Sunday, December 13, 2009

Eight Sustainable Eco Gifts $30 or less

What to give if you want something nice but don't want to trash the planet? Check out the items below - they're some of the things we feel strongly about, and really love. We think your recipients will, too!

To-go Ware Tiffins - $23.00 - $25.00
Stylish and sturdy, these stainless steel food carriers are a fabulous way to keep styrafoam out of the system. Simply bring one of these along for leftovers, and then carry them in to work the next day. Produced by a Fair Trade company.

To-go Ware Bamboo Flatware
in recycled plastic case – $12.00
I always have one of these sets in my bag – I HATE using plastic flatware for both environmental and aesthetic reasons. The knife, fork and spoon are strong and feel good in one’s hand – the spoon is especially fun to use, and the chopsticks have a lovely twist design. The snap-holder is made of recycled PET plastic and has a carabiner so that you never forget to bring it along!

Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Beverage Bottles
– $15.00 - $28.00
Safe, durable and no disposable plastic. Now available in an insulated version, that keeps hot drinks hot for six hours, and cold drinks cold for 24. What’s not to love?

The Best Rechargeable Batteries on the Market – eneloop
Starting at $20.00, including charger

Recycled Cotton Shopping Bags
– with dual handles, the same “footprint” as a brown paper bag, and super tough fabric these bags are a steal at $6.00

Glass Food Storage Containers
$6.00 - $17.00 See-through, safe (no leaching from plastic) and dishwasher safe, these borosilicate containers are simply the best.

Organic Essential Oils to add to home-made cleaning products $6.00. Recipes on the Essential Oils page on our store.

New Leaf Paper Products – 100% Post Consumer Waste
$3.00 - $8.00
If you have to use “new” paper, this is the kind to use!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Heavenly Breads - for you, or to share!

Cranberry Orange Bread
Photo credit: Heidi @ Mt Hope on Flickr

In the midst of the holidays, when we're all swimming in fudge, Christmas cookies and divinity, it is often nice to be able to present a simpler, less sugary option. Below are two of my favorite VERY EASY bread recipes - and while they might be a bit less dazzling than colored sprinkles they are no less delicious!

Cranberry Orange Bread

This recipe is adapted from James Beard’s Beard on Bread. It’s a great way to use fresh cranberries. The use of melted butter saves the labor of beating fresh butter and makes for a more evenly tender loaf.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup melted butter or canola oil
  • 1 ¼ cup milk OR ½ cup orange juice and ¾ cup Milk
  • 1 ¼ cups raw cranberries, washed, dried and picked over, roughly chopped if preferred (frozen is fine)
  • 3 Tb. Grated orange rind (optional)
  • 3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.
  • In a large mixing bowl, blend together the flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs and sugar.
  • In a small saucepan, melt the butter (if using) and let cool before adding it to the egg-sugar mixture; otherwise, stir the canola oil into the egg-sugar mixture. Stir in the milk or milk-and-juice mixture.
  • Stir in the dry ingredients until just moistened, then fold in the cranberries. The batter will be thick.
  • Scrape the batter into the two loaf pans and spread out evenly.
  • Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean.
  • Cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

English Muffin Loaf (No Knead)


  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 6 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Cornmeal

  • Combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt and soda in mixing bowl.
  • On the stove, heat liquids until very warm (120 to 130 degrees).
  • Add liquids to dry mixture. Mix well. Stir in the rest of the flour to make a stiff batter.
  • Spoon into two 8-1/2 by 4-1/2 inch loaf pans that have been greased and sprinkled with cornmeal.
  • Sprinkle tops lightly with cornmeal; cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden.
  • Remove from pans immediately and let cool. (These loaves freeze very well).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gifts from the Heart, not the wallet

What are the gifts you remember most? I’ll wager that it is the most thoughtful ones, rather than the most extravagant or expensive. There’s just something about knowing that someone took the time to craft, create, think about you that means more than a big price tag.

Now, I’m not talking about making a crocheted skirt for a Barbie doll that hides a roll of toilet paper (unless someone actually wants one of those). What I mean is taking a few mintues to sit down and think about what the recipient might actually like, need and appreciate. It’s a bit harder than running down to the mall or going online to shop – you really have to pay attention. But once you start listening, you’ll be amazed by how many tips your friends and loved ones inadvertently pass along!

Below are some examples. The Gift Certificates do not have to be “official” documents or gift cards from a store – they’re actually much better if you make them yourself. You get to add the particulars (“valid any weekend in January” or “call one week in advance to make your appointment”) and they reflect your personality much better than some corporate plastic card.

Off the top of my head:
For a baker: does someone you know like to bake? Quality ingredients are tremendously expensive. But what if you purchased some nuts still in their shells, cracked them, and presented the ready-to-bake-with-gems them with a bow? Or one perfect, beautiful bar of organic Fair Trade Chocolate? Yum!
Photo credit: Sonicwalker on Flickr

For a movie buff:
Gift certificate for a movie rental, with popcorn and drink of choice included. Perhaps the person gets to choose the movie, and you pick it up and pop the popcorn. Or buy a used DVD – there are zillions of fantastic films that are just waiting to be watched. You could even include a meal to go with the film ( Indian food to go with Slumdog Millionaire , a big organic salad for Food, Inc., champagne and cucumber sandwichs without crusts with a side of Gilbert & Sullivan for Chariots of Fire, fish & chips and Guinness for Millions , a vegetarian meal for Babe , fish sticks for Finding Nemo, and last but not least, how about ladyfingers for Shaun of the Dead?

