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Questioning authority

In the ubiquitous Shepard Street House, the aforementioned perfect 20-year-old house, I made a sign that faced outside on the north living room window that read, “Question Authority.” To those who know me, it’s no question that I do not support wars (while supporting troops is another thing entirely). And I lived in that house while our nation decided to go to war in Iraq for never-found weapons of mass destruction (distraction) in hopes of finding terrorists (where there was limited linkage they were actually there). To us, it was a no-brainer to question authority and the logic behind sending young men and women to fight for a not-so-clear cause.

Recent years have shown me different groups of people, different authorities, who likewise need to be questioned. I find it interesting what authorities we take for granted viewing their opinion as weighted in gold and which authorities we do not. For example, I might not question a doctor as often as I would a politician. But which position has more immediate impact on my well-being? I would vote that the doctor does. That being as it is, shouldn’t the doctor deserve more questioning or at least the same rigorous questioning I would give a politician? Recent health situations (I have a disease) have proved to me the importance of questioning common medical practice. I elected to take a course of treatment not typical for the U.S. (although typical for Europe) and the results have been quite good (lucky me). This result is that I have not so far needed a gland to suffer radiation.

Previous posts have shown how educators often get stuck in their own modes of thinking and find themselves on pedestals, comfortably seated. The irony of the professor who I wrote about was that he came across as a questioning individual, yet when the same type of questioning was turned on him, he refused it and made others ‘suffer’.

I have a question, dear reader, which authorities do you question and which authorities do you inherently trust?

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Backyard Chickens Part Two

The trek into having chickens has become more informative. For the City of Portland, a permit for chickens is only required if you have 4 or more chickens. It is suggested that you follow the guidelines for having 4 or more chickens even if you have less, just in case you want to have more later. Plan ahead, in other words!

The City of Portland decides the code and Multnomah County enforces the code. The basic requirements are that the coop’s outer reaches (the chicken’s enclosure) is not less than 15 feet from your neighbors home. Although the requirement is quite flexible, it is suggested that you keep the coop on your property and contact all neighbors within 200 feet of the chicken enclosure. Keep the odors under control, and don’t feed the chickens things that will attract rats.

For more information, check out the following links:

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Vintage or really used?

When I was first introduced to Portland, my friend Kate had a sign on her car “boycotting” “overpriced thrift stores on Hawthorne.” This was 2001. The reason was that residents and businesses on Hawthorne Blvd. were boycotting a potential McDonald’s. They did not want a McDonald’s to be built on their street lest it ruin the ambiance. So, Kate printed a sign that read “Stop Overpriced Thrift Stores on Hawthorne” in small retaliation against the NIMBYism which she witnessed.

Now that I’ve lived in Portland for five years, I find myself getting really tired of these quaint ways of describing things like using the word vintage to describe a once decrepit bungalow or reclaimed wood to describe a torn up old fence. It’s like this city is so full of euphemisms it fails to recognize the hypocrisy of those terms. I’m tempted to say that it fails to allow people to see the bad in the city, but many are quick to judge or point out when someone is “wrong”. A short visit to the Cesar Chavez city council meeting in November made it clear that there were at least two sides to the issue and both sides were loudly voicing their opinions.

When I was attending Michigan State University for the second time, one of my professors had us read a piece on multiculturalism. He pitted two articles against each other for the days readings and we discussed them in class. So, one article argued for multiculturalism to be taught in schools because that was one way to incorporate diversity into education. The other article condemned multiculturalism as a mode of thought that only wanted to teach the good about any one culture and refused to recognize the bad, such as genocide one culture may have inflicted on another.

It feels like Portland practices the latter form of multiculturalism. The residents (many of whom are transplants like myself) want to celebrate all that is good and great about Portland without recognition to the bad that happens. Sure, sell that property as vintage and give it an overpriced sticker for rent but don’t ask what happened to the previous tenants who paid $500 less a month for it before the owner decided to renovate. Then we call it development instead of gentrification. That mind set is really used and not at all vintage.

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Recognizing a good deal

Something about where we are, in the land of over priced housing and expensive food, is interesting. People here generally recognize a good deal when they see one. Sure, you say, every place has that. Maybe what makes this place unique is the use of the internet to facilitate meeting with those interested and those offering the good deal.

