Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Am Intrepid, Invincible, and Kind of Stupid...

No personal photo in this post, and here's why:

I've always considered myself to be intrepid, invincible, brave and daring. But if I were to add another "i" in there, it would have to be for Idiot, because I'm also obviously not IMMUNE to poison ivy.

Last Monday, in preparation for Dancing Rabbit's Annual Open House we had our all-play Land Clean. Everyone in the community comes out and works to create a more beautiful place for our guests to explore and appreciate.

The Clean generally runs from 8-noon, and in the afternoon everyone goes home and works on his/her own warren. Kurt and I tackled a bunch of barrels that needed to be moved. Since they were sitting in a bed of poison ivy, which had wrapped itself around a fairly big wild grape vine that I'd like to encourage, I began work on it. I was absolutely convinced that I would not get a rash - I've been hiking through poison oak in California my entire life and have never had even a little spot of irritation. I had absolutely no idea just how insidious (so many good "i" words!) the oils in poison ivy are...

It all felt like a lark. Kurt kept warning me about the danger of poison ivy, I kept insisting that I was immune. Wearing a tank top, capris and leather gloves, with Felco pruners in hand, I chopped and pulled and stuffed three large black trash bags full before Kurt said "you are making me really nervous - please go take a shower!" So I did. Peeled off all of my clothes, jumped into the shower and began soaping myself up with hot water and lots of soap. Kurt ran to the house to do some quick internet research. A few minutes later the shower door flew open and Kurt yelled "STOP! DON'T USE SOAP!". Whoops. Too late. It seems that hot water and soap combine with the ushiol oil, making a solution that is easily spread everywhere. The hot water opens one's pores, and bingo presto you're covered with a rash that makes leprosy look Cinderella's .

But back to my drama. After scrubbing the oils deeply into my skin with hot soapy water and a washcloth, Kurt said what we needed  was rubbing alcohol, but he couldn't find any. Soaking wet and dripping in the shower, I gave him a couple of places to look but still he found nothing. Finally he gave up on the rubbing alcohol and came back with a bottle of gin. I couldn't help laughing out loud as I slathered myself with Gordon's Gin, imagining the distress the sight of all that gin running down the drain would cause drinkers everywhere...

Unfortunately, it didn't work very well. My arms, body, and ankles are covered with an ugly, bubbly, incredibly itchy rash. I take 20 minute showers in scalding hot water, which gives me relief for a couple of hours.There's Benedryl, and Tecnu, and, of course, whining. I'm also working on making the rash disappear with the power of thought. So far, well, there isn't much progress on that front. But I'll keep working on it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Praise of Beth Terry's book "Plastic Free"

 (not actually my house)
Those of you who know me even a smidge know that I really like am a bit obsessed with reading. Except for my husband and dogs, there are few things I adore more than cracking open a really good book, smelling that great book smell, and immersing myself in a new world (I have yet to join the e-book world). I read more fiction than non-fiction; my life is currently more intense than I’d like it to be, and so I often escape in the evenings by reading. I have little patience for poorly written or just plain stupid books – I’ve finally given myself permission to stop reading if I’m not totally enthralled by page 30 or so.  I find that when I read non-fiction I am even more demanding – not only do books have to be well-written but I really need them to
have content that feels valuable to me.

Which brings us to today’s post. Below is a review (actually, it’s a blatant love note and a rather impartial recommendation, but….) of Beth Terry’s Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too.

 The short version: Read it. It’s smart, concise, upbeat, engaging and filled with positive steps that anyone can take towards lessening the use of plastic. The book also explains why we need to care about plastic, and covers everything from recycling (where do things go when they go “away”?) to how to keep from feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. The main focus of this book is solutions rather than problems, and is a starting point for activism. A big thumbs-up!

The longer version:
I’ve lived at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage for 13 years now and consider myself fairly savvy about environmental issues. While I don’t keep up on all the current controversies (such as which company we’ve been asked to boycott this week, etc.) I try to live the best I can. Our home and the building that houses our business, the Milkweed Mercantile, are made of local straw bales, reclaimed wood and other fairly low-impact materials. Both are powered by a wind turbine and solar panels. We are now connected to the grid, which eliminates the lead-acid batteries in which we used to store our power (we now use the national grid instead) and have a commitment to putting back twice as much power as we use. I don’t own a car but instead belong to a vehicle cooperative where I share two cars and a truck (let’s not forget about that tractor!) with 50 other people. I support local farmers and gardeners and dairies and try to eat as organically as possible. Our water is collected rainwater, our heat comes from locally harvested wood or scraps from a local pallet mill. And so on.

All of this pales in comparison to what Beth Terry is doing. As a fan of her blog (formerly Fake Plastic Fish, now MyPlasticFreeLife) I came to realize that while Beth and I have had similar experiences, we have taken two different paths. I am ashamed to say that my response was rather lacking in moral conviction, while she continues to walk her talk, every single day.

