Free Permaculture Course – The First Post

Earlier, we published an interview with Andrew Millison, the creator of the Free Permaculture Course offered by Oregon State University. You can listen here.

We are very happy that so many of you already listened to the podcast and that after less then a week of the beginning of registration, 5200 students had already signed up.

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Envisioning Zero Waste

What would life be like if we created no trash?

No packages to throw away, everything that can be recycled is.  What would the grocery store look like?  How about fast food restaurants?

How would the prevalence of a zero-waste lifestyle affect Mother Earth?

Join Jenise Fryatt, Marianne West and Brad Rowland for a Blab discussion February 12 at 9 am on Envisioning Zero Waste.  Lurk, or join in by text or video.  We want to get your comments and questions about this important topic.



7 steps to simple livingDuring my chat with Joel Zaslofsky, we identified practices that helped us both on the journey to simple living.

Though the path to a simpler and happier life isn’t the same for everyone, lots of folks find that getting clear about a few things really helps.  In that vein, here are seven actions that certainly had (and continue to have) powerful effects on our lives.

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The Inception of a New Tradition

Imagine a house full of kids, laughing and playing and having a good time. But the house doesn’t look like a big family lives here. The children are familiar with each other, yet they are not quite like brothers and sisters. Then it becomes clear. They are cousins. And they are at grandma’s and grandpa’s house – free of their parents tyrannical rules and regulations. Free to be. That is the vision which gave birth to the new tradition of Cousins day in our family. On Christmas day, each of my children got an envelope with the following invitation.

The cousins at Oma's (grandma's) house playing



You are cordially invited to participate in the new tradition of

Cousins Day

Cousins Day will be happening once a month, on the third Sunday, at Oma Marianne and Opa Mike’s house. All cousins are invited to come and play and do all kinds of fun things. Cousins Day will start Sunday morning, but if and when any of the cousins feel ready to spend the night, they are welcome to arrive on Saturday.

Uncles are welcome to attend all day or however much time they wish.

Parents are welcome to drop their children off, and are asked to leave as soon as possible after that. However, they are invited to return in the late afternoon to hang out and enjoy a meal prepared by the cousins with some help of the Omas and Opas.

Uncles are hopefully showing up latest in the late afternoon to eat and all that.

Participation is of course voluntary, but highly recommended.

Cousins having fun together experiencing the new tradition of cousin's day

Oma is German for Grandma, Opa for Grandpa and in our family, there is only an uncle without children of his own.

Thoughts on Gift Giving

Actually, a bit more thought went into the creation of this new tradition. In previous podcasts, we talked a lot about reducing our environmental foot print and the perils of overconsumption. During the holiday season, even the most conscious person is in peril of indulging or rather overindulging just a bit in buying more than is needed – especially if kids are involved.

On the whole, you may call me the Scrooge of toy buying. I think that kids have way too many toys and way, way too many of which require batteries and have just one function. A ball, a stick and a hoop is all what is really needed. Add unlimited access to nature, lots of art supplies, permission and encouragement to participate in daily activities like cooking, cleaning and gardening, and those toys just sit on a shelf collecting dust.


Young boy playing happily without toys with a shovel on a mulch pile

Parents usually do buy these toys to try to create some space for themselves. Keep the kids busy with something. Again, my opinion, I think that parents have a huge task to fulfill raising kids in the now typical family setting: parents, children. Thats it. No live-in grandpa and grandma, no aunts, uncles, cousins or other relatives living in the same house or at least close by. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors, let alone trust them for any amount of time with our kids.

For me, that was certainly true while my children were little. My family lived on a different continent and my husband’s not only a few hours away, but his parents were both employed and wanted and needed to spend their weekends taking care of themselves. That left me virtually alone with three small children to take care of. Of course, I made friends and got involved in groups centering mostly around child related activities. Some of those friends and I exchanged babysitting. But those precious hours of freedom came with the price of caring for 7 or 8 children when it was the friend’s turn to get some alone time.

Remembering how much I was craving to have a bit of alone time, how much I was wishing that my nice neighbors would offer once in a while to take the kids, even just for half an hour, helped the inception of this new tradition. Also reflecting on the many times that little bit of space would have helped me to be a much more patient mother formulated the plan. Finally, there are times I wonder if my ex-husband, the father of my kids, and I would have had some stress free time together, if we could have worked it out – or at least had a better time together while the marriage lasted.

All of that happened a long time ago, and all the guessing in the world of what could have been is pointless – I am at peace with the past. But my children are young parents right now. Young parents juggling to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities to live in in the US, to be good parents to their children, to be part of a couple and to still keep hold of being an individual. Not an easy task and many young families are sharing in this experience.

