Progressing to Purpose

Life needs to have a little oomph in it. Life filled with meaning and love and peace of mind. My life this past week seems to encapsulate a life pretty close to these broad, catchall words. Blue Rock Station has created such a beautiful and harmonious lifestyle 20180626_1308413that just leaves me pretty damn happy at the end of the day. Starting with how time is used in a productive, intentional way around here. I’ve never had a dull moment; the quieter moments are sometimes even more radiant than the adrenaline kicks.   Picking for the perfect elderflower blossoms, I get lost in the rhythmic cycle, only returning to reality when the occasional goat jumps and rattles the fence (they must conduct a thorough investigation).  My hands seem to be fulfilling a purpose, stimulating the side of me that gets neglected much too often. Mud oozes through my fingers as I’m mixing and maneuvering cob and recycled materials for the barn wall. The blood rushes to my head as I am hanging vertically upside-down in a wall cavity, getting a crash course in plumbing. Pounding tires, planting gardens, repairing fences, cutting slate, sawing wood, and uh chasing a peacock are just a few of my most recent endeavors. Even something that might be labeled a chore flows naturally and brings rewards. Scrubbing the vibrantly red algae from a water trough, the gradual restoration of the silver walls brings forth a meditative pleasure to an afternoon task. This rewarding lifestyle is surrounded by a community of inspired and intentional people. Sharing meals, exchanging stories, collaborating on projects, the people at Blue Rock Station radiate 20180621_1209362authenticity, which is lacking in a great portion of society. It’s a way of living that creates a sense of identity and self-worth. Material goods and the lifestyles being encouraged by our modern society do not give us these values. People are becoming less happy and lost
in the muck of advertising and meaning-deprived lives. The signs are showing us that progress maybe isn’t quite what we made it out to be. The push for ever-expanding growth has created a gaping hole in society and in us. Progress needs to be reframed with the intent of creating a more fulfilling, intentional, healthy, and localized society. A society more concerned with fostering 20180627_192327harmonious connections between all of nature’s intricacies, helping our lives to strive towards being wholesome.   As I’m sitting on my porch gazing out into the forest, my little whip-poor-will buddy is chirping away, the hot tea is settling into my belly, and the day is sinking into my bones, I think I’ve found what real progress can be. Progress with the power to actually leave someone happy at the end of the day.


Crack Technology

Something new has invaded Blue Rock Station.

For years we have welcomed interns into our home/business/life.  The experience has been wonderful for us and we hope a great learning experience for the interns.  We work hard during the day, and typically the evenings are filled with conversation, music and staring out over the hills and letting the mind rest.  Often the interns sit outside and write letters to friends and relatives.  Actual pen and paper letters.

But in the past few years this idyllic scene has changed a bit.  The interns have brought with them a mental parasite;  a rectangle that consumes their attention, their conversation, their ability to think clearly.  The rectangle has gobbled up resources, time and joy.

As I write this, I am listening to NPR.  They are telling a story of how high school kids have been asked to give up their phones for a day.  Twenty-four entire hours without the rectangle.  You would have thought their entire family had been killed in a plane crash or they were being asked to walk a dozen miles barefoot across broken glass.

We have tried to limit interns access to the phone here at Blue Rock Station.  But like addicts everywhere, they need their fix and when unwatched, are shooting up with Facebook and Instagram.  We turn off the broadband receiver – and suddenly there are errands that must be run at places with free wi-fi.

I am not sure what solution lies undiscovered.  I just know this addiction to crack technology is damaging and widespread.  I see students on college campuses walking in groups – but they are not together.  They are each focused on their rectangle as they walk in front of cars – oblivious the the world around them and their “friends” in the “real” world.

Why wait for the zombie apocalypse?  It is already here.

Eleonore Buried Along With Her Name

News from Blue Rock Station:

The snow is piled high against the house and it seems hard to believe that in just a few days it will be March.  The worst of winter will surely be over.   We shouldn’t complain, however, as there’s been an abundance of sunshine this winter season.  The sunshine does make extra work for us, since we feel duty bound to keep the solar array clear of snow.

