Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thanks to You All, We Won a Grant!

 Dear friends,

This is a VERY belated thank you.

On December 2nd we were notified that not only did we win one of the three 2013 Green America People and Planet $5,000 grants for Green Travel and Tourism, we received THE MOST VOTES OF ALL BUSINESSES!


Needless to say, we were (and are) beside ourselves. So, so happy. And what even better than the money is the outpouring of support that we received from all of you. Thank you so, so much for logging on to the Green America site and voting for the Milkweed Mercantile!

We even made the front page of the local Memphis Democrat Newspaper.

Thank you also to all of the good folks at Green America.They do a lot more than give out money to cool green businesses that we love. They are doing really valuable work in all areas of sustainability.

We're still waiting to hear about the $250,000 Chase grant. It is, indeed, a long shot, but would be such a game-changer that the very idea of it takes my breath away. All their website says about the date of the award announcement is this: "...a list of grant recipients will be posting on the program website in January 2014."

more soon!

A list of Grant Recipients will be posted on the Program Website in January, 2014. - See more at: https://www.missionmainstreetgrants.com/rules#sthash.WoKE8tgf.dpuf
Grant Recipients: A list of Grant Recipients will be posted on the Program Website in January, 2014. - See more at: https://www.missionmainstreetgrants.com/rules#sthash.WoKE8tgf.dpuf
Grant Recipients: A list of Grant Recipients will be posted on the Program Website in January, 2014. - See more at: https://www.missionmainstreetgrants.com/rules#sthash.WoKE8tgf.dpuf
Grant Recipients: A list of Grant Recipients will be posted on the Program Website in January, 2014. - See more at: https://www.missionmainstreetgrants.com/rules#sthash.WoKE8tgf.dpuf

A Poem for New Year's Eve


A Poem for New Year's Eve
The two of us are older now
(ahem, much older).
Wrinkles soften the formerly taut plains of our faces
and we no longer need to be the center of attention.

We have nothing left to prove.
Our inner party animals slumber,
safe and secure in the comfort of the lumpy bodies of former wild children.
No drunken New Year’s Eve bacchanalia,
no stay-up-to-prove-you’re-having-fun for us.
Tonight, we’ll ring in the New Year together,
on the couch.

The cat,
weighing in at more than a bowling ball but (thankfully) still less than a refrigerator,
will manage to nestle between and on each of us, 
the way he likes it best.

We’ll all watch a movie;
it doesn’t matter which one.
And when 9:30 p.m. rolls around we’ll wish each other a Happy New Year,
because, in Newfoundland, it is.
Then we’ll turn off the TV, stoke the fire, and head upstairs
to sleep, and to dream
of the year ahead and of us,
and of our lives,

The "big-boned" Fionn MacCool (all delicious 13 pounds of him)

Friday, December 20, 2013

LIsten to it LOUD - This IS the day! Thanks, Vienna Teng!

Inspiration comes from all over. Sometimes it hits me over the head, sometimes it's on Facebook. Often the two are one and the same.

Here is my new favorite song. My favorite lyrics are excepted below. How can one NOT have a great day when starting off like this?

Happy listening!


...if you are afraid, give more.
if you are alive, give more now.
everybody here has seams and scars.
so what. level up.

let your faith die.
bring your wonder.
yes, you are only one.
no, it is not enough
but if you lift your eyes, I am your brother.
and this is all we need.
and this is where we start.
this is the day we greet.
this is the day, no other.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

20 Seconds to Change Our World

UPDATE DECEMBER 2013: The Milkweed Mercantile won one of the three Green America People and Planet Awards! More info here. Thanks again, everyone!

Hi friends,

The Milkweed Mercantile, the Eco Inn, Cafe and Green General Store that my husband and I run at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage needs your  help.

It's incredibly easy help to give.

Simply click here to vote for the Mercantile in the Green America People and Planet Awards. The top three vote recipients receive a $5,000 grant.

To many businesses $5,000 is a drop in the bucket. But to us it would be a tremendous gift. So many things could be accomplished! A sign out on the highway to let folks know we're here, a gardener to take our garden from haphazard to spectacular, repair/replacement of the chairs purchased at auction five years ago which are now on the brink of collapse, a few improvements and updates on our website...

Voting is open until 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Thanks for considering!

Alline & Kurt

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sometimes Pecan Pie Needs a Little Kick in the, um, a Little Kick

 When our friends Bob and Angie invited us for Thanksgiving dinner, Angie said she was making a pumpkin pie but that she'd leave the pecan pie to me. Yehaw! Time for my new favorite pie!

Unfortunately, we ate half of the pie before I had time to take a photo. The other half was whisked away for the Feast of Gloria Tubman (Harriet's under-achieving younger sister), traditionally held the day after Thanksgiving and featuring all the leftovers.

Anyway, Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie comes from my new favorite cookbook, The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook (below). How could you NOT love this book? Look at those two - they clearly love their jobs!

And with good reason. I've not yet had the opportunity to visit their bakery in Savannah, but I have tried about 1/4 of the recipes in the book, and every single one totally kicks some bakery butt.

