Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Year

I subscribe to "The Daily Groove" and get short daily inspirational messages regarding enjoying parenting more fully ( Today's started: "If you make only one resolution this New Year, let it be simply to LIVE LIFE MORE FULLY."

I think that encompasses it for me. The last number of days at home, I've carved out time (thanks to Kali's patience with me sitting and knitting with someone talking via the CD player in the background) to listen to the CD's I was given by Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication. While I have been introduced briefly to this model of communication, listening to 5 hours of him sharing about this "language of life," with many stories that I could relate to was a very powerful experience, as well as humbling. In our family meeting last night we agreed to listen to them together in the evenings next week.

It's been interesting to already notice how the conversations I have with Kali and Jason shift when I try to apply some of what he suggests. Some of the most powerful tidbits for me so far include:

1. It is often hard for us to separate out observation and evaluation. Many of us are conditioned to always be judging or evaluating. While those can be important skills at times, we need to know how to also make observations that are free of judgment. While it sounds simple, it does not come easy for me and I can see how much many of my relationships would benefit from me becoming more at ease with that skill.

2. No one else is responsible for my feelings. And I am not responsible for anyone else's feelings. Kali cannot make me angry or frustrated or annoyed or elated. She can do things that trigger those emotions in me, but the same actions can trigger different emotions depending on what is going on inside of me at the time. Also, seems rather common sense, and yet in practice in life it is a powerful shift in language for me. Just to notice how many times I might say, "I feel ____, because you ____." I like so much that he gave examples of how we can shift our language to focusing on observing what is happening, identifying our feelings and our needs and then working at strategies for addressing the needs.

3. Identifying underlying needs is hard work!!! I'm putting many situations and relationships through my new "nonviolent communication lens" and find that I get stuck when I think about things that frustrate me and then try to keep asking, "what is the need behind that feeling? "

So this is what I hope to explore more in depth in 2010. It goes right alongside our continued journey into parenting in a way that respects Kali and us, and is in line with what we value most in life. So I think it all fits into living more fully. And for me that also includes being more present in every given moment of each day.

Today at lunch was one of those moments with Kali I am so glad I didn't miss. She made cornpone for us with her new kitchen stuff from Aunt B (including a red apron which she wears without any complaints, despite its color!). She was gobbling them up but then got thoughtful (and distracted) when they were gone and all that was left was soup that was fun to play with but not as inspiring for eating.

She mused, "There are three different meanings to the word bear/bare...the one when you really don't like something but you can bear it...then there is the animal...and then there is bare when you aren't wearing any clothes." That must have triggered another thought because the next moments she piped up that she had a joke for us. "What does a horse say to a kid who is running around without any clothes on?"

"Neigh...kid" I know this is an evaluation statement, but I think she is a pretty funny little girl! I could also state that her jokes fulfill a need in me for playfulness and I'm so glad she is in my life because of the way her approach to life enriches my own!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas 2009

We are happy to be home safely from our holiday travels to see both of our families last week. Kali enjoyed time with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, as well as some new adventures (riding a pony for the first time and making her very own gingerbread house). And there is no doubt that she was happy about presents too. Especially her little dog, Spot, pictured here. And her baby doll, Zelda, her new runner sled, her very own microscope and many new books and games, that we are enjoying (to name a few!). Speaking of which, she just called "Moooommmmyyy" and I imagine we will soon be out in the recliner by the fire finishing "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." It is nice to have a few days here with ample down time for reading books and playing new games.

For more pictures, see

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowed in!

We are enjoying our 1-2 feet of snow! Many pictures online at for those that wish to see more. We are about to stock up the fire, bundle up and head out to try out Kali's Christmas present - a runner sled!

We are also enjoying the time indoors. Kali invented a soup recipe and wanted to try it last evening. She was very cute writing up a few instructions like "stirred until cooked." Here it is in case you wish to try it:

Chicken (we used our home canned)
Potatoes (grown next door and given to us by our generous neighbor)
Chicken broth (also our canned broth)
Water (as much as needed to make right consistency)
Barley (or rice if you are out of barley and snowed in!!)
Salt (we also added some garlic for extra flavor)
Oil (doesn't really need it but we had to follow the recipe)

She stirred and stirred and then played for awhile when it wasn't done in the 5 minutes she allotted for it to cook. She ate two bowls of it and determined it to be delicious soup that someone might want to buy the recipe for. :) We don't plan to sell the recipe but feel free to try it out! No specific amounts of each ingredient determined.

We've been eating yummy foods all weekend. This morning's breakfast topped it off and should sustain us for a long time of snow playing. With the smell of fresh bread in the oven, we sat down to chicken sausage (Jason's first time making it from the dark meat of our chickens), roasted brussel sprouts with fresh garlic and rosemary (thanks to generosity of friends), and an egg, bread, cheese bake. Yum! Now off to utilize the energy it provided us and to have more snow fun. I hope we'll all still be feeling positive towards the snow when it comes time to shovel our way out when we actually have a commitment (work tomorrow for me!) to be somewhere other than here at home!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another lost tooth!

Okay, so it was bad enough that Kali lost her first tooth while I was at work. Today I called to check in on Jason and Kali and while I was talking to Jason I heard "uh oh." Kali had coming up to him with her SECOND tooth in her hand. She didn't want to talk to me for fear that this time I would really be mad to have missed it. I assured her this evening that while I give her a hard time, obviously she is allowed to loose her tooth whenever it comes out. :) She can now fit a straw in the gap between her teeth. And she wanted the light bulb snow people in the picture with her (one of the fun activities she did with Grandma at Thanksgiving).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Snow hike

So we got our tree up yesterday and decorated (without too much disagreement concerning Christmas tree ornaments) and then enjoyed a wonderful evening with neighbors. Jason and I did allow the "apple ornaments" to be put aside - thankfully, neither of us cared for them all too much and Kali had a clear opinion on getting rid of them! It was special to pull out the ornament given to us last year with a picture of Kali and Nora together, as well as the one Kali made for Nora with Nora's name on it her first and only Christmas with us. Kali came to me with it in her hand and said,"Do you see what this one says?" That kind of thing is about all we hear from her about Nora these days, but she has been very clear that she wants us to go to the service tomorrow night where you get to bring an ornament to put on a tree (a service held at RMH for families who have lost children).