In 2008, while I was leading a Coast-to-Coast hike in northern England for the Sierra Club, we stopped at a small cove on the western coast. The beach was covered with plastic detritus – bottle caps of every color and size, syringes, plastic soda and milk bottles, and lots of odd pieces that were unidentifiable as anything except hunks of plastic. It was stunning in how utterly the trash covered the area. But what really depressed me was when our local friends told us that just three days before a group of folks had come down and picked up every bit of plastic and hauled dozens of bags away. With each incoming tide came a new delivery of plastic trash. Every. Single. Day.

After returning home, I read about the growing problem of what has been termed “marine litter,”  the Pacific Gyre Trash Island and the Algalita Marine Research Institute.

Before reading these articles I just thought the plastic mess was simply ugly. Now I realized that it was incredibly harmful to just about every living thing on the planet.

It gnawed at me, but I couldn’t really think of anything I could actually do – I don’t use plastic water bottles, I haul around my own grocery bags (according to the UN plastic bags and PET bottles re the most pervasive type of marine litter around the world, accounting for over 80 per cent of all rubbish collected in several of the regional seas assessed), and I don’t smoke (cigarette filters, tobacco packets and cigar tips make up 40 per cent of all marine litter in the Mediterranean).

Through those sites I found Chris Jordan’s photos of Laysan Albatross chicks on Midway Island. My reaction? Nausea. Repulsion. Deep sadness. However, I didn’t change much about my life, or talk about it much, or even consider what impact I might have if I put my mind to it. The issue felt way too big, way too global, way too much for me to make a difference.

This is the part I love. Beth became depressed, too. But she soon got over it, and moved on to mad. Here’s a snippet from the introduction to Plastic Free:

"In the summer of 2007, I was stuck at home for several weeks recuperating from an operation... I soon came to an article by journalist Susan Casey, entitled “Our Oceans are Turning Into Plastic . . . Are We?”—in, of all places, the online version of the magazine Men’s Health—and the shocking photo that would change everything.

The picture showed the decomposed carcass of a Laysan albatross, an ungainly looking sea bird that nests on Midway Island, which is halfway between California and Japan surrounded by thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean. The flesh of this particular bird—a chick!—had fallen away to reveal a rib cage filled with plastic bottle caps, disposable cigarette lighters, even a toothbrush—small pieces of plastic that had no business out there in the middle of nowhere. Pieces of plastic like those I myself used and tossed away every day.

Frozen in my desk chair, I stared at the awful image. For several seconds, I literally could not breathe.

And then, I forced myself to read the entire article. Tragically, this chick was not unique. Thousands of albatross mothers mistake tiny plastic pieces for food floating on the surface of the ocean. They swallow them up from the waters of the North Pacific Gyre, an area between the United States and Japan that is increasingly becoming known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” because of all the plastic waste collecting there, and fly back to Midway to feed this “food” to their chicks. Except that plastic is not food. Huge numbers of baby albatrosses die of starvation each year, their bellies full of the dross of human civilization—the stuff that you and I throw away casually every day. And while the body of the bird will finally disintegrate and return to the earth, the plastic that killed it will linger on in the environment, never biodegrading, available once again to be eaten by future birds, so that the deadly cycle would continue. I sat and stared at the screen for half an hour, letting my heart break.

As I thought of how I used and tossed away pieces of plastic just like these every day, I felt as if, like Coleridge’s ancient mariner, I had helped kill this albatross.

I knew my life had to change. And that, like the mariner, I had to tell people about the albatross.
The day I saw that photo, I committed to looking at my own plastic consumption and plastic waste and figuring out what changes I could make. 

By day, I continued my accounting job. But nights and weekends were consumed by plastic! In the years since my plastic awakening, I’ve gone from personally generating almost four pounds of plastic waste per month to a little over two pounds per year (the average American generates between 88 and 120 pounds per year, and that's only what they throw away at home!), and I am continuing the downward trend. 

No one’s perfect, least of all me. This journey is ongoing. … I’m in it for the long haul. And I still experience some of the frustrations and challenges I did back in 2007. I didn’t write this book to tell anyone what to do, but as an invitation to join me in this journey of personal and ecological discovery.”

That’s just the introduction. The book feels like a rip-roaring adventure that the reader can actually participate in. There is so much to learn, and absolutely NO preaching.  I find myself feeling better, more empowered, and considering the idea that maybe, just maybe, I can make a dent in what is happening in the world.

Thanks Beth, for reminding me about the power of one!


PS Chris Jordan and his team are making a film about the albatross chicks and Midway Island. 
PPS Join me on Goodreads to share book recommendations and opinions!