Here's the best part - this pie is SO easy. You don't even have to roll out pie crust - you just press it into the pie plate. 

Below is the recipe. I've made a few small changes.

Bourbon Pecan Pie
Inspired by The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day.

½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 ½ cups dark corn syrup
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 ½ tsp all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tb bourbon
1 ½ tsp butter, melted
1 ¾ cups pecan halves
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 recipe Shortcut Piecrust, made with brown sugar, unbaked

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the corn syrup, salt, flour and eggs, mixing until completely combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, bourbon, and butter until well combined. Fold in the pecans and chocolate chips.
  3. Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell.. Bake for 1 hour or until the pie is firm around the edges and just a bit loose in the center.
  4. Remove the pie from the oven and cool for at least 1 hour on a wire rack before slicing. It’s best served the same day, but it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Shortcut Piecrust
Makes one 9” piecrust.
Cheryl and Griffith say “This pie crust is revolutionary. It’s a press-in crust, with no rolling or chilling required. Plus, it’s buttery and flaky and so easy to prepare.” Alline says "they're not just whistling Dixie!"

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar or granulated sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
11 Tb unsalted butter, melted (1 ¾ sticks)

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Press into a pie plan, trying to keep the dough as evenly thick as you can. Press it up the sides of the pie pan and make it pretty! You can't go wrong - it's kind of like play-dough that actually tastes good.

Friday, November 29, 2013

In Which My Heart Cracks Open, Just a Little Bit More...

This last year has been rough.

Lots and lots of work. Not enough sleep. More money going out than coming in. Some dependable help, some not so. Some amazingly abundant loving experiences, some depressing low points. The stuff of which life is made.

I've also been struggling about a lot of what is going on here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Growing pains, wanting to support folks in whom I believe but having a hard time with some of the decisions that have been made. Feeling like a poor communitarian, wondering if we should just pack up and move on, wanting to contribute but unable to with a happy heart.

Knowing that it is all in my attitude, that I make my own reality, that I have little control over what happens but TOTAL control about how I choose to spin it in my head.

But I just couldn't get over that bump. You know, the bump that is placed in front of abundance, kindness, happiness and satisfaction. The bump that I always trip over. I kept getting stuck in the "I hate everything I see" gutter that is right in front of the bump. 

Fortunately, FINALLY, a series of events - too long and convoluted to relay here - coincided with a visit from Kurt's niece Danae, who is pretty much sunshine incarnate, to lift my spirits and help me truly SEE what is around me.

And then this video was posted on Facebook.

I can't stop watching it. I can't stop singing it as I wander around through my life. I love the girls with bouquets of kale at 1:07, the kids at 4:33, the boy in the blue shirt at 4:47 singing so earnestly. I want to invite the man who is singing at 4:35 to dinner.

And keep moving forward and start looking towards your heart

It'll open all the doors and only then you'll start

To hear the world sing in chorus with your mind and heart

Aligned in purpose everything will feel gorgeous

Thank you Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod. I am grateful for this song, and the music and heart that you bring into the world.

Grateful: A Love Song to the World

by Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod
(emphasis on the parts that I find especially moving today ~Alline)
Written and produced by Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod - See more at: http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=4460#sthash.404QwDFA.TxZl8JV3.dpuf

You're my life, you're my breath You're a smile, you're my guest
You're the earth, you're the sun You're the grass, you are love
You're my hands, you're a bug You're my eyes, you're a hug
You're the light in the dark You're the spark, you are fun
You're my mom, you are water You're the stars, you're my daughter
You're my friend till the end You're my dreams, you're my father
You're the ants on the ground The miracles that surround
I'm feelin' it all around the hemisphere and the clouds
You're my pain, you're my sorrow You're my hope for tomorrow
You're the strength when I'm hollow You're the path that I follow
You're the blessings that exist The small things that are bliss

The gift to realize that everything is a gift

All that I am All that I see
All that I've been
And all that I'll ever be
Is a blessing
It's so amazing
And I'm grateful for it all
For it all
Grateful for it all

You're the blessings every time I try to count
You're the lessons that l learn every time I turn around
You're the water when I'm burned every time I think I've found
Everything I'm looking for and the sign sayin' stop to take a bow
And keep moving forward and start looking towards your heart

It'll open all the doors and only then you'll start

To hear the world sing in chorus with your mind and heart

Aligned in purpose everything will feel gorgeous

All that I am All that I see
All that I've been
And all that I'll ever be
Is a blessing
It's so amazing
And I'm grateful for it all
For it all

Every day I sit and pray 'cause what I have is
More than I deserve or could ever imagine
How do I give back to all of this magic
And spread the love so everybody can have it
Doesn't matter if I'm rich or poor If I got a family or if I'm all alone
Bad things happen I can just complain and moan

But there's a million things that I can be grateful for

So I lift up
My hands now
And I open my heart
And my gratitude
Goes out
To everything
Near and far 

All that I am
Everything I am - All that I see
All that I've been
And all that I'll ever be
Is a blessing
It's so amazing
And I'm grateful
For it all
All that I am
All that I see
All that I've been
And all that I'll ever be
Is a blessing
It's so amazing
And I'm grateful
For it all For it all
For it all
For it all
Grateful for it all
For it all
For it all
You're the blessings that exist
The small things that are bliss
The gift to realize that everything is a gift

Thanks for reading. Sending love and gratitude to you this Thanksgiving weekend, and always.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Just Say "No" to Black Friday and "Yes" to Relaxing!

