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!