The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #3

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #2: MEANINGFUL WORK

I have excelled at every job I have ever had. I may not have always been the most efficient or skilled worker, but I am almost always one of the favorites. Much of my success is likely due to the fact that I smile constantly. Coincidentally, in most of the photographs from my childhood I am wearing this awkward smirk because I was never quite sure what it felt like to smile. My family would always get after me about it. “Why are you making that face? You have such a nice smile, cut it out!” In which I would further contort my face into a catawampus mess in an attempt to please them. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized smiling was more or less my default face. I am sure it has been a greater asset to me then I will ever know.

People with Asperger's tend to struggle with facial expressions
People with Asperger’s tend to struggle with facial expressions.

What has also been beneficial is the positive attitude I try to bring with me in everything I do. To the best of my ability, I try to match my supervisor’s sense of importance when accomplishing assigned tasks, and I set off to accomplish the tasks enthusiastically when I am asked to. I don’t do this because I want to kiss my boss’ ass; I do it because it genuinely makes my job more enjoyable. Additionally, I make a point to avoid co-workers who emit a negative aura. The complaints, the poor attitude; it is contagious, and I do not want to be miserable while I work. However, I have still never quite been able to be fully satisfied with whatever job I have held. I inevitably reach a point where I wake up each morning, sit on the edge of my bed, stare at my feet, and think, “What the hell am I doing this for?”

You see, a sense of accomplishment is important, but it will only get me halfway there. In my search for meaningful work, I lacked a sense of purpose. My personal values and morals have never been aligned with the values and morals required to do my job. It feels as if I am always forced to put on one mask at home and put on another at work. I am not merely referring to formalities, but the clear disconnection between my ideology and the goal of the companies who employed me. One can lie to themselves for a while, but their own life may eventually begin to haunt them without a connection between their work and their soul (i.e. midlife crisis). I have witnessed this firsthand, as the many male role models in my life have begun to quietly unravel from their experiences in the military.

I have a very serious milk face.
I have a very serious milk face.

At Blue Rock Station, sometimes the connection to my values are obvious. For instance, when I muck out the goat stalls I am not only contributing to the health of an animal that provides me with milk, cheese, and laughter; but I am also creating soil that will be used to grow food in the future. Considering that sustenance is incredibly valuable to human life, it makes standing in shit not seem like such a bad deal. More importantly, though, I want to live in a way that shows a deep appreciation for my environment. I want to minimize the negative impact I have within the scope of my world, and cultivate healthy relationships with the people around me. The people I am currently working for not only support my lifestyle goals, but push me to pursue them. This not only makes the work I do more meaningful, but it kind of makes it not feel like work. Rather, it feels more like, as Annie says, “I am just living my life.”

The life expectancy in this country is nearly 80 years old. At 24, the time I have experienced on this planet will be experienced another two to three times before I die. I do not want to spend it invested into something I hate. I am aware that this will likely make my initial journey into the workforce difficult, but it will be well worth it. Following Jay’s advice: I will find something I enjoy, and when I do not enjoy it anymore, I will find something else to do.

I wake up each morning, sit on the edge of my bed, stare at my feet, and think, “Get your ass up, the babies are starving!"
I wake up each morning, sit on the edge of my bed, stare at my feet, and think, “Get your ass up, the babies are starving!”

The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #2

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #1: STAYING CONNECTED WITH FAMILY

When I was a child, every year I would stay with my grandparents in Texas for the summer break. Some of my fondest memories were from this time; I thought they were the richest people in the world. It wasn’t until much later that I realize how little they had.

My sister and I in Corpus Christi, TX.
My sister and I in Corpus Christi, TX.

