Tennesseetransitions


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!

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Feeding Our Future

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For those of you new to this blog, I moved to my 113 year old urban house in the summer of 2012 with a deliberate mission to grow a garden and cultivate a sense of community in my new neighborhood. Today my next door neighbor brought over two slices of still-warm lemon pound cake. I suspect she’d spotted my husband Michael a half hour before, trying to increase his stamina with the daily 2 minute walks he takes (still in his sleep pants!) from our back door to the alley and back, and thought to herself: “That poor old man! I should take him some cake!”. Whatever her reasons, we were both happy with her decision to share. Michael’s happiness was with the delicious cake. Mine was in the fact that I’ve FINALLY been able to ‘connect’ with her. (OK, I loved the cake too) All summer I’d left little bags or recycled butter bowls filled with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more at her back door, picked fresh from our garden. We’d speak in the back yard, just polite ‘hellos’ and ‘how are yous’ but her kind gesture encourages me now to continue to get to know her, and her pound cake recipe! I’ve spoken lots more with her son and his pup than with her, finding out that they’ve lived there for over 6 years, he’s a grad student, and the dog’s name is Pippa. The point is, sometimes it can be difficult to ‘reach out and touch someone’ but almost everyone will eventually respond to small gestures of food and friendship.

Why do I care so much about getting to know the neighbors? Before moving to our urban home, we’d lived quite remotely in the country and I’d missed having neighbors during that 10 years, but it’s become more than that. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I am concerned that our country is facing an economic collapse-in our lifetime-right along with depleted energy and water sources and ever-increasing global temperatures that are already affecting everything in our lives from food supplies to wildlife. To that end, I’ve learned how to grow food for my family, can and preserve it, and cook our meals from scratch. That alone has given me much peace of mind, and empowered me to discover other resiliency strategies. I’ve learned to live by the adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. Our home is stocked with several months worth of food, fuel and water, we stay out of debt and try to  live simply but still yet, I realize there is no hope for any of us outside of a community. We must learn to work with our neighbors in developing sustainable lifestyles based upon reduced consumption and sharing of resources. What good will it do for me to have food and water supplies when my neighbors are hungry and thirsty? How long could WE eat on what I have stored? What if there were bank failures in this country, like the ones in Cyprus this past spring? How would we access cash once the ATM’s were empty? What if there was a massive power failure for an extended period of time? There would be looting and  rioting if folks in the South couldn’t buy their Mountain Dew and Moonpies, I tell ya! How would we pump gas into our cars, light our homes, cook or stay warm? How would we flush the toilets and clean our clothes? Do you ever think about these what if’s? I do, and the only way I can rest easy is by being prepared for those scenarios. That includes making sure that my neighbors are too. Then, if those things never happen, we’ve simply got a well stocked pantry and a productive garden, right along with extra toothpaste and a support system too.

I write often about how these changing times demand that we grow a strong local economy. Michael and I have been attending bimonthly meetings for the local ‘Liveable Communities’ group and are greatly encouraged by the sharing and feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that we get from the group, but liveable communities really start right. next. door. This holiday season, why not use the natural conviviality of the season to get to know your neighbors better- perhaps take them a card and some cookies, signed with your name and address so they can remember you later too? (I intend to put the internet address of this blog on the cards I hand out too, hoping they’ll read it and get interested in ‘feeding our future’ as well.)  I left a card for a neighbor congratulating her on the new beehives I’d spotted in the driveway, and later, when we made a face to face connection, she told me she’d wept when she read the card because she had been so worried about having the bees and how the neighborhood might react to them. She and I are friends now, and she tells me she’ll let me work with her in her hives next spring! I’ve begun talking to another neighbor about his struggling bread baking business, brainstorming with him on the feasibility of building a COMMUNAL outdoor wood-fired oven at the Community Garden next spring. (would the city EVER allow that? We intend to find out!) Not only are we working on ways to build a local foods network, at the same time we’re having fun building friendships and feeding the future. This poster hangs in my kitchen. May it offer you some hope and inspiration too:

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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.



From mitigation to adaptation

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Increasingly, governments and disaster planners are recognizing the importance of social infrastructure: the people, places, and institutions that foster cohesion and support. “There’s a lot of social-science research showing how much better people do in disasters, how much longer they live, when they have good social networks and connections,” says Nicole Lurie, a former professor of health policy who has been President O’Bama’s assistant secretary for preparedness and response since 2009. This writer definitely considers my locally based connections-from my church to my band- to all be invaluable parts of my social network, but because of our unique geographical constraints in this Appalachian region, almost everyone involved in my various networks is separated from one another by miles and miles of highway. The very people who I might need to depend on in a disaster or an emergency, or simply in a localized economy, don’t really exist for me.

