Local Politician Tom LaBonge Wants LA Covered in Astroturf and the City to Pay For It

Astroturf and Tom LaBonge

Our local utility is offering residents a sizable rebate to remove lawns and replace them with less water intensive plantings and mulch. This makes long term sense in what appears to be a permanent, climate change related drought here in California.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge is pushing for the inclusion of artificial turf in that rebate program. He, apparently, has a vision of Los Angeles, as one big tawdry miniature golf course. Here’s his motion annotated with my opinions:

As drought conscious residents of the City of Los Angeles look for ways to reduce their water consumption, business is booming for the synthetic turf industry. [And that’s a reason to give them more money?] A recent study revealed that the annual amount of water needed to maintain the average lawn each year is about 34,000 gallons or about 670 bathtubs full of water.

The quality and appearance of synthetic turf has gained popularity, and especially with the drought, turf has become more accepted. [By whom? It’s still plastic. And you need to water it in the summer to make it cool enough to walk on and to wash out pet urine. It provides no benefit for wildlife.] Residential turf is growing exponentially in Southern California, but home installation still accounts for less than 13% of the total turf installations. [Again, is this a reason to subsidize it?]

With rising water rates and with the current lawn removal rebate programs that are offered to residents of the City of Los Angeles, there is a need to look at options such as artificial turf as an alternative for drought friendly landscaping.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the Department of Water and Power be requested to report back with a study on the potential benefits of implementing artificial grass for home installations and how it can make an impact in the current drought conditions. [I’m certain that local water officials already studied the option and, wisely, concluded that they did not want to subside artificial turf. Why waste staff time?]

Let me predict the results, should Tom’s AstroTurf vision become law. In a few years we’ll see acres of ripped, smog and dog feces stained plastic turf that will eventually end up in our overflowing landfills. The present rebate program is an opportunity to create landscapes that support birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife at the same time as they reduce water consumption.  Tom’s future is just a plastic version of the same old lawn paradigm that just doesn’t make sense in our climate.

Thanks to Travis Longcore for the tip on this.

2015 Resolutions

It’s time for the annual confessional: did we stick to our resolutions from last year?

And in this same post we’ll state our 2015 goals for the record, so we can take this same walk of shame next year.

(And is it just me or does 2015 not seem like a very futuristic date? Where is my jet pack?)

Erik’s 2014 resolutions:

1) Finish hardscaping the backyard, grow more vegetables.

Sort of a fail here. Some work was done but there’s more to do. In the last hours of 2014 I did manage to finish a cool hexagonal deck by the chicken coop.

2) Perfect a 100% whole grain sourdough bread

Success! I can make a reliably good whole grain boule. Now I’ve got to write up the recipe!

3) Take a class —which involves a a trip

Nope, unless going to the Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa counts.

4)Good health

Success! Paying for a few sessions with my Y’s rehab specialist have paid off.

Kelly’s 2014 resolutions:

1) Make shoes in 2014

I did this!

2) Make or buy a new bed.

I did not do this. It remains a conundrum. And in the meanwhile, the lumps in our old mattress have shifted or something so it’s not as uncomfortable as it was when I made the resolution. In other words, there’s no urgency behind this one right now, but it will come up again. (For reference, see this post from 2013)

3) Learn to surf.

I’ve been making a little progress. I’m not a surfer yet by any means, but I’m getting good at paddling and spinning the board, but need to work on speed and timing. I  need to spend more concentrated time in the water this coming year.

So, what is my score? About 60%?

Next up: resolutions for 2015

A joint project for Erik and Kelly:

Refurbishing the kitchen: new paint, new floor, cleaning everything up. We’ve been putting this off, and it needs to be done this year. Preferably in the first quarter of the year.

Erik’s 2015 resolutions

  1. Write a whole grain ebook. Now that I can make a decent whole grain loaf it’s time to see if I can teach it.
  2. Take an electronics class. I’ve built circuits in the past but I can’t say that I fully understand how they work. I’ve also fooled around with an Arduino, but I need to deepen my knowledge.
  3. Take a woodworking class. I’ve got some basic skills, but it’s well past time to get better at carpentry.
  4. End internet addictions. No more procrastination by idly checking Facebook, Twitter etc.
  5. Athletic challenge. I’d like to go to the national fencing tournament in San Jose this year. But I need something else. Maybe a long run or backpacking trip.

Kelly’s 2015 resolutions

  1. Produce the uniform. The uniform idea came up during 2014, and I’ve been learning how to sew, and now have a machine, so there’s no excuse not to be modeling my uniform for all you folks sometime this year.
  2. Design and produce a ceramic oil lamp
  3. Take up archery again. This is not a very specific goal, but I’d be happy if I got my equipment in order and went out stump shooting a few times before the weather gets hot.
  4. I’m committing to daily exercise, and exercising more than once a day–breaking up my exercise into shorter intervals so I don’t have those sedentary days where I sit on my rear all day long.
  5. I’m also committing to limiting my internet access to two daily sessions. No more checking email throughout the day, no more going on Facebook “for just 5 minutes.”
  6. And finally, I commit to meditating quietly for a few minutes the first thing every morning.

2014: The Year in Review


Randy Fritz and a new crop of Angelino shoe makers.

In many ways it was a challenging year for us. I have not spoken about this on the blog, but my elderly mom faced a significant health crisis in the early months of 2014. She is doing better, thankfully. Through these months we were able to keep the blog going, a measure of how important it is to both of us. We were even able to, after two false starts, launch a podcast and put out 30 episodes. Blogging is a lonely activity, and I’ve enjoyed the reminder, through the podcast, that there are indeed other people in this world.

Kelly is away with her family this week, so we’ll have to wait for her perspective on 2014, but here are some of our posts I considered significant:

Analysis Paralysis
Kelly and I struggle with garden design. It’s actually a significant source of marital strife, largely when I fail to listen to her. She is the one with the degree in art, after all. In January we were still pondering the shape of our backyard. And we still are. We did manage to build some nice looking, hexagonal raised beds. Unfortunately, a series of possum and skunk raids, documented on a wildlife camera I got for my birthday, took out almost all the vegetables. I think I have the critter problem solved. Then again, I thought that before. Right now, why Kelly is away, I’m working on a secret landscaping project. Let’s see if she notices . . .

Advantages and Disadvantages of Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening
After a successful straw bale garden in the summer of 2013, I finally got around to building new raised beds to replace some that we had taken out. Our lead and zinc contaminated soil necessitates this, but I wish I didn’t have to use raised beds for reasons I outlined in this post.

Is Ham Radio Useful?
The jury is still out on this question, to be honest. I got my license late in 2013 (I’m KK6HUF, in case you’re one of the tribe). I have have a handheld 2 meter/70 centimeter radio and a rooftop antenna, but I haven’t used it much other than to check in on a local net a few times. I may have to table my amateur radio activities in 2015 in order to focus on other, more pressing, projects.

Easter Lessons
Kelly wrote about a troubled project involving dyeing eggs with natural materials. Natural dyes are a subject that interests us both, and I suspect we’ll revisit this topic in 2015.

On the Documentary Fed Up and Giving up Sugar and the Debut of our Podcast
We went to a screening of Fed Up and immediately gave up sugar. Or, should I say, Kelly gave up sugar and I cheated. As I write this I’m snacking on Christmas chocolates, so I can’t say I’ve stuck with the program. I have, however, greatly reduced my sugar intake overall and I’m more conscious of sugar when making decisions at the grocery store (it’s in everything!). Personally, I plan on revisiting the sugar issue. My new fresh, homemade muesli habit (thanks to the Komo FlicFloc) has allowed me to completely eliminate sugar for breakfast.

Hipster Compost and How to Make Stock
In June I pondered local sources for compostable materials (but did not compost hipsters, as some people thought I was proposing). Unfortunately, I did not solve the problem of where to put a large compost pile at our small house. I’ve got one tucked, unsatisfactorily, beneath the fig tree just outside our bedroom window. Later in the month Kelly “killed it” with a useful post on how to make stock.

Have You Ever Wanted a Uniform?
Kelly pondered a kind of house uniform and has made significant progress towards that goal this year. She now owns a functioning sewing machine and has taken classes. So far she’s made some very professional looking pillows and a few other projects. My money is on a uniform by mid 2015. I’m hoping she doesn’t impose a “cultural revolution” along with it, however.

Wild Food Lab: Foraging Taken to the Next Level
We took a number of amazing foraging classes with Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich. The most revelatory class for me was Pascal and Mia proving that you can find food in hottest and driest month of the year during a apocalyptic drought. There’s a lot of people who forage, but fewer who know what to do with the wild foods they gather. Pascal and Mia are working on a book that I predict will be the foraging book.

Stoicism Today
In a very unlikely turn of events, an essay we wrote was included in a book on stoicism. I tried not to let it puff my ego up too much.

I Made Shoes
In October we hosted an intense three day turnshoe making workshop with Randy Fritz. This was one of the more commented upon things we did this year. I ran into Randy over the holidays and he promised to return for another workshop in 2015.

Compostible Holiday Decor
Kelly did an amazing job decorating the house for Christmas this year. No more cheap plastic crap!

Who Killed the Non-Electric Toaster
One highlight of this month, for me, was a conversation I had with the inventor of the non-electric, stove top DeltaToast. Finding an alternative to the modern toaster is one of those seemingly absurd and quixotic issues, until you actually disassemble an electric toaster and look at it. Then your whole paradigm shifts. Who would have guessed that my most significant “road to Damascus” moment in 2014 would involve toast?

One significant thing that I didn’t blog about was the completion of my “man cave” aka garage workshop. Now, after nearly 16 years living in this run down bungalow, I finally know where all my tools are and I have a workbench. Why didn’t I do this project first?

How did your year go? What significant things did you discover or make?

2014, a Year in Comments: Plant Thievery, Loquats, Breakfast Cerial and the Apocalypse


Scene of the crime. Our missing cactus.

One of the reasons I prefer blogging to writing books is feedback in the form of comments. The subject matter we write about attracts thoughtful and compassionate people interested in making the world a better place. And I appreciate discussion and constructive criticism (We’re thankful too, that no trolls live under the Root Simple bridge). As an only child prone to ex cathedra statements, it’s good to have accountability in the form of reader feedback. With this in mind, I thought I’d review the most commented upon posts in 2015.

One curious phenomenon is that the number of comments a particular blog post gets is often inversely proportional to the amount of time it took to write. Kelly and I will sometimes spend hours agonizing over a blog post that gets just a few comments. Other times, a post dashed off in ten minutes will touch off a spirited discussion. This is not to say that a post that gets comments is any better or more popular than one that does not. Some posts, I suppose, are just more worthy of commenting. And we’re aware that many people read and never comment.

Here’s the five most commented upon Root Simple posts of 2015:

1. Plant Thievery. Back in April three barrel cacti disappeared from our front yard. It was a thorny, premeditated crime that prompted many readers to share their loss of plants. Later in the year I heard about two women who stole a lawn in England. And in local plant thievery news, a Los Angeles bakery lost most of its outdoor patio plants and the Episcopal Cathedral had an entire orange tree disappear. I like to think of these crimes from the plant’s perspective. Assuming they survive, the plant probably enjoys being able to travel and spread genetic material. Many plants, after all, evolve ingenious ways of, for instance, getting birds to eat seeds and poop them out over the landscape. Appealing to our lesser instincts could be yet another devious genetic strategy on the part of team plant.

2. Loquat Season is Here. Second to ways to avoid traffic, one of the great questions of life in Los Angeles is what to do with all those damn loquats. As the loquat is not frost tolerant, this is not a question for folks in the antipodal extremes.  And there’s great variation in loquat quality. Some taste, well, almost as good as an apricot (I know this sounds like faint praise). Others are just a thin, watery pulp surrounding huge, inedible seeds. I suspect part of Kelly’s motivation for writing this post was her skepticism of my loquat fruit leather recipe. I considered it the equivalent of discovering the loquat northwest passage. Despite Kelly’s brave stab at understanding the loquat, I don’t think we have a definitive answer on the subject. Perhaps we need to construct a kind of loquat Hadron Collider to solve this problem. Hey, that sounds like our first Kickstarter!

3. A Year After the Age of Limits: 5 Responses to the End Times. While Kelly may not have nailed the lid on the loquat coffin, she did write an eloquent essay on the pitfalls of apocalyptic thinking that was prompted by our attendance to the 2013 Age of Limits Conference. It took us and our friend John, who went with us, an entire year to process this disturbing weekend. Kelly and I recorded a long interview for our podcast with John about his experience that we never used. It’s well past time for me to revisit that recording. Thanks to KMO’s always excellent C-Realm Podcast, I heard that this year’s conference was different, perhaps due to the absence of the near term extinction crowd.

4. The Hugelkultur Question. Popularized by Sepp Holzer and many other permaculturalists, this practice of mounding logs in a hill of organic matter has been making the rounds of the avant-horticulture scene for the past few years. Like many 21st century radical home ec practices, evaluating Hugelkultur takes us to the messy collision point of systems theory and reductionism. This is not to even get into the problem of climate, which I pondered in another much commented upon post, Hugelkultur in Dry Climates. One thing to come out of researching the issue was discovering the Garden Professor’s Facebook page, wherein brainy horticulture types engage in a dialog on newfangled ideas. Use the search function on that page to find the subject you’re interested in. Who would have guessed that Facebook is useful for more than sharing cat photos and speculating about caftans?

5. Non-GMO Versions of Grape Nuts and Cheerios Less Nutritious Than GMO Versions. This may seem to be a post about the GMO debate (I’m not a fan of GMOs in most cases), but it’s really a stealthy realization that my Grape Nuts habit needed to end. Thankfully I discovered the Higgs bosen of breakfast cereals thanks to the KoMo FlicFloc. Which, to cram way too many physics metaphors in one blog post, really is the Hadron Collider of kitchen gadgets.

What controversial and comment worthy subjects would you like us to take up in 2015?

030 Christmas Eve Podcast


With Kelly off visiting family, I’ve put together a short and simple podcast this week. I read my blog post, Let’s Talk About the Holidays and the reader comments. I conclude with, of course, some Bulgarian Christmas bagpipe music.


A reader mentions two blog posts about parenting during the holidays:
When Mommy and Daddy Took the Toys Away
Five Ways Frugal Living Benefits Kids

I mention Shannon Hayes’ post:
Murdering Santa and Other Tips for Enjoying the Holidays

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Let’s Talk About the Holidays

Christmas in Bulgaria by Miroslav Trendafilov.

There’s no doubt that the materialism of the Christmas season in the US presents challenges to folks who are on the radical homemaking path. One action that’s helped around our household was to cut off commercial television, something we did many years ago.

A number of people mentioned that they really enjoyed hearing Shannon Hayes on our podcast talking about how her family celebrates the holidays. She has also written a blog post on the subject, “Murdering Santa and Other Tips for Enjoying the Holidays.” Like Shannon, we also don’t want to come off as a self-righteous Scrooge or further our lifestyle as fodder for future Portlandia scripts. At the same time I’m also haunted by the tension between tradition and its conflict with modern life (note Habermas’ 2010 dialog with Jesuit scholars if you want to fall down a ponderous and inconclusive philosophical rabbit hole).

Then there’s what I call the fake snow on Hollywood Boulevard problem. Living in a Mediterranean climate, as we do, is confusing. The days are short, but the hills are green. The fake snow gets coated in smog. Here’s the problem. The Christmas story is overlaid on Northern European winter traditions, yet the original version takes place in a climate similar to ours in California. The snowman/Jack Frost/North Pole/Santa thing seems forced and artificial here.

This a long winded way of simply asking you, our readers, to talk about how you celebrate this time of year. How you counteract its hijacking by commercial interests? What does Christmas in the southern hemisphere feel like, coming as it does in the middle of summer? What does it feel like to be Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian or none of the above and be surrounded by inflatable snowmen?

And can someone please explain the Bulgarian Christmas procession in the AMAZING video above? What’s with the bread? Who is the black hooded figure? I have to interject here that I’d love to permanently retire the “Rock Around the Christmas Tree” genre of music hell. More bagpipes, please.

Seeds the Game


Nick Heyming, who I met through his work at Growcology, is working on a kind of alternative to games like Farmville. Instead of pointless hours staring at a screen, SEEDS the Game’s goal is to get you out into your garden. It’s a mobile app that will encourage you to, according to the description on their website:

Take photos of your plants at home, filter and share your attention to your real garden.

Find neighbors to trade seeds with and share activities related to gardening and local food systems.

Get climate and map updates for weather patterns relevant to your area and garden needs.

Seed points redeem for real prizes like seeds and coupons for garden equipment.

Grow your own food and learn practices for permaculture and self-sustaining food systems at home!

If you want to support the project they’ve got an Indiegogo campaign.

A Last Minute Gift Suggestion . . .

Screen shot 2014-12-17 at 9.00.49 AM

In a moment both surreal and ego boosting, I opened some junk email to discover that Amazon is suggesting that I buy our own books, The Urban Homestead and Making It, as Christmas gifts. It also recommended Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume’s excellent book Urban Homesteading.

It’s a reminder that this blog is partially supported by your book purchases at both independent booksellers and through the Amazon links on our Publications page.  Many thanks to all of you who have bought our books in the past and continued to support us. We are very lucky to have met so many nice people through our work.

An Early Resolution

coffee cup

Last night I wrote a rant against disposable coffee cups, aka to-go cups. I didn’t post it this morning because I didn’t feel good about it. It was too negative, and worse, I was projecting. My rant went into some detail about the fraudulent idea of “disposability”, and how this idea degraded both our environment and our culture.

And this is true. A to-go cup is not particularly recyclable, despite its pretenses. Many (most?) communities don’t find it worthwhile to recycle dirty paper cups. And by culture, I mean that is far more civil, not to mention communal, to share beverages from a common pot. To sit together and drink, instead of run and gulp alone. I said that is important to share a communal drink, leaving aside your own preferences for this happy wholeness and communality– i.e. your choices comes down to “cream or sugar?” rather than a whole menu blackboard full of incremental and ultimately insignificant customization options. I find that in the case of coffee, individualism is a lonely business.

At any rate, I realized I was spending too much time on my high horse (her name is Princess and she has a pink mane) when I am a frequent enough user of disposable cups. True, I don’t work in the office, so I’m not lining up at Starbuck’s twice a day, and I often carry a travel mug, but I don’t say no to hot beverages when I’m at meetings and gatherings, or when I’m on the road, and these almost always come in disposable cups.

If I try to imagine how many disposable cups I’ve used in my life–say the earth (justly) vomited them all back at my feet–how high would the pile be? As big as my house?

So I’m making a resolution. Instead of berating others, I’m declaring a personal moratorium on to-go cups–all disposable cups for both hot and cold drinks, actually, because why not? I banned plastic water bottles from my life long ago. Why it took so long for me to eschew the cups, I don’t know. I guess I was always able to mutter, “Well, at least they’re paper.” Denial is a beautiful thing! But it’s time to face facts. They’re just as bad as the bottles.

Thus the resolution: no more disposable cups personally, and I also vow to help groups/organizations I belong to wean themselves from disposables, even if that means me doing a lot of dishes in random bathroom sinks. Oh yes, I’m going to be that person.

One hopeful note: in researching I discovered that use of personal mugs at Starbucks  is up by 22% in one year:

In 2013 customers brought their own tumblers into our stores 46.9 million times, up from 35.8 million in 2012, saving more than 1.4 million pounds of paper from landfills. As more customers brought in their personal tumblers over the previous year, the percentage of customers choosing reusable mugs saw a 22% increase over the prior year from 1.5% to 1.84%.  (Starbucks blog)

Okay, so it’s not even 2% of their customers, but those few kept 1.4 million pounds of paper from the landfill, and that’s significant. Individual choices do matter.

A few more thoughts:

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 4.26.07 PM

To-go cups c. 1963, from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. See? Not so hard.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 4.21.22 PM

Bitter intelligence agents share a nice pot of tea. Also from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. (I just watched it, so I noticed the cups.)


A Tea Lady in Britain keeps the war workers well-caffeinated, without the use of disposables.

coffee urn

This is so common, and yet so very unappealing. The plastic stir sticks! The creamers! Seriously, does anyone approach this situation with any more enthusiasm than you would a port-a-potty when you really have to go? Meaning, it’s there to fulfill a basic need, not to give anyone joy. Photo credit Colin Harris


Guess how old this coffee mug is. Guess. This mug was made in China 4000 to 4500 years ago. Humans have appreciated a good brew in a good mug for a long time. Let’s get back to that.