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



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.





THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 24, 2012            7:45 AM

34 F outdoors              59 F indoors



NOAA weather radio and touch tone phone – TFN month news


This month has been a vacation from the modern world.  Jay corrected me when I said that the other day – he is still thinking it is “a month without spending money.”  That’s how he sees it, but I’ve whizzed past him to the bigger picture.

For the past few years I have de-toxed from daily newspapers.  I used to be such a news junky when we lived in Europe (THEY have great newspapers).  As news reporting has taken on an “everything celebrity” air, including the news gatherers, I’ve sworn off the daily newspaper, and taken up the art of hearing it all second-hand.

The latest headline is bombarded into the brain of anyone reading about it (in the newspaper or online), watching TV or listening to the radio.  The bombarding takes the form of hearing or seeing the same thing over and over and over.  By the time someone shares it with me, I only hear it once.  Plus we now can have a real discussion about the implications of the story.  Wow…what a novel approach to news.

My news process allows me to filter what I want to learn, and who is teaching me the information.  It also allows me to savor the things I do read and watch.  Jay says I am just being smug.  I say that it’s taken me a long time to be able to filter out all of the crap and I’m sticking to it.

How do I get my news? 


My trusty friend, a 1970’s NOAA Radio Shack box that flips on with the touch of a finger pushing down the tab, gives me the weather.  The batteries in that little unit came with it over 12 years ago (I found it in a box of junk I bought at a farm auction).  When I’ve had access to cable TV, the first thing I do is look up the number for the Weather Channel, and then look at Jay to say, “Now that’s what TV was made for.”  He does not agree.


The telephone I’m using this month is old-fashioned according to some of our younger visitors.  I think they called them “Touch Tone” phones.  When Mike Voellmecke, the engineer was here he touched that phone gingerly and, I swear, he said, “So that’s what they look like.”

There’s no caller ID, and it only extends as far as the cord will reach, but it requires no electricity, except what comes over the phone line.  Jay hates this phone, and sometimes switches the phone cord over to the cordless in the daytime announcing that it won’t reach to his desk and he’s working. 


Of course I read email and posts on Facebook.  That’s part of my job at Blue Rock Station during the day. 

Once a week the FARM AND DAIRY JOURNAL, my conservative connection to rural America, and THE GUARDIAN, a refreshingly informative publication (in other words liberal) arrive in the US mail.  I do confess that this month has made it difficult to have the stomach to read the FARM AND DAIRY JOURNAL but I will look at the stack after January 31st.  Even THE GUARDIAN has seemed a little stale and I have just glanced through the pages to see if there is anything of interest.  The serious reading will wait – it feels like I have ADHD for the news at the moment.


I never watch television, even when I’m not living without electricity.  When Barack Obama was on TV to accept the historic nomination for President I went over to Brenda South’s house to watch him.  That was the first time I’d seen what he really looked like.  It was a treat to watch history being made. 

For this month though, I have not even listened to the radio. 

As the month has worn on I realize that I just don’t care about the news, for the most part.  I discovered this quite by accident (not really, but it sounds good) when Jay, who hears the car radio on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons when he’s driving to Newark to teach his class, came home to report that Newt Gingrich’s second wife held a news conference.  Before he could even finish this juicy tidbit I asked him, “Why would I care about the former Ms. Gingrich’s opinions?”  Jay answered in rare form, “Because it’s good gossip.”  He looked wounded that I just didn’t care.  I couldn’t believe HE was using the words “good” and “gossip” in the same sentence.

I do confess that for the past few years I’ve taken the tact that if someone wants to tell me about a TV show or a film they’ve seen, I will listen.  The reason I like this strategy is that my life does not get wasted by spending hours watching some program or film that is uses up my life.  Once I hear the summary – two or three minutes versus hours and hours of watching – I can decide if I want to see it for myself.  Usually I don’t feel motivated to spend the time.

You might be thinking that I miss out on a lot of really important information.  I do admit that I was shocked on Sunday to learn at the Chinese New Year luncheon that Al Gore and Tipper were divorced.  I had no idea.  But generally I am well informed because visitors and friends are more then happy to share their latest video or film views, plus tell me the headlines.  Again, I spend far less time involved in getting the updates, then if I viewed or read any of it.

