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I will seek to act with empathy in all things, putting myself in the other person’s shoes before passing judgment.
I will take a breath, listen patiently, and find the common ground.
I will choose to give preference to others, relinquishing the notion that my convenience is the utmost priority and giving up the desire to always be first.
I will seek solutions to conflict rather than harboring bitterness, and I will pursue positive thoughts instead of jumping to conclusions that assume the worst.
I will speak my mind gently without degrading someone else with my words, while recognizing that their opinions carry equal value to my own.
I will strive to act with courage when challenges or injustices arise.
I will behave in a civil manner and refuse to sink to foul speech when I am angry or unfairly treated. I will communicate with honesty and gentleness from a position of humility, recognizing my own human frailty.
I will try to offer peace and resolution in place of conflict whenever it is in my power to do so.
I will purposely seek out opportunities to help others whether by a tangible gift, assistance with a task, or simply a kind word.
In all I do, my goal will be to leave every place and every person blessed in some way because of my interaction with them.
May peace and kindness govern my hands, my tongue, and my feet as I travel this path.

Short version: “Be nice, dammit!”

 

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Greed vs Gift…which economy will we support?


Gift versus greed economyToday, we are all familiar with the “greed economy.” It is governed by the competitive principle that more for you is less for me. It prioritizes luxuries for the few over necessities of the many. It is exclusive to those who don’t have money, relegating them to search for subsistence from the garbage of others. It is not only degrading, disgusting, and immoral, it is totally and completely unsustainable.

A gift economy actually decays greed. It widens the family circle to include the entire community. It is governed by the cooperative principle that more for you is more for me too. It prioritizes matching gifts with needs. It is inclusive of everyone, including those who have little to give but a warm smile or their gratitude. It is not something that is imposed on people. Rather, it is something that people volunteer to be a part of because they recognize the inherent joy that comes from giving to others.

In a world of limited resources, it becomes imperative that any economic system that plans on allowing the human species to sustainably live on this planet maximize the efficient use of resources. This means we must cease our incessant desire to own the world, realize that owning more things will never be enough to compensate for the wound of separation inside us, and understand that we can only really improve our quality of life by reducing the suffering of others.

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Kitchen gadgets…what do we really need?

what is needed in kitchenAt our house, we cook. I mean, we really cook. And bake. And barbecue. We love doing it from scratch, inventing new combinations (new to us, anyway), creating great flavors and nutritious foods. So, it can be tempting to amass gadgets in the kitchen “to make the work easier”. Unfortunately, we seem to find ourselves spending lots of energy organizing finding space for stuff, only to realize months or even years later that many of those “helpful” items rarely come out of a drawer or cupboard.

Now, everyone is different and we all find usefulness in different things. So this list of possibly unnecessary kitchen items is just MY choice of things I prefer to not give space to in the kitchen. You will have your own list, and it may differ from mine. The point is to take stock (pardon the pun) of what actually serves you and lighten your load by releasing the rest to find a home in a kitchen somewhere else.

*Just a note: For some people, certain items are not a mere convenience, but a necessity. For example, an elderly person with arthritis might not be able to manually open a can, so an electric can opener saves the day. Or someone who bakes bread regularly, churns out hundreds of cookies for extended family at holiday time, and creates all of their own homemade pasta might actually put a Kitchenaid stand mixer to great use because it CAN make much shorter work of all of these tasks using just one tool with attachments. These are the kinds of individual considerations to keep in mind as we ponder what each of us really will use in our kitchens.

Here we go!

1. Electric can opener: I have no need for one and I prefer saving the counter space and electricity by using a hand-operated version.

2. Kitchenaid mixer: I bake quite a bit, but I am still perfectly well served by an ordinary $15 hand-held electric mixer that stows easily in a drawer.

3. Microwave oven: This one still occupies a space on our counter because I don’t wish to start a war in my household over getting rid of it. {smile} There are numerous studies suggesting that microwaving food causes deleterious changes in its cell structure and nutritional value, and I lived for many years without one with no problem. It requires a little planning when utilizing frozen foods for meals, and re-heating refrigerated foods or drinks takes a tad bit more time on the stove top…but sometimes those quiet moments are a nice pause in the day, when you think about it.

4. Toaster oven: Unless you really use a toaster oven a lot, it is probably a waste of space. A regular toaster works just fine, though I do appreciate one with wide enough slots to accommodate a sliced bagel.

5. Espresso machine: Talk about a judgment call! The point here is that if you only enjoy an espresso drink once a month, you might consider making it an entire experience of a visit to a quaint coffee shop. I used to have an espresso machine and I used it daily for not only coffee but also instantly hot water for other things.

6. Multiple sets of measuring cups: I have two, and honestly I never use them both at the same time.

7. Apple corer: I am not referring to the type that mounts to the counter top and can process bushels of apples at lightning speed for preserving. I am talking about that roundish thing that you just press down over an apple and hopefully it cuts out the core intact while slicing the apple into six equal pieces. A paring knife that I use for a million other things too, takes up far less drawer space.

