Earth Day, Earth Love

Today is Earth Day, the beginning of Earth Week, time to roll up our collective sleeves, stop talking, and start doing life differently on this planet. It’s a cliché, but never the less true, there’s not another one like it. We seem designed to live best on this planet, at least the way it was when we first arrived.      

Mike and I have taken steps to live a better, earth friendly life. Some of these steps are steps back to the way we use to do things, as explained in my last post: “Spring cleaning our Mother Earth”.  This post is an update with more details of our action steps thus far.  I hope you will read on and find what I share helpful, it’s my long love letter of suggestions for living an earth healing life.  

What motivates “oldsters” like us to change our ways?  I am reminded of when I lived in rentals in my 20s.  We always left the places we rented in better shape when we moved out then they were when we moved in.  The generation I am part of has not done so to our Earth home, where we are only “renters”, temporary residents. We will be gone, but other’s will be living here. I feel an obligation, and desire, to make an effort, however small, to leave it better than it is now.  Everyone who makes an effort to do so makes a difference.      

Our immediate goal has been to bring no new plastic into our lives when and if there is an alternative and choice. The areas of our life where we don’t have an obvious choice (yet) mostly have to do with health care….i.e. supplements we can’t find in glass jars or prescription medications.      

The plastic recycling “fad” worked at getting people to recycle, but the actual recycling industry that was supposed to develop to recycle and reuse the waste products being recycled did not keep up with the increased amount of plastic waste generated. It’s an industry that never developed, mostly because there is more money in generating and promoting new plastic and other human made, non-biodegradable materials.      

Getty Images

Here are three articles on how the recycling of plastic has failed, you can find many more if you do an internet search:
1. China has refused to recycle the west’s plastic. Now what?
2. The recycling game is rigged against you
3. Why the world’s recycling system stopped working

In our personal efforts to reduce we are not getting rid of plastic we already have in our lives just because it’s plastic. (See my previous post for the 5 Rs – refuse, repair, reuse, recycle and rot).  If it is reusable plastic, the longer we keep it and use it the longer it stays out of a landfill or out of a broken recycling system. All plastic, even if re-manufactured or reused, eventually ends up there…..”there” being incinerated garbage that causes toxic air pollution, or dumps where it is buried in the earth, or dumped into our water systems – rivers, oceans. Plastics are made from toxins, they take literally forever to break down, they break down into toxins.

So how have we reduced our plastic intake, and waste in general?   We’ve researched packaged items we buy and either replaced them with non-package alternatives (i.e. making our own) or chosen brands with less toxic packaging (non-plastic package). There are still some products packaged in plastic we buy, it takes time to find alternatives.      

Glass and paper/cardboard also require energy resources and chemicals to make. Paper, unless made of some easily renewable resource such as bamboo or recycled paper, uses trees that are much needed to sustain life on this planet.  No packaging is best when possible. However, glass is an alternative to plastic because it is more often reusable and more often recycled. Paper and cardboard can be recycled and if instead are put in a landfill, break down quicker. Most brown paper/cardboard is made from recycled paper.  We have found packaging made from recycled paper cardboard or from a cellulose (wood) material that looks like cellophane. We read the labels of products to see what the box or bag is made of. Be wary…often what looks like cellophane is a plastic product.  Plastic comes in many forms and goes by many names.      

How we’ve reduced packaging

in the frig: carrots in cloth bag, homemade almond milk, peas kept fresh in a vintage glass storage container.

 

In the kitchen we stopped buying pre-packaged products when possible, such as some Bob’s Red Mill products, we were using, opting instead for oats in bulk (as we use to do) and oat flour in brown paper bags by Fairhaven Mills. (I hope Bob’s Red Mill might change some of their packaging, as it’s a good company.) We already buy all our nuts and grains in bulk.      

Some examples of making it ourselves:

I make almond milk….no more coconut milk on Mike’s cereal, he loves the almond milk and it is more economical than any packaged milk-substitute. Easy, delicious, no packaging. Will be experimenting with other nut milks as well as oat milk. (see almond milk recipe below.)      

Homemade salsa…..for when Mike has that salsa craving. I like my homemade better. It takes about 10 minutes, longer if you roast tomatoes first, which makes for a richer taste. No more plastic tubs.      

I’ve made vinegar from apple skins and cores, it’s still in process. We mostly use vinegar in cleaning and it comes in plastic jugs, so finding a better way for cheap vinegar is important. Good quality vinegar for food use can be bought in glass jars.      

Other package reductions:

We use cloth bags for all our veggies and bulk foods, i.e. grains, nuts, spices and herbs. Also we take cloth bags into other stores, not just grocery stores. No more plastic bags. Period.      

When buying fish we ask that they only wrap it in paper, no plastic bag please. No problem.      

We’ve given up some treats……for example frozen blueberries in the “off season” in plastic bags, but apples in our oatmeal and muffins are just as good and we will really be excited for blueberry season when we can pick our own or buy in bulk (hopefully). In the big picture, we both agree the things we’ve given up are easier to live without than the stress of contributing more plastic to the waste stream.

There are food products, especially ones bought for Abby, who is an elderly dog requiring a special homemade diet, we still buy in plastic packaging, but it is less and less as we find other options.      

Food storage: We’ve always used/had glass containers for leftovers, etc. they mostly have plastic lids, if I was purchasing new I’d find ones with glass lids, after first looking for them in second hand stores. We use glass to store produce like peas or other small items often bought and stored in plastic bags. Other produce goes into produce drawer or stays in cloth bags in frig. I’ve read damping a cloth bag will help keep certain items fresher, I haven’t needed to try this.  

a pantry shelf with jars of bulk purchased items and pasta in cardboard box.

Glass jars are fantastic, save jars from any products you buy and reuse for storage of bulk items, homemade items, left overs.

I made beeswax infused cloth as an alternative to plastic wrap, but I’ve never used plastic wrap so haven’t used it yet. You can buy beeswax cloth ready made for wrapping sandwiches, covering bowls, etc. I cover bowls with plates.  It’s pricy, but it lasts a long time and has many uses.    

