Tennesseetransitions


May Day! May Day!
May 2, 2016, 8:47 PM
Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change, World Peace

I TRIED to get this post out yesterday, on May 1st, but things just didn’t work out, so here it is, a day later. The date has changed, but the topic is timely…

“May Day” is an internationally recognized distress signal. I believe our living system called Earth is in great distress and using the term in regards to its’ condition is no longer considered crying ‘wolf’. I also see our response to the May Day call as being in a state of extreme transition, and this blog digs in to that process, albeit in a gentle way. By that I mean that I save my personal feelings and observations about the future of life on this planet for my own middle of the night terror and instead use gentle rhetoric to persuade and motivate my readers to consider ways we might not only save the earth but do so in a spirit of cooperation rather than one of deprivation. I’ve been writing about transitioning for 10 years now, without seeing much change in the way things are. Lately however I’ve been reading and witnessing a greater shift toward restoration, regeneration and evolution.

There’s a phenomenon called ‘the tipping point’ which is described as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. It is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior  crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. All that said, I believe we’ve reached a tipping point concerning understanding and acceptance of   “climate crisis” (which more properly describes the original benign term of “climate change”). 

OK, so we’ve reached a tipping point. Now what? I mean hell, we’ve already replaced our light bulbs and insulated our homes. Jeez, we’ve even bought our Priuses and are carrying our own water bottles and shopping bags. I can hear you bitching, “what more do you want us to do lady?” 

 The president of the United Nations puts it this way: “The anti-values of greed, individualism and exclusion should be replaced by solidarity, common good and inclusion. The objective of our economic and social activity should not be the limitless, endless, mindless accumulation of wealth in a profit-centered economy but rather a people-centered economy that guarantees human needs, human rights, and human security, as well as conserves life on earth. These should be universal values that underpin our ethical and moral responsibility.” Pope Francis considers it an all embracing moral imperative to protect the earth, which ”could unite the whole human family”. 

We need to create controversy and kick up some dust.  We need to create a common vision and then we need to actively focus our efforts on changing the powers that be. Write letters folks. Rally and march to make your voices heard. Call your elected officials, even if you know they’re ideas differ from yours. VOTE in the upcoming elections. Set examples and try to inspire others by ‘being the change we wish to see’. We know what we have to do. Now we just have to do it. 

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Radical Home Economics

Back in about 1967, (you know, when dinosaurs walked the Earth) all 7th grade school girls were required to take “Home Economics”, while boys had to take “Wood Shop”. I still have the sturdy footstool by brother made for our mother but I happily no longer have the ugly red dress I had to make-with darts and a zipper! At the time I resisted the sewing and cooking skills taught to us by Mrs. Fuller, but the concepts stuck with me, and for most of my adult life I’ve been able to sew a complete wardrobe- from a Barbie dress to a wedding dress- or cook a 10-course meal from appetizers to dessert. Too bad  most folks don’t still consider those valuable skills, but with yard goods now costing more than many fully-made, store bought garments, and convenience foods costing less than many food basics, I can understand the reasoning-if pure frugality is the only criteria. Having raised four daughters, sewing and cooking skills were invaluable to our family.

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Now that I am beginning to see the light at the end of my chemo tunnel, I am reminded anew that those skills and more are part of me now and frugality is not the only criteria. I just don’t know how to live my life any other way. Michael and I deliberately chose to live a life of voluntary simplicity when we took early retirement in 2002-I at 49 and he at 55, a decision we’ve never once regretted. Sure, we’ve had to make choices, but those choices were often very agreeable ones: did we want 150 channels of Cable TV or could we be satisfied with a roof top antennae and a converter box? The extra time not spent watching so much television opened the door to many other pleasant activities, like playing music and volunteering, gardening, writing this blog, joining a church and other organizations that hold similar values to ours. Over the years we also discovered that using our house as a center of production vs using it as a center of consumption fit right in with a simpler lifestyle, all while enabling us to live lives that feel very rich indeed! We’ve had to make some concessions recently due to lingering health problems and increased medical expenses, but  growing and preserving food, reusing and repurposing, all while making the house as energy efficient as possible still allows us to live comfortably in spite of the increased expenses. My grandmother used to call it “Pulling in your horns”. I prefer ‘radical home economics’ because the former makes it sound like a temporary situation, but radical homemaking is truly a way of life.

