So what do we do?

It is entirely possible to spend an inordinate amount of time completely in the abstract, preaching to the choir about one’s perspective without ever really coming down to find some answer, any answer, to the ultimate question that plagues every social, cultural, and environmental issue:
So what do we do?

This past weekend began with a marvelous gathering of friends around tea and the ideas of Wendell Berry, one of my all time favorite authors, largely due to his unique blend of utter practicality and deeply rooted philosophy.  The group managed to stay somewhere near the topic nearly all of the evening, only minorly distracted by the lavender shortbread and homebrew brought by attendees.  We shared favorite Wendell quotes (“Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.  Connection is health.”), passionately articulated our frustrations with innumerable systems and cultural norms (ie. garage culture, financial viability as an end all be all), and felt pleasantly challenged yet validated all around.  But the question continually surfaced:
So what do we do?

It’s all well and good to philosophize and commiserate, and I would argue the latter in particular is entirely necessary to both blow off steam and continually flesh out what it is one is truly passionate about and concerned with.  But until practical solutions for building a world different and dare I say greatly improved upon the one we so readily criticize, we are merely venting to one another.

So now what do we do?

I in no way claim to have any all inclusive answer to this all important query.  But here’s what I did with the remainder of my weekend that I think at least begins to create a world that is more holistic, more community-minded, more sustainable, and filled with more of the things that my circles and I are craving.

Ben and I spent all of Saturday riding around to various social gatherings on our tandem.  We built wheels while enjoying homebrew, stopped by our favorite local microbrewery, visited his previous community house to take part in their potluck, and then spent a couple of hours at a folk sing along before heading home, chilly and sleepy with full hearts and heads.

Today I read several more chapters of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle while cooking up homemade wheat tortillas for vegan enchiladas (above), the ingredients of which were nearly all local, aside from salt, spices, olive oil, and kale.  I walked down to our nearby park in the slowly fading sun, stopping en route to jot down a poem of noticings.

So what do we do?

Move more.  Consume less.  Sing.  Cook.  Bike and walk.  Pay attention.

There are days and moments when I feel as though I succeed at this almost extravagantly, and the ensuing connection to my friends, my food, my world is gorgeous.  And there are many more moments and days when I lose sight, get stressed, grasp so tightly to a desire for control that I cannot for the life of me remember that my soul wants simplicity, wants connection, needs the now and here and not the constructions that I fabricate.  So what do we do?  Question, live, and love.

Bulk is Beautiful

Lists on ‘ways to be green’ don’t really phase me anymore- I often find that the sustainability geeks I know are already doing many of the listed suggestions, and that some of the list frequently borders on condescending in its ease.  Use a cloth bag at the grocery store.  Put in a CFL!  However, until our society is more open to considering more substantial lifestyle changes like No Impact Man and RowdyKittens, lists of how to be green are a manageable tool to encourage the individuals toward an intentional lifestyle.

So today I share with you one of my favorite accomplishable, non-condescending ‘green’ actions: buying in bulk.

It’s a pleasant challenge for me to limit myself to grocery shopping for almost solely bulk items.  And it’s cheaper!  Above is my recent $30 shopping trip at the Co-op, which includes eggs, caraway seeds, white flour, wheat flour, granola, honey, maple syrup, sugar, oats, lentils, and two cans of coconut milk that weren’t on my shopping list, but were on sale.

Bulk shopping takes a bit of forethought to be sure- one has to collect the jars and tupperware needed for various items, or use a whole bunch of plastic at the store.  There is something deeply satisfying about the lack of packaging though, and it’s almost impossible to end up with things you won’t use with bulk because most items are 1. preserved already (often they’re dry) and 2. take more time to throw into one’s shopping cart, so picking something up off the shelves absentmindedly doesn’t really happen.

The lineup of jars filled with grains, legumes, spices, and baking supplies is lovely too, particularly when coupled with fresh veggies from the garden.

(the last of my garden’s produce- purple dragon carrots)

Bulk: try it, you’ll like it!

2011 Practices to Enact

Now that we’re nearly two-thirds of the way through January, it’s probably time to commit to some practices to enact for 2011.  Benjamin and I discussed several joint practices which will hopefully hold us both more accountable, but I have several personal practices to include as well.