Dish washing: We wash dishes with Castile bar soap, and really like it! Gets everything clean even with our hard well water. For back up when we have a full sink load plus, i.e. when company is over, we keep a backup, liquid dish soap bought in bulk in our own reusable bottle. No more new plastic dish soap bottles.      

bees wax cloth, which molds to sandwiches, bowls, etc. and can be wiped clean. Scrub brushes. dish rags

We stopped using sponges that need throwing away and are made of toxic materials and glues (and are havens for bacteria). We use dish rags to wash dishes, throw them in the laundry to keep clean, they’re easy to use with the Castile bar soap when washing dishes. A wood handled scrub brush gets stuck on food off, but conscientious soaking helps avoid the stuck stuff. Our scrub brush is one we had, it has plastic bristles, if we need to replace we’ll get a natural bristle one. First “rule”: use what you have!  

Laundry soap – switched to a brand available in bulk, experimented with making laundry soap with borax, Castile soap, and washing soda, still working on that! Liked what I made, and it cleaned well, but not sure it got all rinsed out, even with vinegar added. Those without hard well water would find homemade laundry soap a good alternative to plastic packaged soap. At least you can buy it in bulk, reducing plastic bottles.    

Bathroom products. We decided to purchase a case of toilet paper from a company that makes both bamboo toilet paper and toilet paper made from 100% recycled paper that comes in recycled paper wrappers – not plastic. The company donates 50% of their profits to programs that provide toilets to people and places in the world that need them. I did a lot of research on this. In the past recycled paper toilet paper did not work for me, too rough. We’re really happy with this company’s product. I’m a little dubious of all the bamboo growing, so we chose the recycled paper. Yes, it is shipped to us, as it’s not sold in stores, but toilet paper in a store is also shipped. A case of 48 will last us a long time! And the wrappers are cute! I encourage you to check out their web site: Who Give’s A Crap, because they do!

The Castile soaps we buy come in paper wrappers. The soap we’ve always bought for personal use is Sappho Soap, made in Oregon, does not come in wrappers. Borax and Washing Soda are used in many homemade cleaning products. That’s the toilet paper we like!

Kleenex tissues are for cold season, if at all. We both have used handkerchiefs in the past and just got lazy. Use what you have, and we have them, but if you need to purchase handkerchiefs they’re a cheap long term investment and will save a lot of trees, plus eliminate any plastic in the packaging of Kleenex tissues.      

I tried a shampoo bar, it felt like it left a residue, though I’ve read that after you do it several weeks that goes away, it’s the interaction between the commercial shampoos and the bar shampoo. Buying shampoo in bulk in reusable container for now, but I’ve never liked all the ingredients in most shampoos so will give the bar shampoos another try. Have a few different ones to try and if they don’t work they can be used as body soap. Bulk liquids come in plastic bottles that still have to be disposed of by the store, so when possible we still try to find alternatives to packaged products.      

The bamboo handle toothbrush I bought was great at cleaning my teeth, but the wider handle caused some irritation inside my mouth in one place, so hope to find a narrower handle brand. I’ve ordered another one to try.

I bought several toothpastes not in plastic tubes, and like them. We both have had a lot of dental work and do use a toothpaste with fluoride, so for now, sadly, will stick to our old brand in the throw away, non-reusable tube for at least one brushing a day. Remember I said the places in our lives where obvious choices and alternatives haven’t been found are in health care. If you do not use fluoride toothpaste there are great choices of pastes in non-plastic tubes or jars, tooth powders, or you can easily make your own! (Did you know many toothpastes have polyethylene micro beads in them, a major ocean pollution that threatens ocean life?)      

I bought a dental floss, Eco-dent, that comes in a cardboard box with only a small plastic spool, but that spool is the type of thing that ends up in landfills and the ocean. I have read of a floss in a glass container with refillable floss, but have yet to find a place to purchase it.      

Mike likes to use a mouth wash…..so I found a recipe and made him one! One more plastic bottle gone from our lives!      

On the road. We do eat out when “on the road” to appointments, etc. Many soups from our favorite soup places come with plastic lids and I’ve spoken to stores about this as there are soup cups available with cardboard lids, some places we go use them. We plan to try bringing our own containers and see how stores feel about that. We carry silverware and cloth napkins in the car in a picnic bag. No need for throw away plastic ware or paper napkins. (We still have plastic ware and include it in our car stash, then wash and reuse)      

Now – about doggy bags…..when what we have are gone, no more. The wrapping on the toilet paper we now use, cut in half, is adequate for the little doggy poop we need to clean up when in parks, there’s always a trash can nearby. If there isn’t we can have a container in the car to take it home. It has always bothered me to use a single-use plastic bag to move doggy poop from the ground to the trash. There are definitely alternatives! If you need a bag you might consider non-bleached wax paper lunch bags. Or if you still purchase products in plastic, reuse the plastic for doggy poop, not the best solution, but reusing before tossing is better than a single-use plastic bag.    

It’s not about being the perfect zero-waste person/family/household, though there are some fascinating blogs and web sites about people who are nearly so. It’s not possible for most people. It’s about doing the best you can to make choices that are earth friendly, because even small steps are a big deal. If millions, billions, of people reduced their waste by even 1% that is A LOT! 2% is better, and doable. If only thousands reduce it by 10% it will be a significant impact. There is no such thing as “my little efforts don’t count”. There was life before everything was wrapped in plastic, many us ‘oldsters” are best at remembering and reteaching what that was like (the history and promotion of plastic is interesting, and scary. Campaigns to promote a “need” for plastic where there was no need were very methodically carried out and still are). There are alternatives for most things.    

It’s fun, and economical. I had fabric to make our bags, we had the dish cloths, a scrub brush, etc. If you do buy items to enable you to use less throw away plastic, it’s cost effective over time because you will use what you buy a long time. We’ve used up old products in plastic bottles we won’t purchase any more and find buying bulk is cheaper and making our own when we can even cheaper.  

