The Open Road

my beloved steed

my beloved steed

In golopomo life, green living, healthy choices, saving money, and overall zest for life often come together like a package deal. I’ve found this to be true especially in my latest efforts to do more errands by walking or biking, saving the car for distance driving. A small adventure from today illustrates:

Our family signed up to give a gift to a child served by our county social services this Christmas. I need to get the gift to my pastor by tomorrow, and tomorrow he just happens to be holding office hours at a coffee shop two blocks from my house, which is a perfect car-free opportunity for me to get the gift to him.

So today I decided to bike over to the local Jax store, which is the store closest to me that I expected to have some of the items our assigned child had asked for. It was a bit brisk (mid-30’s F), but I dressed accordingly and enjoyed the short ride to the store, which takes me past an always-entertaining prairie dog town and treats me to mountain views when I head west on my return trip.

Jax did not have the particular items I was looking for. But I discovered they had the best price on motor oil I have found yet in this town (still not Fleet Farm prices you lucky Minnesotans!), and with a holiday road trip coming up, we’ll need to bring a couple spare quarts in our old oil-burning car. So I bought some oil, threw it in my bike basket, and biked home.

On my return trip, I thought, “it sure is good I found this motor oil; otherwise, this would have been a wasted trip.” And then laughed at myself – a 2.5-mile round-trip bike ride, which along with my jaunt around the inside of the store took me all of 20 minutes, and gave me a little exercise and fresh air, with squeaky prairie dog cuteness and mountain views to boot, was a waste? Silly me.

As I was unlocking my bike to leave Jax, it occurred to me that I was now closer to Wal-Mart, which would definitely have the items I was looking for, and would be another enjoyable bike ride, mostly along the city recreational trail. Our family avoids Wal-Mart for ethical reasons, but maybe this was one of those instances where I needed to choose the lesser of two evils – continue biking east to Wal-Mart so I could finish my shopping car-free, or give up, go home, start up the car, and drive much further east to the nearest Target (a one-way five-mile ride mostly along a busy highway, which my schedule for today and tomorrow would not allow time to do by bicycle).

Then it occurred to me that there is also a K-Mart in this town, which would also have the items I’m looking for, and which is only three miles from my house and a much safer cycling route. Also, the trip I take with the kids every morning to school, either by foot or bike, gets me a mile closer to K-Mart. And the recycling center, which I discovered today will take the worn-out bicycle tire which Nathan just replaced for me, is only a tiny bit out of the way, and allows me to ride home almost completely on the bicycle trail.

Ding-ding-ding! Problem solved. Thankfully, in this mild eastern Colorado climate, good weather is again forecast for tomorrow.

I write all of this not to show off or lay any guilt trips. This is an inside look at how car-light living works in my everyday life. It’s taken me years to get to this point, where I feel confident enough in my abilities to cycle safely, dress appropriately for the weather, pick a good route, estimate the time a ride will take, and carry stuff home on my bike.

It has also taken years to arrange my life in such a way that I can live like this. I have relocated to a bike-friendly town with some good trails and lots of marked bike lanes, in a climate where, maybe 85% of the time, even through the winter, the weather and road conditions are good enough for me to safely ride my bike (without needing snow tires and extra-protective gear!). We bought a house that is within a mile or two of nearly everything we need for day-to-day subsistence – work, school, groceries, credit union, tons of shopping and restaurants, even the public library and a couple parks. I live with a very handy DIY man who is glad to help me keep my bike in good working order. My kids are both in school during the day, and I don’t have a day job, so I have a good chunk of child-free time available each day for errand-running like this.

And I haven’t “arrived” either. It’s been a blast getting more adventurous on my bicycle – pushing myself to become comfortable with busier streets, colder temperatures, and heavier loads – and I am excited to continue pushing my limits!

One of my favorite mantras, which I first heard in the context of exercise, also applies to making sustainable choices – “some is better than none, and more is better than some.” What’s one errand you can do by foot or bike instead of car this week, or maybe combine with other errands so you use your car just a little less? Make it an adventure!

And enjoy the package deal you get with each little choice along the way!

For further (and better!) reading, start here with a classic Mr. Money Mustache post on biking.

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Bicycle Safety for Monkey-Children

The Public Domain Review is a new favorite of mine. Here’s a little gem of a film from 1963 instructing children in safe and proper cycling. Helmets had not evolved yet, apparently.

