Transition Matters

I’ll immediately apologize to my readers that don’t live in my town, for this post is strictly about events and groups that are inherently ‘local’. Feel free to move on, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway- I’ve tried to make it interesting to everyone, really.  Remember, that the modern industrial capitalist economic and social system, based upon cheap oil and resources, is unsustainable, making a major restructuring of economy and society imperative, and inevitable. Transition contends that citizens and communities need to act proactively and positively at the local scale, in a process of ‘Transition’ and ‘powerdown’ to build localized and resilient communities in terms of food, energy, work and waste. Hence the blog name, Tennessee Transitions.

1. Shopping for Christmas? Check out these products, from Naked Bee! They’re affordable, all natural personal care products AND they’re made right here in our fair city! They produce hair care products, lotions, soaps, lip balms and candles and you can find a store nearby by clicking on this link. If you’re going to buy Christmas gifts, please try to support local businesses. If you  buy these products, you’ll be supporting both the manufacturer AND the retailer. Not to mention the gift recipient. Win-Win-Win


2. Tuesday, November 18th, is the date for the bimonthly Livable Communities group meeting. We’ll be meeting at the downtown offices of Insight Alliance, located at 207 E Main St at 5:30 PM. A report has been prepared for us with the final results of the survey that was used to gather information concerning the possibility of a natural foods store in Johnson City. That alone is worth coming to hear about. We’ll also move forward in our plans for continuing the work begun by the Southside Neighborhood Organization (SNO) in placing Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods across town and fill you in on other positive things that are happening in our region.


3. Another meeting? I know, I know, but this one is so important to our current and future abilities to provide food for ourselves. C.O.O.P. (Chickens On Our Property) will hold a short meeting Thursday Nov. 20, 5pm at Willow Tree Coffeehouse (216 E Main Street) to discuss what our next steps should be to stop updates that are being made to the RESIDENTIAL zoning codes – which right now say “no ‘farm animals’ permitted” but are legally trumped by the city codes for animal control which ALLOW for chickens. Honeybees and backyard hens have now been lumped together as ‘farm animals’. This issue concerns any and all who believe in pet rights, self-sufficiency, and food justice.

COOP logo

4.  I believe medicinal herbs could regain the prominence and importance they once held in our home medicine chests and first aid kits as we transition to more localized lives. After all, many prescription drugs originated from chemicals found in plants. Bring your brown bag lunch at noon on Tuesday, November 18th, to the Johnson City public library to attend a free presentation :”Herbs and the Natural World.” The presenter will discuss medicinal and culinary herbs and their uses and will offer samples of herbal teas for your tasting pleasure.


Frugal Friday- Christmas Revisited

Christmas has come and gone again but it’ll be back as soon as I get all the holiday decorations put away, so I thought perhaps it’s not too late to share with you some of the frugal gifts that were given  in our household this year. Maybe  you’ll find an idea that you can use for your next gift giving occasion. Remember I wrote about my intention to give my family members the gift of an EXPERIENCE, rather than a THING? We had a really fun Christmas weekend, eating at  locally owned restaurants and driving to nearby Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, TN where we spent many fun-filled hours at Wonder Works.


A good time was had by all, and I think they’ll remember our time together far longer than they’d remember yet another DVD or blouse. I didn’t spend any more money than I normally would’ve, and there was nothing to wrap. However, over the last few years I’ve started gifting them with little things I find at yard sales or thrift shops; things that I think they may need or enjoy, and I always tell them they are second-hand, right along with the wrapping paper, which I haven’t had to buy in many years, since I save all kinds of ‘gift wrap’-from flower bouquet cellophane wraps to wine bags to baskets!  The ‘wrap’ is half the fun! They are always AMAZED at the quality of these sometimes-found gifts and I really enjoy the creativity of wrapping them.