I recently read a blog post about how some middle class folks just like us are buying older, smaller homes in well-established neighborhoods and using every inch of available space in the home and yard to increase the home’s productivity: some are renting an extra room out, others are converting former garages into home office space or workshops. Others are tending small flocks of hens and beehives; but what about rabbits? When my daughters were  young and involved with 4-H projects we started with a buck and two does and within 6 months had 32 rabbits! A quiet, high protein source of meat that could easily be grown, harvested and prepared for the freezer was the idea-far easier than chickens, pigs or cows, for example. 

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Radical? not really. But I digress…

Many are converting front-yards to raised beds for growing fresh food and back-yards to clothes lines, compost bins and rainwater storage barrels.

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These conventional, affordable homes are being converted to radical  home economies and are substituting beautifully for the large homesteads that were so eagerly sought after in the ’70s and ’80s. AND these homes can often be paid for with the proceeds made from selling their former McMansion or McSpread. It’s heartwarming to me, especially during this cold spell we’re experiencing here in NE TN, to know we are not alone.

What are  you doing to make your home productive vs consumptive? This first month of this new year is a good time to think about ways you might do that in 2016, then share them with the rest of the readers in the comments section. ElmStreetLogo

 

 



I Always Did Like Bucky…

October is definitely a transition month. As we move from one season to another, the changes are obvious. The temperatures, the leaves, the clothes we wear and the foods we eat are all in transition. This first fall-like day here in NE TN saw me wearing tights instead of shorts, seeing nuts and pumpkins and apples for sale at the Farmer’s Market, and making a pot of soup for supper (to help use up the last of the summer squash, tomatoes and peppers). 

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As a species, we often resist changes, particularly those that we perceive to be difficult or perhaps even unwanted. But the transitions that I write about can lead to a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. And I believe those transitions have begun: just like the changing leaves, I can actually see them, and their coming into focus gives me hope for our collective futures like nothing else! Re-creating that future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being will ensure that, regardless of what goes on in the world, we’ll all eat, and we’ll all have shelter from the storms of life. This transition idea isn’t some utopian idealism in my mind, but is actually becoming the new reality of this century. It seems that almost every day I read, see, or hear about yet another group of neighbors, friends or citizens that are coming together to grow food, share tools, downsize and otherwise help one another not only survive, but thrive. Isn’t that what we all want?

My own long-defunct neighborhood association has recently reconvened and taken positive first steps to cut crime, make our streets safer with better lighting, and start a neighborhood watch program, all while involving kids and teens in the process. We are formulating working plans for action teams to tackle illegal July 4th fireworks that go on way beyond the holiday each year, as well as a ‘Pumpkins in the Park’ kids’ event, and a float in the upcoming Christmas parade. I’m also excited that we’re going to have a ‘Community Day’, which should be a great way to further our connections with one another!

These neighborhood transitions are taking place at the same time that transitions are slowly taking place in nearby downtown. On our walk this evening we noticed yet another old building having the cheap 60’s era facade torn off to re-expose the beautiful brickwork and arched windows of an earlier era. Our new $1.5 million Farmer’s Market is nearing completion, and a new community garden is being installed in a low income housing community. If THAT’S not tangible proof of changing attitudes about the value of local food systems, I don’t know what is! Conserving natural resources is another area going through transitions. Some of our downtown businesses have recently added solar panels and hydroponic gardens to their buildings, while others are using the latest conservation methods they can. Alternative energy systems are no longer considered futuristic idealism, but will become the norm for most of us during our lifetimes. Our municipal landfill has been developed into a gas energy project that turned it into a community asset, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and creates renewable energy by turning its’ waste into wealth, and now provides our VA Campus and part of the local college with landfill gas. And our public library is replacing the old front lawn with a pollinator-attracting ‘meadow’ made up of native plants that will be watered by rainwater collected from a roof- top collection system that will lead to an underground filtration system that will keep the new landscaping watered without using any extra water. The sustainability factor of this new landscaping will likely serve as a model for future pollinator projects: talk about transitioning!