If you’ve read this far, thank you, hope it has inspired you to take those small steps. Make every day a Earth-loving and caring day in your home.

Today is also the birthday anniversary of John Muir, naturalist, author, environmentalist, who had many wise things to say about our relationship to Nature, including this:

There is a love of wild Nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or not, and however covered by cares and duties.” ― John Muir

Let us begin to treat the earth as a mother would a child, nurturing it, caring for it, helping it to be its best…..for it is also our mother, nurturing us, giving us life, and can not do so when it is sick.

Spring cleaning our Mother Earth

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo

Living in Eugene, Oregon, in the early 70s, while attending the University of Oregon, I volunteered at the first Lane County recycling center, housed in an old warehouse. People dropped off bags and boxes of glass bottles outside the warehouse all hours of the day and night.  Boxes and bags of bottles piled up.  My volunteer shifts were spent hoisting cardboard boxes of glass bottles over my head, dumping them down a chute into a huge, noisy, glass-crushing contraption. Crushed glass was literally everywhere. It was unsafe to say the least! But those of us who volunteered were dedicated to recycling.

Cartoonist Walt Kelly drew this cartoon for the first Earth Day in 1970. He first used the quote in his book, the “Pogo Papers” in 1953. It is a parody of  “We have met the enemy, and they are ours”,  sent in 1813 from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison after his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie.

On the first Earth day in 1970 I was living and going to college in Washington DC where the event gathered a large crowd to hear inspiring speeches. I remember the educational booths of various environmental organizations and early “green” businesses. When I attended this event I didn’t know Earth Day had been proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin  determined to convince the government the planet was at risk. It was a bipartisan supported campaign that resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts being passed later in 1970. Nelson had announced his Earth Day idea in the fall of 1969 at a conference in Seattle, the city of my birth.

Washington state, where I live, is my “homeland”. Most of my relatives live here, my parents grew up here. Northwest roots shape my values and attitudes about Nature and the planet.  My dad, an active member of the Sierra Club later in life, had backpacked in the Cascade and Olympic mountains in his youth and from infancy until we moved from Washington when I was 4, our family spent summer vacations and weekends at a family owned cabin on Dabob Bay on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. When we moved to the east coast we continued to camp weekends and summer vacations from Canada to the Carolinas.  My parent’s love of the outdoors was instilled in my brothers and I early in life. Also instilled in us were their depression-era values and the values they both inherited coming from farm based families (dad grew up on a small chicken farm, mother’s mother grew up on a dairy farm). Those values include reuse. Don’t create waste. Keep and fix what you have. Be frugal.

How do you instill these values in people who missed that early “programming” to appreciate Nature and to not be wasteful? Because in the decades since that first Earth Day, in spite of large municipal recycling programs, in spite of environmental education taught in schools, in spite of a multitude of public awareness campaigns, and in spite of science based warnings that go back further than Earth Day, we as a society continue to destroy resources (our own and those of “developing” nations), to litter, to pollute our waters, to make and consume cheap goods that eventually break, become unused and are tossed into landfills. (Landfills! What a term, fill the land, the earth, the planet we live on with our garbage. What were we thinking!) How do you teach people who never have felt connected to Nature that everything they do, every choice they make, impacts the planet they and all future life is dependent on?

Like the people leaving those bags and boxes of bottles outside that early recycling center, people feel good recycling but do not stop and think – what happens to all this stuff. Nor do they change their consumption practices. They think they are doing good because they recycle. And they are, sort of.  Recycling is not enough, it never was and now recycling itself has become an international waste disaster.

My commitment to living a planet-friendly life sometimes gets eroded with a sense of “what difference does my small effort make”, an unfortunate attitude shared by many people.  As aging and health challenges drain my energy I often let things slip, making decisions based on what’s “easy” but not necessarily the best for the planet, and thus, ultimately for myself. There is stress when our actions do not reflect our values, and I feel that stress.

What we need to remember is communal and global shifts occur when many people do small things.  Positive action, repeated every day by millions of people, creates the energy of change.

So here are the 5 Rs, popular guidelines for making personal decisions that make a difference and help focus on values important to all of us who care about the Earth:

Refuse…..Consume less, don’t buy things you don’t need, don’t take freebies just because they’re free, say no to single use items, i.e. plastic utensils in the deli or plastic produce or grocery bags. Purchase and use reusable items. Say no to plastic packaging. When possible, purchase items with the least packaging. Buying local eliminates added packaging when items are shipped, as well as the energy used to transport it.  Tip: A great place to say no – don’t upgrade your cell phone just because there’s a new model, they consume huge amounts of valuable, some rare, resources.

Repair……Fix or have fixed what you can – clothes, furniture, appliances, etc. Buy quality, the best you can afford (buying less overall allows you to purchase better quality items you need to buy). If something is made better it lasts longer and is more likely to be fixable.

Reuse……..Up-cycle clothes, building materials, containers, etc. If you can’t reuse it, someone else might, so give it away and look for used items yourself rather than always buying new. But only give away what is truly reusable, a lot of charitable “donations” end up in landfills.

Recycle……A last resort, because there isn’t much true recycling going on. Currently most plastic is not being recycling. Find places that truly recycle before thinking you are doing good when you might just be passing on to someone else the act of tossing it in a landfill.

Rot…….Compost everything you can, which is most kitchen scraps and even some paper. Choose products that say they are biodegradable, and be sure they are. If you doubt it (like something plastic that says “biodegradable”) it probably isn’t. Get a worm bin (there are kits designed for people in small living spaces). Employee these tiny recyclers!

I add to this list Recreate, in Nature, because I believe we care for and feel more connected to that which we are familiar with. Connect to the Earth, then remember her when you make decisions.

If this list represents the values of our parents and/or grandparents, how did so many people in the “baby boom” generation turn away and exploit Nature, ignoring the consequences of their actions?  It can be attributed to self-centeredness, greed, and campaigns to encourage consumerism, such as one that was implemented following WWII to boost the economy and create jobs.

