Saturday, November 1, 2014

How to Combat Cultural Programming, Part .5

A few weeks ago, I  quit my latest job.  My friends keep saying, "Oh you retired, how nice."  I didn't retire, I quit my latest job.  My job history is all about short-term, part-time, flexible-hour jobs (and low-paying and benefit-barren, but there is always a balance isn't there).  Currently, I have shifted my powerful focus to matters other than earning small paychecks and studying administrative frictions. Like learning to: play open G tuning on guitar, Bobby McGee on piano, making grape jelly, chicken and dumplings, etc. etc.  These are skills that will benefit the community when the Climate Apocalypse happens.  They also contradict take-out food, canned music, cultural programming etc.

A big focus of my new-formed down-time is spent getting my house in order (a personal favorite Jungian metaphor).  My house is tiny.  I had a tiny house before it became a national movement (1), in an effort to live cheap, keep possessions to a minimum (no storage space!), and be like Thoreau or the Dalai Lama.  Even living minimally, there is a LOT of stuff around here, and yes some of it is pure-dee junk (2).  It requires thoughtfulness to know what is needed and what is wanted, and how those sometimes combine.  Thoughtfulness is another project I am working on in my not-retirement. The cultural programming of More Is Better is being fought on the beaches and the streets at 725 Irvin.

Within my tiny house, I strive for the idea that Everything Counts. Or it's outta here. This dovetails with the habits of old people to treat everything in their life as momentous and important.  Take my Mom as a perfect example of this phenomenon.  When moving from her home of 60 years to a senior condo, she literally snatched an empty, blank envelope from my hand as I was in the act of tossing it.

"I might need that,"  she said.

This was an extreme act of respecting possessions.  But I can see it happening.

Everything, since my recent abandonment of hourly wages and manufactured deadlines, has shifted into sharper focus.  It's nice.  For example, I'm getting the left-hand notes on the piano.  The mysterious science of sealing jelly jars in a water bath has been revealed. My tiny kitchen is becoming more efficient (slowly), the tiny fridge is filled more leanly, the tiny tiny bathroom is staying cleaner longer. What Is Important seems more noticeable. And on a second visit to the tiny john today, I noted that the toilet had not yet been flushed.  I saved 6 gallons of water today.  So far. I'm respecting water possession.

And speaking of conserving water:

Matt Damon famously addressed the whole toilet flushing issue as he brings the weight of his stardom to water shortage issues around the world.  Its a small place to start, but that old "one small step for man" saying is still true.  His viral video for the toilet is at :   His organization for affordable clean water is   He is so cool.

And speaking of toilets:  a current movement in the U.S. is to use human urine for nitrogen fertilizer, thereby eliminating need for personal use of chemically created fertilizers, and thereby reducing fertilizer pollutants to water.  This overuse of manufactured fertilizers includes Lake Eerie/ Toledo's recent infamous water catastrophe:
The culprit for the algae growth in Lake Eerie which contaminated the Toledo water system, forcing a shutdown, was excess manufactured fertilizer, dumped and run-off into the lake.  What to do to eliminate need for manufactured fertilizer with manufactured nitrogen?

 Start today.  Make your own.

My previous post (The Never-Ending Garden, #72)  mentioned the growing Pee-Cycle movement in the U.S.  I referenced a phrase, which the blogger from Northwest Edibles used:  we need to rethink cultural programming.  That's a great phrase.  The media in the U.S. avoids facing mortality, and doesn't talk about pee in an enlightened way. We are culturally programmed to follow this non-reference strategy. 

Here's an ice bucket challenge.  Culturally un-program yourself from something this year.  I've been working on downsizing living space and possessions for about a decade.  I'm now quite taken with the whole pee-cycle (and related issues of body, resources, and climate change). 

Take the Cultural Programming Challenges.
Don't flush the toilet.
Water the garden with your personal self (diluted if on the veggies, full strength on compost piles).

1.  Tiny House Movement is largely about small houses that can be moved around, and/or situated on small plots of land.  I like to think of it as a backlash to extremist housing developments and space/material squandering, too.  Americans have become fond of BIG houses, but I think we are re-thinking it, like so many other parts of our wild and crazy 300-year adolescence.

