I got some comments from some readers who are certified in energy-responsible
practices. I am happy to learn that this is a field of work and that
certifications are available. This makes it even more upsetting how few large
corporations have a commitment to responsible energy usage.
I do firmly believe that new structures, initiatives, and plans in urban environments should only be considered if they have a commitment to energy efficiency for the benefit of our environment – not for the benefit of building and factory owners. Despite this being exactly who they purport to benefit, CxEnergy brings together commissioning and energy management to facilitate discussions about energy efficiency. No matter who they hope to benefit, I support anything that benefits the Earth, even if by accident!
One element about living off the grid that appeals to me is the low energy usage required of my lifestyle. Even when I’m making candles or soap, I aim to do so using as little energy as possible. I do all of my work by daylight rather than using energy; I compost all of my food scraps and waste and use a hand crank compost bin; I have worm bins; I gather water whenever possible from a nearby stream; and I refuse to use any products that contribute to plastic waste on earth. It’s a very complicated way to live, it’s not for everyone, but when this world goes up in flames I will be happy to know how little I contributed to it. Human caused climate change is so wild to me – this god-complex of humanity thinking that we can use up all of her resources and then just invent new ones or change her to fit our needs. The blatant disrespect for the earth is shameful!
There is, of course, more of an onus on corporations than individuals but I don’t have any vested interest or control over a corporation and I’m certainly not going to spend my days lobbying our broken government to enforce stricter anti-pollution and responsible energy use laws for large corporation. I will, instead, craft a life dedicated to caring for my self and my immediate environment. Thinking small works for me.
One thing about being a recluse that I didn’t necessarily anticipate is how much applicable learning there is – how to spend time, how to plant seeds, how to tend a garden, how to stay busy, etc leaving almost no time for theoretical learning. I can’t remember the last time I learned a skill or trade that wasn’t immediately applicable and I miss the feeling of theoretical learning – learning something just to know it.
I was never very strong in Math, it was something that plagued me during my childhood. I’d bring home high marks and great essays from English class, I’d speak French almost fluently at home, and I had a fair grasp on American History and Government. But my low marks in Math were the topic of discussion at every family dinner, on every report card day, and at every parent teacher conference.
No longer accepting such things about myself, I have decided to relearn math. I am starting slow, by using some online resources. I literally spent an hour this morning on an equivalent fractions worksheet that really should have taken me about ten minutes. But I want to start slow, I want to work through frustration, and I want to prove what I’ve always known: I’m smart enough to learn math, I just didn’t have the interest.
Lots of folks asking what I do for fun, for entertainment, to stay busy.
Well maintaining a lifestyle like mine requires hours and hours a day of simple life and home maintenance and that feels good to me. If I want to eat eggs, I must tend the chickens. If I want to eat vegetables, I must tend the garden. If I want to bake a pie next week, I must collect the fruits today. If I want to earn an income, albeit a small one, I must create things to sell – that requires procuring wax, milking goats, tending to the herb garden. Nothing happens automatically, nothing is delivered to me, and nothing is one-step.
One reason I was so sick of modern urban life was the immediacy of everything – one-day delivery of things I didn’t need in one day, fast food DELIVERY, hiring out tasks simply because I didn’t have time to do them or learn to do them, taking a train for an hour to travel six miles. I understand the appeal, I don’t disparage anyone who chooses to live this way.
I have no lack of entertainment, I have a local library that rents me any book I could ever need, they carry DVDs, books, audiobooks, etc. I’m entertained but often so tired from maintaining my life that I sleep readily, without Netflix or Spotify.
Of course, can’t have goats without the chickens. My yard sounds like a bloodbath!
Luckily, the goats and chickens are friends, they each have their own space but they spend most of their time occupying the same space. The only true separation is their food – the chickens have a small coop that the goats cannot fit into where their food is kept; and the goats hay is kept separate and parceled out as appropriate.
The feeding coop also features spaces for the chickens to coop, like me some of them need their own time without the goats’ company, so they have a nice little shelter. And the goats seem to do just fine in the fenced yard. The fence is up more to keep them away from the vegetable and herb gardens than to sequester them or me in the yard. I’m like the dixie chicks, I need wide open spaces!
I haven’t had any instances of shared illness or disease between the goats and chickens – yet – although I understand it to be an issue to be aware of. Luckily, a nearby friend is a retired veterinarian and does house calls for close friends and neighbors.
I live, in large part, on eggs from my chickens. I also use them as host gifts when I visit friends.
Lots of comments asking me about my goat maintenance – a topic on which I never thought I’d be the expect. Goats are, first of all, very darling cute friendly little companions. I know many of you are asking from the perspective of raising city goats, and I commend your attempts, but the biggest barrier I’d see in this success is the amount of noise and smell goats make. They bleat, a lot, and it sounds similar to a screaming baby or an annoyed toddler. A goat in heat screams. Good for her, but bummer for your neighbors. So be sure your city is livestock friendly and your neighbors are ok with lots and lots of all-hours screaming.
Also, goats like to have companion goats. As herd animals, they tend to travel and live and love together so don’t be cruel and get one goat to live a lonely life in your tiny backyard. Make sure you have ample space and resources and get at least two goats.
