Tennesseetransitions


Slowing Down to the Speed of Life

Transitioning to a way of life that is easier on the planet, easier on my digestive system, and easier on my pocketbook gives me reasons enough to make the effort but it’s also become increasingly clear to me that it’s also become a way of life that is simpler, and even slower, in many respects. Part of that may very well be due to the fact that as my body grows older it’s physically slowing down on its’ own, but I honestly feel that I owe most of the magic of slower living to the deliberate choices I make daily, rather than to an aging body. I’m still perfectly capable of getting worked up into a full blown frenzied melt down…it’s just that now I recognize what’s truly important to me and that cramming more activity into my days doesn’t tend to make me any happier. 

I wrote here recently about my new hive of bees I’m honored to be caretaking. I am here to testify that nothing, absolutely NOTHING in this world makes me move more slowly or purposefully, nor be more aware and more mindful than when I work in my bees. 15 minutes with them  is worth an hour on the meditation cushion! And I may have cancer but my blood pressure is perfect these days. I owe it to taking time for things like this; to slowing down enough to finally ‘see’ what I’ve been looking for.

I had a raised bed in my garden that was contaminated with  nematodes: years ago I would’ve applied an overnight chemical solution that would’ve not only immediately killed the nematodes, but would’ve destroyed every other living organism in the bed too. I tried to re-mediate the problem last summer by growing a special marigold in it that supposedly is toxic to the microscopic buggars there. A slower, but much healthier, solution. But over the winter my daughter’s cat decided to use that same bed as a litter box so I knew I’d have to leave it fallow again this summer in order to overcome the health risks associated with that. Enter the bees…

bees 2When life gives you cat shit, plant buckwheat!

Not only is buckwheat a primo crop for honey-making, it’s also a good green manure crop that will not only offer the bees plenty of nectar during the dry summer season, but will also add lots of organic matter to my soil in this troubled bed once I turn it under. I could watch these little pollinators ‘work’ this grain all day, buzzing slowly, yet methodically, through the pretty stand of white flowers. Symbiotic relationship is a biological term used to describe the relationship between two species that depend on each other for survival. I love the symbiotic relationships going on here between myself and my bees. Spending time with, and as a part of, nature can certainly help our transition to a lower-energy, slower-paced, world.

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The bees have already increased my strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and elderberry crops four-fold over previous years, and now they are making honey for my bread and pollen for my allergies. Watching their gentle buzzing lowers my blood pressure and encourages me to grow beautiful flowers for them, all to be enjoyed from the kitchen window while doing the dishes. Un-bee-lievable!

But it ain’t just the bees that have helped me slow my life down. Redefining prosperity for myself has boiled down to this: buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less has resulted in a simpler, slower life too. A simple life isn’t about seeing how little we can get by with-that’s poverty-but how efficiently we can put first things first…When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on  your calendar. People sometimes tell me that de-cluttering is really hard for them. Yeah, it can be, for sure. But it’s true that when you set your values and priorities, that process becomes much easier. And the side effects are nothing short of miraculous. 

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 Fishing at sunset off the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans just last Monday…slowing down to the speed of life… 



I Always Did Like Bucky…

October is definitely a transition month. As we move from one season to another, the changes are obvious. The temperatures, the leaves, the clothes we wear and the foods we eat are all in transition. This first fall-like day here in NE TN saw me wearing tights instead of shorts, seeing nuts and pumpkins and apples for sale at the Farmer’s Market, and making a pot of soup for supper (to help use up the last of the summer squash, tomatoes and peppers). 

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As a species, we often resist changes, particularly those that we perceive to be difficult or perhaps even unwanted. But the transitions that I write about can lead to a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. And I believe those transitions have begun: just like the changing leaves, I can actually see them, and their coming into focus gives me hope for our collective futures like nothing else! Re-creating that 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 will ensure that, regardless of what goes on in the world, we’ll all eat, and we’ll all have shelter from the storms of life. This transition idea isn’t some utopian idealism in my mind, but is actually becoming the new reality of this century. It seems that almost every day I read, see, or hear about yet another group of neighbors, friends or citizens that are coming together to grow food, share tools, downsize and otherwise help one another not only survive, but thrive. Isn’t that what we all want?