8. Knife block: Takes up a lot of counter space to hold only about eight cooking knives and a set of steak knives. If you don’t like knives in a drawer, using a magnetic knife strip that mounts to a wall or side of the fridge is a great space-saving solution, and preserves the sharp of your knife blades.

9. Excessive pots and pans: Admittedly, I would never willingly part with a 120 year old set of seasoned cast iron pans, even if some of them are used only rarely. They can still be in use by my descendants five generations from now if cared for properly. Otherwise, pots and pans are an item of necessity, and most of us just don’t need several of the same size. Discern those you truly need and use from those that are constantly being shifted around but seldom meet the stove top. *I am definitely a strong proponent of cast-iron cooking, not only because the pans last forever but also because of the negative health aspects associated with teflon.

10. Excessive casserole/pyrex type dishes: An assortment of these in various sizes is convenient to have, but do we really need several duplicates of the same size? Or how about that odd-sized/shaped dish that just never seems right to use? Be practical. These kinds of cookware take up space, so if you have pieces you don’t use then consider passing them on.

11. Bread maker: I am passionate about bread. In our current cultural climate, carbs have gotten a bad rap, so let me be clear: I am not saying we should eat a loaf every day, and I favor whole grains and unprocessed ingredients. That aside, there is also an art to bread, a history of using basic ingredients to form a product that sustains and energizes…like a slice of true nurturing dropped into the toaster and spread with apple butter to fill a hungry belly before the day’s work begins. Knowing when bubbling yeast is ready to be added to the flour…feeling the dough spring to life under the warmth of your hands as you knead it…seeing the loaves rise as they breathe like a living thing…these are all a part of experiencing bread and they are missed completely when a machine takes over. Moving on…

12. Grilled cheese maker: Remember those skillets you have? Yup, they work great for grilled cheese sandwiches.

13. Panini press: Again, the skillet. For  pressed grilled sandwich, just put a piece of tin foil over the sandwich and set another skillet on top of it…press down. Voila, a panini press.

14. Rice cooker: Unless you cook high volumes of rice every day, a simple pot with a lid works just as well. Put both the rice and water in, bring to a boil, cover with a lid and turn down to lowest heat. In about twenty minutes, perfect rice. *Don’t take the lid off, and don’t be tempted to stir during cooking.

15. Excessive coffee mugs: We all have our favorite mug! maybe two or three. But most of us do NOT have coffee parties wherein we need twenty mugs all at one time. Save the cupboard space and pare them down to a reasonable number.

16. Electric food processor: No doubt, these can chop mountains of food, puree gallons of more food, and grind piles of dry crumbly stuff in less time than they can be pulverized by hand. If you routinely cook for an army, you might need one of these…otherwise, some simple knife skills will do just fine.

17. Old knives you never use: Yes, about those knives we just mentioned! Different tasks require different blades, of course, so an assortment is a good idea to have around. But if you have a drawer full of knives you never use because they have been replaced by newer or better quality tools, consider donating those older ones to someone who might need them. *We personally know a gentleman who re-conditions old knives and donates them to individuals who need them. It is a blessing to see them brought back to life and put to use.

18. Saucers with small teacups: Some folks host dainty tea parties, but most of us don’t. Those tiny saucers take up space and their tiny receptacle counterparts usually just gather dust. Consider using them as gifts: Fill with candy, a small plant, or extra change and bless someone with a surprise treat for no reason at all!

19. Excessive pitchers: Do we ever serve eight different types of juice at once? Probably not…the extra pitchers could probably be put to better use elsewhere. *The availability of inexpensive plastic makes it easy to accumulate “extras”. Consider buying better quality glass or stainless steel pitchers that will not only last longer, but also reduce the inevitable scuffed up plastic in a landfill somewhere.

20. Aerosol non-stick spray: Aerosol is bad for the ozone layer, remember? using it to propel olive oil might SEEM good, but…well. Not really. How about just using a little oil on a brush for that baking pan?

21. Disposable paper coffee cups with plastic lids: Consider buying a thermal travel mug just once, and save not only the space but reduce the throwaways.

22. Paper plates: I do buy these occasionally for large outdoor picnics and camping trips. Unless we are hosting so many guests for a meal that we don’t have enough regular dishes, please consider the impact that frequent use of disposable one-time-use items have on natural resources.

23. Paper towels: Again something to use sparingly or consider saving only for very specific occasions. If you have access to a washing machine, a stack of white flour sack style towels cost much less, last much longer, and are more economical on many fronts. Keep a few set aside specifically for greasy use…we all know grease needs mopped up on occasion. Try it, even for a while, and you will see just how  you do NOT need these disposable towels as much as you might think.

24. Paper napkins: Again, a one-time-use disposable item designed to replace its washable cloth counterpart. Our society has become accustomed to paying for an item at a store, using it once, throwing it “away” (Where is”away”, actually? Everything goes somewhere…), then paying for the service of having it taken away in the trash (Again, it just goes “away”…), then paying for more. If you sew, great-looking napkins can be made from tons of different fabrics, even scraps leftover from other projects. If you don’t sew, cloth napkins can be purchased in sets quite economically. Just consider it.

