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Cohousing Kelly

Kelly is a student at the University of Chicago. She needed to find housing close to school, and instead of living in a dorm chose to enter a cohousing situation.

Kelly and a kitten

Cohousing is not housing provided for by the company you work for. It is a shared living arrangement in which inhabitants of the house or community collaborate in the operation of their house or houses. Residents are committed to living as a community, operating as one big family.
I currently live in a house with seven guys. What makes Kelly’s house different from mine is…well, there are a lot of differences but the main one is the system of cooking and taking care of chores. A large calendar in the kitchen dictates each resident’s bi-monthly cooking night. Every night the residents sit down to a home-cooked meal. When it is time to clean dishes, the dish washers take care of it. Everyone in the house has a job that they take care of. Example roles include floor mopper (Kelly), maintenance man/woman, shopper, and bulk food orderer, whose responsibility is to monitor the abundance of each bulk food and find the best price when it comes to re-filling the bin.
I was thoroughly impressed, the house seemed like a bunch of brothers a sisters…very responsible brothers and sisters who respect each other. It was such a pleasure staying there. Someone baked a loaf of Amish friendship bread, which is like a moist pound cake with chocolate chips. Both Laura and I had to control ourselves from eating too much of the loaf on the kitchen counter, made for anyone to nibble on.

Community Kitchen

Deciding to live in a cohousing unit is a healthy choice. You will be involved with a loving group of people who take care of each other. Everyone depends on each other a little bit, creating a very close knit community and necessitates healthy relationships between residents. Your ecological footprint is rather low too, from sharing so many resources with other people.
During our stay, Laura ended up flooding the kitchen and Kelly had to mop it all up!


Big Birds, Firefighters, and Michael Jackson

Zip ties can do amazing things, but one was no match for

zip tie around the rack and frame

zip tie around the rack and frame

the job of holding up Laura’s seven pound sleeping bag and saddle bags packed with mostly obsolete items, for example a sippy-cup that was her ‘bowl’. Laura biked to a hardware store to pick up some nuts and bolts while I cruised around town, happening upon some free live music on the campus of the University of Michigan. Laura met up with me, and we enjoyed the first beer I bought legally in the United States as we watched a band cover Old Crow Medicine Show’s, ‘Wagon Wheel’. The following morning we biked almost a hundred miles to the outskirts of Kalamazoo where we pulled into a fire station to ask if we could crash in back of the station. The fireman didn’t care so we relaxed on the warm pavement before setting up the tent on some grass next to the parking lot. Impressed with Ann Arbor, we anticipated that Kalamazoo would be just as cool. We got there, and the coolest thing we saw Your browser may not support display of this image. was a giant bird landscaped out of bushes and flowers. Maybe we did not give the town enough of a chance, but my attempts to find someone to blog about were not successful. After following a lead but coming up empty we decided to get back on the bikes, anticipating a bike path that spans the rest of the state from Kalamazoo to the coast of Lake Michigan. Bike paths are wonderful, especially when you enter them from a busy road and all of a sudden are relieved from having to keep your peripheral vision in focus every second, readying yourself to react to a rogue car.
We ended up at Benton Harbor for the night. Our campsite was a strip of grass above some train tracks on a residential side street. June2009 421After having stopped for ice cream at least three times during the day I was hungry for some greens and chowed down on a yellow pepper and some lettuce as we watched the sun set over the lake. In the morning we were brought coffee by the granddaughter of the lady who lived in a nearby house. We were also given the mugs that the coffee came in. I am still not sure if their mug cabinet was overflowing, or if they did not want to use them after two random kids traveling on bikes put their lips to them. It was easy to navigate the rest of the way to Chicago because we just had to follow the coast. In the morning we rode by Warren Dunes State Park, so when we saw signs for Mt. Baldy we thought we should stop and check it out. Mt. Baldy is a humongous pile of sand, the biggest sand dune on the Southern shore of Lake Michigan. It is constantly retreating from the shoreline as winds move the sand toward the parking lot and highway. We left our bikes in the parking lot and hiked into the water, having to run down the steep north side of the dunes.
Mt. Baldy from the back

Mt. Baldy from the back

Understandably so, we have not swum as often as we would have during our average summer. Lake Michigan made up a little for what we have been missing, but we still had to make it to Chicago so we hopped in the saddle and pedaled on deeper into Indiana.
All I knew about Gary, Indiana was that the Music Man took place there, where seventy-six trombones marched down the street or something like that. Laura reminded me of the lyrics to some of the songs, and we sang them gaily but naively amidst a depressed, crumbling town. We realized this as we spent over an hour circling the town looking for Michael Jackson’s childhood home to no avail. We were aliens to the people sitting on their porch, we could tell they probably did not get many bike tourists swinging through their neighborhood.
After a couple of gun shots rang in a nearby alley we decided Michael Jackson’s house was not worth seeing so we kept on trucking to Chicago, again following the coast to eventually meet up with a bike path that took us a couple blocks from our host, Kelly’s house.

