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Wacky, Wild Weather

I am sitting here, typing this, while the boys are napping. My computer is telling me it’s 81 degrees outside.

Weather Report
My two apps/widgets that tally my weather report 80 or 81 on this balmy day.

On the other side of this large continent, Hurricane Irene hovers over North Carolina. A rare hurricane that is slated to travel the entire eastern seaboard.

Irene's WunderMap
A map of Irene's progress courtesy of weatherunderground.

Washington D.C. and Colorado both had 5.x earthquakes on the same day, a few weeks ago. Texas is suffering from the hottest summer in 90 years. On the West Coast, we have a funny, unpredictable summer, although balmy compared to these other places. But in this “balmy” place, we had a cool, wet July. This means there were many crop failures. We are still an agrarian society that depends on a level of predictability with weather. For our food club, farmers had failed cherries failed. Our tomatoes are late. Our farmer’s peaches, apricots, and nectarines are late.

It makes sense to me that this is in part do to what we’ve done to affect climate. That is: climate change. Global warming. We are causing our earth to get warmer, so animals move to higher elevations faster than previous patterns, and we can’t predict crops. As an agrarian society, we rely on a certain level of predictability so we can plan for our future. When weather is unstable, our lives can be unstable and erratic.

By ignoring global warming and its predicted affects, we fail to plan for our children’s future. I hope these wild earthquakes and hurricanes will continue to wake people up. I hope this will encourage people that local is better for security and our environment. Simply, I hope.

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Today, E is for Economy

Previously, a frequent theme has been money and how we spend it.  While I was studying at Portland State, Prof. Messer reminded me that Sustainability holds three major tenants, economy, equity, and environment.  I have always had a pretty good handle on equity and environment, bu the economy has usually been something that brings me down. But, as I’ve been writing about money, how tight it has been, which is tightens our economic belt as the pants become a better fit.

I’ve been there, chiding people to buy organic, even though they couldn’t afford it.  How does that fit with the economic aspect of sustainability?  It doesn’t, and it doesn’t balance with the triple bottom line.  So, what can we do about it? How can we get the economy and the environment and equity to all balance? If they are all important on the grand scheme, how can in our microcosm of the home, we balance the 3es?

I can talk about what we’ve been doing.  My husband thinks about economics before he thinks about the environment.  Whereas, I think about the environment before I think about economics.  So, how can we merge the two?  Equity comes into play in our microcosm in how we treat each other and others, not how the man may or may not be bringing us down.

Some people think we should never make any concessions.  Some people think we should be eating, for example, farmer’s market certified organic all the time.  One simple question to help debunk this theory is the certification processes themselves.  Sure, they help the end-consumer more quickly identify a product that could suit their moral proclivities, but does it really do anything for the farmer?  Farmer A never uses chemicals on his produce, but he serves a smaller clientele than Farmer B and cannot afford the leg work and money it requires to get the certification some of his customers would like.  Farmer B can afford the certification because for other reasons he has a larger more profitable outfit than Farmer B.  Who does certification serve in instances such as these?  Farmer B, the potential big guy.  This is one reason why buying local is more important than buying organic.  Often buying local gives you a more validated organic product than the same product with the label.

Okay, but this post is entitled “Today, E is for Economy.” So, what does that organic example have to do with economy? It’s a linked system, no matter which way we slice it, and we cannot vote completely by one instance alone. We cannot rule by environment, or people, or money alone. We must consider the system. Both Farmer A & Farmer B serve the local area where you live. So, for a family, it might be better to opt for Farmer A based on cost. Farmer B has the certification others demand, and it’s not a budget buster. If they like his product, they should certainly buy from him. This does a few things. First, it keeps a diversified food economy. We need our farmers to be plentiful and compete. It doesn’t serve our interests to buy from the Wal-Mart of farmers, for example, because it decreases the number of people farming in our own locales. We need our farmers to supply us with food, not other countries. We need the food to be created locally, so that in the event of economic or environmental disaster, we can have secure sources of simply food.

