Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Travels and Home


Last Wednesday I was in the little town of Monmouth in western Illinois speaking to a group of faculty and students about food and faith. Monmouth College has a community garden which supplies produce to their food service as well as to the local farmer’s market. They also have a small farm to experiment with crops, and a high school 
program sponsored by Lilly every summer on food security and faith. It was a stimulating conversation and I was grateful to get to know them. 

    Sunday I preached on Genesis 9:8-17 at a small town church about 35 miles from home. I had never preached an environmental sermon at that church before, but was amazed and pleased at the response. Sometimes I underestimate the connections with nature that people in more rural areas have. This afternoon I am speaking in a class called “The Bible and the Environment” at Campbellsville University. Next month I’ll go to Washington D.C. for several speaking events.
     The news continues to offer warnings that if we don’t tackle our carbon output in the next dozen years the consequences will be severe. Now that most Americans finally seem to believe that climate change is a threat to us, I hope as a nation we will find a way to agree on an effective and shovel ready solution. Sunday afternoon Don and I attended a start-up meeting of a local Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter. This is a well-organized movement that advocates for a national fee-and-dividend solution. Their bipartisan bill is now in congress, H.R. 763, the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.” It is intended to drive down carbon pollution while also preserving human health and stimulating the economy.
     In the meantime, I said I would describe the net-zero (we hope) house that Don and I are having built. It was designed by Ted Clifton, a builder on the west coast whose zero-energy homes have set standards in building efficiency. I especially like the video at the bottom of his home page that explains “the twelve essential steps to net zero energy.” I’ll supply details of how our house coheres with this plan in upcoming posts, in the meantime, here is our checklist:

·      South-facing solar panels
·      Simple and efficient design
·      South-facing windows with overhangs
·      Concrete thermal mass and in-floor radiant heat
·      Tight envelope provided by deep insulation and tight windows and doors
·      Ground-source heat pump
·      Energy star (and better) appliances
·      LED lighting and efficient ceiling fans
·      Root cellars
·      Sealed vent fireplace
In this not so beautiful photo taken just before drywall, you can see the casement windows on a southwest-facing window seat, with the spray-foam insulation under and around. 
You can also make out the concrete floor, which is now being covered with oak flooring.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Nature Heals the Broken Heart

Here is a short piece I wrote for Presbyterians for Earth Care last year. They do such good work, I'm glad to get to work with them. 

I will post some other things soon.

Right now, looking forward to visiting Monmouth College in Illinois to lecture on February 20 and Campbellsville College in Kentucky on February 26, preaching at the National Capital Presbytery meeting on March 26, speaking on a panel discussion at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts in April. 

And celebrating being named a distinguished alum at Austin Seminary on Wednesday. Thanks so much to the Austin Seminary Association! And a great way to get home to visit my dad and family!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Where I've Been


Surprisingly, people are still contacting me through this poor blog, neglected now for a year and a half. I’m heartened every time I hear that another church is using Inhabiting Eden for a group study. Obviously, though, I owe an explanation.
            
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not unusual—1/3 of all women face this. It was more annoying than frightening, though it took time to combat and heal. I’m grateful to the doctors and nurses, my family, and all who stood with me.
            
By fall 2017, cancer treatments were over and a turning point had come. I had spent seven years as an environmental writer and teacher following my early retirement from Louisville Seminary. My spouse Don was ending his work at First Presbyterian Church in Jeffersonville, IN, and moving to what he called his “pretirement” in a halftime position in the town of Scottsburg. Sabbatical time, I thought—time to retreat from public life, to step back, write, and enjoy grandparenthood.
           
And time to move. We had long dreamed of homesteading on our land in Henryville, Indiana. With the help of a designer of net-zero-energy homes, and a builder who is passionate about energy efficiency, we planned a home that would use insulation, thermal mass, window strength and placement, solar panels, geothermal, and a host of other innovations to carry its own energy load without need of fossil fuels. A place to expand
Our unfinished house
our modest but productive vegetable and herb gardening, using root cellars and a hoop house, and maybe even to welcome livestock. To create a “Grandma Camp” for kids escaping city life: our two grandgirls born in 2015 and the two grandboys who were on their way—and others who might join them.

 All this was planned. What hadn’t been planned was the evident side effect of a cancer drug. The same week that I began my self-appointed sabbatical, several joints simply declared themselves worn out, and I found myself in more pain and physical limitation than I’d ever known before. More time and money than I ever imagined possible has gone to the medical system over the past year and a half. Some pains yielded to physical therapy, but the right knee had to be replaced three months ago. It's doing well and I'm back at the gym and don't even limp.
            
In the meantime, we celebrated a riotous Christmas in the old house with all six of our kids, ten in-laws, and four grandbabies. Our new
house is rising above our pond in the hills of southern Indiana. It’s framed, roofed, and insulated, and we hope to move in by the summer. I’ll be lecturing, preaching, and teaching in several different locales in coming months. And I’m still writing--and will post links to a few articles soon.

As our life turns to homesteading, I hope to offer more about how much (and whether!) we manage to create a zero-carbon life, new learnings, and mistakes we make along the way, in hopes to inspire others to take the challenge as well.