Thursday, December 6, 2012

Making gifts rather than buying

I have been struggling with when to buy and when not to. For example, I have WAY too many pajama pants, but almost all of them are so big on me now that I can't even tie em tight enough to stay on. So I bought 2 new pajama pants size XL. Losing weight does mean I'll need to buy some clothes (Tho I do have some 42's  and XL's I stored so that I don't have to do TOO much unnecessary shopping) and I did get the pajamas on sale. Good stuff. It's the holidays and I did buy one gift, for a holiday gift exchange. Otherwise, most of my gifts planned for this season are home made.

Then I ran across this site: when looking for instructions to make our own dog biscuits, and thought I'd take this pledge. It may be a challenge, but I'm not going to buy any more holiday gifts. They'll all be home made.

My family called me a grinch when I tried to encourage no xmas gifts. We're not even Christian, why are we exchanging gifts due to someone else's traditions? But apparently they like the stockings, tree and xmas gifts of their youth and didn't want to give them up. I like to give people gifts any time of the year, not just when someone else tells me to. But this year I think at least I can hand make gifts :) 

How do you handle the holidays? 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Celery - rose within a rose

Simplicity, patience, compassion ~ these three are your greatest treasures.
~ Lao Tzu Regrowing celery from the end of a celery stalk. It looks a bit like a rose bud being born from within a green rose. I just cut off the bottom of the celery stalks as one unit about 2 inches from the bottom, then placed it in a window sill sitting in a shallow dish of water. When it started growing, I moved it out into the "Filter" portion of my IBC Aquaponics system.

Monday, October 1, 2012

My first Aquaponics System - part 2

Our first spinach came in on it's 4th day in the tank!!!
Seems like it's too soon to do an update on our AP system since it's still technically within a week of starting it, but since we had to spread out when we bought various parts and we only work on it when it's cool out, it's taken us about a week to build it. This is Phoenix, AZ it still reaches triple digits some days in October. It's also really exciting right now, because our plants are sprouting up as you can see to the left here with our first tiny spinach sprouting up.

So part 2 is mostly about us finishing the building process of a simple and somewhat theoretical AP System I had in mind, which is to use the floating raft technique but with an IBC container type system. I don't know how well this system will hold up and to how many fish, but we will see. I planned to cycle the system for about a week with just plants before putting fish in it, so we do not yet have our catfish, but that's OK because it is giving me time to call around town and see who has the best price on catfish, or decide if I should buy them online and pay for shipping.

6 inch air stone disk under the large raft
So what did we do to since my last post? Bought and added water conditioner, sea weed, a working thermometer, 1 six inch and 1 5 inch flat disk shaped air rock for under the rafts, 25 feet of black air hose and a 2 outlet air pump meant for a smaller tank which will eventually be moved indoors to our 60 gallon tank, 2 gadgets to prevent water flowing backward into the air pump since it's slightly lower than water height, some fish pond water conditioner, and some sea weed to start cycling the system. Carlie found another extension cord and a lamp/appliance timer we had laying around the house.

I also bought a book called The Wonder of Aquaponics on my Nook for just over $4 Whereas the book I mentioned in my previous post was more expensive than I could afford at this time, around $20, but after I get my next check I'll probably pick that up too later. Or maybe I'll stop in at the local library and check it out... I just feel that having it on my Nook is better because then I have it whenever I need to look something up. The $4 is a good introductory book and the other one is more in depth.

We moved a table over near the tank and plugged the air pump into the new extension cord which reached over there easily. Some day I still plan to make the whole system run off solar, but for now we're running it off the power in our house. The Air pumps we have running 24/7. You can see the larger air stone in this photo. I would have liked to buy 2 this size, but the store only had one so the other is a bit smaller. They are aerating the water right under the plants, and the bubbles are moving air right up to the plants which I was advised is important for raft systems like mine.

moved the hose up out of the water to prevent backflow
We'd like to put the water pump on a timer so that it's not running constantly all day long in order to use a bit less electricity. But the hose was previously down under the water because I wasn't sure how strong the pressure would be and I didn't want it just sparying everywhere. What I didn't realize, is that when the pump is off, the water follows gravity and flows back down the house. Yes, that makes sense of course, just hadn't thought about it.

So yesterday I unplugged the pump which is pumping water from the lower tank and moved the hose so that it is no longer under the water, but is pumping the water out into the air which then lands in the tank creating a small amount of aeration, and making it so that no water will flow backwards into the lower tank when the pump is off, allowing me to (theoretically) turn that pump off periodically and save some electricity. I waited to see how well this worked out, and even with the slight drip we have coming from the middle of the top tank, the water in the top tank was only an inch or two lower which means that it's just sitting there for a time, and not circulating, but the air bubbles up there are still moving the water around, so it's not likely to go stagnant just briefly.

Air Pump is working!
We waited to see how long it would stay that way and the answer apparently was indefinitely because the drip from the middle of the top tank slowed and eventually stopped when the water level in the top went down almost 2 inches. So I set the timer to run for 30 minutes every hour and a half, plugged the timer into the extension cord and it instantly turned off. It happened to be during a time that the timer was set to be off, so I thought nothing of it, but this morning when I went out to check on things the air pump was going strong but the water pump was still off. I checked and it was during a time that the timer said the pump should be working, but I had a sneaking suspicion it was human failure, not gadget failure. And yes indeed, I had forgotten to set the timer to timer, it was still on the off position. So to test it I turned it to the on position, the pump started, and turned it to off and the pump stopped. Reset it to timer now, so hopefully it will start being  a bit more automated, and over time we'll see if it's cycling the water well enough.