For example, Daughter #1 collects an expensive Pfaltzgraff dinnerware pattern called “Naturewood” and for several years running I’ve been able to find at least one piece to add to her ever-growing collection, often for only a dollar or so. (Psst! If you see this pattern at a yard sale this summer, pick it up for me, will  you? I’ll go as high as TWO DOLLARS for the right piece 😉 )

plateOther gifts included  a beautiful pair of black leather ladies’ gloves, size Small, that I found in an alley on one of my daily walks last winter, and that fit Daughter #1’s tiny hands perfectly, a brand new  turquoise-colored  Kitchen Aid mixing bowl that I found on top of a trash pile on another daily walk, and that matched Daughter #2’s new kitchen colors exactly. She tells me it is now the most used and loved thing in her kitchen. Go figure-that’s it on the bottom…bowl

There were brand new tubes of ‘Silk and Shine’ lip balm for Daughter #3, (that I’d received in a free  bag of socks from a fellow Freecycler). The tubes fit perfectly in a beautiful little purple satin/jewel-crusted  box I’d received as a wedding favor and amazingly, this daughter is positively ADDICTED to ‘Silk and Shine’ so I knew she’d love them. She did…      silk

And last, but not least, there was a brand new ‘gift set’ of Tarot Cards for Daughter #4 that I bought for $1 at a thrift store, then wrapped in a ‘silvery’ scarf which I’d paid 50 cents for. Since Daughter #4 loves all things blingy and all things mystical, it was a magical little gift for her.


I didn’t intend for today’s edition of Frugal Friday to be all about Christmas gifts, but maybe by sharing these ideas with you, it will inspire you to be on the lookout throughout this new year for your own little finds that will make thoughtful and fun gifts for your loved ones next Christmas. Don’t be ashamed to share with the recipient the origins of your gifts either! If they are as delighted as my kids were with their gifts, they too might be inspired to gift others with found objects, and so on, and so on, until maybe some day Christmas gift-giving will become an acceptable occasion to ‘trade’ things we don’t want for things we love. It’s become an accepted practice now with my family, (but really, do they have much choice?)  and my hope is that it will be with yours too. Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of attention and love. That said, it’s lovely to have a beautifully wrapped gift under the tree with your name on it! I dislike waste, whether it’s food, money, or tangibles but this practice of repurposing, regifting, buying used and offering more experiences and time together not only uses fewer of the earth’s dwindling resources, it results in far less clutter (and waste) for everyone involved and it allows me to give freely to my kids while staying true to my values. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun to practice Frugal Friday every day and in every season!

PS About those daily walks: you wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve found lying in the streets, on the sidewalks and in the alleys! Either people are extremely careless with their things and are losing them somehow or, in the case of those items that have obviously been deliberately thrown away, they have so much unwanted ‘stuff’ they can think of nothing else to do with it. In either case, I’m irritated by the gross excess and happy if I can find a new owner for it. We lived out in the country before moving to this urban area in 2012, and in my 10 years of daily walks there, I don’t think I ever found anything more valuable than a deflated basketball and a rotten jack o’ lantern! Do you find this to be true where you live? Have we really become such mindless consumers that we throw stuff away just to make room for more stuff?  I’ll take pics from now on of the things I find and share them with you on the pages of this blog. Feel free to share  your ‘finds’ with me too. Surely I’m not alone in this ‘discovery’!

Transitions R Us
December 29, 2013, 9:20 PM
Filed under: Christmas, Economic Collapse, Transition Towns | Tags: ,

 I got an Earth Fare gift card and a tiny blue tooth ear receiver for Christmas. I got a cold and  a box of tangelos too. But I am very happy. The cold is almost gone, the tangelos will soon be too. I’ll use the gift card to take advantage of those Earth Fare weekly freebies that require you to make a $5 to $10 purchase, extending its’ value even further, and I’m looking at the ear piece as an investment in my health since I’ve heard that holding a cell phone to my ear could be unhealthy for my brain. My Ohio family members came for a visit, and my “locally grown” family members joined us for fun, food and games around the table. I’m really happy that our celebration was such a simple affair. No one had to worry about ‘outdoing’ one another gift-wise, or had to be concerned about how they might afford more expensive gifts and none of us have to find a place in our homes or closets for yet another doodad or article of clothing. We’ve left Gifts R Us behind.