Choosing the Gift of Cousins Day

grandson having fun and getting very dirty eating something yummy

While I was contemplating what gift to give to my children which is not a burden on the environment, is within my means, and makes a positive impact on their lives, the tradition of Cousins Day was born. Once a month, they now can count on at least one whole day to do what they wish and as the little ones get older, this might turn into a weekend. Good for them! I, on the other hand, get to hang out with my grandchildren on a regular basis. We get to play and have fun and treat this day as a vacation for all. The best part is a dinner with everybody to close the day/weekend. Family connection by design and on the schedule – a must in our busy times.

Part of me would love to do the same for every young couple or single mom out there to make life a bit easier, but maybe this article will inspire some of you Grandparents to start a tradition like this of your own. Actually, you don’t even have to be a grandparent, or have children. “Families” are what we create. Maybe we take Italy’s example where young families started to adopt a grandparent in lieu of having one of their own.

“You bring the Green Bean Casserole,” your mother tells you in a voice, a bit stressed, a bit annoyed sounding which is not unusual during the Holiday season.

“Why?” You say. Just as you did last year, and the year before, and the year before that. “Hardly any ever gets eaten and I throw most of it away.”

“It’s a tradition!” Your mother voice now is full of annoyance. Her tone is very clear. How can a child she raised to be so dense. It’s a tradition! We always did it that way.  And by golly, we always will. “It’s a tradition” says it all. End of discussion!

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Food on the table nobody really likes; gifts which have to be purchased, wrapped and given to people one hardly knows or cares about; families gather even though many a stomach ties into knots just thinking about the hours spent together – and the list goes on.

Right now, we are close to Christmas, which has become an event lasting several weeks inundated with all kinds of rites and traditions. We are decorating our houses inside and out; write endless cards to people on “the list”; buy lots of gifts, often more than we can afford. We attend and give parties featuring food that is delicious, but also full of fat and sugar, making it almost impossible to keep our waistlines where they are supposed to be. Oh well, that in itself is the cause for another great tradition: Joining a Gym at the beginning of the New Year and setting all kinds of good intentions – weight loss being one of the all time favorites.

Christmas and all that comes with it seems to have been adopted by people of many religions as a secular holiday – maybe to fit in, maybe because it is so much fun. But it is by no means the only holiday which can create stress to those participating, please insert whichever applies to your situation: Hanukah, Eid, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, various New Years, Birthdays and more.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who just loves everything associated with holidays and celebrations. If you are, good for you! But read on, maybe you’ll find something you might like to add as part of your festivities.

Every culture, every nation and almost every family has traditions which sometimes define them and often create a sense of belonging, identity and continuity. Some of those are practiced with great purpose and intentions, others are just adhered to without much awareness of their existence and their purpose. “It’s how it is done,” or “we always did it this way,” would be  possible answers to the question of “why?”

Traditions can be a wonderful thing, but, as the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson illustrates so eloquently, they can also have a negative impact or simply make no sense. If you fall into the camp of experiencing more stress than enjoyment, more “shoulds” and “musts” than “wants” while preparing and participating in a holiday, it is high time to reassess which of your family customs are in urgent need to be replaced.

In a recent Blab Conversation/podcast, we addressed the topic of creating a stress free holiday in some detail. One very good point Brad Rowland shared is to make sure to discuss a change of tradition with the rest of the stakeholders – be they family, friends, co-workers or members of your communities. Apparently, making unilateral changes does not go over very well.

As with any change, the first step is to find out the what and why. Now is a good time to become really aware of all the ways which are part of your celebrations. That could be certain foods; gathering in a particular place with a particular group of people; gift exchanges; watching a show together; having the yearly political debate – you get the picture.  Write them down.

Next, pay attention to how you feel. Are you excited and can hardly wait for (fill in the action) to happen, or, are you deep down wishing for any excuse to get out of it? Of course, there is anything from indifferent, to slightly annoyed, to finding it pleasant. Make yourself a scale. For example, 10 stands for super excited, 5 for neutral and 0 for absolutely hate it – the other numbers for your personal shades of feelings.

Assign a numbers to each and every one of the traditions you recognized as being part of you. Also write down the ones you are not practicing, but you think you should. Sometimes they are the ones causing the most stress.

Obviously, all the tens are keepers. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. The zeros on the other hand are calling for some serious attention. If there are several, it might be a good idea to choose only one to start with. The first question to ask oneself is why? Why is this particular rite stressing me out?

This could be simple: The whole family, all 30 of them, are gathering at my house every holiday and it is stressing me out because I have a lot of meal preparation, cleanup and no space to find solitude and quiet during that whole time.