My own long-defunct neighborhood association has recently reconvened and taken positive first steps to cut crime, make our streets safer with better lighting, and start a neighborhood watch program, all while involving kids and teens in the process. We are formulating working plans for action teams to tackle illegal July 4th fireworks that go on way beyond the holiday each year, as well as a ‘Pumpkins in the Park’ kids’ event, and a float in the upcoming Christmas parade. I’m also excited that we’re going to have a ‘Community Day’, which should be a great way to further our connections with one another!

These neighborhood transitions are taking place at the same time that transitions are slowly taking place in nearby downtown. On our walk this evening we noticed yet another old building having the cheap 60’s era facade torn off to re-expose the beautiful brickwork and arched windows of an earlier era. Our new $1.5 million Farmer’s Market is nearing completion, and a new community garden is being installed in a low income housing community. If THAT’S not tangible proof of changing attitudes about the value of local food systems, I don’t know what is! Conserving natural resources is another area going through transitions. Some of our downtown businesses have recently added solar panels and hydroponic gardens to their buildings, while others are using the latest conservation methods they can. Alternative energy systems are no longer considered futuristic idealism, but will become the norm for most of us during our lifetimes. Our municipal landfill has been developed into a gas energy project that turned it into a community asset, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and creates renewable energy by turning its’ waste into wealth, and now provides our VA Campus and part of the local college with landfill gas. And our public library is replacing the old front lawn with a pollinator-attracting ‘meadow’ made up of native plants that will be watered by rainwater collected from a roof- top collection system that will lead to an underground filtration system that will keep the new landscaping watered without using any extra water. The sustainability factor of this new landscaping will likely serve as a model for future pollinator projects: talk about transitioning!

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And finally, on a very personal level, Michael has discovered, through much trial and error, that a completely plant-based diet has restored him to good health again. We love bacon as much as anyone, but if you remember, I discontinued my high cholesterol statin a few months ago and he really struggled with mysterious autoimmune type symptoms since he finished his chemotherapy last summer so we were desperate to find solutions to both health issues. We are now transitioning to a vegan diet that seems to have resolved both problems.Transitioning can take many forms, and this is just one more. We’re calling this a lifestyle change, rather than a diet, because ‘diet’ makes it sound temporary but this transition is for life! The good news is that we’re hoping this change keeps us healthy and that we’ll be able to provide for most of our dietary needs through gardening and by making regular visits to that new Farmer’s Market!

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Buckminster Fuller once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I always did like Bucky…



The Winds of Change
October 12, 2014, 9:05 PM
Filed under: Community Building, Transitioning | Tags: , , ,

This blog is about 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. I’m happy to report that those transitions are taking place in my town and I thought you might enjoy hearing a bit about some of the latest creative projects that are part of that transition process…

The Livable Communities group is made up of citizens that are willing to work towards making Johnson City and the surrounding communities more, well, LIVABLE.  Our group has been meeting for about 10 years, waxing and waning with the moons, but we seem to be on a pretty straightforward course now. Some of the things we’re addressing are fairly universal concerns, such as public health and safety issues, while others are more experimental and creative in nature.

There’s a desire amongst our groups’ members to start a food coop, allowing members to enjoy substantial discounts on farm-fresh and bulk foods. We envision a store-front operation where the fair-weather farmers that sell at our summer time Farmer’s markets would have the opportunity to sell their fruits and veggies year round, and a place where you could also purchase anything from jugs of local honey to freshly milled meal or flour, meats, cheeses, and baked goods, for example. To that end, we have developed a survey to determine if the desire of a few might also be the desire of many. Our goal is to have 1,000 responses by the end of October. We only have 250 responders thus far. If you haven’t taken it  yet, would you please? You’ll find it here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JCcoopSurvey

Another project our group has decided to take on is the city-wide establishment of Little Free Libraries. These little libraries in a box are stocked by anyone that has an extra book to donate. Take a look at the one I saw just yesterday in a small mountain community nearby…

20141010_171832[1]This particular one was sponsored by that town’s Rotary Club and is much bigger and fancier than most, but the principal of putting books in the hands of young and old alike to read and return remains the same, regardless of size. The hope is that the little libraries will become tiny community gathering spots where folks can take a book, leave a book and share the love of reading. Our Livable Communities group would like to see one in every neighborhood in the city and we’re working on a plan of action to make that happen. Food coops and Little Free Libraries aren’t the only things we care about though. Hiking and biking trails, more green spaces, public art, and a vibrant local and sustainable food supply are just some of the many things that are in our cross hairs. Here’s another LFL that’s right down the street from my house. I love walking by it each day…

