Equity in 2013

One good, tangible measure of sustainability is the triple bottom line. The idea that we find ways to and enact on measuring equity (people), environment (place), and economics (profit) in equilibrium. We take each, and if one is failing – if we don’t make enough money for example, then we consider that we haven’t achieved a sustainable mark over the time in which we are measuring these indicators.

So, how sustainable are we in 2013? We have surpassed predicted carbon emissions, indicating we are on a road for disaster in an ever-changing climate induced world. Our recession still has a strangle hold making it hard for families to get ahead. And, we have reports every day – it seems – about another company cutting corners in such a way that its workers suffer the most egregious abuses.

And, in the midst of that, while working in an organization undergoing its own transition and struggle with change – the obvious thought reveals itself in startling clarity – we don’t value people.

Sustainability argues that we must hold these things: people, place, profit in tandem. We must balance them equally lest the three-legged stool topple over for ever more. And, what I have realized for the better part of the last 7 years is that we value equity least of all in this triptych. We grasp onto the things we can measure easily. We can measure if we made our profit – or not. We can measure if we planted enough trees – or not. These are easy things in which to define success.

But, when it comes to people, the number of indicators to use grows exponentially. What do we measure? Do we measure wages? Do we measure healthcare? Do we measure access to healthcare? Do we measure … happiness? In a sense, I think it boils down to the latter. This ubiquitous, moving thing that is difficult for an economist to measure strictly against a black and white line… so instead of trying, as a society, we just don’t.

Then it rears its ugly head in contract negotiations, workplace equity, overall societal health. It impacts the never-ending challenge of balance between work and family life – because we chase the greasy buck instead of the success of the people earning the buck. It turns loyal people unloyal. It makes people seek autonomy elsewhere. It creates and fosters toxic work environments where blame is placed haphazardly, and instead of listening to the real problems – petulant children are blamed and then reinforced the excuse on why we don’t need to listen.

So, where are we in 2013? Where is our equity? I would say it is far away, despite recent Supreme Court rulings and in spite of recent Supreme Court rulings. I would say there is more of this conversation to have – where we need to collectively assess our values, envision work-life balance in harmony, and propel ourselves to a future we do want to pass onto our children.

 

Just a regular update

I had a birthday. I was shown love through many birthday wishes and some choice, VERY thoughtful gifts.

So, now I am officially 35. I’ve been saying it for like 6 months. But, now I can officially say it. I was told today it’s a rite of passage.

I’ve written about how I imagined 35 before. I started a fiction, maybe two years ago, as a means to process day to day things. Perhaps a phrase struck me in a conversation but I really wanted to anonymize the situation… so instead of saying something like “a person close to me” or “he” or “she”, I created little fictions. The fictions weren’t very good, thinking in full context, but they were a lot of fun to write. I could project. I could fantasize about what something would be like. I was able to tell a story … just for the sake of story. The hard part was making it coherent. I wrote in fragments, so I didn’t always remember what I said. I started keeping a simple log of timelines, but I still didn’t get all the details right. Then, there was the redundancy, so reading it all together it was… well… boring.

It was a much safer way to digest the work, the family, the club scenarios I couldn’t make sense of and had to process in order to understand. There was a picture floating around Pinterest the other day that said something like, “I don’t know what I think until I read what I write.”

So, what do I think right now? I think I’m a year older. I still like being in my 30s. It still feels young and adventurous, even though I don’t feel as adventurous these days. It feels full of potential and promise, while at the same time angst and frustration over not having accomplished anythign super significant. If you look at my life through a certain lens, you could argue that’s a bunk, silly, illogical thought. But, I’m thinking about it through the paid lens. I’m at a job without a title that means much. I’m at a payscale that fails to pay off my loans, productively. I’m maxed out with my roles trying to seek fulfillment bouncing between paid work, three volunteer roles, motherhood, and wifedom. It’s full, but it’s not wholly fulfilling because I crave more. So, that’s 35 for me.