And if the end of February approaching isn’t exciting enough, there’s the release of Jay’s new book ASSEMBLING A SOLAR GENERATOR.  That might not sound like best seller material (true, Steven King is probably not too worried), but we are pretty thrilled with the idea that one small book has the power to help lots of folks create a solar collector in a box they can haul around their house when the electricity is out.  Or when they need power outdoors, or they just want to challenge themselves to use less… all that and odorless, quiet and dependable. Check it out at our website,

A reporter from the FARM AND DAIRY JOURNAL braved the snow and joined us for an afternoon a few days ago.    Apparently they had held an editorial meeting and created a list of the most influential women in Ohio agricultural and I ended up on the short list.  For the life of me I can’t imagine how that happened since I can think of at least a half a dozen women who should have knocked me down a peg or two on their list.  Now I’m anxious to see what they write, since I’m sure I’m their new poster child for “liberal” women farm producers.

All of the discussion of women in agriculture got me to thinking that what we really need to do is to bring women farm producers together to see what we look like.   There are more then 3,600 women farm producers in Ohio and yet we are apparently quite invisible.   Shawn Fiegelist (City Folk’s Farm Shop) listened to my rant on this subject and now we’re going to put together a little summer farm tour to showcase women’s hard work in farming and homesteading. Perhaps something good is coming out of that afternoon with the FARM & DAIRY reporter after all.

Upcoming Workshops from Blue Rock Station:

The complete schedule for 2015 is, as always, posted at  To register for the courses at City Folks Farm Shop, visit their site at


  • February 28th-March 1st (and the next two weekends): Solar Installation Certification Class (Columbus OH) co-sponsored by Simply Living and City Folks Farm Shop. This is the same 5-day solar certification course, but broken into 3 weekend sessions for those who can’t take an entire week off. (SOLD OUT)


  • March 7thCheese Making – Columbus at City Folks Farm Shop (just a couple of slots left)
  • March 7th & 8th: (Columbus OH) Second Weekend Solar Installation certification class co-sponsored by Simply Living and City Folks Farm Shop
    (SOLD OUT)
  • March 14thGoat College: Goats Hands-on Experience – Columbus at City Folks Farm Shop (sold out last month and only a couple of slots left)
  • March 14th &15th: Third (final) weekend Solar Installation certification class co-sponsored by Simply Living and City Folks Farm Shop
    (SOLD OUT)
  • March 17thRecycling in the Garden – Columbus at City Folks Farm Shop
  • March 28th: Earthship and Sustainable Farm Tour (Spring Equinox)
  • March 29thGoat College at Blue Rock Station – a full day of goat school, lunch and a little cheese making

The Critters:

There’s a heaven for goats and Eleonore Rigby is eating everything in sight.  And no doubt she has pushed the pearly gates open to check out the grass on the other side.

On Saturday I left the OEFFA conference early because I felt like I just had to get home.  When we arrived, Eleonore was waiting by the barn wall beckoning me to hurry to do chores.  I led her into the barn with her feed, and she fell to her knees.  As she ate, I managed to get a heavy vest on her to help her stay warm.  But when I cam back with some water, it was clear she had decided she was ready to leave Blue Rock Station Green Living Center.

I settled her on the hay and covered her with more vests and got some water into her.  She closed her eyes and rested.  For a while I laid down with her as the bitter wind blew outside of the stall, and I kissed her nose each time she opened her eyes to look at me.  Her children and grandchildren came to say goodbye and give me courage with their nudges, and then she left me.

At the beginning of the winter I told her that if she was going to die this year, could she please do it by going to sleep and not waking up, rather than by getting sick (she was 13 years old , which is ancient for a goat).  I am glad she honored my request.  I am also grateful for all of the years she taught me about goats.

Just last week she snuck into the milk room to see me, nudging me, then licking her lips to tell me in her own regal way that she wanted to eat.  I kissed her on the nose that day and thanked her for teaching me so many things in this life.  Just a reminder, which goats are good at, that it’s never good to miss an opportunity to be grateful, no matter what the situation.  She may be gone, but she is  still with me …she will always be with me.  True friends are forever.

Words that Guided:

Just for today, I will remember to be grateful for the smallest moments…thank you Eleonore Rigby for reminding me .

Kindest Regards, Annie

Wants versus Needs

When we started this project four years ago, we envisioned our Thanks for Nothing Month as a period of reflection – a time to think about each and every item we are consuming.  And, of course, it does work.  Sort of like walking up a steep hill, all the time reminding yourself how good the exercise is for you.

For some reason the experience keeps reminding me of that old routine by George Carlin when he talks about “stuff.”  You go on a trip and only take some of your stuff.  Then you go on a day trip and take even less stuff – only the stuff you really, really need, and so on.

