Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Think Valentine's Day is Stupid (but I still love you...)

Some Validation Day cards from past years...

Maybe it’s just me. But instead of feeling filled with love on Valentine’s Day, I often feel depressed, lonely and not quite good enough. In the years when I did not have a boyfriend (or now, husband) on February 14th I would feel like the biggest loser ever, especially when I worked in an office and the competition-sized bouquets would pour in for my colleagues, proof certain that their partners did indeed love them, and no one seemed to love me.

Hyped to hysterical levels by Hallmark and retailers looking to make some cash in the bleak months immediately following Christmas, Valentine’s Day seems rather empty and superficial. I know that Kurt (Mr. Milkweed) loves me because he does thoughtful, kind little things for me all year ‘round. He tells me that he loves me when my hair is sticking up in a particularly unattractive way, and when I’m crabby and not especially loveable. That, to me is a true valentine. Not a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

My solution? Here at Dancing Rabbit we celebrate Validation Day (I can take no credit for it; I think we stole the idea from Twin Oaks).
Here’s how it works – a stealthy team of card-makers gets together two weeks before February 14th. Using old magazine cutouts, lots of imagination and love, a card is hand crafted for each person here at Dancing Rabbit. Then, one by one, we each write on everyone’s card, explaining to each recipient what we appreciate about them and why we are grateful they are in our lives. This isn’t always easy – Dancing Rabbit is not (yet) Utopia; there are often bumps and disagreements; difficulties and conflict. But there is ALWAYS something good in each person, and something to be appreciated. From “I appreciate your honesty in meetings” to “I am grateful for how kind you are to my dog,” it all counts, and is all meaningful.
We give ourselves the opportunity to see the good stuff, and forget about the annoying, at least for one day. On the morning of “Validation Day” we gather in the Common House, eat cinnamon rolls warm from the oven, and hand out the cards. It’s nothing but good thoughts, often from surprising places. No lover needed; just good will from your neighbors.You too, can give Validation Day Cards. They don’t have to be fancy. But how wonderful to send thoughts of gratitude to your neighbors, relatives, friends and loved ones for being just exactly who they are.

In closing, I'd just like to say thanks for reading. And come back on February 14th - there will be a Validation Day card here, just for you!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Brita Pitcher Filter Cartridges Are Now Recyclable, or, The Good Guys Win One

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, come out tonight and support blogger Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish as she presents over 600 Brita plastic pitcher filter cartridges to Brita/Clorox for recycling.

Where: Whole Foods Market in Oakland, 230 Bay Place Oakland, Calif. 94612

When: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 8 a.m.
To see the whole story, go to Green Talk.
Congratulations Beth and the rest of the Take Back the Filter crew!
NOTE: Beth says: "I'd love to encourage your readers to check the list of participating Whole Foods stores and find out if their local store is on it. If not, please call the store manager and request that Preserve's Gimme5 collection box be provided. Participation in the recycling program for #5 plastics (which, in addition to Brita filters, includes yogurt tubs, Rx bottles, and all Preserve products) is up to each store manager." OK activists, it's up to YOU!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I Believe That We All Can Have "The Good Life," Part Deux

This post is part 2 of my entry for the February Green Mom's Carnival, which will be posted over at The Smart Mama .

(Continued from yesterday) I sat with all of this for a few days, pondering it as I went through my routines. I finished reading one book, and it was time for another. I went to my stack of books and randomly grabbed a new book to read. I came up with The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing Book-Sharing Guide to Life by Kathy Patrick that I had picked up two years ago at BEA (my stack of books is mighty – it takes awhile to work my way through it!). I wasn’t really expecting much – I’m not much of a “girly” book type, and this one does have a hot pink cover - but am always interested in books about books, and people who share my obsession.