I spent my formative years working in retail. From the age of 16 - 28 I worked in several different department stores, and then spent another 12 working in retail headquarters in one capacity or another (advertising and Visual Merchandising).

By the age of 21 I pretty much hated Christmas. I even despised holiday music, which used to be my favorite part of the season - something about having it thrumming in the background for two months was more than I could bear. And that was back in the days when "Christmas" didn't start until the middle of November.

"Oooooooohhhh! Let's get up early so that we can push and shove for cheap crap made in China!" she says, just a bit sarcastically...

The day we all hated the most was the day after Thanksgiving, that hallowed day that retailers lust and drool after. Even when I no longer worked in a store but worked at corporate headquarters I was still required to spend the morning of Black Friday in whichever store was closest. Ugh. I'd get up at 6:00 a.m., put on respectable business attire (instead of the elastic-waist sweatpants that were infinitely more appealing!) and haul my bad-attitude self off to the mall to sling junk at sales prices.

No more.

Now that I have my own store, I get to do things my way. The Milkweed Mercantile is closed on "Black Friday" (ewww - I abhor that name!), and I refuse to send out emails and newsletters promoting sales before Thanksgiving. While it may not be the most prudent way to make zillions of dollars, it feels better. I don't go shopping, either.

I encourage you to do the same! Or at least relax on Friday. The Center for a New American Dream has lots of ways to help. Their Simplify the Holidays program is a great place to start!

Some of the things I might be doing on Friday (instead of buying or selling stuff):
  • Staying home.
  • Relaxing.
  • Putting my feet up and reading a good book, or even a bad book. Heck, maybe even a naughty book!
  • Challenge Kurt to a game of cards, pente, or parcheesi. Or invite a group of friends over to do join us.
  • Put together that list for my mp3 that I've been composing in my head.And learn how to load the music onto that thing (note to self: find a 12-year old to help me).
  • Go for a walk. Perhaps I'll take a cute dog for company.
Miss Moneypenny Carleton, who is always available for adventuring!

  • Bake some cookies, and bring a few to a neighbor.
  • Practice singing the harmony part to "Close Your Eyes" (James Taylor/Carly Simon version)
  • Begin to crochet a scarf and pretend that I'll finish it in time to give as a Christmas gift.
  • Make a sandwich using every single part of Thursdays meal in between two pieces of bread and Hellman's mayo - including the stuffing and the cranberry sauce. Perhaps I'll get fancy and run them through  with little plastic swords.
Thanks to Will Cook For Smiles for the use of the photo.

  • Watch Season 1 of Nurse Jackie that just arrived in the mail while I sit on the couch in front of a blazing fire with the cat.
  • Check out what the local kids are up to. The last couple of days it's been looking at all of the cool ice formations everywhere, and checking out the cool things frozen into the pond ice.
  • Call my 84-year old Aunt Melba and tell her that I'm thankful for her.
  • Think up new ideas for Kurt's annual Gift Certificates (see below).

And lets talk about gifts for just a minute. It's really easy to get sucked into the scarcity brainwashing that permeates advertising at this time of year. It's also tremendously easy to get guilted into spending money you don't have on things that people don't really need. Don't buy into it, literally or figuratively.

Some of my favorite Christmas gifts arrived in a big fat tube the year that my three nieces and I exchanged art. I made them quilted pillows in their choice of colors, and they sent me art that they had made. Those pictures make me smile, big time, every time I walk by them.

I also really enjoy giving (and receiving!) gift certificates for service and food. They don't even have to be fancy. I tried to take a photo of some of the ones that I gave to Kurt last Christmas (see below) but the cat decided that the middle of the stack was the perfect place to lounge. Sigh. Anyway, as you can see, they're just scrap paper and scribbling, but were made (and received) with love. Things like "one favorite dinner whenever you want (24 hours notice appreciated)," "one foot rub (15 minutes on each foot)" and "I'll do your firewood chores for one day" come in handy when Kurt feels like pampering himself.

Fionn MacCool - destroyer of all things orderly.

That's it for now. I wish you a happy, calm holiday. Eat good stuff, but not too much. Be kind to yourself. 

Thanks for reading!


Friday, November 22, 2013

We Can't Help Ourselves: Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and a Slathering of Chocolate Ganache

Dear Friends,

Oh, my. What happened to my simple country life? We're just way too busy to find it anywhere!

And that's fine with me, at least for  now. I'm very, very grateful for all of the people and activities that keep me so busy!

Last night was another bustling Pizza Night, with many new friends from Memphis (MO) joining us. The cake we served was our Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Ganache Icing, developed originally for Bear's birthday a few year's ago. I think we've finally found the perfect combo of PB and Chocolate. The frosting is sweet without being overwhelmingly so, and has a light but very peanutty flavor. The chocolate ganache is, well, the icing on the cake (pun intended).

 Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Ganache Icing

Before we get started, here's a note on Corn Syrup, which is an ingredient in the ganache. It is what gives the ganache that glorious shiny gloss. Corn Syrup is NOT High Fructose Corn Syrup. Click here to learn the difference between the two.

 To begin - use the Dancing Rabbit Chocolate Celebration cake recipe found here.
 Put the batter in two 9" round pans. When cake layers have cooled, it's time for frosting!

Fluffy Peanut Butter Frosting
 makes approx. 2 cups

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons milk, or as needed
2 cups powdered sugar

  1. Place the SOFT butter and peanut butter into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low until the butter and peanut butter are completely combined.
  2. SIFT the powdered sugar. While there are many things worse than lumpy frosting, none of them would ever be put on a cake. I just use a regular kitchen strainer, a big bowl, and  a spoon. Takes 3 minutes. Just do it.
  3. Gradually mix in the sugar, scraping down the sides regularly to make sure everything is well mixed in.
  4. When the frosting starts to get thick, incorporate milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is thick and spreadable.
  5. Beat for at least 3 minutes on HIGH for it to get good and fluffy. You many need to adjust the consistency with more sugar or milk.

Chocolate Ganache

2/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

  1. In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream on medium high until it comes to a boil.
  2. Place chocolate pieces and corn syrup in a large bowl.
  3. Remove from heat and immediately pour cream over chocolate and corn syrup and stir until completely mixed and glossy.
  4. Allow ganache to cool before pouring over cakes as a glaze. The longer you allow the ganache to cool, the thicker it will set.
  5. When it is ready to pour onto the cake, begin pouring slowing in the middle. Using a long pastry spatula*, slowly smooth the icing onto the cake in a circular motion. I find it helps if I slowly turn the cake plate while keeping the spatula steady. As the icing moves from a pool in the center of the cake to the edges, encourage it to “overflow” to create delicious drips.

That’s it!

If you haven't yet voted for the Milkweed Mercantile in the Green America People and Planet Grant program, PLEASE take 20 seconds and do so. We SO APPRECIATE YOU!

Someday soon I'll get back to reporting all the dirt on Ecovillage life. Or maybe not. We'll see. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and one another. 


* Offset Pastry Spatula. You don't have to have one, but it sure makes frosting/icing a cake easier!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Poetry Monday, The Wind Map and an assortment of Pre-Rafaelites

Hi friends,
It is a gray, cloudy, blustery day - it is fantastic! I am sitting in our snug and cozy strawbale house, looking out through the glass doors that lead onto our small balcony. The walls are 18" thick, so I can't feel the wind, but the trees outside are lashing about, the wind is howling (or maybe that's the wind turbine howling), and acorns are dropping onto the roof and pop-pop-popping down the slope.
I easily found a poem. But how to illustrate the wind? 
And then I remembered - The Wind Map (click on those words). It is truly the COOLEST thing EVER
The map is live, so depending upon when you look at it you may or may not see the windy day we're having (we're right in the middle between Denver and Chicago), but you can see what's happening where you live. Check it out!

Wind Map by artists Fernanda ViƩgas and Martin Wattenberg.

Here is today's poem, by Christina Rosetti, who was vaguely associated with the Pre-Rafaelite Brotherhood.**  

Who Has Seen the Wind
by Christina Rosetti
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

** Christina Rosetti posed for some of her brother's (Dante Gabriel Rosetti) paintings but as they're not my favorite PRB paintings they're not going here. I much prefer John Everett Millais and John William Waterhouse. We were able to see (i.e. drool over) a whole slew of PRB paintings at the Tate when we were in London a few years ago. Kurt developed a huge crush on Jane Morris, who posed for Rosetti...I fell in love with William Morris. 

 Ophelia by Millais

Lady of Shalott by Waterhouse

OK. I really just meant to spend a few moments here waxing rhapsodic about the wind. Ha! Have a great day!


Friday, November 8, 2013

Vegan German Chocolate Cake OR, How to be Happy While Quitting Smoking

Every Thursday night is Pizza Night at the Milkweed Mercantile. And one doesn't live by pizza alone. It wouldn't be a trip to the Mercantile without a fabulous dessert with which to finish your meal.

Many of my favorite people here at Dancing Rabbit choose to eat vegan. As a friend and business owner, I want them to feel welcome when they come to the Mercantile, and so try to have vegan desserts available as often as possible. And here's the cool thing - vegan baking can be fantastic! Let me rephrase that - there is absolutely no reason for bad-tasting vegan food. One of my favorite things to do (granted, my life is far from exciting) is to bake a vegan dessert and challenge snobby non-vegans to be able to tell the difference. Because I myself am a snobby non-vegan, I figure that if I like it, it's got to be pretty good. And I really like this Vegan German Chocolate Cake, which combines a super-easy cake recipe with an even easier frosting recipe. No mixer needed.

Mae keeps up her energy for pizza making and keeps her smoking jones at bay by sampling the vegan German Chocolate Cake.

