Tennesseetransitions


Ding! Ding! Ding!

 

Image I recently touched on a concept called “The Green Triangle” that was put forth by author, editor, and simple living adherent, Ernest Callenbach. Seems he was able many years ago to put into words a principle that I’ve often used to guide me in my daily choices and decisions concerning my money, my health or the environment. The principle that relates these three points is: Anytime you do something beneficial for one of them, you will almost inevitably also do something beneficial for the other two – whether you’re hoping to or not.

I’ve also written several times about ‘win-win’ situations. Here, here and here for example. The Green Triangle is a ‘win-win-win’ situation in my eyes and as someone who cares deeply about those three things, I find it a helpful tool. I’ve used it so often over the years that I rarely ask myself anymore, “Self? What does the Green Triangle indicate in this situation?” But, it wasn’t- and isn’t- always that easy, so I thought perhaps it might be helpful to you if I could tell you of a few instances when it’s been a guiding light for me.

I long fretted over “Which is best? Local? Organic? Grass Fed?” Where my food is concerned, my health was my first consideration. So with staying healthy as my primary motivator, I felt comfortable with answering those questions by adopting a plant-based diet. Period.  As it turns out, by not buying meats, I’m improving my arteries, while saving money (beans, grains, nuts, eggs and greens are far cheaper sources of protein than meat)  AND protecting the environment from the harm that Big AG conventional meat producers are causing. Green Triangle =ding!ding!ding!

Whenever I walk or ride my bike, I’m putting the Green Triangle into effect. I’m saving gas money and wear on my car, I’m improving  my clogged arteries, and not contributing to the CO2 emissions that driving causes. ding!ding!ding!

Occasionally though, it’s not so clear-cut or even when it is, it’s not so easy to adhere to my own principles. When Michael and I were dating many years ago we had an old, heavy cooler that I couldn’t give away, try as I might. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, we simply wanted to buy a lighter one, with wheels and drink holders and little dividers inside that kept your hummus from touching your lettuce or whatever. I distinctly remember standing in the backyard and Michael saying to me that he felt we are responsible for the things we purchase until the end of that things’ life cycle. That simple statement stayed with me, and  the longer I live with it, the more I see how true it is. We didn’t buy the new cooler then, nor have we ever bought another one, because the karma of keeping the damn old thing boomeranged, as karma does, you know. Years later, a friend was moving and offered us his ‘old’ cooler-and it was just what we’d wanted! We still have the ‘old old’ one, which I use for protecting tender young plants on cold spring nights ;),  as an extra camp seat, and  as storage for camping gear during the off-season. We never did have to spend the $30 dollars a new one would’ve cost us, the landfill is STILL minus one steel cooler, and  I rest easy knowing I made a good decision. ding!ding!ding!

cooler

Before I close, I want you also to understand that making good choices, whether using the Green Triangle or by following the advice found in my fortune cookie, is still really hard. I don’t always make the best food choices or purchasing decisions (did I ever tell you about my weakness for chocolate chip mint ice cream or my Imelda Marcos style shoe collection??), and some days I don’t gave a rat’s a## about the polar bears (ok, that’s not quite true) but being ever-mindful about my consumption of every thing that comes through my life has saved me lots of cash, helps me stay healthy and hopefully, has saved a polar bear somewhere as well. Maybe this Green Triangle thing can help you make better choices too. ding!ding!ding!

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“I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take it Anymore!”

fracking

Let me begin this long rant by saying I already miss Pete Seeger and I’m quite tired of freaking five degree temps, so maybe that’s colored my usually optimistic outlook on things. I should also tell you that the provisions put forth in the new Farm Bill are confusing, and that I voted for O’Bama. Both times. I think his State of the Union address last night was beautiful oration, and I did like a lot of what he had to say, but I totally disagreed with his call to retrofit our economy for natural gas. He’s going to make it easy for businesses to open factories that run on natural gas, by cutting governmental red tape. He never mentioned that 90% of the oil and gas wells drilled in America today are fracked — there could be no oil and gas boom without it. Everyone knows that there are no easy answers to the problems of Peak Oil and the fact that we’ve, well, peaked. However, he did say “… the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.” Thank  you Mr. President for that acknowledgement. But shouldn’t the conversation from our nation’s leader at this point include at least some mention of alternatives to an energy-dependent future besides “In the coming months, I’ll (build on that success) by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump“?  By God, if we had to pay the true costs of gasoline at the pump we’d ALL be riding our bikes, taking a bus, a train or walking! Our pump prices don’t even begin to reflect the environmental costs of that fuel.  Just sayin’… And our food prices don’t reflect their environmental costs either, but I’m digressing here. 

