Root Simple: 2015 in Review


In my yearly review of the many blog posts and podcasts we created over the years I like to use the number comments they received as a gauge for their relevance. I’ve noticed over the years that the most commented upon blog posts tend to track where Kelly and my interests intersect as well as the general cultural resonance of the eclectic topics we discuss. As we enter our tenth year of blogging, I thought I’d take a look back at the blog posts that most resonated for us and for readers in 2015.


Everything Must Go!
The series of blog posts Kelly did on decluttering, that spanned late 2014 and early 2015, are the most commented posts of the past year. The series began with Kelly’s review of Japanese cleaning sensation Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Up and continued with our, mostly successful, struggle to declutter our tiny bungalow. During a burst of last minute Christmas shopping, I kept seeing Kondo’s book everywhere from clothing stores to high-end museum gift shops. It says a lot about our culture that it can simultaneously offer up Kondo’s decluttering tome amidst the annual Christmas orgy of consumption. There’s an unhealthy Ying/Yang relationship here that is worth further exploration in the coming year.


A Post-Wild Front Yard
The second most popular posts were about Kelly’s ongoing efforts to create a “post-wild” landscape in our challenging, sloped front yard. The last installment of these posts, Our New Front Yard Part 6 shows where we’re at now. We’ll continue, of course, to chronicle the transformation of our garden in the coming year.


Not Going With the Flow
I don’t like to go negative, but after receiving dozens of emails and Facebook links to the Flow Hive, I felt I needed to write about this gadget (Kelly, by the way, re-edited my first draft heavily and made it much better). The post, The Flow Hive: A Solution in Search of a Problem, was the single most commented upon blog post on Root Simple in 2015. Subsequently, I heard from more experienced beekeepers than myself who felt the same way I did about this contraption and added additional concerns. By of the end of 2015, the Flow Hive folks had raised an astonishing $12 million and are in the process of shipping over 20,000 units. It will be interesting to see what happens to the people who bought Flow Hives and the bees they attempt to keep. I’m not optimistic about this but I hope to be proved wrong.


Honesty in Urban Homesteading
We don’t do nearly enough blogging about the many hair brained notions and failed projects that transpire here at the Root Simple Compound and Labs. We did mange to chronicle a few of our shortcomings, such as our lack of a clothes line (Busted: Drying Racks, Clothes Lines and Cheese Puffs), the train wreck that was our summer garden (Our Disasterous Summer Garden and Our Grape Arbor is a Stacking Function Fail) as well as incompetent animal husbandry (A Painful Beekeeping Lesson) and our ongoing raccoon wars (My Apologies to the Skunk Community).

FeuerbachAmazonenSchlacht copy

Internet Issues
I have a love/hate relationship with the interwebs. On the one hand this blog reaches a lot more folks than my 1990s bus riding zine Power to the Peoplemover did and I don’t have to make runs to the post office or to Kinkos! On the other hand, I find the internet to be a source of incredible distraction and dubious ethics. Speaking of ethics, our unease about being an Amazon affiliate got a lot of comments (Our Amazon Problem) as did my post on Facebook distraction (Is Facebook Useful?).

rye bread loaf

How-to posts
I really wish that I could do more how-to posts, but the fact is that they are the most time consuming. We did manage to do a few good ones: Stuff you Learn When the Power Goes Out (with El Niño storms approaching, it’s time to review this one), Restoring a Built-In Ironing Board, Three Things I’ve Learned from Baking Bread with Whole Grain and How to Make Hot Sauce.

Podcast Comments
Due to the nature of the medium it’s difficult for me to gauge the reaction of listeners to our podcast but I think the two most popular may have been the interviews we did with Larry Korn (064 One Straw Revolutionary Larry Korn) and Robert Kourik (069 Understanding Roots With Robert Kourik).

