Tennesseetransitions


Pay It Forward

About 15 years ago I was standing on the front steps of the local post office, asking Michael if he had a quarter in his pocket so that I might buy a newspaper. A lady walking up the steps must’ve heard him answer “no” so she turned around, pressed a quarter into my hand and said “Pay It Forward”. I’d never heard the term, so she told me about the movie with that name and the premise behind it of helping someone without any expectation of repayment except by asking the recipient to repay the good deed. I was so touched by that simple transaction that I’ve watched the movie 3 times over the passing years and never tire of it’s theme. But lessons we learn, even profound ones like this, sometimes need to be relearned or remembered. Last Sunday my friend Gerald walked up to me at church and gave me his last container of citric acid from the bulk stash he’d bought years ago for his business. He knows I use it when canning tomatoes and other stuff. When I offered to pay him,  he replied  “Nope, just Pay It Forward“. I fell in love all over again with that idea and have thought about it repeatedly since: thanks so much for the sweet reminder Gerald!

This blog has always focused on ways that we can live healthier, more frugal and community-based lives while we strive to find ways that will allow us to become less dependent on the idea of always buying a solution to life’s everyday needs. Pay It Forward fits very nicely into a ‘living well on less’ lifestyle. I’m recommitting to the idea and am having big fun finding ways to do that. Not only does the practice help others accomplish things they might not be able to accomplish on their own, the practice of helping one another can spread geometrically through society, creating a social movement with an impact of making the world a better place. A better place! Think about that! 

The Heifer Project and Kiva micro-loans are both based on this concept, and locally, One Acre Cafe operates within the same framework-if you can afford to pay an extra dollar or so for your meal (and you can since you don’t have to tip the volunteer staff)  your extra is ‘paid forward’ to feed someone that can’t afford a meal.

One doesn’t need to make loans of money however to make the world a better place. Some of us may not have even a bit of extra money to pay forward, but the concept can be expressed in myriad ways: donating your extra garden produce to someone in need or giving a stranger’s car battery a jump come immediately to mind. Paying it forward helps me to remember the power of giving and my connection  with all living things. It helps both the giver and the recipient by adding a touch of  kindness and compassion to their days. Simply put, the unspoken message is: “I care about you”. 



Making Choices
“When I was a little kid, growing up on Martin Drive, Dr. Spock’s book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which had first been published in 1946, was making the rounds. It was being passed from mother to mother on Martin Drive and it came to our house and my  mother read it.Among other things, the book suggested giving your child choices so that your child would learn how to make decisions. So my mother read that and thought it made a certain kind of sense, so she started giving us choices. She would tell us what to do, then let us choose between doing it or getting swatted on the rear with Dr. Spock’s book.” ~ Philip Gulley, author of ‘Grace Talks’
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I have an internet radio in my kitchen, opening up the whole world to me while I chop, stir, cook and can.  Today I listened to news about civil rights and social activism in Missouri, elephant killings in Africa, war-making in the Middle East, and  came to the conclusion that ultimately, every choice we make affects others. Examples abound, but here are a few simple ones I came up with: if I buy a $5 tee shirt from Walmart, perhaps made in Bangladesh, I’m supporting sweat shops and factories without fire escapes. If I buy Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, I’m supporting their use of GMO wheat in their pastas, while contributing to a culture of discontent amongst their employees. If I eat a Hershey’s candy bar, I’m condoning child slave labor on the cocoa plantations along the Ivory Coast. If I purchase anything made from ivory, it comes from a bull elephant. (not that I buy anything made from ivory but evidently it is a HUGE trend in Asia). On and on, ad nauseum. I get it. We vote with our dollars, so by making wise buying choices that will make things better? Maybe. Maybe not. Will my refusal to buy an occasional Hershey’s bar really stop the exploitation of children? It’s just not a simple ‘either/or ‘ choice like Mrs. Gulley made with her children in the opening paragraph, is it?
So tell me, how are we to live? How can we make the best choices that will benefit our lives without creating misery for someone else?And what does this have to do with transitioning to a way of living that’s significantly more connected,  vibrant and  fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today? This blog’s “ABOUT” statement has said since Day One: “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.” Maybe I will reword that to add: “…while considering others everywhere.”
I sure don’t have the answers folks. I’m searching for them every day. Listening to the news from around the world on the internet radio has made me ever more aware that we’re all interconnected, we are all one, and that we all share this earth. But I have to keep in mind that I can’t change anyone or anything, but I can change me. I can make better consumer choices, better environmental choices and better health choices.
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I sometimes get lax and begin to slip back into patterns of consumption that I thought I’d left behind. I’m buying paper towels again for crap’s sake! I haven’t bought them for almost 14 years, and suddenly, I have a 3 pack under the sink. (It’s really Michael’s fault but I’ve cut him some slack while he’s been ill, but as of today, he’s declared cancer free so now he’s going to have to go back to a life without them 🙂 ) Pick your battles. I also realize that not buying paper towels or Roundup or styrofoam plates won’t change the world but those are things that I feel good about nevertheless. So what else can I do? Well, I can follow the lead of my church association and divest my savings investments of fossil fuel companies and Bank One holdings, and instead, invest more in renewable energies and local banks.  I can grow more, sew more, walk more, and give more. I can choose a life of simplicity. I can create peace in my personal life and my home, knowing  full well that peace in the world really does begin at home. I can even choose to turn off the radio.
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Lean In

