Living Sustainably

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Archive for November, 2006

Getting together with Renewable Energy Friends

We are making some plans for some projects, and going over other projects with some friends. DJ MacIntyre of Le Boisé Alternatives and I are planning a trip to John Ferguson of Belleghuan Ltd., to convert his diesel truck to run on vegetable oil. DJ runs a Renewable Energy business in Ontario Canada, John sells listeroid diesel engines, among other things, also in Ontario, less than 2 hours north of us. Both are interesting folks to know. Larry Barr of Rebelwolf/ESSN fame has started some new RE projects, including a solar power mobile (HAM) radio shack, and a new RE Blog, which you can read about at The guy piling holes are filled with concrete and dirt for the new wind tower, so Jim Juczak from Woodhenge and I will be raising the wind machine shortly. Dharam had a death in his extended family, so he will be cutting short his stay here to be with his people, and we will finish his veggie bus when he returns. Combined with a stomach bug that flowed through here and hit a few folks, it’s been a busy week.


Larry and his Off-Grid Ham Radio Rig

Our compadre, Larry Barr, of ESSN fame, is improving his solar power portable ham radio rig. He talks a bit about it and renewable energy in general on his new blog at He’s the Asst. Planetarium Director for Tarleton State University in Stephenville TX, and a fount of knowledge when it comes to electronics, mechanics, and related interests.


Holiday Survival Tips

At New American Dream we hear from many families who feel their holidays are overly focused on material gifts. If you are in this boat, as I am, now is an ideal time to talk with loved ones about making changes—while the holidays are on their minds, too, but they haven’t done much in the way of shopping or preparation yet. (If you have the kind of family that starts buying holiday gifts in June, you can at least plant the seed this year without trying to make sweeping changes.)

In my family, gift-giving is a big part of our celebration, and my relatives are proud of their generosity. I’ve always been hesitant to suggest changes that are too different from our regular traditions. What I have done instead is give homemade, second-hand, and thrifty gifts, like used books and hand-knitted scarves, without insisting anyone else do anything differently. I also began giving gifts of donation several years ago to relatives who truly did not need more stuff. I’ve been delighted to receive similar gifts in return the last couple of years, including donations, fair trade handicrafts, and custom-made jewelry and framed photographs from surprisingly enthusiastic family members.

TIP: If you feel your relatives are open to direct suggestions (or you want to test the waters), there are many options you could consider. Such as:

Perhaps the adults in your family would agree to only give gifts to the children this year.

Or perhaps extended families could give one gift to each household (such as a board game, tennis set, museum membership, or tickets to a play), instead of multiple gifts to each person.

You could have a White Elephant party where each person gives one second-hand gift instead of a new gift to every person and the gift-opening celebration becomes a fun competitive sport (this tradition is one of my favorites, and a highlight of New American Dream’s office party every year).

Or you could set a flat dollar limit on gift-buying per person—a move that encourages creative, silly, second-hand, and homemade gifts.

For more inspiration, “Recycled Christmas” is one of my favorite holiday stories about how a real family worked together to do something different, responsible, and fun with their celebration. If you have any tips or new traditions that worked for you, I’d love to hear them.

Cheers and good luck!

Jenn and the staff of New American Dream


A Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn’t be beat …

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, with friends and family gathered round. My daughter arrived at 3am two nights earlier from college with her newly engaged fiance in tow. They have been dating for 5 years, and plan on getting married once both are out of college. I was bound and determined to cook on the woodfired cookstove. Although it was in the 20’s when I woke up and started cooking, it headed up into the 50’s during the day, and we basted ourselves at a balmy 98 degrees with windows open and fans running. Need to save that stove for very cold days.


Painting Green-Trust Green

Dharam just finished spraying and rolling out the new paint job on our main buildings (the house, garage, and screened classroom). It’s pale green with pale lemon trim. We developed a leak in the connections on our well pump in the past few days, and ended up with a lot of water on the floor of our first floor. Dharam and I replumbed the water system, relocated the pump to a more convenient area, and I repaired one of the capacitor wires that had broken off, and was causing the motor to smoke. We are wrapping Dharam’s veggie tank with Reflectix to help contain the vegetable oil’s heat in his skoolie tank. See more at


Wrapping the tank with insulation

Now that Dharam’s fuel tank is ready to be reinstalled, we are wrapping it in two layers of Reflectix to keep the heat in the tank. New mounting brackets are being welded on the bus, and the tank, fuel filter and the lines will be hooked up today.

Tomorrow we are pouring the concrete pads for the wind tower, and remounting the PV panels on the south side of our newly repainted home. Dharam did a great job spraying and rolling the new paint.


Heat exchanger installed in Fuel tank

The heat exchanger has been installed in the fuel tank, the T’s installed in the coolant lines, the tank has been painted and it’s time to reinstall the tank.


Thanksgiving Dinner over a Wood Fire

We have been learning how to cook with the wood-fired cook stove, and are getting better at it. A oven thermometer was a big help, as the thermometer in the door of the stove reads low. Putting aluminum foil over items keeps the surface from burning before the food cooks through. We believe we are ready for Thanksgiving dinner, and will try not to disappoint the 20 some folks showing up.


Eco Tips for Everyone

Over the years we have found many ways to live more economically, and ecologically. We have started a frugal and sustainable tips and products site where we will share with you what we have learned, and share some of the products we use that make it easier to live more sustainably. See Tips & Products ….


Getting more mpg from your car

Not everyone can drive a 50mpg VW diesel or Hybrid, so here are some tips that everyone can use to get better fuel efficiency from the vehicle they have, and what vehicles to consider when it’s time to change.

Drive more efficiently

Keep your car in shape

Plan & combining trips

Choose a more efficient vehicle

Read how at