And then today, the snow was melting fast but it is Sunday and so the only day of the week we can hike on the mountain during deer season. We gave up a few hours of potentially "productive" time at home and ventured out well prepared (I thought!) It was picturesque and fun and Kali was jumping and skipping and stomping in the snow and talking about how she was going to live on ice for 6 years. The lake was gorgeous and the snack we enjoyed there was unbeatable - the persimmon tree by the pond was still LOADED and they were almost all dead ripe and ice cold. Yum!!!! You can see many more pictures than those below online at

These photos were all taken before she got cold... Then she wished we hadn't come on the walk, she was "frozen," her hands were so cold (despite switching from her wet mittens to the second pair of gloves I had brought!). So for the last 1-1.5 miles Jason or I carried her, trying to wrap Jason's coat around her to warm her up. I had to laugh at a number of points as we watched the sun setting and the snow melting from the trees, while lugging our 50 pound plus daughter home in our arms whimpering and chilled to the core. It was one of those times that will in all likelihood be more memorable because of Kali's presence with us, but a time in which I would have also savored a relaxing hike with just Jason. And clearly it was probably unrealistic to have her go with us all the way to the pond without snow pants or really heavy gloves. We live and learn!

She warmed up soon after we got home and at dinner was heard saying that she wanted to go to the North Pole...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

We were coming up our driveway from our snow walk to the mailbox, which extended into a walk to the end of our road with a snow ball fight going continually along the way. We were talking and singing and stomping through the snow. Kali sang, "All I want for Christmas is some snow equipment." It made us laugh. She wants it to snow every day. She said it is very easy to get her to go out in the snow and very hard to get her to come in. We agreed with her except noting that once she gets cold she wants to come in fast! We successfully agreed on a little tree to cut for our Christmas tree and it is sitting inside the front door dripping as the snow melts. Decorating will have to wait for awhile.

Is this really me?

Last evening Jason, Kali and I found ourselves once again on the 4th floor of the outpatient unit at RMH for the 24th Annual Bereaved Parents Memorial Tree Service, sponsored by RMH's Grief and Loss Services. We went bearing a little star ornament that Kali had written Nora's name on and decorated with colorful dots. Since last year Kali has mentioned several times wanting to go to the service again so we were thankful when our neighbor M brought down the local paper with an announcement of the event - I had been naively waiting for another invitation which apparently only go to families in their first year after the loss.

It was one of those evenings where I felt slightly out of place, yet also connected in a strange way to the stories (most of which I knew little to nothing of) of those gathered in that room. We were a group of no more than about 30, persons that would likely not find themselves at many common gatherings but who share a common experience of loss. Mostly it was just being present that mattered for me last night, and particularly being there with Kali and allowing it to be another experience to place in her bank of memories of these years. She said very little but enjoyed helping to place the dozens and dozens of ornaments on the tree that had been accumulated over the years. She wondered on the way home why there kept being more ornaments. It was that which struck me as well as I hung each one on the tree, knowing that each represented a little life that someone out there missed.

One of the things that was shared by a mother who lost a baby at birth was how she was told soon after her loss that for awhile the grief will carry you but someday in the future you will find that you will carry your grief. It was emphasized that it never goes away, but it shifts and changes over time. I have found that to be true.

So taking a monumental leap in my thought processes, it seems that these last few years are full of finding myself in odd places where I can't help but question, "Is this really me doing this or in this place?" While it often leads to growth and changes I'm grateful for, it almost always includes a slightly unsettling feeling as well.

That was so true of Thanksgiving day and the week following where we found ourselves immersed in our largest butchering project ever. I should note that Jason was the central person involved and I found myself entering in at various moments throughout the process, which for this time was enough for me as I slowly gather the courage the fully engage myself with the source of my food.

Thanksgiving day I found myself plucking feathers for the first time since Bolivia (1997-98). At that time I hated the smell, hated making the children help, hated doing it myself, and was not thinking about much else. This time I was surrounded by my own family and good neighbors, I felt like I had grown much more familiar with our feathered friends through my decade of being married to Jason. I watched in awe as Kali dove into the project with no hesitation, resentment or fear of the smell, the wet feathers, the blood. But I still feel like such a novice on so many levels and I can hardly tout being fully engaged as I can't yet muster the strength to do the actual killing and I still feel a bit squeamish about the butchering portion. Yet it felt good to be involved and to allow myself to feel the awkward feelings, as well as those uncomfortable feelings of power associated with taking life (I know that so many aspects of my life contribute to both taking and giving life and therefore it feels good to get close to it even though it feels uncomfortable).

Kali, on the other hand, seemed right at home. She came and helped and then went off to play. At one point she went and grabbed two feet off the butchering table and was playing with them. Before I knew it I heard her by the rooster pen asking them if anyone wanted to trade for a new pair of feet. I didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified, but was quickly reminded of Barbara Kinsolver's chapter in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she reflects on a butchering day that found their children doing much the same. Kali clearly has grown up around the cycles of life and death and did not find it odd or gross and I'm grateful for that. I hope that she sees in all our actions a true respect for the animals we care for and in the end eat.

Part of that respect involves for us attempting to use as much as reasonably possible of the animal that we kill. After learning from friends that the feet provide the best soup stock - high in protein - we decided it was time to try it. Another stretching experience to have a pot of chicken feet simmering on our stove for a day or two. But there is no doubt of it being high in protein!