Perhaps my 35-year-resolution should be to secure that role. Secure that place where I can get more fulfillment from fewer roles. So, what can go and what can’t go? Mother and wife are here to stay, so that’s a minimum of two roles. I love volunteering, but I splice my volunteering to get fulfillment for the things that matter to me: people (social change), food (food security/sustainability), and environmentalism (stewardship/sustainability). I amass skills that heighten my big picture awareness, but they don’t give me a lot of depth in a specialty. It makes it difficult applying for jobs that focus on a specialty – a specialty that I know a lot about but have difficulty explaining the required depth.

And the computer died, so the end.

Airport Security

NLIHC - 1

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

[This post began February 15, 2011.]

I have a new niece. My brother had surgery on his neck. We have a vacation booked in a few weeks. We fly, of course. So, what does that mean, but Airport Security.

I really hate airport security. I find it intrusive and ineffective. I’m sure someone who is obsessed with security, terrorism, and the like would show me several studies proving how all these measures really make us safer, but I don’t believe it.

The first time I remember airport security was when I was in high school. I had the opportunity to fly to D.C. with fellow classmates in a project called, “Project Close-Up.” It is a week peak at Washington D.C. for teenagers. You are assigned a 20-something Georgetwon grad student (or similar) who serves as your own personal tour guide: taking you to lobbyists, congress, the Smithsonian, teaching us how to use the Metro. It was amazing.

Getting there was even more exciting. It was April. 1995. We had a snowstorm the night before. We had to meet at a school an hour away to bus-pool with a few other schools to Detroit-Wayne County International Airport (DTW). We averaged 30 mph on the freeway. The bus drivers were talking in their radios how they didn’t get much sleep the night before. We slipped and slided, in a big yellow bus, all the way to the airport. My knuckles were white nearly the whole way there.

We arrived, with twenty minutes to check into our flight. We had 20 students and teachers in our class.We were rushed to the front of the line. We ran down the cooridor to airport security.

We were waved through. One gal had some metal piece stuck in her ski jacket, and they waved her on after three wand swipes!

Waved us by! That was 1995.

Six years later was, of course, 9/11/01.

In 2004, I flew back to Michigan for a quick 4-day weekend to celebrate my maternal grandfather’s 80th birthday. It was held at the Rock Township hall where most family celebrations were held. To expedite this trip, I needed to fly from Portland to Escanaba. The most cost-effective flight took me from Portland to Denver to Kansas City to Milwaukee finally to Escanaba.

The airport that had the most stringent airport security was both Escanaba and Kansas City. We flew a puddle jumper in and out of Escanaba. Escanaba is a town of 30,000. Kansas City was one of the slowest airports I had ever visited. I came up with a conclusion the day I questioned why Kansas City had airport security at evcry gate and I was rewarded with a pat down for my question. I learned that the smaller, more insignificant hte airport, the more airport security works to validate their job.

I often wonder how that makes us safer. I really don’t think it does.

I believe that knowing our neighbors makes us safer. That means, we need to interact with them, ask them to check our homes while we’re on vacation. We interact with them over fences and on front porches. We wave and smile while they walk by. We don’t have to know them intimately, but enough that they are no longer strangers.

How can we shrink our world so we feel more neighborly in the big airport full of strangers?

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Just Quit

Airport Visit
Peter, Michelle, Betsy, and Levi pose after an impromptu visit at PDX.

Michigan has become the 24th “Right to Work” state. Admittedly, I only know a little about the concept. What I see, though, seems more like a “Right to Work Under the Man’s Rules” instead of our own.

It seems as if unions, fair pay, fair working conditions, and fair standards are being rolled back. It seems as if we are seeing further fighting of “us” against “them”. The workers against management in another draw, and this time management is winning.

So, I wonder what would happen if all these workers just quit. What would happen if the police force ceded their “right to work” and stopped patrolling traffic accidents and people who’ve gone off the edge? What would happen if nurses ceded their “right to work” and stopped mending wounds, healing the sick, and comforting the dying? What would happen if the miners ceded their “right to work” and stopped digging for {clean} coal? What would happen if bus drivers ceded their “right to work” and stopped driving buses and trains? What would happen if fire fighters ceded their “right to work” and stopped rescuing cats and homes from perilous accidents?

What would happen if geographers mapped out the top 1% for every city and all these workers stopped working for them?

I want to know what it will take for people to realize their own power. We do the work. Yes, I have aspirations of being the mastermind of some interesting organization, but what I hope I realize and continue to realize is that we all need each other.