Rainbow Chardling (just one tiny leaf)
Finally, I tore up some seaweed and put it in the top tank to dissolve. Yes, we have no fish yet, it's not meant to be fish food, it is meant to start cycling the fish tank so beneficial bacteria will grow and allow the plants to clean the ammonia and such the fish put off out of the water so that when the water pump I spent time tinkering with will pump the ammonia tainted water from the fish tank up into the plant bed and then the water will get cleaned by the plants and gravity will eventually take the water back out the drain holes and over into the fish tank further aerating the water for the fish below. If I do end up keeping feeder fish up in the top tank, I can feed them sea weed up there and whatever bits they don't eat will dissolve and become extra nourishment for the plants. Speaking of plants, Carlie noticed that we had another new plant yesterday, Check it out, our first rainbow chard is sprouting! This morning I went back out there and the sea weed was starting to dissolve so I broke it up a bit more with my fingers, and I discovered that we already had a second Rainbow Chard Sprout just 1 day later.

Realized the water in the lower tank was about 76 degrees at 9:30 AM today. I'm going to keep an eye on the temperatures at different times of day and night compared to the outside temperature, and decide if I'm going to need to build a small green house and/or add a heating element this winter. Hopefully not since catfish are said to be hardy through a more varying temperature, but if all else fails I could always bring the bulk of the fish indoors for the winter since winter in Phoenix is so short. This reminds me, I think I'll get a book for logging temperature, and various things that change with the system so I can look back over time and see what happens. It's like a home science kit, and I'm having fun tinkering with it.

At this point I plan for some blue channel catfish to live in the lower tank because they tend to do fine with temperature changes to the water, and eventually we plan to add some Tilapia down there too once our brief winter is over and the temperatures are stable at a warm enough temp for Tilapia to be healthy. I'm also going to put some prawns in there to help keep the tank clean. I've considered raising feeder fish for the Catfish up in the top tank, but haven't put this into motion yet obviously. I am going to buy some goldfish today or tomorrow and get them set up there to try it out and continue cycling the system, then when the catfish are big enough some of the goldfish who live through the initial trials could be put in the lower tank as feeder fish.

Once it's all built and regulated I suspect I'll spend a lot less time on it. If the book I'm reading is right the only things I'll need to do at that point is spend a couple minutes a day feeding fish, possibly dealing with bugs now and then, and occasionally checking the water's PH. Some people I know who do Aquaponics farming on a small backyard scale, do not check PH, they go by the way the water looks and the fish act. I'm still debating between methods. If I find a cheap water testing kit maybe I'll go that route, but the ones I've seen are pretty expensive, and I'm trying to keep the cost down. Speaking of costs, I think that getting an above ground pool off craigslist is probably the best bet for an easy, off the shelf, low cost system and allows more space for raising fish AND growing plants. I just didn't have a space in my backyard that was big enough which we were willing to give up to a whole pool for Aquaponics. But I see them on craigslist periodically and all people want is someone willing to move the thing out of their yard. Free pool plus the cost of gas is a GOOD price to start an aquaponics system. Maybe some day I'll go that route if we decide we want to expand. For now, we're happy tinkering with our IBC unit.

Found out there will be a big Halloween shindig at the and talked to Carlie about it. We'll be signing up for that. The cost is 5 cans of food each which will go to those who need it more than us, and in exchange we'll get to learn about Black Soldier Fly colonies (for fish that feed off the top) and raising duckweed plus have the opportunity to pick up a black soldier fly colony starter kit and some starter duckweed which I'm hoping will grow on the top of the lower tank providing some cover/shade/hiding spots for the catfish, as well as food for the tilapia. Also from what I've heard the Tilapia will teach the catfish to move up to the top and eat so they may end up eating the duckweed as well since they're a fish that eats both creatures and plants.

Next steps for us:
Get some goldfish to test the system and eventually to be feeder fish for the catfish
Get red wiggler worms (to eat excess produce, use their poop in our traditional gardening, and feed some to the catfsih now and then)
Set up a worm tower to replace or supplement our current composter
Set up indoor Aquaponics system and start fishless cycling
Visit the local feed store and see if they have fish food that would be appropriate for the catfish
Get catfish fry
Get tilapia fry
Get Duckweed started

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My First Aquaponics System - part 1

Our First AP Tank, minus the fish and air pump
We chose to start out with an outdoor system in our backyard using an IBC tank due to space constraints in our yard, where the water is located/easy to get to, where electricity in the yard is located until we get our solar system connected, where the plants would get the best sun without being in too much light at the wrong parts of the day, etc. We also will have one indoors to compare the two methods.

My goals in setting up both systems was to spend the least amount of money for the biggest bang for our buck. I chose to use an IBC tank with water in the top instead of grow medium, a floating raft made out of foam much like the one I'd seen on a tour with Dr Brooks, with grow medium just in small cups floating in the foam. We put a 130-170 gph pump in the lower tank where the fish will be, and pumped water from that up into the top portion under the rafts. Eventually this will be solar powered, but for now it's simply drawing electricity from the house. We drilled 5 holes in the top part so that it would trickle over into the fish tank below, returning the cleaner water (in theory) from the grow bed to the fish tank below. We realize we may need to add an extra filter to the system since we are using less grow medium, but we're learning as we go and going at this a bit piece meal. As the water falls it does aerate the fish tank water a bit, but we'll also be adding an air pump which will pump air under the rafts and also through a couple of air stones in the fish tank to oxygenate the water and aerate the plants which are currently just floating around in tiny cups full of grow medium soaking in water. 

We started our tank in fall which may be the worst time of year to do it, but by the 3rd day, I went out to add the 2nd half of the foam raft and move cups around, only to discover our lettuce had 3 of 4 cups already sprouting, and by the 4th day, all 4 cups had 2 to 4 sprouts each. Makes me a little anxious not having fish in the tank yet, because I worry that we do not yet have nutrients going to the plants, and the nutrients they provide themselves in their seeds is minimal, so eventually they'll need that bit of added nutrients, and I'd like to get the system cycling before adding fish in if possible. Going to add some sea weed as recommended by a few local AP enthusiasts tomorrow after a trip to a local aquarium store to look at and hopefully pick up at least one air pump and some air stones. Also looking online, so I think I might buy the air pump setup meant for our indoor tank and use it outdoors right now since I don't have any fish in it yet and can simply use all the air for the plants, and then I can move that one indoors once the larger pump arrives from online. 