Separate your goats from your gardens. I cannot effectively communicate my emotions when, a week after bringing goats home, they had eaten my entire vegetable garden – one I had spent years cultivating. Anger, yes. But goats eat, that’s natural. Sad, yes. But I should have anticipated this. That said, they also did a number on the wee and brush, clearing way for me to start my herb garden and doubling the size of my forthcoming replacement vegetable garden. And their manure is an excellent compost.
In order for my female goats to keep producing milk, they have to be bred each year. This means, there are beebee goats every year requiring maintenance and rehoming. I’m fortunate to live in a community where it’s not too challenging to rehome a baby goat or three each year, but for your city-dwellers this may be more of an obstacle.
Goats are great companions, they’re vest friends with my Labrador retriever Louie, they’re excited to see me when I come outside each morning, and they’re cuties. When I have my annual kids, I bring them to the orchard and set up a makeshift little petting zoo. They’re darling with the urban kids who come through who literally pay money to bottle feed them!
I, like anyone, have a sweet tooth that the neighbor’s pickles, the orchard apples, the garden vegetables can’t fix. Of course, I make the occasional pie. But when I saw handcrafted adorable goats milk caramels at the nearby cheese shop, I thought I’d give it a try.
It turns out it’s really quite simple. Making caramel is basically combining butter, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, milk, salt, and flavoring when necessary. Making goats milk caramel is the exact same but with goats milk butter and goats milk. The difference in taste is, by my estimation, negligible. However, I find goats easier to tend than cows and so, goats milk it is!
Again, a very hot selling item at the orchard. They’re packaged in a variety of ways – some people prefer to pay to have them tied up in brown paper packaging with little red strings. It has a rustic appearance that suggests “I bought this at a FARM you guys!.” And after the first time, they usually come back with their own vessels so they can buy in bulk and package it at home.
I’ve had a fair number of clients – always women – wanting to go into business with me. They promise me so much, they could get me on Amazon, they could get us in Target stores, they could explode my business. I thank them gingerly, but remind them that my goal is only to sell enough products to maintain myself. I have no need for six figures, I have no need for name recognition, I have no need to be a cog in the NRA- and Breitbard-backed wheel that is Amazon.
Someone recently told me that women have so much potential, why was I choosing not to live up to mine. That making lots of money is an admirable use of potential makes me want to gag – reminds me why I have chosen this life.
I first saw goats milk soaps while traveling in the south of France and initially cringed at the notion of it. I’ve always had sensitive skin so many traditional soaps cause me to break out or itch. Goats milk soap felt soothing to my skin while cleansing and I never experienced any reaction thereafter.
Goats milk soaps contains lactic acids to help remove dead skin cells from the surface without relying on harsh exfoliators that also remove healthy skin cells. This makes my skin look brighter and younger without irritating. It contains Vitamin A to promote the growth and maintenance of healthy skin – it helps keep me free of blemishes and psoriasis without requiring toners and tonics and expensive skincare treatments. The cream in the goats milk moisturizes. The selenium prevents sun damage. And finally, I like knowing the goats from whom the milk came which is nourishing my skin. I nourish the goat, the goat nourishes me. We have a nice relationship – nicer than many I have maintained with human beings in my life.
And needless to say, the urban tourists in town to shop and giggle at our quaintness buy this shit by the pound. They clamor on about how it’ll make great holiday gifts, so niche, and buy one in each scent for a 400% markup and then stop by Sephora to spend hundreds on skincare regimens that can’t hold a candle.
It was always a romantic notion – being away from everything. No pointless happy hours. No throwing rent money at an incompetent landlord. No avoiding eye contact with creeps on the train. No more $13 cocktails and $8 beers. No more house plants when what I want is a garden. No more house cats in place of goats. The simple life is not a surrender, it’s a choice.
I wanted to clear that up before you continue reading and understand me to be a hermit recluse running away from humanity – a damaged war vet who can’t take modern life – a kook like the Beales living in a condemned mansion surrounded by cats – I’m not shell-shocked, Lieutenant Dan’d, or a loose cannon. This isn’t my alternative to homelessness. I’m not a waiting room staple at the VA. And my time in the war is not the most important time in my life and it did not define the rest of it.
I make soy candles only. Soy candles burn better, releasing fewer toxins into the air, making them less likely to cause or trigger allergies. They burn cooler too which means they can burn for much longer than other types of candles. I buy the soy from American farmers. I’m not a big “HOORAH BUY AMERICAN” crony, but I do appreciate buying local when I can – especially because of how much literally easier it is.
I have a neighbor with a huge soy farm, he provides my supplies in trade. No need to support Bezos or the Walton family and whatever terrible companies support them.
I use the jars my neighbor uses for pickling. She comes by with about six quart jars a week of pickled vegetables, jams, jellies, anything from her garden. I eat the contents, and then recycle the jars to make candles. We have a sort of exchange going.
I have a rather large herb garden, it’s been a years-long project and I’m proud of how beautiful and productive it is. I have lavender, rosemary, thyme, anise, basil, lemon balm, mint, and I’ve just started an entire section of teas. Selling teas may be a nice next endeavor.
Turning herbs into oils for scented candles is a simple, but time-intensive project.
My finished candles are among my currency. I drop some by my pickle neighbor’s place, a few to the farmer, and dozens monthly go to the nearby apple orchard where eager city tourists spend paper money like it’s fake. They spend a hundred dollars, giddily, on apples, candles, pickles, jams, and jellies to bring back to the city like they’re pilgrims or something.