At its core it is a disconnect from our spiritual selves, the part of us that knows we are interconnected to a bigger web of life and need to, want to, care for it. Reconnecting to Nature helps establish a relationship which, like all relationships, we need to nurture.

A few daily choices I make:

Using cloth bags for small produce items that need bagging, i.e. peas, green beans, etc., bulk grains and nuts eliminates plastic bags. I make bags from fabric I have (including vintage cloth rice bags).  If you want to buy bags and can’t find bags locally, you can buy cloth bags on line, if you like cute home made ones check out Etsy, there are a lot!

Buying bulk household items, i.e. dish soap, using the same container over and over (which is an old plastic dish soap bottle, but a glass pump bottle, like we use in bathroom, works too) reduces plastic bottles. Next on my list is to make dish soap and cleansers, a relatively easy process. We also purchase sponges made from nature materials, like walnut husks, that are biodegradable.

IMG_6500

this simple body and face cream is yellow from calendula infused oil and beeswax, it does not color the skin.

Making simple personal care products, i.e. healing and moisturizing salves. It really is simple, if you want to try find a recipe using basic ingredients – a good quality oil such as coconut and/or olive and a little beeswax. I use herb infused oils for salves, but plain oils work fine for moisturizing lotions. In fact plain coconut oil works well as is! Many recipes include essential oils for fragrance, but some skin can be sensitive to essential oils so I don’t use them. (You can usually buy chemical free products made locally by small businesses who package them in glass jars.)

I’ve suggested to an herbal supplement company we buy many products from that they consider switching to glass bottles. Whenever possible we buy glass or cardboard containers. We have found a rice pasta we love that comes in a box, no plastic.  (Glass “recycling” isn’t as determental to the environment as plastic, but the production of glass is not chemical free so reuse when you can.)

These are just a few ways we try to live our values.  We are not ‘zero waste’, but our efforts not only contribute to the whole, but feel good to us and simplify life.  I have a list of steps yet to take, i.e. making shampoo or finding a bar shampoo I like and making laundry soap, also relatively easy.

Share your suggestions and ‘action steps’ in comments below. There are many resources on-line for “zero waste” living, for following the 5 Rs (sometimes it’s the 4 Rs), for making simple home products, many similar to those previous generations used.  You can find blogs by younger people who will still be here when I and my generation are long gone, who understand the crisis and are working against time to clean up the planet by changing values. I find their passion inspirational and it helps me remember my own passion….the one that made me crush glass when I was 22….. for earth friendly living.

Happy Spring cleaning as we clean up this planet together!

 

International Women’s Day

Last year on International Women’s Day I wrote of women older and younger than myself who I admire and feel inspired by. The year before I wrote of the women I know best, my peers and friends whose lives I have witnessed, women I love deeply and have the greatest admiration for.

What about “famous” women in history whose lives, at least the bits we know of them through media, might inspire us. Honestly, for me there were few in my younger years, though no doubt I’ve forgotten, and will think of others later. They are the same ones that inspired many of my peers.  I think I found more inspiration in the lives of women around me, women I knew as friends, teachers, those in the community. (Edited: I did remember later Annie Oakley, my first grade heroine)

What did those well-known women I recall admiring have in common? Their independence, their boldness, seemingly living their lives outside conventional roles expected of women in their time and place. They were women living as they chose. I would later learn each had paths that were greatly influenced by outer circumstances they adapted to. Yet within those adaptations they maintained an independence and individuality by which they became known.

An early heroine in my life was Amelia Earhart, a mythical figure, a woman of firsts, a woman who flew away, never to return. As a real, yet mythical woman, she grew to represent the independent woman, willing to take risks, be daring, seek adventure.

 

Then there was Katherine Hepburn, the woman who wore pants, looked beautiful, spoke her mind, and was a great actor. She also became a symbol of independence and individuality, if for no other reason than her clothes and the fact she never married or had children

 

In my 20s I was impressed by Simone de Beauvoir’s writings. The socialist who became a feminist role model due mostly to her writings, wrote that women had for too long been seen as the “other”, defined by and in relationship to men. She had a lot more to say, but that theme of her thinking and writing influenced feminist thinking, though she herself did not identify with feminism, being a strong socialist, until later in life when she decide socialism as she knew it was not going to give women the rights and recognition she felt they needed. 

Emily Carr, an eccentric, creative woman who patched together a life filled with animals, and a few people, was someone I learned about in my 30s.  As a woman, she was not recognized in her early life as the great painter she is, though some recognition came later. She was well-known for her quirky books, telling enhanced stories of the people in her boarding house and neighborhood, as well as stories of her beloved animals. She began writing late in life when painting became physically difficult. I identified with her aloneness and her passion for Nature in the Pacific Coastal forests and beaches on Vancouver Island where she lived.  

These women, I learned when reading their life stories, had contradictions and incongruences in their lives. They did not necessarily live according to the perceived and legendary roles in which others placed them. 

Later I learned of women mystics and saints, who lived remarkable lives not just from a spiritual or religious point of view, but from the perspective of women not following conventional lifestyles. 

Women like Mirabai, the 16th century saint of India who defied the traditional role of women of her time in order to worship as she chose. There is more myth than fact known of her life, but it is clear she was a strong, self-determined woman not easily threatened, for example, refusing to perform Sati, (burning herself alive) as was expected, at the time, of a Hindu wife when her husband died. She worshipped God in the form of Krishna and is best known for her beautiful devotional poetry.

Reaching further back in time is Hildegard of Bingen, born at the end of the 9th century. A devout Catholic, her visions early in life resulted in her parents sending her to a cloister. There she wrote volumes on her spiritual experiences as well as on her practices and insights into plants, the healing arts, and her other scientific discoveries about the human body and nature. She also wrote music. No other woman of her time wrote as much about so many topics. Most women then didn’t even write.

These women are superstars in our current awareness of women’s history. But they did not know that about themselves, they did not make life choices to become historical superstars, but rather they were trying their best to honor their own interests and passions, to learn and do what they were drawn to regardless of their life circumstances. That may be the lesson to learn from their lives.