At the end of the month I’ll go back to using the wireless phone, although I like the Touch Tone phone’s ring.  But little else will change for me as far as newsgathering.  I’m more determined then ever not to be bombarded with what to buy or what to think.


THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 23, 2012

65 F indoors                 48 F outdoors

Rain, rain, rain


Catlyn has introduced the idea that she won’t go to college – WHAM!


“Stuff”- the nightmare.  Having enough vs. having more then enough…this is a theme in my life, maybe everybody’s life.  Possibly it is the human quandary.  To me, it seems even poor people in this country tend to have too much of it. 

When I used to travel a lot for my work I would have a nightmare a few days before I was supposed to travel back home.  In the nightmare I dreamt that I couldn’t fit everything into my luggage. 

From the time I was in junior high school until I switched to the lack of luggage space nightmare, I dreamt that I could not get everything from my school locker home at the end of the school year.

When I was younger, and just started swapping things for my birthday, my friends announced that there was a “12 Step” program for my clothing addiction.  They completely ignored the fact that I was moving, and that they took home garbage bags of clothing, hats, and other cool stuff to put into their closets. 


Annie’s cleats for standing up in the ice – no more falling down on a regular basis. YEA – they really work.

JAY ADDS TO MY ANXIETY:  When I returned from France in November, Jay had emptied out the laundry room to begin earth plastering the walls.  Many of the things in the laundry room ended up in our catch-all bedroom.  Jay has a habit of re-organizing my work areas and only putting back what he thinks is necessary.  I might not disagree with his abilities or choices, but I definitely don’t want to share the bedroom with the leftovers from the laundry room.

I used to tell myself that there is a lack of space in this house.  Since I can’t have a bigger space, and really don’t want one, I have slowly accepted the fact, after a lifetime of nightmares over “stuff” that I am going to reform myself.

One of my first acts is to daily gather up a bag of things that can given away.  This weekend is a friend’s birthday swap and in March there is another one.  The best things will be bagged and ready for those swaps, and the rest will be either thrown out or taken to the charity shop.

As any of our interns will attest, the Bunk House storage area is a terrific treasure trove of boxes, bins and miscellaneous stuff.  Ryan Evans was just here and he announced twice that I should “get in there and get rid of some of that stuff”.  My biggest problem is knowing what to part with – treasures from living in four different parts of the world, plus Catlyn’s lifetime accumulation of stuff.

OK, I’m brave, I’m smart, and I am good at organizing.  I can do this.  I have to downsize.  The THANKS FOR NOTHING month has continuously pushed this thought into my brain.  Ignoring my soul’s cry is only asking for more heartache, and possibly new versions of old nightmares.

Once again I’ve confessed that I am not perfect.  The next time you’re coming for a visit, or touring Blue Rock Station, please remember that it’s fine to bring a gift (people often do) but make it something we can all consume together, and I don’t mean illicit drugs



Jay Warmke, Chris Lofromento, Deb LoFromento, Annie Warmke, Chris Luers, Karrissa Hahn enjoying a Chinese New Year feast 2012

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 22, 2012                      7:30 AM

27F outdoors                           65F indoors


If food is the heart of sustainable living, then friendship is the soul…

The table was all dressed up in red for the Chinese New Year luncheon. 

Our small gathering of friends braved the icy road to bring fruit and avocados (for later), a chicken dish, a noodle dish (for a long life), freshly made bread, and lots of good moods.  Jay and I had prepared shrimp spring rolls, and a rice dish.  The teapot was steeping with a Jasmine blooming tea flower.

There were decorations of Yen (Chinese play money), tissues (in Chinese packaging), paper cuts (beautiful little designs delicately cut out by hand), chopsticks (cheaters for Chris Luers, who is a novice at eating this way), and a big red sash in gold letters that ran down the red and gold table covering.  I have no idea what the letters say, but since my friend, Ginger Swank sent it to me last year from China, I’m pretending that it wishes us all a happy and prosperous year to come.


Carolyn joining in as part of the Chinese New Year decorations

The conversation was wild and intelligent.  After about two hours we might have solved many of the world’s problems, but it didn’t matter because we were laughing and agreeing with each other at almost every idea.