Our First TINY Lettuce Sprout

So far so good. Even tho we're only in our first week, I'm hopeful! 

Things yet to do: 

Buy and set up thermometer (I killled the first one via drowning)
Buy and set up air pump
Buy and add small bit of sea weed
Locate, buy and add fish (Channel Catfish for now and possibly some Prawns, then later when it warms back up after winter, may add some Tilapia)
Locate, price, and buy fish food
Build worm compost and breeding set up
Visit and possibly pick up some duckweed, black fly larva and red wigglers
Further investigation on temperature and heating elements in case we'll need to heat the water out back for the catfish and possibly prawns
Further investigation, planning and eventual set up of solar power and deep cycle marine battery to run the whole system

And of course set up the indoor system as well. I will keep you posted. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


Growing our own food in Arizona is totally doable, but a challenge. The best way many people in Laveen have found is to flood irrigate. Which they say actually uses less water than the drip systems, but which still uses quite a bit of water. I looked around and discovered a lot of people having really great results with aquaponics. So far I've mostly been studying about aquaponics from a distance, but this weekend we made a concerted effort to get some things set up and growing. Of course this means everything I say here should be taken as me thinking my system through. Take it with a grain of salt please, and I will keep taking photos and posting them as we continue setting things up and see how they work out.

Aquaponics is when you utilize the water fish are living in to water plants, and the plants clean the water which you then put back into the fish pond, tank, etc. There are many variations on this theme, but that's the basics. There are some very good sites and articles online, and some decent books to read on the subject. Once I'd read all I felt I could take in, I needed to get more hands on and look at real life systems that were working to grow food people were actually eating. I've been fortunate enough to find some good meet-ups in the area which allowed me to see a variety of systems and decide which route we'd like to try here.

There's another aspect to Aquaponics that I'd like to include, which is fish food. You can grow duckweed and you can even raise red wigglers both of which can be fed to nile tilapia, one of the popular fish to raise in Phoenix since it is normally so hot around here. If done right, it can be a pretty complete system, so that theoretically you wouldn't really need to even buy fish food.

Of course I'm starting my tanks in the cooler time of year simply because that's when Carlie and Patch had vacation time together, so we decided to have a stay-cation and work on our sustainability efforts at home. Today we bought a 55 gallon food grade plastic barrel cut in 1/2 for grow beds, and a large IBC water tote with the top cut off so the bottom becomes a large fish tank and the top becomes the grow bed area.

Now I am left with a bit of a conundrum, and trying to decide will I heat the water, or start off with one type of fish that is good in the cold and larger, then move on to tilapia after it warms up again. Now, it's still in the 100's during most days here, don't get me wrong. Fall in Laveen, Arizona is not that chilly. But the water needs to be around 70 degrees for the tilapia to be happy, and in a couple months it will be hard to keep it that temperature without heating the water.

I've thought of a few ways to deal with this. I have thought of pumping the water from the tank up to the plants, then collecting the water the flows out of the tank in a black pipe which curves around in the sun warming the water and eventually puts it back into the tank. Basically a solar water heater specially built for the tank. That would allow me to keep tilapia in warmer water, but I might still need to heat the water for part of the year. It seems to me, it would be easier to just start with a fish that does better in cooler water, and then when it starts getting too hot for that fish, eat the cold water fish, and switch off to tilapia. After all, we're talking about raising food here. Not just the plants, but some of the meat, in this case fish. I'm thinking perhaps trout, or something which we might be able to also keep inside year round. More investigation is necessary.

In the beginning we don't have to start with fish in the tank, so we can actually put the plants in first, and get the water flowing properly and work on sorting out that part of the system first, then add the fish later. We'd like to have our system up and running before Patch and Carlie go back to work.

We've decided to have 2 Aquaponics tanks. One in the living room since we already had a fish tank in there, and one in the backyard in a semi shady area. When the hot part of the year hits, we may need to bring some shade cover in for the back yard tank like these guys did, but we may not. We'll see how it goes.

Inside we're using a 60 gallon fish tank to hold the fish and water, and a 55 gallon food grade plastic barrel which has been cut in half to hold hydroponic medium, plants, and possibly some red wigglers. Outside we're using an IBC tote with the top sliced off. The bottom is the fish tank, and the top is where the plants go. We could put hydroponic medium (rocks or clay balls) up there, but that's pretty expensive so we decided to fill the top with water and float a piece of foam with holes in it on top, and then put the plants in small cups poking through the foam. We'll see how that goes! More pics coming soon.

Making your own flours

For some reason it always sounded so challenging to make your own flour, and simpler just to buy it in stores. But I have noticed that low glycemic flours are pretty expensive, and after sprouting turned out to be just as easy as my neighbor promised, I thought OK, time to try flours.

Specifically Almond Flour and Quinoa Flour. It's so easy. Place the almonds or quinoa, or grain into a coffee grinder, grind, and poof, flour. I'm making pie crust for some mini pumpkin pie cheesecakes, and some overnight Quinoa with mine:

Photos to come. Simplifying to me, also means minimizing the wasteful spending, and I think making my own flours will do that. Plus I won't have to store as many flours that I don't need, and that's a good thing for some day when I live in a tiny house.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sprouted lentils after 3 days

This person put together A CHART! I love charts like this. When they make life so much clearer and simpler. Everything you wanted to know about sprouting on one page: Well, OK not everything, that would take books. But all the basics, and that's really what I want to know when I'm trying to prepare food. Here's some lentils I sprouted for 3 days and then added to my vegan chili

Friday, September 14, 2012

Almond extract part 2
After it sat in a cold dark place for 3 months, i strained it into a smaller jar. Now i have enough almond extract to last me forever. Need to get some dark brown bottles or paint some baby food jars and if it tastes good enough, give some to a couple friends and family.