For a pet lover: How about a Gift Certificate for a dog walk, or a week’s worth of litter box cleanings? Some homemade dog treats, poop bags (any plastic bag will “doo”) and a dogwalker’s leash pouch?
For a tired mom (are there any other kind?): a certificate for an hour of baby-sitting, or for doing a load of laundry (wash, dry & fold). Or what if you just brought dinner over one night, and then stuck around to wash the dishes?
Photo credit: Ferrous on Flickr

For a picky eater:
Do you have a niece or nephew who is a picky eater? Who only eats, say hot dogs? Or top ramen? Or some other ghastly thing? What if you got a package or three of the favorite item, tied up in a bow? This would take the heat off the kid for at least one meal, and also provide entertainment during gift-opening time.
For a book lover: What about gifting your latest favorite book? Similarly, what about compiling a list of everyone-in-the-family’s favorite book to give to the family bookworm? It’s a nice way to connect with folks with whom you may have little in common.
For a vegan: Vegans are some of the easiest people to please that I’ve ever met. Often faced with a dearth of choices at family get-togethers, what if you brought a vegan dish with extras packed to go? Vegan baking is really quite easy, and most recipes can be made with ingredients already in your kitchen. Find recipes at Post Punk Kitchen, or VegWeb.
For someone with gluten intolerance: what about a gluten free treat (recipes here) and/or a bag of rice flour?
For an art lover: a trip to a museum, accompanied by you, lunch included.

Photo credit: ShutterBRI on Flickr

For a sports fanatic:
a gift certificate for exclusive use of the TV during a particular game (i.e. Super Bowl), with snacks provided for X number of friends.
Someone who commutes on a limited budget: a month's worth of transit passes.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr

For home-sick me:
a trip home...

Photo credit: shutterBRI on Flickr

See what I mean? Once you get started, it gets easier. Good luck, and happy not-very-much-shopping!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Climate Change = Culture Change = Personal Change

This post is part of the Green Mom’s Carnival, hosted by Diane of Big Green Purse.

When asked to write about Climate Change, I never really know which tack to take. I sit here at my desk, in my home built of reclaimed lumber and strawbales, at my computer powered by solar panels and a wind turbine (not connected to the grid) and wonder if I am really making a difference. I periodically go downstairs to stoke the wood fire that heats our home, and to stir the soup on the stove (organic split pea), and ponder my many friends living "normal" lives - air conditioning in the summer, central heat in the winter, two to three vehicles per family, two adults commuting by themselves to different jobs every day, new cool clothes, lavish vacations, and I wonder why the hell am I doing this?

And I always come back to the same conclusion: because I cannot live any other way. I don’t mean just ethically or morally. I mean for me, the selfish, this-is–what-I-really-need part of me. I love my life here.

"Walk softly and carry a big stick" ~ Teddy Roosevelt and Baloo E. Milkweed

I get to spend lots and lots of time with my husband, whom I adore. I get to hang out with my beloved dog all day long - we take long walks, and he accompanies me on my various errands around the village, and then snoozes at my feet in between. I can sleep as late as I like each morning, and go to bed whenever I want - I don't have to worry about getting on the road to punch a time clock. When there is an ice storm or a blizzard, I am able to sit in my nice warm house and enjoy it, instead of worrying about being able to drive safely to work and back. I get to grow, and then eat, much of my own food. And while I work a lot, and much harder than I ever have at any other “job,” it feels good.

Friends in the Milkweed Mercantile during construction: left to right - Amy Borla, Alline, Meadow (aka Amy Carleton) and Amy Radford...hmmmm, does a girl have to be named Amy to get into Dancing Rabbit?

I feel that, however imperfect Dancing Rabbit and its inhabitants may be we are at least attempting to make a difference. This difference is not about preaching to anyone else. It is an experiment with our own lives. (Do I have time to do everything I want to do? Is my life exactly as I want it to be? Nope. But I figure it is a work in progress, and I’ll continue to figure stuff out as I go along…)

I also realize that this is an incredible luxury. I recently watched the No Impact Man documentary, and then read Colin Beavan's book. He spent a year in New York City trying to make no environmental impact. He received a lot of criticism, and sneering, for his efforts. But in return he got to spend time with his family, became healthier, discovered he liked gardening, and found new passions. The Beavans, and all of us at Dancing Rabbit, can choose to turn off electricity, to use solar, to limit our consumption, to eat locally and organically. This is the gift of privilege. Those in the world with no power to turn off, not enough food to eat are not able to make these choices. I feel strongly that because we have the choice, we need to make it.

No one says this better than Derek Jensen. Excerpts from a recent article in Orion (read the entire article here):

"The most common words I hear spoken by any environmentalists anywhere are, We’re fucked. Most of these environmentalists are fighting desperately, using whatever tools they have—or rather whatever legal tools they have, which means whatever tools those in power grant them the right to use, which means whatever tools will be ultimately ineffective—to try to protect some piece of ground, to try to stop the manufacture or release of poisons, to try to stop civilized humans from tormenting some group of plants or animals. Sometimes they’re reduced to trying to protect just one tree.

…But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We’re losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don’t care.

Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.

Clearcut Forest in Newfoundland. Photo Credit: boreal on Flickr

Does anyone really believe that Weyerhaeuser is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone really believe that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely? If only we get a Democrat in the White House, things will be okay. If only we pass this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. If only we defeat this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. Nonsense. Things will not be okay. They are already not okay, and they’re getting worse. Rapidly.