And what do you know? More of “my” ideas, in print. Here was my new BFF Kathy Patrick endorsing my theory of a passionate, worth-while life. (Filling in the blanks: Kathy dropped out of college, went to beauty school, went to work in a bookstore and fell in love with the business. Eventually became a publisher’s rep, a job she adored. Then she got laid-off, and when she and her family had trouble getting by on just her husband’s income, she opened Beauty and the Book, a combination Hair Salon/Book Store out of her home and a direct result of her skills and passions). Unsurprisingly, it took off. The Pulpwood Queens book clubs did too, as did Kathy’s literacy programs.

"How do you go about finding that sort of satisfaction that comes about by doing valuable and enjoyable work? You can start by asking simple questions. What am I passionate about? Do I have a special talent or gift? What part of my life gives me the most personal satisfaction? The trouble with most of us women is that we are just so damn busy taking care of other people all day, we forget what we like or don’t like. If we have talent, we downplay it. We hide our passion for everyday things such as taking care of children, mowing yards, cleaning house, or being a hairdresser. We think people will think less of us for enjoying those things. Let me tell you that there is absolutely nothing wrong with serving others. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can give respect back to those who make our lives easier and more enjoyable. Caring for others is a calling, too.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that success means having a big paycheck and the corner office, a big McMansion and a fancy car, or finding your fifteen minutes of fame. Every day since I opened Beauty and the Book has been a blessing. I may hot have much money, but I am doing what I love, so I am rich in life. I’ve got plenty of riches – my faith, family, friends, my Pulpwood Queens, my books, and the deep satisfaction I get from promoting literacy in communities across the country. Now that’s my story and I’m sticking to it." (from Page 18)

I am not suggesting that you do not “work.” What I AM suggesting is that work doesn’t have to feel like death, like a trap, like a vice around your neck, like something you are doing “for the sake of the family.” Some of my dearest friends are stuck in the trap – they say “oh, we’d love to have a life like yours, but…” (…we have to save for our retirement, in four years we’ll be vested, we want to fix our house up before we sell it, we’re afraid…). But, but, but...

I certainly do not want to browbeat you into simplicity (hmmm, that’s really kind of a funny concept). However, if you are interested in a life that is richer, deeper and more fulfilling, it is totally possible. Choose to be happy. Or not. It’s up to you – if you change your definition of “having it all,” you really can.

I Believe That We All Can Have "The Good Life," Part 1

This post is for the February Green Mom's Carnival, which will be posted over at The Smart Mama . My entry is a bit early - I just couldn't stop thinking about it!

We do not have a money problem in America. We have a values and priorities problem.

~Marian Wright Edelman

So - what are you working for? (video from Barrett Koehler publishers)

Have you ever noticed how when you get a really good idea you are suddenly innundated with examples of this idea everywhere, or notice other people talking about it? And how exciting it is? This has been happening to me a lot lately. Because I believe that we really can have it all.

I feel like a broken record, and I never would have believed it until I took the leap (“oh, here she goes again,” my readers moan). But one really can "work" for less than 40 (or 60, or 80) hours a week and have a fantastic, fulfilling, joyous, oh-so-wonderful life. Will you have a new BMW, a 500,000 square-foot house or the latest designer clothes? Probably not. If that is what is truly important to you, you are probably not reading this blog in the first place. Find a way to live less expensively (more on that later) and you will be amazed when you realize that what you lack in cold hard cash you are gaining in the great wonderful stuff that is truly important to your life (family, friends, pets, reading, learning, art, music, athletics, ...)

A few years ago our friend Tom, who lives in San Francisco and manages a Graphic Design firm, was offered a raise. Tom, in all of his infinite wisdom and knowing how valuable he was to the company, said “What I’d really like is one day off a week.” He did the numbers showing that rather than working five days for more money, he’d work for four days for the same money, which would, in essence, equal a raise. His boss agreed, and now Tom has every single Friday off. Think about that. Every weekend is a three-day weekend.