2. Excellent information on using pee for fertilizer.  Check post listings.

3. Ways to conserve water on a personal level:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Never-Ending Garden

Ground Cherries--Upper left: 2 free-floating samples
from a Farmer's Market Vendor.  On the stem: some
from my backyard.
Late this summer, I found an unknown plant making
its home in the garden and in a shady, back corner of the yard occupied by dandelions, the mulberry tree, and
the hammock. 

At first, I thought it was Deadly Nightshade, which is poisonous (1).  Something you definitely DO NOT want to nibble.  After looking it up, I think there is Nightshade nestled in the yard, but in different places.  The stranger also looked a little like decorative plant Japanese Lanterns.  But it is, instead, a Ground Cherry, which I found out serendipitously.

A few weeks ago I went to the Northville Farmer's Market.  I stopped by an amazing booth, which specialized in native (or some might uncharitably say "weed") edible plants.  The vendors had dandelion leaves the size of swiss chard leaves; big honkin' tubers of Jerusalem Artichoke; and mounded boxes of Ground Cherries.

I've read about Ground Cherries when drooling over the penultimate winter-favorite-required-reading-book for serious and pantheistic gardeners who support biometric living: Seed Saver Catalogue (2).  But never--knowingly--had I encountered one.  My folks, farmers in rural Southern Illinois, undoubtedly knew them.  Once I sent my Dad, an avid gardener, some Jerusalem Artichokes (3).  I thought, "Wow, natural food, full of vitamins and easy to grow!  And pretty flowers!" He planted them, because I sent them.  They grew.  And grew.  And spread prolificially but still grew, after being burned, plowed, and cursed.  He said once, "Why did you give me those weeds?  They grow in the ditches around here."  I looked around after that, and darned if it wasn't the truth.  But he planted them, knowing the trouble anyway.  My folks knew a lot of edible plants in the woods and ditches and fields, but considered them weeds.  Growing up in the Depression, they knew desperate people who picked dock and other weeds and ate them; they wanted to distance themselves from that kind of poverty, I think.  Then, I guess it was considered desperation.  Now, it's considered wholesome and earth-friendly.  "Choice" makes all the difference."

In the photo above, the Farmer's Market GCs are in the upper left, and the Ground Cherries Gone Wild which showed up in my yard, right-hand.  The purchased ones are fresher, mine are old-looking because I had picked them and left them lay on the backyard table for a few weeks, trying to figure out what they were.  The purchased Ground Cherries were much larger fruit than my volunteer wild ones, as is usually the case. 

In fact, all of the items at the amazing booth at the Farmer's Market were BIG, and I should have asked what they used to make them so big.  But I was afraid to.  Maybe it was a commercial fertilizer, or maybe an Asian technique (night soil), or maybe it was a new/old technique that is not yet popular (yet): pee-cycling.  Yep.  If you are a healthy human, with clean wiping practices, you can pee directly on your compost pile, OR dilute it according to the kind of plant, and apply to the base area of YOUR VEGGIES. 

As the excellent blog Northwest Edible Plants (4) notes, some of us may need to rethink our cultural programming about "pee and edible plants."  As I said, the size of the vendor's wild edibles at the Farmer's Market gave me pause.  I wondered just how they got so big.  However.  I am going to try pee-cycling next spring.  I subscribe to the blog listed below, and the writer is a chef, with wonderfully researched info.  There is plenty of other info out there on pee-cycling.  It is one more, small, step towards Saving the Planet.

But about the Ground Cherries: they do taste like cherries, a bit.  I think they taste a little like watered-down creamed corn, or caramel latte.  They might taste good cooked with pork cutlets. My daughter thought tasty jelly.  They are obviously well-packaged in those papery shells.  And they are a curiously different, small, new inhabitant of my yard, which I will encourage, along with the dandelions, as a gift from the birds or the wind or the earth.  They popped up in my completely organic yard of their own volition, after a decade of hiding out or being ignored.  The undisturbed yard comes up with the darndest things, if I just pay attention.