A friend noted, once, that she believes there is a job for everyone out there. There are people interested in running hotels, feeding people (rich and poor), tending to the sick and dying, fixing the environment, cleaning up our waste, planting and growing things… it takes all kinds to make our world run, so why do we divvy up “importance” of jobs by how much paper one pushes or by how many people are below a person?

When will we realize our power? When will we realize our power is not within Wall Street or faulty aspirations of becoming über rich? When will we realize our power lies within. We need to seize it. Stand up for it, and not take this anymore.

I have a right to work. I have a right to organize. I have a right to state my opinions. And, you have a right to walk away. Now, let’s all walk together and make this world the place we want it to be.

We want safe schools and neighborhoods for our kids where they can learn how to fend for themselves in controlled environments. We want places where they can breathe clean air, have safe healthy food to eat, and access to safe, stable, and affordable housing. We want our children to realize their potential so they can be all that they can be… and if we do want those things, we have to pave the way for them. It starts now. It started yesterday. It started 100 years ago.

It is time to quit second guessing. It is time to quit playing second fiddle to pipe dreams of non-existence. It is time to stand up for what we know is right.

We deserve better. Our children deserve better. Our future deserves better.

Our time is now.

Growing Up Is Hard to Do

It’s happening again. That is, we’re having troubles at school. I have lost count, now, how many times we’ve interacted with the principal and his kindergarten teacher over behavior. The behavior started out as not sitting still and not keeping his hands to himself. The behavior progressed to hitting, PUNCHING and HITTING classmates. It sounds like it’s impulse control or acting out instead of using his words when he’s mad or frustrated. It sounds like it’s developmental. Regardless, no one is really happy with the situation, and we’ve called in the professionals.

It’s all matching up with what I’ve read. It’s like I’m living the labeling theory but for school administrators instead of for my son.

Let’s understand one thing first. Hitting and not controlling aggressive behavior is unacceptable.

Let’s get another thing straight. Sequestration or punishment without assessing triggers is equally unacceptable.

Levi has gone from play based learning to rigorous academia, wildly criticized at being a mismatch for boys. And it is especially frustrating for our kinetic learner. When he’s bored and uninterested in a subject, he acts out. The behavior is treated with sequestration or alone time with an adult. It gives him attention and reinforces the bad behavior.

The first time we were called, like last year when we were told our son did these terrible acts, our first thought was, “That’s not our son!” Last year Levi’s offenses included choking two boys and repeatedly locking himself in the bathroom. Our popular boy turned into the new kid, and he wasn’t adjusting well and the teachers didn’t know what to do. It was also unclear what they wanted from us. We are at work when these incidents occur. We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face at home, but this stuff is happening at school. So, what about the environment is enabling this behavior?

Levi turned around at the half-year mark, around his 5th birthday (according to Gesell, going from disequilibrium into equilibrium). The rest of the year was fine.

Now, we are in disequilibrium again. Again, we’re at a new school. And, again, he’s acting out. Our little boy, who used to be the receiver of aggressive acts, is now being witnessed hitting another boy with a plastic bowling pin and punching his classmates when frustrated.

A friend said to me, “Michelle, this screams environment.”

I know. I know it does. But, we can’t afford the $10,000 a year tuition (for NINE months no less) at the nearest Montessori. It’s amazing how limited our educational opportunities are given how abundant they feel in this metro area of more than 2 million people.

(At the same time, my boss has the audacity to state that I don’t know stress. Admittedly, before I told him what was going on. But, seriously.)

So, why is our son, now in his third school NOT using his words when he knows he should? Why is he taking his friend’s arm to hit another friend when he’s bored in music or Spanish? Why is he losing interest in PE at the point when the other kids finally get the game, then going off to make his own rules and disrupting the natural order the teacher (and students?) want?

Recently, I had a conversation with a sustainability specialist. He got into sustainability after spending years in behavioral change. He mentioned this story after I admitted I want gentle pushes, mocking servant leadership, to make a green society because I have found that behavior change is too hard. He said to me that he has found the same. Instead of bending someone’s stubborn behavior, we have to make the environment work for what we are asking. So, if we’re asking people to recycle instead of throw things away, we need to put the recycling next to the trash, not down the hall.