And this! From The Gospel of Consumption, and the Better Future We Left Behind by Jeffrey Kaplan in (beautiful, gorgeous, non-profit-you-should-subscribe) Orion Magazine. Read it, and I’ll meet you at the bottom:

“…There was, for a time, a visionary alternative. In 1930 Kellogg Company, the world’s leading producer of ready-to-eat cereal, announced that all of its nearly fifteen hundred workers would move from an eight-hour to a six-hour workday. Company president Lewis Brown and owner W. K. Kellogg noted that if the company ran “four six-hour shifts . . . instead of three eight-hour shifts, this will give work and paychecks to the heads of three hundred more families in Battle Creek."

This was welcome news to workers at a time when the country was rapidly descending into the Great Depression. But as Benjamin Hunnicutt explains in his book Kellogg’s Six-Hour Day, Brown and Kellogg wanted to do more than save jobs. They hoped to show that the “free exchange of goods, services, and labor in the free market would not have to mean mindless consumerism or eternal exploitation of people and natural resources.” Instead “workers would be liberated by increasingly higher wages and shorter hours for the final freedom promised by the Declaration of Independence—the pursuit of happiness.”

To be sure, Kellogg did not intend to stop making a profit. But the company leaders argued that men and women would work more efficiently on shorter shifts, and with more people employed, the overall purchasing power of the community would increase, thus allowing for more purchases of goods, including cereals.

A shorter workday did entail a cut in overall pay for workers. But Kellogg raised the hourly rate to partially offset the loss and provided for production bonuses to encourage people to work hard. The company eliminated time off for lunch, assuming that workers would rather work their shorter shift and leave as soon as possible. In a “personal letter” to employees, Brown pointed to the “mental income” of “the enjoyment of the surroundings of your home, the place you work, your neighbors, the other pleasures you have [that are] harder to translate into dollars and cents.” Greater leisure, he hoped, would lead to “higher standards in school and civic . . . life” that would benefit the company by allowing it to “draw its workers from a community where good homes predominate."

It was an attractive vision, and it worked. Not only did Kellogg prosper, but journalists from magazines such as Forbes and BusinessWeek reported that the great majority of company employees embraced the shorter workday. One reporter described “a lot of gardening and community beautification, athletics and hobbies . . . libraries well patronized and the mental background of these fortunate workers . . . becoming richer.”

A U.S. Department of Labor survey taken at the time, as well as interviews Hunnicutt conducted with former workers, confirm this picture. The government interviewers noted that “little dissatisfaction with lower earnings resulting from the decrease in hours was expressed, although in the majority of cases very real decreases had resulted.” One man spoke of “more time at home with the family.” Another remembered: “I could go home and have time to work in my garden.” A woman noted that the six-hour shift allowed her husband to “be with 4 boys at ages it was important.”

Those extra hours away from work also enabled some people to accomplish things that they might never have been able to do otherwise. Hunnicutt describes how at the end of her interview an eighty-year-old woman began talking about ping-pong. “We’d get together. We had a ping-pong table and all my relatives would come for dinner and things and we’d all play ping-pong by the hour.” Eventually she went on to win the state championship. Many women used the extra time for housework. But even then, they often chose work that drew in the entire family, such as canning. One recalled how canning food at home became “a family project” that “we all enjoyed,” including her sons, who “opened up to talk freely.” As Hunnicutt puts it, canning became the “medium for something more important than preserving food. Stories, jokes, teasing, quarreling, practical instruction, songs, griefs, and problems were shared. The modern discipline of alienated work was left behind for an older . . . more convivial kind of working together.”

This was the stuff of a human ecology in which thousands of small, almost invisible, interactions between family members, friends, and neighbors create an intricate structure that supports social life in much the same way as topsoil supports our biological existence. When we allow either one to become impoverished, whether out of greed or intemperance, we put our long-term survival at risk.”

How cool it that? Imagine how our lives would be changed if we could support ourselves AND spend time with our children, passing on our skills, ideas, ethics and values? Imagine having enough money and being able to do the things about which you are passionate!