But it isn’t only false hopes that keep those who go along enchained. It is hope itself. Hope, we are told, is our beacon in the dark. It is our light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. It is the beam of light that makes its way into our prison cells. It is our reason for persevering, our protection against despair (which must be avoided at all costs). How can we continue if we do not have hope?

…The more I understand hope, the more I realize that …it serves the needs of those in power as surely as belief in a distant heaven; that hope is really nothing more than a secular way of keeping us in line.

Hope is, in fact, a curse, a bane. I say this not only because of the lovely Buddhist saying “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails,” not only because hope leads us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state. I say this because of what hope is.

More or less all of us yammer on more or less endlessly about hope. You wouldn’t believe—or maybe you would—how many magazine editors have asked me to write about the apocalypse, then enjoined me to leave readers with a sense of hope. But what, precisely, is hope? At a talk I gave last spring, someone asked me to define it. I turned the question back on the audience, and here’s the definition we all came up with: hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless.

I’m not, for example, going to say I hope I eat something tomorrow. I just will. I don’t hope I take another breath right now, nor that I finish writing this sentence. I just do them. On the other hand, I do hope that the next time I get on a plane, it doesn’t crash. To hope for some result means you have given up any agency concerning it. Many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world. By saying that, they’ve assumed that the destruction will continue, at least in the short term, and they’ve stepped away from their own ability to participate in stopping it.

Coho Salmon. Photo Credit: Peggy Collins on Flickr

I do not hope coho salmon survive. I will do whatever it takes to make sure the dominant culture doesn’t drive them extinct. If coho want to leave us because they don’t like how they’re being treated—and who could blame them?—I will say goodbye, and I will miss them, but if they do not want to leave, I will not allow civilization to kill them off.

When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to “hope” at all. We simply do the work. We make sure salmon survive. We make sure prairie dogs survive. We make sure grizzlies survive. We do whatever it takes.

When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to resolve it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins.

…I have no patience for those who use our desperate situation as an excuse for inaction. I’ve learned that if you deprive most of these people of that particular excuse they just find another, then another, then another. The use of this excuse to justify inaction—the use of any excuse to justify inaction—reveals nothing more nor less than an incapacity to love.

At one of my recent talks someone stood up during the Q and A and announced that the only reason people ever become activists is to feel better about themselves. Effectiveness really doesn’t matter, he said, and it’s egotistical to think it does.

I told him I disagreed.

Doesn’t activism make you feel good? he asked.

Of course, I said, but that’s not why I do it. If I only want to feel good, I can just masturbate. But I want to accomplish something in the real world.


Because I’m in love. With salmon, with trees outside my window, with baby lampreys living in sandy streambottoms, with slender salamanders crawling through the duff. And if you love, you act to defend your beloved. Of course results matter to you, but they don’t determine whether or not you make the effort. You don’t simply hope your beloved survives and thrives. You do what it takes. If my love doesn’t cause me to protect those I love, it’s not love.

A WONDERFUL THING happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope didn’t kill you. It didn’t even make you less effective. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems—you ceased hoping your problems would somehow get solved through the magical assistance of God, the Great Mother, the Sierra Club, valiant tree-sitters, brave salmon, or even the Earth itself—and you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.

Photo Credit: Si1very on Flickr

When you give up on hope, something even better happens than it not killing you, which is that in some sense it does kill you. You die. And there’s a wonderful thing about being dead, which is that they—those in power—cannot really touch you anymore. Not through promises, not through threats, not through violence itself. Once you’re dead in this way, you can still sing, you can still dance, you can still make love, you can still fight like hell—you can still live because you are still alive, more alive in fact than ever before. You come to realize that when hope died, the you who died with the hope was not you, but was the you who depended on those who exploit you, the you who believed that those who exploit you will somehow stop on their own, the you who believed in the mythologies propagated by those who exploit you in order to facilitate that exploitation. The socially constructed you died. The civilized you died. The manufactured, fabricated, stamped, molded you died. The victim died.

And who is left when that you dies? You are left. … The you who thinks not what the culture taught you to think but what you think. The you who feels not what the culture taught you to feel but what you feel. The you who is not who the culture taught you to be but who you are. The you who can say yes, the you who can say no. The you who is a part of the land where you live. The you who will fight (or not) to defend your family. The you who will fight (or not) to defend those you love. The you who will fight (or not) to defend the land upon which your life and the lives of those you love depends. The you whose morality is not based on what you have been taught by the culture that is killing the planet, killing you, but on your own animal feelings of love and connection to your family, your friends, your landbase—not to your family as self-identified civilized beings but as animals who require a landbase, animals who are being killed by chemicals, animals who have been formed and deformed to fit the needs of the culture.

When you give up on hope—when you are dead in this way, and by so being are really alive—you make yourself no longer vulnerable to the cooption of rationality and fear that Nazis inflicted on Jews and others, that abusers like my father inflict on their victims, that the dominant culture inflicts on all of us. Or is it rather the case that these exploiters frame physical, social, and emotional circumstances such that victims perceive themselves as having no choice but to inflict this cooption on themselves?

But when you give up on hope, this exploiter/victim relationship is broken. You become like the Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear.

And when you quit relying on hope, and instead begin to protect the people, things, and places you love, you become very dangerous indeed to those in power.

In case you’re wondering, that’s a very good thing.”