Now what to do with the vodka soaked almond bits? Adult dessert perhaps? Nah, too bitter! BLEH! I hate to waste anything, but these are going in the trash. Thinking of doing a more complex extract and giving some to family for the holidays.  Maybe Orange Almond extract. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Alternatives to the traditional tiny house methods

Prefab Shed/Tiny House
I think I will be going with SIP panel homes for our first tiny house build for ease of build, and surprisingly, overall cost. I found the one on the left available through Direct Buy for $2500. Of course you have to have a membership to Direct Buy, so hat is not accessible to everyone. One manufacturer who has created a light weight, highly insulated and relatively low cost SIP is SING core panels. You can find them at and are one route I was considering for this first build. First I am working on a cost comparison from start to finish of the build.

So far the cheapest build I've seen is 8,000 for a tiny house that was built using traditional materials, some of them scavenged, reclaimed, recycled, or upcycled and that home is not finished yet. However, alternative build methods seem to be finding even cheaper ways of building a tiny home.

Pallets and Plastic $500 Tiny House
Some people have been working on building an entire tiny home out of pallets. One man and has 2 designs he's working with for that idea that he says would be free to build and can be found on his website but he is currently in a holding pattern. One would be  bit too drafty and not strong enough for my liking, the other has a bit more potential, and of course you could use the dip cloth method of dipping a material such as fishing net material, burlap, or other material that is natural fibers and has holes in it, in a sustainable, light weight cement like mix to put over the pallets, and you'd have a non traditional looking tiny home. This would not work for a tiny home on a trailer, but since the first home we'll be building will be on a cement slab in someone's back yard, I thought we would look at all alternatives.

Straw Bale Tiny House
A slightly modern looking take on the tiny pallet house is found on Lloyd's blog and pictured above: and cost $500 to make, so certainly the cheapest method. The version pictured above seems to be using some sort of plastic to make the place less drafty and more private although I believe the original was built. Unfortunatley Lloyd did not link to the original article.

Another low cost alternative method is straw bale building. Sometimes these are built by an individual, a couple or a whole community. A friend of mine is going to be setting up a trip for a group of us to go help build a sustainable farm some of her friends are working on in exchange for education on their sustainable practices a place to stay while there, and vegan meals. I may need to bring some alternative food sources to keep myself healthy while there due to my allergies, but I think it's worth a shot. I may not be able to contribute as much physically as others due to my disability, but I'm stubborn and persistent when working on projects, and I'm creative and get things done. See my food blog, if you're curious about better healthy through yumness as I like to say. More on that later. If you'd like to try living in a tiny straw bale house, check out this straw bale village:

Well there are more, but that is all the time I have for now. So expect an alternative building methods part two post in the near future as I continue investigating, planning, pricing and generally doing the prep work for our upcoming build. Please post any links to low cost tiny house building methods in the comments section!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ideas I Love from Other's Tiny Homes

This video was just shared with me today by another tiny house enthusiast, and I love some of the creative ideas! Especially the "Garage Door Bed" and "Basement Bath" plus it's a cute tiny guest house with some other good ideas:

Which brought to mind other links I haven't yet shared here of other people's tiny homes which I find inspirational. I especially like the combination of useful, sustainable practices with aesthetic appeal. The following have some great information and good people willing to share their experiences:

There is of course the Tiny Tack House, which has it's own FB group: and Melissa Tack posts great 3d graphic designs for tiny house lay outs frequently which are just wonderful. If you're planning to build a tiny home, I highly recommend this page.

Then there is the Tiny r(E)volution which I've mentioned in a previous post about his podcast. Tiny r(E)volution is run by Andrew and his wife who are building their own tiny home and eventually plan to build some other tiny add ons to create a still small and beautiful space to share as a whole family. Their facebook page is here:

Andrew recently shared about some people who are new to the tiny house community, Together Simply. Of course, I love the name. You can find them on blogspot here:

I would also recommend you check out as well as and

Oh and I shouldn't neglect to mention Tiny House Design: who have a post about a tiny house builder whose tiny home on a trailer was parked behind a farm that burnt down, and thus BURNT DOWN. Tragic! So if you would like to donate towards her rebuilding her tiny home, please do so! I did, and will continue to contribute whenever I can. The tiny house community can be very supportive of each other, and that's one of the many things I love about it. Some day I will build my own tiny home and be able to commune with my fellow tiny house neighbors around the world via the internet!

And in case you just can't get enough of looking at tiny homes, don't forget the Tiny House Blog, which is not in itself so tiny. Tons of photographs, articles, and more:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tiny Home Thought Process

Kit for Shed I think would make a great tiny home
For a few years now I've been watching people build Tiny Homes and wishing we could have one of our own. We are not quite ready to do that yet ourselves, but I am still moving forward with my investigation and planning. We ended up spending the money I was saving for tiny home living on a car. Not sure it was the best choice in my life, and maybe I'll discuss how I feel about our choices and which car we ended up with in a later post.  I am living as best I can in what we currently have, which is a large house we rent, and as if we will some day have a tiny mobile home. 

For now, I have decided to continue my pursuit of building a tiny home, and to continue my goal of building it for as low a cost as possible by doing the ground work necessary before we could build one.

At the same time, I am investigating the possible ways to help a local non profit build a tiny home for minimal cost. For now I will focus on a non-mobile tiny home, because it turns out the non profit's area does not allow for RV storage, and even tho it would look like a tiny home, or in some people's mind it would look like a shed even if it were mobile, they are not wanting to push those boundaries. They are however able to build on a concrete slab, and have the skills to build one.

The tiny house would allow them to have a separate space for the house manager to have her (or his) office and living space. I have decided a multi-phase building plan may be best for this particular situation. Step One: Build the foundation and shell. For the purpose of this blog entry, I'm only going to focus on building the structure, not it's foundation. This would actually mean we would need to build an air conditioned structure with finished windows, window screens, a door, and a finished look over all. The finished look is important in this case for the purpose of keeping neighbor appreciation & cooperation by adding to the property value rather than taking away from it.