PPPS A couple of things I learned from Beth’s book:
  1. I still love Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste (even though it’s now owned by Colgate-Palmolive) but find the new plastic tubes offensive. The solution? Send them back to the company. The Milkweed Mercantile is now a Tom’s tube recycling center for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.
  2. There is a website called Tapitwater.com where you can find businesses that will let you fill your reuseable water bottles with tap water. Check it out!
  3. A free downloadable Reader's Guide for Plastic Free is available by clicking here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Week in Provence, or, Franco-American Relations Remain Friendly

NOTE: Kurt and I arrived in France a couple of weeks ago. I seem to be working backward, blog-wise. Meaning that the most recently written post is ready before the one I started three weeks ago. Sigh. I'm sure real writers - oh, like Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel - never have this problem, but such are the challenges of life as I know it...)

We're currently sitting on chaise lounges the front lawn of our vacation rental. With an ocher plaster and stone wall separating us from the road, along with cypress and other trees pruned within an inch of their lives, the air redolent with pine trees, jasmine and honeysuckle, songbirds are singing their little lungs out (Kurt swears that the doves have a French accent) and the air the exact temperature as our skin; it feels absolutely perfect. Also in the garden are olive trees, numerous shrubs, irises (not yet in bloom) and a swimming pool in the back. 

Don't get too jealous - the pool doesn't open until June 1st, the day before we leave. It currently has pond scum in it, so we won't be swimming. If we wanted to swim in pond scum, we could do it happily at DR. Anyway, Kurt, who is sitting beside me with a glass of local Cabernet practicing the Ancient Art of Doing Nothing, is cracking himself up with punchlines of jokes. “Spit it out” he just said, and laughed out loud. If you really want I'll tell you the joke later.**

 OK. I know I look totally stoned in this picture. I am not. I am merely relaxed, after finally reaching my destination and having a Kir (my new favorite drink), my mini computer perched happily on a pillow on my lap. The real point of this photo is the red (ocher) hillside about a mile in the background. Enough already!

We took the train from Paris to Avignon, rented a car (which wasn't there*) and drove about 45 minutes to the village of Roussillon. It is, as the sign reads when one drives into the town, “one of the most beautiful villages in France.” Can't argue with that. The soil around here is bright orange and has been mined for ocher pigment. All the buildings here are as you would expect – old, gorgeous, ocher-colored, slightly ramshackle. The town has the air of somewhere like Tahoe or Reno – vaguely vacation-oriented, lots of tourists in vacation homes, no parking in the tiny downtown. I'm a little disappointed, but I really don't think I could have picked a better spot to completely unwind (“veg” says Kurt from the next seat) before heading home to the Mercantile to save Mandy from a total nervous breakdown.

We're in the foothills of an area called the Luberon. It is where Peter Mayle wrote “A Year in Provence.” The drive here was, of course, very southern France. I've never been here before, but it feels as if I have. I've been hearing countless stories about France, and seeing pictures of the food, the people, and every geographical area each and every school year since 7th grade. One would, of course, assume that I would speak fluent French after all those years of intensive study. One would be wrong, of course. While I was voted “Mardi Gras Queen” by my French class in my senior year, it was not because of my scholarship. Much to the chagrin of my various French teachers I could mimic what they said fairly well, without much of it actually sinking in... but I digress...Soon after leaving Paris we began to see red poppies in the fields. So very gorgeous. By the time we got here there were fields full of them. The lavender isn't out yet, but the poppies are!

The one thing that continues to astound us is just how friendly and helpful everyone is. People stop and help us when they see that we are confused (which is, unsurprisingly, often). These are FRENCH people we're talking about! Even if they don't speak English they try. I can't believe that I spent so many years being afraid of Paris. And maybe this is all new. When my college roommates and I were in France (Marsielles and Paris) on our grand European backpacking spectacular in 1981 I remember practicing over and over again “Je voudrais trois tranches du jambon sil vous plait” before taking a deep breath and going into the charcuterie where the lady was MEAN to me and made me cry. The only people who were nice to us then in Paris were the cute young guards at the national monuments. But then, we were cute and young too, and there was beaucoup de flirting going on. ANYWAY! Now I'm old and not so very cute except to those who love me and everyone is NICE. In PARIS! And in train stations all over the country. I am just gob-smacked. And very, very grateful.

Kurt says “we create our own world” and I'm starting to believe him. By this he means that because we try to speak French, and we smile, and make eye contact and try to learn the various customs and rules (like not demanding coffee with our dessert and instead enjoying it AFTER dessert when it doesn't really make any sense but that's what the French do so we smile and have an espresso after our mousse au chocolat or creme brulee) our trip has largely gone smoothly and without life-threatening disaster or stress-induced apoplexy (on either side), or an international incident. Life is tres bon (Frenchy-talk for swell).

That's it for now. I'll backtrack in the next couple of days and fill in some of the blanks. Thanks for reading!