25. I better duck for this one…Ziploc bags: We do have these at our house, but have greatly reduced the number of them that we use. Consider collecting several lidded containers for storing leftovers, wrap lunchtime sandwiches in waxed paper, and utilize plastic bags that accumulate with other products purchased in them. (Why not keep that bag those hamburger buns came in and use it the next time you really DO need to store something wrapped in plastic?) Also, many times a used ziploc bag can easily be washed out, dried, and re-used instead of reaching for a new one just because there is a whole box of them in a drawer. Remember, plastic lasts more than a human lifetime in a landfill.

So, what do YOU choose to clear out? What have you already avoided using because you didn’t need it? Share with us your ideas and thoughts so we can all learn from different perspectives!

Blessings all ’round,
Lorrie

 

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Homemade non-toxic deodorant…that works!

homemade deodorantMy mother is a long-term breast cancer survivor. Her battle has given me pause to consider specific things in life that could be potential cancer risks, and underarm deodorant is one of those things.

Now, I will freely admit that my own quest for “naturalness” only goes  so far. While I appreciate the fact that armpits grow hair when left to their own devices, I prefer to not look like Harry the Hairy Ape. That being said, it must be considered that abraded skin, such as after shaving one’s underarm area, is much more susceptible to absorbing toxic substances from any product applied to that skin. Considering the number of lymph nodes nestled directly under that skin and the nearby glandular breast tissue, I cannot shake the nagging concern that perhaps the armpits are not the best place to routinely apply what may be a toxic substance.

To be fair, the medical jury is still out on whether triclosan, a common antibacterial ingredient in many personal care products including deodorants, is harmful to human health. Likewise, though we DO know that aluminum, a common ingredient in antiperpsirants, IS toxic to humans, the medical community has not agreed that it is toxic enough when applied to the skin to warrant being pulled from personal care products on the market. However, it seems to me and to the nagging feeling in my gut that rather than wait for that jury to come back with a guilty verdict, it might be more wise on my part to eliminate those two substances from my personal care, if possible and simply avoid the risk.

What to do, what to do?

I am quite certain that everyone who interacts with me on a regular basis will be happy to know that I am not eschewing the practice of using deodorant. I work hard, and that entails sweating. If I don’t want to avoid social ostracism, I need a solution to this deodorant dilemma! And I have found it!

Though skeptical about this homemade natural deodorant recipe, I decided to give it a chance…and I am hooked. Not only have I experienced a total success in the olfactory department (“I don’t smell bad”), but I also noticed a total absence of the mild irritation I had previously come to consider normal. No itching, no dryness of the skin, no soaking sweat into my clothes…and yup, no odor!

So with no further delay, here is the very simple recipe:

1 cup organic coconut oil
3 T. cornstarch or arrowroot powder
4 T. baking soda
*Optional: 1/8 t. Tea tree oil
(Personally, I like the tea tree oil because it absorbs deeply into the skin and is a healthy support in every way.) You could also add a few drops of lavender, rose, or other essential oil for scent, if you like.

The coconut oil will be hard at room temperature, so just smash it thoroughly with a fork if needed. Mix in the other ingredients and stir really well, then scoop into a small container with a lid. Rub a small amount into the underarm area daily. At the rate I am using it, this tub of deodorant will last me about four months, and cost about $2.70.

Whether or not this natural deodorant reduces my risk of getting breast cancer, I may never know. Either way, I am using fewer chemicals on my skin, definitely spending far less money, and can feel good about the ingredients I AM using.

Do YOU have an experience with homemade deodorant or a related topic? I would love to hear from you! Share your comments with us so we can all learn to walk in better health.
Blessings all ’round,
Lorrie

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“A subversive plot: how to grow a revolution in your own backyard”

Hands down, one of the BEST explanations of the importance of the current urban gardening movement. Roger Doiron is on point, using humor alongside inescapable facts to urge us to get out there and grow something. He is the founder and director of Kitchen Gardeners International (www.KGI.org), a Maine-based nonprofit network of over 30,000 individuals from 100 countries who are taking a hands-on approach to relocalizing the food supply. In 2007, he was chosen as a Food and Community Fellow.

“Increasing access to foods that are healthy for us and the planet is the biggest challenge we face. Kitchen gardens will be a key part of the solution and represent a cost-effective investment. Everyone has a rold to play in planting and promoting them. Grow your subversive plot today.”

Please enjoy this eighteen minute video. If you are already an avid gardener, you will come away encouraged to press on and do more! If you are still on the fence, be prepared for a bit of a nudge. Either way, it will be eighteen minutes well-spent.

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Food is Free Project arrives in Burien, WA!

FIF-Community-page-cover

The Food Is Free Project, Burien chapter, has arrived!

The FIFP was founded in 2012 by some folks who wanted to see their neighborhood come together and support one another in the area of food security. From the ground up (pardon the pun), they have expanded through grass roots action (more puns…sorry) to encourage home gardening, food sharing, and neighborhood connectivity. And they have done it beautifully!

To view the Food is Free Burien community page, click here.fifb-logo

To join the Food is Free Burien local Burien group, click here.

To visit the Food is Free Project main website and check out the amazing things happening, click here.