The Queen of Conservation

The queen in front of her treasure

The queen in front of her treasure

Some people are excited when their favorite baseball team wins; others become excited when they go to their favorite place to eat. I am excited when, by chance, I come upon a person who is deeply passionate about conserving resources. The adrenaline began to rush as I figured out what I was riding by as we entered Ann Arbor; a consignment shop where people can buy already used items cheaply. I leaped off the bike and went inside to talk with people who worked there and to ask if I could approach a customer to ask some questions. “Sure, go right ahead. You might get some long-winded answers though,” was the response. Usually my informal interviews take no more than fifteen minutes so I did not take her seriously.
I saw a woman occupied with maneuvering some chairs into her Mercedes, so I waited to approach her. Once she turned around I asked her if she had a couple of minutes to talk about Treasure Mart, why she shops there, and how she finds using consignment items. She then spent the next fifty minutes explaining what she does to reduce her waste stream.
Her name is Swanna, a resident of Ann Arbor whose conservation efforts begin with her work. Swanna is a home-stager which means she furnishes empty houses that are on the market, and to do so comes to the Treasure Mart and Ann Arbor’s Reuse Center (similar to Vermont’s ReStore). Rather than buying new items, she chooses to buy “the real thing” because used stuff still has meaning. She sees value in them beyond the price tag, and would rather see things with life left in them be used rather than sent to the landfill. Swanna asked the rhetorical question, “Why should we pay more money to produce new things when perfectly good ones are already made and available for a lesser price?” At Swanna’s own home her recycling is considerably larger than her garbage. This has something to do with her unwillingness to put things into the trash. Instead she would rather make art out of ‘garbage’. She also volunteers at the teen center in town, where kids use materials she gathers to make centerpieces for tables and other decorations. While looking for ways to reduce the center’s waste during board meetings, it was decided to use rented ceramic, reusable plates instead of paper plates. I was impressed at the decision, and was curious if they also save money by doing it. “Is it cheaper?” I asked. She paused, looked over the top of her no-frame glasses and said in the most serious tone I heard her use. “It’s righter.” It might seem like a small step but the success of sustainability depends on our commitment to the details of our routine lives. Her ethical devotion was genuine and moving. I also realized I might be taking up too much of Swanna’s time when Treasure Mart closed during our conversation. I took a photo before she drove away, leaving me in between piles of tables, lamps, mirrors, and desks, all one step closer to serving their purpose once again.

A Not so Rockin’ Detroit

The Wild Rockies Field Institute (WRFI) course during which Laura and I met had us backpacking and kayaking across Montana with eight other crazy folk with whom we grew very close. One of them was Sarah, whom we stayed with in Cleveland, and another is Pete Muehmel.

Papa Bear

Papa Bear

Pete, or ‘Papa Bear’ as we call him is currently in the Northern suburbs of Detroit earning some loan money for school, so we thought we would stay with him while we saw what was in The Motor City. It turns out there is not much to see, or blog about for that matter. Abandoned buildings obstruct the view of other abandoned buildings as you approach the downtown area. When you get there GM’s headquarters looms over the lake, a reminder of what the city was built upon. The feeling of being in Detroit was like teetering on the edge of a cliff. It was as though we could feel the mistakes of the past and the uncertainty of the future. At this point it would seem appropriate to launch into a summary of what new, efficient cars the Big Three plan to manufacture to save the American auto industry, but there is no point. Right now most of the world lives in cities, and in a couple more decades 2/3rds of the global population will be set up in urban areas where bus and rail systems will, hopefully, efficiently transport people.
GM's house

GM's house

Where people are highly concentrated, cars only add to pollution, congestion, and accidents; and dependence upon cars in urban areas only prolongs the delay of the development of convenient, comfortable, and sustainable public transit systems. Realistically I know people will keep buying cars, especially when foreign, low cost production cars hit the American market in a couple of years, but more cars are not the answer.
It was sad to be in such a depressed city, but our mood was lightened with some grilled kebabs and ice cream. Ice cream does amazing things for hindered spirits. The next day it was time to say goodbye to Papa Bear and leave the comfort of a friend’s home to once again battle the four wheeled beasts I just slandered. Michigan gets a D- for road maintenance, which is funny given how much Michiganders love their cars, and the intimate relationship between cars and roads. It is a little frustrating trying to avoid cracks and scattered potholes with a two wheeled trailer, so luckily a bike trail took us part of the way to Ann Arbor, our next stop.
Even with such a great reminder as the message written on the pavement (pictured below), I still managed to not call my father on father’s day. Last year I missed mother’s day because of a bike trip, so I was just evening the score…
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LEDs in Action

The hallway that leads to the bedrooms in Susan’s house is lined with pictures she has taken on her treks around the world. While I was looking at a beautiful photo of Crater Lake I noticed it was a little dim, so I looked up to the light. It was apparent that the lights in the lamp fixtures were no ordinary incandescent bulbs. Nor were they the compact fluorescent bulbs that I have seen in most fixtures I have looked into. Even the ferry we took to Long Island had light-emitting diode (LED) lights, the future of lighting.