* After arriving on the train from Paris and realizing that our rental car was at the other Avignon train station (ah, the perils of planning a vacation from a desk in Rutledge, Missouri), and taking a bus (after doing our best to understand the walking directions which included "behind the ramparts" in French as given by the really nice girl at the wrong car rental booth) to the right train station, and filling out the voluminous forms, signing our names in dozens of places and agreeing to give the nation of France our first-born grandchild should we dent or otherwise maim the car, we were finally given the keys and directed to spot #127. We walked and walked and walked, and finally came to spot # 127, and it was empty. No car. There were cars in 126 and 128, and in every other spot imaginable, but not 127. I wish we would have taken a picture - it really was like a Fellini film. Kurt went back to the rental desk and the very cute rental agent came back with him, fully expecting (I think) to find that those goofy Americans can't tell one number from another. But she, too, had to concede that spot 127 was indeed empty, sans voiture. After ten minutes of looking for the correct license plate number she finally found it, in #117. C'est la vie!

** Kurt's politically insensitive joke: An Englishman, a Frenchman and an Irishman are sitting around having drinks. Each notices that there is a fly in his drink. The Englishman flicks the fly out of his pint and continues drinking. The Frenchman says “Sacre bleu! Bring me another glass of wine!”  The Irishman grabs the fly and yells “spit it out!”.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Speaking Truth to Power at Brigham Young University - The Courage of LGBT Students and Their Supporters


"Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” 
~Robert F. Kennedy

And one of my favorite jokes:

The Buddha is in New York City, and becomes hungry. He walks up to a hot dog vendor and says “Make me one with everything.” (rim-shot here)

He hands the vendor a $20 bill. The vendor pockets the money, and says “thank you very much.” “Hey,” replies the Buddha, “where’s my change?”

“Ah,” the vendor smiles, “change comes from within.”

Unless one has attended Brigham Young University it is probably impossible to understand just how tightly the reins on students are held. Most college campuses at least go through the motions that students are intelligent adults. However, at BYU peer pressure is influenced from the top down, with the added weight of God and righteousness. If one questions anything about the teachings of the church, the operation of BYU or even grading standards, one is assumed to have inadequate faith. I cannot begin to count the hours I spent on my knees, praying to believe in the LDS faith, to understand the absurdity of the Church’s stance on women’s rights, and seeking understanding of stories of BYU security driving to Salt Lake City to take down the license plate numbers of the cars in the parking lots of gay bars (all student vehicles have to be registered at the university, so identification was a snap).

While many aspects of the culture are incredibly appealing – a true sense of belonging, warmth, shared history, inclusion, a sense of safety, friendliness and caring – they all come at a very high price. Conform or be cast out. And if you are cast out, your eternal salvation is at stake. These folks don't mess around.

When one’s entire life is built around the church – friends, social life, one’s very belief system – it feels almost life-threatening to consider “stirring the pot.” It simply isn’t done. Leaving the church means leaving all that is familiar and actually thinking for oneself: finding a new moral code, determining ethical standards, making a place in one's own world, where all decisions and norms are not already decided. I felt very adrift when I finally left the Mormon Church at the age of 26. While my reasons for leaving are personal and not necessarily appropriate for this post, let me just say that while I felt free and finally able to be myself, I also felt adrift and lost for a number of years. The church is all-encompassing.

In the 1970's, I had an experience which was pretty typical of my life growing up in the church. One time, when I was a sophomore in high school,  I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from basketball practice at our local (California) church building. A group of “church ladies” walked by, and asked if I wanted to go with them to an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) rally. Warily, I asked “for or against”? Looking a bit shocked, they replied “against, of course.” Of course? Why on earth would women be supporting something that said Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex? I clearly was not on the same page as these folks. This was when Sonia Johnson was chaining herself to the Salt Lake City’s temple gates in protest of the church's stance on the proposed amendment. At the time I questioned why she was fighting so hard to stay in a church that clearly didn’t respect her or want her around if she insisted on thinking. I realize now that she wasn't concerned about herself - her aim was to expose the LDS church's behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to defeat the ERA. It's 40 years later and little has changed - Prop 8 anyone?

Granted, I last attended BYU in 1981. I left two classes short of my Bachelor’s degree because I simply could not pass the Book of Mormon classes. At the time I didn’t have the maturity to simply view it all as a myth and parrot back what the teachers wanted to hear (in order to get a passing grade on required classes). It just seemed so ridiculous. My crisis of faith and my stubbornness cost me my degree. Taking on a behemoth like the Mormon Church was way beyond my confidence and comprehension. It still is. Fortunately I no longer feel like fighting.

Which brings me to my point, finally. What I’m really writing about is the stunning, spectacular, balls out courage it takes to stand up to the powers of the Mormon Church, that group of old white men behind the curtain. When I came across this video on Facebook a few days ago, I wept.

I wept with pride, and also with knowledge of the heartbreak ahead for these kids.

That they are willing to risk all that they have in order to be true to themselves fills me with awe.

It also fills me with anger that a "loving Christian" church considers them bad and wrong in the eyes of the world and the eyes of God.