Conscious consumption has brought on thoughts of things I need, rather than things I have or want.  What are the things I am very aware of consuming when I limit consumption.  Here is a brief list...
  1. Firewood.  Seems that in the middle of January, when the outside temperatures hit minus 5 degrees, I seem to need some heat.  This is an actual honest to goodness need.  Not a “want” pretending to be a need.  
  2. Water.  We don't need a bunch of this – but the goats and llamas and dogs and cats seem to get very irritated if we don't keep fetching and carrying water to them.  They just can't seem to get in the spirit of Thanks for Nothing Month (especially the cats).
  3. Blankets.  I feel like this is a borderline item, but there is nothing quite so nourishing as to get below a pile of blankets on a warm, soft bed as the world freezes solid outside.
I think everything else really falls into the “want” category, although if I didn't have them, I would probably be able to summon enough rationalizations to push them up a notch to “need.”  I speak of course of...
  1. Food.  I could probably stand to go a fair time without it, but wouldn't want to.  This month, however, I find that we are eating less and less.  Perhaps it is because we have worked our way down through all the “goodies” and are well into bags of frozen chicken broth and rice.  Still good and all that, but just fine in moderation.
  2. Light.  I could be flip and simply say that when the sun goes down, just climb under the blankets.  But a bit of light in the evening is cheerful.  But it is amazing how little light you actually need.  We have been discussing personal light rather than abundant light. No need to light the whole room (or house) when you can simply light the place you are looking at.  
  3. Coffee.  I thought about putting this under the “need” list.  It seems to motivate me more than heat to get up in the middle of the night and fill the wood stove (so that hot water is waiting for me when I climb out from under the blankets).
  4. Clean hair.  I always figured that if I was captured by terrorists (or the CIA), all they would need to do is not let me wash my hair and then touch it.  I would chatter away like Joe Biden.  
So that's about it when it is pared down to the basics.  So why do I have all this other stuff around the house?  Under which list does the Chia Pet go?

Blowing up Inverters – Sort of

I now know what I didn't know.  I know what I know.  I don't know what I don't know I don't know.  And I don't care that I don't know what I didn't know but now I know but could get by just fine not knowing.
750-watt inverter working happily after the connection was fixed.  Now on lighter "office duty."
750-watt inverter working happily after the connection was fixed. Now on lighter “office duty.”
The learning curve continues.  

Perhaps I'll have that carved on my headstone.  Seems rather profound without being actually profound (a bit like Donald Rumsfeld).  But I digress.

I have managed to blow up one of the inverters on one of my solar generators.  Not blow up as in it lies in pieces at my feet – but blow up as now when I push the button, nothing happens.  I know why this happened, which is helpful.  My mistake was believing the literature.  The inverter was plenty big enough to handle the job, except that it wasn't.

The information on the internet was wrong (imagine that).  The manufacturer was apparently mistaken – asserting that limited power could handle the problem (why does this all keep reminding me of Donald Rumsfeld?)  

I have fixed the problem by installing an inverter that is rated to handle ten times the power requirements of the refrigerator.  Colin Powell would be proud.

Postscript:  Turns out I didn't know what I knew.  I went to replace the bad inverter – but it turned out to be a bad connection.  The smaller inverter still won't power the refrigerator, but at least it didn't meet its maker... yet.  

Tweaking the Solar Generators

The first full day of Thanks for Nothing has come and gone – and we have once again survived without some of the conveniences of a modern society.  Amazing. 
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
My role on the first day was largely technical.  As mentioned, we are trying out our solar generators – trying to test them and push them to their limits.  Well, right off the bat we found some limits.

We built three units.  The small unit, complete with a 400 watt inverter, a 35 amp-hour battery and all the other bits and bobs that make it work seems to be doing its assigned job just fine. In fact, I am connected to it as I write this.  For more than a day it has managed to supply power to my laptop, printer, cordless telephone and lamp (see, a complete office if your office consists only of a laptop, printer, telephone and lamp).  

We used the laptop all day – plus watched two movies on it during the evening (actually documentaries – so we are still pure and righteous).  We have also been listening to the radio over the internet on the laptop.   Some day we might actually stream music and join the modern world more completely.  As I type this, the unit just gave out a squawk that it was at the end of its juice.  So 24-hours seems to be the limit on this unit.  That will probably get you through most power outages.