The next question is a why – again. Why are we doing it this way?

Again, there could be a simple answer: We had/have the only house big enough for the whole family to fit. Or, our house is centrally located and the most convenient to get to.

Now, ask yourself: Does it have to be the way we always did it? Are there other options?

Most likely, there are an array of options to change any tradition which earned a rating below five or six. In this example, several options come to mind.

  • Some other family member might now have a big house as well and can be the host.
  • The family takes a cruise together.
  • The family goes camping together.
  • The gathering takes place at a vacation area – instead of a destination wedding, a destination christmas or other holiday.
  • Everybody comes to my town, but doesn’t stay at my house. Another house can be rented or several rooms and meals are eaten at a restaurant.
  • Meals are catered and a person responsible for clean up is hired.
  • The host rents him/herself a room to have a retreat area from the crowd.
  • Every family member takes a turn hosting the gathering and they arrange it according to their choice.

This is an excellent example of the importance of involving everybody concerned in making the change, from brainstorming to the implementation of the new ritual. Many minds will come up with brilliant ideas and even the nay-sayers have an easier time adjusting to a change if they had a chance to participate in the decision making.

However, change does not always have to be the result of soul-searching, discussions and coming up with solutions. Sometimes, magic just happens when people gather in joy.  A new tradition is born because it was so much fun the first time it came about! This happened for Brad Rowland. Here are the ingredients: A guitar and a player, several singers and a camera. Please enjoy Brad and his nieces performing Be Thou My Vision, a poem first recorded in “Old Irish Celtic” in the 6th century.

Check back soon for this year’s performance and video.

A gathering of friends and family around good food, good cheer, laughter, stories and fun – that’s what most of us hope to experience during the holidays.

But too often our holidays are about rushing to find the right gifts; creating the perfect dishes; worrying about troubled relatives, staying within our budgets and trying to stay healthy without the aid of adequate rest and nutritious food.

So just how do we put our hearts into the holiday experience in a way that maintains our health and happiness?

Join us this Friday, December 18 at 9 am PT for a discussion on this topic.  We’ll share tips, tricks and thoughts about how to have a meaningful holiday experience that nourishes the soul and doesn’t break the bank or our health.

We’ll look at stress factors such as money, time and family issues and how to deal with each in a way that doesn’t drain us.

We will also discuss solutions to common problems such as decorating, gift giving and parties with budgetary limitations in mind. We’ll also discuss alternatives to traditional practices that can result in a more satisfying holiday experience for everyone involved.

So grab some eggnog, get comfy and join us for a chat designed to support you in creating a holiday experience that leaves you feeling warm and satisfied instead of drained and haggard.



envisioning peace on earth

The human race has experienced century upon century of struggle, oppression and war. For countless generations this way of being has been the norm.  But a growing number of us are beginning to see that drastic change is necessary if we want to continue to exist as a species.

As we chart a course toward a different future, it’s important to have a clear destination in mind – a picture, if you will, of what a peaceful, harmonious and happy world would look like.

So we have scheduled a live streamed video discussion on the topic.

Please join us Friday, December 11 at 9 am PT for a discussion on, “Envisioning Peace on Earth.”

We’ll brainstorm about what Peace on Earth would look like? Then we’ll delve onto, how will it be achieved; how  politics, science, critical thinking and spiritual evolution will play a part; and what individuals can do now.

Resources for Creating a Sustainable Home

During our podcast on this topic we mentioned quite a few ideas and resources that may come in handy if you are looking to make your home more sustainable.  Here are a few:


  • weather strip windows
  • heavy curtains longer than the door to avoid drafts – could be a heavy wool blanket
  • cold climate: create some kind of weather protected entrance
  • replace windows with better insulation
  • In hot climate: paint roof white
  • Natural insulation: Wool, old denim, cork, recycled plastic (better not to use plastic)
  • living roof if structure allows the weight

Why Norwegians Rule When it Comest to Keeping Indoor Heating Costs Down

Green Mini-Makeovers to Transform Your Space

15 House Plants to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Keeping Warm With Minimal Heating: Small Scale Solutions

Art Ludwig’s Grey Water Forum on Permies.Com

Indoor Clay Cover Instead of Paint

Old Fashioned Milk Paint

Roof Top Insulation

Natural Insulation Materials




Most homes today are not designed with sustainability as a priority element.  But there is much that can be done to green these existing homes.

This week we will envision what the ideal sustainable home would look like and how what we can do to create it using an existing structure. Join us Friday, December 4 for a live-streamed discussion on “Envisioning: The Sustainable Home.”

Just click on this link at 9 am PST.