Even still, as I thumb through the memories of seven people crammed into a two bedroom apartment, my mind refuses to see poverty. This is largely due to my grandmother’s gift to mask her frugality in a way that kept her children from ever worrying about being poor. The reason why we didn’t use the A/C wasn’t because the utility bill would be too high, it was because the freon gave my grandmother headaches. We didn’t walk miles to the local video store because we couldn’t afford another car payment, she just preferred to walk. The reason why we always had home cooked meals wasn’t because she couldn’t afford to feed us any other way, it was because the white people who owned those restaurants didn’t think she was good enough to eat there when she was a child, so she sure as hell wasn’t going to give them money now.  A lack of money was only an issue back in North Carolina with my parents, but in Texas I wanted for nothing.

As I settle into life at Blue Rock Station, I have begun to recognize that a lot of the things I am getting into a habit of doing here are things that my grandparents already do (e.g. canning food, planning meals, eating together, freezing leftovers, conserving water/electricity, gardening, and composting). I had read quite a bit about sustainability before arriving here, but I somehow missed that connection. For many people my age, our grandparents already know how to live happily with less. However, somewhere during the rise of the consumer culture, my parent’s generation developed a phobia to frugality. Instead, they threw money at all their problems (because it freed up time to work more so they could throw money at other things). In a similar fashion, my generation would go on to accumulate $1.2 trillion in student loan debt in an attempt to learn what our poor, uneducated ancestors already knew. And while I acknowledge that it is unlikely that I would have come to this conclusion without coming here first, I am a little disappointed that I felt more comfortable driving 1000 miles to do an internship than I did asking my family for help.

Fruit Kimchi!
Fruit Kimchi!

Much of my discomfort likely derives from how disconnected I have become from my family, and I know I am not the only one. White culture says that when you become an adult you are supposed to leave home – it doesn’t matter where, but no self-respecting adult should stay home (most likely so you can make room to accumulate more shit you don’t need). Independence is great, but if we’re severing connections prematurely then we are constantly missing opportunities to learn from the people most like us. Instead, we create this distance between our family, only to see them on special occasions. What’s even more unfortunate is that on these special occasions, everyone gets thrown into this chaotic environment where on the inside we are stressed, annoyed, and then relieved when it is all over.

This is something I will work on when I return home. I have felt my ancestors reaching out to me for years; I’ve just been unsure how to reach back. Sustainability would be a great place to start, as it is clear to me now that I have enough of a foundation – given to me by my family – to reproduce what has been reinforced in me while at Blue Rock Station.

The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #1

The importance of introductions and goodbyes have always been a difficult thing for me to process. Much of my early memories of social interaction involve my father apologizing to others for my rudeness when leaving abruptly or failing to say hello. Later, it would be my girlfriends who would be apologizing for me. I am still not completely convinced that introductions are necessary; as it all feels incredibly scripted, but I am conscious that others expect it from me.

Chris Guitar

So this is my Intro – my name is Christopher Creech, and I am a sociology major from central Texas with a focus on the consumption habits of North Americans. I am currently an intern at Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living farm located in rural southeast Ohio in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Specifically, the focus of this internship is on correlation between consumption and subjective happiness. I have Asperger’s, and though I have never viewed it as a disorder, it has likely guided much of my frustration with the world. My desire to escape it, through music, first sparked my interest in sustainable living. As an “angsty” teenager, the folk-punk bands from the Midwest mesmerized me with lyrics that rejected the consumer culture and embraced simple living. This blog will be cataloging my journey towards a more sustainable way of life while at Blue Rock Station, in addition to me musing over the various factors that effect human happiness.

When I first arrived at Blue Rock Station I felt mostly apprehensive. I had spent most of my life running away from places; this was the first time I had ever arrived anywhere with a purpose. I would be spending the next 11 weeks learning new skills, interacting with new people, and all sorts of other things I normally tend to avoid because I have an aversion to failure. However, I had gotten to a point in my life where I felt like I was getting everything I had ever wanted, yet I was deeply unsatisfied. I eventually came to the conclusion that my dissatisfaction with life could not be cured by wants, but by the need for something different. This is what led me to Blue Rock Station.