After we finished our broth (the official signal of the end of the food) Jay read us our Chinese horoscopes.  Karissa Hahn and I are rabbits.  There is nothing in the definition of a “rabbit” that fits either of us, which only added to the delight of the horoscopes.  When Jay said we are submissive we couldn’t stop laughing and protesting at the same time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Chris Luers and Deb Lofromento think there might be some truth in their horoscopes.  But Chris Lofromento was full of jokes about his reading.  Strangely Jay’s was relatively accurate so we were all sure he wrote his own just to be “smart”.  He vehemently denied any responsibility.

By the end of our time together the dogs were jumping at me to get my Carharts on so the evening chores could commence.  They can tell time, even when they can’t see the clock. 

After everyone left and I was alone with the critters doing my routine at the barn I was thinking about the energy of friendship.  Friends, at least in Jay’s and my life, are people who have taught us things.  They bring hugs, and love, and their opinions to share.  They create souvenirs – memories, and these souvenirs sustain us when they are not around, or in times of trouble or need.

My best friend since my childhood is still connected to my life.  We’ve taken to having a bit of a holiday together annually.  To have time with her goodness is like a drink of fresh cool water.  Our history carries us through things – when I’m at my saddest and have no words, she is at the other end of the phone telling me the truth, or giving me nourishment.  How could I live my life without her – just knowing she is my friend gives me energy.

And at last, there are friends here in this place we love so much.  They are like a cool breeze that floats into the room and leaves nothing untouched.  Their friendship lends courage and goodness to my life.  We hold birthday swaps (one this Saturday), and share food, politics, and life.

Beyond them there are friends around the US that have been in our lives for a long time.  They have been through good times and hard times with us.  They show up in times of trouble or to celebrate life with us, and we miss them every day. 

And beyond them are our friends in far off places.  We stay in touch, and sometimes we even get to work on projects together, or actually see each other face-to-face.

A while ago I read that people who have long-term friendships live happier, longer lives.  If that is true, then my wish to live to be at least, I repeat, at least, 94 years old will come true. 

In spite of being opinionated, loud, passionate, and not normally knowing my place in this world (not like a rabbit at all), I’ve managed to achieve one of the big goals of my life – friends.  For sure I am going to live a long healthy life even though I did not eat any of those delicious-looking Chinese noodles.




Cinnamon Raisin Toast

Scrambled Eggs



Potato Cakes




Shrimp and Rice leftovers

It was love at…

Image It was love at first sight over 30 years ago  Photo by Keith Bowers


THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                                  January 21, 2012            7:00 AM

65 F indoors (burr)   21 F outdoors

Ice, ice, ice



Yesterday the ZANESVILLE TIMES RECORDER sent out a reporter, Holly Richards, and a photographer, Trevor Jones to talk about our THANKS FOR NOTHING month.  Their visit was a time of re-hashing what I’ve been mulling around in my head these past few days.

I keep getting asked what this month really means to me, and how much money has been saved?  Right now I’m working through, as much as possible with one third of the month to go, what I think.  As for saving money, that’s never been my focus.

At this point I have finally accepted that I have not found any type of reward in making money – in fact I have said from the beginning of my adult years that I do what I do because it is valuable to me, and I would do these things if there was no money for me. 

In fact some of my work has been unpaid because I did not want to be manipulated by people with money – I wanted the freedom to make the right decisions without finances being held over my head.  Fortunately I had the luxury of Jay being my benefactor during those times so that I had the freedom to do what was needed.  Not having debt gave us that autonomy.

But today I realize that all of the things I’ve cared about – social justice, relationship-building, creating community, re-using things, raising/rescuing animals, raising/rescuing children, saving things for tomorrow’s re-use and so much more – are what has made my life such a challenge, and such a joy. 

Nans Thomassey (my French counter part in this month’s experiment) is right when he says that the focus on cash and money makes a barrier between people.  I am grateful to him for saying it again and again until I could make that concept make sense to me.

ImageNans Thomassey (holding the mug) & Guillaume CHARROIN making crepes at Blue Rock Station

When Jay and I met with the reporter I wanted to be able to talk about all of the things I’ve been thinking about, but in a way that she could “hear” me.  I told Jay that I don’t want to sound like I’m fucking crazy.  He said, “Well, then don’t talk.” 

After some thought I decided that I would talk about taking a vacation from spending any kind of energy related to money or electricity or petrol.  Most folks take a vacation from their work.  I don’t need a vacation – I love my life.  But my soul has always needed vacations from the world of finance, and this month has been just such a vacation.