Half-Baked Thoughtstylings
In going through the past year’s blog posts I found quite a few unfinished ones. I’ve learned in the past that most of these should stay unfinished. But one of those posts caught my eye, “Is Freekah the New Quinoa?” (freekah is a kind of roasted grain from the Middle East that you cook whole). Perhaps I should rework it with a new headline, “Freekah Out”.

cat in window

A Big Thank You
Lastly I just want to say how grateful I am to our many blog readers and podcast listeners. When our young heart patient cat phoebe died in June there was an outpouring of caring and compasionate comments (just as when our beloved Doberman passed a few years ago). Many, many thanks to all of you for your support over the years. Like everyone, I have moments of cynicism, self-doubt as well as periods when the muses simply leave the building.  It means a lot to Kelly and I to receive so many thoughtful, loving comments and emails.

I hope that 2015 was a good year for you and best wishes for a happy 2016!

What are Your Traditions? (And May Your Nights Sparkle!)

trout lights

From now on though the holidays, our house will be bursting with family and friends, so we’re going to have fewer posts for the next few days.

In the meantime, we wanted to do two things. First and foremost, we wanted to wish you all happy holidays, and give you our best wishes for the New Year.

Second, we’d love to know how you all celebrate this season of lights, so if you feel so moved, leave a comment and tell us what you’re doing this year.

We don’t have fixed traditions, ourselves, but rather what we do depends on where we are and who we’re with. This year we have a busy LA Christmas, jam packed with entertainment and activities. We’ll be going to some neighborhood parties–we may even be coerced into caroling!–and we’ll be doing some classic tourist stuff for the out of towners. We’ll celebrate both my birthday and my mom’s, as we have the misfortune of being born in the Christmas week–though at least we’re in it together! And we’ll be going to see that darn movie, along with everyone else on the planet. On Christmas Eve we’ll go to beautiful St. John’s Cathedral downtown to harken the herald angels singing. On Christmas morning we’ll unpack our Christmas stockings and later visit with in-town family. In between, we’ll be stuffing ourselves with cookies and candy and perhaps deploying elastic waistbands as a result. Repentance will begin in the New Year.

Is the Urban Homesteading Trend Over?

"Bread Recipe"

“Bread Recipe” searches

In a segment on KCRW’s Good Food, host Evan Kleiman interviewed Celia Sack, the owner of Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco. Sack noted a trend this year: fewer books on baking, bread and beer, which she linked to a rising economy. As she put it, people don’t have to make their own jam anymore, they can just buy it at the store. She is correct that interest in DIY homesteading books wane during good economic times. But I was curious to see whether Google search trends for DIY topics would back up Sack’s hunch. Above is the result for “bread recipe” searches and you can definitely see a slight decline over the last two years.

"Jam Recipe"

“Jam Recipe” searches

“Jam recipe” shows a similar decline as well as seasonal spikes that coincide with canning at the end of summer. Unsurprisingly, most homesteading topics revolve around seasons. Seasonality, by the way, is one of things I really like about this movement. A digression here–the flatness of time (see Charles Taylor)–is one of the things I don’t like about modernity.

Home canning

“Home canning” searches

“Home canning” searches show a more dramatic decline.

"Backyard Chickens"

“Backyard Chickens” searches

People research backyard chickens in the spring and the search trend also shows a decline.

Vegetable gardening

“Vegetable gardening” searches

Searches for “vegetable gardening” seem to have declined sharply, perhaps because of all the homestead projects, gardening is the most difficult.

Gluten free

“Gluten free” searches

And another digression–it looks like we may have reached peak “gluten free.”

I’ve often joked that when the economy picked up Kelly and I would have to write a book called How to Shop Your Way to Happiness, but that’s pretty much the story the culture at large is always telling, particularly at this time of year. Root Simple is going to, defiantly, keep covering these topics because we believe that the DIY ethos is important in both good and bad economic times. We value the ability to do things with our hands, hearts and minds. We’re not preparing for some end time, we’re realizing the good times in the here and now.

What do you think? Have you seen a decline in interest in homesteading topics?