I want to embrace them all, keep them safe, fight for them.

I’m not sure that I can really do any of these things. However, I can lend my support here and anywhere else I am asked to. While they may find, as I did, that I don’t belong in a church that refuses to respect many of the things they hold dear, for now they believe. And as the Buddha says, change comes from within.

 The famous statue of Brigham Young in Salt Lake City (his back to the temple, his hand outstretched to the bank...)

Sending love and hope and good wishes to all LGBT students and their supporters at BYU.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lead: A Nightmare on Your Street - Have You Checked the Children?

I love my life. I sometimes hate the weather in the summer, but every single day I learn something new. Some days it is something literary (Thoreau's Walden pond was located on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson -  how did I miss this the first time 'round?), some days it is something about baking (one can make biscuits and/or muffins and freeze them before baking - when it's time to serve them, simply pre-heat the oven and bake as usual), and some days it is about green living.

Though a Green blogging group and the resulting (inevitable) Facebook page, I was reminded today about how prevalent lead poisoning is among children. Still. Right now. In your neighborhood. Even more frightening? You cannot see lead dust.There is no way to know if your home, yard, and other places  are contaminated unless you have them tested.  (Thanks to Tamara Rubin for much of the info in this post!)

Today's at-risk population for lead poisoning contains a surprising a demographic - children of middle and upper income homeowners renovating "classic" (older construction) houses. Pediatricians don't routinely test all children for this increasingly common and preventable disease, supposing, as many of us do, that lead poisoning exists solely among poor children in sub-standard inner city housing. This stereotype is clearly outdated. With the ubiquity and levels of microscopic lead dust present in and around today's older buildings (our homes, schools, libraries, stores, etc. an incalculable number of sources), it is prudent that all children—including yours—be tested.

Lead poisoning does not discriminate but many healthcare providers do, a sort of reverse-discrimination. If you are not a low-income minority (or you belong to an HMO plan like Kaiser) it is very likely that your doctor has not considered testing your child for lead - either with a routine check up or in response to reported symptoms (headache, gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, vomiting, etc.)   The medical establishment is under the common misconception that lead poisoning is a disease of the past and there is no longer a need to test for it.  They have not made the connection between new cases of lead poisoning and the further deterioration of a home stock. Think about it - homes are now 30 years older than they were in 1978 when the lead paint ban was first put into effect, and these homes now have deteriorating lead paint for the first time.These aren't inner city tenements - these are suburban dream homes.

Tamara Rubin has been a lead poisoning prevention and awareness advocate since her children were poisoned by the work of a painting contractor in Portland, Oregon in 2005.  The contractor used un-contained pressure washing, dry scraping and open flame torch burning to prepare the exterior of our home for painting. He assured her these methods were safe. She later learned that not only were the methods not safe but they are all illegal on both a State and Federal level (along with dry sanding/ power sanding.)

She now has a website, called My Children Have Lead Poisoning, a foundation (Lead Safe America) and a movie in production. Her site is quickly becoming a comprehensive resource for parents, teachers, pediatricians, contractors and others impacted by this problem in their work and daily life.

It's ironic, and a bit scary, that here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage our kids are sometimes just as likely to be exposed to lead as kids in cities. We do a lot of building demolition and often re-use old windows and lumber. Some parts of our soil have tested positive for lead. Once we became aware of the problem and what was causing it, we drastically changed our behavior and became far more choosy about what wood and windows we reclaimed.

A few of the things I learned by scrolling through Tamara's website:
  1. Lead paint is everywhere. Everywhere. Especially for folks interested in DIY, who value re-use over purchasing new, and who seek to utilize all parts of something before sending it to the land fill. Fro example: those really cool "barn wood" picture frames and old windows reused as cold frames in gardens? If they have crackled white paint and are not reproductions, chances are 
  2. Most cases of childhood lead poisoning are caused by contaminated soil and house dust.  
  3. Lead in water sources (pipes and fixtures) is another significant source of concern. 
  4. The City of Portland Lead Hazard Control Program can grant up to $15,000 to take care of lead hazards in a home where a young child spends 60 hours or more a year. Maybe your city also has a grant program.
I hope that this post feels helpful and not doomsdayish. It's just the thought of children at risk makes me nuts.

Sigh. Go hug your kids. And test for lead (click here for a link to Consumer Reports' evaluation of Lead Testing kits.)

LATE BREAKING ANNOUNCEMENT:  Just heard from Tamara who said that if you'd like a free lead-check test kit (donated to her by the manufacturer) you can just e-mail her: leadsafe AT me DOT com - She has the ones with 8 swabs that normally cost $27.95 ones.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dreaming of Building a "Human Nest" at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

 One of the great things about life at Dancing Rabbit is that just about anything seems possible.This is also one on the greatest downfalls, or at least temptations of living here. Oh, the ideas! As each and every one of us is a dreamer, our ideas vastly outnumber the hours left in our lifetimes.