We left the chickens aging in the cooler while we took off for our wonderful weekend in WV. While there we got a call, similar to one a few years back: my uncle D had shot another deer and by now had more venison than they needed. Did we want to take it home? Oh, we have such a hard time saying no to free, local food (particularly a great protein source that Kali loves). So like we did when Kali was not yet two, we came driving back to Harrisonburg with a deer tied to our roof, this time more securely--the last such trip, the deer shifted on the roof rack and Kali (then just beginning to say a few words and animal sounds) caught sight of it "looking in at her" through the car window. I watched in horror as she examined this creature out her window for awhile and then I heard, "Duck?...Woof Woof?" Poor girl, she was trying to fit what she saw into her limited repertoire of animals. We laughed, but not altogether comfortably!

So Monday through Friday was filled with cutting meat off bones, grinding meat, cooking the bones down, picking cooked meat off the bones, canning meat and broth. And now the pantry shelves are once again loaded to the brim and the canner is put away (are we now truly done for the year??). I found the most amazing part to help with this time was picking the meat off the chicken bones. It may not have been so relaxing for Jason as I was asking him about the name, placement, and function of every other bone that I cleaned off. Sometimes I feel like I'm just starting my education - and now I'm doing it for me, not for anyone else or for a grade or because I have to. What a difference that makes!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our bookworm taking flight!

It felt like an odd morning today. No, not that fact that we are deep into meat processing (more on that later possibly), but the fact that I was at home puttering around the house (cleaning, baking, cooking, laundry) and it was almost as if Kali wasn't at home. I don't think I heard a peep out of her at all for well over an hour at one point. She is quickly becoming a bookworm. It's fun to see her enjoying reading so much (though she still won't read to me except at a very rare moment when she does it without thinking about it).

She had a wonderful time in WV. We were there for Thanksgiving with my folks and the best surprise of all was SNOW! Enough for sledding and making snow people. I wouldn't normally describe Kali as super adventurous but she loves sledding and went airborne twice. The second trip down the steep slope and over the bank ended with a few tears until she got over the shock of how fast she went and how hard she hit. But it didn't scare her too badly as she has been asking for a runner sled for Christmas.

Saturday, November 21, 2009 really is!

For those that know me (Janelle) well, it is likely hard to really believe that I could say this in all sincerity, but it's true: I enjoy and look forward to donating blood every 8 weeks and felt really disappointed when colds kept us from doing so on Nora's second birthday! And I found myself looking forward to it from the time we made a new appointment until Thursday afternoon when we found ourselves on the 3rd floor of the Cancer Center at RMH. This time we were joined by wonderful friends, which made the experience even more fun and meaningful.

Of course, when I do something I like to do it "right" (meaning I have very strong perfectionistic tendencies). For example, I'd like to give every 8 weeks to the day. :) And this time when I saw "we need platelets" posted in the room, I asked about it. I would be a well suited donor of platelets if I have the time to do so (it takes longer and you can do it every two weeks). Of course you don't have to do it every two weeks but if I could I would likely feel very compelled to do so. I was watching one woman on the machine that is used for that kind of donation enjoying reading a book and I had all kinds of ideas about actually getting some reading done if I would have 1-2 hours hooked up to a machine every 2 weeks. Kind of sad that that is what it might take for me to carve out enough time to finish a book on organizational leadership that Jason bought for me at the Bioneers Conference.

In general there is something about being at RMH (a place that holds many memories for us in relation to both of our children) and doing something that I'm choosing to do on behalf of others and that is also helping me to grow in ways unimaginable a few years ago that is extremely life-giving for me (no pun intended - though it is amazing how often when we give of ourselves, we find that we are enriched just as much if not more). It's wonderful to hardly feel faint at all anymore and I no longer jump even for the finger stick. :)

Having Kali along is really special too. She loves it! There are toys, stuffed animals, cool colored folding chairs (that don't fold), and lots of little packaged snacks. And she is treated kindly and is finally completely at ease that there is no chance they will stick her by accident so that fear has been erased, enabling her to fully relax. This past time the new thing was to play with the little happy stuffed "blood drops" and have them do cheerleading dances for us.

We'll be heading that way again sometime mid-January. We are happy to expand our group and fill up the room!! And I should mention that I even got an "upgrade" on my bandaging. This time I not only got purple for Kali, but the guy knew how to do bows, too. :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Persimmons and a Pumpkin

The other day while out on a walk, Kali and I found a pumpkin in the ditch by the side of the road. It was unblemished and I loaded it into the jogger and brought it home. It wasn't large but I was still proud of the roasted pumpkins seeds and batch of pumpkin bread that made the house smell good a few days later.

Then yesterday Kali and I were on a walk and right across the road from the spot we had found our first "treasure' was another much bigger pumpkin in the cow pasture. Since Kali was in the jogger and there is no shoulder there to speak of and because there were lots of cows nearby, I passed up the opportunity to get another free pumpkin.

Today Kali, Jason and I ventured out for a "trash walk" (loaded up with empty bags for trash and recycling - and Kali is so into it that she walks almost 3 miles without thinking about the fact that she is walking 3 miles...). With Jason along I thought we might be more adventurous - okay, I was hoping he would go get the pumpkin for me. The cows were a bit farther away and he bravely entered the pasture to rescue the thrown away pumpkin and help it to be used for a greater cause. Imagine my sheepishness when Jason tossed the pumpkin into the air like it weighed nothing. It was FAKE!!! We had a good laugh, still brought it home and it is now in the bag to go to Gift and Thrift. Someone might enjoy a fake pumpkin...

When we arrived home we had some daylight left and it was too beautiful to go inside. So we got our very dirty sheets off the line for another round of gathering persimmons. It is a dangerous endeavor: I hold some wood against the tree so Jason is not banging directly on the bark of the persimmon tree. He bangs against it and it rains persimmons. While a percentage falls on our sheets, a good number fall around us and ON us. By the end, my shirt and hair have splashes of orange, as does Jason's beard and hat. They actually sting when they hit, but I've determined it to be well worth the temporary discomfort!