So do something. Take action. Stop hoping and become impassioned. Because it all starts with us. You. Me. All of us. Let's continue to work, and make change happen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Your Chance to Make Difference: Send Diane to Hopenhagen

12/03/09 URGENT Update: HuffPost in conjunction with is sending one person to Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference to both represent concerns of people around the world and to report back daily as a HuffPost citizen journalist.

Please take a minute to vote on the Huffington Post web site to send Green Mom Diane MacEachern to Copenhagen for the Climate Talks. She would be an excellent ambassador to carry the messages we care about. To learn more about her, please check out the interview she did with Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish. I have the pleasure of blogging with Diane in the Green Mom's Carnival each month - she is an amazing advocate for the environment and for human health. VOTING ENDS DEC 4!!!

Thanks all!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Black Friday, Bah! Or, Bringing Sharing, Laughter, Creativity & Personal Renewal back to your holiday season

Handprint Wreaths Photo: Birmingham Public Library on Flickr

While this may be odd coming from a shop owner, I fully support National Buy Nothing Day. More importantly though, I am excited about the “Simplify the Holidays” Guide put out by the Center for a New American Dream.

Here is how their guide begins:
If you were asked to describe the ideal holiday season, chances are you would include the company of loved ones, good food, fun and relaxation, and maybe an inch or two of snow. It seems so simple, but for many of us, this could not be farther from reality. Too often, the holidays seem to exhaust rather than uplift us. Do you sometimes feel trapped by the shopping, spending, and frenzied preparations? Do you want your holidays wrapped more in meaning and less in stuff? If so, you’re not alone.

According to a recent national survey, more than 3 in 4 Americans wish that holidays were less materialistic. Nearly 9 in 10 believe that holidays should be more about family and caring for others, not giving and receiving gifts. And in today’s economy, many Americans are feeling the need to cut back. Consumers spent less during the 2008 holiday season than in prior years. A national survey revealed that the majority of Americans are planning to spend even less in 2009.
This year, you don’t have to rack up credit card debt or get swept up in the season’s commercialism. Instead, consider creating holidays that instill more meaning into the season and encourage more sharing, laughter, creativity, and personal renewal.

Let me just repeat those last few words: sharing, laughter, creativity, and personal renewal. How much more would we ALL enjoy our holiday season if we could concentrate on those?

Driftwood Wreath Photo: ~Mary on Flickr

Things covered in the 30-page guide are:
  1. Are You Dreaming of the Perfect Holiday?
  2. Retail Extravaganza
  3. Getting Started
  4. Time and Stress
  5. Gifts and Spending
  6. Budgeting
  7. Waste
  8. Talk to Your Family
  9. Simple Gift Ideas
  10. Homemade Gifts
  11. Gifts of Time
  12. Gifts of Experience
  13. Gifts to Charity
  14. What is an Alternative Gift Fair?
  15. Gifts for Children
  16. Gifts for Grandparents
  17. Low-Waste Wrapping
  18. Decorating Materials
  19. Change Gift-Giving Traditions
  20. Connect With Your Children
  21. Remember Your Elders
  22. Simpler Entertaining
  23. Holiday Advice from Fellow New Dreamers

Click here to go to the page to download the pdf. You do have to sign up (sorry!) but you can always unsubscribe, and the guide is totally worth it.

Yarn Wreath Photo: Christine Domaniac on Flickr

So tomorrow, so-called “Black Friday,” just relax. You do not have to (literally) buy in to the craziness. You can have one of the best holidays EVER and do it consciously, inexpensively, and with joy in your heart.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Heck with Whiskers on Kittens - A Few of My Favorite Things...

After a very long, dark week, the sun came out today for the second day in a row. It never fails to impress me just how much we are all affected by sunlight. Yay! Hooray! We were all practically jumping up and down every time we went outside and were greeted by bright shining rays. Strains of "good day, sunshine," and John Fogerty's "well beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today..." played through my brain, and I began to calculate the loads of laundry that needed to be washed and hung out in the sun to dry.

And because we had plentiful power from the previous day's sun, my day began with grinding coffee. Is there anything else in the world that smells as blatantly, obnoxiously delicious as fresh-ground coffee? I think not.

While sitting in the Mercantile waiting for the Mississippi Mud brownies to lure another customer in, I made a list of my favorite aromas:
1. Fresh-ground coffee beans
2. Watermelon - the quintessenntial smell of summer.

Photo Credit: Josh.liba on Flickr

3. Cucumbers - so clean smelling
4. Freshly washed babies
Our friend Georgia Rose, photographed by her father, Penn.

5. Sheets dried in the sunshine - I've been known to huff a sheet or two
6. Jeffrey Pines at about 7,000' in the Sierra Nevada Mountains - they smell divinely of butterscotch, and when one encounters a grove of them it is absolute heaven.

Photo credit: James Marvin Phelps on Flickr

7. Bookstores and libraries - yum, yum, yum!
8. Biodiesel made from used fryer oil - cars using this fuel drive away engulfed in the fragrance of French fries
9. Kurt - right there in his neck, where my nose ends up during a good embrace.

10. Puppy breath
11. My own sweaty self after a really good hike.
12. My own squeaky clean self after a shower after #11.
13. Bread baking in the oven.

That's it for now. It's time to head on over to Ironweed Kitchen for a farewell party for Travis. More soon!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saving money by being Green

This is my entry for November's Green Mom's Carnival, hosted by Condo Blues. Check it out!