The Amazing DR Chocolate Celebration Cake
We’re betting that no one will ever guess that this cake is vegan. It is dense and rich; the vinegar and baking soda provide the lift. We suspect that this cake originated during war times, when eggs were luxuries in short supply.

1½ c. white flour
1½ c. whole-wheat flour (using all whole wheat flour makes the cake gummy and heavy)
2 c. sugar (do not use honey, sorghum or other liquid sweetener)
2/3 c. cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 1/3 c. water
1 c. brewed coffee
1/3 c. oil (may substitute applesauce or coconut milk)
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tb vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease and flour an 11” x 13” pan OR two 8" or 9" round pans.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together dry ingredients.
  4. Add wet ingredients; stir until evenly moistened.
  5. Pour into prepared pan. Place pan in pre-heated oven.
  6. Bake approx. 30 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when you insert a knife into the center and it comes out clean.
  7. Cool, and frost. Enjoy!

Vegan German Chocolate Frosting
(revised June 2014)*

1/3 cup cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water until smooth
1 cup plain non-dairy milk
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  1. In a medium saucepan, make a slurry of the cornstarch and water. Whisk until smooth (do not turn on the heat yet).
  2. Add the non-dairy milk, coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla to the pan. 
  3. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. 
  4. Cook for one minute after it boils. 
  5. Remove from heat and stir in coconut and pecans.
  6. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes (mixture should still be warm) before spreading on cake.

Makes enough for one two-layer 8- or 9-inch cake.

*after making this a few times I figured out an easier way to do this frosting!

Livin' the Good Life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage - Food Coops

Oh, dear. Everyday I start a blog post and yet never actually post it. Day after week. I feel a tremendous weight to get it all right, to speak the definitive truth, to not lead anyone astray.

I'm probably quite clearly taking on more responsiblility than anyone expects me to take on. So today I'm just going to write about what's been going on (and those other posts on food dogma, trying to make the right decisions, living true to oneself, more favorite books, and an ecovillage update will just have to wait...)

When Kurt and I first came to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in 1999 we participated in a food cooperative. What's that, you ask? Well, it is a very, very cool concept. $5/per person per day and the willingness to cook a few meals were enough to gain membership. The funds went to purchase the ingredients, propane and cooking supplies. By the time we arrived there were enough folks so that each of us only had to cook one day a week. A cook shift consisted of dinner and then lunch the next day - you were responsible for making sure that there was enough for both meals. When it wasn't your cook day, you simply showed up and Voila! a fabulous meal awaited!

NOTE: in the early years Dancing Rabbit had only one food cooperative;. Now, including the Mercantile co-op, there are at least six:
  • Bobolink, which eats in Skyhouse and is vegan and locally-food-focused; 
  • Ironweed, which has it's own kitchen complete with chickens and a fabulous peach tree right outside the front door and a huge garden supporting their eating habits; 
  • The Magic School Bus, primarily for the crew helping build Dennis and Sharon's house; 
  • the Critter Collective which cooks it's meals in the newly constructed strawbale building and which is currently raising goats for milk and meat, chickens and muscovies for eggs, meat and profit, and has a miniature donkey to guard the herd; 
  • and Thistledown, the co-op "with all the kids," which also has a huge garden, both surrounding the house and down in the Osage Community Garden. 
The kitchen in the Community Building is not currently being used, but I imagine it will host another food co-op again soon. Not everyone eats in a co-op - some families and individuals choose to eat on their own.

Here at Dancing Rabbit we primarily used (and continue to use) whole foods, the cook would begin around 2:00 p.m.; more importantly, the cook always got the choose the music. At 6:30, everyone would show up and eat a (usually) delicious meal together, comparing notes of their days, brainstorming solutions to problems, consoling those who needed it, and generally just enjoying each others' company.

For me, the cooking part was absolutely terrifying. We arrived at the end of June, which meant that the intern/work exchanger season was in full swing. Between interns and members there were about 35 people here. We all ate together in the Outdoor Kitchen, at a table constructed of sawhorses and 20' long boards. Rachel's (or Tony's?) parents had given us a huge tablecloth so it at least looked fairly civilized.

 Our stove looked something like this, only not as clean or shiny. Imagine a black sooty front and a little more grime all around and you've got a more realistic picture. Oh. And no white tile. I can't even imagine white tile out in the OK...

The kicker, though, was that we cooked on an old-fashioned wood cook-stove. It was like being a character in Little House on the Prairie or Green Acres. The flat stove top had four plates (in place of "burners") which could be removed to increase the heat under a pan. It also had a small oven next to the firebox, and a stainless steel tank that held about 5 gallons of water, which heated up the washing up water while one cooked the meal. Ingenious! We learned where the hotspots were, where to place pans we just wanted to keep warm, and how to bake bread without completely incinerating it. Oh, did I mention that all meals were vegan, and were made with whole foods? Beans that had to be soaked before cooking, wheat that had to be ground into flour, veggies chopped, etc... Before I arrived I could cook for about four people, and had a vague idea of what vegan was. But vegan, for 35, on a wood stove using whole foods? Ack!