To contact the new Burien group directly, feel free to fire off an email:
FoodIsFreeBurien@TheCommunityGate.org

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A gifting and sharing economy in real life

“Economy”…just say the word and a great number of people cringe. It’s all about money, right? Buying and selling, investing to make more money, how to wisely spend or save money, strategies for earning more money, just money, money, money.

Yup. That about wraps it up. Our well-known “market economy” is just that: A way of doing business, a method of transaction wherein cash is exchanged for goods or services. Everything has a price, and an item or service is obtained by paying that price in cash to the entity offering the product or service. The result is that we spend our entire lives working to earn the cash necessary to purchase things we need or want. Not a bad deal, really, because after all, isn’t that the way it is supposed to be?

Is it?

Let’s look at that scenario for a moment. Some things really do have to be paid for with the almighty dollar. One’s mortgage company will probably not accept three sides of beef as this month’s payment, and utility companies are likely to frown upon an offer of freshly grown carrots. However, what about the things that CAN be obtained through simply giving to our neighbors as they/we have need? What if our neighbor was happy to receive a gently worn child’s winter coat for their own child, free of charge? That frees up many almighty dollars that they can now use for something that requires cash. Or what if the single parent next door received as a gift a gallon of milk and a bag of fresh apples, again free of charge? Now her children will have a healthy snack and we all know how beneficial it is to a budget when one’s children stay healthy!

Our local groups enable neighbors to connect and meet real needs, share real experiences, and no longer remain strangers!

But let’s get away from things children need. Perhaps one has a gorgeous vegetable garden and a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. What a wonderful feeling it brings to gift out of the abundance of those tomatoes so that a neighbor can enjoy them! Perhaps that neighbor then offers to hold onto their compostable scraps to add to your garden next season…and the gifting circle goes around and around.

“But isn’t that just bartering?” No, it really isn’t because bartering still entails trading something of value for something else of comparable value. A gifting economy does neither. Rather, when someone in the community has a need, someone else in that community who is able to meet that need does so with a gift. That’s the point: it is a gift, freely given with no expectation of a return of any kind from the recipient.

At this point, many people reading this will smile and nod, then say something like, “If it could only be that simple”, followed by a heavy sigh of resignation.

The thing is, it CAN be that simple. It IS that simple. It has always BEEN that simple.

Human beings really can shake off the economic shackles that bind us to a system where we are enslaved to cash. Sure, cash is necessary for certain things…but not EVERYthing. Cash is helpful in some situations…but not ALL situations. Meeting a need or fulfilling a desire of someone in our community does not have to entail the overt spending of a single dime. We CAN rise above our market economy and begin to learn how to share our belongings, our provisions, and our very selves with those around us.

Some will say, “But everything is purchased at one time or another, so even a gift to someone was bought at some previous time”. This is indeed true. However, say my neighbor has want of a coffee table, and I happen to have one I am not using. At some point in time I had purchased that coffee table. But if my neighbor likes the table, doesn’t it make more sense to just give him the table so that they need not go and spend money on one? Now he can use his cash for something else that can only be handled with actual money, he has a new coffee table, and I have one less item taking up space in my garage.

Maybe it is something smaller and less dramatic. Let’s say a neighbor is out of milk and her two children are already in bed sleeping for the night. They will have cereal, but no milk for breakfast. Now, someone nearby happens to have stocked up on milk and they have an extra bottle in their fridge, so they take that bottle of milk over to their neighbor…voila! The youngsters have cereal and milk for breakfast, their Mom can be free of worry about her children being hungry, and the neighbor who brought the milk has the joy of having helped out. Who knew that a simple bottle of milk could do so much good for so many people?

 

This is a gifting and sharing economy in action.

It is about seeing a need or a want and fulfilling it just because we can, not becausealswys something to be thankful we gain something from it. It is about being willing to be vulnerable enough for our neighbors to get to know us, and putting in the effort to get to know them, too. It is about recognizing that we are all a part of one enormous human family, and as such we can reach out and connect with each other in more meaningful ways than we ever thought possible.

The technological age has made the world a smaller place, with light-speed communication and jet travel linking us with far away places like never before. But technology has also isolated us from each other by making it possible for us to communicate without ever making actual contact. We might converse with a colleague or friend for months or even years without ever actually meeting face to face. We have forgotten the warm feeling of answering the door and welcoming in a neighbor who just stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar.

Our forebears knew this close-knit sense of community, they embraced the connections between fellow pioneers because their survival depended upon knowing and supporting each other. Through winter storms and lean years, they helped each other raise barns, raise food, and raise children…always leaning on one another when things were rough. In our more modern era, we lean on other things instead of our neighbors. We all have jobs and we assume we can support ourselves with no help from anyone else. We are so busy we might not even realize that our neighbor is ill, or that our co-worker is struggling to make ends meet. If we do realize someone next to us is in need, we usually shrug it off and assume that either they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or some government agency will offer to help them. Never mind that we might have exactly what they need, and might not even miss it if we were to offer it to them.

We live in a bubble.

But human beings were never meant to be isolated this way. We are built for interaction, for caring about those around us. If we listen, we all have a voice inside of us that screams to be connected with other people…we yearn on a deep level for community.