1. Nightshade:  10/27/14
2.  Seed Savers Exchange, in Iowa, has an excellent website dedicated to preservation and distribution of seeds, and biodiversity.  I want to visit their farm someday.  They also have great books on all aspects of gardening, harvesting, storing foods. 10/27/14.  You might also be interested in Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as a classic work on sustainable food.
3. Jerusalem Artichokes:  I once had a backyard full of these pestiferous, 10-foot + tall plants with nutritiously edible roots, at the time I sent them to my dad.  I moved away, and someone else has probably been working on containing them, or else has learned to harvest and cook them.  I hope. 10/27/14
4.  Northwest Edible Plants:  THIS is a terrific website, I love the internet:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Many Small Lights

An overcast day in October lends itself nicely to lights.
This morning, the gas stove flamed blue beneath the teakettle.  The toaster red-wired the toast. 

A fluorescent lamp in the basement took the creepy out of laundry duty.  The rustic Meijer oil lamp moth-matizes grandchildren.  And it will be good backup for the Climate Change Apocalypse.  LED lights strung over the backyard pergola, among the dying grapevines, glow all day and all night.

Lights for cooking, seeing, working, dreaming.  Thanks to little lights everywhere,

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Afterlife Conversation Part 1

Photo credit:  Brian Ragland.  The Skies on Fire.  Ellis Grove, Illinois

Donia, Hamish, and myself get together at a library sometimes and discuss library-type things.  One day the conversation included "The Afterlife."

Donia, who is Muslim, was interested in Christian opinions of The Afterlife.  None of us have died yet, but I am edging closer towards my earthly time allotment, and Hamish is probably within spitting distance. Donia is youngest and healthiest, and her husband is a doctor, which makes her furthest from death-by-old-age. That may be why she is interested in what happens, and Hamish and I aren't:  she has time to fix it up yet. She said that she believes people come back, and have a chance to become a better person than they were. 

Reincarnation, Hamish nodded sagely.  I'm sorry to say I don't believe in that.  When we waited for a little expansion on that, he added that he felt that death is the end of the body and the soul.

Donia looked sad, like his opinion might be truer than hers.  I felt this was going badly.  Plus I didn't like Hamish to be the Unchallenged Spiritual Resource.  So I said to him: Well, you're an engineer.  He looked at me with an inscrutable Engineer Look, and I scrambled to cover my butt.  Engineers = science, more or less, so I said, Carl Sagan the astrophysicist says that religion and science will meet on the hilltop somedayOk, said Hamish, prepared to be open-minded. Donia looked puzzled.

I paraphrased handily from a favorite book, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, by Carl Sagan: Sagan says all life on earth began with the proteins in the dust which sifted down from stars  from universes which originated in the Big Bang thingy. From that protein, that dust, we developed into Us.

 Hamish pondered and said, I've heard that about the stardust.  "We are the stuff of stars."  

English is not Donia's first language.  None of her English classes ever discussed Sagan or the Afterlife.  But she didn't hang out at the library discussing theology and science for the heck of it. She buckled down and wrote a lot of words in her vocabulary journal to look up later.

Hamish said Well I can't see how it's possible that we come back time and again, science or not. 

Hamish is a good example of "curmudgeonly" when he wants to be.  It seemed insensitive of him to not give the youngest member of our little group some hope to go on living and achieve immortality through faultless living.  This is not, after all, an easy goal.  To cheer Donia up, and maybe Hamish too, and definitely myself, the obvious answer popped into my head. It was an "A-Ha" moment that was so obvious I didn't see it coming.  Religious metaphor and science met in my head, on my personal mountaintop.  I couldn't even question it, it was so gently true.

So I said, DNA 

They stared at me, for a moment, while processing this statement.  We talk, in our little group, as Language and Culture learners.  We do not take words lightly. Words must be known, and understood.  So my friends who love language and ideas processed my acronym.  One processed the idea, one processed both the words and the idea. Donia knew "DNA" through her husband the doctor, but knowing the meaning of DNA wasn't helping her, or Hamish, follow The Thought.  An alien Thought you've never met before takes a bit more time to wrap around.  I was happy to see that my friends were rolling my tossed-out Thought around and hanging with it.  That of course, according to the Rules of Discourse, encouraged me to keep thinking that Thought.  So I followed it in.