The middle unit is, as you would imagine, a bit bigger.  It has a 750 watt inverter and a 110 amp-hour battery.  We determined to use this for the refrigerator, as our LG fridge only draws about 165 watts when running, I figured this would be more than enough.  But we have learned something about inverters (and motors).  

When the refrigerator kicks on (and this applies to any appliance with a motor), it draws a bit more energy in the first few seconds of operation (a surge).  Our inverter is supposed to handle this, rated to up to 1500 watts for a few seconds, but happier if only providing 750 watts or less on a continuous basis.  

We found that when the refrigerator tried to kick on, the inverter would indicate it was overloaded (even though it was well below its rated limit).  It would do this four or five times, then chug away happy as could be.  I worried that all this might be putting a strain on our refrigerator – so we moved the bigger unit in to take over.

The large unit has a 2,000 watt inverter and a 225 amp-hour battery bank.  The refrigerator is really happy with this unit.  We need to do a bit more testing, but it looks like there needs to be a lot of headroom in inverter capacity when working with motors – much more than the rated watts of the unit might suggest.

So we are off and running, settling into the slower pace of Thanks for Nothing month.  Dinner must be anticipated well in advance and cooked on the wood stove.  It is eaten by candlelight, which is never a bad thing.

The First World Problems of Thanks for Nothing Month

Okay, after my rant against Wall Street, the Media and American politics (in the last post), let's get down to some of the practical aspects of living during Thanks for Nothing month.  Here is the plan...

As mentioned earlier, we don't spend money during this month, which is to say (of course) that we still spend some money.
Solar Generator
Renie monitoring the solar generator. This unit powers the refrigerator/freezer. Note the laundry drying in the background (domestic chores continue).
What I mean by this is that we still have some ongoing expenses that happen whether we want them to or not.  For example, we will still accumulate 1/12th of our real estate taxes this month.  We will still get a phone bill (which is automatically paid from our bank account), and our insurances (ah, that's another topic for another rant) will still get paid automatically. 

So money is still spent – but we don't do any of the spending ourselves.  We don't purchase anything, such as food, household stuff, etc.  This year we extended this part of the experiment to three months (December, January and February).  No new stuff forces us to make due with what we already have.  And to be honest, most of us already have way too much stuff.  We just can't find it because it is tucked away under other stuff.  After a month of no shopping, it seems we have barely made a dent in the freezer.  I've managed to get by with the socks I already owned (go figure).  

As for transportation, if the car runs out of gasoline during the month – we simply don't go anywhere.  So conscious consumption of stuff grinds to a halt and exits our minds.

Energy is a bit more problematic.  Here at Blue Rock Station, our heat is provided through thermal mass (rammed earth tires and earth berming), passive solar (light and heat coming in through windows), and a small wood stove.  Our water is from rain, our waste is all, for the most part, composted.  In past years during Thanks for Nothing month, electricity has always been the issue.  

This year we installed a solar array for electricity.  So we could cheat and simply say (to ourselves) that we are only using what the sun provides each day.  But we want to push ourselves a bit.  We are currently writing a book on making your own solar generators – so we figured this month would be a great time to test their limits.

We have built three solar generators.  One is hooked up to the water pump (so we will have water – although the water heater is turned off, so we will have to rely on the wood stove for hot water).  Another solar generator is hooked up to the refrigerator/freezer.  The other is a mobile unit which we will use for our computers, lights,  phones and the like.

In the evening we intend to rely on lanterns for light (and not the solar generator).   Cooking will rely on the wood stove.  So dems the rules..  

So far, only a couple of problems.  As in past years, I miss my coffee maker already.  That friendly little appliance each morning has a pot of hot coffee waiting for me when I get up.  At 6:30 each morning it goes to work.  About 10 minutes later, one of the miracles of modern living... hot coffee awaits.

Today the little coffee maker sits unplugged and unloved.  The wood stove had to be lit, water placed in pots, and then... wait.  After waiting a full hour, I tried some of the water in a French press filled with several scoops of grounds.  The result, rather tepid coffee (although better than nothing for the true addict).  It wasn't until another hour had passed before the water and coffee properly got their act together.  

The other problem is that I broke the shoelace on one of my work boots.  Unlike Imelda Marcos, I only have one pair of work boots (although to be fair, she probably didn't own any pairs of work boots).   So this could be a problem.  I guess I can tie two smaller shoe laces together...

Ah, first world problems (lukewarm coffee and a broken shoe lace).  I figure I'll survive.