Day #2     THANKS FOR NOTHING Month                               Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will touch the arm of every person I speak to face-to-face.  This one act has the power to create a connection between us.”
????????????????????? Mornings during THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH are a challenge during these beginning days of the month.  Each year we forget how much thought goes into the process of having hot water.  And hot water is the first thing needed in the morning, and nearly the last thing required in the evening.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

The wood stove in the living room is the only active source of heat for our home, an “Earthship” designed by the architect Michael Reynolds.  The home is constructed with rammed-earth tires, cans, bottles and lots of other re-purposed items.  Because the basic premise of the home is to use the concept of thermal mass for heating and cooling, the house naturally never falls below 55 degrees F, even with no heat source.

The only sources of hot water include a large old-fashioned enamel water kettle, and a small modern metal tea pot which are heated on of the top of the wood stove.  This hot water is used for washing dishes, filling up the solar shower bag that’s used for an evening shower, and, most importantly, for hot tea and coffee.  It takes a bit of planning to not run out of hot water, and that’s where our month of no electricity and money gets off to a rocky start.

For example:  Unless someone gets up in the night to put wood into the stove, in the morning the water in the tea kettles is only lukewarm.  The room is still plenty warm, and the stove is still hot, but the tea kettles loose their heat rather quickly.  Since Jay loves his morning cup of coffee, and I crave a proper cup of morning tea, this causes us to huddle around the stove, waiting for the smaller tea kettle to begin to “sing” that it’s finally hot enough.

After the first night, I’ve decided that if I wake up, no matter how much I hate to get up, I’m going to refill the wood stove.  Last night I did wake, and I tried telling myself that it didn’t matter, we could wait for our tea.  But then I remembered that there would be people joining us for a consulting visit and we would not have the luxury of hanging out until we’re good and ready to begin the day.


With my head lamp shining brightly, I wandered down the hallway like a coal miner and filled up the stove.  Unlike a coal miner, I had the added hazard of avoiding stepping on any of the cats that sleep wherever they find a bit of warmth.  Then back to bed, to dream of warmer days.

Last year I tried hoarding hot water by filling up insulated water carafes.  It didn’t really work.  Lukewarm water just doesn’t make a great cup of coffee or tea.

I’d love to hear an idea or two about how I might keep the water hot enough over night to have a nice hot cup of tea, and not have to wait around for 30 minutes to get the day in high gear.  I’m considering putting some clay bricks on top of the stove (slight thermal mass) and putting the tea kettle on top.  My hope is that the bricks will hold more heat then the top of the stove.

The saga of how to keep the water hot over night continues.  I hope to hear from folks about possible solutions.

Fresh fruit with yogurt

Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese


Day #1 THANKS FOR NOTHING Month           Snowing

Tom & Annie preparing for Yule
Tom & Annie preparing for Yule

“Thoughtfulness takes practice.  Just for today I will be thoughtful in my approach to those around me.”

This past year we have tried to make it a time of spiritual renewal, and my hope for the new year definitely includes more opportunities for growing spiritual connections and restful fun.

The beginning of a new year should allow time to rest and review the year.  For us at Blue Rock Station, it is also the beginning of THANKS FOR NOTHING month.  Each year we try to challenge ourselves with an entire month where we spend no money, and avoid using energy.  This is our third year of this practice – and we find ourselves looking forward to the pause, rather than feeling challenged by it.

Each year we try to push just a bit harder, so rather than creating a menu for the month (and going shopping that last week of December), we decided to use what was already on hand – and clean the freezer instead of shopping.  Normally the 31-day menu would be in place well-ahead of January 1st, and all the food stored.  This year, however, we’re eating completely out of the freezers and larder.  The only thing we purchased was a stash of cheese for Jay (he hates my goat cheese), and some fresh fruit to go with the bounty of fall apples still in the larder.

Going a month without money requires a bit of advance planning.  For some reason, the animals on the farm don’t share our commitment to the spiritual growth that comes from doing without.  So on Tuesday I decided to pre-pay for some chicken feed at the hardware store in Duncan Falls, just in case I ran out before the end of the month.  The grain storage bins only hold four 50 lb. bags and those chickens are eating like frat boys at an all-you-can eat buffet.  The hay guy, who is also prepaid, will probably need to bring 50 bales before the end of the month – it’s going to be bitter cold so the goats and llamas are going to need extra feed to keep warm.