Fortunately, new folks got to help a more experienced cook the first few times around. Not only was this educational and fun, it also helped ensure that the meals cooked by newbies were edible. I still remember Jenn Corbin teaching me the words to "Tis a Gift to Be Simple" as we cooked out in the OK. I will always be grateful for her patience in helping me learn the systems.

We ate with the co-op for 1 1/2 years, until our house was finished enough to move in. We dropped out of the co-op and went back to cooking on our own. We loved the independence but found that we were a bit lonely, plus were missing out on all of the "dirt." Fortunately every Tuesday there was (and still is) a potluck with the neighboring communities (first just Sandhill Farm, now Red Earth Farms, too) and a Friday night bring-your-own-plate-but-eat-together Community Dinner.

Fast forward nine years. When we first opened the Mercantile Kurt and I continued to use the kitchen in our house. But as time went on, it seemed that whatever tool or ingredient we needed was always in the other place - I'd be making cupcakes in the Mercantile and the pans were in the house, or I'd be making an angel food cake at home and the pan was in the Mercantile (gee, Alline, do much baking?). So when the fridge in our house "shot craps" (as Kurt says) we decided to decommission the home kitchen and do all of our cooking in the Mercantile.

 Althea and Ben discuss the finer points of pizza, while Kurt waits for a drink order (photo taken from the dining room looking into the open Mercantile kitchen. Katherine's behind Ben's hat crafting dreamy pizza pies)

The Mercantile kitchen is a a home cook's dream come true. The commercial range is a Ferrari compared to the little teeny stove in our house. The Hobart mixer could mix cement and not bat an eye. And of course, there is every little ingredient I could dream of, just waiting to be put to use. Plus, since the kitchen is open to the dining room, it feels very social, and is fun to cook and talk. (The only downside - people can see when you drop stuff on the floor, which means that the 10-second rule no longer flies...)

When we opened the Mercantile we had work exchangers join us for meals during the summer months, but it was just me and Kurt in the winter. It seemed impossible to separate cafe food from food coop food, and I couldn't figure out what to charge (DR food coops charge anywhere from $5 - $8 a day, per person, which pays for the kitchen space, food, cookware, propane if it is used, etc.). To be honest, I was also a little territorial about my kitchen.

 A little salad Jayson whipped up

But now it's winter again - the crowds are gone, as are most of the Work Exchangers, and long story short; we've returned to the world of food co-ops. The guys who are renting rooms this winter are not only great cooks but made us an offer we could not refuse, and so here we are. It is divine. We gather at lunch and dinner, and it feels like a community. Because others are sharing the responsibility, cooking now seems less like a chore. Since it's me and four men, testosterone often runs high; I do sometimes have to bring the conversation back to civilization, but all in all they're pretty well behaved. I'm thinking of renaming the co-op  "The Barbarian Gourmands."

I'll keep you updated on how things are going. Thanks for reading!


 The Barbarians on their way to lunch at Zimmerman's. They may lock the door when they see us coming next time...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Rooster of Mindfulness

Life here in the ecovillage is never, ever boring. It is stunning to me just how radically different members of Dancing Rabbit are from one another. While one might assume that this would be a fairly homogenous, goose-stepping mind-meld of a group, one would be very wrong indeed.

This week, instead of spending our time discussing global warming, alternative construction or how just how much rain has fallen, this is what has been filling our time: The Mindfulness Bell.

Photo credit: Michael McKennedy on Flickr

Last week, we recieved this email from a member of DR:

Thursday, May 23, 2013 5:11 PM

Hey All,

Some of you may know that for years I've been wishing that DR had a bell of mindfulness, and now thanks to NameWithheld's beautiful wood working, we have one :-)

For those who don't know, the idea with a mindfulness bell is that when it is rung, anyone who wants to do so is encouraged to stop what they are doing and pause in silence for 5-10 seconds to bring their awareness to appreciating the present moment.

The bell is set up in a portable way so we can put it where ever works best for the village. If the current or any future location doesn't work for folks, or if someone wants to suggest another location that they think would be better, just let me know. Also, if anyone has concerns about the bell in general, please let me know that as well.
I've currently located the mindfulness bell .....next to the path so that anyone who wants to may ring it to call a moment of stillness. The knocker for the bell is a piece of Osage that is hanging next to the bell.

Please encourage children to use the bell for its intended purpose only.

I hope everyone enjoys the bell.

In mindfulness,
Name Withheld for privacy purposes

My first reaction was "WTF!"  The bell smacks a bit of the two years I spent at BYU, where everyone was expected to stop and stand still, whether indoors or out, for the entire length of National Anthem as it played each evening at 5:15 p.m.. To me, the mindfulness bell feels like the same kind of peer pressure, crowd control and of imposing another's view of what good behavior "should" be, only with a (currently cool,  trendy and popular) Zen slant. Apparently I wasn't the only one to have a reaction.

One hour and 5 minutes later we received this:
Thursday, May 23, 2013 6:16 PM
Hey Folks,

After getting some feedback from a few folks (thank you for the honesty!), I've pulled the Mindfulness Bell out of service and have created a poll instead to see how people feel about the idea of such a bell existing at DR.