[Jason's note: Our favored method (so far) of processing the sweet, juicy, and very smooshy persimmons into a usable form is to strain them with a Foley Food Mill (a thrift store find!). These were well known, we understand, to the homemakers of yesteryear, but have fallen into disuse in recent decades. If there is an easier, more automatic way to sort the gooey puree from large, hard persimmon seeds, we are not aware of it.]

So we now have five containers of persimmon pulp in the freezer and there are plenty more on the tree. There was a little squirrel up high in one of the trees nearby who had to go past us to get down out of the tree. Between banging episodes, the little guy tore down the tree and ran as far away from us as possible; hopefully not too traumatized.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bioneers Conference Report

At long last, I am getting around to reporting on the Three Rivers Bioneers conference which I attended October 16-18 in Pittsburgh. Why Pittsburgh, you might ask, and why Bioneers? And what the harry is a Bioneer anyway? One question at a time, folks, one question at a time.

My sister M. C. lives in Pittsburgh. I had not been to see her since she moved back there from New Jersey, where she had been studying for her Ph. D. in English Literature (toward which she is still studiously and arduously laboring). A convenient excuse was the Bioneers satellite conference her good friend M was studiously and arduously laboring to organize. Unfortunately I didn't get to see as much of M. C. as I would have liked (there were plenty of conference activities to occupy all my time), but the conference was fabulous!

A Bioneer is, loosely speaking, a Pioneer in environmentalism. The term is very flexible, however, as it seems to encompass (in its land of origin, which is southern California) any individual whose innovative or remarkable dedications and actions correspond favorably to the sensibilities of the steering committee of the organization called Bioneers, at whose annual conference they have been invited to present. Fortunately for me, the committee's sensibilities happen to be pretty similar to my sensibilities at this point in history.

The Three Rivers Bioneers conference, then, remotely streamed in many if not all of the national plenary addresses, so that we in the auditorium of the Pittsburgh Project could be exposed to these brilliant minds without having to travel all the way to southern California and pay the reputedly pricey admission. Furthermore, during the majority of the time nothing of sufficient interest was being streamed in, so that was a great opportunity for a panoply of locally-based presenters and other resource people to do their thing for the benefit of the attendees. These presenters covered the gamut from local indigenous song/dance/oral address, to a constantly available massage room, to M. C.'s boyfriend M talking about his upcoming documentary film "YERT (Your Environmental Road Trip...check it out on the web; it's worth your time!)", to workshops on sustainable living, to local university-based smart people talking about design and the repair of the environment, to a bus tour of the sustainability-based urban renewal projects happening in the area, etc., etc., etc.

I couldn't possibly relate to you the volumes of information to which I was exposed, nor can I introduce to you the kind and interesting people I was fortunate to meet. I have decided, rather than attempt those things, to simply assemble a list of nuggets. That is, phrases or sentences--be they quotes, thoughts, story snippets or facts, that characterize some element of the experience and what it meant to me. They will be mostly grouped as they were delivered, though not in the order they were delivered. If you begin to find this reading monotonous, feel free to skip through the list and proceed straight to the more readable reflection found at the end. With no further ado:

First some nuggets from a presentation by a local indigenous man who has worked with networking his people with the broader community (and whose son dances courageously and beautifully):

His opening prayer was addressed to Mother Earth "...from whose womb we all arise, and from whose breast we are never weaned..."

From the indigenous perspective, "Saving the Earth" is not a concept that resonates. It seems presumptuous. The earth is an entity that has been around a long time, and it will continue to be around a long time. But the face of the earth keeps changing. First it was a ball of fire and rock, and that was Earth. Then it was cooler but filled with gases we would find intolerably poisonous, but even at that time life existed here and the earth was paradise for something. Now it is as we know it, and it is our paradise. If the face the earth presents to us changes more than we can tolerate--if it is no longer our paradise--then we can easily be replaced by something that will love living here. From the indigenous perspective, then [he said], environmental work is not about "saving" or "not destroying" Earth, as those are ludicrous ideas. Rather it is a form of supplication to our Mother, imploring Earth to not stop smiling on us, and begging to be able to live here a little longer.

From a presentation by Chris Leininger, who is a university based architect working at green building design and improving the built environment for people and the earth:

Everyone's a designer. It's just part of what makes us human. So let's, each of us, understand our opportunities for design and make the most of them, doing our designing well and with joy.

One of his principles is to remove barriers such that nature becomes visible in his designs. This doesn't mean just big windows, it means inviting natural elements among the other elements of the design.

Architecture (shelter construction) emerged in the human story for the purpose of mediating stress (from exposure to the elements). Now we've reached a point where our architecture is so pervasive and so divorced from the elements that it is actually a source of stress instead (from being cut off from what sustains us and arranged in unnatural ways). The job of the contemporary architect is to understand and mediate both these sources of stress with designs that provide protection, comfort, and performance in naturally integrated systems.

Three elements of design:

Fabricated Landscape: the built environment
Domesticated Landscape: landscaping, gardens, and farmland
Natural Landscape: self-organized nature

Nearly all human-occupied environments contain all three of these elements whether we intend it or not (grass in the cracks). Understanding and incorporating these elements is the work of architectural design.

Design should be for the purpose of repair and regeneration: Ecological Principles are Design Principles.

He quoted William McDonough, a Charlottesville-based pioneer of the Green Architecture movement, giving four of his principles:

Living on Current Solar Income (fossil fuels are Past Solar Income)
Protect Diversity (Social and Biological)
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...REDESIGN

He shared his workshop time with a Russian-born soil scientist who is working on developing fabricated soils and, I think, ethanol production using fast-growing trees, composting methods, and reclaimed coal strip mine sites. Bright fella.

From Michael Pollan's streaming address, which was the talk I could find no argument with whatsoever, on any level:

The tendency of monopoly (not the game), is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

"It takes a village to feed a village."

We're going to need more farmers.

I was left with a strong desire to read the works of Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma, A Botany of Desire, In Defense of Food, etc.), which I have thus far neglected to do.

From Andrew Weil, M.D., whose perspective on integrated medicine I found refreshing, without knowing what to make of all of it (I'll let you make your own judgments about these tidbits and look him up yourself if you are interested in more detail):

One of his priorities is to promote the rejoining of medicine and nature.

A working definition of the concept "health" (these are notoriously difficult to come by): An inner state of balance and resilience that protects you from what could damage you.

His health advice in once sentence: Stop eating processed, refined, and manufactured foods.

Four pieces of advice to take home:

1) Eat Omega 3 fatty acids (if you don't eat fish, take fish oil supplements)

2) Get enough Vitamin D through sensible sun exposure and 2000 I.U. of D3 daily (in fall and winter at least) with a fat-containing meal (D3 is fat soluble).

3) Move. That is, move your body. Walking is the easiest and most complete form of exercise that most people are likely to get in the habit of.

4) Reduce your stress. There are as many solutions to stress as there are sources, but the broadest stroke you can paint is to learn to manage your breathing (this exploits neural connections that cancel and prevent agitation and anxiety).

This dude is on the faculty of a med school, but that doesn't mean I can vouch for him. I just found him really interesting. He also had interesting political commentary on the "health crisis", which he accurately pinpointed as a health INSURANCE crisis (not that there isn't also a health crisis, but that's not the one that's coming to a head right now, per se). He also predicted that pretty soon, based on demographics, many industrialized countries will be experiencing the same phenomenon, no matter how their systems are structured. He advocates an integrative medical approach partially as a way to reduce costs, as he believes medications and procedures can sometimes be reduced or avoided by approaching cases with a broader perspective.

He wants to restore the focus of medicine to health and healing (some might dispute the assertion that medicine has lost that focus).

From a presentation by artist Lily Yeh (with whose work I was quite impressed):

"Making art in a destitute place is like making fire in the dead, cold heart of winter."

Remarking on her agonizing decision to travel to Rwanda a number of years after the genocide, not knowing what she'd be doing there (she ended up working on a community-based memorial park...stunning), "I was scared to be a coward."

Now a smattering of quotes and thoughts, with no attributed credit:

The Bioneers Conference is for discovering our "soul-er power." (getting in touch with the emotional and spiritual elements of environmental action)

Slow Food, Slow Water, Slow Money (a recipe for living lightly).

Slow it, Spread it, Sink it (a mantra for runoff water management).

We can't buy our way out of climate change.

Did you know that some people think that within a hundred years people might be suffering from the appearance of fireballs of methane produced by changed climate conditions? I have no way of vetting the assertion, but it's kind of spooky to think about, no?

Lastly, a small collection of resources, people, and other interesting things to check out:

The International Living Building Institute (which asserts that buildings can and should be designed to perform as well as a sunflower in the same location).

Pulsewire-a networking resource for women and women's issues worldwide are more likely to act positively if we're enjoying it.

Brock Dolman-water, interconnection, and reverence

Michael Pollan-food, justice, sustainability

Lily Yeh-art that gets involved

Arturo Sandoval-alternate perspectives on ownership at the community level

Dr. Andrew Weil-understanding health

The PACE solar incentive catalyst making photovoltaic a reasonable option near YOU! Do find out about it and participate if you can...this is now an exciting time to get in on solar at YOUR HOME ('s worth digging for the details).

I apologize for the somewhat dusty texture of this post...I don't know how to write up a conference exactly. The long and short of it is that environmentalism is not my "thing", or any other particular person's "thing", either. It's that we all, together, need to accept fundamental changes to the way we live on this earth. There is no choice on that point. I don't mean that the greenies are going to take power, politically, and force everyone to comply. I can't imagine that happening, or succeeding if it did happen.

I mean that the earth has limits, and we are starting to understand now just how close we are approaching to those limits. Indeed, we have probably already passed beyond them. We need to reverse course in a hurry if we are going to have anywhere to live. Most people I talked or listened to are not referring to the extinction of the human species...people are nothing if not innovative, and somebody, somewhere, will almost certainly find a way to survive.

For most people, this is not a terribly reassuring scenario. We were sort of hoping not to suffer the massive die-off of many of our fellow humans (or ourselves), including warfare over dwindling resources. The take-home message is that it is probably still possible to avoid the worst, most unimaginable scenarios being visited upon our grandchildren (the earth's systems are too large for most ecologies to reflect changes noticeable to the average human within one generation, with the exceptions of the polar and low-lying maritime regions). But just because restoration is possible doesn't mean we're going to accomplish it, and just because most of us can't watch the deterioration happening before our very eyes (yet) doesn't mean it isn't going to happen, in its way and at its pace.

Paradoxically, it seems that scaring people about climate change and other environmental and resource problems helps very little. People seem to get paralyzed by the gravity of it, especially if it's new information, and especially if they see few alternatives to the status quo. Environmentalists have frequently made the mistake of pointing out problems without helping people get in touch with the solutions, and they have also failed in many cases to adequately take into account the social justice implications of their advocated policies. In other words, they have often been specialists in environmental preservation, disaster, and repair, to the unfortunate exclusion of other perspectives (the same problematic fragmentation is evident throughout our society). The Bioneers thrilled and inspired me as a place, event, and organization that is finally attempting this integration (none too soon), and the result is an emerging vision of sustainable, peaceful living that is characterized by joy, with a focus off of money and accumulation, and onto love and meaning.

And so the question is not "who's going to take care of this?", but rather "what is my role?"

The woman who stocked the book table and who sold me some cool books (I valiantly resisted buying the dozen or so that sorely tempted me, limiting myself to four), had provided for her daughter's education with the "Unschooling" method (the theory needs a new name, if you ask me), which is what we are settling on for Kali. Her daughter is now eighteen and was a participant in the conference. The young woman's creative and original contribution to the weekend was to provide a T-shirt silk-screening service to all attendees who wanted to participate, using a method she had invented that customized a message on each shirt. Each shirt's message began with "Ask me about...", after which the participant could spell out the name of a subject of special interest, connection or expertise which they would want to discuss with others. It was a snazzy idea, and the intention was formed to continue and expand the project through online mail order (check it out). Not only was this an anecdotal confirmation of the educational method we're pursuing, but it also neatly characterized what I would think of as the emerging tone of the integrated environmental movement: mutualistic, inquisitive, creative, fun interchange for the purpose of joyfully transforming our lives to better suit the world we live in, and to preserve or even improve the possibility of our descendants thriving here for countless generations.

I returned from the conference sobered and bereaved, and yet animated with hope, joy, and pleasure, with a question on my lips: "What's YOUR role?" I need you and what you have to offer if I am going to accomplish the transformation and maintenance of a sustainable way of life. It's going to take, in fact, the transformation of all of our lives to succeed, but just as this unsustainable path we're on takes 6 billion or so different forms, the path to sustainability will be just as diverse. I can't wait to see what emerges from each of us as we move forward!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Common Pity

I must have looked a sight, standing there by the side of the road in the rain surveying the four ten-foot, 8-inch diameter locust logs (intended as posts for a tall garden fence) lying in the grassy margin with the little wood-decked trailer upside down on top of them. I have the nasty habit of trying to get too much hauling capacity out of my little trailer, but in this case it wasn’t the weight alone that did it in so much as that weight combined with rough terrain and a badly worn, partially dry-rotted tire. When it dawned on me that the tire was flat, I had pulled off the road, sighed bitterly, unloaded the logs, checked to be sure the tire was not serviceable, and then turned the trailer over onto the logs so the whole mess would be a bit more compact (yes, the trailer is small and light enough for a reasonably strong person to handle it that way, and, no, I should not attempt to haul these kinds of loads on it). I left a note with a phone number, and headed home to borrow a neighbor’s vehicle. Our neighbors on one side have a lovely trailer that is perfectly sized for the job, but a call to them produced the information that while the trailer was graciously available as always, it happened that the vehicle that pulls the trailer was predisposed, having taken one of them to work. When I neared home, I got confirmation that another neighbor (also my good friend and employer) had a small pickup truck available, which fact produced a minor bliss of relief.

Upon reaching home, I hurriedly got the checkbook and paced up the hill to procure the truck. A half-hour later I was loading up the other half of my fence-post order. When the proprietor of the lumber mill noticed the vehicle change and heard of my self-induced plight, he said he and his wife could go the long way to their daughter’s place that evening and help me load up when they came by; they would be there in fifteen minutes. I thanked him and said I’d do what I could with the logs and trailer in the meantime. As kind as his offer was, I hated to inconvenience him in that way and certainly intended to do my best to load it myself (though I was not at all sure I could do it) and prevent his needing to stop and help me with my pitiful mess.

As it turned out, I didn’t have a chance to try. No sooner had I removed the trailer from the stack and bent to lift the end of the first log than a man about my age in a white dress shirt with the cuffs turned up (very stylish…he looked like he was headed for a party) miraculously appeared at the other end. Before we could get the thing loaded, a man a little younger than myself, with compact build, close-cropped hair, a Virginia accent, and a wad of tobacco in his lower lip got his hands on it, too (he didn’t bother to ask if we needed help). By the time we had loaded that one and reached for the other, another youngish fellow with plain work clothes and old-fashioned hat (this is part of the dress code of at least one sect of the “Old Order” Mennonites in our area…maybe a fedora?) showed up to help. There was a moment on that second log when each of the four of us was bearing a portion of the burden. After that one, the partygoer mentioned that the rest of us seemed to have it under control. The Old Order guy noted kindly that, also, the rest of us weren’t wearing a white shirt, whereupon the stylish dude exited the scene to the sound of my thanks. The three of us spent a few minutes with the other two logs and then loaded the hapless trailer on top of the stack.

I chose not to embarrass us all by gushing, but my gratitude was heartfelt and I let them know. My mind was spinning with the rapidity of the events, and as they dissipated into the Dayton backdrop, I was too boggled to notice where they had gone so I could know where they had come from. I suddenly realized I also didn’t know any of their names. The Classic Virginian was the only one left within earshot, so I approached him, asked his name (which of course I have no hope of remembering), and shook his hand. After my thanking him the third time or so, he said something like, “Sure! You know, I hate to see a man…[he struggled to find words to sum up my situation]…like that.”

True enough. Don’t we all?! After I had gotten home and had a minute or two of relaxation to think about the event, I began to marvel. It’s not just the fact that four perfect strangers felt compassion for me and inconvenienced themselves on my behalf (this doesn’t even count the three or four extraneous verbal offers issued through open car windows at various points throughout the procedure), and it’s not just that they seemed, in my anxious state, to have materialized supernaturally and to have dissipated the same way. It’s also this: When was the last time you have seen or imagined a “Granola Cruncher”, an “Old Order”, a “Redneck”, and a “Dandy” cooperating on anything? This will be one of the healing memories for me of goodness and compassion rising spontaneously from the human heart and superseding our unconsciously enforced (yet carefully maintained) boundaries. It also contributes to my feeling of loving the valley where I live.

After I had secured the load, the lumber mill owner and his wife came trundling by in their buggy, pausing nearby. He called out, noting (gratefully, I am sure) that I must have gotten it loaded already. I let him know that three people had stopped to help me. “Well, good!” he said, waving goodbye as his wife flicked the reins to urge the horse onward. He did not seem surprised.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall days...

We enjoyed the first officially titled "family night" last night. The only goal was to love each other and have fun, avoid the "to do" list and be more of less unproductive (at least in the traditional sense of the word). This will be a skill this family will have to work on honing, with the exception of our 6 year old! We kicked it off around 4:45pm with a long and leisurely hike on the mountain, exploring new trails and all three agreeing that next time we need to leave in the morning and have LOTS of time to get "to the ridge" (that's Kali's goal, and we share it). About 30 pictures from our hike are online at but the colors in person are not comparable to what is captured by the camera.

The rest of the evening included banana splits, game playing and Jason playing guitar and singing for us (Kali and I's colds don't make us fit for much joining in, though Kali did get her drum out for the final numbers). It was a good way to start off this "vacation week" for me. Likely I would have taken a sick day today anyway to nurse this cold back to health but we all feel good enough to be enjoying more time together. It will be a week also packed with emotion as we think about the time surrounding Nora's birthday this Friday. Last night as Jason played the guitar and we were in the front room together, I found myself envisioning that space with a little toddler in our midst. It was a good, sweet, sad, hopeful, longing-for, missing it kind of feeling...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Encouraging gratefulness?

Kali and I spent last weekend in Mount Joy, PA visiting family and friends while Jason attended a Bioneers Conference and visited his sister in Pittsburgh, PA.

We spent a good part of the weekend with one of my closest girlfriends from growing up years and her family. We were helping them unpack from a recent move back to her home place, playing with her three children, and the two of us filling in every possible crack with our catching up! I could write a lot about how wonderful the weekend was for me, but I just want to share one snippet. It was a weekend that included some insightful moments for me as I spent more time noticing and playing with Kali and all the children around me.

Here's one story from the weekend:

The parenting discussion group we are a part of spent one night a few months back talking about manners. How do we encourage our children to act in ways that are socially acceptable in our culture? Should that even be a goal? What are appropriate ways to achieve that goal if you are attempting to model respectful parenting?

We talked a fair amount that evening about saying "thank you" and how to have our children show gratitude. It seemed that the consensus there was that modeling is much more important than requiring (which likely would involve some coercion) our children to say or do something particular to show they are grateful for a gift or kind gesture.

So I've been thinking about it and trying to practice. Well, Kali was having a lot of fun at E's house with a certain plastic caterpillar whose legs were the letters of the alphabet and which played all kinds of music. But we needed to get on the road and so she suggested that she could borrow the toy. It seemed impractical to borrow a toy in PA and take it to VA, but since I knew that E found this particular toy annoying, I told Kali I would go ask if it is was okay. E was happy to have us take it (likely for good!).

Kali was very excited when I shared this news with her. I then suggested that she might want to think of a way to express to E how she felt about this gift. She seemed to think that was a good idea but as we walked out to where E was, I asked if she wanted to say something to her and she quickly said to me "you tell her." This is where I'm often tempted to say something like, "No, it was a gift for you so you need to tell her" or "You are six years old and can talk" or "I want you to practice showing that you are thankful when people give you things..." None of those kinds of comments had been all that helpful in the past and our conversations with parents trying alternate ways of being with their children had made quite an impression on me. So I thought quick and responded, "What would you like me to tell E for you?" Kali didn't think long before piping up, "Just tell her whatever you were expecting me to say."

I laughed and inwardly groaned. It is so wonderful when children give such clear messages as this one - she hadn't been learning the benefit of being authentic and feeling thankful. Sadly instead it seemed she was learning that there was something she was "supposed" to say and then we would leave her alone... We had a very good conversation about it and in the end I communicated to E that Kali felt "good" having received the wonderful noise-making plastic caterpillar.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Viruses and adventures...

The past week was going along as planned and we were gearing up for another busy weekend made up of a trip to DC to see Jason's sister E, along with taking in the annual Green Festival and the DC Zoo. Friday was one of those days where the to do list was a bit longer than the hours allotted for the tasks. About half way through the day as I'm packing up and getting the house ready for friends who were going to be enjoying it in our absence, I realized that Kali had lost her spunk and was actually drooping considerably. Hardly any other symptoms worth noting - maybe one sneeze and a nose wipe needed and she complained of a sore throat. Beautiful timing - isn't it always?!!? We assumed/hoped it was just the cold we had been exposed to earlier in the week and since thus far it seemed pretty mild we proceeded with preparations to leave for DC that evening, only modifying the plans at the beginning of our trip to enjoy a meal with friends who recently had a baby. I ran the meal in, got a glimpse of the precious new little one and then had to flee before I left any germs there and because it was nearly impossible to be there and not hold him!!

I reaffirmed for myself in the following 3 hours that I can hardly stand driving into the city and that 495 is most definitely worse than traveling on 81!! We arrived safely there and Kali was asleep before too much time passed.

The three of us had a restless night upstairs. Kali began itching her hands incessantly. At one point I shined a light on her hands and noted that they were quite red, puffy and warm to the touch. We washed them off thinking maybe she was having some kind of allergic reaction to the scented hand sanitizer she had used. Good thought, but no...

It was one of those nights where I welcomed morning (just to have the night over with), but then discovered that Kali had a red rash over much of her body - creeping up her arms, on her feet and on her belly and back. She had no appetite to speak of, had a fever of 101.5 (which is actually low for her when she is sick) and was very sluggish. We managed to get some medicine in her to bring the fever down, assessed the situation, and called Grandma B for medical advice. SO THANKFUL for doctors in the family!!!! Kali perked up some with the help of Ibuprofen and we decided to take in the zoo and hope that she would be ready for the Green Festival by the next day.

She mostly rode in the jogger all day, but seemed to feel well enough to enjoy the many animals and the metro ride. And while at the zoo Grandma B called again to suggest that the likely culprit of these symptoms was Parvovirus. By the time we headed back to E's house for dinner, she was wilting and wilting fast. She sacked out on the couch minutes after we returned... Normally when Aunt E is anywhere closeby we can hardly hold a conversation with her because Kali is so eager to play, play, play! It felt strange to make dinner together in relative quiet and eat it without her chatter (which, as soon as it isn't there, I miss)

Now for the really "fun" night. Imagine us sleeping in an upstairs room. We are used to one floor living, so while I might occasionally carry Kali to the bathroom in the middle of the night there are never stairs involved. And I don't know that I've ever done it many times in one night. The rash must have caused some internal irritation too, making her feel like she needed to pee every 1/2-1 hour (or more if she was awake). So Jason and I took turns carting her down and up the stairs. And in between were keeping a cool wash cloth on the itchy spots, which helped a lot if we could keep awake enough to change it when it warmed up.