I read of women today living remarkable lives, doing remarkable things in all areas of life. Women changing the lives of others and changing the world. Most are unknown except for those who may be a news story on a back page. Many live in countries or cultures whose attitudes toward women have not changed much since the times of the women mentioned above. Some have become famous and been recognized.

I believe all women are strong, are healers, inventors, writers, artists, leaders, teachers, discoverers, adventurers, role models, and always have been, regardless of the times they lived in. Like many women in history, we do not always define ourselves with all the labels that represent who we are, we do not always see who we are. Today, to celebrate you, a woman, write boldly a list of words that describe all of who you are in the world.  Share it, tell someone who you are as defined by your interests, passions, actions. 

And always remember – you are fabulous! Happy International Women’s Day!

Other posts about women:

International Women’s Day

Celebrating Friendship

You Are Remarkable! International Women’s Day

Women, Bugs and Storytelling

International Women’s Day 2008

Emma Jo

This is Emma Josephine Penney, my maternal grandmother. In this HS graduation picture I think she is beautiful and I want to believe she had hope and optimism for her future. But her life was difficult. As a child growing up on a dairy farm in Sagus, MA, the second to last child in a family that had more than one death of a child, her father was a strict patriarch. As a grown woman, she faced single parenting during the depression when she and my grandfather parted ways under unpleasant circumstances.

Born February 15, 1893 (later in life she insisted her birthday was really Valentine’s Day), she rarely used her first name, always went by Jo Penney (where my name Penney Jo came from. Born on my paternal grandmother’s birthday, I was named after my maternal grandmother). She lived to be 105, dementia making her last decade unpleasant. She hated, and rarely went to, doctors. She grew roses, veggies and everything, and when she turned 100 Boeing Aircraft Company sent a representative to her party to present her with a t-shirt and pin because she had worked there for decades. She saw women get the vote and volunteered at the voting polls until she couldn’t.

As a child I didn’t know her well, but as an adult, I admire her stamina and intelligence. I think of her as Febuary draws to a close, it was “her” month. And as March, Women’s History month, begins, I think of many of the women in my family lineage and wonder who, what, she, they, would be if they lived in today’s world.

A Short Tale of A Fairy Ball & Fashions for Valentine’s Day

Today is the Valentine’s Day Fairy Ball. There are several Fairy Balls a year, usually held outside, but due to inclement weather, tonight’s ball is being held in the Great Hall. Though buried in snow, the entry to the hall has been cleared and dressed in their finery, the attendees are gathering to celebrate, exchange Valentine cards, and dance the night away.

There will be party foods – wild mint teas with rose infused honey, warming citrusy tea from sorrel leaves and Douglas fir needles, cookies made from hazelnut flour and dried huckleberries, and a warm stew from dried mushrooms and the roots of many plants, seasoned with wild ginger. This is fairy food, they harvest what their plants willing give them.

This is the door to the Great Hall. It is deceptively small, for inside is indeed a great hall. With a warm fireplace, torches to light the way and hearts hanging from wooden beams, it is a cozy place for the ball to be held.

Tree Fairy (you may remember her from my December post),  is not a socialite, she prefers the company of her beloved trees, but she does love her fairy friends, so donning a fancy cape and hat she set off for the ball. Her little seed fairy friends are helping her take a string of hearts to help decorate the Great Hall. 

One of the many flower fairies, this fairy in pink, decked out in stilettos and ruffled pants, is ready to dance. She loves to dance! I wonder if that rose bud is for a special Valentine?

So am I going crazy? Telling fairy tales? No to both. (Well, maybe a little crazy.)

I started making plant mandalas in spring 2016, a creative sideline when harvesting herbs, flowers and wild plants for medicinal or culinary use. Soon mandala making expanded beyond harvest times. During the winter holidays that year I started making angels, and then my “stone faced flower girls” showed up, a descriptive, but not very poetic phrase, so they became fairies. Not fairies by the conventional definition, most have no wings, and none are impish or tricksters.  The simplest dictionary definition I’ve found for fairy is “a small imaginary being of human form that has magical powers, especially a female one.”  That best describes my fairies.  They are forest spirits, little beings made from that which they love – bits of plants, stones, seeds, etc., and who live in and care for Nature.  Some can be stubborn, ornery and protective when their beloved plants and trees are threatened, but they are generally gentle, kind and loving. They don’t interact with people much, preferring the plants they care for. Besides, they are busy enough with their work. They do love people who come to the forest, or a garden, to appreciate their plants and trees. They are especially fond of children and will show them the magic of nature and help them if they are lost in the woods. They can be found anywhere in Nature, from a tiny garden on the corner of a city street to distant forests in the mountains.

“Story” lines about each one come to me as I make them, their personalities and bio emerge as they do. Like the mandalas, making them is an unfolding process with no predetermined concepts. The results usually surprise me (and sometimes frustrate me.) Unlike traditional fairy tales, my short one or two story lines have no villains or heroes, no moral or life lesson, and are not  “dark”, as many fairy tales are.

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Another fairy dressed for the ball. For her fairy job she wears all leaves, but she made a pretty petal top for the ball. Oh, and her very special shell purse contains Valentine’s for the Valentine’s exchange.

Fairy tales go back thousands of years and were (are) written with an intention. They are tales with a purpose – to teach a lesson,  a moral code, etc.  Most the earlier tales were not necessarily written for children and because they often reflect the values and social attitudes of the times and/or author, they may not be useful or even appropriate as stories in today’s world. There are modern fairy tales, especially in the movies, and there are some classic and timeless tales of old. (see links below to articles about fairy tales.)

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Her card in one hand for the Valentine exchange, a torch in the other to help her find her way home, this pixie fairy is off for a night of celebration! She is beaming with love tonight for everyone….including you! 

Any tales that emerge with my forest spirits are simple whimsy, the only intention is to make you smile, or laugh….or think I’m crazy.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY  from the fairies…and me!