We should have taken a before photo because it didn't look anything like this before we started cleaning.
We should have taken a before photo because it didn’t look anything like this before we started cleaning.

After chores, our neighbor from a nearby ridge, Tom Winland, came by to visit.  Jay and I were in the midst of cleaning out the freezer and sorting everything according to categories – cheese, milk (saved for when they are dried up while I’m in France), meat, fruit, leftovers and miscellaneous.  Tom sat and watched, drinking a cup of hot tea made from water heated on the wood stove.

I decided I am going to keep a little notebook of what’s in the freezers, so we can cross off or add to the list.  That way I’ll have some idea of what’s available.  I was surprised at how much grated goat cheese we had.  There was also quite a bit of frozen basil pesto.  I kept telling Jay that he could tell the things that I like to eat by how much of it was stashed in the freezer.

We were so inspired by the clean and organized freezer, and possibly by Tom’s story telling, that we decided to clean the frig.  Jay’s hope was that we might throw out some of the many jars that take up quite a bit of space.  I’m not sure what he wanted to put in the place of these jars, as what is there is what we get – at least for the next 30 days.  We only discovered two science experiments – plastic containers filled with mold.  The rest were unlabeled containers of jelly, jam, pesto, and fruit syrups for waffles.

After lots of sorting, making lists, and scrubbing the frig shelves, we were pretty pleased with our afternoon of visiting and the clean refrigerator.  Thank goodness the bitter cold is coming or we might have been tempted to move on to bigger and more cluttered items.

Even though there were only two spoonsful of Whit's Frozen Yogurt Jay saved the treat for evening.
Even though there were only two spoonsful of Whit’s Frozen Yogurt Jay saved the treat for evening.

Instead we spent the rest of the afternoon working with Tom to plan February’s maple syrup project.  Tom wants to tap a few trees to gather sap so his family and ours will have some maple syrup for 2014.  It’s an exchange of our resources for his labor.  We love sweetening desserts with the delicious flavor of maple syrup, and using it as waffle syrup.  Plus it’s fun to have projects that involve people who will show up with good stories, and bring their good mood on a cold day.

The clean refrigerator, and Tom’s visit are a reminder that 2014 is going to be full of spiritual abundance, and loads of restful fun.  Happy New Year to all, and we hope you’ll join us during this month of living simply.

Menu for today:
Breakfast – Jay had cream of wheat and I had gluten-free waffles, real butter and raw honey plus a banana

Late-afternoon meal – pizza with toppings (we each like something different) and fresh green salad.  The crust is pre-baked.  Jay will have pepperoni and cheese and I will have goat cheese, olives and basil.  The dogs will have whatever falls on the floor.

Blue Rock Station Diaries

Jay, the writer

Blue Rock Station Diary                                                                March 1, 2012

62 F indoors                 44 F outdoors

The sun is shining again this morning.  What’s the world coming to – it’s Ohio, after all?  Even though it’s a little chilly in the house, that bright light in the window is going to heat the walls of the living room for an afternoon temperature indoors in the ‘70’s.  It must be April.

Last night when I went up to shut up the chickens the bull frogs were singing in the pond that refuses to hold water for more than five minutes.  They sounded so happy.  I could just picture them forming a little circle (this is what they do) and then calling out to each other. After lots of vocalizing one swims towards the center, then the singing stops for a second of two.  Who knows what it all means because the frog then swims back to his place and the singing resumes.

Yesterday (the leap year day) I finally went over to the east field to start cutting down saplings so I can create a willow field.  It was so warm that I had to strip down to my t-shirt and bib overalls.  The wind was fierce but it was a wonderful afternoon of working physically hard, with the dogs and I enjoying the work.  Today I hope to plant all of the curly willows Bill Johnson gave me.  After that there are more pussy willows to plant, and then the paw paws I ordered will arrive.  I think this year will be a record for planting trees – around 200 or more if I don’t wear out before I finish my task.

There’s a lot to think about in spring.  The buildings always look so ratty and in need of little repairs – that’s on the list of first tasks to complete when it dries up a bit.  First I worry if the goats are pregnant – it’s impossible to know until they start showing.  Then I worry that they are pregnant.

Getting the raised beds weeded is next on the list, and where to plant everything.  Jay didn’t want me to raise turkeys this year so now I am thinking about how to keep pigs down in the woods, and the design for all of the fencing that will be built this spring.  Where we will get all of the time to do these things, plus finish the book?