Shared Practices
1. Find a spiritual community.  Both Benjamin and I have been out of the spiritual community loop for a while.  Last year I went to meditation at Common Ground off and on, and church at OSLC once in a great while, but never really committed to a particular place.  Though our schedules don’t allow for it now, Ben and I are hoping after we get married to make intentional space for attending some sort of spiritual community on a weekly basis, likely one of the Quaker meetings in the Twin Cities area.

2. Spend more time on friend relationships, both hanging out with people in the area and calling people that are farther away.  I am especially atrocious at maintaining phone contact (as Caleb and others will attest to) and really want to make an effort this year to dedicate time to all of my relationships.

3. Have an awesome, simple, sustainable, beautiful and quirky wedding.  This is well underway, with locations chosen, food discussed, and invitations to be printed and sent within the week.  Details are still in process, and I am finding it difficult at times to explain why many of the consumption-based and/or patriarchal traditions of status quo weddings are not for Benjamin and I (ie having and throwing a bouquet, formal table settings, etc), but will persist in accomplishing our wedding mission statement.

4. Undertake many weekend bike-camping trips.  I printed a map and drew a 30 mile (ish) radius circle around my house, and lo and behold an amazing number of interesting destinations fell within that boundary.  Afton, Stillwater, and the MN Arboretum are among them, as well as some sort of pre-wedding retreat and a weekend out at Living Song farm in Howard Lake.

5. Tour houses in a variety of South Minneapolis neighborhoods.  Though we likely won’t be buying a house until autumn (at the very soonest), touring houses that we find on this great website never hurts, and just might be fun.

Personal Practices
1. Go on more walks.  As amazing as biking is, when I really need some centering, nothing beats walking, particularly when I’m going nowhere in particular.  I’m lucky enough to live just a few blocks from a number of amazing places to traverse, and this year will commit to visiting those places at least once a week.

2. Write write write write.  I didn’t quite reach the December pre-goal of writing every day, but I’ve already begun writing quite a bit more.  From poems in my little journal that I carry everywhere, to blog entries, to letters on handmade cards to friends (if you’d like one, comment here!), my writing has expanded exponentially and hopefully will eventually become as natural of a practice as my morning yoga.

3. Cook more, eat out less.  Though there are a million and one scrumptious places to eat out in the Twin Cities, many of them featuring local ingredients and entirely deserving of my dollars, I need to commit to cooking.  It relaxes me, saves money, and makes lunches at work that much easier.

4. Cut my alcohol, caffeine, and sugar consumption.  I’ve tried going cold turkey on all of these and it has NEVER WORKED.  So I think small steps is the answer.  I’m already on to tea in the mornings rather than coffee, but the pastry habit is hard to break.

5. Commit random acts of kindness.  It’s relatively easy for me to think and get worked up about big ideas/issues, but I have found that I forget about the little actions that are oh so important and soul uplifting for both the giver and receiver.  A craft project on this is in the works (details to be released later when my silly camera starts working again so you all can have photographic evidence of my cutesy projects).  More Bookcrossing, anyone?

What are your hopes and practices for 2011?

~Lauren

Waste.

We’ve all heard countless statistics about the amount of waste that each American produces (the Clean Air Council for one says it’s an average of 4.39 pounds per person per day, up to 56 tons per person per year), and that only a fraction of what can get recycled does, and that you save umpteen times the energy by recycling as opposed to creating an entirely new paper/plastic/metal/glass fill-in-the-blank.  All important information, but what so many sources don’t suggest is just PRODUCING LESS WASTE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

I’m absolutely sick of hearing about recycling as someone’s claim to being green and saving the planet.  Because recycling skips all of the preceding steps (of which there are four, rather than two, at least according to Burning Man philosophy) that range from change in perspective to change in overall habits, rather than accepting that an ungodly amount of waste is inevitably created and has to be dealt with somehow.  By no means am I a zero-waste individual (but am hoping to make my wedding a zero-waste event), but I like to think that I engage in these other R’s enough to significantly reduce my waste.

