Alaskan Bioshelter – Permaculture for kids


On Saturday, Laura and I took all four little kids out to Eagle River to experience the Alaskan EcoEscape Bioshelter in the mountain above the Eagle River Nature Center. Cindee and Curt Karns gave us an amazing tour of their home and taught our kids about the importance of permaculture.

On our way out there in Laura’s van I told Cormac where we were going and he told me houses aren’t important. When we left, after 2.5 hours of total engagement in the house, insects, water, wood, soil, plants, nematodes, etc. he said,

“First I said a house isn’t important, but I guess that one is!”

I think Earthships and the Bioshelter reawaken in me the love I’ve had for ecology since I was little and in a gifted science program. I am fascinated by the way the world just WORKS when we let it. The Bioshelter is very similar to the Earthships and I’ll write another post that compares and contrasts them.

We started with observation. Cindee brought the kids into the solarium and asked them what they saw. Cormac noted that it was unusual to have a garden and a pond inside the house. And fish outside of a fish bowl! (Oh, how he would love his own tilapia pond in an Earthship!) They walked around, tasting edible plants like mint and nasturtium.

Cindee noticed aphids in the garden, so she got out the lady bugs – the children all squealed with delight! The kids collected the lady bugs and brought them around to the plants with water on the leaves. Cormac became very attached to one particular lady bug later in the visit and he brought it home to keep as a temporary pet.

From there, we checked out the composting toilet and Tahlia and Cormac got to dump food scraps down the toilet before adding a scoop of moss over it, to encourage decomposition. The toilets empty into large barrels beneath the house where worms work to break down the organic matter. The barrels are rotated every six months or so.

Also beneath the house with the systems is a root cellar. The kids dug carrots out of bins of sand, where the carrots (they store apples and other root vegetables this way) had been covered in sand for the last 9 months. There was no difference in taste between these and grocery store carrots. Delicious!

While Curt explained the systems of the home to the grown-ups, Cindee brought the kids outside to learn about worms and decomposition. She showed them what the worms eat, what their castings can be used for, and then they put together their own little worm containers. The worms were a huge hit and Finley oohs and ahhs over them at home too. Cindee pointed out worm reproduction and showed us the little white eggs among the castings and decomposition.

Curt pulled out his backpacking guitar while we had a snack of carrots and apples. He played us a song about how the planet works as a complete system, illustrating to the kids how we need to work to keep the earth healthy so it can also take care of itself.

The bioshelter has a secret little cubby hole, just for kids, and the four we brought were delighted by it. We completed our trip then with an exploration of the outdoors, checking out the gardens, Cindee’s living fences and chairs, and the way the roof slants to collect rain water.

It was amazing to watch the kids show their absolute and total delight with everything. They were completely enchanted with Cindee, Curt, worms, lady bugs, koi, and every other feature and creature of the EcoEscape Bioshelter.


Wage slave exit strategy


Wage slave exit strategy.

via Wage slave exit strategy.

To exit wage slave 9-5 you need few things sorted out.

First, you have to arrange some emotional space to not be time-poor. You can do so through downsizing and unsandboxing your life. Revisit all of the issues that hold you back and with which you can do something about. The change is to get away from doing crappy stuff for a few weeks of release/freedom. Change into being more in charge of own life and doing what you feel.

Getting some diet changes also helps since you don’t have to worry about lengthy preparations when you’re following simple vegan or raw (uncooked) vegan diet.

Next you have to re-examine your money sourcing part of life.

Being in a stressful situation where you work all year for few weeks of release is far from healthy. Many choose to get away from their corpo-jobs as a part of a gap year experience, no matter how early or late in their lives.

People become massage therapists, artists, sculptors, organic farmers. Surprisingly when looking at this subject many top computer programmers go away from that to elderly care or  become ski instructors. After all its quality of own life that matters rather than living for a prestige, or in constant fear of some imaginary threat some use to emotionally guilt and enslave you.

The end game is about settling self on own piece of land, where you can start some clean veggie growing operation, kinda like they do.

DIY Rain Barrel


Here’s a great tutorial on building your own rain barrel. I saw them for sale last year at Home Depot for over $100.

Lots of goings on this weekend:

1) rejuvenation of my Can-O-Worms

2) a class on permaculture at the Alaska Bio-Shelter for families

3) the return of Adventure Sunday! (I don’t know where we are going but chances are good it’ll be cool)

Screen-Free Week

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Screen-free week is coming up! From April 30 – May 6 we plan to turn off our screens and enjoy time together playing outside, having adventures, being creative, and reading lots of books. I am also planning on organizing a family nature hike in our area.

We’ve done this before  and at first our kids whined and complained as if we told them we were not going to let them eat for the entire week. “I’m so bored!” The transformation by the end of the week was amazing. They stopped asking to watch and instead were incredibly creative in their play. They played outside, build giant lego structures, played games, and colored artwork. It’s amazing how much screen time numbs their imagination and creativity.

The website has a free kit, as well as tips and suggestions. There are also many other great websites and books out there for ideas for hiking, arts and crafts and more. I’ll try to post our family favorites later this week.

Screen-Free Week.

via Screen-Free Week.

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Way back in 2005, we had a little boy on Earth Day. But he’s off celebrating at the indoor waterpark for the day so my little guy and I celebrated the earth together.

I think that any place that can give you something as spectacular as The Grand Canyon is worth celebrating.

Grand Canyon


Anyway, we celebrated the earth at church, ate a burrito, took a nap, sat in the sun, planted a couple of flats of brassicas, and now we are watching an episode of Curious George about composting and recycling. Next up, a walk in the neighborhood so we can get in some good puddle stomping since the snow here is STILL melting.

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I want chickens SO much. I hope Laura gets them so I can bring over my chicken scraps in return for eggs. The ladies at the Phoenix Earthship were fun to take are of for a few days and their eggs were delicious.

Two Barn Farm


Here’s a list of 10 Reasons why you should Own Chickens

  1. Fresh Eggs daily – Much better than store bought eggs. The egg white alone is about 33% more and it’s less expensive.
  2. Chickens have great personalities – Our favorite pastime is sit in the back garden with a couple of cold beers and watch the chickens (they look like miniature robots).
  3. Help out with the compost pile – Chicken poo is too hot (high in nitrogen to place directly onto growing plants) but it works wonder on your compost pile.
  4. They are very low maintenance – Easier than a cat or dog to maintain. Just top of their food and water them, clean the cage once in a while and collect eggs.
  5. You are One step closer to sustainable living – it feels good to have chickens, like you’re a real farmer
  6. Household leftovers are food for chickens…

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Reusing the pallets

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One of the best things about Earthships is the way they reuse everyday “trash” into beautiful and practical objects.
So, we are aiming to do the same.
Starting with some free pallets and tips from the web, namely Life on the Balcony, last night we constructed four vertical planters that are now just waiting for soil and planting season. (Here’s a great post on Design Sponge)


While Laura made dinner and watched the kids, Steve and I assessed the pallets. We tried to pull apart a pallet to use the boards on better pallets but that proved a little impossible. Pallets are not constructed of good quality wood so the wood just split and cracked.


There are empty spaces on pallets where they can be lifted by a forklift. We decided we wanted to have the spaces filled in with boards so we’d lost less dirt once the pallet is tilted up. Since we couldn’t scavenge from other pallets, Steve found old lumber in his workshop that we cut to size.




Steve drilled pilot holes and then I screwed in the extra boards, 2X4s Steve saved from a shipment.



Looking good!




Steve and Laura had a lot of landscaping fabric left over from something. We secured it to the back and sides with a staple gun.

Easy project! We still have another month or so before we can plant anything in them though.

Sustainable Northern Housing

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The Big Dig--Installing Blue Board Insulation

The Big Dig–Installing Blue Board Insulation

Sustainable Northern Housing

Steve did “The Big Dig of 2010,” as part of our Home Energy Rebate program.

He dug around the entire foundation of our house, using a shovel.  No power tools for this dude.

Anyway, it really did assist us in cutting heating costs.    While he wasn’t digging, he was reading up on this with the help of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, posted here.