To find out how we put the good behavior choices next to my son, we have hired an behaviorist  The behaviorist was referred to me by my chiropractor. (The one who diagnosed my thyroid problems pre-blood tests.) The first thing the behaviorist suggested was taking Red Dye out of our son’s diet. So, we did. Then, he had the best three days of the year. This was followed by Gummy Bear treats and two more aggressive days, which while unfortunate proved to my husband why we are calling in the experts.

The first observation date is scheduled for November 8th. I am concerned that we are going to drop between $400 and $2,000 to teach teachers and administrators about reasonable expectations. Yes, I recognize it’s all for the greater good, but it’s no less frustrating.

Onward, we go.

 

 

Community Coaching

Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Allegory of the Good Gov...
Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Allegory of the Good Government (left view, detail) - WGA13485 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I had the opportunity to tell my buying club’s story to another buying club. This new buying club just started. They had only completed only two buys and were working on their third.

Levi and I joined them while they were debriefing after their second buy. They are meeting weekly, by the sounds of it. It was amazing to hear this group figure out problems from the beginning. A diverse group (in age, gender, and ethnicity), they were drawing from a diverse set of experiences. Clearly a smart group, it was fascinating to watch as they respectfully deliberated.

I’m not sure they really knew what I had to talk about, but I knew what I wanted to talk about, so I began by describing, from my buying club’s perspective, Buying Club Best Practices.

In Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government and Bad Government, he pictorially describes the perfect, healthful balance of farm to city – and its opposite. When there is harmony between farm and city, managed by good governance, there is peace and health in all the lands. The city can give intellectual stimulation and arts while benefiting from the healthful countryside.

While “educating people on the importance of a sustainable society” and “bridging the gap between farm and city”, how can I help? I can share my buying club’s story. No, it’s not over, but we’ve done a few things, problem solved, and continued to evolve and get good local food. If I really want to help bridge the gap between farm and city, one way I can do that is by sharing our story so others can make new and more interesting mistakes and not the ones we’ve already made!

So, I shared. I skimmed through my notes, eliminated a few slides, and fast tracked towards lessons learned.

I was amazed at how enthralled this group was. This group, who likely didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to say were on the edge of their seats. It was amazing and empowering for me.

Are you in a buying club? What are your lessons learned?

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Monday, May 14: Spreading the Food Word

Mommy & Levi
Mommy & Levi (Photo credit: alexis22578)

Tonight, I had the opportunity to discuss buying clubs with a newly formed club. They were focused, enthralled, and concentrated on every word I said. It was like I was telling a beautiful fiction they’d never heard, simply focused on everything I had to say. And, to think, I wasn’t even sure on the intent of my being there once Levi and I got there.

A friend mentioned to me a few weeks ago that people in her neighborhood were starting a buying club. Connecting the distance between the city and the farms which we depend on is important to me. So, if there’s an opportunity to chat with people about buying clubs, I take it. I offered to chat, and my friend made the connections. She told me the time of the meeting, and I told her when I could be there. I neglected to ask if there was a standing agenda or how much time I’d have.

We didn’t make it by 6:30pm. We made it by 6:50pm. They were gracious and encouraged us to sit and listen. Us was of course me and Levi. Unfortunately, there were no other kids. When there are no other kids, Levi gets quite excitable. That is, he gets rambunctious because he’s not getting the attention he wants.

Suddenly, the door to the room adjacent opened and an older gal gave a 5 minute warning. I understood that to mean 5 minutes until we had to leave. Now, I was questioning why I was there. Why did we bust our bums to get out there, 30 minutes away from home, to not share any knowledge with a bored 5-year-old who wants attention?

The organizer must have noticed my grumpy face because she clarified the agenda for me. It was 5 more minutes of the separate groups and then the groups got together to debrief together. Perhaps, I considered, my time wasn’t wasted after all.

They debriefed and started finishing their debrief, at which point Levi told me he had to go to the bathroom. So, we went to the bathroom. Naturally, this was a longer visit. Finally, we emerged and everyone was quiet. And staring at us! The organizer told me they were ready! I quipped we had good timing. Now, I was relieved that we hadn’t got there at 6:30pm. We’d have waited an extra 2o minutes… twenty minutes longer than we already waited!