Unfortunately, by 1985 the party was over. Not from the point of the employer, it seems, but from men who felt that it was unmanly to be “working” just a brief 6 hours a day. The following is from a Publisher’s Weekly review.

"Kellogg workers, especially the women, managed to find things to do with their extra time until WWII; after the war, workers, particularly men, seemed less able to find ways to fill their unstructured time. Using interviews with Kellogg employees dating back to the program's beginning, as well as various studies on work, Hunnicutt (Work Without End) paints a sad picture of a society where people prefer buying things to socializing, a world where a shorter work day is no longer desirable because few know what to do with their spare time. When the six-hour day came to an end in 1985, women were the only ones who protested. Most men had succumbed to the belief that working longer was more manly and that going home after six hours to be with the family was not really the thing to do. This examination of the American attitude toward work is not light reading, but it could serve as a wake-up call for a nation in big trouble if the jobless future comes to pass."

Wow. Where did that come from? The sad thing is that in one way or another we’re all buying into the myth that “six hours isn’t enough.”

To be continued tomorrow...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dreaming of Summer

Hi friends! Yesterday was warm and balmy - we all wandered around dazed and happy, and a few brave souls even went for a dip (read Ziggy's account here; that's his photo above). No, no, I did not join them - I sat happily in the sun and read my newspaper. Baloo sat at my side, nose in the air, his own sort of news-gathering done by sniffing.

We're about to launch gardening season with lots of fantastic organic seeds for sale, a really fun contest and lots, lots more. So be sure to check in next Wednesday. And if you haven't already, please sign up for the Mercantile newsletter.

'Til Monday, I'm dreaming of summer...

Chioggia beets - wow!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Still Floating Happily

From World Hum, Travel Dispatches from a Shrinking Planet. Photo by Frank Murray

Yesterday I sat glued to the computer and ate up every single second of the inauguration. While it was like watching a jerky stop-motion amateur movie, it was still fabulous.

I also made time to unwrap a shipment of Wally Ware, which I am VERY excited about. Here's a little peek:

I don't know about your cat, but my cat is a bit impatient. Pretty much a perfect bowl... These should be for sale on our webstore by Monday!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Change We Can Believe In?

To the right: trash left behind the inaugural concert on Sunday. "We are One" big bunch of slobs.

Call me crazy, or just a crabby semi-old lady, but it seems that "change" begins with each of us. Dumping trash, however neatly, is just so....last administration!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Let Freedom Ring: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2009

As we are about to inaugurate our first African-American president, I find this speech especially moving.

"Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

As discouraged and disheartened as I have been these past long eight years, I am equally joyous and hopeful for the next four (or eight?). For the first time in years I am not ashamed to be an American.

For those with short attention spans, the "I Have a Dream" section begins at 12:28 .

For the full text, click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Life in a Feminist Ecovillage

Kurt in his "Feminist Chicks Dig Me" hat. Note: the button was given to him by women interns here at Dancing Rabbit, and he only put it on after checking with all the DR women...

I was very inspired by two blog posts this week – one at Arduous Blog and the other at Growing Green Mama. They both enabled me to reflect upon the meandering path that has brought me here to Dancing Rabbit, a self-proclaimed Feminist Ecovillage.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge that I come from a place of privilege. I grew up in a middle class family in California, with two parents, in a comfortable suburban house. My father always had a job, I attended college, have had my choice of jobs and careers. I am healthy, I can read, I am white. I have also chosen to live in a way that requires a lot less monetary input. The abundance of choices that I have reflect this.

My parents were early feminists, although they would never have called themselves that. I could only get my driver’s license after I could drive a stick shift and change a tire. I was expected to go to college. There were no questions about women being smart and capable. My father worked construction for a heavy equipment union and his proudest achievements were getting women (usually single moms with kids to support) into the training program (we’re talking running cranes, dredges and backhoes here) and into secure jobs that paid well and had great benefits. My mom was an RN who brooked no pussy-footing or “dumb blonde” acts, and took us along when campaigning for Shirley Chisholm’s presidential candidacy.

Contrast this with my college: I attended Brigham Young University. Not exactly a hotbed of feminism. (Yes, dear readers, this is one of my deepest darkest secrets. I don’t list my college on anything I don’t have to – my Linkedin profile looks like I stopped my education after the 12th grade. So don’t tell anyone, ok? My dad was Mormon from Utah, my mom was Episcopalian from Boston - she said she was bringing “culture to the colonies.” They decided to raise us Mormon. When I reached the age where I wanted to know if I really believed in this religion, or not, I chose BYU. Within four weeks I knew it was “or not.”). After fleeing Provo, Utah, one Book of Mormon class short of a degree in International Relations, I refused to do most anything “domestic.” I was sick at heart that the church seemed to value women primarily for their baby-producing and housekeeping skills and ran as far and fast as I could from that stereotype. The silver lining is that this provided the opportunity for me to decide what was right and wrong for me, what I truly valued, and what it was I believed in.

I became very independent, learned how to do lots of things myself, and had a great time. While I made a lot of cookies (yum!) my fridge continually looked like a science project gone bad: I’d buy food, put it in the fridge and then throw it out when it rotted. My only excuse was that it was the 80’s, and while I spent my summers hiking in the Sierra, my eco-consciousness had yet to really develop. I was neither a cook, nor a house-keeper, or domestic in any way. I did not really expect to get married.

Fast forward: I started leading backpacking trips for the Sierra Club. In 1993 Kurt came on one of my trips. He came on my trip the next summer, too, and the rest, as they say, is history. He moved to Berkeley, we got married (when I was 40), and began our path together.

I sold my Honda Accord and we did everything by bike, including laundry and grocery shopping (BOB trailers are the best!). We led Sierra Club trips together, Kurt was active in the Berkeley bike activist group (BFBC), I worked at Clif Bar. When we decided to move to dancing Rabbit, we were going to build our off-grid strawbale house together. I got my own tool belt and we both took the building seminars at Real Goods. The week we arrived at DR I participated in a women’s building workshop where two women contractors led 16 of us through the construction of the strawbale building, which was later named Bella Ciao. I learned to swing a hammer like I meant it, to use power tools fearlessly (but respectfully), to measure twice and cut once.
And I hated it. Absolutely hated it. It was hot, it was excruciatingly boring, all measurements had to be accurate. Arrrggghhh!

What was a feminist to do? I was flummoxed and horrified. How was I to contribute to the building of our home and our new life?

At this same time, Kurt and I were both in the Dancing Rabbit food co-op, where everyone had a cook shift once a week (pretty wonderful to show up every other evening at 6:30 and have a hot meal waiting for you!). It was a matter of pride to present a fabulous repast, and was even a teensy bit competitive. I learned to cook with whole foods, and to relax and take my time. I found cookbooks that I loved, and even learned to bake bread. I found I enjoyed it a lot, and that it felt very creative. While in the back of my head that Mormon stereotype of the bread-baking, casserole toting, child-bearing good wife lingered, but I cringed and pushed it out of my head. Surely there was a way to be joyful in cooking without becoming a household drudge?

Additionally, I had grown up without a clothes dryer – all year ‘round my mom would hang the laundry out in the backyard. I loved the smell and feel of crispy sheets fresh from the line, and brought this odd enthusiasm to DR.

Kurt and I sat down and talked (and talked and talked). We were, and continue to be, a partnership. We finally decided that I would cook and do laundry, and he would build the house. At first (for the first, oh, four years or so) I was embarrassed. How could I possibly explain that I had moved to a feminist Ecovillage to become a 50’s housewife?