How do we balance these 3 es? An ongoing conversation, certainly. But, I also think that we’d benefit ourselves by finding some food buddies – that is others who are interested in working with the local farmers who supply our food. We’d be strengthening our local economy, our local food systems, and our local equity – buy supplying from the poeple who work the farms – locally.

That’s really all I have to say about economy. Buy local. Know local. Grow local.

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Consensus Training

Consensus plain 2
Image via Wikipedia

Our consensus training is finally upon us! I am very excited. Our group has been self-learning consensus for the past 10 months, and I think it will be good to have a seasoned user show us some things to do.

In May, it became clear that majority rule wasn’t a good fit for our group of bottom up thinkers. So, I suggested consensus, and we’ve been trying it on ever since. One of our members made a comment that she lived in community, with consensus, for almost three years. She didn’t feel she even began to understand how consensus works until she was at the end of her stay in community. This was a very telling comment to me, as we hadn’t lived in community, had been doing it for less than 7 months, and it has felt awkward to me. Her comment validated my concerns. For the third time, I was referred to Tree Bressen; so I called her.

I read the Tao of Democracy by Tom Atlee almost 6 years ago. What an eye opener! The belief that in empathic situations, people really are smarter together. Most of our food club meetings have shown this to be true. We state concerns, work through problems, and come up with a much more brilliant answer than any one of us could have come up with on our own. It’s a true consensus process, truly bottom up planning.

I am hoping that tomorrow’s training will kindly show us some tricks and traps and how to navigate through those traps. One of the handouts is “Nurturing Dissent.” I’m a terribly excited.

Stay tuned for more.

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Fiction: Future

Front page of The New York Times July 29, 1914...
Image via Wikipedia

Note: The second writing tip in this top ten suggests writing different styles. I’ve got a pretty good groove with my daily ponderings, but I always get fiction bits floating through my head. So, why not start something? Nothing says I have to finish, but starting is something. (I have started various fictions in various forms over the years (none really finished), but let’s let this start be a part of the challenge.)

The alarm went off. Billy rubbed his eyes. Morning wake up, always difficult. What happened to the days when he was a morning person? Where did they go? He could see the sun peeking through the break in the curtain. He sat up, half way, propped on his elbows, taking the daily-morning assessment of the room. The cat, Henry, had slept on the bed again. His glasses were still by the night stand. He reached over, plucked them on his face, and took a sip of water. Looking up, the alarm screen showed it was forecasted for 68 and sunny with a light breeze, 5-10mph. A nice day. Some old-school Classic Rock (Cheap Trick), was getting louder, reminding him he needed to wake.

Rolling off the covers, he threw his feet over the edge of the bed, stretching out the last remnants of sleep. Tucking his feet into his red, corduroy slippers, he started to plan his day. There was an early coffee with the volunteer captain, a mid-morning meeting with Councilman Skinner, lunch with the Dean of Environmental Education, and an afternoon in the office. Given the forecast, the office might have to be by the waterfront today.

One last stretch, and Billy waved off the alarm screen. He could hear the coffee peculating, on schedule. Stepping into the bathroom, he set his shower for 101 degrees, pondering how far water-on-demand, or InstaH2O, has come. At 4 minutes, 30 seconds, the pressure started to wane, warning Billy his time is about up.

Over breakfast, Billy caught up on the days’ news, browsing through various news-sources. The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Globe & Mail, and various Asian reports. He still preferred his news screen to be embedded in the glass of his dining table, whereas many he knew simply opted for the standing kinetic screens. The markets were down, again. The Dow hit another record low, this time 15,000. He couldn’t believe it was 35,000 just five years ago. Although there hasn’t been another housing crash like the one in ’08 (banking regulations continue to get more stringent), the encroaching desert in much of the world has put markets in a tail spin.

Billy was excited to chat with Mark, his top volunteer-captain. Mark had great ideas on steering the education-stewardship piece of policy. This would serve as a good primer for his meeting with Councilman Skinner who, despite all the things Billy’s group has done, still has resistance to volunteer-driven stewardship. Billy was looking for more secure funding in the Pre-K-to-clean-rivers programs where groups hosted 5  year olds to do litter clean up and native plantings. After all these years, even though stewardship was a common goal and no longer argued about, he was surprised it was still a struggle for policy makers to make the link. They were able to keep the desert back in so many areas with the stewardship approach, he often forgot it’s not a “no-brainer” to those saying how the money should be spent.

On the mag-train into the city center, Billy glanced over his next week’s appointments. Next week marked the 50th anniversary of the Amazon Burn. Sarah’s NGO had been a part of the organizing effort for his neighborhood. 20 years ago, A Swiss gentleman, founded the first world-wide event to summarize these world-wide atrocities in a day of education, so we could continue to learn from history instead of pretending it didn’t happen. Even though they haven’t been able to turn around the encroaching desert, there hadn’t been oil spill in 13 years. Coal mines closed down 17 years ago. And most countries had a variety of natural power sources.

Billy was glad he found his place in plants and volunteers. It was that ground-up fixing that motivated him, literally building strong roots. But he never ceased to be surprised at how far humanity had come in such a short amount of time.

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I’m in a Food Club

December Frontier
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

A what? I haven’t really blogged about it. It’s central to my life. It’s been important to me for several years. And, still I haven’t written about it. My family knows. My friends know. My new friends all know that I am in a food club.

So, what is a food club? A buying club, in its simplest form, is a group of people who buy wholesale, together. A food buying club is composed of people who buy food wholesale, together. A group, acting like a business (some formal, some informal) guaranteeing a supplier of a minimum order in order to get discounts. The labor is distributed, then, through the club. That is, the club’s members sort the orders, organize distribution, and collect and arrange payments.

A few years ago, I found myself in a completely different reality than I thought I would be: I was a wife and mother and could no longer afford to shop exclusively at farmers markets. I was priced out. The single lifestyle was suddenly replaced with diapers (cloth and disposable), onsies, insurance, and another person’s very different tastes. I was, like many moms I now know, just getting used to single life when I was surprised with change. I was getting my organic, local ideas figured out when I entered the world many already struggle with: how to balance those single dreams with family realities. In my case, it was “single, organic, local, sustainable” dreams with family ideals and budgets.

Portland Oregon from the east. By User:Fcb981
Image via Wikipedia

I am not unique in this query. The path I chose to find a solution might be a little different, but here in Portland, Oregon it is gaining traction (so much so, it’s now mocked, laughably, and boy I cannot wait to see it, in Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein‘s Portlandia).

Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon.
Image via Wikipedia

Portland is known for its food snobbery. It’s known for modifying everything when it comes to food. “I would like my triple espresso, non-fat, organic, fair-trade, dark-roasted, single-origin mocha please, served in ceramic or my own reusable mug.” Local, organic, vegan, fair trade, Certified, sourced, vetted, heirloom, non-GMO are all words of norm in this food world.

It’s mystifying and interesting and eyebrow raising, all at the same time.

I want access to whole foods. Probably, not too far off, but certainly not too far into, a Nourishing Traditions menu plan. I tend to think of things a little simply (in my mind). We’ve been eating a certain way for 10,000 years: bread, meat, fruit, vegetables, animal milk in cheese and yogurt (and more). We’ve grown seeds, cultivated seeds, saved seeds, and processed them fairly local until about 300 or so years ago when our lives changed quite dramatically with the Industrial Revolution. I am not a fan of vegan fair because from what I’ve seen it ventures too far into processed-food land, which is ultimately what I think I (we) should be moving away from (and into a more wholesome whole food way of living).

Chicken Leftovers
Chicken leftovers. Sure, I should have picked a prettier picture instead of the what yielded 7 cups of shredded chicken, but this was a meaty bird. 7lbs, 7 cups of leftovers = lots of leftover chicken fried rice = YUM. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

But, what does that mean? My husband and I try, every year to tend a garden. Every year we learn something, fail at something, and succeed at something. We are no where near being able to sustain ourselves from our own toils and labor in the land. So, we need to outsource. I would rather not outsource overseas. My sustainable studies have taught me in order to have a secure food shed I need to source my food locally. Anyone ever consider a 100-mile diet? Some folks in Vancouver, B.C. did – and they found it’s HARD. Compromises have already been made, banana anyone? But, how can we make these compromises friendlier to those who produce food and to those who consume it?

By knowing your farmer. By knowing your distributor. By ceasing to rely solely on the supermarket and taking your (my) dollars direct to the producer. I was interested in more organic spices, personal care, and grain. Bob’s Red Mill is in Milwaukie, Oregon, the next suburb over, in the same Metro region, within the same Urban Growth Boundary. I called and found out they work with un-incorporated groups. The catch? We had to meet the minimum: 500lbs. I can’t store that much grain. One 50 lb bag of flour will last 6-8 months, so I couldn’t do basically 3 years worth in my house! But, if I found some people who would buy with me…

And the seed is planted. In 2008, I knew I wanted to build a food buying club.

The urban growth boundary edge at Bull Mountai...
Image via Wikipedia
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Only Group Shot
Our Sustainable-Tuscan-PSU Community. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was either 2005 or 2006. I was taking my first Urban Studies & Planning course, Film and the City. It was a sort of introductory course to Urban Planning through the eyes of film. The first movie we viewed was a Chinese film called Shower. This film introduced the concept of community and how design works with community and how community changes as design changes. There were many other levels to the film, but it was first, for our class, an introduction to this concept of community.

Los Tres Imanes
Image via Wikipedia

As a film class, one-page write ups and group discussion were par (for the course, ha ha). I was either 27 or 28 at the time of this discussion. My other classmates, or the ones in the discussion group, were in their early twenties. (It’s amazing to me how the difference of 5 years in your twenties means a lot.) We were asked, after having viewed the movie, how we would define community.

I suddenly found myself in a disagreement with my discussion group on what community is. I feel that we have many different communities. We have communities in which we select: church, certain social groups, classes we take, work place communities, and so on. Then, we have broader groups, our neighborhoods, cities, states, nations. When I was arguing for these micro communities, my classmates disagreed with me. They suggested that this idea of community was too narrow and didn’t allow for diversity. For example, I could have chosen to live in an all-white neighborhood and that would have been too singular in what I heard them arguing to actually be defined as community.

I cannot remember their exact words now, four or five years later. But, if that was truly their argument, I still, to this day have to vehemently disagree with their concept of community.

Garden City diagram
Image via Wikipedia

What is community then? I still believe a community is simply the circle of people with whom we surround ourselves. Whether it be our street, our neighborhood, our work place, our school, or our churches. All these places have different people, offer different things, and they serve as a community for us. A community of living, of economy, of knowledge, of spiritual growth – whatever. It’s still a form of community, and we sometimes turn to those in that community for assistance. We could look for neighborly assistance, as in, “Please, could you watch my house while we’re on vacation?” to study buddies to prayer circles. All forms offer some support if we choose to lean on them for that support. All forms can offer fun, learning moments, teaching moments, conflict and resolution.

Still, what is community? I am busy. I have a lot of interests. I cannot afford to spend my time randomly. While I appreciate random encounters for those teachable, fun moments, I have chosen to spend my time with certain people. Family and close friends. From there, I reach out to my church community, my food community, and a local mom’s group. With this local mom’s group, I subscribe to a daily email list, and have thus far attended one event. Many of the moms overlap with my food community.

What does community do? Community is there for you when you need them. Today, I hope I was there for a fellow mom. I’ve seen her name on this list a million times. I have met her exactly once, to the one event attended and organized by this mom’s group.

Today, 8 days before Christmas, she was in a car accident. No one was injured, but who’s to say how the family mini-van will fair. Although I had a front row seat, I actually didn’t see anything. I still can’t believe this happened. That I didn’t see anything. I had no helpful detail of information to share. It all happened so fast. SUV turning, me dazing, crash, call 911, tow truck pulling through, cop following, hanging up since 911 isn’t needed. Recognition. I know her. Parking the car, hazard lights on. Validation. Rolling window down, stating her name. Yes, I know her. So, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I got out of the car and gave her a hug. I only told her that I was a part of this mom’s group.

I got back in the car, went to a fellow mom’s house, she wasn’t home. She’s usually good at organizing these things, so I called her first. By “these things” I mean care packages. She was a little unsure of what to do, so I later phoned the Queen Bee of the mom’s group. She advised the other mom to call her insurance and began organizing an evening meal, while working.

Community. That’s what community is.

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Social Dynamics

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

You ever have a conversation with someone about an idea that wants to be implemented, and then, at some point one or both of you say, “I never thought of that!”? I have. On many occasions. I like to think of myself as a pretty thorough person, and as I get to know a process, I pride myself in my competition to think of all those little things. So, then, when presented, the other person can be amazed at my thoroughness. Okay, so there’s my haughty side, and I’m telling you, I do this, state, “Huh, I never thought of that,” weekly, and sometimes daily.

This is why doing things in groups, and not solo, are often a good idea. I think many of us get that pull, when doing a thing, to say, “Forget it! I’m going to do it my way! This is too hard!” But, if we had a little patience, persistence, and peace of mind, I think we would see that the group way is the way to go. We are better together. We have better ideas together. We have more viewpoints together. We have more fun together.

As an Executive Assistant, it is my job to make sure, for example, that all the materials and logistics for a meeting are taken care of. Sometimes, time crunches, beyond my control, happen, and I need the rest of the players, the rest of the team, to help me out. Better together. When that happens, the positive synergy that results is magnificent. If you are aware enough to recognize it. People knowing their roles, willing to support a uniform cause, even if it’s as trite as running a meeting! The feeling you get, of being a part of a team, is wonderful and empowering.

Okay, so I entitled this post Social Dynamics, so what does that have to do with the power of healthy group thinking and action? Everything.

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

As an adult, I am amused at our insistence that journalists, for example, should be neutral and objective. Where did we forget that everyone has a bias? Everyone has a history. Everyone has a point of view. And, in some way, I believe that everyone has an agenda.

The agenda might not be dramatic. It might be dramatic. It might be for good. It might be for the good of one and the ill of others. Being able to assess the character and objectives of others in groups is very important, even if it’s just being able to recognize that one of your players as a specific agenda.

Our food club has agreed to decide things by consensus. Most of us, more than 90%, are new to consensus, but it has a few key elements that ring true to us. For some, they grasped onto the interpretation that majority rule subconsciously insights war. For others, it was the attempt at ensuring and empowering people to have a voice. For others, it was the very real way in which we make group decisions. One thing we did at our last meeting, for example, was to ask everyone to say yes, no, or why not when faced with a proposal. Just a Round Robbin, do you agree or not, and let’s list those concerns.

Levi picking up trash
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Being a staff person, a founding board member, a new board member, and a participant on various committees has given me an incredibly interesting look at these group dynamics. City meetings are run very differently than the board meetings where I am a relatively (into the 2nd year of my 2 year term) new board member. City committee meetings are run very differently than City Council meetings (familiar with red, yellow, green timing?). Meetings where I and a handful of others have meeting experience and the rest don’t are very different than meetings with established board members and staff. Yet, amidst all those differences they have some very core commonalities: the economy affects everyone’s budget, old problems are often new, and they are looking to a group for a reason, which is usually the varied viewpoints.

We are better together. When we are open to hear other points of view, other ideas, other ways of doing things – great things happen. You make the world in which you live your oyster, for the good of your community. You make change. You can make change. You can make positive, lasting change, together.

