Tennesseetransitions


It Starts at Home

These mid-winter days offer me time to ponder the meaning of life, gaze lovingly at my navel, and cross long-carried-over-to-do-items off of my to-do-list. I’ve even cleared out my sewing basket which I think has been on the list for a year now!

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January was National Radon Awareness Month and since I have lung cancer I’ve been thinking a great deal about the dangers of RADON-a leading cause of lung cancer. So, I orRdered a free home test kit here:  https://tdec.tn.gov/Radon_Online/frmRADON_Online.aspx and I hung it for 6 days for testing, mailing it back to the state yesterday.

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It’s precise but simple, and did I mention it’s free? It also comes with a prepaid mailer to return it in! Now be aware…if you find  your home has radon, you’ll need to be prepared to remediate the problem if you plan to ever sell your home, or  you’ll have to at least disclose it should  you sell. But I would hope you wouldn’t wait to sell to alleviate the problem should  you show a high reading. I understand the average remedy costs about $1,000-$1,500 if someone else does the venting work necessary to move the radon out of  your living area. It could probably done much cheaper if you do it yourself. How hard can that be? haha don’t answer that, please.  I’ll let you know when I get my test results back..we’re hoping of course we don’t have any problems.

I’ve also been making lots of soups and canning soup stock, using frozen bags of onion and carrot tops, mushroom stems, celery tops and other trimmings that I save for just such purpose. Last week I made 10 qts of organic broth, and at today’s prices, that equates to at least $20. My time is certainly worth that, and on cold days it helps to warm the house and add humidity by simmering that stock for hours. The resulting golden goodness is good for making soups obviously, but also for cooking rice, pasta, potatoes or beans in too. 

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Speaking of good food and cooking from scratch… I’ve had so many readers ask me for vegan/vegetarian meal ideas that I’ve been writing down what we eat for supper each night, always making sure there’s enough left for lunches the following day. It’s an easy process once you get used to it. I’m sharing this oh-so-exciting information with you, my readers, because maybe you’re one of the ones that have asked for ideas. (If this bores you, just go to the next section.) So, for the first week of February, here was the Jones’ menu:

Week of February 1st,2016

Monday: Good Shepard’s Pie-potato topping made with soymilk and Smart Balance vegan spread-filling contained beans, broccoli, corn, kale, green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, bay leaf, dried basil, and srirachi sauce. (This is called GOOD Shepard’s Pie because a GOOD shepard doesn’t eat his sheep.)

Tuesday: Fried Rice w/peas and carrots in peanut sauce, roasted brussels sprouts

Wednesday: Aloo Gobi over Jasmine Rice with Fusion Slaw and Rolls

Thursday: Bean and Potatoes Burritos w/Guacamole, leftover Asian Slaw

Friday: Kale, Mushrooms and Potato Bake w/Salads and Whole Grain Rolls, fresh pineapple chunks

Saturday: Grill Cheese Sandwiches w/canned soup, with pickles and fresh fruit (bananas, pineapple and red grapes)

Sunday: Pad Thai w/Naan and Salad

Looking at the lengthening days and the calendar I’m beginning to think about spring planting of course. We ate our last Longkeeper tomato last week…

20160206_170333[1]...so the goal is to grow more of them and get them in earlier than we did in 2015 so that hopefully we’ll be able to grow enough this year to last the whole winter next year!  When planning  your own garden, perhaps you can find space to plant a “ROW” for the “Rest of the World.” Because I live in the city, all I have to do to share that extra produce is to set it out on my front steps.

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If  you aren’t in a high walkability area you may need to load it up and take it to your nearest food pantry or church. Please consider this one little addition to your garden this year…it can make a big difference and won’t cost you much of anything to provide good food for someone who doesn’t have it.

I’ve long advocated that we use our homes as a place of productivity, not simply a center of consumption. There’s a LOT of trouble in this big world and so I feel compelled to do what I can personally to feed and clothe and keep my family as safe and healthy as I possibly can. I share this blog with you in the hopes that it may inspire you to become more self sufficient in any way you can too. It’s my unpaid job but more satisfying than any other position I’ve ever held. It helps me to feel as secure as I possibly can given the state of things. The stock market has crashed again (no surprise there) but since I’ve not been in good health we aren’t driving much (except to doctors’ appointments!) so we’re hardly spending anything on gasoline these days. I love that we can walk to almost every place we need to, giving me an extra layer of assurance that ‘all will be well’. I need that assurance in order to BE well.

In order to create resilient and prosperous households and neighborhoods, it starts at home with me, with you, and you. 