It would have the added benefit of being a beautiful separate space for the house manager. A place to call their own, have private one on one meetings with clients or volunteers as needed, and possibly encourage clients to work towards having a tiny place of their own, while having the smallest impact on the world we live in as possible. It could also be used by the non profit to educate neighbors, friends and others about the wide variety of possibilities with tiny house living. This structure could be easily turned into an office and/or living space without cooking space or restroom either by building furniture out of free sources (such as pallets) for the cost of the hardware, or with a few trips to stores like goodwill if we chose no to finish the interior any further.

Since I've been doing the research anyway, I will post soon with a list and cost comparison between the various options I've found for tiny homes.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Vacation in a tiny home?

We have a thing for visiting California. Especially the sunny southern beaches. Unfortunately,  we often find the prices do us in. So during this visit to my mom's i asked her to take us to the back bay cottages. They aren't cheap, but we have been wanting to try living in a tiny house before committing to one. This seems perfect!

They have 3 styles and sizes. Prices vary depending on what is included, size, and time of year. If we each save a couple hundred bucks we could have a relatively low cost vacation and see how we feel about tiny living. More photos and a url to come.

Check it out here:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to feed a vegetarian.

How to Feed a Vegetarian

We are going to start having meatless mondays, and i found this article useful for how to make my vegetarian friends feel welcome.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Finding healing through food

Cure for Diabetes: The Benefits of Artichoke in Diabetes Mellitus

I would like to try these in my yard. We will see how they do. It would be interesting to see if they are helpful in my quest to live without diabetic complications while getting off pills.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trying something new

Sorry for the long delay between posts, we had a challenging month with some hard decisions. It seems despite my desire to pare down, i am pretty caught in a web of consumerism. But more on that later.

For my birthday i asked people to try something new. Give me no gift, or if you must, something practical. They were not ready to give me nothing, so i got all practical gifts including this hammock to replace the futon we gave our friend with no bed. I much prefer this hammock to my own bed. It's more comfortable, and i sleep through the whole night!

If you are in the market for a new mattress, consider a hammock instead.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Recently I heard that it has been shown: people who focus on the things they are grateful for before bed, sleep more restfully and wake in a more positive, refreshed mindset. Sounds good to me!

I am grateful to Carlie for my new hammock, and i am grateful to have a roof over my head and food in my belly. I am grateful that my kittens seem tired so i may get some restful sleep soon. And i am grateful to have such a wonderful hammock to rest in with them.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The car decision

Patch has a Prius which ran out of warranty last month. Of course this is when it chose to go on the fritz. Sparky is not long for it's days if we don't get it fixed.

So we are faced with a decision. What now? Repairs would cost thousands. I believe we should buy a new-to-us used car. Deisel we can change to run on bio fuel? Another hybrid? Electric? Where will we get the funds? Dig into our retirement/homesteading fund?

What are your thoughts about which cars are best and why? We will post about this new point in our journey

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Energy Conservation and Tiny Homes

Funds are tight around our house right now. Tighter than usual because not only did Carlie's hours recently get cut, but most of our normal funds were spent on Pixie, our sick dog, who almost died of toxicity from dark chocolate when someone who shall remain nameless left the cupboard open. We put a safety hinge on that pantry now so no one can leave it open by accident, and I moved our dark chocolate to an air tight container in a cupboard the pets can't reach.

Last night Carlie was driving me home from a meeting, and she brought up tiny home living and power conservation. This is something we have been thinking about a lot since this month's electric bill hit us in the gut. She had a great idea for how to charge batteries other than solar or wind if you have a tiny home on wheels and drive it from place to place. She said, "When you're driving your tiny home why not charge the batteries from the wheels like our prius does?" Now granted, this would only work if and when you're driving it around, and it couldn't be exactly like a hybrid car which uses the brakes to charge the batteries. But still, it sounded like genius to me.

 Of course I ran with the idea. The batteries could be stored under the floor of the house in the space between the wheels and above the ground, right? Why not put an alternator on one of the wheels, so that as the wheels turn, they charge the battery bank? That way, when you arrive at your destination and park, your house is ready to go. No plug in required, giving you time to set up your solar bank and/or windmill if allowed wherever you are. I wonder if anyone else has done this yet and if not why not? I'm sure there is something we're missing. My uncle says battery placement would be important for safety reasons.

Tiny homes on wheels + alternator = battery charger? Maybe watching planet green pays off huh? Anyone do this? What are your thoughts on our idea? Here's an workshop on alternators:

Here are some helpful links about the use of alternators to charge batteries:
How it works in a car:
This discussion about a similar idea does lead me to think this set up could require more gas to run the vehicle towing the tiny home on wheels: but since we haven't run a test, I do not know.

Another thought to reducing costs which would be great for tiny home living is of course to plan your tiny home to reflect heat, keep heat out, etc. I warn you now, there are quite a few links to come. A great discussion on building green houses that really are sustainable in hot climates can be found here: and a nice article is found here: If you are new to considering energy conservation, this article may be a good place to start: or check this one out:

Random note: although it would certainly not save any electricity it would put less carbon in the air, a fun instructable for when you have time on your your own electric car:

Obviously if you find a permanent location for your tiny home on wheels you'd want solar and wind and if you have access, water power. A combination of power sources is useful when trying to stay off grid. As this article discusses: So here are some links about each of those:

DIY Solar Panels:
DIY Solar System:
National Geographic on Solar Power:
Off Grid Package:
Off Grid Load Estimator:
Sun Map:

DIY Wind Power:
H.S. DIY Wind Power Project with good links:
Comparisons of wind power generators:
National Geographic on Wind Power:
How Stuff Works on Wind Power:

Small scale hydro:
Instructable on hydro power:

And the list goes on. But I know that was a day of reading for me, so I should probably end it here. I look forward to hearing how other people are reducing their energy bill, using less electricity, or powering their tiny homes.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tiny Living, Big Home

I have been a tiny home admirer for some time. Some would even call me an enthusiast. I dream of living on my own property in a tiny house, with a creek or river or some body of water nearby, trees, and an aquaponics system/vertical farm. Obviously my loved ones are there and somehow we have the ability to live off grid and have it be sustainable. I call it our Sustainable Sanctuary and we talk about it as our home where we will vacation and retire, but I'd love it at any time, like NOW. Sometimes we jokingly call it "The place we'll go when zombies attack" but it's always somewhere in the future or fantasy land. This year has been slightly different, in that it moved into reality zone for Patch and Carlie, and we realized we are all on the same page, they just had not realized how doable it actually is.