To that end, I’ve been seriously considering trying to form a social/community infrastructure like the ‘Transition Initiatives’ I’ve been reading about and studying for the last couple of years. The core purpose of the Transition Initiative is to address, at the community level, the twin challenges of Climate Change and Peak Oil, and this blog was so named because of my desire to meet those challenges. But, even as the Transition movement continues to spread around the world, my personal efforts seem to be trivial and I am unable to influence anything at a local, much less a national level. I find myself paralyzed between the apparent futility of the small-scale and impotent in the large-scale. However, The Transition Initiative works right in the middle, at the scale of the community, where actions are significant, visible, and effective.

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Yesterday, the President delivered a major speech on climate change and I was happy to hear his climate action plans. I really want to believe that we still have time to slow down the heating and CO2 emissions, so that we won’t have to adapt to a hotter, crazier climate. When I first began to pay attention to what was then called the inconvenient truth about “Global Warming”, I had high hopes that the world would understand the problems and find ways to reduce the warming. Now, ten years later, what we’re experiencing has been changed to the more encompassing term of “Climate Change”, the deniers have pretty much been drowned out and proven to be wrong, but my hopes for solutions have fallen. I’m noticing more and more books, websites and articles are dealing with how societies can adapt to climate change vs how we might mitigate or forestall it indefinitely.

Consequently, now that we’ve officially moved more to an adaptation mode, I think forming a local Transition Initiative should be my next step. Will you take a look at the Transition Network’s website here:  http://www.transitionus.org/, subscribe to their digital newsletter, and seriously give consideration to attending an informational meeting about such an endeavor this fall? I’ve been reluctant to even suggest starting such a group for fear that it might end up falling on my shoulders completely, but the more I read about these initiatives in the US (currently 139 towns in 35 states, including our nearest neighbors in Asheville, NC)  and around the world (463 in 43 countries) the more I’m convinced that it  would allow us to  face the future in a way that is more vibrant, abundant and resilient. Please feel free to send your comments to me privately or even better, post them publicly below to start this conversation now. If there’s enough interest, we’ll set a date, time and place to begin mulling over the possibilities together. What will it be-mitigation or adaptation?

the transition



It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Michael and I attended the monthly meeting of the West Davis Neighborhood Association last night at Carver Community Center. After a 4-minute stroll there, and stopping to say hello to a fellow community gardener along the way, we met with a representative of the city and about 15 or so of our new neighbors to discuss our neighborhood’s needs, wishes and problems (there’s that old needs vs wants cropping up again!) There was high praise for the local police, fire and parks and rec departments, but lots of criticisms of the zoning, planning and solid waste departments. The Association is considering applying for Historic Registry status, and members have started a social networking internet site called Next Door where neighbors must live within specified boundaries to belong to the network and then are kept abreast of ‘all things pertaining to our neighborhood’. Neighborhood activity like this is EXACTLY what I was looking for when we decided to buy this house and everyone was very inviting and nice. They’re planning a ‘walk through’ of a number of our members homes next month and will invite representatives from different Johnson City departments to come into our homes to see how beautiful and special they are, in hopes that the visibility will promote awareness of our neighborhood when it comes to city planning efforts. I have never worked with such a group, and I’m intrigued by it so far. I’ll keep you updated.

More neighbor news: Tomorrow night, Friday, we’ll be taking part in the monthly JC Bike Party. Michael and I are the only ‘seniors’ on this ride, and this month’s promises to be quite tame, not too long. We’ll meet at 5 PM at the Downtown Square parking lot and we’d sure love to see some gray hairs like ourselves come along, so we don’t feel like the old hippies! Riders leave at 5:30 and these young people truly know.how.to.have.fun. Their Facebook page simply says: “Building Community Through Bicycling!” This is all of us at last month’s Bike Party…

And last, but certainly not least, I have an old friend that is now a new neighbor, and she offered me her leftover shredded leaves that she’d had delivered last fall. She wanted to clear her driveway to make room for a new delivery coming before long. I offered her our old seed starting rack, and we’re both happy! I jumped in ‘Big Red’ (our 1987 red Chevy S-10 truck) and in no time at all had a truckload of  leaves that had broken down to a dark, rich compost. There were earthworms in it so big they looked like small snakes! It just so happens that our very plans for tomorrow were to begin tilling and amending the raised beds that were in the backyard when we moved here, but are in dire need of attention before fall planting. This load of composted leaves, mixed with manure, will fill the beds and no doubt grow some fabulous food! The lettuce, kale, cabbage, parsley, Swiss chard and Bok Choy I planted is all up and growing well, and will need to be transplanted soon to the beds, so this gift of black gold came just in time.

