Category Archives: voluntary simpllicity

Supporting Each Other’s Work: It’s Automatic

The internet has been a great way for us to share our experiences with readers across the world and to maintain friendships over oceans and continents. I have been reading The Automatic Earth for years, and almost exactly two years ago Nicole Foss and Raul Ilagi Meijer gave a presentation here in Whanganui and stayed with us in our home.

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Raul has been writing up a storm lately – a series called Debt Rattle. Two weeks ago I sent him a short article on my personal take on debt just for a laugh, because he and Nicole usually write about Very Big Picture issues. But alas, everything is connected, and Raul managed to include a part of my article as a bit of an answer to his own question: “What do we want to grow into?”

Debt Rattle Apr 14 2014: The Parable Of The Blind Man And The Steep Cliff

But not all is black out there. 10 days ago, our Kiwi friend Nelson Lebo (Nicole and I stayed with him and his wonderful little family for a few days 2 years ago) sent me this article he wrote for the Wanganui Chronicle. Some people answer the question “What Do We Want To Grow Into?” simply by being it in their daily lives. They live the answer.

Financial Independence Through Bicycling

My position is that more people are receptive to messages of saving money than “saving the planet”, and that in many cases both are possible by designing win-win situations. For example, I graduated from University in 1990 with student loans and without a car. Some unexplained thrifty gene in my DNA told me to forgo buying a car until I had paid off my loans. In other words, don’t take on more debt until you’ve paid off the existing debt.

That experience was faster and less painful than I expected, so I carried on living car-free for seven more years before buying my brother’s old ute for $500. I continued bicycling and taking public transit for most of my transport needs but drove about twice each month until early 2000. At that point, after living nearly car-free for over a decade I had saved enough money to buy a small farm…on a teacher’s salary. To clarify, this was by no means a flash farm, and I did work every school holiday for most of those years to earn and save more money. On 1st June 2000 I took title of 38 acres and a 214 year-old farmhouse. I called it Pedal Power Farm.

Over the next eight years I used eco-thrifty thinking and lots of blood, sweat and tears to renovate the farmhouse, build a post and beam barn by hand, and improve soil fertility. In 2008 – at the start of the housing crisis in America – I sold the farm for nearly twice what I paid. Proceeds of the sale paid for four years of doctoral research at Waikato, a second-hand Subaru wagon, and a fully renovated but once run-down villa in Castlecliff.

While car-free living cannot be attributed for all of this, it provided a platform to get out of debt and to get onto the ‘property ladder’ debt-free. Other contributing factors were fiscal conservatism and working my bum off for 18 years. At 45 I am semi-retired with plenty of time to spend with my toddler daughter and to volunteer in the community. If you think about it carefully enough, I suppose you are reading these words in today’s paper because I made a choice 24 years ago to ride a bike.

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Eco-Thrifty in the International Press

There seems to be a rising level of concern lately of news stories that put Whanganui in a bad light. Of course we all know that there are many groups and individuals working hard to do just the opposite. Among them are Dani and Nelson Lebo of The ECO School (Castlecliff), whose efforts have earned them praise from a wide range of environmentalists and sustainability advocates both near and far. At present, their work is featured in the current issues of three magazines: one domestic and two international.

Screen shot 2014-02-23 at 10.15.15 AMLocal writer Helen Frances has penned a fabulous article for New Zealand Lifestyle Block that runs a full eight pages, profiling the couple’s unique philosophy and international perspective. Find one in the shops before the end of the month.

Additionally, Nelson has written a piece for Permaculture (UK), on raising an eco-thrifty baby, using many of Dani’s photographs. It’s rare for New Zealand projects to feature in this magazine, so this is a particular accomplishment for a Whanganui-based permaculture property.

And finally, Nelson also contributed to Green Teacher (Canada), describing an environmental education curriculum he developed based on the couple’s renovation in Castlecliff. You can find information on the curriculum at The Little House That Could on Facebook.

Conservative Like Me

Editor’s note: This piece ran today as an opinion in the Wanganui Chronicle. It is in response to some complaints by the (radical) right that there are too many ‘libral’ columnists. This should give you a laugh.

Saturday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year: a time for celebration and the harvesting of garlic; a time for BBQs and surfing (although, always is also a good time to catch waves); a time to bask in light before the long and slow slide back into the darkness of winter.
Exactly three months ago – 21st September – I wrote the first of five opinion pieces that have appeared in the Chronicle. It may have been beginners luck, but I consider that piece, which linked research on income inequality to social problems, and then to the WDC rates structure, as the best of the lot. On the day it ran, I got a text from a surfing buddy that went something like this: “Awesome article in da paper, bro. Chur. Chur.” Another friend told me, “The Chronicle shouldn’t have labeled it as an opinion. That’s the type of investigative journalism they should be doing.”
Working with the editors of the Chronicle, I had planned specifically for the piece to run on the vernal (spring) equinox as a way to reflect on balance and imbalance in our world and in our city. If you believe the international research that shows a correlation between income inequality and social problems (The Spirit Level, Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009), and can perform basic addition, multiplication and division, you will easily recognize that the WDC rates structure serves to increase the wealth gap in our city, and the annual Council rates rises widen the gap each year. (More on this, hopefully, in 2014.)
The reasons I think it was my best effort include: it is based on respected research and clear local data; it is relevant to everyone who lives in Whanganui; it was written as objectively as possible; and, the equinox was a fine metaphorical launching pad for a critical discussion on this important local issue, although from what I can tell that discussion has not really been happening…yet.
But equinoxes are easy to write about, and peer-reviewed research and replicable data is so boring. Objectivity – Shmogjectivity! The solstice is a time to be bold, opinionated, controversial!
And in that spirit, I would like to point out what has become glaringly obvious in the pages of the Chronicle: So many radicals writing so many opinions. The Chron is clearly out of balance and needs more conservative voices like mine!
Who, besides me, will stand up for conserving natural resources, other than Nicola Young and the throng of writers in Monday’s “Conservation Comment”?
Who, besides me, will advocate for a conservative position on climate change, other than Nicola Young and the gaggle of writers in Monday’s “Conservation Comment”?
Who, besides me, thinks that selling high performing government assets to foreign private investors is risky, other than Nicola Young and the pride of writers in Monday’s “Conservation Comment”?
Who, besides me, embraces the precautionary principle when considering the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing, offshore drilling, iron sands mining, and genetic engineering, other than Nicola Young and the flock of writers in Monday’s “Conservation Comment”?
I mean, give me a break! Am I the only one, along with all of these other conservatives, who thinks wasting energy, wasting money, and wasting resources while taking radical positions on the economy, society, and environment must be addressed in a public forum?
We need more conservative voices in the Chronicle to address the radical policies of extremists that put our economy and social structure at risk.
Please join me, fellow conservatives, to stand up for risk aversion, fiscal responsibility, and the precautionary principle. Together, our combined voices and the power for the press may be able to move this new Council toward truly conservative positions. Let the radicals take the Letters page, if we can dominate the Opinions! 