Chris & Mel
My first day mostly consisted of me being acclimated to the farm. I drank tea with Jay while we discussed what skills I currently had, what skills I wanted to learn, and what goals I have for the internship (i.e. none, all of them, and the confidence to change the world). He then expressed his disdain with Texan’s infatuation with the shape of their state, only to proudly announce that Ohio was in the shape of a heart several minutes later (highlighting how individual differences tend to be slim). Afterwards, Melanie, the other intern, explained to me the assorted functions of all the buildings on the farm. I then followed her through the garden trying my best to not be annoying. She was incredibly kind, though, and helped me plant black radishes in one of the garden beds. I was intensely proud of myself, though I was too self conscious to show it.

As it got further into the evening Annie, Jay, Melanie, and I all convened at the Overlook to discuss the events of the day. I mostly just observed, but I appreciated everyone’s genuine interest in each other. They listened intently as each person told their version of the day. I recognize that this shouldn’t seem novel, but within our fast moving culture I have become accustomed to the scripted calls and responses that plague our daily conversations. It was refreshing. After night came I went to bed earlier than I had in years, likely because I hadn’t spent my day saturated in electronic interference. Laying in bed, I thought to myself, “I can do this,” feeling more confident than I had since I was a child.

Peace Grows
P.S. If you have questions or comments I would love to hear from you.

Day #2 THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH

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.

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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.

Menu
Breakfast:
Fresh fruit with yogurt

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

The pizza crew:…

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The pizza crew:  Rachael Miller, Miss America, Jay Warmke, Ryan Evans, Mike Voellmecke, Annie Warmke – photographer extraordinaire, Keith Bowers

 

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 16, 2012                      7:00 AM

 

62 F  indoors                            18 F indoors

A bit warmer but the wind is fierce, making it quite cold still

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  8 out of 10

 

 Thank heavens Ryan and Rachael were here visiting or there might have been a major killing spree.  The dog from down the road, an adorable golden retriever named Lilly, was waiting at the gate for us when we went to do chores this morning.  The minute she saw us she jumped through the gate opening and tore off after a big yellow chicken.  Rosie was with us, and she tore into Lilly, with backup from Cadeau and Sophie, of course.

This was how we culminated three days of cooking, working, and enjoying our time together.  Mike Voellmecke, engineer extraordinarre, and a former intern arrived on Friday evening to begin the completion of his book on building a rocket stove.  In 2010 he spent eight weeks with us living sustainably, and building an amazing machine out of re-used materials.  We worked on the booklet (he’s written quite a bit of it already) all day Saturday in between cooking food and talking our fool heads off about anything and everything. 

Ryan Evans arrived late on Saturday with two friends, Rachael Miller and Keith Bowers.  By candlelight I heated some broth and dug some bits and bobs (cashews, leftover rice noodles, and cheese) out of the frig to throw into the soup.  The feast included bread and butter, and a coffee cake dessert covered in pear syrup.  It all came together in what seemed minutes – the woodstove can be a tool for fast food after all.

On Sunday morning everyone helped with chores – and they met Lilly, since we’re on her regular rounds now.  Fortunately Nate showed up and took her back home. 

Jay made waffles for breakfast, and we sat around changing the world one conversation at a time.  After the day’s agenda was discussed – bring in firewood, chopping wood for the rocket stove, getting the fire going, taking photos of the firing process, washing dishes, preparing pizza dough, cooking pizza sauce, cutting up veggies and preparing supper, everyone jumped in to do their part.

By the time the sun came out in the early afternoon everyone was ready for a walk in the woods.  Off they went with the dogs to discover more about the Great Beech Woods – the place we take the llamas when there are treks during the warm months of the year.

By late afternoon they had returned, and  Keith was in charge of the dough making.  While he’s a fantastic photo-journalist, he is also a very serious maker of dough.  Rachael cooked the veggies in the antique cast iron skillet that I re-discovered down in the bunkhouse.  That’s the first time we’ve used the cooking surface of the woodstove like it was a quick cooking surface, and it worked fine.