Gma and me

Gifting and sharing economies build that kind of community.

When we begin to give, whether large items or small, we soon realize that our view of possessions and of money shifts…we realize that we really can hold loosely to certain things and share with those around us so that our own abundance blesses more people than just ourselves. The beauty is that others will realize this too, and the giving and sharing takes on a whole new energy of its own! We suddenly see our own abundance in a new light and we want to give and give and give.

Imagine a whole community thinking this way. Imagine a community of people who look out for each other, who are willing to meet a need when it arose, who simply give small things out of their ability to do so. Imagine a community like that…

…and imagine that it is YOUR community.

“Bah! That will never happen!”, some might say.

Oh, but it IS happening…right now!

You have heard the phrase, “Put your money where your mouth is”, meaning that if you really mean something you will be willing to back it up with cold hard cash. The Community GATE takes it a step further by suggesting it is not just money that is valuable, but our possessions, our expertise, our very selves. Every one of us has something to offer, from the richest to the most meagerly supplied. There is no differentiating between the haves and the have nots, as typical charity does. This is not a system of the materially wealthy handing out to the less well-to-do, but rather a system wherein everyone has something to offer, and all are respected the same as part of the community.

A gifting and sharing economy thrives because of this balance where no one is above anyone else. Everyone has something to offer, whether a material item, a skill or craft, or simply their own energy to lend a hand toward a task that needs done. In this way, the Community GATE envelops members from every walk of life, every race and creed, every economic station. It is a beautiful and very blessed family, to be sure.

Still not sure about all this generosity, giving, and kindness? Just come and meet us, and have a look for yourself. We would love to have you show up at our door to ask for a cup of sugar.

And just leave the gate open behind you….someone else might just follow you in! All are welcome, and we hope to meet you soon!

As always, we welcome your comments…please share your thoughts!
Lorrie P., The Community GATE Founder

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Stop, drop, and roll…existing in a state of future shock

Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” ~Alvin Toffler, Future Shock 1970

information-overloadIn 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler published his work called Future Shock. His premise was that though change and progress are generally good for a society, too rapid or sudden a change is decidedly unhealthy. He argued that the majority of social problems are symptoms of future shock. From his discussions of the components of such phenomena, the term “information overload” emerged.

What does this mean for us on a personal level? How are we affected by these elements, and how do we handle those effects? First let’s examine this concept of information overload and see how it applies to each of us.

I have a very dear friend who moved to the U.S. several years ago from a remote rural village. Modern amenities in the village consisted of a hand pump used to draw water from the community well, and bi-weekly delivery of mail. When he arrived in town, I was happy to take him shopping to pick up some basic supplies that he would need, so off we went to a nearby drugstore. I naively did not understand the impact this experience was going to have on my friend. He stayed behind me as we walked into the store, and I headed for the toiletries aisle where he could choose shampoo, toothpaste, etc…but looking around I discovered that he was no longer with me. I re-traced our path to the front door, only to find him standing outside with his eyes closed. When I asked him what was wrong, all he could repeat was “too much…too much”. Suddenly I realized my folly and led him back to the quiet safety of the car.
I had overlooked the fact that my friend was used to nature sounds, horse hooves, people’s voices, wind in the trees, a crackling fire, a night sky uninterrupted by modern streetlights, and a much slower pace than he observed in his current surroundings. He did not own a watch, he took his cues from the rising and setting of the sun and the general rhythm of each day as tasks were done, meals prepared, stories told, and sleep embraced. The sounds of traffic, electric doors, the glare of bright commercial lighting, the vast array of products on store shelves, schedules and time constraints…these were all foreign to him and pushed him quickly into the very state that Alvin Toffler described: information overload. There was simply too much happening too fast, too many choices, too many pressures, and too much noise and visual distraction for him to cope with. The stress was too much and he wanted nothing more than to escape the ruckus he sensed all around himself.

An example like the one I just described is relatively simple. If someone is overwhelmed by a situation, the easy solution is to remove them from that situation. I took my friend home and allowed him time in the quiet house to settle down and find his peace again. No radio, no television, no phone calls…these were all things he had lived his whole life without, and to him they were nothing more than a noisy interruption. Within a short time, I looked up to find him more in his element: he had gone outside and was weeding the spinach patch in my garden. In time, my friend gradually grew accustomed to “how life is” here, and though he still preferred the relative quiet of a garden or a stroll through the woods, he acclimated very well and learned how to cope with the stresses that surrounded him.

It is great when we can remove ourselves from the situations or stimuli that irritate us or drive our blood pressure through the roof. But what about those times when we simply cannot walk away? What do we do when we have no choice but to remain where we are while the information superhighway paints a double yellow line down the center of our minds and the speed limit seems far too high for safety?

Let me introduce the concept of “Stop…Drop…and Roll”.

When we find ourselves in a stressful situation, or even when we simply feel bombarded by yet another day filled with noise, emails, phone calls, schedules, and deadlines, we are bound to experience moments ranging from mild irritation to actual severe anxiety. Our heart pounds, thinking becomes difficult, we lose our focus and everything in us just wants to escape to a quiet, peaceful, slower place. If we cannot physically do so, we can still mentally bring ourselves to a place of re-centering and take a break from the chaos swirling around us.