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Candy Day


With Halloween just past and the big holiday season on the horizon, all while life-as-normal goes on (treats regularly handed out to children all over the place) – I wanted to write today about our family’s method of dealing with candy.

At our house, Saturday is the day our kids receive their allowance – not just of money, but also of candy. We have an off-limits stash of candy – a candy bank, if you will – where the kids make deposits when they receive candy from everyday random sources, as well as from special occasions like trick-or-treating or parties.

On Saturday – aka Candy Day – a parent brings out the candy stash, and each kid, under watchful parental eyes, fills a jar with eight pieces of candy. (Hershey’s Kisses count as half a piece, and full-size candy bars are two pieces). When the candy jars are filled, the candy stash is put away in its off-limits place, and the candy jars are stored in a kid-accessible cupboard. The kids are free to eat their candy whenever they want throughout the week. Once it’s gone, no more until next Candy Day!

That’s the compromise our family has made on “the candy question.” We have tried other things including outlawing it entirely, but this is the method that has ultimately worked out best for us – the kids get sweet treats, and freedom to choose within some healthy constraints that we hope are helping them learn discipline, budgeting, and a sense of “enough.”

How about you? If you are in charge of children (or even just for yourself), how do you deal with candy?



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Best Seats in the House

Last year we moved from a big old Victorian house in Minnesota to a roughly-thousand-square-foot bungalow we rented in our new town of Loveland, Colorado. Downsizing our stuff for the move was an adventure and a delight. Living very comfortably in a smaller house for a year made it clear to us that we didn’t really want to own a large house again, and as we finished up our one-year rental lease and searched for a house to buy, we landed in another bungalow of a similar size.

Downsizing has continued as we’ve come to value space over stuff, and it’s been fun to think about our particular small-house “problems” and find creative solutions for them.

Here’s one that an Internet search didn’t really help me with, so I’m hoping my post – if I tag it right – can help someone else sometime.

Our house, like many of its kind, has a small addition out the back, and the basement stairs are in the middle of this addition. These stairs were originally outdoor cellar stairs, and they are accessed through a trap door. Here is what this looked like when we bought the house:


That gold trim piece outlines the trap door, which when opened makes a gaping hole in the floor of this room (the mud room, that opens into the kitchen through the doorway pictured here, and the back porch through a door opposite.)

The basement, a pleasant surprise in our search of local houses of this era in our town, is a quite useful space – dug deep enough to stand in, with lots of storage space and a spare bedroom. We installed our washing machine in the basement (side note – there is no need for a clothes dryer in this dry Colorado climate!), and our workbench and tools are located in the basement, as well as a bedroom and rec-room area. So we use these basement stairs every day, many times a day, and basically leave the trapdoor open most of the time.

My concern was that small children, or even inattentive adults, could conceivably fall right over this open edge, onto the concrete basement floor below. We enjoy having guests into our home, and I wanted to eliminate this obvious risk.

But in moving furniture to the basement bedroom, we discovered that not having a wall here is very convenient for heaving large or bulky objects down the stairs. So we didn’t want to build a wall, not even a half-wall. We wanted a sturdy barrier but something removable for occasional furniture-moving.

I turned this over and over in my head, perused the Internet, discussed with other people, and the best I could come up with was a pole that would screw into both the floor and the ceiling at the top end of the stairs, with a removable fence or wall of some sort that would connect to the pole on one end and the existing wall on the other.

But then one night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I saw this in my mind’s eye:


Theater seating! Something that could be secured into the floor and easily removable, provide a protective barrier, and not take up too much space. And a bonus – since this is a mud room, you can sit on this particular barrier and put on or take off your shoes as you prepare to leave the house or are returning to it!

We found these seats on Craigslist, hauled them home in the back of our little Saturn wagon (everything comes apart, so we stacked it all in the back of the car), and screwed them into the floor the same day. Astute observers will note that small children of the crawling variety could still fall over the edge under the chairs, but we plan to add some sort of rail along the base of the chairs so this can’t happen. And of course if babies do visit us, a gate across the front of the stairs would be a good plan as well.

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An Easy Plastic Wrap Alternative!

What a practical and beautiful idea, as well as a crafty project I think even I (notoriously un-crafty lady) could pull off!

Our Teeny Beth Life

IMG_5913Maybe it’s because I’m 31 or maybe it’s because I have a daughter who’s future I contemplate or maybe it’s because the idea of being “green” seems to be more present these days than I ever remember…but my family and I have been trying to be more aware of earthly matters.  Mostly recycling and reusing.  It’s amazing the information you can read about landfills, the lengthy decomposition and hazards to humans and animals because of our wasteful and lax way of eating, living and just being.  Our earth is kind of precious.  It won’t last forever, so while we and It is still here, I say we do what we can to try and give it a boost in the right direction.  It’s not always easy or our first thought, but some pretty basic recycling and or alternatives can go a long way.  Ya just gotta be willing to remind…

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kennyt Nails It

Minimalism, simplifying, decluttering – these ideas are becoming less fringe-y and more trendy. I follow a couple blogs and do a fair amount of reading and thinking (and not enough writing) on these topics, but this particular post I came across today stands out.


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Walk On!

Here’s a great recent post by Mr. Money Mustache. If walking isn’t an ultimate way to golopomo, I don’t know what is.


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A Global Moment Without Poverty

This recent TED Talk by Bono (U2 superstar, ever heard of him?) entertained and inspired me – for a few moments, anyway. I can’t say it ultimately encouraged or enlightened me, though. I want to believe the point he is making, that poverty is on the decline and if we just continue this momentum and fight corruption, we can actually eliminate global poverty altogether.

Bono credits much of the progress against poverty to the spread of high-powered technology, yet never addresses what happens when substantially more of our world population are building their lives around cell phones and refrigerators. His projection of when we can reach zero global poverty (2028) eerily coincides with other predictions of the global decline of oil production (2020).

Oil doesn’t just power our cars. It has powered agriculture for a good 70 years, starting with the 20th century’s Green Revolution that contributed so much to feeding so many more people worldwide. When the oil declines just as more people are rising out of poverty, how will we continue to produce so much food?

I’m currently reading Brian McLaren’s book Everything Must Change, in which he quotes Herman Daly, who wrote in his book Beyond Growth:

One only need try to imagine 1.2 billion Chinese with automobiles, refrigerators, washing machines, and so on, to get a picture of the ecological consequences of generalizing advanced Northern resource consumption levels across the globe. Add to that the ecological consequences from agriculture when the Chinese begin to eat higher on the food chain – more meat, less grain. Each pound of meat requires diversion of roughly ten pounds of grain from humans to livestock, with similarly increased pressure on grasslands and the conversion of forests to pasture.

And then there was this dark and weighty article I read recently. I urge you to read it, though I know it is long. Skim through the romantic paragraphs about the scythe if you must, but don’t miss his discussion of “progress traps.” And if you don’t follow the link at all (but really, take the time and read it!), you must at least read this:

The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on. The ongoing collapse of social and economic infrastructures, and of the web of life itself, will kill off much of what we value. In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm? Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?

It will be apparent by now that in these last five paragraphs I have been talking to myself. These are the things that make sense to me right now when I think about what is coming and what I can do, still, with some joy and determination. If you don’t feel despair, in times like these, you are not fully alive. But there has to be something beyond despair too; or rather, something that accompanies it, like a companion on the road. This is my approach, right now. It is, I suppose, the development of a personal philosophy for a dark time: a dark ecology. None of it is going to save the world—but then there is no saving the world, and the ones who say there is are the ones you need to save it from.

Unlike the Bono video, Paul Kingsnorth’s “Dark Ecology” article leaves me with no nagging sense that he’s forgetting something integrally related to his point.

What seems to be missing from Bono’s talk is an acknowledgement that global poverty cannot be eradicated long-term without a significant re-imagining of what constitutes wealth. Is it clean water or Starbucks lattes (I write, from my favorite table in my local Starbucks)? iPads filled with great music and podcasts and TED Talks or front porches filled with neighbors and guitars and conversation? An iPhone in every pocket, a chicken in every pot, or one good meal per day in every human’s stomach?

I don’t think we need either-or answers to the questions I just posed. But I do believe we need to ask questions like these, seriously and with a willingness to give things up and make real changes in our lifestyles. I’m not saying that Bono wouldn’t agree, or even that all this needed to be in his talk. No lecture, blog post, book, or other dissemination of ideas can or should stand alone or attempt to connect all the dots.

Just continuing the conversation through the “front porch” of my blog. Or something.

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Lopo Housing

This article and video about a family of three living in a 320-square-foot house was a pleasure to discover, maybe especially because we are currently renovating a beast of a house (about 10 times the size of Debra’s house!), so small seems especially beautiful at the moment.

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Golopomo In Your Closet

Nathan came across this article with some great tips for sustainable fashion:

What are some other things you have done or heard about related to dressing sustainably?

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