Pete peruses Craig’s List … hourly sometimes. He looks at tools, free stuff, and cars. If he ventures out of these categories, it’s rare. (When I look at Craig’s List, I look at housing.) Today, in the wee hours of the morning, he saw a 1999 Grand Am going for $500. The ad posted it has transmission problems. If we had $500 we’d have made a call because an interim solution could have been taking the transmission out of our Grand Am and putting it in the newer car with more leg room and storage room and maybe have seats that actually adjust. The 1999 listing was pulled sometime this afternoon. It took less than 12 hours for the car to be sold.

When we purchased our Grand Am, we knew it was a steal. Pete sold me on the fact that his dad is a former GM engineer, and every car he, his brother, and his dad worked on was some mutation of the Grand Am. Not only that, but that’s basically all his brother’s owned, and they’ve pulled three or four engines and replaced them on various Grand Ams. Total rebuilds were old hat for this car. The listing we saw in November 2006 wanted the car gone for $275, they admitted it didn’t run and didn’t know what was making the poor car just sit there. We scooted over to that house, 20 miles away, as quickly as we could. We were fourth in line or so. We knew we had to act fast. Pete was satisfied with the initial checking out of the car, and as soon as we were certain, we called and said yes please we want this car. We bought the car for $270 (they didn’t have proper change). We didn’t get moving on fixing it right away because it wasn’t needed. In February, just after Levi was born, we got the Grand Am running and since then it has been our main care of use. It should be noted that it averages 25 miles per gallon, and when we went to the coast Father’s Day, it got 32mpg. We haven’t seen that good of a deal on Craig’s List since.

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Ever wonder how to make garden space in your backyard in the city?

It’s easy! Simply use containers on hand, like leftovers from all the trees you planted last year, or make a raised bed garden with left-over wood from when you built your new fence (or your neighbor’s leftovers), reclaimed or salvaged wood works great too.

Some things to keep in mind when you build your raised bed garden:

  • 3′ wide is plenty wide enough, you need a comfortable reach

  • 6′ long is also long enough to ensure the same comfortable reach

  • 1′ high is okay, but if you do 2′ you won’t have to bend down as far to reach your plants

  • If you build close to your house you will use the heat from your house to help insulate your garden

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Levi into the second year

It may seem quite vain or maybe that we’re putting Levi at a disadvantage by dedicating so much time to him. But, I will justify it that most of his family is over 2,500 miles away, and making these videos is not only fun for me but a way to communicate how he’s growing. I am justified, right? It’s not like we’re one of those parents who literally idolizes their kiddos, because that’s just wrong.

Anyway, here’s another video of Levi because I like making them.

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What is ‘The Natural Step’ framework?

While looking for more secure employment, I have come across a few jobs that require familiarity with ‘The Natural Step’ framework. Considering I took a class based on this framework two years ago, I am now writing about the framework as a refresher course for me and anyone interested in learning more about the framework.

The Natural Step (TNS) framework is a way to frame ‘systems thinking’ and apply it to businesses or community planning. It includes four guiding principles for consideration when addressing policy and planning in business and community planning. The guiding principles of TNS are as follows (taken from James & Lahti):

  1. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust.
  2. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances produced by society.
  3. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing degradation by physical means.
  4. In the sustainable society, human needs are met worldwide.

In addition to the more holistic systems-thinking approach, TNS incorporates the 3Es (Triple Bottom Line) and ideas from the Brundtland Report.

The Triple Bottom Line is the idea that instead of simply measuring our economy as a measure of how well we are doing, we should also add equity and the environment to that bottom line. Hence, creating the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ which includes Environment, Equity, and Economy. If each measure is thought of as having the same importance, one wouldn’t weigh more than another. We would consider economy in the same light as people and the environment, so decisions would have to be fair for all three. We wouldn’t choose, for example, to close a plant because it would raise profits if it meant 26,000 people lost their jobs and would face economic hardships of their own within 6 months. Instead, we’d find a different way.

The Brundtland Report states that Sustainable Development meets the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. This concept puts into policy the idea of looking at development in an inter and intra generational mindset. If we know, for example, that in order to power our lives we need x amounts of oil per day, and that amount we are able to extract will be lower as years pass, we would adjust how we extract because future generations would not have the same benefits as we do now.