I still wasn’t sure what they were expecting, so I simply went from what I planned on saying. I began by introducing myself and why I was invited to come, my connection to the group through a mutual friend. I checked my assumptions that the group was newly formed and had only completed a few buys by asking the questions to the group. I stood up the whole time.  And Levi literally ran circles around me. I had my notes. I had culled through my notes after listening to them talk. They didn’t, for example, need a rehashing of why buying clubs are necessary. They are living why.

So, I talked. I talked about what we do, and how we do it. I was flying through my notes. Occasionally instructing Levi to be calmer. Suddenly, a gal in the back said, “Wow, you have a lot of really rich information.” Oh! This is my time check. How long have I been talking? How long did I have? It didn’t really matter. It was 8 o’clock, and people want to go home. So, I passed out business cards and gave a sample of my presentation. Then, chatted with various people in the groups. We’ll have more meetings. Must get them invited to the buying club get togethers!

The point is bringing the city closer to the farms. Or rather, the farms to the city. Good governance is the mission, and through food. With everyone so enthralled and so excited – it is within reach.

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Sunday, May 6th

Okay narcissistic rants aside – I do enjoy writing every day. As the (over written?) introvert, I do better when I can process. Writing allows me to process.

But, what to process? The never-ending balancing act and working towards my deemed purpose.

I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society. So, I’ve picked volunteer projects, paid jobs, reading material, and seminars to support that idea. I’ve started endeavors to support that idea. Every choice I make tries to support that idea.

My thinking on what I should be doing with my life has always been ongoing. Growing up Catholic, there is a certain amount of time dedicated to thinking about listening for God’s calling. I never felt like I had one. I only knew to follow my interests. My interests have always been consistent in the environment and education. When I was 18 and a freshman at Michigan State University, a first year at James Madison College eagerly awaiting my studies in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, I thought maybe I would or could be a lobbyist. I’d lobby for the virtues of the environment or education. I thought maybe I’d need a law degree, which always has intrigued me.

Then I got a bunch of loans through two universities, and suddenly spending more money I didn’t have on law school didn’t seem so important. In between those two universities, the school of life focused my studies on environmental thought, food, and community building. Those themes coalesced at Portland State University with the opening of their Sustainable Urban Development minor. My studies then concentrated on geography and urban development. Two themes where I continued to think about food, people, and how to make it all work together.

Is it any wonder then that I work intimately with a food buying club that focuses on local food sustainability and an environmental nonprofit that guides its thoughts in stewardship? One of my parting studies introduced me to the concept of “servant leadership”. It’s this idea where you lead from behind. A great example is how I stopped arguing with my husband about what to have for dinner and just focused on whole foods, home cooked foods, and organic foods (as budgets allowed). Now, he tells me the virtues of the food we eat.

Each refocus can be identified by a shift in thinking and impatience with the day-to-day. Like when I finally graduated. I had spent so much time thinking about my degree, that when I finally got it all I wanted was to put all those studies into action and work towards some semblance of a career. Then, there was the (housing) crash of 2008. Just one month after I graduated. I was loathe to apply for just any job – I had an idea of what I wanted to do. So, I focused on environmental jobs. I applied to be program coordinators and managers. I tried for AmeriCorps jobs. I tried for a plethora of administrative jobs. I had interviews. I had second interviews. I applied for more than 300 jobs in three years (starting in 2007).

I get a job. And, well… it proves to be more or less as dysfunctional as the twenty some jobs I held in my twenties. So, maybe working for others doesn’t work for me. I don’t get their lack of vision. I don’t get their lack of leadership. I don’t get their in ability to properly facilitate meetings. (Meetings that could identify vision and leadership and focus the organization past dysfunction!!)

These weeks of not writing have been thinking about all of that. It’s been spent thinking and doing the day-to-day, just to get by. It’s been pondering how to fix the rut and get into a career. I think I have some ideas. Now, to put them into action.

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A Day in the Life of….

We went to Hopworks for dinner tonight. Yum.