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And finally, on a very personal level, Michael has discovered, through much trial and error, that a completely plant-based diet has restored him to good health again. We love bacon as much as anyone, but if you remember, I discontinued my high cholesterol statin a few months ago and he really struggled with mysterious autoimmune type symptoms since he finished his chemotherapy last summer so we were desperate to find solutions to both health issues. We are now transitioning to a vegan diet that seems to have resolved both problems.Transitioning can take many forms, and this is just one more. We’re calling this a lifestyle change, rather than a diet, because ‘diet’ makes it sound temporary but this transition is for life! The good news is that we’re hoping this change keeps us healthy and that we’ll be able to provide for most of our dietary needs through gardening and by making regular visits to that new Farmer’s Market!

Health Reform

Buckminster Fuller once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I always did like Bucky…



We Have the Tools We Need

grandmaThis blog is mostly about ways to create resilient and prosperous households, neighborhoods and communities, or, as implied in the picture above, ways to “do stuff”. I wrote a post earlier this year on ‘redefining prosperity’ and I’ve been reminded of it several times this week while listening to lunch break talk. As you probably know, stock markets around the world have taken a beating since last Friday, and folks, from economists to retirees to my workmates are worried. Call me crazy, but I’m not worried, even though we lost a lot ON PAPER due to the plunge. I try to measure my personal prosperity based on how wealthy I am in non-tangible ways rather than on what the monthly statements tell me. Of course I hate to lose money, even if it is ON PAPER, as much as anyone. But I don’t feel any real sense of loss. I’m not going to sell out now, I’m going to stay the course and let the blue chips fall where they may. In the meantime I intend to continue doing whatever I can to make my home and family and community more resilient, so that when the economic crashes and recessions occur-and they will!- we’ll still be standing.

On a personal level, that means staying out of debt and paying cash or doing without. It means using what I have on hand, before buying something, whether it’s a jar of our home-grown tomatoes or a bottle of shampoo. It means continuing to grow as much food as I can, saving my own seeds and making small mountains of compost so that I can return what I’ve taken from the soil, and then doing it all over again next year. It means keeping my body as strong and as healthy as I can through healthy eating, regular exercise and sleeping 7 or 8 hours each night. It means repairing rather than replacing, putting food up for the winter, hanging the sheets on the line to dry, using the fan rather than the AC and driving the car less. I have the tools I need…

Resiliency and prosperity is different for each of us though. Perhaps for you it’s working through debt, learning a special skill that might be useful in bad times, or starting your own small business. For ALL of us, it really does mean having a local supply chain, just like our grandparents did during the Great Depression. When China’s economy collapses (and according to recent NPR reports that’s not as far fetched as you may think) that familiar ‘made in China’ supply chain will break and we’ll be dependent on what we can produce right here at home. And if that chain doesn’t break, doesn’t it just make SENSE to supply ourselves with our own stuff, right here at home? We need the jobs here-badly. And by the way, I’d advise China to do the same. Did you know that last month the USDA gave the OK to ship our LIVE chickens that were raised here to China for processing, then ship the meat BACK to the US for our consumption? What would our grandparents have thought of that hare-brained scheme? Would they have raised their own backyard chickens and sent them away to butcher? In direct contrast, check out the message on this poster that the USDA produced during the Great Depression:

Feed YourselfOur recently re-activated neighborhood association met with the chief of police and the sergeant  assigned to our district Monday night to discuss ways we can keep our neighborhood safer and free from July 4th fireworks that go on throughout the month. Working side by side with neighbors on issues that affect all of us is a sure way to get to know one another and be part of a more livable community. There were 33 people at the meeting, with plans to have block captains, neighborhood watches and to be represented in this year’s Christmas parade! That’s the start of better resilience for sure. I’m hoping at some point we’ll begin to talk about public gardens,orchards and vineyards, bike lanes, Little Free Libraries and “Safe Houses”, health clinics and more. We have the tools we need…

And finally, on a larger community level, resiliency and prosperity might mean outlining a detailed plan for community food security or supporting a community-owned energy system, municipal composting facility or ride sharing plan. It may mean a leaner and slower way of life for some, but also a healthier, happier and more peaceful world for us and future generations to enjoy. We have the tools we need… What we do with them is up to us.

hard times to dance



L.E.S.S.

Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation: using L.E.S.S. just might be a meaningful part of our response to the crises of our age. If you’re a new reader to this blog, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “what IS the crisis of our age?”. If so, check out my ‘about’ page for a bit more information. If you’ve “been there, done that”, then just pick one…crisis, that is. Adopting new measures of prosperity needn’t be considered a bitter pill to swallow, but instead a new and exciting taste of freedom and resilience!

A recent (and quite long!) article I read titled “The End of Capitalism has Begun” touched on how Greek citizens are creating a new economy via food cooperatives (as is Cuba!), alternative producers, local currencies and exchange systems. According to the article there are hundreds of smaller initiatives there too, ranging from land squats to carpools to free kindergartens. I recently wrote in this blog about what I called “An Informal Economy”, but I have since learned that the media has dubbed this meme as “the sharing economy”. I believe I like that better. Whatever it’s called, it’s going to be the new global system eventually because the capitalist system we have now is simply not sustainable. All together now, “perpetual growth is not sustainable”!

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Let’s start with energy: Even though my own energy use for transportation has been greatly reduced since moving from our old home that was located out in the country into the urban neighborhood that we live in now, I’m a long way from energy independence. Our newer location allows me to walk or ride my bike to many of the places that I need to go: from the dentist to the grocery store, I can get in my daily exercise while running those errands and keep the car parked at home most of the time. Many towns, including mine, are adding bike lanes and racks to make cycling safer and easier, but don’t forget carpooling and mass transit options to lower your own energy dependence. Car sharing has long gone on in families, and extending that to communities could be a logical next step, and has in fact begun in larger cities.

Home energy needs can be provided via a variety of ways, but lower prices on solar panels and wind turbines, along with tax incentives in many states, are making renewable energies a more affordable alternative. Biomass, waste recycling and community owned power stations are all viable ways of providing our energy needs on a local basis. Natural gas quality landfill gas that is produced from the methane that my town’s local landfill emits, is piped to the nearby VA Campus, a hospital and the university campus to provide their energy needs. How cool is that? Conversely, on a very low tech scale, I enjoy using my solar cooker whenever I can, and I’m exploring the possibility of building a large cob oven in a nearby local park where the community garden has its’ home. In this picture you’ll see a tiny one, next to a larger one, that was built last summer by kids at the site of our local “Tree Forest”, proving that this low tech combination of clay, straw and water is doable by any of us! And CLAY is an abundant natural resource right here in Tennessee…

cob oven

Cob ovens can be used to consecutively cook breads, pizzas, desserts and more with just one firing

I completely understand these alternative ideas may not easily integrate into your home, your lifestyle or your neighborhood but I believe the benefits can outweigh the hassles if appropriate technology and community assistance is applied. It really does “take a village” and that ‘sharing economy’ I mentioned earlier is the only way capitalism will ever be replaced with an economic model that works for all of us, not just the privileged few. I also encourage you to never underestimate the sheer effectiveness of cross breezes, cotton clothing, deciduous shade trees and awnings in the summer, and eliminating the extra heat that using dishwashers, clothes dryers and ovens can create. Washing  your dishes by hand, hanging your clothes outside to dry and preparing meals in a crock pot or on the  stove top will easily eliminate that unwanted heat completely. Reflective window coatings, insulation and weatherstripping, fans, kiddie pools and cool showers are excellent ways to cool down in summer heat without turning on the AC, while layered clothing, space heaters, and passive or active solar gains make good alternatives to turning up the thermostat in the colder months. If we all did nothing more than grow some of our own food, preheat our water with a simple batch solar collector and travel car free as often as possible we could decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our personal resilience factor tremendously!

