestock gives me a strong sense of purpose, a life connection.

Image Rosie, resting after a hard morning of guarding the livestock.

In the morning when I wake up I often feel energized by the thoughts I have when I begin to think about what I will write about that day.  Even if no one reads my words, I am pleased that I have the skill to put them into print.

Whenever I am sitting at the computer and one of the cats jumps up to sit on my lap while I work, I never fail to stop what I’m doing to pet them.  This month I have particularly enjoyed their attention, and appreciated the happiness they bring to my life.

The wind in my face as I walk has made me feel refreshed.  The stories I’ve relived and told this month have inspired me to think about what adventures must be waiting for us in the future.  The thoughts of new interns, and old friends visiting make me feel appreciative of what will happen this year.  I have really loved this time that we are alone together, and the fact that spring will come around again.

Staying put for one whole month has taken away some sort of expectation I’ve been carrying around – I don’t know what that means yet but not having any place to go has felt like a security blanket that keeps me warm and safe.

Image Michelle Belle playing the part of the jungle gym for two tiny goat kids.

Living without money has been so much more then just not spending it.  Somehow this month has erased barriers, and given me a new sense of myself – a re-writing of a small part of the core of who I am. 

I’m no Pollyanna though.  Don’t confuse me with anybody who puts her head in the sand.  It’s just that I want to live in a different world – a simple place where we focus on what we have in common.  And this month, I’ve spent a lot of time savoring the fact that I have things in common with everything that surrounds me.

The month’s not over yet, though, although I am not hoping to repeat what I found in the hen house last night – that’s just life happening in my real world, but it feels painful.  Instead, I am anxious to see what will come out of our experiment of living without money – and what has turned out to be my vacation from the world.


THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                                  January 27, 2012            7:40 AM

66 F indoors                 37 F outdoors


Family meeting day

 Image   Jay and Annie on their wedding day – his first waffle iron

This month has given me a new perspective on Jay.  In many ways our lives haven’t been any different then our everyday existence.  We work together and spend our spare time together, for the most part.

But the act of shutting down the computer during the day has given Jay some new incentives to do things differently.

But I am getting ahead of myself with what I wanted to say…One of my most embarrassing moments happened when Jay and I were first going together.  We had known each other a couple of months, so by now he knew that I was pretty serious about life, which he refused to accept about me, and told me so in every way possible.  I went out with him anyway.

This particular day Jay taught me cribbage, and a few other card games.  He won every time.  Of course I was calm and good-natured about all it because otherwise he wouldn’t take me seriously.

But then he suggested we play shuffleboard.  It had been a long time since I’d played so after refreshing me on the rules he offered me the first go.  As I shoved the disk I let go of the stick.  I don’t know what made me do such a stupid thing, but down the alley the stick and disk went without skipping a beat.

When I turned around to look at Jay he was laughing so hard  – it was the sound of music, of sweetness, of tenderness and love.  I’ve never stopped loving to hear that sound from him, even though he’s continued to find me quite humorous over the past 31 years.

 Image  Jay and his youngest brother Roman in front of the Geppi’s Comic Shop, Clearwater, FL (Jay’s first management job)

This month Jay has been slightly different though.  Each morning around 9 AM he stands up from his computer and asks me what I want for breakfast.  Then, after a brief discussion he goes to the kitchen and, I do not exaggerate, he makes me a gourmet breakfast served on the tablecloth with a napkin.

This is the guy who asked me to dinner once, and then took me to the grocery store to buy a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, which we ate out of saucepan after he heated it up.  I went out with him anyway.

He’s always been a very helpful partner (even with the soup episode he shared his spoon), but this month he’s taken to keeping every dish washed as well.  When I come in from chores he loves to announce in a singing sort of way, “Did the dishes…”

I had an inkling he’d be a good partner when I first met him.  At the age of 23 he had no dishes in his kitchen, but he had a washer and dryer.  To me that seemed to say he had his priorities in the right place.  I even bought his philosophy on having one pan and one spoon – no dirty dishes to accumulate. 

Last night, as we sat in the candlelight eating the supper he helped me prepare (I started the food before I did chores and he added his own personal touches so it was on the table the minute I returned) I was filled with a feeling I have had often this month.

We were eating, and talking, and laughing together.  I am not sure why we never run out of things to tell each other, but we don’t.  I don’t remember what Jay was saying.   I looked into that face that was reflecting the candlelight and I felt so nourished by him.

Oh, I know it all sounds so silly, especially after 31 years of sharing his life.  But this month has given us an opportunity to move more smoothly together.  Some of that has been me, but, as usual, most of it is his patience and insightfulness into life.

I was right, all those years ago, to decide to love his laughter, rather than to be wounded by my awkwardness.  If things had been done differently I would have missed this month of giving thanks for nothing.




THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                                  January 26, 2012            7:20 AM

65 F indoors                 37 F outdoors

Rain, rain, rain



Meaningful work…Annie mucking out stalls and Jay, the breakfast chef 2012

January has been a time of reminding me that life cannot feel secure unless those around us are safe as well.  Safety comes in many forms – healthy food, affordable health care, adequate energy for heating, a safe place to live, and meaningful work at a living wage.  I would also add good friends and strong relationships with others.

A huge part of being happy in life is rooted in our personal values and a sense of security.  And values and a sense of security are rooted in feeling free to make decisions.  It seems like we use the excuse that we don’t have time to do anything else, when it really amounts to the fact that we don’t know “how” to make more meaningful decisions about how we use our time.

Turning off the TV or the computer at a regular time and giving the gift of time for reading, playing games, or just sitting around the table talking is a big step towards a higher HAPPINESS FACTOR.  This is such a simple thing to do; yet we hesitate because technology is an easy way to spend our energy.  Creating a quieter environment actually takes less energy, and, as we’ve found this month, gives back energy.

Another idea is to step out into society to volunteer, or just fill in when needed.  It often feels like we have so little control over what happens in our world, but volunteering to help others (and not just at Christmas) is a terrific way to replace consuming habits, and fill up that space with a sense of being worthwhile…an exchange of something besides money for making the community around us safer in every way.

My freedom to choose is so much more then just a bumper sticker.  This month has made it clear to me that I can choose to step away from the world for a period of time so that I can decide what is important to me at a deeper level, or I can learn new skills or even new things about myself.  I am more determined then ever to fight for my right to have this kind of freedom from technology, from consuming, from commercialism or the opinions of others.

This month, as I’ve thought more about what it takes to be content, I can see that a big part of my HAPPINESS FACTOR came from working for the rights of other abused women, and by going to places I’d been told to never go, or that I’d never be welcomed into.  Prisons, halls of great power in far off places, on trains across foreign unfriendly lands, and finally building a house out of trash.

My journey from those experiences, and now from taking time this month to be on vacation from the world, only led me back to the place my grandparents had shown me – a simple life.  At this point there is just no going back to the old me, or the one that my culture demanded.  Even though I know this, I need to be reminded that there are ways to live my life without consuming, without shopping, without wasting things and taking away from the future.  After all I am an American, filled with her ideals and dictates.

Please don’t think I have all of the answers.  I’m trying to find my way, the same as lots of folks.  But I do want to find and hang on to the energy that is at the heart of feeling secure, and free to be a happy human being.  The ultimate foundation for living a life rooted in THE HAPPINESS FACTOR.