The Basic Burger & Fries
The Basic Burger & Fries
Levi enjoying his fries
Levi enjoying his fries

I went for a walk at work. I discovered a new sculpture in a park I’d never been.

Lunchtime Exploring
Lunchtime Exploring

Peter bought a big wrench.

Levi & The Big Wrench
Levi & The Big Wrench

We discovered Walgreen’s has a car charger.

Walgreen's Goes Electric
Walgreen's Goes Electric
Walgreen's Goes Electric
Walgreen's Goes Electric
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To Have Hope

Temperature predictions from some climate mode...
Image via Wikipedia

Climate change is happening. We can attempt to deny it. We can go along with the conflict among politicians and in the newspapers. We can close our eyes to it. We can say “weather is weather” when we look at a balmy January day when it should be 20 below. Climate change — global warming — is happening. No matter what we say to console ourselves doesn’t change the trend that 98% of the scientific community accepts as fact. Our world is warming and places are already being affected. Recently, the Oregonian published a map put out by the USDA. The USDA is redrawing their garden zoning maps to more accurately reflect current temperatures. The caption lightly explains warming, but also attributes the change to better mapping software! So, I put a flippant comment on my Facebook page that got its own attention from my friends. One didn’t realize I was being sarcastic. Another responded with his own, appropriately, flippant remark. Finally, a family member expressed her own frustration with how we glaze over this very serious problem. As a follow-up, I posted a link to a three-year old Scientific American article that showcased ten places that in 2008 that were clearly affected by climate change. Some of the listed places include:

Darfur

Until the rains failed in Darfur, the region’s pastoralists lived amicably with the settled farmers. The nomadic herders grazed their camels on the rocky hillsides between the fertile plots and fed their animals on the leavings from the harvest….[More]

The Gulf Coast

Climate scientists may still be debating to what extent climate change is going to translate into stronger and more frequent hurricanes, but insurance companies aren’t waiting for the final answer….[More]

Northern Europe

The warming of the globe has so far generally been good for the world’s wine. It has allowed the fruit to come off the vine richer and riper. A study led by Gregory Jones, a climatologist at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., and the son of a winegrower, tracked the impact of rising temperatures between 1950 and 1999, using as a measure of quality the values by the auction house Sotheby’s, which rates wines on a 100-point scale….[More]

Great Barrier Reef

Not all the carbon dioxide we emit contributes to atmospheric warming. More than a third of what we have produced since the industrial revolution has been absorbed by the oceans, where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid….[More]

In recent years, no less than four Alaskan communities have been forced to relocate (Shishmaref, Kivalina, Shaktoolik and Newtok) due to climate change. Waters are rising. Temperatures are rising. Plants and animals are migrating, and now people are migrating too. These communities are the canaries in the coal mine. They are the ones screaming to the rest of the world, “LISTEN! Climate change is happening! It’s happening to us! Now!”

But now we’re not listening. Collectively. We are stuck in group think, not embracing our group wisdom. Collectively, what can we do? That was the question that was posed to me. So, here’s a short list.

  1. Don’t lose hope. But realize that people will only change when they want to. So, while not losing hope, stay the steady course.
  2. Lead by example. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Then do it all over again, and better.
  3. Be mindful of your own consumption and aware of how this culture of things is perpetuating the problem.
  4. Realize hope in that 60% or so of Americans do recognize that there is a problem, so while the media isn’t up on what Americans really are thinking, there is a paradigm shift around us.
  5. Educate yourself, and then, educate others. Do it with compassion, and when they stop listening do it with your actions. Show people how the local organic food you create with is better than the tasteless, flavorless, nutritionless food found in the average grocer.

To have hope can be hard, but I think it’s imperative we stay the steady course. We can find solace in the Romanesque period in history where buildings became strong again when the world didn’t end in 1000 AD. We can find solace in realizing we have found lost technologies, like concrete, to make our world more solid. We can find solace in remembering that no matter how stubborn, we are one of the most adaptable creatures, and adapt we will. We can find solace in our relationships that we forge, foster, and create. Because, then, we know that we will have a network to turn to who supports our ideals of local, homegrown, homefunded communities.

To have hope, in my mind, is the only way to live. And, to have hope, is the only bottom line that will drive us when madness surrounds.

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