CFLs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors

CFLs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors

A compact fluorescent light (CFL) uses 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and will last ten times longer making for an easy, efficient, low cost solution to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released in to the atmosphere at your expense. LEDs have the ability to use half the energy of a CFL and last four times longer, roughly 30,000 hours.
All lighting options will have their drawbacks. 90% of the electricity you pay to light an incandescent bulb ends up as heat, the other 10% as light. Their low cost makes them attractive, but they’re horribly inefficient when contrasted with the CFL, which does contain a tiny bit of mercury. When I say tiny bit, I mean only about 5 milligrams, so if one happens to break in your home there is no reason to have a baby about it. If you do happen to have a baby around the broken CFL, I would remove him or her from the room for a little while, but no reason to freak, for reasons explained here. CFLs should also be disposed of properly, and this link will help you find a place by you to do that. As I saw with Susan’s LEDs,

Susan's LEDs

Susan's LEDs

they were dimmer than CFLs. Their light is also directional, which makes them tough for indoor lighting where you need a space illuminated and not just one spot. The cost per bulb for an LED is steep, even though you would end up spending more on incandescent lighting over the life of the LED. Susan bought her LED bulbs because of their efficiency and lack of mercury. A pioneer in the home lighting world, Susan is a little cooler, both figuratively and literally for using them. She is also a little ahead of the game, for in the near future we will all be as cool as Susan with LEDs lighting our hallways.
For a great in-depth and unbiased comparison between the three types of bulbs, including comparisons of savings, check this out!

A Fish (not Phish) Festival

To our delight another cyclist, Gretchen, was staying with Sam and Susan, so all three of them greeted us as we rolled into the driveway late in the evening. There was no shortage of beverages as Sam began to prepare some impressive Asian cuisine that tended to Laura’s vegetarianism but did not exclude meat entirely. It felt peculiar to be homeless on a bike one minute and a couple of drinks later to be sitting down to a five star meal in an unfamiliar yet friendly person’s home with our belongings safe upstairs on a bed that was made for us. I know this is not the first time we have used, but I do not think I can get used to the feelings of amazement and gratitude for the hospitality we have been shown, and will be shown.
After dinner Susan drove us and Gretchen to get some

Fish Festival floats lit up on the water

Fish Festival floats lit up on the water

ice cream and watch the Fish Parade, an annual Vermilion tradition kicking off the fishing season during which boats are decorated and paraded on the canal that runs through town. Vermilion is a quaint town that reminds me a lot of a New England, coastline community. We had a great time with Sam and Susan, and hope to be back soon to catch some live music that is played at their non-profit venue and maybe to cook them a meal for a change.
a biker with a bubble machine

a biker with a bubble machine

Toledo, OH was our next stop before swooping north to Detroit. We called our hydro-geologist host, Susan, to check if it was OK to stay with her. Even though we gave her late notice and she was going to be out for the evening, there was no question that we could stay. On our way we encountered riders who were part of a group of 3,000 biking around Ohio. A similar program that is better known is The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) where over 8,000 people bike around Iowa. From what we saw and heard about these types of rides it’s just a big party that moves by bike. When we meet a new host, almost the entire time we are not in the shower or sleeping is get-to-know-you time, so over some delicious chicken and pasta we told her about our trip and Susan talked about her job and interests. It was a pleasant stay, and with Susan at work by the time we were leaving, we said our goodbyes on her chalkboard bathroom wall.

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We decided to stop by Sarah and Aaron’s favorite food store before heading off to Vermillion. It was one of those small-but-has everything places which advertises their organic and natural foods. One section in particular that was well stocked, and always gets my attention, was the bulk food section.

Richard and his bulk foods

Richard and his bulk foods

I was browsing the selection of trail mixes when I met Richard, an IRS employee and Clevelandite who had a shopping cart full of items from the bins. Richard was mainly shopping for nuts and seeds that he could not find anywhere else. This is one of the advantages of buying bulk; items not for sale anywhere else can usually be found here. Your ability to choose the quantity is a big plus, and what you end up paying is almost always cheaper per pound than what would be found in the aisle. Not to be overlooked is the packaging that is saved by buying bulk. You can show up with your own containers and bags to fill up, so all you come away with is the food itself! If you do forget your containers, there are always bags supplied. Either way a lot of unnecessary trash is saved from filling a hole in the ground. I was glad to meet Richard, not only because he was buying in bulk, but I got a chance to talk with him about his lifestyle. Richard is doing what he thinks is right, and is willingly making sacrifices in his life to exclude meat, more recently dairy products, and other elements of life we plunder every day. I am not saying we should all become homeless, minimalist, vegans but we should recognize our ability to live comfortably without every new invention, or everything our pocketbooks can give us. Buying bulk food is an easy way to get what we need without all the other resources, we do not use, that usually comes with them.


May 2018
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