Gradually I became comfortable with my choices, and realized that reconciling all of this was an incredible gift that women in previous generations did not have. I really love cooking and baking. I am the unofficial birthday cake baker here in the village and have a great time with it. The kids come over and bake cookies with me; they learn math and cooking and hygiene (“wash your hands!”) and we sing silly camp songs. I make my own jam from blackberries and violets harvested from Dancing Rabbit’s land, and tomato sauce from my own tomatoes. I love to hang out the wash. Weird but true. And I am still a feminist, and an environmentalist.

To me, feminism is about doing what is true to one’s heart. There are many women builders here at DR, and I celebrate them. There are feminist moms here, too - thoughtful, conscientious women doing an incredibly important job. We really try to look at the roles we get pigeonholed into, and try not to make assumptions. Feminist men do laundry and take care of their babies, and so do feminist women. Let's stop judging one another, and ourselves, for fitting or not fitting into roles provided by others. Working together, we can find a way to provide for our needs and build a world we love, where we all are fulfilled. At least that is my dream.

PS Just wanted to show you what I found in my oven a few minutes ago. It is a baked potato from, oh, four or five days ago. It somehow got pushed to the back of the oven, and has endured the baking of two batches of cookies, a (home made) chicken pot pie, and a batch of muffins. So much for the "I am a great cook and a feminist, too!" rhetoric. Perhaps I should stick with "I am a forgetful but enthusiastic cook, and a feminist, too." Sigh.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

About Those Paper Towels

Cut down on your paper towel use. Let me repeat that: stop using paper towels to wipe off kitchen counters, to clean windows, to wipe up the kids, to clean up, well, just about everything!
How? There are a number of products on the market - which is right for you? At the Milkweed Mercantile (and in the Milkweed household) we've chosen to sell/use Household Hemp Cloths. It is very important to me to sell only products that I really believe in - and these cloths fit the bill.
Made in the USA by a woman-owned company, the cloths are made of organic cotton and hemp. Hemp has naturally anti-bacterial & anti-fungal properties and can be grown without the use of pesticides. Organic cotton is, well, organic cotton! They are super plush, two-layers thick, and incredibly absorbent. They wash and dry like a dream, and last for years. I know, this sounds like a late-night info-mercial. But stay with me here. Unlike disposables, which you use a few times and then add to the landfill, the two-ply hemp/organic cotton household cloths will last for years. We promise.

Additionally, you will save money in the long run – have you ever paid attention to how many paper towels you use in a year? These towels will pay for themselves in a year, and you can continue to use them over and over and over...
They come in three sizes:
  • 4" x 6" - perfect for a face cloth, baby wipes, washing dishes
  • 8" x 8" - a great kid's napkin, polishing & dusting furniture (if you do those sort of things!)
  • 11' x 11" - the true UNpaper towel, this may quite possibly be the smartest thing you do for your home this year. Brawny paper towels weep when they see a Household Hemp cloth. Even Seventh Generation, in all their recycled glory, can't match the effectiveness and sustainability of Household Hemp.
If you cannot completely cut paper towels out of your life, don't sweat it - just do your best! (Don't you have enough to worry about? Stress is not sustainable!) Here are my tips:

1. For draining fried foods (and yes, everything does taste better fried!) I use newspaper. Most newspapers are printed with vegetable-based inks. If you feel that the newspaper alone is not quite absorbent enough, try using newspaper as an underlayer and one paper towel on top. This cuts down on paper towel use, and is a good compromise.

2. For cleaning: cellulose sponges (real cellulose can be composted when the life has gone out of the sponge), Household Hemp cloths, handmade (crocheted or knitted) dishcloths.

3. For gross things, like, um, dog & cat barf: newspaper, and then some old rags. We seem to have a plethora of them (rags, not barf, thank goodness!). If they are too, too gross, I toss them out. If they are redeemable, I wash them.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

We All Know That The World Is Changing...

...we get to decide whether it's changing for the better or for the worse.

Here's to a spectacular, peaceful, filled-with-hope 2009.