Part of the reason (this is my excuse anyway) that I feel a bit anxious about the long list of things to do is that I believe we have to get them down now.  MY PREDICTION:  the summer is going to be so darn hot we’ll have to get up at dawn to work, and then rest until dusk.  We’ll be like the factory farmers at night mowing hay with their spotlights in the field, trying to work in the dark to escape the heat.

Please don’t think this is about complaining (except in regards to the prediction of excessive summer heat).  As a dedicated goal setter, there could be nothing more encouraging then to create a long list of activities month-by-month.

But at the end of the day, when I look around to see who is going to help complete this ever-growing list I have to be realistic that the main assister is sitting across the room from me, writing his little heart out.  He gets religiously gets up at 5 AM every morning to write about all those thoughts that run through his head.  After WHEN THE BIOMAS HITS THE WIND TURBINE is completed (end of March), there will be the revision for the GREEN TECHNOLOGY book.  And then the GIVIING THANKS FOR NOTHING book to be ready by December.  All of this requires either that he writes and I edit, or I write and he edits.

The solution?  It will all come down to whatever makes the most noise to be completed…the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  The loud voices of producing food (there’s only so many months of warmth), visitors, family obligations, friend time, caring for livestock, repairing buildings, teaching, and writing make for a full life.  It will be rewarding to look back over 2012 to see how it all shook down.

Blue Rock Station Diaries February 28, 2012

Blue Rock Station Diary                                                                February 28, 2012

24 F outdoors              66 F indoors


In the night, as I listened to the noises of the house, I was thinking about how much everything in life is about to change.  And those changes are going to be at every single level in our lives.

 ImageFirst day of school 2010:  Jay, Miss America, Annie

The most fundamental change will be that we aren’t parents of a child anymore.  Our Miss America is going off into the world this year.  On most days I am fine with the concept of her growing up, but on some days I wonder how my role as nobody’s mother will play out in my own grown-up life.

New chicks, new baby goats, and more adventures with the critters that live here with us.  Spring is such a rich time for new life.  There will be goats and roosters that get sent away, and new ones with new names that will add richness to the barnyard.  This is the time of year that makes me the most anxious, and the most deliriously content.

Next will be the changes as the season’s rotate.  The spring will bring a new roof, solar generated electricity, and new interns.  No more leaks in the roof – I can predict that for the future – whoopee!  No more electric grid unless we want to partake.  The new faces we’ll see will bring young energy and passion for the life we lead.  While I can’t know what experiences we’ll share, I know that I am quite hopeful that the summer will be a good one.


We’ll make new friends, and make time for the old ones.  Lots of new visitors will arrive for workshops and tours.  Out of those groups there will be one or two that we will connect with, and find opportunities to share time.  Jay’s birthday and Miss America’s high school graduation (she will have completed her freshman year of college and doesn’t plan on attending the graduation ceremony) will be big events with a grand weekend planned of celebrating life and our journey together with old and dear friends.  I’m thinking about a trip to Blannerhassett Island on the ferry, a grand Victorian picnic, and lots of story telling.

A new house – as the year grows older we’ll be talking a lot more (and dreaming) of the new place we hope to build – a “nest” for ourselves so that the Earthship can become more of an office and guest house.  The idea has been growing for a while, along with the new pond, which has now become a plan to fix the old one.  I’m dreaming of a building the size of our current living room and kitchen with a deck that looks out over the tiny pond, and the forest below it.  This will be a place to sleep, to read, to sip tea, and to contemplate.

There are more books to be written before the year is over.  We’re under contract to re-vamp the green technology book, and WHEN THE BIOMASS HITS THE WIND TURBINE will be out in print soon.  Before December we’ll have the GIVING THANKS FOR NOTHING book written and hot off of the press in time for another January of using no resources.  We hope that lots of folks will sign up to join us in some form or fashion.

Then there is the new routine we’ll begin to establish to visit Miss America wherever she plants herself.  Our four-day getaway in August is still hanging in the balance until we know more about her summer location. 

A new president – given the choices, I hope there isn’t a different president.  This one just needs to be able to point more powerful folks in a better direction with a new plan, and a new message.

 ImageThe new raised beds just waiting for the April workshop.

As spring unfolds it is clear that the Happiness Factor is high at Blue Rock Station, and the workload is heavy.  I don’t plan to get ahead of myself though by pushing this day away.  It’s just good to look into the future and see that there is hope and opportunity.