A few previous  Valentine’s posts:

Nature’s Hearts

Animal Love

Valentine’s Day

The Love Story I Never Knew

To view more of my fairies check out Flora Mandalas. Or visit my Instagram page.

Interesting articles about the history of fairy tales:

Where Do Fairy Tales Come From?

True Stories Behind Classic Fairy Tales

Tree Fairy Tales for the your holidays…..

A little Tree Fairy kept me grounded through a month of windstorms, power outages, health challenges for both Mike and I,  and the usual “what do we want to do about Christmas”.  I shared her through a series of stories on social media. For those who do not interact with me on social media, I want to share her here and hope you find her to be a bit of delight in your life.

She and I wish for you Happy Holidays! Happy Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Hearts!

Tree Fairy came to me with her little potted tree, which I offered to decorate, but she ONLY wanted candles, no other decorations. She was VERY particular!

I don’t argue with fairies.

The next day she comes back and wants me to decorate a big deciduous tree, saying they’re the ones needing color in winter and mumbling something about people decorating conifers, already green & pretty.

I told her the Alders and Big Leaf Maples here were too tall to decorate. She gave me a cross look. .

I decorated an alder for her.

Tree Fairy loves her trees but can be very grumpy about people.

On December 9th I told Tree Fairy about Worldwide Candle Lighting Day. She became very sad thinking of young children who have died. She doesn’t tolerate adults well, but she loves children, helping them when she can.

She went and got a very large candle (for her, she’s only 3 1/2″ tall), then left to go into the woods to light her candle and be with her beloved trees.

She too has lost many loved ones this year. .

She told me the souls of all little ones who die, of any species, go to a beautiful forest in a heavenly world. I don’t know how she knows this.

Tree Fairy did not return until Friday when she came to say Happy Solstice! In good spirits, she looks forward to the coming light, knowing her beloved trees will appreciate the longer days, some already budding in anticipation. She brought some friends (not sure who they are, seemed rude to ask, I believe they are tiny seed fairies). .

She’s returned to her trees, we’ve had wind storm after wind storm, she wants to help those who got hurt.

She is happiest amongst her trees, she said come visit wherever you go to be with trees. She loves people who love her trees.

Those that don’t. Well, a cross fairy has her ways…….she is a warrior!

To see more of my recent and seasonal botanical creations check out page two of “Flora Mandalas”

Holiday Full Disclosure and Tolerance

The winter holiday celebrations can be as divisive as politics. Which is sad given what they celebrate. There are some Christians who say Santa, trees, etc. have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and non-Christians who say most traditions of Christmas were stolen from pre-Christian celebrations. Some Jewish people put up Christmas trees, others say that isn’t right. There are people who love Christmas music, those who hate it……the list goes on and on of other religious and cultural controversies this month.

a bit of whimsy made by a local carver

I thought I was becoming cynical about Christmas. Even Solstice. We celebrate both. What I thought was cynicism was the feeling that I have to be so sensitive this time of year around pretty much everyone as to not offend anyone, and very private about how we celebrate. Often I don’t even know which way is the “right” way to avoid offense.

Here’s an illustration of what I mean. One Christmas, when I had been very ill for months, Mike and I were enjoying a rare, leisurely, festive time together a few days before Christmas. At the gallery of a local artist who illustrates children’s books, Mike purchased a print of a little shepherd boy, taken from a book about the Christmas story. Mike loves Christmas and because of his Basque heritage he identifies with the shepherds in the Christmas story. (The Basque who came to this country, including his maternal great uncles, herded sheep in the isolated hills of California, Nevada and Idaho. A job no one else wanted). We walked out of the gallery and saw a friend to whom Mike enthusiastically showed his purchase. The friend’s only comment, said with disdain after Mike said why he bought it, was “but it’s so Christian.” My heart aches even now when I think of how crestfallen he was.  This person would not think of them self as intolerant. Yet this is the sensitiveness many people have around this season.

Though we celebrate in our house the way we want, it is like belonging to a secret society of two. How we celebrate has changed over the years, adopting new rituals, traditions, letting go of older ones. That’s the way life is. Of course new religions incorporate the traditions of older ones, its human nature. Archeological finds show just how long we’ve been adopting the ways of those before us, or from other places and cultures. Life is not either/or, people are not either/or……well, yes they are, and we see the results of that in our divided, polarized country, and in other countries, where everyone on all sides of the political spectrum talk of the “others” as though they had nothing in common and were from another planet. This intolerance of differences generates violence, at least in thought, and too often in action. Violence toward others is not taught in any major religious or spiritual tradition that has stood the test of time.

I’m quite certain I have much in common with someone who may have voted differently than me. We may both love birds, read plant books, support women’s shelters, have had cancer, drive the same car……who knows. I choose not to talk politics with people with different political ideals, but politics is not all life is about. Political choices may represent important individual values, but I know people who vote as I do and do not share all my values. They may not even tolerate how and what I celebrate this month. We are far more complex as a species and as individuals to put each other in boxes and categories based on limited knowledge of the “other.”

So here in our secret society of two, where Decembers past has often been a time of healing and recovery (i.e. recovering from surgeries, colds, flu, etc.) our celebrations are low key. Up until a few years ago we spent Christmas Day with family, usually elsewhere, occasionally here. We miss these family gatherings, but also enjoy just being “home for the holidays”. I have had a long standing “bucket list” item of spending Christmas in a cabin somewhere, then I remember – I live in a cabin somewhere.

the greeter on our front door

So here at this cabin in the woods is what is important to us when it comes to holidays. I apologize if any of this offends you. Actually, I don’t want to apologize, rather invite you to share with me what you celebrate this month that might be different, maybe I would enjoy your traditions and celebration also. Or perhaps you don’t celebrate anything you just enjoy December plain!

1) A nativity set, there are several to choose from, the tiny one from my childhood or various wooden ones. I have few friends who put up a nativity, but to Mike and I that is what Christmas is about.

2) Lights and candles are important because that’s what celebrating the Solstice is about, bringing back the light, celebrating the cycles of dark and light. And because here in Washington December is just plain dark and days are short.