Around 2am I took her down to the bathroom. She felt warmer so I really wanted to get medicine in her, but she hadn't eaten anything for a long time. So she was working on a few grapes and then we crushed up the orange flavored medicine and tried to disguise it in some homemade blackberry jam (which had worked before). We almost got through the first pill before it, and a few other stomach contacts, landed in my hands (which were thankfully just big enough to contain it all). I was feeling tired and flustered and also trying to be quiet to let E and her housemate sleep in peace! Got that all cleaned up and tried pill number two - this time in some ice cream I located in the freezer. Well, in the meantime, I bumped the bowl with the grapes off the ledge of the tub and broke the bowl, which almost sent Kali into hysterics. Needless to say, the second pill didn't stay down either and after 1/2 hour or so of snowballing almost comical events (if I wasn't so tired), we headed back to bed with no medicine or food in her belly. Once again glad to see daylight come around!

Jason and E took off for the Green Festival and Kali and I stayed back at the house. A day away from home with not much to do. I journaled, curled up with Kali on the porch and enjoyed the weather and a short nap, read a children's atlas to her and thought about the weekend's events.

I have a hard time managing my worry and anxiety when Kali is sick. Of course it doesn't take long for me to be reminded of our caretaking with Nora, including the long nights and the wondering what was around the next corner. Thankfully it seems that this is another relatively minor childhood virus that she will be immune to after this one bout. But I still struggle with the "what if's." So Sunday found me stewing somewhat about that, and then also thinking about how different the weekend was than what I had planned and dreamed up in my mind.

And that is when I was taken back again to one of the most striking lessons of Nora's life. It came to me again how so much of life's disappointments are caused by our built up expectations, making plans that we expect to then be implemented as we arranged for them to be, and dreams that somehow we come to believe should be actualized. I found myself lounging in a comfy chair with Kali in my arms feeling a cool autumn breeze for an hour or two with no interruptions, no demands on my time, no one expecting anything of me. Those moments were beautiful and precious (as were so many we had with Nora), as long as I wasn't thinking about how I was "supposed to be" at the Green Festival, since that was what we had planned months ago to do this weekend!! I keep learning!

Kali is still very sluggish and the rash comes and go (along with the itchiness) but seems to do the opposite of what I remember doing when I was sick. I thought that normally one feels more perky in the beginning of the day and then fades at night. Our little night owl was lounging around all day and now seems to be perking up as darkness sets in and bedtime approaches. Go figure! :)

Overabundant creativity!

Kali inspires us many times a day, and makes us laugh when she gives us wonderful glimpses of how her little mind works. The other day, Jason heard her singing to herself:

"The eensy weensy spider climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.
And the eensy weensy spider was never quite the same!"

So true!! And it solved for her the annoying rhyming of "rain" and "again."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Birthday Hike on September 29th


We’d walked up to this place
along the water, when an independent motion just
detectable across the rippled acre drew
our pleased attention.

First one, then two small, hardy forms there on
the surface--oops!--then under, passing minutes, long
and busy, wet, that they shared only with each
other and their little prey.

Neither can we know when they arrived
here on their southward flight, nor can we know how
long they’ll stay. But we can sense this from them: their economy
is measured in the speeds of winds, dark flickers under waves,
thick-vegetated shores, and sudden broad wing
shadows in the sky.

Now far from us, now closer to our shore. Now
paddling against the breeze, now blown along. Now
near each other, now apart. And always,
always free.

And we two, clothed and shod and munching
on our sandwiches, keep watching them and hoping
they’ll come near. From whence the wish to offer bread these
spacious souls would certainly eschew? They’ve come
in peace, and peace in kind is all
they need from us.

The hour had passed, we’d turned to head back down
the trail. Now telling me her thoughts, now silent, one hand
occupied by holding on her hat against the breeze, the other, warm,
in mine, I felt again the freedom of her love for me.

Jason Myers-Benner
October 5, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One mile challenge!

Yesterday we went into town to take part in/support the "one mile challenge." See for more information. It felt a little silly signing the pledge - which we did - knowing that other than occasional potlucks at Hidden Meadow Farm about a mile from us, there isn't a whole lot within that distance that we would even consider driving too. But there are in town times too where I can be encouraged to go by foot - like me making a mad dash (on my feet) to get to the bank before closing the other evening from my office about a mile from the bank. I'm also living with the idea of trying to ride bike to work... I'll need some more encouragement on that one and some confidence building bike riding time off road or close to home. And that time may come soon as KALI LEARNED TO RIDE HER BIKE!

It was actually quite amazing for Jason and I to watch. It seems she is at the age where a whole bunch of things are starting to click - like that letting Mommy's kisses soak in rather than be rubbed off is kind of nice and that reading opens up a whole world of possibilities and that good balance can be achieved rather quickly using a certain "German method" of learning to ride your bike. Those lessons included a rather novel idea - take the pedals off! They raised the seat of Kali's bike and took the pedals off. She practiced walking and then taking her feet off the ground and practicing her balance. When she was ready they put the pedals back on and she was off. She pretty much stuck with it for about 2 hours of riding the Farmer's Market pavilion downtown and by the time we left she was more or less a pro riding back and forth without stopping.

I'm wondering if this big splurge of growing up stuff is part of my general sappiness this evening! It's not a bad sappy feeling, but just kind of a full and overflowing with emotions feeling. Could be partly due to a day with wonderful friends, a hike to the lake and making dinner over the fire.