During this month’s financial vacation I realize that whatever I do from this point on has to be more rooted in trading things, inviting people to share, and pushing myself to learn more about how to have a simpler life.  The models of simplicity I need do not surround me in this culture.  I’ve also decided that I want to take a trip to work on a project somewhere – some place where people struggle with the daily issues of having enough water and food. 

Most of the important lessons I’ve learned in my adulthood have been from making myself really uncomfortable –spending time organizing women in prison, hanging out with Muslim women, writing tracts for prostitutes, living with immigrant women, and visiting people who live in poverty in other countries (where I did not speak the language).  Every one of those experiences re-wrote something inside of me.

What is the next step?  I’m not really sure yet, but for now I’m thinking of today’s gathering of friends.  Each of them has had a part in some way in our THANKS FOR NOTHING month.  They’ve lent support, brought food, offered levity.  I’m going to savor our moments together as we celebrate the Chinese New Year.



A variety of Chinese food surrounded by decorations that were sent to us by our wonderful friend Ginger Swank when she taught in China



THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 14, 2012            7:00 AM

60.9 F indoors              17.9 F outdoors



When I saw the goats shaking like little children who have just climbed out of the swimming pool I realized I had better rummage through my closet for some warm ski vests or they were going to be in trouble.  This is the first year I’ve had 11 goats so I did my Coco Channel imitation and now all of the goats finally have their own ski vests.  

Tina Fey, the smallest spring goat (73 lbs.) has on a very nice tan knitted vest with a ski vest over top of it.  Trisha, Tina Fey’s sister (78 lbs.) is wearing one of my favorite blue vests.  They all look adorable, and snug as a bug in a rug.

As each goat came out of the milk room with her vest snuggly in place, the other goats were waiting in a line to sniff and admire her new “look”.  I wonder if they are critiquing my choice or just trying to figure out if there was a male involved in the process.

When I called Kati to cancel my lunch date because I really needed to be here to check on the critters throughout the bitterly cold day, she couldn’t stop laughing when I mentioned the need for the ski vests.  I’ve had that reaction before when I’ve talked about using vests to keep goats warm.  On the other hand I’ve never heard anyone laugh about seeing a horse wearing a horse coat.


Last night it was bitter cold again, and the wind was blowing hard.  Isabella, the hen that decided it was not too late to set on eggs in October, refused to go out to the dog kennel in the chicken run.  She’s been living in there at night since the chicks were tiny, but this night she announced in a rather loud manner that she and her eight chicks would be staying inside of the barn.  I’ve learned to listen to animals when they feel so strongly about something but I was none too happy about having to dismantle the cage and put it inside of the barn.

Just as I was trying to take the cage apart – in the bitter wind – Nate pulled up to the gate to feed and water the baby bull, Ernest.  Their yellow lab, Lilly, followed him and was eager to get inside of the gate.  Cadeau caused a big fuss, growling and jumping at her.  She does not listen to anybody so she was pushing and jumping and enjoying the fuss she was creating.

After Nate left, I was still struggling to get the cage apart when I looked up to see Lilly waiting at the gate.  She was very keenly interested in the two small male goats that are housed next to the entrance.  I’m concerned that Lilly is far too intrigued with in any of the animal’s movements, which means she has the potential to kill them.

Between Lilly pacing around, the bitter cold, and the cage not cooperating I was really frustrated.  At one point I threw part of the cage over the fence because I was afraid if I opened the gate the dog would race right in to the young goats.  It was getting dark so I was working against time.

Eventually Lilly left – there was no getting her to leave earlier because she doesn’t obey any commands.  Miss America showed up to save the day by helping to put the cage back together inside of the barn, and all was well except I was in a bad mood extraordinaire by this time, and that’s how I wasted my evening.  Enough said!

As I got into bed I was miserable.  It’s colder in our bedroom with this bitter weather and my new strategy for the winter was to use a little copper heater to bump the temperature from 55F way up to 60F.  Since it’s THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH and the heater runs on electricity I have sworn off of using it until February.  Jay, the other really best heater, is off to the Green Energy Ohio board meeting.  A bad mood, being cold, and thinking about how much work I have to do over the next few days did not contribute to feeling any better this morning.  As I was falling asleep I made myself a promise – no bad mood today.  I am hopeful.




Warmed up waffles

Blue berry syrup



Cheese noodles

Stir-fried vegetables