After a round of photo taking, we sat down to a candlelit table weighed down with individual pizzas, kumbucha (a gift from Ryan’s personal stash), and conversation.  Afterward we played the card board game Tripoly, and I am pleased to report that I was the big winner.  My only regret is that we didn’t take a photo of my winning stash of poker chips.  Since I don’t normally win I would have liked to have a photo to prove the outcome.

As we were playing the game I was drinking in how it felt to sit in a room with such amazing young people.  I try never to miss such an opportunity.

Miss America was to my left, and full of instructions and advice (aimed primarily at me).  Apparently I have grown quite a bit younger and need some assistance now that I am having a challenge with my hearing.  She really enjoyed herself during the pizza making and the rest of the evening in spite of her periodic bossing of me.

Mike Voellmecke was also to my left.  He’s a brilliant guy, with a certain grace about him.  He also seems to have great luck at games, mainly because he’s patient and pays attention.  I value his opinions immensely.

To my right was Ryan Evans, a gifted man in many ways.  He’s brilliant, on top of being an artist.  I think he’d like to cheat, but only to see what he could get away with, but then it’s all done in a way that endears him to me.  He loves to think about many things and I value his ability to talk to people, and to lead them – and his opinions.

Rachael Miller is Ryan’s special friend.  She’s clever and has a charming quick laugh.  It’s clear she’s intelligent and gifted too.  I am sure I will come to value her opinion as well.

Keith Bowers has declined to play.  He would rather sit quietly with the dogs and cats.  Keith has the energy of a guru at some moments, and the massive energy of a thinker who has the passion to make things happen.  I am sure I will come to value his opinion as well.  Eventually he fell asleep on the couch, even though we yelled and cussed and carried-on rather loudly.

Over breakfast this morning we solved quite a few of the future world’s problems over raw granola and a proper cup of tea.  Sustainenace that we would need for dealing with Lilly as their final activity before driving back to Cincinnati.

As I told them on their way out of the door – I will be waiting for their next visit.  They teased that they would come without Ryan next time, which I objected to in a loud voice.  Out the door they went – taking with them their breath of fresh air.  I WILL be waiting for their next visit.

 

Menu

Breakfast

Raw Granola with peanut butter

 

Lunch

Potato Cakes

Fried Cabbage

 

Supper

Baked Chicken

Potatoes

Carrots

The glorified privy brainstorming session

First, a brief introduction:

My name is Persa Zula, and this past year I participated in the week-long Strawbale Workshop at BRS. I returned in September to assist with the weekend workshop, and approached Annie and Jay about helping in the future. Through the conversations that followed, we created the BRS Fellowship program, and I as the first guinea pig “Fellow”. As part of the program, I have the privilege of designing and managing the building for this year’s workshop.

This past Wednesday and Thursday I went to Blue Rock Station to brainstorm with Annie and Jay about the building. The structure is going to house the Envirolet composting toilet (valued at $2,500), that Annie and Jay were given by a friend who didn’t like it. Personally, most of my experience with “composting” toilets has been with a 5-gallon bucket and a pile of sawdust (the “Humanure” method), so a $2,500 toilet is certainly in need of a interesting eco-friendly building, to boot!
During the day we contemplated strawbale, earthberm, bottle walls, and foundations. We pondered about the sogginess of the land, the direction from which the weather comes, landscaping, railings, and other details. Jay had a basic idea in mind for this building, as I’m sure all of my clients will, and that was our starting point. Annie and I explored the used and saved materials that they have collected over the years from disassembling barns, and started daydreaming about how they could work in this structure. We spent some time hashing out details that are a part of my “Contractor’s Questionnaire”, and came up with some unanswered questions that are in need of further research. Overall, my visit was very productive and I came home excited to get started on the design. Stay tuned for more updates as the process progresses, and check out my own blog for more information at http://www.fourelementsdesign.com/blog

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH DIARIES – Day 14

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

60.9 F indoors              17.9 F outdoors

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  5 out 10

 

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.

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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.

 

Menu

Breakfast

Warmed up waffles

Blue berry syrup

 

Lunch

Cheese noodles

Stir-fried vegetables

 

Supper

Pizza

Salad