Please take a minute to fill out the poll to indicate if you would like such a bell to exist, how often you want it rung (if at all), and where you want it located (or if you don't want it to exist here at DR).

Thanks for your time.
In striving for mindfulness and sensitivity to my neighbors,
Name Withheld for privacy purposes

The poll even included a pie chart.

Fortunately, my irritation turned to laughter as I read through the responses to the poll, and to the presence of the bell here at Dancing Rabbit. This is my favorite:

It is an interesting question of who has the right to put their noise in everyone's ears. We do it for ultimate (note: when an Ultimate Frisbee game is about to begin, players yell "ultimate!" in unison, loudly), and obviously people make construction noise, and roosters are tolerated. But we don't generally play music over loud speakers. Its an interesting social question. Maybe we need a rooster of mindfulness and any time it crows people get mindful? 

Forget the bell. Here's to the Rooster of Mindfulness. May he live a long and happy life.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How I Feel About Yoga - Book Excerpt Monday

NOTE: This is NOT a photo of me.

Everyone knows about the benefits of yoga. And I will continue to go, to stretch, to get my namaste on. But I haven't yet learned to love it. Today's excerpt comes from The Middle of Nowhere by Bob Sloan. "Bliss" is the protagonist, Lenny Bliss.

Bliss sat on the wooden floor of the yoga studio, his legs splayed indecorously in front of him while the rest of the class sublimely assumed Lotus position. Bliss was not in Lotus position. He was not anywhere near lotus position, or half-Lotus, or an infinitesimal speck of Lotus. He couldn’t imagine anyone being any more un-Lotus. He’d taken a wrong turn, missed his exit, and was miles away from Lotus, standing in a phone booth in the rain at a gas station reeking of beer and piss, holding a receiver without a dial tone. That’s how far from Lotus he was.

The Middle of Nowhere
A Lenny Bliss mystery
By Bob Sloan

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why I Love Alice Walker, and Changing the World, One Stone at a Time

In some ways living here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is ideal. Kurt and I have built a home, and built a life. We are surrounded by nature, have crafted ways of earning money that suit our natures, and no longer commute to a "job." We have time to pursue our passions, our creativity, our intellectual cravings.

But sometimes life here is simply difficult. I don't always agree with the direction the group seems to be taking, or am not enamored of decisions that are made. I feel adrift, disconnected, alone, frustrated.

And so I turn to writers I love, and inevitably find what I need. Today's excerpt is from Alice Walker, in Anything We Love Can Be Saved. She helps me to remember that everyone is doing his/her best, that activism is hard, and that I need to be kind not only to others but to myself. Have a good week. Love, Alline

It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame.

This is the tragedy of our world.

For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small, imperfect stones to the pile...

Stones from Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California, where there used to be a dump. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of ceramics and bottles have been pounded by the waves for decades, resulting in smooth, gleaming gemstones.

...I have learned other things: One is the futility of expecting anyone, including oneself, to be perfect. People who go about seeking to change the world, to diminish suffering, to demonstrate any kind of enlightenment, are often as flawed as anybody else. Sometimes more so. But it is the awareness of having faults, I think, and the knowledge that this links us to everyone on earth, that opens us to courage and compassion. It occurs to me often that many of those I deeply love are flawed. They might actually have said or done some of the mean things I’ve felt, heard, read about or feared. But it is their struggle with the flaw, surprisingly endearing, and the going on anyhow, that is part of what I cherish in them.

Sometimes our stones are, to us, misshapen, odd. Their color seems off. Presenting them, we perceive our own imperfect nakedness. But also, paradoxically, the wholeness, the rightness, of it. In the collective vulnerability of presence, we learn not to be afraid.

In this book I am writing about the bright moments one can experience at the pile. Of how even the smallest stone glistens with tears, yes, but also from the light of being seen, and loved for simply being there.

~Alice Walker
Anything We Love Can Be Saved

Monday, January 7, 2013

Poetry Monday: Black Dogs and Snow

Abby in the snow from Dances with Fabric Blog (thanks, Sharon!)**

Snow, Aldo 
by Kate DiCamillo

Once, I was in New York,
in Central Park, and I saw
an old man in a black overcoat walking
a black dog. This was springtime
and the trees were still
bare and the sky was
gray and low and it began, suddenly,
to snow:
big fat flakes
that twirled and landed on the
black of the man's overcoat and
the black dog's fur. The dog
lifted his face and stared
up at the sky. The man looked
up, too. "Snow, Aldo," he said to the dog,
"snow." And he laughed.
The dog looked
at him and wagged his tail.

If I was in charge of making
snow globes, this is what I would put inside:
the old man in the black overcoat,
the black dog,
two friends with their faces turned up to the sky
as if they were receiving a blessing,
as if they were being blessed together
by something
as simple as snow
in March.

**When it's time for you to adopt your next dog, please consider an adult dog, and while you're at it, a big black dog. They really, really need you. For more on why black dogs are often never adopted, regardless of how beautiful, well-mannered and friendly they are, read about Black Dog Syndrome.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Creating a Life: Art at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

Baby Robins Photo: Rachel Katz
Blog Post Spoiler: At the bottom of the page is info on the Milkweed Mercantile's Artist in Residence Program. Read and share with your artist friends!