"Better Together"
Image by taberandrew via Flickr
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So Much Anger (Around Transit)

I like to read. I’ve got my Google Reader operating at a rate that I use and monitor. I like reading blogs. I wish my Momma friends would blog more! I like reading blogs about the things that interest me. (Yes, Mr. McMahon, that sentence was a lot like, “Skiing is fun. Skiing is good exercise.”) So, what interests me? Food. Public transit. Policy. And, certain conversations regarding green things.

I like to glance at a Portland-TriMet Bus Drivers blog every now and then and Portland Transport to get an idea or keep my finger on the pulse of what Portland Transport people are talking about. Then, when I read those blogs, I often end up looking at what latest, greatest thing the O has to say about transit. They even have a (LA Transplant) blogger dedicated to reporting on Portland Transit, most namely Tri-Met. All these comments! All these thoughts. They are so full of hate.

I’ve been commuting, now, for 4 weeks. For 4 weeks, every day, save one because of a bout with the Stomach Flu (See Lasley Puke-fest 2010). We usually drive the Gas Guzzler because, oddly, that has become My Car! My job, my lovely, wonderful, green job is 20+ miles away from my home. This means we are filling up the Gas Guzzler every four days. Every day, I drive in traffic. Every day I drive in congestion. There is no part of our commute that is safe from congestion. Sure, there are routes we can take to try and minimize the congestion we encounter, but no route is safe from it. Every day in congestion I get angry.

Disney had a little cartoon from the 50s that detailed how the mild-mannered citizen turned into a raving lunatic once he got in his car. Driving too fast, protected by the steel and glass cage. Blood pressure boiling with a terrible attitude, all that disappeared once the car was parked and he got out of it. I think it’s an accurate portrayal of how we behave. Once in the car, we are suddenly free to be assholes.

That’s one reason why I enjoyed commuting so much. It wasn’t 15-40 minutes of rush, rush, rush, it was 5-10. And that 5-10 minutes was spent walking to my bus stop. So, instead of rushing in a sedentary manner, I was exercising.

It’s hard to argue for commuting on public transit with a small person for an hour and a half. I think we could manage it once a week, but the 1p quit time would turn into a 5p or 6p get home time. It would work best when my husband works at the garage in between our homes.

So, I was calmer in commuting, but I guess that was really when the buses or trains weren’t packed. When they were packed to the gills, I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t take a breath or comfortably read my book. I had to stand, monitor my giant bag ensuring it didn’t whack anyone in the face. Always on high alert that you move back enough. No one talks, they just glare.

So, if this is the commuting experience of the O Blogger, then I guess I understand why he’s so belligerent about bus drivers and the transit system. No matter what way you slice it, we are all rushing outside of our comfort zones. An extrovert friend commented to me that extroverts are rare. Meyers Brigs people claim its 50/50, but I know I know a hell of a lot of introverts. People who need their refresh time. If we don’t get our refresh time, we can get cranky. So, if we’re all cranky commuters, I guess that means we’re all angry commuters. Not a lot of love there.

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The Radius of Rights

MUMBAI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 27:  Members of the m...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I had a Facebook conversation a few months ago where I posted, in a frustrated manner, that I believe fighting over politicians is crap and that we all really have similar values anyway, so why do we participate in the distraction?  A former co-worker came at the discussion from a different point of view, and I don’t think either of us were able to explain our sides, clearly.  So, I thought I’d use this space to try to be clearer.

I’ve written about rights before, and as political theory is and always will be a passion of mine, rights are often on my mind.  Questions like, “Who is entitled to what and why?” are questions societies often have to ask and they often take longer to answer.  Rights and entitlements lend to our beliefs, and more what we value. Rights and entitlements showcase our values. And likewise, what we don’t view as a right also describes our values.  If, someone, for example believes in the right to bear arms – that doesn’t necessarily mean they want the right to kill others but rather they want the right to defend themselves.

Continue reading The Radius of Rights