I said, Life on earth began as little cells, which developed into more complex cells, which reorganized into even-more-complex creatures, and eventually became Us.  We have some of the original DNA, from the beginning of life on Earth, in our bodies.  (I believe that's true, but I was running with the moment and didn't check it. I will check it. Soon.)  We are, or specifically our DNA is, born over and over, changing to meet evolutionary demands and climate conditions, and to keep improving our survival capabilities.  That's what "reincarnation" is.  DNA. 

I drew breath and realized I was agreeing with Donia. Ten minutes earlier, I didn't believe in Reincarnation, as posited by Hippies and Hindis and such. 

But that was ten minutes ago, when I didn't understand.

Donia was still interpreting half of the words I was using, so she didn't understand yet that we were agreeing.  Hamish was being Engineer-ish and thinking about the science of my posit.  And being uncharacteristically quiet, too.

I expanded my new idea to myself while they were processing and while I was still figuring it out:

DNA dies and comes back--in the flesh, somebody's flesh--over and over.  It is/ we are reincarnated.  Through DNA, we pass on our same physical, mental, emotional traits, in different bodies.  If we live a "good" life, which Biblical literature articulates), our DNA (or the closely associated DNA of  relatives/ country/ race) is passed on.  If we don't live a good life, our DNA might not survive.  Back into the dust for another shot, after a few years or millennia or Big Bangs or something.  The survival of individuals, and our species, is dependent on living a Good Life, according to religion.  The idea of "luck"  does not enter into formalized Christian religion, although it's key to DNA thinking, I bet. 

There is nothing new under the sun, someone famously noted once.  Somewhere Out There, this very idea is all written down, and I will Google it one day soon.  I'll take the pros and cons back to the library and we'll use more theological and religious and metaphorical words for Donia, and have more fun deciding what's what.

Hamish nodded and said, I hadn't thought of that.  It cheered him up, I think.  He gave me a hug when we left.  Donia picked up some new English language terms from religion, science and philosophy, but I don't know what she thinks reincarnation entails, because we didn't talk about that.  This time.

I think its nice that, although we believe it in very different ways, we all believe the same thing.



Ageing gracefully is an oxymoron, unless you are a devoted Pilates practitioner.  Joints and muscles are less cooperative as the body powers down.  For age-ed  people, graceful movement  requires   maintenance.   

In a Lutheran Church once upon a time, a definition of Grace popped up in a Sunday sermon: "Time is a sign of Grace."   The Pastor expanded: resolution and forgiveness and acceptance happens, given time. Given time, things can work out. Simple. Those words have simmered in my brain for years.   

Clearly, Grace plus Time doesn't work for everyone in the same way.  A young man I knew who died of asthma at 16 had a much shorter Time to find Grace.  When babies die, we believe, they remain in a state of Grace they are born in, before they have Time to leave it.  For some people, all the Time in the world might not bring Grace, if they don't want it. 

What is Grace?  How do I get it?  Time is getting short.

I have a neighbor whom we will call Attila the Hun.  This man has-evil-eyed me for a decade.  But recently, his wife has been sporting a bald head and those pink-ribbon pins. It's no fun to carry a grudge against people who are facing their mortality.  They smiled at me once, and how could I not nod back at them?  Grace?

I swore off my birth siblings decades ago.  We had issues. Recently Mom died, and we have kept in touch.   Scattered around the country, we text each other once in a while: "Nice day here," "Thought of Mom today,"  and such.  Grace?

Time, like water, does have a way of wearing away stone.

I may be ageing Gracefully.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Far and Away

Once upon a time, my brother told me that China is on the other side of the world.  I was digging in a sandpile with the cat, who was doing other things in the sandpile.  My brother said if we dug too deep, we'd fall through and go to China and never get back.  Then he moved on, presumably to drop thought bombs elsewhere.  At the tender age of 4, I was learning not to believe most of what he said.  Yet, the idea of an "other side of the world" was new and something to chew on.  For a few minutes.

Forty-five years later, in a small backyard at a small house in a suburb of Kobe, Japan, I watched an eclipse of the moon.  My hostess, a Japanese woman, was better at English than I was at Japanese.  Because being on the other side of the world confused me sometimes I asked, "Is this eclipse visible at my home in the U.S.?"  She thought a minute, translating my question and her answer internally, and said, "No." I was, after all, on the other side of the world.

Cats and eclipses and Dorothy, oh my. 

You can go far away from where you were to see where you've been.

The all-time top universal theme of human Story is: I want to go Home.  All the great heroes do it: Dorothy, E.T., Frodo, Ulysses.  They all had to leave home for some reason, and all wanted to go back.  All of them had adventures which changed them, and benefited others.  Mythologist Joseph Campbell calls this The Hero's Journey.  In myth, someone like Greek hero Ulysses goes far away, has wild and crazy experiences, and fights his way back home, where he is a wise ruler for the rest of his life.  Carl Jung describes it as a personal journey, specifically individuation: finding the self, becoming a mature and whole person. Someone who refuses the journey falls under what Jung calls the shadow. A tidy example of individuation and shadow is the small hero Frodo, in Lord of the Rings.  Frodo both physically carries and personally embodies the Light that Shines Where-There-Is-No-Light.  He never gives up his mission: to save the world, specifically his shire.

So where is Home to go to?  Frodo's journey leaves him so changed that he can't stay in the shire.  He goes off into the West with the Elves.  I had a home where cats and brothers roamed wild and free.  I had a home with children and financial responsibilities.  And a home living alone. With cats. As my personal journey through time and space winds down,  I think home is a place I've always left, to find the place that I was always creating.  It's the place to stop and share everything I picked up.

This quote hangs on my fridge:

Don't ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.  --Howard Thurman

Pretty much the same thing Campbell and Jung said.  In that spirit, I play with grandchildren, paint pictures, write stories, garden, and otherwise come alive.  After years of looking for something, it may have found me.  My cat and my brother sent me off.  I'm back in the sandbox.

  • Carl Jung .  10/14/14
  • Joseph Campbell.  10/11/14
  •  Howard Thurman (November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981) was an influential African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was Dean of Chapel at Howard University and Boston University for more than two decades, wrote 21 books, and in 1944 helped found a multicultural church. Thurman, along with Mordecai Johnson and Vernon Johns, was considered one of the three greatest African-American preachers in the early 20th-century.-  Wikipedia, 10/14/14
  • Rufus Jones --He distinguished between . . . negative mysticism (making contact with an impersonal force) and . . . affirmative mysticism (making contact with a personal being). He upheld that God is a personal being with whom human beings could interact. He wrote in The Trail of Life in the Middle Years, "The essential characteristic of [mysticism] is the attainment of a personal conviction by an individual that the human spirit and the divine Spirit have met, have found each other, and are in mutual and reciprocal correspondence as spirit with Spirit." . . . He exerted a major influence on the life and work of theologian Howard Thurman, who studied with him in 1929-30.

Tree Zen Me

In the middle of nowhere, where I was born, trees were ubiquitous and at-hand.  They were frames of reference for weather, locations and daily events.  They had personalities. They suffered damage and died and were mourned. They had branches for climbing, for harboring snakes, and for providing shade on steamy days.  They were black and grey in winter.  They categorized, in our Universe, an order of How Things were. 

The maple trees in the Front Yard formed double columns.  My parents planted some young ones as replacements, when needed.  These comradely trees were quiet and well-behaved. They had each other.  They were front-parlor trees. They were tolerant of children who mowed and raked and crossed between them on their way to other places.  Their limbs were high above climbing-and- swinging reach. The Front Yard was a buffer between the house and the passing road. It kept to itself.  

Some trees, on the other hand, grew in solitude.  An old maple stood a little east and south of the cistern, in front of the kitchen windows.  It  held a series of rope-and-plank swings. It shaded a sandpile.  It held a bird feeder.  It is close to 100 years old.  Its the tree I love most.  Another tree which grew in solitude at the edges of the yard is a hackberry tree.  It grew along the fence between the truck garden and the field.  An elderly neighbor woman, who lived down the road when I was a child, told my Dad that she loved to listen to the blackbirds singing in that hackberry tree at night, in the moonlight.  I don't recall the blackbirds or the singing, at all.  The hackberry tree was split almost in half during a storm, but it still grows.