WHERE is the conversation about plans for mass transit and alternative transportation systems? WHERE  is the conversation about retrofitting older buildings and factories and homes with simple systems like insulation, solar panels and windmills? WHERE is the conversation about our nation’s cities and towns converting public lands and commons areas to growing spaces, to food forests and community gardens? WHERE is the conversation about Americans needing to learn the skills needed to produce the foods and goods and tools and services we need to become self sufficient? Those conversations really do take place on millions of websites, in magazines and living rooms, but they’re never spoken of by our government. Well, I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

In the last year or so I’d begun to feel somewhat hopeful that maybe the economic and financial experts hadn’t gotten it quite right, and that maybe our economy IS recovering. I’d also begun to feel that maybe the energy experts hadn’t gotten it quite right either and maybe we haven’t reached Peak Oil-yet. But as O’Bama said himself: “climate change is a fact”, and those of us lucky enough to live in First World countries can not ‘carry on as usual’ and expect that to change. I truly fear for my grandchildren at this point. I fear that they won’t have enough food, clean water and air to live healthy and productive lives. The government is paying some growers in California to not plant again this year because of lack of water. Let me say that again: The government is paying growers in California to not plant again this year because of lack of water. The ongoing drought in our nation’s breadbasket is so very serious and when I hear our President speak about ‘setting new (MPG) standards for our trucks’ it makes me angry.

You ask, “So, what are you gonna do about it?” I’m going to keep on writing about, talking about, and working for, the changes I think need to take place. But I’m going to write a little longer, talk a little louder and work a little harder. I’m going to continue to grow and preserve as much of my food as I can and teach others to do the same. I’m going to walk and carpool more-the walking keeps me healthy and doesn’t add to our environmental problems. I’m going to support local organizations like One Acre Cafe and The Livable Communities Group that are working to make a difference in our community, not by offering handouts, or asking for them, but that are “leaning in”, to use a new catch-phrase, to find out first hand what’s needed to make lives better. I’m going to learn new skills and share them with others whenever I can. I’m going to get more involved with politics so that the type of leaders we need to make big change get elected. I’m gonna write letters to the editor and sign petitions. And that’s just for February folks!  I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!

The ‘About’ page of this blog, written exactly two years ago states:If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating our 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. This blog is simply about my attempts to visualize and help create that new way of living!” I still believe in this statement fervently. I hope you do too.

lomax



Good Luck with That!

I cooked my traditional dish of Hoppin’ John today, using home-canned peppers, tomatoes, veggie broth and a package of the frozen Sofritos that my Puerto Rican friend Daniel taught me how to make last summer from my garden’s excess. IMG_0104

So today, all I had to do was open the jars, pressure cook the dried peas for 15 minutes, and add 2 cups of last night’s leftover rice, along with some precooked vegan sausage crumbles I had in the freezer. I love this time of year when I’m able to cook most of our meals using the fruits of my summer labor and dried beans and grains bought in bulk! Eating this way also helps me get ‘back in the groove’ of eating healthfully after the excesses of the holidays. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Property taxes, car insurance and the season’s highest heating bills all have to be paid in January and cooking this way feeds us well for mere dimes. Really. I also took advantage of the warm, sunny day to uncover my raised beds and cut some fresh kale to go with this. Quickly stir fried in red-pepper oil, it was the perfect go-with for the Hoppin’ John. We eat this dish (with a coin hidden in the pot-whoever finds it in their bowl will be blessed with wealth) with greens every year. Don’t you love family traditions?

New Year Resolutions; I have two:

Resolution #1. Get Fit. I want to ride my bike UPHILL  (important skill when  you live in the mountains), run in the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5k race again (along with 5,000 close friends), and climb Chimney Top Mountain on January 1st, 2015 (with a much smaller group of friends) that do it every New Year’s Day. We did it with them in 2008 and have always said we’d do it again. One year from today, we’ll be there and I’ll post a picture. I know, I know, “good luck with that!” Here I am after the last time I did that climb:

tired

Resolution #2. Become a better bass player, which is going to require a lot of daily practice on my part. I know, I know, “good luck with that too!”

bass crop (3)

Eating healthy, staying fit, staying out of debt and living ‘well with less’, making home-made music, gardening and canning, hiking, bike riding and spending time with family and friends is really how I want to live my life, this year and always. May YOU be so lucky too! Happy New Year! 



Good Investments

Yesterday was our first taste of winter here in NE TN -some of the higher elevations close by had snow flurries and even a bit of sleet! The gray skies and windy conditions forced us to turn on the gas fireplace stove, immediately drawing  the cat and dog in close. We picked the remaining tomatoes and then brought the baskets and bins of fresh produce from the porch inside to the pantry to protect it all from tonight’s expected low temperatures. We’ve got two cases of apples to store away, along with onions, grinding corn, butternut and spaghetti squashes, red, yellow and white potatoes and sweet potatoes all cured and waiting for the real cold to move in before we begin eating them daily. You know, when that time that comes after the Farmer’s Market closes next month when there’s very little fresh, local produce available, all these root veggies will be combined with whatever greens and Brassicas we have under the hoops to make lots of great meals. All this food was grown organically on good soil and is full of vitamins and minerals. Soil and compost building is a ‘good investment’ in successful gardening and the resulting fruits and veggies are  ‘good investments’ in our health and future well-being.

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Every single person that has seen Michael since he’s undergone his cancer treatments has commented, “Well you look good!” Even though his body’s been completely poisoned with the chemotherapy and ravaged by the radiation, he pulled through easier than many his age do and we are certain it’s because he was always investing in good health, even though all the while that damn tumor was growing undetected. Eating healthful foods and getting exercise every day may in fact be the best investment he’s ever made. This picture was made a week ago.

michael on bike

I’m glad the government shutdown was discontinued and the debt ceiling raised, but I think we all know it’s temporary. A friend remarked the other day that she has never EVER tended her garden with as much care as she has this year. Why? I think she’s simply being prudent and wise based on her own observations of how precarious our current economic system is. If ever, in the course of our lives, there was a time to plant food and learn a craft or skill, build a pantry and invest one’s money in one’s life, it is now. I recently offered a talented friend use of my washer and dryer twice a month to do her laundry in exchange for giving me advanced bass lessons while her clothes get clean. Michael and I make our ‘mad money’ by playing with a local band. The better musicians we are, the more likely we are to be hired to play. (AND learning to play any instrument is right up there with learning a foreign language and doing brain exercises as ways to keep sharp as we age) Plus, we have so much fun playing music!  I consider the trade another ‘good investment’.

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 Get to know your neighbors–you’ll need each other as shortages force us to relocalize. Work toward establishing new, more community-based economies.  Last week I traded a neighbor some of my fresh organic veggies for a big sack of his pecans. He feels like he got the best end of the bargain, but so do I. That’s what I call win-win. In the business world, networking with others in your line of work is considered important for success. The same holds true in our private lives. Volunteering for your favorite charity, sharing space in the community garden, even joining a church or club are all great ways to network and make friends. Our church community has rallied around us during Michael’s illness and we’ve felt uplifted and empowered by their support. Many studies have proven that a strong social network of friends can stave off depression, dementia and other illnesses. Building those relationships are ‘good investments’ for everyone concerned!

I think by clearly envisioning the joyful, healthy, earth friendly lives we most want and then by making ‘good investments’ during this transition period that we are currently experiencing, we’ll be able to make that vision a reality.

PS I apologize in advance if some the words in this post are highlighted in red and take  you to an ad. I have no idea why it’s happening and will try to fix it in future posts.



Contributionism: Or, Simply Put, We Need Each Other

I’ve attended several meetings this week, all aiming to make our community a better place to love live. Before moving to this area, I’d raised a family and worked a full-time job, with little time or energy left for civic affairs. Perhaps every town and community is as focused as mine on making life better, but I can’t really say since this is the only place I’ve lived that I’ve liked enough to get involved. (Something within me though tells me that MY town is special in this regard.) Over the last couple of days I’ve witnessed over 150 different people come to these meetings straight from work, while on their lunch breaks or during their dinner hour to show their support for initiatives in this area that are important enough to them that they take the time to show up and contribute. Some of us have time, some have special talents, others have lots of energy, a few have money, but we all want to contribute in some way to make our community better. It’s not all altruistic of course, since we will benefit individually as well as collectively from our efforts.