Hope for the future… February 15, 2012


As I prepare for my appearance at a statewide conference I have taken myself down memory lane by gathering in all of the photos from our time with interns at Blue Rock Station.  Looking at those photos is like an emotional roller coaster – lots of ups, lots of leveling out and only an occasional dip down.  They are an inspiring lot.


With the middle of February glaring back at me I have begun to receive quite a few intern requests.  Most of them are from women, which is not unusual.  All of them are from young folks looking for a chance to learn in a way they have failed to experience in a formal education system.

Our way of teaching is to assume that the learning comes from both sides so we have skill-building afternoons where interns teach all of us things that they know.  We also have cooking class once a week.

We use the Happiness Factor Model that I developed as the structure for our time with interns.  They arrive with high expectations – ours are equally high and remain that way so that we are always reaching forward to find what we need.  

The goal is to create a sense of security so they will push themselves to learn new things.  We want them to feel safe to make mistakes and to be creative.  There is a sense of community and family because we cook and eat together, plus share the workload on projects.  Everything is up front with lots of talking through ideas, creating time lines, and evaluating progress – both physically and psychologically.  All of this creates friendships – often lasting beyond their experience here, and a sense of wholeness and health.  No wonder it is a challenge for all of us when it is time for them to go back out into the world.

And what do we get in return…inspiration from their ideas, their energy, their questioning, their knowledge, their nurturing…and so much more.  Truly I believe we would not still have the energy to do what we do without the interns that have walked through the gate to give us a small part of their lives.

Here’s the story in photos:

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageEach of these amazing folks in the photos, and many more have left their mark on us and Blue Rock Station.  If you know someone who would like an opportunity to experience sustainable living with us please pass this along, and don’t forget to press the “like” button.

Are we what we eat? February 6, 2012

February 6, 2012                      22 F outdoors           61 F indoors


Saturday was our first day to be together after the THANKS FOR NOTHING month so we talked about having an excursion of sorts – going to McConnelsville OH to the Blue Bell Restaurant for breakfast.  Jay tried selling me on the idea by pointing out that they had oatmeal, plus I wanted to do some shopping at the hardware store downtown.

Image Jay and Cat at the Blue Bell, across from the Opera House (built in 1892)

McConnelsville ( is situated in what they’re now calling “The Front Porch of the Great Outdoors”.  It is a marvelous place to visit – still a working town with shops, an opera house (showing films on weekends and live music the third Saturday of the month), and four terrific museums, plus a downtown hardware that seems to carry everything.  Jo-Ad’s Market is a first rate market with bulk foods, homemade goodies, a cafe for lunch, and a place to sit to watch the traffic.

The Blue Bell has been around since the 1950’s – maybe even before that.  The walls are covered in rock ‘n roll memorabilia.  There’s a daily special, ice cream, and country fried steak on the menu.  If you eat there, you’ll absorb enough grease, just from the ambiance, to last you a lifetime.  Jay and Cat love the place.

As Jay and Cat placed their orders of well-done steak with eggs (for Cat) and country fried steak with eggs (Jay) and everything smothered in gravy I honestly felt I might gag.  I kept conjuring up how that would taste and it didn’t seem likely that I’d enjoy even one bite of it.  I ordered oatmeal with raisins and peanuts (from the ice cream sundae bar).  I would have much rather just watched them eat – well maybe not.

ImageJay’ breakfast

Image  Cat’s breakfast


When the food arrived they were salivating at the thought of how it would taste.  I was just the opposite – trying not to look too closely at the plates.  When I took a photo of their food and said I was going to write about the restaurant, Cat insisted I take a picture of my food too.

After a “leisurely” meal we walked down the street to the hardware store to buy some hooks and a strap for the goat field gate.  Jay traveled on to the bank.  When we finished our shopping Cat and I started walking across the street to Jo-Ad’s when we saw Jay coming towards us.  He thought we were meeting him at the bank so he started walking up and down the street looking for us – life in a small town.

At Jo-Ad’s we ran into people we knew who had seen Jay walking up and down the street so they waited to speak to us.  We also had a nice conversation about the Chesterhill Produce Auction with Rubin Yoder, the owner of Jo-Ad’s.  We’re in Mennonite country in this part of Morgan County so there are lots of Yoders and Millers. 

As we drove around the Civil War soldier at the roundabout we were sure to notice what film was playing at the Opera House.  Cat had been given two free tickets to the movie TIN TIN when we were checking out at the hardware store.  Life on the farm – it’s grand.