And there were cedar trees. Two giant cedars, as old as Methusaleh, bordered our driveway when I was a child.  But when our old, teensy bungalow was replaced with a newly-constructed, modern (plumbing) ranch house, a neighbor bought the bungalow.  He moved it, on a flatbed wagon pulled by a tractor, down the road a few miles to his property and lived in it for many years.  However, in the process of moving it out of the narrow driveway, we had to cut down one of the guardian cedars to allow the house to pass through.  We remember and mourn the lost cedar to this day.  Its surviving fellow seems to be immortal.  It compelled Mom to compensate for its lost companion. In the following decades, she tirelessly dug up cedar saplings in the woods, and re-planted them around the edges of the farm yard.  Now, the saplings are huge and fragrant, guarding pens and fields in ascending lines of growth stages.  The surviving Methuselah cedar still stamds, aloof, at the end of the driveway.

There was another division of trees / time / space: an orchard.  Pears and apples and cherries grew on the north side of the rock driveway.  They always bore fruit, which was sometimes wormy and thrown to the cows and pigs.  But careful salvaging allowed occasional batches of pies, or of apple butter,  cooked up in a copper-lined pot in the back yard and preserved in Mom's home canning. The apple trees were kind. They were small enough and large enough to climb.  I sat in them and watched down the road where my brothers were at school.  I watched the field behind the orchard.   I watched apple leaves and sunlight and heard the wind and nothing at all. 

Places we live in never leave us.  My house today is surrounded by trees and bushes who came to live with me, sometimes planted, sometimes left by passing birds or winds. I don't take for granted the shade, the sounds, the associated wildlife, the beauty of trees.  Its nice to see organizations like the Ancient Tree Archive out of Northern Michigan, which preserve genetic material from the world's oldest beings:  ancient trees.  Its wonderful that so many people all over the world are planting trees and reforming ties.  Lord of the Rings, with the walking, talking tree warriors, remembers ancient relations with trees.  The plot of the cult movie  Avatar features great trees which are the center of spiritual connection on a planet. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Beautiful late summer day, under the pergola.  Life is good.  A lone hummingbird swoops past, startling me. Hummingbirds are rare in my backyard.  A friend says, "Were you thinking of your mom?"

Mom was our family hummingbird fanatic.  She kept legions of them fed and admired for decades.  She made their preferred food--sugar water--herself, adhering to strict rituals of preparation.  She kept their feeders hygienic and full.  She picked up the occasional unfortunate who slammed into a window or another hummingbird, and stroked them with wonder and confidence until they recovered (usually recovered).  She cared for them as physically as she did for everything she loved.  When her kids left home, and after many many years when Dad left her, the hummingbirds were an outlet for some of her passionate energy.  We gave Mom hummingbird trinkets, jewelry, magnets, note cards.  Hummingbirds were part of her symbology, like Jesus and a lamb.

When Mom died, we took down the hummingbird feeders.  Nobody was there to care for them.  Maybe the neighbors who inherited the feeders will put them up in their yard, and fill in the slack.  Probably, the hummingbirds are on their own.  The livin' won't be as easy, but I hope they find enough.

I'm a displaced hummingbird this autumn.  Suddenly my job is not the place I want to be.  Whatever has been filling my feeder has moved on, so to speak.   Instead of the urge to serve and save humankind, I am having a survival kind of epiphany.  Happy is Important.  Mom's death has spotlighted my own mortality in a way I didn't expect. 

When did the choices get so hard, with so much more at stake?
Life gets pretty precious when there's less of it to waste (1).

There are other avenues of finding enough.  Hummingbirds can attest: all good things come to an end, look for the next good thing. 

When I see a hummingbird, I think of Mom.   The hummingbirds will not lay down and die of grief. Their life is their own.  They'll think of something.

1.  Raitt, Bonnie.  "Love in the Nick of Time;" song.