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Speaking of libraries…yet another project that’s beginning to take shape is the long-talked-about ‘pollinator corridor’ that is to come to life in the mile-long stretch between downtown and the university. The main library will soon have a MEADOW on the front lawn, complete with a filtration system using rainwater harvested from the library’s roof, more art sculpture, a learning kiosk and native plants, flowers and grasses. For my readers that don’t live here, let me introduce you to our beautiful library…

libraryThat patch of green on the lower right will soon be converted to a pollinator-friendly meadow. How cool is that? I’ve been searching for ideas to convert my own front lawn from a hard-to-cut slope to something beautiful and fairly maintenance free. Guess what? … (I’ll keep you posted on my lawn’s transition as it occurs.) My house is just 2 blocks from the library. If they can do it, so can I. Like ball fields, if you build it, “they” (the pollinators, who so desperately need ‘safe havens’ of food, water and shelter) will come.

Creating a healthier, more localized food system, sharing our extra resources-from vegetables to books- and planting public green spaces to areas that are beautiful and sustainable are all indications of the winds of change that are blowing across my town and this country. None of these projects are quick and easy but like I always say, the journey is just as exciting as the destination! If you’d like to join the Livable Communities group for our bimonthly meetings, we meet next on Nov. 18th at 5:30 PM in the downtown offices of Insight Alliance. What is your town doing to transition to a more sustainable and livable community? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.



Learning Lessons (the hard way)
September 2, 2014, 9:44 PM
Filed under: Growing Food, organic gardening | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been gardening for a long time now, but each season brings new lessons to my weedy classroom and this  summer of 2014 was no different. I thought I’d share them with you and then I’ll have a permanent record of them too, so that I can refer back to them in the coming years. (Sometimes I don’t ‘pass the test’ the first time and it takes me more than one lesson to ‘get it’). 

Lesson: Cleanliness in the garden is next to Godliness. I had planted two patches of basil-harvesting from one on Mondays and then the other on Thursdays-to donate to One Acre Cafe. The plants were beautiful and healthy…

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when seemingly overnight they began to yellow and wither in one patch…

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Then, sure enough, the problem spread to the other patch a few days later! Hmmm.. the basil plants in my own plot at the Community Garden were fine, other plots had healthy plants and my basil at home was beginning to resemble a small tree. What happened? I think I finally figured it out-I had  failed to sterilize my cutting shears with a bleach/water solution between uses! I began carrying a spray bottle of the mix in my basket to the garden each day and spraying it on the blades as I moved about the plot. I gave the almost dead basil a good dose of fish emulsion and stopped all cuttings for about three weeks or more. Eventually the plants recovered, but never to their original robust beauty.

Lesson: Shortcuts don’t always save time. I ran out of Epsom Salts to add to the final few tomato planting holes last spring and I was in too big of a hurry to stop and go buy some more, thinking it wouldn’t matter if I skipped it on those last two or three plants. It DID matter, a LOT! Those plants had blossom end rot on every single tiny tomato they produced; I’d eliminated that problem years ago when I’d learned about the egg shell/Epsom Salt combination.

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Lesson: Identify bugs properly.  For a couple of months I killed every one of these I could find…

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Finally I got smart and put 3 or 4 in a bottle to take to my nearest extension agent’s office. He promptly identified them as Pink Spotted Ladybugs, or 12 Spotted Ladybugs. Both adults and larvae are important aphid predators but also eat mites, insect eggs, and small larvae. Unlike most lady beetles, plant pollen may make up to 50% of the diet, WHICH MAKES THEM IMPORTANT POLLINATORS TOO!

Lesson: Comfrey doesn’t like full sun. I was given several perennial comfrey plants (thanks Barbara!) this spring and planted them on both sides of my house where nothing-NOTHING- was growing. I knew that they spread quickly and that’s what I was looking for because once established, they make really good additions to compost piles AND chickens love to eat them. I want to have chickens again next spring, after we return from a long trip in late winter, so I wanted to get the comfrey established this year. The plants on the shady north side have spread and flowered and done beautifully while the ones I put on the sunny south side have struggled, in spite of regular watering. Luckily, I plan to house my girls on the north side since they don’t like full sun either.

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Final Lesson: You can teach an old dog new tricks!

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