Sunday, July 23, 2017
Monday, June 26, 2017
[Nyerges is the author of such books as “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and “Extreme Simplicity.” He teaches at Pasadena City College and through the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
NOTE: This article will appear in Awareness magazine, and has been published in the Sierra Madre Mountain News. It is part of an unpublished book by Nyerges.
One day I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with my friend Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”
“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act. The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”
Michael nodded. He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a deep question or he had a pithy comment.
We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents. A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK, some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy. But that seems to be the exception, not the rule. One woman at a time, period. That works and other arrangements do not. Even when people try to have “open” arrangements, they all seem to fail in the long run.
We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm. It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening. But it won’t work here.
Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children. Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”
Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we occasionally brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.
I liked chatting with Michael because he was not dogmatic, and listened in a conversation as much as he talked. It was clear that when we talked, he was seeking answers as much as he was telling me his opinions.
We tried to clarify the difference between “love” and sex in a relationship, and how they are actually very different things. Michael brought up the case of a man who divorced his wife because he learned she’d had plastic surgery, and was therefore not as naturally beautiful as he’d assumed.
“The man was in love with the woman’s body,” said Michael with a bit of anger in his voice. “He wasn’t in love with the person – just her body.” Unfortunately, we both agreed that most people are hopelessly confused about this, often falling in love with a body and never really getting to know the person inside. “I mean,” said Michael, “ a meaningful relationship can’t be built on just good looks and sex. You’ve got to have a lot more going for you than that!” I agreed.
We tried to define those traits that make a good relationship. It wasn’t hard. We identified many traits that are desirable, and many that were not. We both started shouting out the traits as I tried to write them down. “You’ve gotta really like the other person,” said Michael. “And you absolutely must have some common interests, whether it’s religions, or TV shows, or exercise, or academics. Something! And I still don’t know what love is,” laughed Michael, “but I think even more than love is basic respect. You’ve got to have mutual respect.” A few people from the next table were listening, and begin to add to our lists.
Here’s what we came up with:
Things you want in a relationship:
Affinity to one other, for whatever reason.
Communication. We both agreed that men and women can barely communicate with each other because they see the world so differently. But at least – if you want a good relationship – you have to work at communication, and continue to resolve issues whenever they come up.
Caring about the relationship, per se, and working on it.
Clarification about how you deal with money.
Religion and politics: Some relationships work when there are diverse religious and political beliefs, but it is a strain. Stick to those who share your core beliefs.
Someone who shares your core beliefs about life, hygiene, use of time, etc.
Things you don’t want in a relationship:
Extreme focus on outward appearances.
Incompatability with money.
Each person always trying to be the Alpha dog.
Lack of cleanliness. Yes, we agreed that no one wants to live with a slob.
After a while, we realized that neither of us brought up that nebulous word “love,” nor did we include sex in our list. We both agreed that mutual respect is at the top of the list to cultivate, and that jealousy and possessiveness will kill any relationship.
[This essay is part of an unpublished book written by Nyerges, about growing up in Pasadena. He plans to publish it in the next few years.]
Friday, June 16, 2017
[Nyerges is the author of “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a series of stories describing how he and his wife attempted to deal with death in an uplifting manner. The book is available on Kindle, or from School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
When my father’s 80th birthday coincided with Father’s Day some years ago, I wrote a pictorial booklet for my father which outlined key aspects of our life together. It was my way of thanking my father. My wife Dolores and I went to his home after the wild cacophonous family gathering had ended. We didn’t want an audience in an atmosphere of laugher, sarcasm, and possibly ridicule. I only wanted to share the thank you story with my father in a somewhat serious atmosphere.
Dolores and I brought some special foods, put on some music, and I began my short presentation beginning with my earliest significant memories. I shared with him my memories of how he told me I would be an artist when I grew up. He always told me to put my bike and toys away, so "the boogeyman" wouldn’t steal them. As I grew older, I learned that the world was indeed full of very real "boogeymen" and my father attempted to provide me with ways to protect myself against these unsavory elements of life.
I recalled to my father, while my mother and Dolores listened on, the birthday party adventures, getting hair cuts in the garage, and how my father tolerated my interest in mycology and wild edibles.
Everyone found the recounting amusing, even funny, but there were also tears mixed with the laughter. As with most memories, some things my father recalled quite differently from me, and some he didn’t recall at all. Some things that I saw as life-and-death serious, he saw as humorous, and vice versa.
But above it all, I felt I’d finally "connected" with him at age 80 in a way that I’d never managed to do before. My "fathers day card" wasn’t pre-made by a card company, but consisted of my own private and secret memories that I shared with him. I managed to thank him for doing all the things that I took for granted – a roof over my head, meals, an education, a relatively stable home.
Of course, all our family members – "insiders" – knew that my father was no saint. But I was at least acknowledging the good, and sincerely thanking him for it.
My mother died two years later, and we all knew my father would be lost without her. They’d been married over 50 years. His health and activities declined and he finally passed away on the Ides of March a few years later.
Though his death did not come as a surprise – I was nevertheless left feeling his absence. That early Saturday morning when I learned of his death, I even felt parent-less. My view of the world changed and I was forced to acknowledge the limits of life and the futility of pursuing solely a material existence.
After I learned of his death via a phone call, I walked out into the morning rain, in shock, crying, thinking, remembering. I was not feeling cold or wet, and somehow I was protected by that unique state of mind that enshrouded me.
During the next three days, I did as I had done with my mother when she died. I spent the next three days reviewing my life with my father.
At first I allowed the random memories and pain to wash over me. I talked to Frank constantly during those three days, inviting and allowing him to be with me as we did the life review together. I felt his pain, his frustration, his emptiness and loneliness in his last few years of life. I did nothing to stop the pain of this – I allowed myself to feel it all.
I spoke to Frank as I’d speak to anyone living. I felt his presence and even his responses. I did this for myself as much as for Frank and his on-going journey.
I began to see him as a young man, who met, fell in love, and married my mother. Somehow, this was a major revelation to me. I had never seen my own father in that light before. He had simply been "my father." Suddenly, he was a unique individual, with his own dreams, aspirations, and goals. Amazingly, I’d never viewed him in this way during our life together.
And then, after perhaps 12 hours of this, and miles of walking, I began a more chronological review of my life with my father, point by point by significant point. I saw his weaknesses and strengths, as well as my own. As I did this review, I looked for all the things that I’d done right with my father, all the things I’d done wrong, and all the things that I could have done better. I wrote these down, and the "wrong" list was shockingly long. The "right" list only contained a few items!
I asked my father to forgive me, and I resolved to do certain things differently in order to change and improve my character. I know I would not have imposed such a rigor upon myself had it not been for the death of my father.
A week later, when there was the funeral at the church, I felt that I’d come to know my father more than I ever was able to do in life. I briefly shared to the congregation my three days of "being with" my father, and learning what it was like to be Frank, in his shoes, and how we forgave one another.
More importantly, I shared to family and friends gathered that day the importance of constantly finding the time to tell your living loved ones that you indeed love them, not waiting until they die to say the things that you should be saying all along.
I remember Frank now on Father’s Day, and continue to express my heart-felt thanks for all that he – and my mother – gave to me.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
FORGIVING OUR PARENTS
[I haven't shared a poem in a while -- I hope you like it]
We seldom think that who we are
Is product from backseat car
Or lusty night from smokey bar
And not the son of distant star
We are the product of mom and dad
Their mingled traits both good and bad
We want to think we’re so unique
And so we are, but let us speak
How our child minds did set the stage
For adult us who learned to rage
With pain within we could not gauge
And fears and deficiencies
From hidden fears from early age
We found we could not turn the page
To cure, we had to find a sage
Who maybe helped us, maybe not
Our solution, had to be sought
By choice within, or happened not
And even then, inside we fought
Our inner demons, night and day
Until we got to bright new day
Until we find that we could say
I accept my father who he was
I accept my mother who she was
They lived their life, they did their buzz
They were who they were, just because
I did what I did, I always does
Above my parents did I rise?
Or were their limits born in me
Should I blame them for my own lies
They were my parents, not 2 gods
They made no pretense, they weren’t frauds
I must forgive them, on my own
And for their soul, let cease that moan
They did their best, I am quite sure
No pain intend, from him or her
They lived their life, they tried their best
During Depression, dad came west
Challenge had in time of war
Enough to make their bodies sore
I was not center of their life
Though tried their best in time of strife
The center I’d have liked to been
That I wasn’t, was not sin
Child rarely in parents’ shoes
Sees from parents eyes what they dos
Day in and out, sun rise to set
Bills to pay and job to get
Responsibility, oh boy
My parents sometimes had no joy
I forgive them now in my heart
Though both gone now, I have to start
To have new life, must do my part
To see anew, and wipe eyes clean
Parents forgive, no more mean
Within my mind, internal clean
Release I do bad pictures seen
It’s finally time to let it go
And see instead divine rainbow
Challenges many we all have
Some we fail and some we meet
Time it is for spiritual salve
To lighten mind and stop the heat
To finally learn from our past
Forgive our parents at long last
And with optimistic heart and mind
Seek the truth that is there to find
Not dark webs that would keep us bind
But bright truth light most rad’ant kind
And on that path our answers find
That kingdom within, in our mind
A place real, where we’re no more last
Truly, we can be free at last
Thursday, June 01, 2017
Check out my article in the August issue of American Survival Guide, now available. My article is titled “No Electricity, No problem.” I provide suggestions for a manual counterpart for all (or most) of our electric devices. Having non-electrical devices can improve the quality of our life, and makes us better prepared for emergencies.
Here are a few teasers from the article.
Today, most of us in the United States – rural or urban – could not imagine life without electricity. And what a wonderful invention electricity was – tapping nature’s forces and putting them to work for us in myriad ways. Of course, there is a cost to pay – the money you pay for the electric bill and the fuels that power the system. And there is also another less obvious “cost” that we have all been paying as our dependence on electrical power constantly increase. We pay in the loss of really understanding what it means anymore to actually perform a task that would have been routinely done with manual tools a century ago.
Most people have barely a clue that nearly every task done with electricity has a manual counterpart. Yes, often this means more physical exertion. Yes, often this means that the task takes longer. Still, when everything was done by hand, there was an individual quality to good produced that is virtually unknown today.
Being self-reliant is a good thing on many levels, and many pursue such skills with manual tools for its intrinsic deeper value that it imparts to the user, forcing him or her to slow down and attempt to find meaning in even the mundane.
Because we are so dependent on electricity for everything today, we are also vulnerable. If there was a widespread grid-down event, or even a localized blackout, many of the functions of daily life that we today take for granted would cease. People might panic, and many would feel helpless.
I strongly suggest you read Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” for a look at what might happen to our society if the power was suddenly gone, perhaps as the result of a terrorist act. (Koppel also provides many solutions).
In your personal life, there are several ways you can build self-reliance into your life.
One way is to re-think your usage of electricity. There are basically 3 methods in which you improve the way in which you use electricity:
- Buy the most energy-efficient appliances you can find.
- Use your electrical appliances far more efficiently.
- Forego some electrical devices altogether. Let’s focus now on number 3.
Lighting: Lighting is really essential. If there’s no electricity, there are the old standbys: candles, battery-operated flashlights, lanterns, slush lamps. There are also light tubes, which are sold at most building supply stores. They bring light into the home through the ceiling during the day so no electric lights are needed. Don’t forget battery or solar devices for light, as a backup, or for use in the cabin.
Air Conditioning: In some environments, the AC really drives up the electric bill. However, using ancient building technology, homes could (and should) be built today that require very little power for cooling (or heating). If all walls were insulated, including the ceiling, the need for any cooling could be drastically reduced. Ancient desert homes, and old Spanish missions in California, had thick walls and they remained cool in the summer. Additionally, a roof painted white reflects the heat of the sun, and the house inside is typically 10 to 15 degrees cooler because of this. Houses with large overhangs also help to keep the inside cool in summer.
Heating: Again, a heavily-insulated home requires far less heating to keep warm in winter. (I’ve documented a lot of this in my “Self-Sufficient Home” book). A small wood stove may be all that is needed to keep a well-insulated home warm.
There are other passive methods that could (and should) be used so that less power is needed to keep a house cool or warm, such as aligning the house, and windows, to take advantage of sunlight and prevailing wind currents.
LOTS MORE IN THE ARTICLE…. American Survival Guide is available at news-stands, or you can subscribe at Engaged Media, 800-764-6278, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Back issues available from www.engagedmediamags.com.
Monday, May 29, 2017
MY PAL OTIS
For nearly 20 years, a very quirk, cute individual with long black hair lived right here amongst us right here in the backyard of Eagle Rock. His name was Otis, a tubby little Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
It was the spring of 1993 when Otis came into our family. Dolores and I had talked about getting a pig, and the pot belly “craze” was fading out. We saw an ad in the paper from a woman who was moving and had to get a new home for her nine-month old pot-bellied pig. We fell in love with Otis right away.
We learned a lot about the nature of “pig-ness” during Otis’ life. In fact, this was partly why we got Otis in the first place – we were going to learn about the nature of pig-ness, which is also an aspect of human-ness.
We learned that he certainly had a good memory, especially as it related to food. He once discovered a bag of carob pods that I had in the living room, and he nearly ate half the bag before I caught him. After that, any time he got into the house, he always went right to that spot where the carob had been.
Though we’ve heard that pigs are very smart, you can’t really compare them to dogs, for example. Dogs might not have pigs’ great memory, but they seem smarter due to their loyalty to their masters. I’m sure that Otis always recognized me from other people, but loyalty? I don’t think so. Pigs don’t seem to want or need close affinity to people in the way that dogs do. Nevertheless, later in his life when Otis was mostly alone, we did develop a “closeness.”
Yes, Otis was a pig, and yet he was such an individual! I learned to know what his sounds and grunts meant, so I knew when he was happy, when he felt threatened, when he was worried, and when he liked (or disliked) someone. His range of vocal sounds was broad and fascinating.
For his last few years, our cat Popoki would sleep with him, often lying on Otis’ big belly, which was always very warm. The two of them seemed to not just tolerate one another, but appeared to be good pals.
Since a pot-bellied pig’s expected life is about 7 to 9 yeas, we estimate that he was about 200 years old (by human standards) when he died on Hanukkah of 2011 at the ripe old age of 19+.
He’d gotten much slower in the last two years, and in the last six months, he was slow and unsteady on his feet, and he began to eat less and less.
According to my neighbor, Otis was up every day to eat when I was gone to Guatemala for two weeks in early December of 2011. But when I got home, Otis was lying on his bed and just grunted when I greeted him. I hugged him and I hand-fed him, and I felt that he experienced a certain ease that I was back. But I could also tell that he was on his way out. I kept him covered, and comfortable, and felt sad that my friend was departing.
I felt a great empathy for Otis. He was a big guy, for sure, but his personality was such that he always seemed like a little boy. I told him that everything was OK and that I was happy we had a good life together. I thanked him. I told Otis that it was OK to go on, if it was his time, if his body had become a burden. I whispered in his ear that it was OK, and that I loved him. He just grunted his friendly “oink” in return. Otis never got up, and he died a week later.
I wrapped him and buried him in the “family graveyard.” After we buried Otis, we put some flowers on his grave, and I placed his “Otis, Kansas” license plate (which I always kept on his gate) nearby. My dear friend Helen then played a song as we sat thinking about Otis for a bit. I was sad, but I knew that Otis had a good life and a long life, for a pig!
And though I was sad, I felt a certain inner joy that he lived a long life with me, and that Helen was there to help me bury him and give him a special ceremony. I thought that I would go through a period of great sadness, but I didn’t. We had a good life together, and I was able to be there with him in the end of his very long life.
Postscript: A few days after I buried Otis, when I parked my car near his pen, I heard his distinctive oink. A trick of the mind? I like to believe Otis was saying goodbye to papa.
Monday, May 22, 2017
HOW TO DEAL WITH A SORE THROAT AND COUGHING
USING NATURE’S MEDICINE CHEST
Nyerges is the author of Guide to Wild Foods , How to Survive Anywhere , and other books. For more information about Nyerges’ books, or the classes he teaches, contact him at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
Photos: Top picture is Mallow. Bottom is Christopher looking at Mormon tea (by Rick Adams)
It seems that sore throats and coughs have afflicted people forever, whether resulting from the proximate causes of pollen, dust, woodsmoke, or from talking too much, or yelling, or even from “catching” something from another person.
Fortunately, there are quite a few natural remedies which help relieve the pain and discomfort of coughs and sore throats, and many of these have been used for at least centuries.
Each of the plants described are commonly available in the wild, and typically can be purchased in the dried form in herb shops.
The various mallows have been used to soothe a sore throat for centuries. In fact, even the ancient Egyptians used one of the mallows for this purpose.
