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"What is the use of a house
if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?"

~ Hank Thoreau

For anyone who wants a healthy home or way of life, I recommend Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, by Helen and Scott Nearing, because of its positive effects on me in the 1960s and since then, contributing to my decisions to be a vegetarian, spend more time gardening and learning practical skills, avoid debts, and become independent both of organized religion and of work in which I did not fully believe. A wise book, covering more essential ideas than many other books combined.

Originally published in 1954, Living the Good Life describes how this couple left successful though stressful urban lives for a better, more rewarding, more physical path -- this book was a primary catalyst in the development of the US environmental, simple living and back-to-the-land movements, and an inspiration to the sane and healthy segments of the counterculture. Now Living the Good Life can be bought combined with the Nearings' later fine book, Continuing the Good Life, in a single paperback, titled The Good Life. I was fortunate once to meet the Nearings, and hear them talk about their adventures and challenges and views, when I was in college in New England. But I don't want to stray here into over-praise or idolization. I don't emulate, or suggest that you do, every detail of the lives or thoughts of the Nearings. And there are numerous newer books which cover similar topics -- some are excellent and distill the experiences, by many, in the decades since the Nearings wrote and carved their healthy niche -- first in Vermont, then in Maine. You'll find links to several such books on the amazon page of The Good Life -- but this Nearing book does offer a rare, inspiring glimpse into uncopied, experimental, hands-on leadership, and good judgment about what matters. If you've been straining to conform your life to the ways of a foolish majority, this book could liberate you.


Learning to buy, improve and eventually sell real estate can be, depending on your nature, a good route to financial security. Lots of real estate books and courses, though, are overly expensive or give unrealistically rosy scenarios. One useful recent book which seems pretty practical and level-headed is Building Wealth One House at a Time, by John W. Schaub. "If you buy more than you can manage, nothing down can lead to nothing left."

See the the left column of this page for a link to the full text of a wonderful story, The Man Who Planted Trees (sometimes published as The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness), by Jean Giono. If you want to buy a physical copy (this makes a good gift), check here or here.

My favorite book on finding the best place to live is The 50 Healthiest Places to Live and Retire in the United States, by Norman D. Ford. There are more up-to-date articles, websites and books ranking the best places to live (I've read or skimmed several and will describe a few another time) -- but Ford's out-of-print book, which is still available, uses the wisest criteria I've seen, so generally comes up with good advice. I may eventually get around to including in Upchange my own impressions of favorite places to live or visit. I traveled and lived in almost all regions of the United States, years ago, before settling into Arkansas. These days, like lots of us, I'm trying to conserve energy, and am rarely a traveling man anymore.

Given the nature of our times, you may benefit from reading the very helpfully detailed Nuclear War Survival Skills, by Cresson H. Kearny and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Years ago I read that and the similar, potentially useful (though let's hope not) Life After Doomsday

For one reason or another, many of us may eventually need some special sort of shelter -- and given the nature of many humans, and of current trends, would it be surprising if, a few decades from now, most human survivors will be living underground? Of the several books on earth-sheltered and underground homes I've read, my favorite is probably The $50 & Up Underground House Book, by Mike Oehler

More recent and perhaps more practical is Rob Roy's Earth-Sheltered Houses : How to Build an Affordable Underground Home

HGTV often airs fascinating TV shows on creative homes, including underground ones, built in various countries -- especially on the show Extreme Homes.

a window in a home on an island far away

Debra Lynn Dadd and others have written worthwhile books on using cheap, effective and healthy alternatives to toxic chemicals when coping with insects, cleaning and other household chores. See, for example, Home Safe Home

or Annie Berthold-Bond's Better Basics for the Home : Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living

Once I learned (I don't recall where I first heard this) a remarkable way of getting rid of ants, which often invade homes, and tend to love building nests in my largest plant containers. And the ants in my area often carry around mealy bugs, depositing them on plants, where the mealybugs suck the life out of plants, and the ants then eat a sweet substance produced by the mealybugs. Quite annoying, those ants, for my plants and me, and a nuisance when they invade my home, but here's the simple cure: Mix a little borax with an equal amount of ordinary granulated sugar (a quarter of a teaspoon of each may be enough), and stir into that enough water to make a syrupy mixture, and place that on some non-porous surface, like a piece of plastic (so it won't soak in), and place this in the path of some ants which are troubling you. Soon the ants (at least all of the kinds I've tried this on) will discover and develop wild enthusiasm for your little gift, and before long will invite all of their ant friends (so at first it will appear that this is counterproductive). They'll gather around the sweet yet deadly little puddle and drink all they can and take it back to their nests to share there, and before long (it may take a couple of days) the ants will all die from the effects of the borax (which is a natural mineral product useful also for many household cleaning chores). Though you wouldn't want to swallow this, borax is generally considered much safer than most chemical alternatives. Don't put the syrupy mixture directly onto furniture, or when it dries it may be hard to remove -- thus I mentioned putting the mixture on something like a piece of plastic. (By the way, I don't use refined granulated sugar in any way other than this, but get sugar for my anti-ant campaigns from little free packets when I'm in restaurants.)

Disasters may be inevitable,
but they'll be less tough if we prepare.
Let's get truly effective at meeting the urgent needs of people who suffer and sometimes needlessly die during catastrophes caused by nature or reckless people. Let's spend more (attention, money) on essentials, less on counterproductive projects and activities. We need more and better shelters, and stockpiles of food, water and medical supplies, and diverse transport means and backup communications, located in all regions, and which can quickly be dispatched to areas of need. Until we get these supplies and delivery means in place, this needs to be a much higher priority, higher than the non-essential military and entertainment diversions on which we often devote so much attention. The US will find itself more secure when it becomes better at being the nation of productive compassion rather than the know-it-all bullies and callous has-beens we seem to many to be, and sometimes are.

As individuals and communities, let's rethink and rearrange how we live, learn to conserve energy, be less extravagant, so that increasing prices don't put winter heating and summer cooling and essential transport and medical support beyond our means, and prompt us to engage in reckless wars to satisfy our craving for energy.

We tend to criticize leaders, but we have the leaders we have because of our own faulty choices, because of the imperfect, improvable understanding of all of us. We all have much to learn and to do.

These pages will develop and constantly revise an increasingly comprehensive agenda for my country (the US) and for each person, anywhere, which will improve chances for better, longer, free lives. We need practical, detailed action plans for individuals & for groups & governments -- diverse plans which ensure individual freedoms and survival. See the Agenda page -- you'll see ways that can be improved, so please submit ideas (the bottom of the page gives a way to do that).

Let's act, with care, and occasionally be heroes, not always bystanders or mere critics.


contact www.habitatforhumanity.org.
Help rebuild homes and lives - volunteer or donate

If there's a better or more up to date analysis of each of the US States than The Book of America: Inside the Fifty States Today, by Neil R. Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom, I've not found it. Please clue me in (via the comments box near the bottom of the page) if you know of another book or website which better describes all of the states of the US! I'd recommend for this purpose the oft-updated and somewhat costly Almanac of American Politics, by Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen, if it weren't so stiffheartedly rightwardly biased; still, it gives useful current political information, including descriptions of the people and issues and leaders of each state and each congressional district.

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