We still talk about it as vacation/retirement plans, but it's a real plan that we are working towards, rather than a nebulous hope. When I started this blog, I set about focusing on the present and how I could live more simply in the hear and now. In my current situation it's not possible to up and move onto a little cabin in the woods. Tho we do love going to Christopher Creek and such whenever possible, we don't live there. We live in a big house in Laveen, AZ right across the street from farms and ranches we enviously drool over but don't have the funds for, nor really have the knowledge to run anyway.

This morning I woke up with a bright idea. Why not ask Carlie if she'd like to switch rooms? I have been wanting to simplify my life. And I have begun doing so to some extent. The next major step for me is organizing my closet and paring down. Carlie has been living and working out of a 10 x 13 room in the house, and feels a bit cramped in there between her office and her bed. 10 x 13 is larger than some people's tiny houses, but it's not set up in the same wonderful way and part of that cramped feeling is in my opinion really due to set up, but that's another story for another blog post. Carlie feeling cramped in her room already is one reason Patch and Carlie are doubtful we could happily live in a tiny home situation, even if they had their own little hobbit holes. And if we tried moving right now to something like that, yes it would be very difficult. It makes more sense to get used to living more simply first.

Rather than being frustrated with our current living situation being unsustainable and my family not being ready to change our situation, I decided to focus on how I personally can live more simply in our current home. I asked for a solar oven for my birthday whether it was home made or purchased *crossing my fingers hopefully* and today I asked to switch rooms and pare down. Now the real fun begins. Cleaning house, and switching rooms!

 I can hear some of the gears in brain boxes screeching to a halt. "WAIT WAIT WAIT... the fun is cleaning house and switching rooms?" Well, yes and no. Let me explain. When I was a young child we lived in a small bungalow within biking distance of the beach. (Probably where my love of living near water comes from) When my sister was born, my parents moved us to the foothills of LA where we lived in much larger house on larger plot of land, gardened, shared fruits and vegetables with wonderful neighbors, and had a rather idealic childhood. The memory I have of this house, and it is probably a false one, is that my room was HUGE! It seemed cavernous, especially as it was a jack and jill room with my sister and that curtain that sometimes seperated the rooms was usually open. One would think bigger is better, because that is what our culture teaches us, but that is where I started having recurring nightmares. Around the 5th grade we moved to Irvine, CA where my parents bought a condo with a small easy to care for yard (mom was tired of gardening) and a sewing room which they turned into my room. They figured my sister needed to spread out, and I really didn't. And they were right.

In college I lived in the dorms, shared rooms in apartments, couch surfed for a while after the big 94 earthquake in Northridge, and then lived in a closet. Not metaphorically, but actually had my bed and dresser in the closet. My roommate used one wall as her closet and the rest was my room. It was a decent sized walk in closet and about the size of the room I had in Irvine. I actually loved it, because it was like a little bear den. My cave if you will. I have always enjoyed huddling up in the corner of the couch, cocooning myself under my blankets, curling up in the nook of a tree branch, or wrapping myself in a hammock. People often compared me to a cat.

Tumbleweed & Interior
Perhaps this is why tiny homes appeal to me. This may make me sound a bit OCD, but I also like the way everything has it's place and there is no room for disorder. In Irvine I had loved the Ikea furniture my Dad and I build which fit perfectly into the corner of the room giving me a bed which also was a bookshelf and had a desk attached. When I lived in the dorms we fit 2 people into a small cube of a room with 2 beds, 2 floor to ceiling closets, 2 small dressers, and 2 desks plus a tiny fridge and a hot plate. It was like Legos. I like the creativity required for living in small spaces. On the opposite end of the scale, my current room is so huge that it has left me feeling a bit lost. I've left it in disarray and it's stressful. I step on things, trip on things, and lose things in there. It's huge and I feel like I have to add more stuff to fill the huge space. So why not downsize my room? Carlie was feeling cramped, I was feeling lost in space, sounds like the perfect idea right?

Thankfully when I shared my idea with her, she agreed. I am so grateful to have Patch and Carlie in my life, and I just want us all to be happy, healthy, and thriving in whatever lives we have. So it made me really happy to know that I can thank her for all she's done in my life by giving her the space she wants, while simultaneously allowing myself to simplify my life and downsize. She had previously not been open to the idea, but said that now that she understands that having more space does not make me happier, and that switching rooms is mutually beneficial, she is happy about it. I suspect living in a smaller space will be much more peaceful even if it's surrounded by a large home. I am very excited at this new prospect and look forward to redecorating as cheaply, beautifully, and sustainably as possible. I have some ideas in mind already about reclaiming wood... I may try sleeping in a hammock and see if it's as comfortable as I remember in which case we would be moving the bed into the guest room and giving the futon to a friend in need.

 Now the question is, do I take the 100 item challenge and pare down to just 100 things in the room, or do I just pare down randomly and see where it goes? We will see. Tomorrow Carlie and I will begin deciding what to move first, which items can wait to be moved next weekend, and what will not be moved at all (will she use my furniture and I use hers?) I am looking forward to the adventure!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tiny House Build on Tiny Podcast

I have been a tiny house enthusiast for some time. We considered building one in our backyard as a mother in law's cottage, but decided it was not the best plan for our particular situation. Plus it would basically add space to our already larger than necessary house which would add to the electricity and water bill. Really, what we would love to do is build one that is mobile, and be able to take vacations in it for now, and possibly retire off grid in it some day. Or as we like to playfully say, if the zombies ever strike, we'll have a mobile tiny home to live in.