Looking back, the transition we’ve gone through to get to this happy place has been a perfect example of what this blog is about. Transitions take time, and in my family’s case, more than a decade. How long might we expect it to take a society, one based on infinite growth, using finite resources, to transition to one that’s built on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being? If our economy and society collapse, I’d say we’ll do it (one way or another!) in less than a decade, but it would be a time of great duress for everyone. Just ask Cuba. I propose that we not wait for a societal collapse but instead begin the hard work NOW of transitioning to that new way of living and being that we want to be a part of. A gradual and graceful transition to that new lifestyle is still my Christmas wish and my New Year’s resolution. I hope you and your family will join me and my family for Transitions R US. To inspire you, here’s a link to a full length film about the Transition movement. It’s an amazing story about how Transition groups around the world are responding to the challenges of depleting and costly energy resources, financial instability and environmental change.


“So This Is Christmas”…

…”and what have  you done? Another year over, a new one just begun”… and so the song goes. The tune has been stuck in my head for days, and at one point almost drove me mad, until I stopped long enough to really listen to what the universe was trying to tell me, and realized I needed to write it down. After looking forward to Christmas for weeks, now it’s finally here. I relax, knowing  the anticipation of an event contributes to the happiness of the event itself.  Vacations and family visits and concerts are like that too. Last night I sat alone in my candle-lit living room, reliving how much fun it was to wait until my four young daughters had finally fallen asleep on Christmas Eve so Santa could then begin fulfilling their dreams. It was the anticipation of their Christmas morning delight that was so meaningful for me. I am taking some time today to reconsider what Christmas means to me now that they’re all grown up.  At first glance, this post may appear to have nothing to do with transitioning, but as I re-read my own words on the “ABOUT” page of this blog, I realize that the changes I am going through in regards to Christmas are very relative to seeing the world in a new light, and so I’d like to share these thoughts with you today:

I remember one year asking my Grandmother, who was in her 70’s at the time, what she wanted for Christmas and she said there was no longer any thing she desired. She told me that some day I’d feel that way too, but at 24 years old I couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way. At the time I saw the world as FULL of things that I wanted! But here I am now,  agreeing with her. Don’t get me wrong…the lure of advertising and bright, shiny new things call out to me just like everyone else but I very rarely feel moved enough to buy them. I’ve found my groove where money is concerned and my life has actually become simpler and richer because of my personal refusal to consume, just because I can

 I wanted curtains for my living room for close to a year and a half after moving here. I knew what color and style I wanted but couldn’t justify the cost. Then suddenly, the very curtains I desired were offered to me by a good friend back in September- she found them hanging at her windows when she moved into her new home, but didn’t need them. I love them and am so glad I waited until they came to me, rather than me moving heaven and earth to get them right now! I feel lots more satisfaction with them than if I’d gone out and bought them right away. Again, I think it was the anticipation of finding what I wanted, (with a zero price tag to boot!), that made the bare windows easy to live with for so long. In this culture in which instant gratification abounds, the fun of anticipation is often forgotten. 

Today finds me anticipating the arrival tomorrow of my family and grandchildren. It’s a wonderful feeling and extends the whole Christmas ‘event’ out another day. No post-Christmas let down here! Michael and I plan to go to a friend’s house this evening and share coffee and desert with them and several other close friends. The anticipation of that is wonderful in and of itself, and reminds me once again that we don’t need to pursue happiness since we have the ability to create happiness all around us. 

As the curtains draw closed on another Christmas day, I realize “so this is Christmas…” and I am happy. I hope you are too. Merry Christmas!