When people meet me and find out that I: a) live in an ecovillage, b) live in a straw bale house and that, c) our house is entirely off the grid, they seem to be flooded with a variety of emotions. Watching their faces as they internally work through it all and try to remain gracious at the same time is often hilarious. I’ve seen shock (“how do I characterize this person?”), a slight sneer (are they thinking “Grateful Dead-listening, Birkenstock-wearing hippy”?), guilt (“uh-oh, don’t tell her I drove here by myself in my SUV”), disbelief (“strawbales? You mean like the three little pigs?”), admiration (“cool, I saw something on HGTV like this”) and just plain total incomprehension.

But finally, when we get that all sorted out (it usually takes less than 30 seconds) we both recognize that we have much more in common than we have differences.

Far from being more expensive than the average life, I find that my green, sustainable lifestyle has been a great way to save not only money but time, which in the end is much more valuable, at least to me. How can this be possible?

I have crafted my life so that it costs less than my ‘old’ life in California. I work 100 yards from my home, so I do not need to commute long distance in a car to work each day. I eat most of my meals at home, or at the homes of friends, which I not only love socially but really appreciate because I get to hang out with my husband, which is kind of the point of getting married in the first place. Our home is located in the rural Midwest, so I can grow a lot of my own food. I live in an intentional community with a growing number of like-minded folks who share many of my values.

I am not trying to keep up with the Green Joneses. I do not have an expensive hybrid vehicle. In fact, I no longer own a car of my own. Instead I share two cars, a truck and a tractor (this is rural Missouri, after all) with 40 other adults in my community. This is often greeted with incredulity and then a look of sadness for poor, poor Alline, who cannot even have her own vehicle. Hold the phone! This little blip saves me thousands of dollars a year. I think back to my days in Berkeley when I had a very dependable Honda Accord. As a native Californian I loved my car, and valued it as a part of my independence. It is only since being here at Dancing Rabbit that I realize that perhaps the car owned me more than I owned it. Each month there were car payments ($200/month), insurance payments ($150/month), gas bills ($50/month), and the occasional maintenance expense. Anytime I went outside of my neighborhood I had to pay for parking; in San Francisco, this was phenomenally expensive. Now I pay .60 per mile. This makes an individual trip sound expensive, but this fee covers car payment, insurance, maintenance and fuel. When we need to drive a long distance (when the train just won’t work out), we rent a car. My average monthly vehicle coop bill is $50. That’s $600 compared to almost $5,000 annually.

My husband and I built our house ourselves. Well, to be brutally honest, Kurt built the house, and I was opinionated about what it all looked like. When we left our “real” jobs in Berkeley in 1999, I cashed out my 401K, and we used this money to buy our power system. For $12,000 we purchased solar panels, a small wind turbine, batteries in which to store the power and the electrical voodoo to make it all run. While it was pricey up front, we now have dependable power for as long as we have our home. There are a lot of arguments about the sustainability about solar power systems, many of which I agree with (the technology is polluting, the batteries are huge and only last ten years, etc.). However, we balance this will knowing that our power does not come from a nuclear power plant, nor is it the result of mountaintops being removed for the coal. We feel very grateful for the power that we receive from the sun and wind, and because it is plentiful but often variable in quantity, we don’t waste it.

We built our home out of reclaimed and locally harvested lumber, strawbales, and lime plaster. The bales, which are 18” thick are a waste product from the local wheat harvest. They are also incredible insulation. The windows were either purchased used or came from the Marvin Windows “bone yard,” where all the rejected special order windows go. For $1,000 we purchased an entire truck load of windows and doors. Most of these are double-paned and absolutely beautiful. The flooring in our upstairs bedroom and studio came from an old house. We pulled all of the nails out of it, and after it was in place sanded and varnished it. It was not expensive. It is not cool bamboo, or cork, or any of the other expensive-but-green building materials we read about in magazines (which just exist to sell you products, btw*).

We own 280 acres with the other members of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in a legal structure called a Community Land Trust. We pay a lease fee of .01 per square foot per month for the lot that our home sits on and the surrounding garden area; this is about $50 per month. This has many benefits, among which are having access to almost 300 acres of native prairie and woodlands (with creeks, ponds and wildlife) without having to buy it all ourselves. We get the extra added benefit of sharing our lives with others who we enjoy.

We are part of a food buying club and are able to order through a large natural foods distributor for wholesale prices. We patronize the local dairies and butcher, and often swap vegetables with each other (“hey, I’ve got a lot of zucchini – who wants some?”). We preserve much of the summer’s bounty – I have a pantry full of tomato sauce, salsa, blackberry jam, zucchini relish, pickled beets, dilly beans, pears, hot peppers, corn, etc. It is a delight to pull these jars out in the middle of winter – we feel rich.

We don’t have an energy-star rated dishwasher – I do them by hand. Kurt dries, and it is a nice way to hang out at the end of a meal. We don’t have air conditioning (our house is designed to stay relatively cool in the summer) nor do we have central heat – we have a wood stove. Kurt and I own the community washing machine – we bought it ten years ago when there was a need, and put a coin op on it. Half of the quarters go to the community building to pay for water and power, the rest go to us. The entire community shares this washer, with few problems. We all hang out clothes out to dry. Yes, even in the winter.