Due to my interest in tiny homes, I have found some great websites but for today I'm going to focus in on one specifically, and that is Tiny r(E)volution. The man behind Tiny r(E)volution, Andrew Odom, has been pretty good about setting up an easy to use internet presence. He runs a blog/website, a community to chat about tiny houses on Facebook under the same name, and a 30 minute podcast which is like a perfect snack of goodness. I also really love their website which shows the process and budget the Odoms are using to build their own tiny home. You can find them at:

Today's Tiny r(E)v podcast can be found at  where he talked with the Schwarz brothers about their tiny house building project. They will be building a tiny off grid house and then taking it to Burning Man for the thousands of people there to look at and fall in love with. Their goal it seems, is not only to live off grid, but also to show other people how easy it is to build your own tiny home. You can check out their Kickstarter for the project at and remember you can contribute anything from $1 on up. I went for the $7 pledge for now and in thanks they will send me a bumper sticker which I will put on my recumbent trike since I don't drive. I promise to post a photo of that when the sticker arrives.

One of the reasons I was excited to hear about this, is that I have been considering starting a kickstarter project for a tiny home and garden. Actually, I have been bouncing this idea around with a local non profit for some time as an idea for their backyard. That may still happen at some point in the future, but then yesterday I ran across an ad on Craigslist of all places for a tiny plot of land right up the street from me in Laveen, AZ. It is 25 x 60 feet, and would be perfect to build a vertical aquaponics system for growing food to help cut down on the cosst of living, or perhaps set up as a community garden with a caretaker's cottage/tiny home on it. I will be taking a look at the property tomorrow to see if it would work for such a project. It sounds to me like it would be perfect for a Bare Simplicity test site on which I could work with neighbors and a local school to learn about aquaponics and vertical gardening, and living off grid. I will let you know if one of these tiny house projects gets off the ground and keep you updated here.

In the mean time, I wish the Schwarz brothers all the best on their project and thank you Andrew for introducing me to it! What I really love is their reasoning behind the project, which is the love of getting back to simplicity. I am looking forward to seeing how their Kickstarter project comes out! Because as they say at Tiny r(E)v, one can not only survive, but truly thrive in a tiny house.  And if you haven't checked them out yet, enjoy the podcast archives!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Where I Come From

I know that I share political thoughts which may not be supported by all. Let me just say, I understand that you may not like the way I word things occasionally and I hope you will read my thoughts with an open mind. I am not setting out to offend, I am simply sharing my truth.

I am the grandchild of immigrants. My great grandparents moved here hoping for a better opportunity for their children just in time to put their kids through the great depression. They built their own home on a small island near San Fransisco, and my uncle lives in it today. Some of the people I am descended from may have moved here to escape famine. And recently I learned that some faced persecution because apparently they were not supposed to marry their spouse based on where they came from.  Irish people are after all dangerous, hot headed, criminals. (or such was the "common knowledge" of the day)

According to my parents I'm American, and some of my relatives are Italian, some are Welsh, some British, and some are German. I was told I did not have any Irish or Indigenous blood, but I was pretty sure we did. In the fourth grade I investigated on my own for a "Family Tree" school project, and my Father's Grandmother told me more than we'd ever known before. My family tree diagram is incomplete, but what I learned by speaking to my elders was life changing. Their knowledge and history shaped who I am.  Apparently my father's grandmother's family was indigenous to central California. I eventually met them at a family reunion, but my dad's mom denied we were all related because she could not bear the idea hat she had married someone who was not 100% white. (prejudice fries my brain)
My mother's family watched both their sons go off to war.  The irony of my grandfather and his brother being in the American army as German Americans is not lost to them, as during another particularly dark time, my mom's family had to take care of her neighbors' house while they were put in an internment camp for being Japanese. I was raised knowing that we must treat humans as humans no matter their differences because to not do so, can lead to horrific loss and cruelty. How, in just a few generations, have people seemed to forget so much!

I think that people forget that this country has in the past put people into camps merely based on their heritage, enslaved people, legislated some people are less human than others, and killed so many indigenous people. Some people seem to think we have overcome those things and can never backslide. Some seem to think no one has to fight for their rights anymore, because we should all be treated equally under the law. Some people are wrong.

Many of us are descended from immigrants who were not wanted here, and without whose immigration we would not have the lives we have today. Some of them did not follow the letter of the law when entering the country. Some of us are descended from slave owners and their slaves. Others of us are descended from indigenous people who were raped and taken away from their families and forced into marriage. Some people lost their entire families to atrocities committed right here in the US. These are the truths of our history. These truths leave scars that run deep. Generations of hurt need more than words to heal. How will we ever move forward if we do not pay attention to the past and learn from it.

In my life, it is time to simplify. The simple truth is that we are all human. No matter our differences, we are all human.

Home Made Shampoo/Body Wash Review

The shampoo and body wash I made lasted about 2 weeks. The one made of aloe, tea tree oil, xantham gum and olive oil did not make my hair oily as some expected. It acted much like a volumizer shampoo and I will be making some again. In the two weeks of use, I found the dry flaky patches of skin disappearing, and surprisingly, the red splotchy areas of my face seemed to be disappearing as well!

To test if the results were as wonderful as they seemed, I used up the rest of my store bought shampoo afterwards and compared results. It was a 90% natural store bought shampoo, but apparently the 10% non natural bit is really not something my body likes, because the dry flaky patches are returning, and so are the red splotches on my face.  I have to admit, I am very surprised. I remember saying to Patch. I may as well use this other stuff up before recycling the bottle. I didn't want to waste something we had already paid for in an effort to reduce, reuse, recycle. Because when you think about it, waste is not green. Besides, I told myself it was a pretty well made shampoo, it probably wouldn't be any different. But it was.