When we were kids, my group of friends would always say “Lean in!” when we had something earth-shaking we wanted the others to hear. We all knew it was time  to ‘listen up’ and ‘pay attention’. So, lean in, I’ve got stuff to share. I’m noticing more and more and MORE that average, every day folks are beginning to transition their lives. In some cases its subtle, in others, major. But, as Bob Dylan sang to us 50 years ago, “the times they are a’changing”.

For example, yesterday I read a blog post from an ordinary suburbanite mom that was encouraging her readers to prepare for emergencies by putting together bug out bags for each family member, complete with a list of suggested items to include. In part it reads: “I am not talking fear or panic.  I am promoting intelligent, practical, thoughtful preparation.  I don’t know what is around the corner, but I must admit to a growing need to learn all that I can and adjust my outlook to one of greater self-sufficiency and resilience”.  I totally agree with her, and have had my own bug out backpack for over 10 years now, but her post reminded me that I should recheck and update it. With the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing over the last few years, and becoming more extreme it seems with each passing season, it’s a suggestion that every person should consider. My friend in Pensacola, FL is unable to get to work due this week due to washed out bridges and roads from Tuesdays’ storms, while many in Mississippi and Alabama are devastated and homeless after getting hit by tornadoes. This ‘before and after’ picture is from his Facebook page…

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Are you prepared for such things? Lean in and take heed.

I’ve noticed an uptick in local community gardens and food forests. There’s keen interest in the canning classes I enjoy giving…

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…as well as a renewed desire to learn other kitchen skills such as pie and biscuit making and cooking meals from scratch. Classes are full for cheese-making, bread-making, fermenting foods, as well as making yogurt, kombucha and kefir. Workshops on everything from organic gardening and building raised beds to woodworking and soap-making are sold out. The local beekeeping school had 400 people attend this year, by far the largest number ever, and clandestine chicken coops are all over the city now. I  went to a well-attended lecture Tuesday night at the local college, called “Brightening the 21st Century” given by ‘The Solar Sister’. Her story of turning an old chicken coop located on the nunnery grounds where she lives, into an environmental learning center was enjoyed by the room full of folks that were there. During April, our local university held a month-long calendar of Earth Day celebrations and events for the first time ever. When I left the lecture hall, I saw this out in the hall and wanted to show you too: the ‘Mixed Paper’ and “Cans&Plastic” bins both had stuff in them, but the container on the far right which was marked “LANDFILL” was empty.

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In the two years I’ve lived in my urban neighborhood, the number of red recycling bins I see out on the curb on Monday mornings has quadrupled. (That’s not saying a whole lot, since I had to call the truck drivers almost every week for the first month or two we lived here because I was the only one on the street at the time that was putting it curbside and they would ‘forget’ to stop), but the point is, lean in here, more people are recycling, growing some of their own food, and using renewable energy than I’ve ever noticed. I received an email from a friend just this morning: “I finally ordered my own solar cooker today!” Lean in friends, this is all good news!

People are also learning to reuse and repair again, as well as recycle. The local shoe and bike repair shops have long ‘wait times’ they are so busy. I recently went to a small engine repair shop to pick up new belts for my 23-year-old tiller and  was fifth in the line of customers buying their own parts to repair their own stuff. My youngest daughter has recently begun to renew her long-neglected sewing skills, and the Bernina sewing shop that opened downtown a couple of years ago seems to be always quite busy. Lean in: people are indeed transitioning to a future that is based on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being.

I am thrilled to see the changes taking place! Not only are we taking control of our lives again, according to recent articles I’ve read, we’re also saving more for retirement and carrying far less debt than we were when the ‘economic depression’ began in 2008. That downturn has brought about some rather nice changes in my own life: in response to lower incomes and higher prices, my circle of friends has been getting together for potlucks and cookouts and birthday celebrations more often these days, ending these festive times with board games or music jams. Fuhgeddaboud cover charges or drinks by the glass. We brew our own beer or wine or herbal sun tea and enjoy the comfort of being in our own homes, saving clubs and restaurant outings for rare special occasions. Now there’s even talk of forming an intentional community, right here in our urban area! There’s hope and light everywhere, you just gotta lean in to find it.

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Resilience Rocks

I write about resilience in this blog fairly often. I read or hear about extraordinary resilience among other people seeking their freedom through their own actions and get inspired. And as I seek resilience in my own life, I often feel as though I’m thriving, in an abundant and meaningful way. My household waste is minimal, and the inputs into my life seem to equal the outputs-some days. But I realize that every time I turn the key in my eco-friendly car, that so-called balance is destroyed. Every time I flip the switch on a compact fluorescent bulb I’m reliant on the electric company. Every time I eat fair trade, organic store-bought food, I’m reliant on a producer, and a truck and some oil somewhere along that long line. Every time I turn on the low-flow shower, I’m reliant on my water company, and rain, and God, and dams and waste water treatment plants. So how resilient am I, really? By myself, not very I’m afraid. Resilient communities are another matter altogether. They are the future. Communities that can supply food, water, energy and needed services are literally a detox for Western countries and are even being embraced in rural India as a way to help individual villages improve nutrition and food supplies, stop migration into large, crowded cities and improve quality of life.

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<———–Rooftop solar panels in Saudi Arabia!                        

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Chard and Sweet Potatoes growing in downtown Charleston, SC

 This NOT an impossible dream folks. I see evidence of transitioning taking place every week it seems, in one form or another. Author James Kunstler writes: “Much of America east of the Mississippi is full of towns that are waiting to be reused, with much of their original equipment intact. The lucky suburbanites will be the ones with the forethought to trade in their suburban McHouses for property in towns and small cities, and prepare for a vocational life doing something useful and practical on the small-scale, whether it’s publishing a newsletter, being a paramedic, or fixing bicycles.” 

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So, I traded in my suburban life for a country cabin and now for an urban lifestyle in this medium sized town I live in and love. “Prepare for something useful and practical on a small-scale?” I want to be the ‘Herb Lady’ in my neighborhood. You know, the person you’d go to if you had a headache, a toothache or an upset tummy and couldn’t get to, or afford to go to, a doctor. The sort of eclectic old sage you’d seek out for advice about how to treat a burn, a sore throat or iron-poor blood. I enjoy very much growing things, and have been learning about the many practical uses of apothecary herbs. We’re all familiar with the culinary herbs, but medicinal herbs, now that’s a whole other world! I’m going to start experimenting on myself, beginning with using rosemary to improve memory. As soon as I remember where I put it 😉

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 So, tell me, what are  you doing to become more resilient in  your personal life, or in your community? Are you working in community gardens, or planning biking trails? Is serving as a midwife or backyard mechanic  your thing? Is your town talking about a future based on local and small scale, rather than always bigger? I hope to have some super exciting news about resilience in my community to share with you very soon. In the meantime, please leave your own ideas and comments below. Inspire us all-please.



Unfinished Business

My home is starting to resemble a plant nursery and I’m missing the sweet little greenhouse we had at our old place. It required a pretty large investment of time and money to put that kit together, but it was done with patience and care, and still stands, over 10 years later, on top of a windy hill, seemingly no worse for the wear…

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The cheap-ass greenhouse that was erected on the nearby grounds of a local city park just two or three winters ago is falling apart, with the doors ripped off of their cheap plastic hinges, one ventilated window gone and a whole side panel broken in two. But the basics are there, along with water and electricity to it. I’ve tried to steer clear of it, because I foresaw it as the ‘problem child’ that it’s actually become. It sits completely empty, while the trays and little pots of herbs and vegetables I’m trying to start here at home struggle to find enough sunlight to thrive. It would take time, energy and a real commitment to get that greenhouse back into usable condition, and to work out a system for making it productive and useful.

I took part in December in the inaugural planting of our city’s first ‘Food Forest’, on the grounds of a nearby church that offered the flat, sunny lot next to it as a place to plant native species of fruit and nut trees that will someday offer fresh food to passersby.

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Summer plans are to add berries, build an outdoor cob oven, set up rain barrels and plant sunflower hedges there, all while using permaculture and sustainable growing principles. This project will require sustainable human-powered energy and a long term commitment to be successful.

My friend Sarah, a full time student and mother of two with a hard working hubby that struggles to keep his company afloat, writes that she would like to transition to a gluten-free diet, but a perfunctory check revealed that one pound of almond meal cost $12.99! This very issue has been simmering on my brain’s back burner ever since watching a ‘Transition Towns’ documentary about how a once-struggling food co-op in a small Oregon town turned the tide when they added a worker-owned bakery to their little natural foods store. Then, serendipity showed her head and this month’s issue of the long-running magazine Mother Earth News arrived in my mailbox the other day, with a feature article about the money saving and community-making opportunities that are open to members of buying clubs and food co-ops; yet another worthwhile project requiring a long term commitment, but since we all have to eat, doesn’t this one make long term  sense? Here’s a picture of the market I belonged to many years ago…

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What do all these things have in common? They’re all unfinished business-projects or ideas that need a  bit of attention, dedication, money, or energy to make them useful and workable, as well as helpful and sustainable for our entire community! I’ve only named a few projects that could quickly improve our resilience and self sufficiency if we’d just get behind them and see them to completion. From this blog’s outset, I’ve written that “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.” We don’t necessarily need to start from scratch to make this a reality. Let’s help complete what’s already been started and grow from there. If you’re reading this as a local reader, please join the bimonthly ‘Livable Communities’ group when we meet at 5 PM today at my house to find ways to do just that. There will be cookies.

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It’s About Time!

clock     As I listened to my husband’s metronome keeping time while he practiced some music, and as I heard the minutes ticking by on the old mantle clock, I realized I haven’t been able to post here as often as I like lately because of time constraints. But, I always seem to make time for the things that are most important to me, and this blog is one of those things. I’m currently putting together a presentation on ‘Natural Beekeeping’ for the local beekeeper’s annual school that’s coming up in March; it’s a topic that would never have been considered 10 years ago when we first got into beekeeping! But with the passage of time has come new knowledge of how to be better beekeepers without using all the harsh methods that we were advised to use then. Now there are practices that offer the bees kinder, gentler, more natural ways of maintaining good health in their hives. (here’s a link to more info about the bee school: http://www.wcbeekeepersassociation.com/

Michael and I are also marking time again while he undergoes his final chemo treatments. We’re on Week 3 of 10, spaced every other week, so we’re looking at mid-June before it’s all done. With spring  just 3 weeks away, the demands of serving as the coordinator of the community garden are at a seasonal high, marked by meetings, plantings, grant writing and more. To that end, there will be a seed swap and giveaway this evening at the Carver Center, (where the gardens are located) at 6 PM.  You don’t have to have seeds to swap, just a true desire to plant some, whether at the community garden or in your own home garden. Following that will be the application and screening process of potential new gardeners to fill the five vacant plots that are available this spring. If you’d like to have a plot, be sure to be there at 7 PM for that. It’s important to be ON TIME. Michael has decided to start a monthly newsletter for the Community Garden and has been spending a lot of his time putting together the first edition.

There’s also our church that we like to contribute our time, talent and money to, friendships to nurture, new songs and music to learn and play, soups to simmer and loaves of bread to bake, errands to run and exercise to make time for each day as well. Oh yeah, and watching Netflix too! All these things take time, and when  you’re ‘our age’, they demand plenty of rest as well, but luckily, I find writing is restful for me. I like writing this blog, sharing with you ideas that we can use to make our lives more resilient, healthier or simply more joyful! The ideas take time to research, to write about, and certainly to implement, but I consider it time well spent. Our retirement years have been fulfilling and busy to say the least, but these activities serve to give meaning and purpose to my life, and I get back far more than I give.

I’ve recently accepted the position as the chair for the ‘Livable Communities’ group that is a subcommittee of  a larger group called “Community Partnerships”. We have developed a strategic plan based on feedback that was given at the Economic Summits that took place in 2011 and 2012. Turns out that the results of the surveys that were taken at those summits show that some of the very things that I’ve been  writing about here are also the very things that folks felt were most important to them: supporting local food growing efforts by developing community gardens while at the same time increasing our resilience, beautifying the city by increasing greenway spaces, improving public transportation, developing interconnected beautiful, clean and safe bike and walking paths, and encouraging new and repurposed commercial and residential development in the downtown area, are just some of the things that our group will be looking at. They’re important enough to me to make the time to help implement them, and will be an endless source of  things to share with you on this blog in the months to come. I like the solutions-oriented approach we’re using, and feel it’s a good use of our time together. Our meetings will be held only every other month, with the next one scheduled for March 18th at 5 PM at my house. A schedule any more ambitious than that might prove to be too time consuming, but, every other month? Even I can fit that in, and I hope you can too!  We’d love to have your input and ideas, as well as your TIME, in helping our community become a more livable and resilient place to live. Yes, it IS about time you joined us. If  you need directions, let me know. Check us out on Facebook in the meantime:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Livable-Communities-and-Community-Partnerships-Group/163798207018404

One final note:  After giving this post a bit more thought, I want to make this clear: this is NOT meant to be a guilt-inducing blog post! Working parents, students, business owners, caregivers and all you others that are already busier than you want to be shouldn’t feel that my invitations to ‘come’, ‘join’ or ‘help’ are slanted at you. You’re already doing your part! I’m appealing here to those lucky souls like myself that have empty nests, work only a few hours a week, or just, in general, find themselves with time to spare. Forming friendships and working on projects that help me as much as the one’s they’re designed for, all while improving my own life as my community becomes a better place to live, is a win-win situation for me. Pick something that’s important to you and carve out some time for it. You won’t be sorry, I’m sure of it.

DO something!



I have a dream too
January 15, 2014, 9:38 PM
Filed under: Contributionism, Resilience | Tags: ,

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 If you knew that I am from Selma, Alabama and that I suspect my father was a Klan member, you might assume I am a racist. I used to be. Talk about transitions…

I’ve felt rather uninspired and unmotivated lately. Typical winter blahs. That is, until today. I spent some time reading some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s letters and speeches, and doing so has lifted me up. After reading his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” I felt shame in my ongoing pity party. His reply about “being unable to sit idly by while injustice prevailed” to the  criticisms he had received from his own colleagues about his actions being “unwise and untimely” reiterated my innermost thoughts. My purpose in writing this blog is not precisely about injustice, at least not the civil rights injustices Dr King gave his life for. But there was a lesson for me in his letter, and I don’t feel I can sit idly by either while the injustice I see all around me continues. I witness the earth being destroyed (mountaintop removal legislative action is underway in Tennessee, my adoptive state), as our oil-weary world continues to chase the ‘false prophets’ of shale gas and ‘clean coal’. I witness economic injustice, social injustices, joblessness and homelessness, hunger and poverty. I see politicians that set their own rules (can you say Gov. Chris Christie?) and corporations that do too. And yes, I still see racism. Using the occasion of Dr. King’s birthday, I realized that I have a dream too! I don’t want to make a name for myself, I just wanna make a difference. So I’ll continue to write this blog, since I don’t know anything else to do.

I can only write about those things I know, and the longer I write this blog the more I realize how precious little I really know about the larger world. But I know what works for me, in my life, and I can continue to write about those things. You don’t have to read it, the writing is cathartic for me; But I hope you will. My dream is that perhaps it will inspire you to find ways to make a difference, to do things differently, to overcome your own biases and to become as resilient as Dr King was. We can’t all be world leaders, but we CAN learn ways to lead lives that are significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. All together now: “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.”  Martin would be proud, I’m sure of it.

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