3) We listen to a lot of music. (Mike can watch the same Mormon Tabernacle choir Christmas special DVD every year, me not so much, I like something new!).

back porch trees, two golden crest cypress

4) Though I often vow NO TREE, and NEVER thought I’d have an artificial tree, we always have a tree, sometimes a small table top artificial one, or a potted tree on the porch outside the window, or a cut tree. Sometimes more than one. Mike is delighted when we decorate a tree. In his younger adult years, up until we married, he didn’t really celebrate Christmas with anyone. Thirty Christmases later, he is still making up for it.

advent wreath

5) We now do an advent wreath to help us stop and focus on the spiritual aspect of this holy season, we light a candle each week, do a reading, meditate and slow down. Mike was in the emergency room last Sunday so we postponed our candle lighting to Monday, it helped “ground” us back into the season’s vibrations after a stressful Sunday.

6) We try to take a ride in the mountains, a walk somewhere quiet, depending on my body’s willingness. Connecting with Nature and the calm gray/green of winter in the northwest is very important to me this time of year. Nature reminds us human species that it truly is a time of peace on earth, and at least in the northern hemisphere, a time of rest.

7) Gift giving is minimal, fortunately an attitude shared by extended family and close friends. Something simple or homemade, if anything at all. (And this year I liberated myself from Christmas card sending by sending Thanksgiving cards.)

8) We have a special Christmas meditation with those in our meditation group.

little angel from my childhood on this year’s indoor tree

In a small house, where there isn’t a lot of room for decorating, besides the tree and nativity, you might find these favorite symbols of the winter season and holidays – snowmen, angels, deer, a variety of evergreens and their cones, red and white carnations, and (I have a mixed relationship with them) maybe a poinsettia, which Mike loves.

So if you’re in the neighborhood and don’t find our holiday celebrations offensive, drop by, we’ll share a cup of wassail! And if you too like the songs of the season, we could have a sing-a-long!

little china snowmen quartet

Just a few of many other posts of the season…

Solistice Thoughts

Christmas Eve Lessons From Nature

A message of peace

Sweet Silver Bells

Solistice

Seasonal Reflections

Gratitude & Grace

The word gratitude means “appreciation of benefits received” and comes from the Latin, “gratus“, which is also the derivation of grace, a word with many meanings, including “the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful” and “divine assistance“.

The expression “grace under fire” usually refers to someone remaining calm under duress. Using the above definitions of grace I offer a larger meaning to this expression: recognition, with gratitude, that we are the receiver of gifts, even when under duress. These gifts may include empathy, compassion, acts of kindness and love. No matter how small or large, these are the gifts of grace from others. Certainly recognition that these gifts are there for us can steady us in the storms of life.

When we express gratitude we are manifesting grace, our thankfulness shows consideration to the giver. We also attain grace when we are the givers of kindness, empathy, help, compassion, and love.  Grace flows, it connects us to others and to Spirit. It helps us remember there is good in the world and we are both the receivers of and, when acting with grace, the givers of this goodness.

Even in the most challenging of times personally or in our larger communities, there are elements of grace, acts of kindness and blessings received.

We do not need a calendar date to express gratitude for the grace in our lives, nor to pass it on. However, Thanksgiving, originally a holiday based on a myth, a misinterpretation of history*, has become a time to give thanks for the abundances in our lives. It is a good time to pause, focusing on what we are grateful for, and an excellent time to express not only our gratitude, but to offer our gifts of grace to others.

Gratitude and grace, when practiced often, will change our lives and the lives of others. May you be filled with gratitude and grace this week, regardless of the challenges you may be facing.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

*To read about the myth of a ‘first’ Thanksgiving, this is one of several excellent articles at the National Museum of the American Indian: Everyone’s history matters: The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known

related posts:

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Yummies

Thanksgiving

A recipe for winter

A pumpkin by any other name

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Finding my lost chords

We are still who we ever were in so many ways, and yet we are changed by life.

I bought a guitar last Saturday. I went to buy new strings for my old guitar, hoping to decide if I could, or would, play it, or if it needed to be passed on.

my old (sob) guitar

I love my old guitar. I’d sold the hammer dulcimer, donated the auto harp, but could not part with the guitar, bought in a little guitar shop on my first solo trip to Mexico City when I was 16. It represents and holds in its golden wood many memories and many parts of me.

Mike took me to town and followed me as I walked into the music store, guitar case in hand. He laughed and said “that is an old hippie guitar case if I’ve ever seen one.” And indeed it is, it is more hippie than I ever was. It has stickers from my college days in Washington DC when I marched in the Vietnam era anti-war marches and big 60s flower stickers, the same ones Mike said where on his VW van. They went well with the flowers I embroidered on my jeans.

As I placed my beloved guitar on the counter, the woman behind the counter pointed to the bridge as her husband picked it up. She noticed what I hadn’t, the bridge was detaching from the guitar. Sigh. “How much to fix it?” I asked. “And is it worth it?”

Without going into the sad details, there were a few more signs of its age and neglect from not being played for decades. And no, probably not worth it, though it was doable. If I could, I’d fix it myself, it still has a beautiful body and good sound, but it needs new hardware and the cost was more than the set of strings I’d planned on buying.

My ‘new’ Franciscan brand, made in Japan in 60s-70s guitar.

The man said “We have a used classical guitar for $99”. I picked it up. It felt as good as my beloved one, I bought it.

That was heartbreaking. He kindly suggested I hang the old one on the wall. Not going to happen, but it needs an honorable burial.

At home my hand, fingers and brain could not, would not, make music. My fingers hurt, my neck, already a cause of migraines, froze up. Having discovered I threw out all my guitar music not long ago, song sheets and all, (more heart-break) I’d look at chords on the Internet and not remember them 30 seconds later. Frustrated, angry at my aging body and mind, feeling foolish at being such a spend thrift, I just wanted to return the guitar.

Then something happened. After several hours of painful determination there was a shift and it happened….I started strumming and picking and smoothly moving from G chord to C and D. I was playing the guitar. I was making music. Mind you, I was never more than a beginner, and I have no expectations beyond that……but deep in my core the feelings of playing Girl Scout songs around a campfire and sixties folk songs came welling up. It is a feeling of coming home to a part myself lost through life’s experiences and challenges.

Now if only I had my music. And no, the Internet, though loaded with songs with guitar chords, is not the same. Though I find here and there songs I remember, they aren’t always the same versions I knew.

So I’ll be strumming my chords, making up songs, maybe playing a few verses of “Leaving on a jet plane” or “Where have all the flowers gone”, but there won’t be any public playing for this old hippie. Mike likes hearing me play. The guitar is soothing. A good friend got a kick out of Happy Birthday over the phone with my male vocal cohort. Abby, half deaf, sleeps by my side through my musical experiments. I’ll be as frustrated now as “back then” at my limits. But it still feels right. It feels like an essential part of me.

For now I’ll keep the guitar. It fits in my old case. Maybe I’ll find someone to fix my beloved one.

I bet I can still ride a bicycle too.

Is there a lost part of you waiting to be found?

 

 

Balancing the Elements

This month west coast skies have been gray, except near the fires, where they are lit with the hot colors of fire. Yesterday morning I laid in bed thinking how close the fire up the road was and the many houses in it’s path before it would have reached us, fortunately it was contained before nightfall. I had flashbacks of a wildfire that took off from a smoldering brush pile in a clear-cut behind our property 30 years ago, surrounding our property on two sides with lapping flames. I could see the fire through the trees as I tried to organize my thoughts and belongings for possible evacuation. No one had notified me of the fire, I just happened to notice before going to bed lights from police cars at the end of the driveway. Walking down the driveway I saw road barriers closing me in the fire area.

It was a different world then, management was not handled well on that fire. In the dark I walked up the road to the fire staging area and got a ride up to the fire line by a local volunteer in his truck so I could see if any of the tall firs on our boundary were on fire. It was a long, scary night, and I was angry.

What do these fires, does fire in general, have to teach us? Perhaps that is a personal question for individuals to ask, depending upon how wildfires have affected them. In Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, fire is the primary element of the Pitta dosha. Too much Pitta in an individual can cause rashes, fever and inflammation, people with an imbalance of Pitta, either constitutionally or due to dis-ease, can be ‘hot headed’, quick to anger and may express anger with aggressive words or behavior. (The secondary element of Pitta is water, as in ‘letting off steam”!)  When in balance, Pitta is the fire to “digest” food, thoughts and life experiences, it can be sharp, smart thinking, strong, have staying power and energy. When Pitta is strong people have endurance and can be “in their heads”. Like it’s element Fire, Pitta has both a negative, destructive side and a positive building side.

The other doshas, Kapha and Vata, are the elements water and earth (Kapha) and wind and ether (Vata). Kapha imbalance can be cold, immobile and needs fire to energize it, to give balance, drying up some of the sluggish dampness. For example hot spicy foods are good for Kapha, too much cool, heavy, oily Kapha foods can cause congestion and overweight, yet spicy foods can aggravate Pitta, giving it too much heat. Excess Vata, the wind dosha, can push Pitta, causing it to inflame, yet Vata is flexible and needed to balance too much Pitta or Kapha. Vata moves the fluids of our body as it moves the rivers and streams of the earth.

mandala entitled “Cooling the fires with the blues”

There are colors we associate with fire – red, orange, yellow, and these colors, while stimulating and balancing to Kapha, can be too intense for Vata and definitely raise the heat of Pitta. Pitta finds balance with cooling shades of blue and green. Vata, prone to fear and anxiety, finds balance with soft, warming shades of colors, such as soft golds. Vata needs nurturing, soothing and ‘grounding’ to calm its erratic, ‘windy’ nature.

Are we nurturing ourselves individually and in our communities during these challenging times? Or are we allowing ourselves to become too inflamed with heat and anger?

the seasons of life, the year and the times of day each are dominated by the characteristics of certain elements, making each period of time ideal for certain activities.

Summer is the hot Pitta time of year, now in late summer we are moving into autumn, the Vata time of year. There is heat, yet there is wind and transition. In the news we read of aggravation and anger in the behavior of people and often the events we read about bring up our own anger. Things seem to be moving quickly, for better or worse. There is fire, there is wind. There is imbalance. There doesn’t seem to be much groundedness. There is too much water in areas of North America and other places, not enough water in other areas. There are too many fires . The Earth, a living being, seems out of balance in so many ways. Does it start with how out of balance we humans living on the Earth are?

When there is serious illnesses, such as cancer, all the doshas are involved, they are all out of balance and a careful assessment of how to bring a person back into health and well being is needed.

Maybe one lesson of fire is our need to find our own balance – in ourselves, in our relationships, in our communities. Be patient and understanding, be kind, watch the temper. Try not to let the news ‘rile’ you up! If you are a Pitta inclined person, bring cooling calm into your life, surround yourself in cooling blues and greens, the colors of the earth and water. If you are Vata inclined, be especially nurturing, soothing and calming the winds of your anxieties and fears with meditation and walks in Nature. Maybe you are a Kapha person, grounded but immobile, lacking motivation and feeling there is nothing you can do. Taking positive action by helping others at this time could give you more energy. We can all bring calmness to our outer world by finding ways to balance our own nature. A world full of healthier, balanced, calm people will surely begin to heal this precious Earth-body. It is not easy to bring balance to such a large living being such as Earth, but starting with ourselves is a good place to start.

Are we not all calmed and find inner peace when in Nature, especially when she is dressed in blues and greens!

I’m going to imagine blue skies, blue water and coolness settling over the west coast, enveloping the fires til they smolder out, the balancing impact of Kapha on Pitta. And I will visualize everyone in the path of hurricane Lane being calm and safe as all that Vata energy moves through.

You can read more about Ayurveda and see a list of resources to learn about food and life style choices, etc. here: Mother of all Healing.