Respect.  We are told from elementary school that respecting others is important, but respecting the planet is not often included.  For me this respect is natural result of the sheer awe I have for the complexity and beauty of nature, of ecosystems, of cycles with so many interconnected layers that I can only begin to fathom.  By cultivating wonder, respect emerges.  Respect is infrequently glamorous, and I would venture to say that the processes that take place in a compost pile are one of the most respect-garnering elements of the natural world for me.  But compost is unwanted food, it is dirt, it is worms and mush and poop.  It is not sexy, but it is AMAZING.

Rethink.  Waste is not inevitable.  I repeat: WASTE IS NOT INEVITABLE.  We in Western culture have become so accustomed to landfills, incinerators, and even toxin producing recycling plants that our ‘solutions’ are changing the type of filter that a particular facility uses to alleviate some of the air pollution issues, rather than not building the plant in the first place.
Yesterday I met with a fellow community organizer from the next neighborhood West of where I work, and at the end of our meandering conversation we discussed the City’s potential plans to expand the capacity of an already problematic incinerator located in downtown Minneapolis.  In addition to voicing our frustrations with NIMBYism (the increased capacity would likely be needed to incinerate garbage from the suburbs), we wondered at the shortsightedness of City Council for limiting their conversation to how to deal with __ amount of waste, rather than how to not produce it in the first place and thus eliminate the need for increased incinerator capacity altogether.  Rethinking is a paradigm shift.  It is radically examining and reimagining the systems we have created for ourselves rather than apply bandaids to hold those failing systems together.

Reduce.  This is also somewhat of a paradigm shift, but habit based rather than mindset based.  Reducing my personal waste has meant committing to purchasing largely from the bulk aisles at the co-op, using containers I bring to refill rather than the provided plastic bags.  It means bringing a cloth bag everywhere I go (or just tossing my purchase in my omni-present shoulder bag).  Most importantly and at its most basic, reducing means consuming less in general.  If you don’t buy something in the first place you don’t have to worry about where the waste from the product might end up!

Reuse.  Creativity emerges through reusing, and while the reuse step in the cycle assumes that waste already exists that needs to be reused, it is still an exciting place to imagine possibilities for items that many believe to be garbage.  I’ve been collecting beer bottle caps for quite some time to make earrings (the Carpe Diem pair I sport frequently gets compliments every single time I wear them).  Cardboard boxes become shelves, old t-shirts become a quilt.  I keep a small box of random odds and ends that I find interesting and might want to use for an art project one day (such as the piece below, made of assorted plastic bottle caps I saved over a year).  A hanging planter crafted from my worn out front gears from my Bridgestone along with old brake cables is in the works.  Reusing is fun, creative, and I would argue mind stretching enough to be included in the group of things that one should do to retain memory while aging.

Let 2011 be the year where our culture takes radical steps to be sure landfills are lessened, incinerators eliminated, and recycling plants made obsolete.  Waste is not inevitable.

A simple wedding is harder than it sounds.

So it’s been not quite a month since Benjamin and I got engaged, and already I have felt inundated on several occasions by the multitude of ways that one can spend an absurd amount of money in planning an executing a wedding. Just on the basic elements alone (invitations, ceremony, reception, dress, rings) one can get up into the many thousands range. And that’s not even adding food/photographer/lighting (who gets LIGHTING for their wedding anyway)/flowers/etc. So before complete overload occurred and Benjamin and decided to elope just to avoid the whole thing, thus making our parents very sad indeed, I journaled about what I really wanted from this event that has such potential both for stress and for memorability. I wanted to hone in on the feeling, the concept, not the details. So I came up with a mission statement of sorts:

I want the event to be simple, sustainable, beautiful, quirky, and filled with the people I love most.

It’s not complicated. It has nothing to do with finding a dress or a venue or consuming anything for that matter.  My simple wedding mission statement is about the elements that are truly important: Benjamin and my relationship, our values, and the people we care about.

I’m hoping that as the process continues and we do need to think about and decide on details, this mission statement can remain as something to come back to, to remember when balance and peace are hard to find.

Sans sucre.

I have realized that I have an addiction to sugar.  Far more often than is healthy, I crave sweets- cookies, ice cream, bars, baked goods, whatever.  And far more often than is healthy I indulge that craving.  So I’m going without for at least a couple of weeks.  Not entirely sugar free, mind you, because I refuse to become one of those obsessive label readers for which food becomes a chore rather than a joy.  But no more purchased sweets.  Here are my guidelines:

-If I make it from scratch, or someone else does (ie. Thanksgiving pie, particularly since I’ve promised to make sour cream raisin pie for Benjamin’s grandpa at Thanksgiving) then it’s ok, but only in moderation.  The definition of moderation is yet to be determined.

-Honey or agave in my tea does not count as a sweet.

-I will not compensate for the lack of sugar in my diet by eating other unhealthy snacks, ie. fried things, excess carbs, etc.  I will try to continue adding fruits/veggies into my diet.

Starting this right before my birthday (tomorrow!) was probably not the ideal time, but so be it.

Goodbye, delicious pastries.  May your exodus from my diet allow me to taste even more subtleties in food with substantially less processed sugar.

More reflection.

As interesting as musing over my 2010 Practices to Enact was, I will now embark on another ‘list reflection’.  This one was a note on Facebook with the following instructions:
“Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.”

I wrote the original list of 25 random things in February 2009.  To provide some context, I was four months from college graduation (oops, I just told y’all my age), not yet in Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and uncertain as heck as to where I was going with my life, both in physical location and vocational path.  Original list is in italics, my comments today are in regular type.

1. I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly seven years. This means my body will soon stop producing enzymes to digest meat, which is simultaneously awesome and terrifying. However, I’ve thought about eating animals again occasionally to support local farmers. But only local and sustainable of course.
Still mostly a vegetarian, though I’ve become a lot less vehement, particularly when food with a minor amount of meat is served to me.  I also ate an entire hamburger the summer following this list creation while I was working out on sustainable farms in Western Minnesota.  It was both local and sustainable, and delicious to boot.

2. I’ve never been into sports, but watched this year’s Super Bowl with my parents because the Arizona Cardinals have been my dad’s favorite team for as long as I can remember.
This year I watched an entire quarter of a World Cup game and felt like my sports quota was exhausted for at least a couple of months.

3. I enjoy pieces of most subcultures, and have constantly found myself on the fringe of many things. Often these pieces don’t work together too well in common society. For example, I equally (but for completely different reasons) enjoy Elle, Wired, and Backpacker magazine.
Entirely true a year and a half later, maybe even more so with my ‘discovery’ (via my housemate Rachel from last year) of Google Reader.  See the final point of my September Beautiful Things post.

4. I start craft projects and don’t usually finish them.
I’m getting better I swear.  Mostly by doing simpler projects that don’t have such a concretely defined finishing point.

5. Sometimes I think my early high school self would be highly disdainful of many aspects of my present self, and vice versa.
This became even more apparent when I read through my journals of high school that my mother brought when she visited a couple of weeks ago.  High school self and present self would be acquaintances, maybe, and high school self would be relieved at calm gained and angry at zealousness lost.

6. I don’t believe in soulmates, but I’m a huge proponent of kindred spirits.
Still don’t believe in soulmates, but somehow the universe decided to bring me to a wonderful partner, man, and friend.

7. I want to spend a year living in a commune, from a tent, in a developing country, and with a group of native peoples. Probably not all at the same time though.
My big adventure goals have  changed quite a bit actually.  I would still do all of these things, but now I’m really excited about biking the length of the Mississippi River with Benjamin in the near-ish future.

8. I’ve been told that at school I come across as a youngest child, but at home I’m often the quintessential older sister. For no good reason I’d much rather be seen as an older sibling as opposed to a younger one.
Age has since become relatively irrelevant, at least in social situations.  Though when I do pay attention I notice that I am frequently the youngest person at a particular gathering these days.

9. I call many places home, and can find home nearly anywhere I go. While this lets me find joy and connection in a plethora of new situations, it also makes me REALLY bad at keeping up with people I’m not actually physically present with, apart from my family.
Yup.   But I did make a Facebook note a moment ago asking for people’s addresses so I can simultaneously have a reason to write regularly AND keep in touch with people.  Snap.  I’d like your address too, so please leave it in the comments.

10. I kind of want December 21st, 2012 to be an actual apocalypse.
Just so I can have an apocalypse party for three days.  Everyone’s invited!

11. I believe the holy is in the paradox, that when you discover two equally important but seemingly incompatible truths, you’re probably on to something. Live in the complications.
This one is illustrated regularly, by my passions and experiences and conversations and the frequent inability to reconcile it all.  Celebrate the paradox!

12. I think that people are essentially good, though not really in any religious sense. I want to be the kind of ‘good’ stranger that people can depend on so that my trust in humanity can be withheld when the situation presents itself.
Meeting strangers during my 14 months thus far living in the city has solidified this even further.  There are so many ‘isms’ that lead a person to act out of selfishness or another form of evil, and while personal responsibility does play an important part, a majority of pain, violence and oppression comes from systemic problems.  People, as individuals, have at least a core seed of goodness.

13. I value authenticity above all else, and expect it from everyone and myself most of all.
Yes.

14. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be happier being a genius at one thing rather than mediocre to good at a number of things.
Genius and mediocrity factor nonwithstanding, having the ridiculous number of interests that I do has certainly started an uncountable number of conversations with wonderful people, some of whom have become good friends.


15. I am constantly in awe of how magnificent and complicated the world is, and how I managed to be an entity in it at this moment in time.
The change of the seasons amplifies this point- I am amazed at the pure outpouring of energy that happens on this planet, and the constant fluctuations, only a small percentage of which I am privy to.

16. I am obsessed with space. This includes any sort of movie set in space, Battlestar Galactica, and the NASA universe picture of the day.
So obsessed that I’m planning to see the new IMAX film on the Hubble telescope at the Science Museum this Friday.  For my birthday.

17. I’m working on becoming a better listener, to not wait in conversations for my turn to speak and not always feel the need to give advice. This is largely inspired by being blessed to have so many fantastic listener friends in my life.
I think this will always be a work in progress, and a particular challenge for me.  Though I am more blessed than ever to have great listeners for friends.

18. Lately I identify most with the idea of joy, though I’m not really sure I could define it for you if you asked.
This has persisted, to the point where joy feels like a core component of my being.  I can only hope that I give it back to the universe in even a fraction of the amount that I receive.

19. At this point in my life I can’t imagine settling because I am intrigued by so many places, people, vocations, and opportunities that I don’t want to commit to just one and risk forsaking the rest.
Of all the random facts in this list, this one has changed the most, and in fact was what inspired me to do this reflection.  Most importantly, settling no longer feels like a bad word.  I have found a place and a person that I want to be with for a very very long time, and while that means I will be putting down roots, it does not mean that I cannot still have adventures and throw myself into opportunities as they present themselves.

20. As much as I have moments of cynicism where it seems as though human beings are destroying everything that is good on this earth, ultimately I love humanity and don’t think I could ever completely leave it behind.
But this is definitely second in terms of most change.  I still love people- I see the good and the beauty in individuals daily and sometimes my soul aches at how wonderful human connection can be.  But I think the planet would be better off without us, really.  We selfishly consume resources far beyond the planet’s means without giving back in equal measure, or even attempting to do so most of the time.  Every species has its era, and it just might be time for ours to begin coming to a close.

21. Namaste is one of my favorite concepts; it means ‘my inner light acknowledges and bows to your inner light’.
Several times I have considered signing all of my emails with ‘namaste’, even the work ones, but thought it might be confusing/spiritually offensive to somebody.  But it’s still one of my favorite concepts, and I may get a tattoo related to it one day.

22. I hope to publish a book one day, and I’ve had several absurd ideas over the years as to what it might be about that have thankfully faded into various journals.
It will not be fiction, as evidenced by my slackings during NaNoWriMo.

23. My idea of what love is has changed quite immensely over the years, and I’m excited to see the depths it will reach as I continue to meet and know people and have new experiences.
Exponential changes to this day, and more to come I think.  Love is deep and wide and so multi-dimensional that trying to contain it to our physical universe seems a travesty.

24. I think my parents are the most fantastic parents that I could have had and I love them dearly, while I simultaneously see the root of several of my insecurities and frustrations toward the world in them.
This too deepens with time, as new points of conflict and convergence emerge.

25. I am constantly being reminded that nothing is permanent, that there is beauty everywhere, and that all is one.
There really is nothing to add to this one.  Namaste, all.