The recently formed Rails to Trails Task Force has been charged with overseeing the conversion of an old railroad system into a 10+ mile long hiking and biking trail by Labor Day of next year. The ‘Tweetsie Trail’  will bring many new visitors and their dollars to our community, while giving those of us lucky enough to LIVE here a free fitness trail that just happens to offer us lots of natural beauty while we get fit and have fun. My city has committed $100,000 to jumpstart this project, that after investing $625,000 to purchase the land itself. The task force meets monthly and manages to get lots of homework done between meetings. All volunteers. All contributing whatever they can.

tweetsie trail

One Acre Cafe is a soon-to-be-opened restaurant that will be located between our downtown area and the college campus. It will use a nonprofit status and a  ‘Pay It Forward’ concept of making sure that everyone eats. If you can pay a bit more for your meal, any extra will go towards buying a meal for someone who can’t afford to pay. If you’re one of those,  you can work for an hour at the cafe to earn your meal, all while learning valuable kitchen skills that might eventually earn you a paid job in the food service industry along with that meal. This whole plan is run by volunteers and is operating entirely via donations. It’s been a tremendous undertaking but is becoming a reality due to many, many volunteers contributing. (there’s that word again)

Last but certainly not least, a joint meeting was held yesterday between the Washington County Economic Development Council and the Liveable Communities group to explore the possibility of combining our forces in hopes of being able to make a better contribution (ahem…) to making our region a nicer place to live. A city/county entity combining with a civic group- is that sweet or WHAT? It’s part of contributionism, that’s what.

pedestrian

When I first began thinking about the purpose of this blog, I wanted, most of all, to provide my readers with positive alternatives to the present reality of Peak Oil, Climate Change and an oil-based lifestyle and economy that is unsustainable. I am convinced that a new, clear, vision is what is needed to  re-create our 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.  If you too are interested in these things, simply pick a project that you care about and contribute your unique gifts to it. Our gifts of contributionism will manifest themselves into even more generosity from those affected and will help see us all through times of turmoil. In contrast to the age of oil and money where we can pay for anything and need no gifts, soon it will be abundantly clear: we need each other. 

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Just Sayin’…

hopi beans

It’s time again for a little of this and a little of that…things I’d like you to know about if you don’t already, things that interest me, things that might help you in  your own personal journey to freedom-however you might define that. None of these things would make a full length post, but still-I thought you might want to know -just sayin’...

1. Tennessee’s annual tax-free holiday weekend begins at 12:01 a.m on Friday, August 2 and ends Sunday, August 4 at 11:59 p.m. If you’re planning to buy school clothes, school supplies, or a new computer, THIS is the time. Here’s a list of everything that’s eligible:

http://tn.gov/revenue/salestaxholiday/One%20Pager%20Overview.pdf

2. It’s time to start planning for a fall garden. My friend Emily wrote today: “There’s still time and so much more to plant! •Beets • Kale • Broccoli • Kohlrabi • Chinese Cabbage • Lettuce • Cabbage • Radishes • Carrots • Scallions • Cauliflower • Spinach • Chicory • Turnips • Collards • Swiss Chard”. Like she says, there are a number of things that will do well before really cold weather, if your soil is vibrant and healthy.. I was left with seed potatoes from this spring so I planted them last night and should get a crop of ‘new potatoes’ (the small ones that don’t develop tough storage-quality skins) before cold weather. PLUS we are in a waning moon phase, which is the best for planting underground crops like beets, onions and yep, ‘taters! I plan to start seeds tomorrow for bok choy and will set out my late June planted Longkeeper Tomatoes next week. They’re about this high now and should produce a good crop of fresh tomatoes that, with any luck, we’ll be eating fresh on Valentine’s Day! They’re not as good as summer grown tomatoes, but a whole lot better than Florida grown winter tomatoes. AND they’re not GM tomatoes. AND they’re locally grown. AND I’ll be eating them fresh this winter. Just sayin…

3. So, what if your soil isn’t vibrant and healthy? I think the best advice I could give you would be to clear it off of old plant debris as soon as your plants have spent themselves, add chopped leaves, compost, aged or composted manures, and then plant a green cover crop of buckwheat. It’ll flower in a month and give the bees something to eat during the waning days of summer when not much else is blooming. Once it blooms, but before it goes to seed, cut it down, and replant the area to a cold weather green manure that can stay in place until spring. My personal favorite is Crimson Clover, but many folks like winter rye or hairy vetch. The clover seed was $3 a pound this year-last year it was $1.65 a pound at the same store! I’m thinking I’ll plant a separate patch and let it go to seed so that I can harvest my own next spring-just in case it shoots up to $5 a pound next fall. Seed saving is the most critical gardening skill you can have if you want to be self-sufficient and sustainable. Just sayin’…