We can stop.
Stop

In that moment when we feel pressure from every side, we can simply stop. Place one or both of our hands over the center of our chest and take a long, slow deep breath, feeling the air expand our lungs and the tension abate as we let that breath go. Humans have been breathing this same way for thousands of years…we are connected in this way with every human being who has ever lived. No matter what other changes have occurred, no matter what inventions or technologies have come and gone, breathing is a constant force. We can focus on that breath just for a minute, allowing each slow intake of life-giving air to feed our bodies and calm our thoughts. We can realize in that moment that if everything around us were to fall apart, if technology suddenly failed, if the lights all went out, if our car broke down and our phone stopped ringing…our breath would still be the most important thing. Focusing on that breath brings us back to a quiet center where all human beings congregate across the millennia. All of the external man-made things around us sometimes just have to wait a minute so that our humanity can survive…one breath at a time.

This is also a matter of empowerment. In a world where so many facets of our daily lives are somewhat beyond our control, it is empowering to exercise the choice to call a halt to activity and take a few moments to protect our well-being. It is always easier to handle stressful situations when we can maintain objectivity and keep a healthy distance between ourselves and the circumstance at hand. Sometimes we will be able to push on through whatever pressures us, but other times it is vital that we learn to simply stop, even if only for a brief time.

Next, we drop.

What? Get down on the ground? No. Well, not unless you happen to be in an actual woman lying down DROPfire, of course. Otherwise, I am talking about dropping things that are weighing us down and causing distress. These things could be just about anything: excessively overloaded schedules, unrealistic goals, a habit of taking on more than we can handle, failing to say “No” when a demand on our time is unreasonable. Even things we assume we cannot function without such as cell phones, email messages, social networks, doorbells, and a host of other interruptions really can be set aside at least for a time while we collect ourselves and have a moment of peace.

In this age of technology, it almost requires an act of God for us to realize that life will not come to an end if we do not snap to attention every time the telephone rings or our email notifier alerts us to a new arrival to our inbox. We can set all of these things aside, hang out an “I’m not here for the next five minutes” sign, and leave it all behind just for a short time. The difficult thing about this is that sometimes it might seem that we have to set aside something that we really don’t want to. We have to admit to ourselves that oftentimes we increase our own stress by holding onto things, both good and bad, that we should walk away from. For example, if I am already overworked and exhausted and someone asks me to take on a particular task that is going to tax my energies even more, it is my responsibility to politely explain that I am unable to take on that task. I might have to say “No” to something, even if it would ordinarily be a pleasant task for me. Putting down the things that are burdensome or painful to some degree is not too difficult…putting down things that are enjoyable to us can be far more of a challenge. But we have only so much energy, only a certain capacity for productivity and it is up to us to protect ourselves by recognizing our own limits and then setting reasonable boundaries.

We do live, as Alvin Toffler pointed out, in a culture that values productivity and success above nearly all else. We are pushed, and we tend to push ourselves, to accomplish more, get things done faster, cram as many activities as possible into even the last three seconds of every minute. We must develop the skill of recognizing when our frenzied pace is actually a negative influence on our physical, emotional, or mental health. Even our spirituality as humans is placed at risk if we cannot maintain reasonable limits for ourselves. Dad-to-day overload can drain us of the ability or even the desire to set our thoughts on higher things and we quickly lose sight of our true place and purpose in the world. Choosing what to drop, what to permanently leave behind or what to temporarily set aside can be a challenge, but with practice we will soon see the benefits of cultivating this ability.

We can…we must… drop whatever is necessary to save our sanity, enabling ourselves to roll forward with renewed energy and peace of mind.

Moving on…rolling forward.
walking_alone
So, we have stopped the hectic activity swirling around us, we have dropped the extra burdens that were stressing us out, we have lightened our schedules, realized where we had allowed pressure into our lives rather than turning it away at the door, clarified our priorities, and situated ourselves in a somewhat more peaceful mental space. It might seem like this work of de-stressing ourselves is complete, but we cannot stay in this comfortable place for long. We all know what is about to happen: the phone is going to ring. The boss is going to drop another stack of paperwork on our desk. Someone is going to ask for help with a project on a day when our schedule is already crammed full. If we don’t move forward, we will find ourselves in the very same tense situation we just addressed, inviting anxiety to come calling. What do we do now?

We roll. When we drop something in order to lighten our load, we must move beyond it in order to avoid the temptation to go back and pick it up again. Even if we get to the end of the day and realize we actually have a little extra time left, we do not have to cram some sort of activity into that time! Perhaps we rescheduled an appointment or project for another day in order to lighten our schedule today. We need to leave that change in place; even if we get to the end of the day and think we could go ahead and cram one more task into that bit of free time.  If we decided to eliminate a particular task altogether, we should not go back and re-claim it just because we find a few extra minutes in our day. We need to leave that eliminated task alone and remind ourselves that we are better off by having time to wind down the end of our day without rushing.