In the United States, the common mallow (Malva parviflora) is a widespread “weed” of vacant lots and fields. It is sometimes referred to as poverty weed or cheeseweed. In fact, the tender leaves of mallow are tasty in salads, added to soup, and can be cooked with other vegetables or like spinach. They are high in vitamin C.
In Mexico, mallow leaves (known as malva) have long been chewed so that the slightly mucilaginous quality can soothe a sore throat. Herbalists consider the mallow leaves an emollient and a demulcent. Whether the leaves are eaten, or made into a tea, this plant helps to relieve inflammation, especially to the throat.
A related mallow, the marsh mallow (Althea officinalis), is also used for coughs and sore throats. This plant has a long tap root that is boiled, and the resulting liquid is like egg whites. This is then whipped, and honey is added, and it is eaten as a very pleasant and very effective cough medicine. Of course, marshmallows today are pure junk food, and no marshmallow manufacturers any more use extract of the marsh mallow plant. Gelatin is today used in the manufacture of those fluffy white non-food objects.
The horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a bitter mint, native to Europe, which has now naturalized throughout the entire United States. It is called marrubio in Mexico, where it also grows in the wild. When you see it in the wild, it is an obvious mint, yet it lacks any strong aroma so typical of most mints. However, you’ll see the square stem, the opposite leaves, and the wrinkled leaves on horehound which makes it easy to recognize.
Do any of you remember horehound candy? This was a popular “old-fashioned” cough drop, made by boiling the horehound leaves, straining out the leaves, and adding sugar or honey to the liquid. It is then cooked until it is thick enough to harden. (Recipes for horehound candy can be found in most candy-making books).
Unfortunately, if you go to the store and buy horehound drops, it is very unlikely that they will contain any horehound extract at all. With very few exceptions, all the horehound I have found in stores are nothing more than sugar with artificial flavors added.
Horehound is made into a tea, which is very bitter and unpleasant. No one would ever drink it if it weren’t so effective. Besides soothing a sore throat and a cough, horehound is an expectorant, which means it can help clear your throat when it is congested.
To make horehound tea, I collect the young leaves in the spring. They can be used fresh or dried. I place about one teaspoon of the herb into my cup, pour boiling water over it, cover it, and let it sit until it is cool enough to drink. The flavor? Terrible! Its bitterness must be experienced to understand. So add honey and lemon juice to your horehound tea to make it more palatable. The honey and lemon are also good for your sore throat.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is another European native that has now naturalized throughout the entire United States. It is particularly common in dry waste areas throughout the Southwest. I can recall driving to the Grand Canyon once, and the dominant roadside plant was mullein.
Mullein leaves feel like flannel or chamois cloth. The plant produces large basal leaves the first year, and then in the second year it sends up a seed spike that can reach up to four and five feet.
To make a tea, use the first year leaves of mullein, and infuse them. There is not much flavor, so I typically add mint to mullein tea. Mullein acts like a mild sedative on the lungs, and it helps to relieve the roughness in the throat common with coughs and some fevers.
Interestingly, mullein leaves have also been smoked to help relieve coughing and even mild asthma attacks. I have tried this on a few occasions, and I felt quick relief.
Throughout the Southwestern United States is found a stick-like plant called Mormon Tea (Ephedra sp.). It is common in the California high deserts, in the Great Basin area, throughout Southern Colorado, and down into Texas. It is often available at herb stores.
The plant appears as a low shrub, with branched needle-like segments, with scales at the nodes.
In China, a related member of the Ephedra genus is the source of the drug ephedrine, which is used as a decongestant and a bronchial dilator. Though the wild U.S. species contain much less ephedrine, they are nevertheless useful in home remedies where there are breathing problems associated with coughs and colds. Typically, the stems are brewed into a tea at low temperatures in a covered pot. There is a mild but distinctive flavor and aroma that I like.
I have made an evening tea from Mormon Tea while camping in the desert where there were no other beverage plants readily available. It has a pleasant flavor, and it is improved with just a touch of honey.
No doubt there are many, many other remedies for coughs and sore throats. Included here were just a few of the common wild plants which are safe and easy to use.
[Note: None of the above should be construed to take the place of competent medical advise in a face-to-face setting. Chronic coughing or chronic sore throat may be an indication of a more serious disorder. Use your common sense, and consult a medical authority if you are experiencing any sort of chronic disorder.]