Lest we sound like Little House on the Prairie, we have computers with high-speed internet, telephones, a fully equipped kitchen (everything from a Kitchen Aid mixer to a coffee grinder and microwave), a bathroom (shower, tub and sink with solar hot water, composting toilet), a television (which isn’t hooked up to anything, just used for Netflix movies) and all the comforts of home. We utilize the local library, and buy used books online.

I no longer own the coolest shoes or handbag (don’t even know what they are); I don’t have to have an uber-chic wardrobe for work each day because it really doesn’t matter. People come to see us because of who we are, not to check and see if we’re wearing eco-couture. Once I realized who it was I was really dressing up for (other women; the men really don’t care, which always makes me think of Van Morrison’s Wild Nights “..and the girls walk by dressed up for each other…” but I digress).

So think about it. Why are you buying what you are buying? Do you really need to spend money to be green?

Recommend reading:
Your Money or Your Life
A Reasonable Life by Ferenc Mate
The Lifelong Activist by Hillary Rettig.

* A note on magazines: You DO realize that magazines live (and die) by the quantity of advertising, don't you? It is in their best interest to write compelling articles about the items being advertised in their pages. While (of course) house insulation made of blue jeans or blown cellulose (which is simply recycled newspaper shredded into tiny bits) is MUCH more eco and sustainable than, say fiberglass, you simply DO NOT HAVE TO BUY STUFF to be green. I'll write (um, rant?) more on this topic in another post, but for now, urge you to read commercial publications with a jaundiced eye.

Additionally, magazines I trust: Good, Yes!, Mother Jones, Utne Reader...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Revels

The following originally appeared in the Memphis (Missouri) Democrat.

Revelers in the Milkweed Mercantile. Photo: Jennifer Martin

Hi all. This is Alline with the latest news from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

As this column appears in the local Northeastern newspapers and is sent to readers via email, we column writers do double-duty. The locals already know about the weather, but folks reading this in, say, Sarasota, Florida might not remember what a chilly, windy autumn day is like!

So with that caveat, we begin with the weather: The constant, driving, Noah-esque rain has finally abated and we’ve been receiving the wild winds for which the Midwest prairies are famous. Sometimes we wonder if we’re going to wake up in Illinois instead of here in Missouri. The leaves on the trees are all turning scrumptious shades of red, gold and brown, and are providing a gorgeous contrast to the bright green grass that still lingers. Fall crops are being harvested and eaten with gusto – chard and kale are still quite happy in the chilly fall air.

Halloween (or, as we call it around here: “Holler-ween”) is a big annual event here at Dancing Rabbit, rich in traditions which are being added upon each year. Preparation for the big day began early in the week with not one but two pumpkin carving parties. In addition, Bear crafted a jack-o-lantern with a skid-steer loader for Zane, a fan of all heavy equipment.

Bear & Zane with the Skid Steer Jack-o-lantern.

Saturday itself was filled with lots of planning and plotting for costumes and our annual Progressive Fiasco. Much like a progressive dinner, we dress up and go from home to home, where we are fed and entertained. In preparation for the stop his family was hosting, Cob came into the Milkweed Mercantile in the afternoon and asked for “a quarter pound of maggots.” In the spirit of the holiday, I filled his order with some delicious, organic jelly beans. Viewed in the right light, I guess they do look a bit larval…

When the kids could stand it no longer, it was finally time for the festivities to begin. The full moon rose over a cloudless sky – for once it was NOT a “dark and stormy night,” and we all gathered in the Community Building to ooh and aah over each other’s costumes. The first stop was Skyhouse, where we were delighted to find Tamar on a computer via a Skype connection. It was sometimes difficult to hear her, what with little zombies yelling for brains every few seconds, but it was lovely all the same. Lily (dressed as a school girl) and Brian (a creepy science teacher) read fortunes. Next stop: the tent kitchen of Boone (leader of the zombies) and Danielle (an iguana), where we were treated to video snippets of some of their hilarious shows. After this we all trooped over to the Milkweed Mercantile, where a fire roared in the fireplace and there were homemade donuts hanging from strings. After finding a donut at the appropriate height, Rabbits bobbed for donuts, no hands allowed. Jennifer took photos. Costumes included an eggplant (Mary Beth), the winds of change (Dennis and Sharon), a pony (Liat), an elephant (Ali), A Sleep (Thomas), a flower (Jan), a belly dancer (April), an uppity British couple (Ted and Sara), two witches (Aurelia and Elle), a baby bear (Zane), a voodoo princess (Jen) and the aforementioned zombies (the elegant Cynder and Duncan, Enzio and Ewan). Kim (a mummy) and Nina (a lamp) of Red Earth Farms came over to celebrate with us, as did Emily, Jacob, Apple, Owen, Renay and Gigi from Sandhill. What a great crowd!

After this we rambled over to the Timberframe addition, where we collaborated and told the scariest ghost story ever told. Then it was off to the home of the Carletons (dressed as a church lady, a schoolgirl, two zombies and a robot, who’s head was not only wired for sound with an I-pod but also had a clock, a camera and a straw for easy imbibing) for more activities and snacks (including “dried blood” popcorn). Last stop of the evening was Maikwe’s (an elegant vampire) house, were revelers danced into the evening.

Ali in front of Mirth Lodge, her home with Thomas.

In other news, the building season is slowing wrapping up, one work site at a time. Rev and Kit, who have been working feverishly on Maikwe’s home, departed on Thursday.

Maikwe's house. What you can't see: the clerestory windows, the plaster, and the fabulous posts inside.