All this is just to say that urban living can be just as satisfying and sustainable as country living, depending on how it’s approached. This week alone, we’ve walked to the library, grocery store, to our plot in the community garden, to the neighborhood meeting last night, and to the Farmer’s Market. In the morning I plan to walk to the nearby garden store to buy some more fall veggie transplants. Walking instead of driving saves us gas and money, helps keep our weight down, and puts us into intimate contact with our neighborhood. I believe our Peak Oil futures will be based on localized living- Imported and shipped food, foreign cars and globalized businesses will be replaced with locally grown food, mass transit and bike lanes,and small locally owned businesses that will offer the goods and services that we need, rather than ‘Made in China’ crap. I like knowing we’re living in a place where we  know our neighbors, working with them when we need to, playing with them when we want to, and depending on one another when times are tough. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!



Community Connections

Today was an incredible day of connecting with others, in ways that I hope will be beneficial to not just the individuals involved, but to our whole community. Let me explain…

I started the day with a meeting with a Johnson City employee that heads up the ‘Keep JC Beautiful’ task force. She wanted to talk with me about some of the more pressing needs at the Carver Peace Gardens, so that she could then pass along those needs and ideas to her network of committees and organizations that support KJCB, and want to see our beautiful city become even more so! She has some funding to help me purchase some of those gardening needs and asked me to go to Lowe’s with her to shop, since the city has a tax free certificate already on file with the big box store. I was able to impress upon her the need to shop locally, especially when it involves public dollars and asked her to consider Mize Farm and Garden or Evergreen Nursery as  local alternatives to Lowe’s. She asked me to visit those stores to price the needed items from my list, and to inquire of them if they’d be willing to accept a city procurement card, without any sales tax added as payment. My first stop when I left her office was Mize, and they were more than happy to meet the requirements in order to get the business. When I explained to the very helpful, friendly store employee the nature of my inquiries, she told me that just this morning a woman from the County Health Dept. had called the store trying to get donations of seeds and tools because the department wants to start a nutrition counseling class for some of their patients and help them learn to grow food as part of that experience. hmmm… the community garden still has two unclaimed plots for the 2012 growing season, so I asked the clerk to connect the Health Dept caller with me so that perhaps we can collaborate. We’ve got the plot and the tools already, as well as lots of seeds, so maybe the city and county can work together on this idea! Wouldn’t THAT be novel?

So, I leave the store and head for the Earth Week celebration that’s going on at ETSU. The C.O.O.P. group (remember, ‘Chickens On Our Property’?) had a table at the event and I’d promised to be on hand to help out. While there I:

  1. Ran into the university’s Director of Sustainability, who is a former Carver Garden Steering Committee member. She introduced me to the new coordinator of the campus community garden, who then told me where the Carver Gardens could get some pretty decent leaf mold for free. I, in turn, told her of the free compost that’s available from the fairgrounds. We were both grateful to learn of these ‘new to us’ resources for our gardeners. While we were talking, a mutual friend entered our conversation…
  2. This woman is the organizer behind a new group in town, called “Build It Up East Tennessee”. They are working to build and support a comprehensive food justice program through reclaiming local food culture. Her organization has just planted a small community garden behind Shakti In the Mountains  and is planning a series of workshops to be held there, on organic gardening, food preservation, worm composting, sustainable living and more. Veronica asked me if I’d give a workshop for the group. I told her I was giving one on May 16th at the Carver Peace Gardens on Natural and Organic Insect and Pest Control. She informed me that May 19th is  Food Revolution Day , a day of action and inaugural global food festivals to mark a commitment to ‘change the way America eats’. I’ve already got the picnic pavilion at Carver Park reserved for the planned workshop, and it’s complete with picnic tables, lighting and water. So, we garden coordinators decided to hold a LOCAL FOODS POTLUCK that night and invite all the community gardeners in the area to participate, and then stay afterwards for the workshop. Amid all the excited plans…
  3. COOP Supporters were stopping at our table asking questions, offering support and taking postcards to be sent to our city council members to let them know they want urban hens in their backyards too! Some of them overheard our community-building/gardening ideas and suggested that we…
  4. Put together a local resource guide for all this kind of stuff. And so that’s exactly what we intend to do.

So, I’m going to postpone my plans a bit longer to put together a seasonal, local foods cookbook and work instead on this guide. Among many other things, I expect it will contain sources for local foods and growers, which will then make supporters HUNGRY for my book on how to cook those things.

But here’s the thing: change may seem slow, incredibly so at times. But ‘the times they are a’changin’ my friends and it is time to reweave our connection with community. In the spirit of all things ‘transitions’ I say:

 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 for us 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.




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