Of course, especially for people who are accustomed to being somewhat busy during the day, free time can be disconcerting if we have nothing at all to do. Leaving a vacuum of activity can actually cause more stress than it relieves, so we must wisely choose how to spend that time we have carved out for ourselves. Helpful choices would include activities that will enhance our peace of mind, since that was the whole point of this exercise! Going for a walk, chatting with a friend, reading a good book, pursuing a creative hobby, or playing with a family pet are all possibilities that contribute to a calm state of mind. Such activities also replace any nagging thoughts about the things we may have cut out of our day. Remember, we do not want to go back and retrieve any of those things we so recently dropped!

The interesting thing about all of this is that though it takes actual focus and energy at first to begin to address our “shocked” environment and make changes to improve upon our existence, in time it becomes a habit to consider carefully which encroachments we permit in our lives. We become more discerning with our priorities, and it becomes easy to choose our commitments. We might make it a general habit to turn off our cell phone for a short period every day just to guarantee an interruption-free time. Or we might choose to not look at email during certain hours before retiring to bed so that our minds are calm and we more easily fall asleep. These are simple things that help us to roll forward with more energy, less stress, and greater peace of mind.

There is no avoiding the fact that we live in a fast-paced, information saturated modern world. We face stresses on a daily basis that our ancestors never dreamed of. But we can maintain our own serenity in the midst of our rapidly changing, high-pressure society. We can…and for our own good, we must.

In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”

~Deepak Chopra

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The GATE swings open in a new area!

CG-Logo-with-printOur newest group serving the communities of Tacoma, University Place, and Parkland is now open! Residents interested in connecting with that local group can join in right here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/967806149918214/

For more information about our local giving and sharing community groups, feel free to read about “Who We Are” right here:
http://thecommunitygate.org/WhoWeAre1.html

We hope YOU will connect in your area! The GATE is always open!

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Someone else’s garden…

Iris cherry tree gardenSpring is just around the corner and around our house the gardens are coming to life. Even where it is more weeds than plants breaking the surface, it is always exciting to see greenery begin to push through the sun-warmed dirt.

Yesterday, I decided to finish cleaning up the Iris bed at the base of the flowering plum tree in our front yard. Last fall, I had separated most of the bulbs and thinned out the bed quite a bit, so it was lovely to see the shoots coming up this year! I definitely wanted to get the weeds out and build up the bed with some fresh composted soil and mulch. It was a beautiful mid-morning, clear blue sky and even some birds twittering away. As I walked outside and knelt down to start teasing little weeds from that Iris bed, my thoughts traveled back to an earlier time when she had likely done the exact same thing on a morning just like this one.

Iris cherry tree garden 2You see, this Iris bed was not always mine. There was another woman in another time who tended these flowers, and the other flowers around our yard. She nurtured the roses that bloom every year across the front of the yard, she smiled when the bluebells opened their delicate blossoms, and she probably muttered curses at the dandelions that seeded over from a neighbor’s yard after she tried so hard to keep her lawn free of them. This was her home long before it was mine and though she has been gone for many years now, her presence lingers in these gardens I love so much.

As I worked my way around the circular flower bed, my thoughts drifted back even further to another landscape item I grew to love, a monkey tree. Well, it started out as a stick about six inches tall twenty-four years ago now, but these days it is a strong tree with a story all its own. Pull up a seat for a minute and let me tell you about that little stick…

I was a young mother with a five year old daughter at the time, and my parents lived nearby. I had grown up in a gardening family, so it was never a surprise when my Dad called to tell me about whatever new plant or garden bed he had started. One day when the phone rang, it was Dad calling to tell me he had finally done it: He had gone out and bought himself a monkey tree! He had wanted one for years, he had found one on sale and brought it home, and of course he wanted us to come over and see it! So, I put my young daughter in the car and drove on over to see the new addition.

After the ordinary greetings when we entered Dad’s house through the kitchen door, he led us out onto the front porch to be introduced to his new tree. His excitement was contagious, and I found myself anticipating this new tree with a pounding heart. What I saw upon stepping out the front door was definitely not what I expected. There, in the center of a large whiskey barrel painted blue to match the color of the house, was Dad’s new monkey tree. He was so proud of it, I didn’t really know what to say at first.

It certainly had lots of growing room in that great big whiskey barrel. It was a stick. No, really. It was a six inch tall stick with no leaves, no buds, no real sign of even being alive, right there in that barrel full of dirt. My Dad’s smile took up his entire face, he was so thrilled. He assured me that though it didn’t look like much just yet, it was indeed a healthy little start and would one day be a towering, beautiful monkey tree. I took his word for it.

The following year, while visiting at Dad’s house, my daughter came running inside to tell Monkey-puzzle-babyme that the tree was growing! Sure enough, still right there in its sunny spot on the front porch, that little stick had grown a hat. There were four little spikey-looking things poking out from the sides at the top of that stick…which was still about six inches tall. But hey, it was doing something! Dad doted on that baby tree like a mother hen with her chick as a few more years passed…

By the time that little stick…er, um…I mean “tree” was four years old, it had thrust itself upward to an astounding height of about two feet and had two branches! Dad continued tending it carefully, and it remained in its sunny spot on the porch. Monkey trees are known for being extremely slow-growing, and my Dad was known for being extremely patient when it came to plants. It seemed to be a good combination, and both the tree and my Dad appeared pretty happy with the arrangement.