Blue Boat Home

Hello readers! Do me a favor, and listen to this beautiful song while you read this post. Just click on the link below:


I’m sitting in the sun on my front porch as I write this, on December 5th, 2013. The temperature is hovering at 70 today. As much as I’ve enjoyed a long walk with a good friend, and working in my garden this morning, all while dressed in a tee-shirt, I know it’s ‘not normal’ for this time of year, although I honestly am not sure anymore what ‘normal’ is on this beautiful planet we call home. I read today about a new study done by some of the world’s top climate scientists that are now saying that “this 2 degree C target that everyone seems to accept now is actually a recipe for disaster.” The study recommended that “fossil fuel emissions should decline by 6 percent per year starting immediately.” http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/study-debuts-ipcc-calls-severe-emissions-cuts-80088 

Today’s news also informed me that Al Gore has joined his former boss Bill Clinton at the table and has gone to a vegan diet. http://grist.org/food/al-gore-is-a-vegan-now-and-we-think-we-know-why/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Living%2520Dec%25205&utm_campaign=living 

According to the article, the former VP’s reasons aren’t due to health, (although I’m pretty certain  he’ll end up healthier because of his new plant-based diet), but because of his very real concerns about how bad raising meat is for the environment, which really is an inconvenient truth for all of us omnivores, isn’t it? Then, to add to my environmental angst, a friend sent me a link with video of freakin’ glacial caves! That’s right, caves that are being formed UNDER the glaciers as they melt and run away. The photography is stunning and the reality of what’s happening will make you weep, but maybe you need to see it too: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/mendenhall-ice-caves_n_4374019.html 

Can you find the two people in this shot?Image

I could go on and on and on about the environmental crisis we’re all a part of, but I’m pretty certain I’m preaching to the choir here, so I won’t. Hearing of the death of that icon of social justice, Nelson Mandela, has added yet another note of sadness to my day today. I’m sure you choir members have already recognized the strong connection between environmental degradation and social injustice and inequality; use Mandela’s life as a model, and use this ‘season of giving’ to make a difference in the world, in your life or in someone else’s life. Please consider embracing simplicity, reducing your consumption of everything, eating a plant-based diet and reducing your personal waste during this time of consumption and spending.  Let’s do what we can to turn this ‘blue boat’ around.

Christmas Simplified
November 30, 2013, 6:30 PM
Filed under: Buy Local, Local Food | Tags: ,



christmas shop local

I’ve informed my grown kids and teen-aged grandkids that this year, when they visit from Ohio during the holidays, their gift from Michael and me will be the gift of experience. This just means we’ll take them somewhere fun they’ve never been before. I’m thinking a trip to  Wonder Works in Gatlinburg, or to the Blue Moon Dinner Theater to watch their production of ‘A Tuna Christmas’ and a spin around the skating rink at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Lights would make fine memories. Their time here will definitely include a meal at One Acre Cafe, a pizza dinner from Scratch and maybe even cupcakes from Cake Buds. But most of all, I want our gift to support local businesses and be something they’ll remember for years to come. Christmas simplified, fun and local.  I’ll let you know how it goes…

40 Ways in 40 Days

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, I suspect many of us are feeling as stuffed as our turkeys were yesterday, with leftovers filling the refrigerator. It’s interesting to see how the first three-day Thanksgiving celebration of praying, fasting and feasting, (yep, we always forget about that fasting part, don’t we?) held in late fall of 1621, and celebrated between the grateful Pilgrims and their new Native American friends, has morphed into a three-day eating and shopping extravaganza. When I think about how difficult life was for all of those settlers, compared to how good we have it today, I feel almost ashamed of my own excesses. But that’s just my good ol’ Southern Baptist guilt and indoctrination upbringing edging in to bother me. I suddenly realized today that the only reason for feeling guilt over my own enoughness would be if I wasted it, so I have vowed to make sure that during the upcoming holiday season I make an extra effort towards mindful consumerism and reducing waste.  Now I’m a natural born soap saver and bag washer, but sometimes I find myself becoming complacent (again!) and that’s where I’ve been more than I like to admit lately. I think recently  reading about the strife and the bombings  between Israelis  and Palestinians, and then revisiting the whole Thanksgiving story yesterday has combined to make me keenly aware of just how privileged I am. I wanted to turn this rekindled awareness into practical ideas and practices that I incorporate into my daily life and then share them with you in this post, especially as they relate to the very premise of this blog.

So today, as I’ve gone through a rather ordinary but quiet day, I’ve tried to pay close attention to some of  the little things I do to reduce waste. I’m a firm believer in how the ‘little things’ add up. I might not be able to install solar panels on my roof, but I can find ways to reduce my energy needs, so that when the day comes that I can afford those panels, I’ll be able to ‘live within my solar means’, so to speak.  Keep in mind that waste can occur in a lot of  different areas: food, water, energy, money, time, whatever. Thinking about food wastes in particular, led me to consider extravagance in general, which led to thoughts about how this is ‘Black Friday’, and how, exactly one day after we Americans give thanks for all our blessings, we start shopping for some more! At noon today, I drug the leftovers out of the refrigerator and realized how unethical it was for me to even consider feeding them to the dog, when so many humans are hungry. In anticipation of tonight’s predicted freezing, I liberally watered my garden before setting up a protective hoop house, and found myself thinking about how many US farm crops failed this year due to droughts, AND  how much oil was used to produce the very plastic that I covered the hoops with. This afternoon I brought in the cushaw squashes from the front porch to protect them from the coming cold weather, and thought about the struggle my daughter (and many, many others) will have with being able to afford to keep warm this winter in poorly insulated, run-down homes and apartments. The whole day reconfirmed my privileged status, and inspired me to share a few of the things I plan to do over the next 40 days to not only celebrate the season, but to do it sustainably and ethically. Why 40 days?  Simply because that’s the number of days left in this year and I feel like I can find 40 ways in 40 days.

Let’s begin with food: Even after sending home my dinner guests home with ‘care packages” yesterday, I still had plenty left. And we ate them today, but slightly in disguise. Turkey carcasses can be boiled down to make rich soup broth. Pick the bits of meat off the bones, add some noodles, chopped onion and celery, and you can feed the whole crowd again. So I made a big pot to share with my daughter and her boyfriend. I saved the really thick, rich drippings from the roasting pan to: make gravy, pour over the dog’s dry kibble, and to make into stock for adding to recipes. The baked sweet potatoes will be made into a pie, while the remaining mashed potatoes and green beans went into a Shepard’s Pie tonight for supper. (I thought such a dish was a great kick off to this particular season, don’t you?)  😉  I vow to look through my refrigerator and garden each morning for the next forty days left and plan my meals around what I find there. Research shows that eliminating food waste is the easiest and most effective ways to improve your own family’s food costs, by the way. I also vow to eat less.

Seasonal Decorations: We’ll be putting up the same Charlie Brown Christmas Tree that we’ve enjoyed since we got married, and just like the family in “A Christmas Story’, we’ll be holding our breath that the lights we already own will glow again. If not, they’ll be replaced with more energy-efficient LED lighting. Call me crazy, but I like the things I’ve collected over the years and see no reason to buy more. That said, I do enjoy crafting natural wreaths or mantelpieces from things I collect in nature, and they cost nothing but time, perked up with some repurposed ribbon or dried herbs. I also love burning candles during the long, dark nights of winter so I vow to shop for soy based candles this year, which aren’t made of, you guessed it, petroleum.