The xantham gum was completely unnecessary if you are OK with washing with a liquid and not a gel. However I set out to make a combination shampoo and body washing gel, because I wanted something which was similar to what I have been using for years, just healthier, less taxing on the environment, and lower cost. If you do not happen to have any on hand, make the aloe shampoo without it and I am sure you will find it just as wonderful since the only thing the xantham gum was used for was a natural thickening agent.

The body wash I made with the flax seeds in it was a bit of a disappointment. I didn't like the smell or the texture. A friend liked the smell, so perhaps I should have offered it to her. On an up note, it did seem to be helping my skin problems. I just didn't like the smell of rosemary when mixed with tea tree oil.

I will however be making the original recipe again and using it as a shampoo/body wash instead, which was really my goal anyway. I still have aloe left, and the other ingredients are all in the pantry, so I am looking forward to using it again. I will wash the old shampoo bottle and reuse it to hold my home made shampoo/body wash, as it came in a nice dark green bottle which will help protect the aloe shampoo/body wash from light.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cleaning House - A Change of Mindset

Every weekend Carlie seems to pick a project or two to do around the house. Sometimes I requests things of her, sometimes she comes up with them on her own. Recently, at my request, she moved something out of my room because it was not being used, and just took up space. But there were things that were propped against, on and under that thing which were suddenly exposed. The kittens decided it was a wonderful play ground, and mess escaped it's little nook and took over 3/4 of my bedroom. Every time I walked around my bedroom I thought, I should ask Carlie to help me organize that stuff. Some of it could be put away, other stuff was trash or could be donated. This past weekend, she took it on without being asked. I appreciate that about her. Sometimes she knows just what I'm needing help with before I even think to talk to her about it. Picking things up from the floor is difficult for me because it triggers my vertigo and I sometimes end up on the floor with whatever I was trying to pick up, but I would LIKE to be able to pick things up by myself, so i kept putting off asking for the help. I'm grateful my room is clean.

When I noticed it and thanked her, it also reminded me of some other things we'd been needing to discuss. We talked about how we really need to change our mindset about finances. Living more from the perspective Patch lives from, less from the one we tend to have, which is money in, money out. Instead, we plan to live on more of a budget. (and move towards living on a tighter budget) We also talked a bit about consumerism and changing our mindset to more of a what can we do/make ourselves, and do we really NEED that? We will see how it goes. Step by step!

By the way, I finally took the Pinterest plunge. Here's my Pinterest:

Monday, June 11, 2012

DIY Almond Extract

Apparently it is really easy to make your own Almond Extract. Or vanilla, orange, lemon, etc. For today I started with Almond because I had everything to make it. I may try orange as well, and promise to share the process if I do. This can be a money saver over time, because it's much cheaper to make your own than buy the good stuff, and actually also comes out cheaper than the dollar store variety. (not to mention it is supposed to be much more delicious) If this turns out the way I hope, I might put some in recycled extract bottles to trade with neighbors for fresh fruits and veggies from their gardens.

Here are some helpful links I found:

I happened to have vodka left over from a party we made jello shots for, so I used that, but apparently you can use rum or brandy for Almond or Vanilla extracts. I guess you could use them for orange and lemon as well, but they are not recommended for orange. Probably because it is a light flavor and might be overwhelmed by the rum or brandy. Vodka is a cleaner flavor, and by far the cheapest, so that's what I went with for now. I will probably try a bit of brandy and rum based extracts in the future. This is my first time doing this, I will post in a couple months or so with information about how it went.

1 cup Vodka
8 raw, peeled, chopped or roughly ground almonds
1 bottle (preferably with dark brown glass, but any bottle will do)
1 paper bag (if you can't find a dark brown glass bottle, this keeps the light out)

Roughly chop or grind 8 raw almonds
Place in bottle or jar (I used an old peanut butter jar we had cleaned)
Poor 1 cup (8 oz) Vodka into jar over almonds
Tightly seal jar
Shake and place in a cool dark place (paper bag in the pantry)

Mark the date and type of extract on the paper bag or jar, this will help you remember when it will be ready
Almonds can apparently be whole if they are peeled
Make sure whatever alcohol you use covers whatever ingredient you are extracting flavor from to prevent mold
You can filter the extract through a coffee filter when it is done to remove the bits of almond, vanilla, orange peel, etc. But some directions did not include this step
I am told this stuff will last forever. If you're a Prepper, this might be a good skill to have for later trade

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Simplifying My Life

Some people have asked me why the blog "Bare Simplicity" and my introductory post to this blog may answer your questions, but in case it does not, let me try to sum it up briefly. I feel that I have bought into a lifestyle over the years which has not always brought me the joy and peace that I want in my life.

Don't get me wrong, I am generally happy. I have a loving family, pets we enjoy, and a neighborhood that is working to build community, unlike many these days which are just groupings of people who don't even wave as they pass on the street. But I find that many parts of the American Dream we have clung to do not fit me and my family as well as we expected. Our eyes were too big for our tummy.

I'm not complaining oh woe is me, I have too much. I have simply realized that some things are not a necessary part of having a happy life. And sometimes trying to keep those things means we spend money on things we don't need just to fill our too big "McMansion" as some have come to call the suburban cookie cutter homes we've been sold. Sometimes we find ourselves lacking the funds to pay our bills. We are living outside our means, which is truly not sustainable.

Rather than dreaming of some day when are no longer running like rats in a maze to reach some dream other people say we should have, we have decided to start paring down NOW. To simplify our lives. I highly recommend the above link, it was what inspired me to realize that although in some ways we had already started doing so, there is so much more that we can do right now in this moment to simplify our lives, and so I started this blog to keep track of the steps we are taking along the way.

Recently I came across a link which also sums it up pretty well for those who don't want to read through The Simpler Way Report: The shorter read would be 21 Easy Hacks to Simplify Your Life: