Archive for the ‘Sustain Yourself!’ Category

Howler Monkeys, Gallo Pinto and Nica Time.

November 28, 2012
A year ago, I documented my first impressions of Nicaragua and how it changed my perspective of preparedness, living with not much and sustainability in Living La Vida Nica. Here I am now, about a year later, relaxing in what feels like a cavernous house while waiting on pork chops to finish baking in the oven, while sipping hot apple cider that is laced with immuno-stimulating herbs and pondering a good hot bath later on, having just returned from my second trip to Nicaragua. For most of us, we simply don't realize how GOOD we've got it until you've got nothing but a hammock in between you and the great unknown howler monkey in the dark (are they hungry? do they eat people or just poop on them?) and a belly ache from drinking not-quite-good-for-you water. We spent 9 days in Nicaragua, 5 of them going into a remote village named La Uva, to bring herbal medicine and self-sustaining water purification to the good folks that live in a village that doesn't have little modern conveniences like cars, electricity or phones.
check out my ride

check out my ride, ya'll!

  Better yet, imagine if you will, hesitating outside the latrine (called a pon-pon) at night because you KNOW once you open the door, either a bat is going to fly out at you, or, even better, once you remove the new lids on the cement toilets, you're going to hear some ominous fluttering, some wings beating, some comin-your-way-right-now noise from the depths of the pon-pon to invade your personal space. the pon pon of my nightmares Yes, you have it good.  You've got it good because you can walk to your faucet and turn it on for a glass of water.  You've got it good because you can eat something other than rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner; you have a stove to cook food on instead of a fire that will fill your house with smoke that will coat and corrode your lungs;  and because you could, if you chose to, see a doctor, an herbalist, an acupuncturist or a magician, if that suited you.  You don't have to stand at a well to give yourself a sponge bath, wash your clothes AND trot home with a bucket of (contaminated) water to drink and cook with.
outdoor washing machine

A Nica washing machine named Mark. From Texas.

  So I had some observations on this trip.  Since there are other blog posts about the herbal clinic our group did and the water purification our team introduced to the community, I won't repeat it.  This is more of the hermist-eye-view of a land that was dunked head first in a vat of color, heat rash and gallo pinto. Hermist Obervations. 1. Gallo Pinto.  Speaking of.  The most common Nica staple, you'll be seeing it breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are wearing your lucky socks, you may see fried plantains with it. After Day 2, you will wolf those plantains down just like Walmart shopper that takes out a small child in the way of a doorbuster sale tv.  Some people can't get enough of it ... others?  Well, lets just say for some, rice and beans won't be on their plates any time soon....
nica dinner time

Hey, whats for dinner? I dunno. Nooo idea.

2. You need livestock.  The Nicas have this one figured out.  Everywhere we went, we were either tripping over a pig, a chicken, having a cow suspiciously give us the stink eye or we interrupted a steady stream of ducklings, chicks or piglets squealing after their mama. Entire families of fowl, fur and cluck lined river beds, minding their own business, guarded by skeletal family dogs and eating bugs. The Nica in this region do not have refrigeration, so when they harvest an animal, its a community thing and everything down to the bones, pelt and fat are used right away.  Up here in the good old US of A, if we used more of these basic homesteading and community concepts, we'd be on our way to some sort of food self-reliance instead of a full panic every time there's a hurricane that rolls through.
nicaragua backyard homestead

No, this pig is not part of a misguided airline idea.

  3.  Older Nica men are the bomb.  Trying to figure out how to drill into plastic without a drill?  If you've got a match, a stick and a nail, you're about to be schooled by a total bad-ass named Don Luis -- who, before you can turn around, will have a fire started, a nail hammered into the end of a stick and that heated up nail neatly slicing through plastic like a hot knife in butter.

Don Luis. There is nothing this man can not do.

4. Pinata parties are scary.  Hand a stick to a small capable child or an excited grownup, and then make sure you stand back because there are going to be flying Hello Kitty body parts pretty quickly.  Are they an excuse to bash the living daylights out of cartoon creatures, a creative way to get a lollipop or a way to blow off steam -- who knows.
nica pinata party

Yeah buddy, you'd better stand back there...

It is pretty obvious that more than just the kids relish the carnage though. It brings out the delight in all ages.

I think they enjoyed the disembowelment of Mickey Mouse a little too much...

Just sayin'.  See this guy? I don't think he was even aiming for the pinata. 5. Nica girls get to wear the BEST dresses.  It makes me wish I was 8 years old again.  Of course I was just a mess of band-aids on both knees, mud from the garden in my hair and ... awww hell. Dressed in their Sunday best, these little visions somehow manage to stay clean, crisply ironed and have totally cute hair even while running around decapitating pinatas.  And our group?  We looked like someone had pushed us off a ravine with a mile to fall.  And that was after we woke up and got freshly showered and dressed. How do they do it? 6. The Nica are a beautiful people.  Whether they are young or old, they have a certain simple and quiet grace.  To be around them for our trip was a treat. They found happiness just by being around eachother, without cell phones, video games or other distractions.  Its a sweet addiction. Nicaragua, so much about your rough and jagged edges makes me walk the edges but the more I watch and learn, the more I want to return and step closer. Until next time.  

Shabang. The Pantry.

January 23, 2012
Next year i will know exactly which month i should be heavily investing in oats and/or almonds to make almond treats for the whole year ... actually, since i buy everything like that bulk anyway, whenever the mood strikes me, its a moot point. but for those of you who don't, check this out and may it help with perfect alignment of coupons and such. Month-by-month spend-thriftiness

The Adventures of A Hermit: Year 1 Retrospective.

January 6, 2012

We should be just about done with all the ''Best of" and Top 10 Most Spectacular Vomit Moments of 2011  that clog practically every newspaper and magazine in the land. But I wouldn't be a contributing member of blogger-society if I didn't put the Hermist's fondest adventures on record.

I've come into myself this year, owning up to the role of the Hermist, and no longer trying to force the social butterfly bullshit that simply wasn't me.  Once I did that, I found, much to my surprise, a feeling of relief and also an abundance of good things.  Let's look, shall we? 


A new and entertaining friend, Cheffapetta came to visit the wilds of Austin from the Land of the Sophisticated Palate (Denver), so I had to show him a thing or two about gritty-Coke-In-The-Glass-Bottle-With-Yer-Brisket barbecue.  Wood paneled walls, duck decor, plastic plates and a roll of paper towels. You've been schooled.

they wish they had something so divine in Colorado as the Smokehouse.

 This was the year of canning. I canned practically anything I could get my hands on, from boozed-up strawberries to grilled corn to watermelon rinds and lime-slapped kiwis. I actually killed my nice stove in the process and never had so much fun. The highlight of all that sweating and domestic syrup were the get-togethers with my hermitty friends who weren't afraid to step into the kitchen with me. Now, I'd post photos of the gooey leche quemada, the swimming-in-whisky strawberries and the rows of jeweled fruit in jars, but there are other sites that do food porn so much more justice.   
Can it.
Here was our first canning party, with myself in a feverish state, surrounded by my beautiful domestic-lovin' friends. God love ya. I barely remember anything thanks to that penicillin, what a hell of a party!   

Bringing the world together around a pressure cooker...

 Part of my hermit transformation was learning a lot about how to fend for myself.  And part of THAT includes a pressure cooker, which I was afraid of, and now, am only slightly afraid of.  Just a little bit.  Thanks to David Alexander, for the story about his grandmother blowing up her stove top/roof... but that is another story.  *Do take a special note of the Mistress of Ceremony, the lovely Milan, parked directly in the center of all the quick-paced and high-energy action in the kitchen.   She knows who's in charge.

Too much canning can only lead to drunken moments like this... (drinking cold stew)

Here's Russ. The man makes an excellent elderberry wine, which he creates himself of course, along with above-pictured beef stew, and can fully stock his own larder single-handedly.  The man has amazing potential for  Hermit status...   

Where The Wild Things Are.

My role this past year was the designated wielder of the knife and spatula, cooking up outdoor meals for the people crawling through bushes, being chased by zombies, and living the primitive life.  My inner hermit got much joy out of witnessing moments like these.

This wood elf will find you. Track your ass down and find you.

I loved watching the process of Human Pathers evolving into crafty, independent diy-ers who weren't afraid of getting dirty, doing it from scratch and taking care of themselves.   

Girl kicks man's ass soundly.

  Honestly, and I know everyone agrees on this one. There is nothing better than a girl who can kick your ass.  

No, I promise you I am totally normal.

When we hosted the 1st Annual Zombie Apocalypse this past October, it was an awesome experience to watch how zombies can really put a crimp on carefully planned disorder. 

Zombies and the People That Love Them.

Plus we got to witness zombies who barely stumbled, barely moved, barely accessorized. Zombie baby, zombie kid, zombie bride, zombie gung-ho dad.  And one zombie, who was a streak of darkness, running after pathers in the pitch black.

The Fastest Zombie We've Ever Seen.


A Drill. A Vat of Glue. And An Apron.

One of my outward expressions of happiness is to create textile installations.  Its a surreal Dr. Suess meets The Stepford Wives world, with my alter ego, the Kitchen Goddess.  Somehow, working with fabric and lots of laborious applications of string, stick-pins and nails, has become my defining mark.  My college art professors would be so proud. (probably not)   

Noche De Recuedros with my buddy Rick

  Here is the floating altar, year two, that Rick and I set loose in the Woodlawn Lake.  After an intense summer drought, 'setting loose' might not be the right term, as it grazed the murky bottom of the very low casting pond.   The highlight of the year for me was the day I could step out of Vi's hair salon with my hair sprayed so fastidiously into a beehive that it took me almost a week to get it out.  I stuck two shellacked forks in my hair, put on my pink flirtin' gloves and my favorite blue chiffon apron, was handed a never-empty glass of wine and out I went ... the kitchen goddess.

There is nothing more divine than a kitchen goddess that knows her place. In the home.

 Who says art can't be fun?  With the indispensible Rebecca Coffey fronting the kitchen lines, we opened up a alternate reality of frozen housewife smiles and pickles on a stick.  View the exhibit photos here!  
The Kitchen Goddess, April exhibit

Are You There Dog? Its me...

Not a day goes by that I don't have the company of my dogs; constant companions, artistic consultants and snuffler-of-ears.  We fostered 3 dogs this year and all found great new homes, mostly with other pathers.

Fozzy Leo.

It is a great life, living out here on the hermit-stead with these fine beasts.  This final image though, is my favorite.  It has been exactly 2 years now that Milan came home with us on the day my beloved dad-in-law Joe died.  She came broken down and tired.  Since then she's slowly recovered and is now our elderly dragon-growling matron, the mascot of the hermit.  Milan the Beautiful.

Sam brings Milan up from the pond at the quarry to help her make the trip.

Happy New Year to all of you.  May good things happen. Eat good food. Pet your friends and hug your dogs.  Live that life with intention and gusto.
-The Hermist.

Livin’ La Vida Nica.

December 29, 2011
  The Hermist in the Nica It's unexpectedly cold here, after returning from 12 days in rural Nicaragua.  Of course I didn't notice it was cold before we left, having grown used to the winter 'chill' of South Texas, but I sure feel it now that I've been extracted from the humid and balmy embrace of the Nica. Nicaraguan scouting expedition It was a scouting trip of sorts, an excursion into the poorest country in Central America, where everything is double dipped in saturated color, sooty beauty, and noise.  The Nica does not sleep. nicaraguan life Part of the trip was about the medical needs of the Nica's poor. We spent several days helping out in quickly-constructed rural clinics and the area's primary hospital.  A team of 21 medical students and doctors from Michigan descended with an arsenal of pharmaceuticals and a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine, Sam with his tinctures and herbs, and me with my two hands for soft tissue massage.  medical care in nicaragua I hadn't done any massage in almost 12 years, since I burned out and threw myself into the life of an artist.  But I found that once I put my hands on all the preggo mamas and tiny toothless ladies who explained 'todos' (everywhere, to you gringos) for the location of their muscle pain .... that it was as familiar now as it was then. 
showing massage in nicaragua

working in the Rivas hospital

But I digress.  I can talk about all that some other time.  I wanted to talk about how the Nica people, in their simplicity and pared-down lives, are so much more prepared than we are, with our bomb-shelter stockpiling and accumulation of things to keep us safe.  Huh?  How can some of the poorest people on the continent be relatively unaffected if the lights 'go out' and don't come back on? Well, half the time, the lights are off anyway, with winds frequently tripping off the power and plunging the Nica into a slower but relatively unchanged pace.  life in nicaragua Think about how it is when there is a power outage in your neck of the woods.  The fridge stops its hum, there is no internet, if it was cold outside, its suddenly much colder ... otherwise the temperature of your world starts to rise quickly.  You can't cook dinner because the stove won't work.  Maybe the water purifier on the fridge won't work.  And the chargers for your phone, ipod and other electronics gives you the cold shoulder. And. THERE IS NO INTERNET! In the rural Nica, not much changes. Most of the stoves are propane, so they warm up gallo pinto (rice and beans).  If its hot (because its never cold), they just go outside to sit on the porch and cool themselves with the breezes off the coast. No car? No problem. They get on their horses (or on the I-kid-you-not, ox-drawn cart) and get going. Or they walk.  They adapt easily and don't spend any time stressing over the small stuff.  Half the time I suspect they don't even notice when the power is interrupted. 

the family 'car' scratches itself under the trees ...

I started thinking about how the US seems to be lumbering towards a nervous panicked state regarding food, resources and safety.  We worry what happens if there is an emergency and the stores might run out of food and water.  We worry about electrical shortages due to an over-taxed power system. If there is a gas shortage, we wouldn't be able to drive.  Most of us are completely unprepared for anything greater than a couple of days without life's comforts.  As a culture, we've been largely stripped of our abilities to improvise, survive and thrive as we've slipped into the comfortable embrace of convenience and security.  That is really too bad.  A nation of scrappy balls-to-the-wall miscreants is now the over-fed and clueless. 

"ok, now you don't want to eat this. this would be bad..."

On a hike up one of the amazing Nicaraguan volcanoes, I was humbled immediately by our guide, who probably hiked the damn thing, up and down, 4 or 5 times a week.  Before he started doing the hikes for wimps like me, he harvested coffee and beans from the volcano hillsides.  He could identify not only the types of trees, the dangerous snakes (and monkeys that sounded pretty uh, scary, in the background) and insects with their habitats, but he also knew which trees had the edible berries, when to pick the beans, where they grew and so much that I felt pretty much like a walking marshmallow of ignorance. 

gallo pinto. its whats for dinner.

And we consider ourselves to be the evolved ones, right?  If he had to get by for a month without electricity or trips to the grocery store, I doubt he'd notice it.  Life is abundant there, with mango and orange trees incubating hordes of fruit in every conceivable spot; and with sugar cane, rice, coffee and red beans growing on hillsides, backyards, fields and practically everywhere you look.  Chickens, pigs and cows are in every yard with horses, goats and oxen ready to move.  Meanwhile, our culture has sold off these same survival skills for technology and consumerism.   I am certainly not denying there are things that would be very hard to do without, here in the US.  I think I'd probably prefer being in a US hospital over the one I spent time in at Rivas ... but in all honesty, I'd actually prefer doing a holistic solution at home to any hospital if it was an option.  Just food for thought.  It was an eye-opening experience and I was incredibly humbled by a world that on one hand seemed so simple and rural, but ultimately, had just about everything they needed, right there. Got an opinion on the matter?  I wanna hear it. Start typing now. A couple of recent discussions about gettin' by with not much and being just fine:  The Self Sustained Lifestyle, Part one and Part two.    

Sustainability 101: How To Be Your Own Hermit

October 14, 2011
hey everyone! just wanted to share this blog post that i found to be worth sharing. Its a state of mind.  Check it out... Living a self-sustainable lifestyle does not mean you have to have 139,674, 987 acres somewhere in the middle of nowhere! Off-grid, self-sustainable living can happen no matter where we are. In fact, I believe that self-sufficient living has more to do with our mind-set rather than our surroundings ... read the full awesome blog post here