The spring that the little tree turned five years old, my Dad was no longer there to tend it. He had passed away that winter, and my Mom asked me if I would like to take Dad’s tree home to my house and keep it. That is how it came to reside, still in its blue whiskey barrel, at the corner of my front yard. I thought at the time that Dad would like it there, in a really sunny spot where everyone could see it when they drove up. There it grew for the next five years, growing taller and adding branches slowly but steadily until one day when I noticed a darkening at the tips of its branches. I called a local tree service for advice and was told that the tree likely just needed to finally be planted in the ground…its roots were out of space in the pot and needed more room to expand. All I had to do was dig a crater in the yard to drop it into and that little tree could have a new home.

Yes, I said a crater. The hole was supposed to be four feet in diameter and at least two feet deep with another foot of the soil loosened at the bottom. I remember these details very well because of the effort it took to dig that hole with a pickaxe and spade shovel in ground that had been undisturbed lawn for over forty years. Once I had the hole prepared, I faced the daunting task of un-potting the four foot tall tree covered with prickly spikes. There was simply no way I was going to be able to get that tree out of its barrel without tearing the skin off of my entire upper body, so with heavy heart I set about cutting the metal bands that held the barrel together. I pried the wooden slats away from the root ball and used my shovel to loosen the dirt and roots, all the while remembering how excited my Dad had been as he looked forward to this tree growing. The whiskey barrel’s blue paint had faded over the years and Mom had moved from the house the blue paint had matched…it was an end to a piece of my family’s history.

But that tree took to its new place like a fish to water and remained strong and healthy. I thought of my Dad every time I trimmed off its lower branches and checked for any bugs that would threaten it. And it grew. And I smiled.

Several years later, I sold that house and moved my family to a small nearby town. Dad’s monkey tree made the trip with us, lashed upright in the back of a friend’s pickup truck filled with dirt. Knowing the preciousness of his cargo, my friend drove slowly and carefully, turning a two hour trip into a four hour trip in order to assure safe passage for Dad’s tree. A huge hole was already prepared for it and though it was late in the day when we arrived, nothing was more important that getting that tree safely back into the ground. It seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as I stood there in the fading daylight showering it with a gentle stream from the hose. I tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen so though Dad’s tree was placed in the front yard, we made sure it was visible from inside the kitchen window.

monkey-puzzle-tree-youngEventually I moved from that house, too…but this time, Dad’s tree simply could not move with me. I was a little surprised at how emotional an event it was to leave it behind, having watched it grow from that tiny stick on Dad’s front porch into an established tree over ten feet tall fifteen years later. I still live not too far from that small town with a small white house that has a monkey tree in the corner of the front yard, so I can drive by and see it sometime…and remember how such beautiful things can grow from such humble beginnings.

Back to that Iris bed. Today it is bathed in bright sunshine, and next to it the rose bushesred rose in garden are budding with tiny new leaves. The weight of such a day as this is not lost on me. I only have these lovely things to care for because at one time someone else cared for them first. She planted them, watered them, and hoped for the best. She beamed when they blossomed and she brought some of the blossoms inside to enjoy even after the sun went down. Maybe she even talked to the rose bushes  like I do…mumbling her thoughts and musing over day to day things with them as if they were old friends. Sometimes I wonder if they miss her, if they puzzle over who this new person is taking care of them.

People remind me sometimes that this garden is mine now and that it is fine to change things and make it my own. I understand what they mean because it has always been truly important to me to “set down roots” and have my home reflect the person that I am. I am definitely doing that, adding new plants and arranging things in our gardens a little differently here and there. It will be a joy to see everything grow through the coming years, remembering that one day I will be “that woman who used to live here and care for this garden”. Someday someone might wonder about me and whether or not I talked to the plants and got frustrated over dandelions.

Time marches onward that way, doesn’t it? My one hundred and one year old Grandmother used to be a timid new mother with a brand-new baby to raise while waiting for my Grandfather to return from World War II. Then my Mother raised a family, grew bumper crops of vegetables, hung laundry to dry, and ushered her children on to build their own families. My own children are now raised and I am embarking on the new adventure of grandmother-hood myself, amazed at how this story never changes much.

Oh, technology has definitely progressed and things these days move at lightening speed compared to when my Grandmother was a young woman. But the bedrock beneath our lives has not budged. We live surrounded by the past, enveloped by the experiences of those who came before us, whether through our own families or through others we come to hold dear. We cannot escape their lives intertwining ours and we can never really claim that we have achieved something entirely new. Someone else has done the very same thing before us, perhaps even leaving behind the tangible blessing of a living history for us to nurture.

Gardens are like that…if we calm our busy selves just enough and simply get really quiet inside, we can hear them tell us their stories.

In the meantime, I have flower beds and vegetable gardens to weed out and tend to…trees to smile about. These gardens here are mine now, but they were not always.

I remember…and I’m listening.

**Update: This article was originally written in March, 2014. Since then, my Grandmother mentioned here passed away in April 2015, more than a month after her 102nd birthday. She is loved and remembered by many.

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