Taking these additional concepts within the systems-thinking approach offered by TNS means we don’t intentionally harm the earth and all of its inhabitants; we use caution when deciding how to live and work. We don’t sacrifice one group of people over another under the guise that it is for the common good because when one group suffers at our expense, it simply cannot be for the common good. So, in the sustainable society we don’t take more than we need, we don’t pollute intentionally nor do we destroy intentionally, and we are mindful of all peoples of this planet both living now and years from now.

James, Sarah and Torbjorn Lahti. 2004. The Natural Step for Communities: How Cities and Towns can Change to Sustainable Practices. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers. Pages 279.

Oregon Natural Step Network. n.d.

Savitz, Andrew. n.d. The Triple Bottom Line.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2007. Sustainability: Basic Information.

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Over the weekend, while berry picking, Beth and I were pontificating the Shepard Street House. We reflected fondly that it was the perfect “20-year old house” and quietly considered what happened to our youthful optimism of our 20s as it gave way to increasing cynicism of our 30s.

It’s not that we’re particularly unhopeful about the future, but we certainly don’t have the drive say petitioners have in regards to believing how quickly we could change the world. For example, the single protest in which I participated was a wonderful experience, but a few short years after that protest I realized that I would rather attempt to change things from within, from within the machine, the system, the institution. Not that I believe it to be the best, perhaps, way for change, but because overall we are slow to learn and slow to change so change must come within the institutions.

I find myself looking more cynically towards things that 10 years ago I may have interpreted as “signs” pointing me in one direction or another. I find myself more cautious of those I would like to fraternize, no longer as needy as I was 10 years ago. I figured out that I prefer the Rolling Stones over the Beatles and that spicy food, while tasty, is something I can only handle in slight moderation. I still like red wine, but I’ve moved on (quickly thank God) from white zinfandel.

I’ve always been a cautious, quiet person, but lately I have found that I appreciate more thinking before I speak. I’ll be called out on this I’m sure when my sister reads this. Pondering and digesting rather than spouting off an opinion, as I may have been quicker to do 10 years ago.

It’s interesting what a decade brings. I was searching for love 10 years ago with no thought that I’d ever be a parent and wondering when I’d finish school. 10 years have gone by and now I’m married with one adorable kiddo and a B.A. (finally!) under my belt. It makes me wonder what another 10 years will do. Will I fall into more cynicism, or will I see a rebound of that youthful optimism that drove me so passionately when I was slightly younger?

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Gender Roles

Generally speaking, I do enjoy doing the ‘domestic thing’ to take care of my family. I like vacuuming, I enjoy a clean bathroom, and I can’t ‘breath’ unless my kitchen is clean. I really enjoy preparing food, and folding laundry often appeases my meticulous side. Comforting children, especially our little bug, comes naturally as does offering comfort to others. Given this perspective, it’s easy to understand why women are often the ‘care givers’ and men the so-called ‘providers’. But, I’m also wired such that I need recognition for the work I do, and sometimes thank you isn’t enough. Re-realizing this about myself makes me wonder about all the women out there, the feminist movement, and why some women elect to keep a not so clean house.

Other thoughts that spiral through my mind when seeing what I need or would like to help motivate me to do these sometimes mundane tasks makes me understand why my mother is always so quick to help another woman in the kitchen at group events, like Thanksgiving. Her understanding or perspective of dislike for dish chores motivates her to relieve others from the task. She may not be the best cook, but she will ensure your dishes come out of the wash spotless.

Is this perspective a reason why women congregate in the kitchen? After keeping house for some period of time, one becomes quite familiar with what needs to be done to get the meal on the table. A generous desire for helping people, fraternization, and community are maybe the ingredients to the recipe. I’m sure many of us have visions of the women in children in the kitchen during these family gatherings while the men are around the boob-tube watching the latest NFL game or outside sipping their beers and smoking their cigarettes and cigars. Is it simply knowing what needs to be done that keeps women in the kitchen while ignorance of what needs to be done keeps men out of it?

There are men I know who are more at the ready to help in the kitchen and offer help than other women I know. If it’s simply familiarity with the task that divides who stays where, then that could serve an answer. Is there a deeper role that we play? This is certainly a question that philosophers have pondered in varying forms (gender roles, occupational roles, etc.) and I certainly don’t hope to find all the answers. Although, I am interested to hear differing perspectives.