But let’s talk about our ‘Stuff’ now. We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well. But that’s not the way things have to be. Together, we can build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division. The way we make, use and throw away the stuff in our lives is senseless and shameful. I have never asked my readers to do this, but I’d like you to see this profound 52 second video that graphically shows just how far we’ve sunk within our capitalistic lifestyle of stuff. These 52 seconds really impacted me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMTu4ixp9kw  With renewable energy, sustainable use, reuse and “upcycling” of resources, and the smart design of everything from candy wrappers to cities, we can have both sustainability and abundance.

Before I end this already too-long post, let me say this about stimulation: from technological wonders and homework, to club meetings and soccer games, too many distractions and activities have robbed kids and families of the unstructured time we need to thrive and be creative and connected. Setting some new limits for ourselves and our kids might be all that’s needed to keeping those distractions in check. Those limits will necessarily have to be personal and adjustable for each of us, but we might begin by adhering to just one simple rule in our households: for example, no phones or Ipads at the dinner table. Families eating dinner together has been proven to be the best thing we can do in order to maintain open lines of communication, good grades, better health and a host of other positive outcomes within our lives and our families. 

We’re actually close to a tipping point to address these issues. This is the new world we have to learn to live in. Instead of debating outdated economics, let us come together to forge a new path—one that is practical and truly provides equal opportunity for all, even those desiring to live a simple life. Capitalism served us well, but it’s become evident that working together cooperatively rather than in competition is the foundation for a new economy and peaceful world.



Frugal Friday- July 10th, 2015

I’ll admit, I don’t completely understand what the citizens of Greece are facing when they are asked to choose between “more severe austerity measures” in order to keep their country afloat, or bailing on the money they already owe, but either way it doesn’t sound pleasant. Michael and I elected a long time ago to never again owe any money and it was the best decision we’ve ever made. We may someday see our own self imposed austerity measures, but frugality shouldn’t be confused with austerity. It’s but a way of life that we embrace willingly and whole heartedly and that allows us to live well on less. Maybe folks with a lot more money than we do have no need to even consider frugality, but we chose to retire at the tender ages of 49 and 55, knowing it was a choice that would affect us for the rest of our lives. 13 years later, the only thing we’ve had to give up was that 9 to 5 job! Our new job is to live within our means and although we sometimes have to work a bit of overtime to accomplish that, the payoff is always worth the extra effort. This week has been no different:

Monday: Our veterinarian’s office is less than a block away and once a year he offers a rabies clinic for cats and dogs for only $10. In-Shot-Out in two minutes or less and it’s a pleasant walk there, saving the poor cat from a car ride. Is that austerity?

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Tuesday: I reused a stamp that arrived in my mailbox uncanceled. It’s amazing how often this happens, and it’s amazing that I’ve never had a single piece of mail returned to me when I reuse these little goldmines. I do tend to use them on mail that is not of utter importance, just in case, but I believe that’s overkill on my part. Austerity? Nah, but I did save 49 cents!

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Wednesday:  We went camping recently and I was finally able to try out my homemade fire starters, made with repurposed toilet paper rolls stuffed with saved dryer lint. Now that we no longer heat our home with wood, and since the surrounding woods are always picked completely clean when we camp, kindling and such is hard to come by. These firestarters worked very well and of course I love making ‘something from nothing’. The resulting fire and s’mores could hardly be considered austerity measures.

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Thursday: On my daily walk I ran across a full bale of straw with a neglected potted ficus tree sitting on top of it, waiting for the garbage truck to haul them away. I went home and got my own garbage truck and saved both from the landfill. I’ll use the straw bale as a fall decoration later this year, then as mulch for my strawberry bed. The tree can be nursed back to health and I’ll give it to my daughter for her birthday in November since she’s always wanted such a tree. Austerity? nope, just smart savings!