4. I was recently honored to be asked to be a member of the Board for the  Tweetsie Historic Trail Association (THTA), a local non-profit organization whose objective is to assist in the creation of the multi-use Tweetsie Trail between Johnson City, TN and Elizabethton, TN, a neighboring town 10 miles away. Here’s a link to our website:

http://www.eteamz.com/TweetsieHistoricTrailAssociation/

Johnson City purchased the old Tweetsie Railroad System last year and has now formed a powerful Task Force that is charged with seeing the former route become a biking, hiking and recreational reality. The Task Force met this week at the Memorial Park Community Center and I was frankly AMAZED at all that’s going into this project.  Here’s a link to a story about the meeting, written by a Times reporter that was also there, so I won’t bother to rewrite it for you now: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/article/109866/rails-to-trails-task-force-sets-pace-for-new-10-mile-recreational-trail-between-johnson-city-elizabethton

So what do sales tax exemptions, fall gardens and rails-to-trails conversions have to do with the focus of this blog?  A lot actually. Finding ways to lower our income and energy needs, whether directly, like using money-saving strategies or indirectly, like learning  to grow and preserve our own food and health, can offer each of us a sense of self sufficiency and resiliency that many of us are seeking in our lives. Preserving green spaces and utilizing energy-free transportation methods are investments that we’ll all reap the benefits from, long after the last oil well is dried up. Participating in groups like these offer us an enlivened sense of community well-being.  Another THTA board member told me that the railroad retains the right to reclaim this railway, should the need ever arise to resume rail car deliveries of goods and/or people. The assumption is that Peak Oil will indeed necessitate the need for the railroad to reclaim it eventually. Just sayin…

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Just Three Things

It’s that time again when I’ve got a few things I want to share with you, none of which are enough to write a whole post about. But here’s proof that good news comes in three’s:

Our one year old hot water tank quit working recently. I wanted a tankless, on- demand water heater to replace it. The good news is, the company that made the old heater is a LOCAL MANUFACTURER!  American Water Heaters are made right here in good old Johnson City and are sold nationwide at places like Lowe’s and Sears. They agreed that it must be their defect so they replaced it. With the exact same model. They don’t make tankless heaters 😦   That was also the ‘bad’ news, because they wouldn’t give us a credit or refund, only an even exchange. So, we installed the next.best.thing. to a tankless -a $42 water heater timer. We set it to come on at 8 AM and go off at 8 PM but of course,  you’d set yours for whatever works best for your lifestyle, since there are 14 possible settings on them. It’s a well-known fact that water heating is the single largest energy user in American homes, and installing the timer has reduced our electric bill quite a bit. Even though it goes off at 8 PM there’s always plenty of pretty hot water at 8 AM the next morning too! That tells me none of us need to be heating our water 24 hours a day, it’s merely a convenience we’ve all come to rely on as a result of decades of cheap energy. A timer like this is a completely painless way to reduce your household energy needs and make your life a lee-ttle bit more resilient in the process. Now granted, it’s no solar panel, but then again, it didn’t require a second mortgage either. I also found out that if we’d had to trash the old heater, the metal in it had some monetary value and could’ve been recycled; we had 4 people stop by and ask for it in the couple of days it laid in the yard waiting to be picked up by the company! Just sayin’…

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If you have an adult bicycle you no longer use, I know of three places that could use it. First is the local Family Promise organization; they help homeless families transition to homes of their own. Sometimes those families have no transportation and a bike can certainly make their lives easier. They can be reached Mon-Fri by calling Aaron at 202-7805. Next is the ETSU Yellow Bike program that fixes up donated bikes, paints ’em red yellow, then  ‘rents’ bikes to students for free to help them get around campus more easily. Contact them about your donation at bucbikes@mail.etsu.edu.

yellow bike

And last, but not least, if your old bike is in pieces, those pieces can all be used by the nonprofit Little City Bike Collective, which rebuilds and repairs bicycles for FREE. Their shop is located at 209 E Unaka Ave in JC.  Here’s the link to their Facebook page. Make some space in  your garage this spring, and make someone’s life easier by donating to one of these fine causes. And if you’re reading this and don’t live in Johnson City, I bet these same types of organizations in your community could use your old bikes too.  Just sayin’…

After recently experiencing ‘Blackberry Winter’ here in Appalachia,we’re finally moving into a season of daily gardening now, and I hope to share tips with you over the summer that will help make your food growing more successful. I sure hope you’ll do the same and share any tips you’ve found that work for you in the comments section below. We started long ago saving our eggshells all year long, drying them, then grinding them in a little mini food processor-a mortar and pestle works well too, as long as the shells are good and dry. Then we add a handful to the planting holes of peppers and tomatoes which provides them with calcium and prevents blossom end rot, something we rarely experience any more. We also add a Tablespoon of Epsom Salts to those holes to provide magnesium as well. What better way to use your egg shells, eh? We finish by adding some compost to the hole, then fertilize with some ‘worm tea’ and stand back! Just sayin’…

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