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Extreme Simplicity

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Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City, by Christopher and Dolores Lynn Nyerges, is a new book where the authors describe their efforts to practice "living lightly on the earth," even in their small suburban Los Angeles home.
The book describes their efforts to do "integral gardening" on every bit of usable land, to produce food (for people and wildlife), medicines, fragrance, shade, and useful tools. They describe how they went about raising earthworms, chickens, rabbits, bees, a goose, a pig, and their dogs in their typical back yard.
The Nyerges' also take the reader along their journey to installing a wood fireplace, solar water heating, and a solar electric system.
Though there is much "how to" in this book, it is full of personal stories and rich reading of the learning they experienced along the way. There is a section on recycling, and a unique section about the economics of self-reliance.


We have always enjoyed watching the array of birds that visit our little urban homestead. They come to pick up some of the feed we give to our chickens, and they are also attracted to the variety of seeding plants that flourish here.
One winter, we were talking with a friend who is a professional gardener in Pasadena. We were telling him about all the birds we see in our yard and surrounding neighborhood.
"Birds?" he exclaimed. "What birds? They all go south for the winter!" Needless to say, we were a bit taken aback by his comment. He truly believed that there were no birds around. It occurred to us that he really may not see birds during his daily garden routine. After all, here's a guy whose gardening is "mow and blow" and who always uses chemicals to combat weeds and bugs. Why would birds come to the yards he has "gardened"?
In fact, the presence (or lack) of birds can tell you a great deal about the state of the local environment. Birds generally avoid sterile environments, because they need insects. And because they feed on insects, their presence is good for your yard and garden. Birds are necessary for a diverse, strong ecology.

When Ramah actually died, Christopher was holding her head in his hands. She cried out a loud farewell as she died. He doesn't like to admit it, but Christopher cried most of the day.
A dear friend of our visited us that afternoon, and we spent the next seven hours discussing death, canine friends, and Ramah. Our friend had brought along a "Dear Abby" article about a boy who had wanted a priest to help him hold a funeral for a dog. The priest agreed. The boy asked Abby if there were dogs in heaven. It was quite an interesting article and made us realize that we weren't the only ones who had such a close relationship with our dog....
Christopher carried Ramah to a spot in our "Island orchard." He had dug a large hole in a spot where he felt that a tree might grow. Christopher carefully buried her with her favorite bedding - his old sleeping bag - and then he planted an avocado tree over her. It all seemed so right, so proper. Dogs are not the same as humans, yet our attachments and feelings can be intense.
A week after we buried our dog, we had a memorial gathering where we invited some close friends to remember Ramah....
In telling the story of Ramah, we have gone full circle, from describing here as a close friend - a member of the family - to acknowledging how her body now fertilizes an orchard tree. Where possible, we choose to let our animals fulfill their whole lives right here, on our little urban homestead. Even in death they play their role, promoting more life. Such "complete cycles" are something that many more people took for granted a hundred and more years ago, when most folks lived in rural environments. Today, by our passive choices, we seem to have lost this understanding.

Our freestanding fireplace has completely transformed our home. We would strongly encourage anyone without one already to seriously consider installing one. On very cold nights, we had been using those small electric heaters that really drive up your electric bill. The fireplace made the house really feel like a home, and we now are uncertain how we got along without it.
In our case, the transition to wood heating was fairly easy, because we had plenty of firewood readily available. We were actually doing a neighbor a favor by cleaning up and carting off large amounts of dead and fallen wood from his property. Our first season of firewood came entirely from our weekly cleaning of his yard, just for the cost of our labor. How's that for a win-win situation?

Many people today believe that they're spending all their time working, yet with very little in return. Unfortunately, such realizations may come too late to be remedied.
We think that the Amish people have the right idea when they keep their schools and work close to home. They don't have to go a long way to a job, thereby avoiding wasted time and energy, unnecessary expenses, and disconnection from their community. They can protect their families from undesirable influence, and there is the added bonus of having youngsters nearby where they can learn a trade from an early age. The Amish are firmly committed to valuing "quality of life" over all the stuff that our modern society deems important or indispensable - car, home entertainment system, fancy clothes, foods bought for "convenience" and prestige rather than fresh garden flavor and nutritional value.

During an early morning conversation with our friend Vernon .. he remarked that the musical group that he played with would begin and end each performance with a lively rendition of "Love Makes the World Go Round." Yet he always felt that this was very hypocritical, because it isn't "love" that makes this world go around, but rather fear. He explained to us that fear drives most people for decades to hold down regular jobs that they hate, because they "need the money." This, of course, opened up a whole can of worms - and led us into long discussions about the differences between "needs" and "wants," "cost" and "real value," and about how it is rarely money, per se, that we need.
Vernon's view was that by letting fear control our lives, we are eternally cut off from the real magic of the world.

Once, during a period of homelessness before we were married, Christopher was engulfed in thoughts of "poor me" and "I'm destitute," and he could scarcely see a way out of the darkness. Dolores provided him with a simple set of practical tools that anyone can use if only they choose to do so. Here are four "magic" ways to improve your financial situation:
1. Never waste anything.
2. Continually improve your personal honesty.
3. Leave every situation or circumstance better than you found it.
4. Tithe to the church (or organization) of your choice.
We know that these are genuine practical solutions. We have heard people say that they cannot make these efforts - such as tithing, or improving an environment - because "we are poor." Our perspective is that they have their reasoning backwards. They are poor because they do not engage themselves in the world in these ways. Logical thinking leads to erroneous conclusions when the premise is false.

1. You can do without some electrical devices.
This will probably involve changing your behavior, for instance, thinking twice before switching on an electrical tool or appliance when a non-electric alternative will work just as well or better.
2. You can learn to use your existing devices more efficiently.
This step, too, requires changes in habit, but once you've understood the extra expenses caused by inefficiency and waste, you'll feel good about it - plus you'll save money by practicing efficiency.
3. You can purchase new appliances that render your household inherently more energy efficient.
This step requires initial outlays of money, and in some cases higher short-term expenses, but with certain especially wasteful appliances, the best way to save energy and money is to immediately replace the old, wasteful model.