Jennifer held an end-of-season BBQ celebration for her crew (Bear, Horacio, Dave and Randy) on Saturday afternoon, although I still hear hammering from the site where they are installing the observation tower on the Timberframe addition.

Dave waving from the observation tower. For more photos of the Timberframe addition, see Jennifer's Flickr site.

Travis (a work exchanger) has been helping Ted and Sara on the Ironweed Kitchen, home of the eagerly awaited “chicken TV.”

Travis working on a cob bench. On the right: the battery box. Top right (the round window): future Chicken TV.

Strange phenomenon on the cob exterior of the Ironweed Kitchen. Carpenter bees?

Dan and Mary Beth continue to work on their building, and are now applying lime plaster to the straw bales.

Dan plastering the East side of the house.

View of the window-filled south side of Dan & Mary Beth's house. It faces the pond (shown in the photo below). To the left with the blue roof: Larkspur, home of Bear, Alyssa and Zane.

Dan & Mary Beth's chickens, in their chicken tractor.

Last but certainly not least, Jeff finally moved into his house.

Jeff's House.

A group of Rabbits (Matt, Liat, April, Tom, Tereza, Bob) arrived home after ten days of hard work doing deconstruction for a Quaker group. While the work was hard, they had a wonderful time – the organizers thoughtfully prepared ten days worth of vegan food, and labeled and froze them all so that the Rabbits could dine divinely.

To close out the week with a bang, we met and finally chose the dates for our 2010 Visitor Program. We hope to have details posted on the Dancing Rabbit website soon!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dancing Rabbit in the St. Louis Post Dispatch

Thomas and Ali
Photo by Dawn Majors

There's an article in today's St. Louis Post Dispatch about Dancing Rabbit. Titled Residents of Missouri's Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage test the limits of green living, it is a fairly accurate snapshot of life here. There was also a photographer from the paper here for two days, who has posted a multi-media presentation on the paper's website.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Yodeling Cats, and Wasting Time at the Ecovillage

This morning I got up, brewed a cup of (Fair Trade, Organic Peace) coffee, and turned on the computer. I dutifully and efficiently printed mailing labels for new orders (thanks for supporting the Mercantile!). But something whispered inside me: “check Facebook.” I did, and I found this, posted by my friend Claire:

After laughing out loud, I wasted another 6:32 minutes watching this:

I don’t really regret it, but I don’t know – I’m sure there are better uses of my time. I promise to have a REAL post really, really soon. In the meantime, let me know how your cat likes yodeling.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If Love Could Heal, She'd be Well

Last night the women of Dancing Rabbit gathered for a healing session with Tamar. We are under no illusions about our power to “cure” cancer, but remain optimistic that somehow we might make a difference.

Tamar lay on a comforter topped with a sumptuous paisley throw and many pillows on the floor of Jennifer’s home. We gathered around her, 15 strong, and laid our hands upon her. We chanted, sang, laughed, cried, and sent the healing power of love to her. If intention alone could heal, Tamar’s cancer would have moved on.

I have never done anything like this before. However, I am a massage therapist, and have often felt some sort of healing power flowing within my hands. If I pay attention I know where the pain is, and can work on the right areas to bring relief. I am not by nature very woo-woo or kumbya. Be that as it may, it was, and is, real. The power of touch is palpable, as is the power of love.

With all of this comes the acceptance that we do not know what path lies ahead for Tamar, and that in the end, all we can do is love her and wish her comfort, grace and peace on her journey.

I remain incredibly grateful for the way in which our community is dealing with Tamar’s illness. While we often founder in the day-to-day tasks of life, we are most excellent in a crisis. I hope that I can transfer this positive attitude to my everyday dealings, and that others will, also. The ripples will flow outward, and perhaps we will all hold on to this feeling, and remember what we are capable of accomplishing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A week at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

This text was originally written for the Dancing Rabbit column in the Memphis Democrat.

Land Clean 2009
Left to right: Dennis & Enzio (in trailer), Alyssa, Aurelia & Danielle (with wheelbarrows)

Hi everyone. This is Alline with this week’s update from Dancing Rabbit.

Ten years ago when I was living in a city in a mild climate, the weather didn’t affect me much. I went from my home to my car to whatever building I was going to. The weather was something that I observed from inside, through a window. It never snowed, was never icy, rarely flooded, rarely was very hot. Only a few weeks a year, when I went backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains did I really pay attention to the weather. There I learned to read the clouds, and familiarized myself with weather patterns and storm conditions. My safety depended on it and I found it really interesting. However, back in the city, this information went largely unused.
Land Clean 2009
Danielle, Cob, Ali & Papa Bear celebrate after putting a piano in its place

Now that I live in rural Northeastern Missouri all of that has changed. Weather has become an integral component to so much of what we do. We watch the clouds, listen to the weather report, and some of us even have the NOAA weather on the startup pages of our computers. We’ve all become like stereotypical “old folks,” always talking about the weather. Our power sytems depend on sun and wind – when it is sunny and windy, our batteries are full and happy. Much of our food depends upon the weather - too much or too little of rain or sun or wind may mean the difference between an abundant harvest and a puny one (I have developed new empathy for farmers – what a wild ride they go on every single growing season!). We hang our laundry out to dry (we choose not to use electric or gas clothes dryers here, as they use a lot of power), utilize passive solar food dehydrators, and eat our meals outside whenever possible. Building season is also weather dependent – only interior work can be done in the rain, and we don’t like the straw bales with which we’re building to get wet, either.