But still, we add to our lists. It may take a few years, but Ted will most likely get a zipline installed, Maikwe will get her spiritual space, Meadoe will build a music studio, DR will build a theater and a school and a public camping area…

My dreams? Oh, they are never ending. And I keep adding to the list. Now that the Milkweed Mercantile is open, I want to expand the space, add more interactive and educational components to the Mercantile experience, host many more college classes, build tree houses…

But not just any tree houses.

Check this out. It the Human Nest in Big Sur (Central California on the coast) at a place called Timberbones Resort. The photos come from a post at cabinporn.

The dreamer part of me imagines how amazing it would have one of these here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage - to watch the stars and the fireflies; to listen to the frogs, birds and coyotes (not to mention the cows). The realist thinks "hmmm...that mattress looks a bit grundgy.." and "how the heck to keep out mosquitos?"

So maybe the place for some dreams is just where they are - in my imagination. And maybe all I need to do is go stay a night or two at Big Sur. Either way, it's fun to think about!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Poetry Saturday: Lawrence Ferlinghetti meets Marc Chagall

I've always felt a certain affinity for Paris in the 1920's, and, as a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 70's felt disappointed at having missed the Beat boat of the 50's.

This is why I practically swooned this morning when I found that one of my favorite poems, which combines the Marc Chagall* (a painter working in Paris in the 20's) with Beat writer Lawrence Ferlinghetti, (co-founder of San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore) featured on Writers Almanac.


by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Don't let that horse
                                    eat that violin
    cried Chagall's mother
                                             But he
                        kept right on

And became famous

And kept on painting
                                       The Horse With Violin In Mouth

And when he finally finished it
he jumped up upon the horse
                                                     and rode away
                  waving the violin

And then with a low bow gave it
to the first naked nude he ran across

And there were no strings

What does this have to do with living in an ecovillage? Nothing, which is exactly the point. Trying to live sustainably is only one aspect of my life here. And that always feels just a bit surreal... :)


*The art of Marc Chagall looks like what you might see upon waking from a beautiful dream: the composition is scrambled with familiar figures and symbols, and riotous colors frame the memory. Chagall was born Moishe Shagal in 1887 in present day Belarus to a Jewish merchant family of modest means. His childhood in a small village was the subject of many of his works, which featured folkloric imagery such as Candlestick with the Burning Lights and the Fiddler on the Roof. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1907, where he studied art and first encountered the modern movements sweeping through Europe. In 1910 he was able to move to Paris, where he immersed himself in the École de Paris with the likes of Modigliani and Leger. Chagall's first solo show at Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin in 1914 firmly placed him among the talented avant garde artists of Europe. Chagall supported the Russian Revolution and became the first Commissar for Fine Arts. However, he resisted the power struggles and the direction the revolution was taking. He left the Soviet Union in 1923. During the 1920s he produced many etchings for book illustrations, including Gogol's Dead Souls and later a series of illustrations for the Bible. In the 1930s Chagall began working in stained glass and his work can be seen at the United Nations headquarters and in several buildings in Jerusalem. Chagall and his family fled Nazi-occupied Europe and lived in the United States from 1941-47. During this time he designed sets and costumes for ballets, such as Massine's Aleko 1942 and New York City Ballet's The Firebird 1945. Back in France in the 1950s, he began working with ceramics, and also produced the famous Paris series of paintings that feature magical scenes set against the Paris cityscape. You can also see some of the most spectacular murals produced by Chagall in the sixties at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center. Marc Chagall died in France in 1985, a little more than a decade after a museum dedicated to him was opened in Nice.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In Which That Dancing Rabbit Woman Blathers On About Books, Again...

Photo credit: covs97 on Flickr

I don't have a local bookstore, and therefore do my book shopping online. And those of you who know me know that I've never met a book I didn't like (well, except for Danielle Steel, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter...).

While still a big fan of ABEbooks, I have been fatally smitten by Better World Books. Gob-stoppingly, head-over-heelsingly, hopelessly devoted to Better World Books.

They are more than a place to sate my jonesing for books, more than a convenient online store that provides free shipping and frequent percentage-off or buy-1-get-1 sales. They are cool. And inside that big warehouse beats a heart that cares and a wild sense of humor. Best of all? They donate books and money to a number of literacy programs and libraries.

One of their core values is: "Flabbergast our customers." When I received this order confirmation, below, well, I was flabbergasted. And I laughed out loud. It seems that the books I just purchased want to let me know that they're on their way...

Photo Credit: brewbooks on Flickr

Hello Alline,
(Your book(s) asked to write you a personal note - it seemed unusual, but who are we to say no?)
Holy canasta! It's me... it's me! I can't believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I've got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can't believe I'm leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already - the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge - so many memories. I don't have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it's time to see the world!