Update February 2014 - Info on the second Milkweed Mercantile Artist in Residence Program (for 2014)

And now, the real post.

I've lived here at Dancing Rabbit longer than anywhere else in my adult life. While this is only 13 1/2 years, it feels significant. With the exception of 4 years in Utah, I have lived my entire life in San Francisco Bay Area cities that struck my fancy - Berkeley, the Oakland, Alameda, Kensington and San Francisco.While the specifics were different, the stage was the same - liberal politics, fabulous weather, proximity to amazing natural resources, myriad cultural events, hotbed of new thinking and ideas, and activities that I adored, like book groups, hiking, foreign cinema, author readings, open studios, bike-friendly streets, ethnic restaurants and quilting guilds.

I had never pictured myself living in the Midwest, let alone rural Missouri. Heck, when Kurt first found Dancing Rabbit online I didn't even know where Missouri was. [Some of our friends didn't either, evidenced by the mail we received addressed to Rutledge, MS (Mississippi), and Rutledge, MI (Michigan).] If it weren't for Dancing Rabbit and the beautiful house that Kurt has built for us here, I would be long gone. While the prairie is lovely my heart remains stuck somewhere in the Sierra Nevada foothills; while the people in the wider community (outside of Dancing Rabbit) are nice many don't have a clue what we're doing here and are skeptical and uncomfortable around us; the summer weather makes me want to wither up and die, or at least lie on the cool floor and pant with the dogs, and my social circle has shrunken to a mere shadow of its former self.

However, in stark contrast with the (or rather, my perceived) negatives are the stunning positives about life at Dancing Rabbit. My favorite is the absolute quiet and stillness - living in a strawbale house in a rural area is so very different than living anywhere in the SF Bay Area. In the Bay Area, no matter where I lived, I could always hear a freeway. I tried to pretend that the constant whoosh whoosh was the sound of the ocean, but once the traffic helicopters came in that fantasy was shot all to hell. Here, I really do get to experience quiet. Even better, in the summer, I awaken when the silence is broken by a cacophony of birdsong - the randy robins wake up first and start strutting their stuff: "hey ladies! I'm totally hot! Come check me out!" They are followed by everyone from Bobwhite quails to chickadees to sparrows. They all have something to say. We also get the occasional woodpecker exploring the wood on our house, and are often scolded by house wrens nesting in the old shoes we've nailed to trees in our yard.

At night, the stars are amazing. It's kind of like living in a planetarium, only without those cool reclining chairs. There seem to have been lots of meteor showers lately, and we are fortunate to have total darkness here from which to observe them. This is in stark contrast from trying to see Haley's comet from our balcony in Berkeley. "Hey! There it is!" "Um, no, Alline, I think that's a street light..."

In the spring and summer the frogs start in at dusk, and make a wonderful racket. We seem to have a number of different varieties - hilarious blurping, peeping and squeaking comes to us from the ponds. Crickets join in, and in the heat of the summer the buzz of cicadas adds another component to the insect symphony. And then there are the fireflies, providing a moving light show which never fails to dazzle me.

However, even with all of that natural beauty and entertainment, I find myself wanting more. I keep my eyes and ears peeled for kindred spirits; writers, artists, and other creative and intelligent folk who wander into our village and into our lives. I love that the Milkweed Mercantile is serving as a lure, a siren call to bring positive aspects of the "outside" world to Dancing Rabbit. In the last year or so we've had a number of writers and artists visit, and we're hoping to host many more.

Danae's "Library"
We persuaded Danae to transform our downstairs toilet room into a library.

Our new friend, landscape artist Billyo O'Donnell came and visited several times. I was delighted to be able to trade a room for prints of his swoon-worthy work.

Kurt, Alline and Billyo
Guest-turned-friend Jim McGowin, bohemian poet and painter from St. Louis, created four incredible portraits of the environmentalists for whom the Mercantile's guest rooms are named. We're waiting until we reopen this coming spring to mount them on the doors of the rooms, but here is a sneak peek:

Rachel Carson by Jim McGowin  "If a child is to keep alive his sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

Wallace Stegner by Jim McGowin “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we let the remaining wilderness be destroyed... We need that wild country, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”
Aldo Leopold by Jim McGowin

David Brower by Jim McGowin

In keeping with a long-standing DR tradition of creating our own entertainment (since cities and "real" entertainment are so far away), our latest invention is the Artist in Residence Program here at the Milkweed Mercantile. Designed for visual artists, we are also open to hosting writers and poets. The basic idea is that we provide artists with a room in the Mercantile, a place to work, delicious food and the inspiration of 280 acres of Dancing Rabbit and its inhabitants. In return selected artists will create art, and spend at least eight hours sharing his/her artistic skills with members of the community by holding classes/seminars.  We hope to fill all five ten-day sessions with different artists. More info on the Milkweed Mercantile Artist in Residence Program can be found by clicking here. Please share this with your friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers and anyone else who is an artist, knows artists, has seen artists, or has played an artist on TV...

Here's to a juicy, full, art-filled life!

Thanks for reading.