Land Clean 2009
Sheila weeds in front of the Outdoor Kitchen; the courtyard and Community Building in the background, our new "grassy paver" road on the right.

Today is windy, blustery, blowy and fabulous. It is a perfect day for laundry. I look forward to this evening when I can take my sun and wind-dried sheets and towels and clothes and fold them, inhaling the fragrance of the outdoors. You’ll never be able to convince me that a “Sunshine Fresh” dryer sheet can compare.

Land Clean 2009
Rachel, taking a break from sawing firewood, proves that the women of DR not only love but can maintain power tools.

Weather aside, it has been a busy week. Tuesday we had a community land clean – we all met in the courtyard at 9:30 a.m., gloves and rakes in hand. We tidied the courtyard, mulched paths, cut weeds, weeded flower beds, cleared out junk and loaded it into the trailer to take to the dump, and generally made our home more presentable. Much like cleaning one’s house for company, we were happy with the results. Everyone helped, even 3-year old Aurelia and 2-year old Zane. Aurelia, with her own wheelbarrow, helped bring mulch to where it was needed. Zane, with his Tonka dump truck and back hoe, made sure the mulch was applied correctly.

Land Clean 2009
Cynder sweeps in the OK

Wednesday night we had song circle. We choose to use no accompaniment for these evenings, and no songbooks, either. We’ve found that when we have songbooks we are all looking down instead of looking at one another. We each take a turn choosing a song or teaching the group a new one. Our repertoire continues to grow, and includes everything from a windmill song and the Hobbit drinking song to one Tereza learned at Bryn Mawr, which we sing at the end of each song circle as we are all walking to our respective homes. It is almost magical to hear the song echoing from throughout the village, under the stars, becoming more and more faint…

Land Clean 2009
Tom in his lumberjack disguise, which includes kevlar pants and a chainsaw.

Thursday night we received almost 3” of rain. We worried that our annual Open House, which was scheduled for Saturday, would be rained out like last year, when all of the roads surrounding Dancing Rabbit were flooded.

Land Clean 2009
Ziggy and Thomas adjust a clothesline. It is obviously very serious business.

Friday was sunny and absolutely perfect. In the evening wehad a waltz class taught by Boone (he used to be “Dan,” – and actually is to most of his family and friends - but there are already two Dans here at Dancing Rabbit and the rule is that if you aren’t the first, you have to change your name. It’s just too confusing otherwise, and we’re already confused as it is…). Tamar played fiddle, Dave played mandolin, and everyone flowed gracefully around the dance floor – more or less. 1-2-3, 1-2-3…

When Saturday dawned rainy and wet we began to gnaw at our fingernails, worried that all our preparation for Open House would be in vain. Fortunately the sun came out mid-morning and the sky presented us with clouds worthy of a Winslow Homer landscape.

Our Open House came off without a hitch. Everyone participated; there were folks directing parking, greeting guests, leading tours, hosting tour stops, and answering all kinds of questions. We were delighted to see many old friends and to have the opportunity to meet new folks. Thanks to everyone who stopped by!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight: Green Ads

We're in sad/crisis mode here at Dancing Rabbit today - one of our beloved members has just been diagnosed with what appears to be inoperable cancer. I (and most of the other Rabbits) are wandering around in a fog, and are not much good for anything. I'll write more insightful, interesting posts later; for now, I'd like to share some innovative green ads that were recently posted on Oddee.

Coming in a very close third in my personal pantheon of "Eco Ways I've Changed My Life" (after hanging out my laundry to dry, and hankies) is GETTING RID OF LAWNS. Denver Water Authority's excellent m new campaign, from Denver's Sukle Advertising & Design, frames TV and outdoor placements around the tag line, “Grass is dumb. Water 2 minutes less. Your lawn won't notice”.

Prolam Y&R , Santiago produced this large-scale billboard showing refugees fleeing from a flood in Asia, with dozens of air conditioners peeping out from a refurbished building, was produced to raise conscience regarding global warming. The line: El aire que enfría tu hogar, calienta el mundo (THE AIR THE COOLS YOUR HOME, HEATS UP THE WORLD), was used to help convey that climate change is also due to excess of carbon dioxide in the air.

This World Wildlife Fund ad campaign featuring public bathroom towel dispensers. These paper towel dispensers have a cut out the shape of South America through which a stack of green paper towels illustrates the green rain forest canopy of the continent. As the paper towel dispenser is slowly drained of its green paper towels, we see the greenness slowly drained out of South America, symbolizing the nasty environmental impact of disposable paper towels. How many more reminders do we need? What are you using in YOUR home?

WWF France presents a visual reminder of the importance of trees to the atmosphere in “Lungs”, a print advertisement developed by TBWA\Paris. The tag line: “Before it's too late”

For over 70 years now New Zealand's SAFE has been the voice for all animals, helping expose animal cruelty and abuse as well as fighting against animal testing across the world. The organization mainly uses public awareness campaigns (and advertisements) and political lobbying to expose and question the needless use of animals in cruel experiments and commercial exploitation. The ads above specifically target the latter, provoking questions about the use of animals as scarves, boots and other leather goods, and so on. More ads here at WebEcoist. Do you suppose that if we sent these ads to the women (and men) who feel they simply MUST have fur (or alligator boots or shoes) that it would do any good?

Use electricity wisely, another clever environment ad. This one is from the national power company Eskom in South Africa.

With that, I leave you with wishes for a healthy, calm and gratitude-filled day. Thanks for stopping by.