Photo Credit: BenOh on Flickr

I can't wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol' brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?

I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I've had, I'm ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn't take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I've found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.
But hey, enough about me, I've been asked to brief you on a few things:
We sent your order to the following address:
Alline Anderson
Milkweed Mercantile
RUTLEDGE, MO 63563-9757

We provide quick shipping service to all our customers. You chose Standard shipping. It should arrive in 6 to 9 business days. At this time, we are not able to offer tracking on our Standard shipments.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact my friends at Customer Care by submitting a ticket.. If you could please include your order number (XXXXXX) that would be very helpful.
Eagerly awaiting our meeting,
  • Exploring the Flea Markets of France: A Companion Guide for Visitors and Collectors
  • Eating & Drinking in Paris (5th Edition): French Menu Translator & Restaurant Guide (Eating and Drinking)

Photo credit: Steve on Flickr

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ziggy Speaks on Timber Frame Homes: Advantages in Energy Efficiency


Today, a guest post by Ziggy; builder of Gobcobatron (the house pictured with Ziggy and his partner, April, left), author of The Year of Mud, and producer of two natural building workshops this coming summer at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

Timber frame houses have a very long history, dating back to Neolithic times and continuing all the way through the present day. The craft has been refined over time, but the principles have changed very little -- timber frame building uses felled trees to their fullest potential to create homes that are durable, economical, and beautiful. Unlike the conventional "stick frame" home of modern times, the timber frame is very economical and lends itself to excellent energy efficiency.

Timber Frame Houses are Economical
Using felled trees to their fullest potential, a timber frame home is naturally more economical and thrifty as there is much less waste in the production of the necessary elements of a frame -- large posts, beams, etc. Similarly, timbers take greater advantage of the natural strength of a tree, as opposed to smaller dimensional limber. Not only that, but it is uncommon that large timbers are shipped over long distances due to the sheer size and weight, so timber frame construction actually encourages (and nearly demands) the use of local resources.

Timber Framing Supports Excellent Home Insulation
Timber frame homes are much more conducive to implementing high levels of insulation, as they allow for much more uninterrupted space between vertical members to wrap or fill with various types of insulation, including straw bales, one of the favored natural insulation materials. On the other hand, stick frames have many vertical members spaced closely together that break up wall space and make it challenging to fill with insulative material, or worse, do not actually provide a full wrap of insulation. And of course, adequate insulation is one of the essentials keys to an energy efficient home.

There are more advantages than just the ones I have described above -- check out this site for more information about the benefits of timber frame construction.

Learn Timber Frame Home Construction
Two natural building workshops are being offered in 2012 at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage to teach folks about how to build their own energy-efficient, natural homes. Check out these straw bale workshops and a timber frame workshop that promises people the chance to learn skills that are indispensable for creating energy-efficient homes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Summer of Your Life - at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage?

2012 Eco Inn and Organic Cafe Internship Opportunity
Milkweed Mercantile Eco Inn & Organic Cafe

April-May 2012 and August-October 2012

Intern Mo learns the mysteries of sourdough bread.

The Milkweed Mercantile is looking for up to four interns for the summer of 2012. Become an integral part of the Milkweed Mercantile, a strawbale, solar and wind-powered Eco Inn and Organic Café. You will have a huge impact upon the lives of our guests, plus have the opportunity to learn more about sustainable living and, of course, yourself.

The Milkweed Mercantile is a privately owned business created by Dancing Rabbit members Alline and Kurt. Designed as a bridge between the ecovillage and the wider community, the Mercantile provides delicious local and seasonal meals, comfortable rooms at reasonable rates, and seminars on all aspects of sustainability. The Mercantile serves as a living demonstration of the comfort and beauty of sustainability, and is quickly becoming the social hub of the community.

Lunch service

A summer canning seminar at the Mercantile.

No experience necessary – what we’re really looking for is:
  • Self-starting initiative, attention to detail, a dash of humility and enthusiasm
  • Comfort interacting with the public, including children
  • Willingness to communicate and work through interpersonal conflict
  • At least 21 birthdays in your past (for serving alcohol)
  • Two month (minimum) availability
  • A great attitude, a minimum of whining and a sense of humor balanced by an eagerness to assume responsibility.
Making kimchee with Sandor Katz.

 Should you have experience in any of the following, we would be delighted:
  • Completed service as an Americorps or Peace Corps volunteer
  • Professional kitchen work, in any capacity
  • Carpentry/building/renewable energy
  • Gardening
  • Baking, cooking, menu planning
  • Positions where you have (pleasantly) interacted with the public

The Basics:
You will be asked to work 35 hours a week. A majority of our work is on weekends, and most days off will be during the typical work week. Some days may require “split shifts” (i.e. working breakfast, then having a break, and then working a bar or dinner shift). You will also participate in the Mercantile staff eating cooperative, which means taking turns cooking for your fellow staffers. You will participate in life at Dancing Rabbit, including rotational chores, attending social events, potlucks, swimming in the ponds and observing meeting process. Plus, you’ll eat really, really well.