9/11 Yesterday/Today

As with birthdays, wedding anniversaries and holidays, we met the 10-year anniversary of the plane crashes of the 11th of September divided. Days arrive a day earlier in New Zealand than they do in the USA. As we awoke on Sunday, 11-09-11 in Wanganui, NZ, our families were enjoying an autumn Saturday afternoon in New Jersey, Washington DC, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. As I write these words on Monday, 12-09-11 in Wanganui, memorial services are taking place on Sunday, 11-09-11 in New York City and elsewhere around the country. Living between two worlds reminds me of an amazing book about the Native American experience called Neither Wolf Nor Dog.

Being dedicated to the sustainability movement but living in a patently unsustainable world gives me the sense of inbetweenness that many Native Americans and Maori feel regarding cultural identity. I don’t mean to imply for a moment that I can identify with being a colonized people, but I share a feeling of not belonging to the dominant culture and not living a 100% alternative lifestyle. Like many people, I walk in two worlds and often stumble.
Even though many of our friends and neighbors think our lifestyle is extreme in the extreme (“their %$#^@ mad” as one of our good friends recently put it) I consider our lifestyle fairly normal. We have mains power, mains water, internet service, a mobile phone, a slow-cooker (crock pot), a refrigerator, two circular saws, two electric drills, two computers, a printer, a digital camera, hot and cold running water, and a car. Of that list, for most of my time on my farm in New Hampshire I had only seasonal cold running water, a computer, sometimes a mobile phone and sometimes a car. By comparison, I feel absolutely cosmopolitan now.
And so it was with a sense of privilege that I accompanied my lovely wife on our bicycles to the Castlecliff Club on Friday evening to watch the opening ceremonies and first game of the Rugby World Cup being held here in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is said that rugby is a hoodlum’s game played by gentlemen while soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hoodlums. When I think of that juxtaposition it reminds me of what it means to embrace voluntary simplicity. Although the two of us hold 4 and 2/3 tertiary qualifications, we live well below the poverty level. In a sense, we are “gentlemen playing a hoodlums game.” But of course it is not a game (and we ain’t no gentleman neetha’). This is our life, and it is a very good life at that. It is just surprising how few people are genuinely interested in saving money and preserving the health of the planet.
Among the events we chose for our Sunday the 11th of September were: planting native shrubs and grasses in the local dunes; kareoke practice; softball team AGM and muster; priming trim boards for interior doorways and windows; and going to the Castlecliff Hotel to watch the USA play Ireland in their first round rugby match. It was billed as an emotional match for the USA as the team was playing on 11-09-11 in NZ. And the boys put up a good first half against a strong Irish club. The score was closer than most would have predicted, although the US kept it that way with a stingy defense and a lucky last second score.
Watching rugby from the perspective of an American footballer can be counter intuitive. Football is usually considered a game of possession, and rugby – I’m told – is a game of position. Pinned down at their own goal line, a football team would never punt on first down. But it is common in rugby to punt the ball voluntarily to improve the field position while giving up ball possession. Again, I am reminded of voluntary simplicity. Our material possessions are not as important as the position of our relationships with friends and neighbors (although they may think us a bit odd).
This perspective of position over possession became acutely clear to us as the game was winding down in conjunction with my second Lion Brown. A woman who Dani had just met at Kareoke practice (conveniently held at the same venue) came up and offered to buy us a round of drinks. “No thank you,” we said, “we’re just heading home.”
“OK,” she said, “then just take the money.” She held a twenty dollar bill toward us.
“No. No. That’s alright,” we said.
“I just won the jackpot and I have to share it or else it will never come back to me.”
“No, really, that’s OK.”
“You have to take it. Its an offering. You have to take it.”
We reluctantly accepted and walked outside.
I don’t want to read too much into this interchange, especially because it was an intercultural exchange and I cannot offer insights into the motivations of someone brought up within a more indigenous worldview than mine. But I suspect that the sustainability movement has more in common with traditional Maori and Native American perspectives than what most people recognize. I’m curious what you might think about the relationship between the permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair share, and the concept of the potlatch ceremony, or giveaway. From Wikipedia:
A potlatch[1][2] is a gift-giving festival and primary economic system[3] practiced byindigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. This includes Haida, Nuxalk,Tlingit, Makah, Tsimshian,[4] Nuu-chah-nulth,[5] Kwakwaka’wakw,[3] and Coast Salish[6]cultures. The word comes from the Chinook Jargon, meaning “to give away” or “a gift.”

What do you think?

Peace, Estwing