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Friday: I gathered some fresh cedar and sage from my herb bed and made smudge sticks, a Native American tradition of clearing your space, your life or even your body of negative energy. They make great house-warming gifts, or simply as an offering to a sick friend to metaphorically cleanse their body from whatever ails them. Maybe the government of Greece should consider giving smudge sticks to all their citizens to help them cleanse the bad air that’s brewing there…

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I joke about austerity measures, but I assure you they are no laughing matter to the citizens of Greece and there is no intention to belittle the hardships they face. I sincerely believe however that looking at all our available resources with an eye towards conserving them, whether it’s a 49 cent stamp or a wad of dryer lint can help us remain solvent in our own personal ways. I am concerned over the global state of affairs and have found the best remedy for my anxiety is to simply live as best as I can on as little as I can. Growing food, reducing my energy needs and tending a supportive and understanding community are the central tenants of this blog and my life. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to avoid austerity, and think transition.



An Informal Economy

Traditionally, ‘informal economy’ referred to economic activity that is neither taxed nor regulated by a government. Even though the term may be rather unfamiliar, examples of informal economies practices are as familiar as babysitting or the drug trade. But I recently read a different description of  ‘informal economy’: “that which allows people to acquire goods and services they might not otherwise afford.” It’s an idea that deserves more than a glance. As we move into the second half of 2015, I sense a deepening economic uncertainty that demands each of us find ways to transition to a life style that is built on community, local resilience and living well on less. Enter: trade and barter.

Not long ago I bartered fresh heads of bok choy in exchange for a nurse neighbor’s steady hand in giving Michael his B-12 shots. We often trade watering or harvesting chores down at the community garden with fellow vacationers. A friend recently had a raised bed but nothing to plant in it, nor any extra money to invest in it. So I gave her some of my heirloom bean seeds that I’d saved, to plant in her bed. She’ll no doubt enjoy eating her beans all winter, and has promised to repay me in fresh beans. Yesterday I offered my skills as a canner to a woman that is equally skilled in quilting. We will both benefit from our reciprocal agreement to ‘help one another’. Carpooling, house and pet sitting are favorite trade-offs for me. I also enjoy doing sewing repairs in exchange for goods or services that I might need. Years ago I helped an acquaintance prepare for a major move by organizing and packing, in exchange for several months of fiddle lessons; our friendship has lasted long after the trades were completed. These informal economies help friendships to grow and allow all involved to benefit without any money being exchanged.

I wrote here recently about the free truckloads of gravel for my driveway I was able to get, via Freecycle, from a nearby church, who just wanted it off of their parking lot. My own church offers many, many opportunities for sharing and trading of goods and services. Our local electric cooperative delivers shredded wood mulch for free to anyone that lives within the city limits, and the city crews deliver shredded leaves for our compost piles during the fall leaf pickup. The members of the nearby community garden that I manage are constantly learning from, trading with, and helping one another, even though we all started as perfect strangers and have few common bonds other than our love for growing fresh, organic food. From an online community to a community garden, all of these informal economies help to build community strength and resilience.

 The nearby town of Abingdon, VA is home to the Barter Theater, a live theater venue that was set up during the Depression and so named because you could gain admission to see a play by bartering fresh eggs, produce or chickens instead of paying the 40 cent admission price. During that same period, when no one had any cash, it wasn’t uncommon for doctors to accept food as payment. My own grandfather was known to accept car repairs and haircuts as payment for his bookkeeping and accounting skills.

Produce traded at Barter Theatre
Produce traded at Barter Theater, circa 1933

For all those aspects of life that we need in order to sustain ourselves and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil), drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change) and greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)? An Informal Economy is a logical starting point and offers limitless possibilities that can help us with these transition issues. Some communities have even gone so far as to start community currencies based on barter, trading one hour of work for $10 in credit. From food to computer skills, we all have something to offer. Might a more formal organization of these kinds of efforts be more helpful or hassle? Please let me know in the comments section below if you or your community are working in informal economies, and what affects it is having on your resilience and/or personal economy.




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