Internships will vary depending upon the needs of the Milkweed Mercantile and its guests, your skills, and the team on staff at any one time. Our goal: the smooth running of the Mercantile while conveying the eco-ethic of Dancing Rabbit and its members AND making sure our guests are comfortable, well-fed, and treated respectfully.

Your Mercantile duties/ learning opportunities will include:

  • Washing dishes, pots and pans
  • Keeping the kitchen spotless
  • Helping Alline with ANY food-related project, including: seasonal (ingredient driven) menu planning and food prep; menu planning and food prep for special diets (i.e. celiac/gluten free, lactose intolerant, etc.) and events; vegan cooking and baking techniques; preserving foods by canning and fermenting; working with yeast doughs and baked goods; making butter, sour cream, ice cream; meat grilling and barbecue; much more…
  • Working with local farmers, gardeners, beekeepers and other food producers
  • Foraging for wild seasonal ingredients
  • Waiting/busing tables
  • Menu planning
  • Helping in the Mercantile’s (small) demonstration garden

  • Helping Mandy with anything she needs help with.
  • Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning
  • Helping guests/customers
  • Assisting in the store
  • Taking phone reservations/answering questions
  • Giving tours of Dancing Rabbit and the Milkweed Mercantile
  • Event and Seminar planning and follow-though
  • Public Relations and publicity through writing, speaking, blogging, link-building,  working with college programs, etc.
 One of the rooms at the inn.

What we pay for/cover:
  • Food - All of your meals are covered. You will participate in the Mercantile staff food cooperative, which means you will be part of a rotating team of cooks. Food will be largely local and whole-foods based. Soda and alcohol are not included but may be purchased.
  • Accommodations - Tenting platform provided, you provide the tent (and sleeping bag, sleeping pad, etc.).
  • Fees - Your fees for use of the Community Building (primarily for the social space and library). Mercantile interns use the Mercantile showers, wifi, telephone (after putting down a refundable deposit) and composting toilets.
  • Transportation - If you come to Dancing Rabbit by train or bus, we’ll pick you up at the nearest station (Quincy, IL; La Plata, MO; Ottumwa, IA) at no cost to you.
  • Gratuities – An equal share of pooled tips.
  • Stipend – After completion of the first month, interns receive a stipend of $50 per month.

 Cool off in the Swimming Pond. We're saving an inner tube for you!

 You are responsible for:
  • Work – approximately 35 hours a week, plus cook shifts (usually one breakfast, lunch and dinner each week)
  • Additional responsibilities – Community rotational duties which are shared by all members of the community. Included are Common House clean, humanure, Common House firewood.
  • Gear - Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, etc, appropriate clothing (details to be sent after you are accepted for the position).Transportation - Other than your initial arrival (where we’ll pick you up if needed!), travel to and from Dancing Rabbit and travel during your stay is at your expense.
Please explore the Milkweed Mercantile website  before applying.

Additional photos of life at the Milkweed Mercantile and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage may be viewed here.

For specific questions and to apply, please email

We look forward to hearing from you!

 Kurt & Alline during construction of the Mercantile.

About the Milkweed Mercantile staff:
Kurt Kessner and Alline Anderson arrived at Dancing Rabbit in June 1999. After building a house they launched the next part of their Dancing Rabbit dream – the Milkweed Mercantile. Inspired to build the Mercantile as a way to support themselves and to help Dancing Rabbit grow, construction began in 2007. The Inn opened in April 2010.

Alline, with a background in customer service and retail (but whose all-time favorite job remains camp counselor) manages the day to day operations of the Mercantile. Inspired by fabulous ingredients, she takes great joy in feeding, hosting and nurturing others. She never met a baked good that she didn’t like, and is enjoying learning more about foraged foods. In her spare time she reads fanatically, quilts, hangs out with Kurt, and is thinking about entering a 12-step program for Dr. Pepper.



Kurt is the easy-going designer/ carpenter/ contractor responsible for the physical manifestation of the Milkweed Mercantile. Trained, as a carpenter as well as a marriage and family counselor, he is happiest when he is building something or teaching someone else how to build something. He also enjoys a great beer, great food and great conversation. He is delighted to spend time at the Mercantile, where all three are in plentiful supply.

Mandy is our newest member of the team, and arrived in December 2011. After bicycling 6,500 miles around the US and visiting 100 sustainable communities, she eventually chose to live at Dancing Rabbit and help the Milkweed Mercantile and other DR small businesses become viable cottage industries. She is helping with marketing, website, public relations, guest reservations and more. You’ll see these big grins on her face most days, but especially when riding her bike, sharing her passion for sustainable community living, participating in meetings (yes, some people actually do love meetings!), or doing her morning meditation and yoga.