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Old Fashioned Insurance

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Just a few generations ago, very few people lived in apartments. Many folks lived and died in the same home in fact. Small, often remote communities often came together to help their neighbors with barn raisings, crop harvestings, or disasters. Folks didn’t have insurance on barns, crops and homes like many of us do now. (although I’m not altogether convinced that insurance is such a wise buy since it’s basically the policy holder BETTING they’ll need it, and the insurance company BETTING they won’t! ) 

Cloudland is just such a community. You can see from the flier above that they came together with just such an old fashioned “insurance policy” last Saturday to help 3 or 4 of their neighbors that have been displaced since their apartment building burned, shortly before Christmas. The normally pay-in-advance facility rental fee was waived for the event, the 9 local bands that played through the 6 hour event all donated their time and talents, the sound system and engineer for that system was donated and the community donated their money and potluck dishes to make this event a smashing success. Over $2,144 was raised! I think that says a lot about Cloudland, and the folks that helped make it so successful. But it also gives me renewed hope in a world that seems hell-bent on individuality, each man for himself mentalities, and embarrassingly evil ways to ‘shut out’ those that need help the most. 

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The Triple J Barn transformed for the evening

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Friends, food and music. A great time was had by all, devastated families will be helped by the money raised, and the spirit of community was strengthened. This embodies exactly what this blog is about and I simply wanted to share the warm feeling I’m still enjoying after attending this ‘Care Fest’ last Saturday. One more thing. I’m truly proud of Michael and several other friends for being one of those that donated his talents by playing with OUR band (I still can’t make this stiff hand work well enough to play bass!) and of my best friend Rhodyjane for spearheading it and making it all come together.

Tennessee may not be perfect (is there any place that is?) but together, we are making the transitions we need to in order to make sure that everyone not only survives, but thrives, during this new year. Make sure  you take good care of you and yours too!



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…

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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.



Mr and Mrs Cleaver Don’t Live Here Anymore
August 9, 2014, 9:45 PM
Filed under: Community Building, Creating Community | Tags:

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How many times have I discussed ‘community’ on this blog? 20, 50, 100 times? I recently ran into a friend that I seldom get to see and somehow our conversation quickly turned to how difficult it is to form relationships with our neighbors. Often we find others at church, at work, or in groups we belong to that we click with almost instantly, but neighbors?? hmm… Is it simply because with those others, we know from the beginning of the work day, worship service or meeting that we are together for a specific period of time? But neighbors? That’s different, since they’re always there (or presumably so) nor do we share the common bond, other than street address, that we do with other groups we’re a part of.

What can we do about that? I consider myself fairly outgoing, but I find it rather difficult to strike up a conversation beyond “hello” with strangers. Someone that’s rather introverted or shy might find it really difficult. So what can I do? And why bother?

I have so many ideas, but only so much time and energy. Beyond community gardens, I envision a community kitchen/cannery, seed libraries, community owned greenhouses and solar power stations. I’d like to see local food and child care cooperatives, city-wide composting facilities, and local millers, bakers and candle stick makers. You get the idea. Everything that we make, build, grow or cook in our homes and backyards now would be so much more efficiently accomplished if we had the help, talent and energy of many hands. Communes, Intentional Communities and Cohousing are all good solutions to this dilemma, but for those of us that either can’t, or don’t want to be quite that close, our neighbors are the next best thing to safer, more livable and lovable neighborhoods. So, knowing this to be true, why am I so reluctant to form bonds and friendships with my neighbors? My only excuse is that most seem to be transient and I know how much time relationships take. But that’s a cop out. I don’t need to be best friends with my neighbors, just something beyond a “hi, how are you?” relationship.

Here are some ideas I’ve had lately about ways to solve that:

1. I could have a cookout. Post fliers around the neighborhood, pick a time and just do it! Music and badminton and burgers should be enough, right? I don’t know really. Would you go to a cookout where you didn’t know anyone? What if they all bring beer and get drunk and never leave?

2. Hold a ‘Neighborhood Watch’ program, and ask the public safety officer for our neighborhood to help us get organized. Being neighbors is our one common bond after all. I think we need to look at front porches as crime fighting tools, but what about during the winter?

3. It’s the time of year when I have more tomatoes than friends. Sometimes free tomatoes make friends out of strangers, but usually they just disappear (the tomatoes and the people who take them). Should I organize an annual neighborhood yard sale so we’d all have a chance to get rid of our excesses?

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4. Speaking of organizing: maybe revitalizing a now-defunct neighborhood association or starting a monthly newsletter might help us all get to know one another better. This seems the best tactic to me.

5. I approached neighbors on each side of me recently to ask how they’d feel about my getting beehives. They both seemed happy about the prospect. Could that be the key to a neighborly bond? Or an eventual lawsuit?

Since many of my neighbors are students and young unmarrieds, with many of the large older homes in this historic district converted to insurance and attorney offices, yoga studios or chiropractors, this whole building community stuff is trickier than usual. I’d love to get some feedback from you in the comments below. Is neighborliness just a 50’s era dream I remember? Do you have a neighbor you can borrow a cup of sugar from? Or am I just borrowing trouble while looking for that cup of sugar?



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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