Gift Giving: Michael and I sometimes buy one thing for ourselves at Christmas. Last year it was a Vitamix Blender and the year before, a Kitchen Aid mixer. But this year, there’s just nothing  we need and since neither of us feels that a gift is necessary to help us feel festive, I may just vow to buy some really good Fair Trade dark chocolate for him to give to me. The rest of my family has slowly but surely reprogrammed their  idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ Christmas and they’ve  found that it ain’t Just about the gifts. The whole season has become more doable, manageable, affordable and FUN with this mindset. We put the emphasis on seasonal music, special rituals and foods, family games, visits, video nights and time together, with occasional small, thoughtful gifts that are often repurposed, regifted, recycled or consumable. One daughter gives me a case of tangelos, bought to support her local school, each year. Tangelos now SMELL like Christmas to me, and I look forward to them all.year.long. My most economically challenged daughter often receives a box with everyday items like toothpaste, shampoos, soaps and light bulbs in it. It helps her meet her daily needs and offers her some financial relief. And I always include some kind of little luxury in the box, to add to her fun. The point is, none of us are rushing out to attend the Black Friday sales, and yet, we don’t feel we’re missing anything. And when it’s over, there’s no gift returns, credit card bills due in January or huge trash bags filled with trashed gift wrap either. This simplified approach may not work in all families, and it sure hasn’t been an overnight success with mine, but a slower, smaller, quieter Christmas agrees with all of us.

Gifts Wrap and Cards: For the 13th year in a row, I vow to not buy any wrapping paper or bows, nor any Christmas cards. Not because I’m a scrooge, but because I’ve found alternatives to both that satisfy my desire to give a prettily wrapped gift and to reach out with my pen to out of town friends and loved ones. I save every suitable metal tin, gift bag, yarn, ribbon and pretty paper I can to present the requisite homemade Buckeye candies that mean Christmas to my clan. I also send out the many unsolicited  new cards I receive in the mail after my name is sold to yet another non profit’s mailing list, and pass on those I can’t use. I save the fronts of any cards I receive throughout the year and bulk send them to kids at St Jude’s Ranch to be made into new greeting cards that they sell for a small profit.

Water: I vow to shower every other day and flush less. I also vow to wear an apron when cooking and wear my clothes more than once before washing. I’ll wash FULL loads of clothes and dishes. Using a dish pan allows me to reuse dish water to scrub the shower, rinse the toilet, or scrub the floor. I also drain any liquids from canned veggies over the dog’s dry kibble- she loves it  and I like to think it adds some nutrition to her diet. When I make that turkey stock this weekend, I’ll be sure to reuse the water that I sterilize the jars with to wash dishes in. Then, once the canning is completed, I’ll cool the canning water and use it to water houseplants or fill the dog’s bowl. Canning and processing foods takes a lot of water and energy, so eliminating food wastes saves both, by the way. 

Speaking of energy: We’re only in the first heating season here in our new home, but have been pleasantly surprised to find our 112 year old house is fairly tight and comfortable and can be heated primarily with a little natural gas stove that sits in the fireplace. Still, I vow THIS WEEKEND to install those foam insulators behind all the light switches and electrical sockets. And I vow NEXT WEEK to make a couple of those old-fashioned draft dodgers to put underneath the front and back doors. I’ve got a bucket of sand in the garden shed that I hauled here from our old house for just this purpose along with lots of fabric scraps suitable for making the tubes. Now that I’ve publicly made this vow, I’ll be sure to get it done!

More energy savers I’ve used with much success: I’ve always used the heat from the kitchen oven to cook multiple dishes, and have found that if recipes call for temperatures that are no more than 25 degrees difference, they can be easily cooked together at the lower temp. If you use a clothes dryer, clamp a knee-high hose over the end of the dryer hose and vent that hot, moist air  into your house during the winter. Open your dishwasher to air dry after it completes the wash cycle, have your family shower back to back so the warmth from the bathroom is retained, run your ceiling fans on low in a CLOCKWISE position to push warm air from the ceiling down, and hang insulated curtains or even quilts at your windows to conserve energy. Caulking and weatherstripping are still two of the cheapest energy savers there are though!

I challenge you to use my ideas or come up with your own 40 Ways in 40 Days to simplify your  holidays, while saving resources of every kind forever. Little things do make a difference, I promise.

%d bloggers like this: