Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Initial meeting of cohousing for Northern Illinois was focused and productive – we have begun!

A small core group got together to discuss creating cohousing in northern Illinois.  We shared what we meant by cohousing, what we are looking for, why we’re drawing to living more in community.  We talked about the importance of sustainability in housing and community design.  We shared our interest in multi-generational living, the importance of the arts and our shared passions for healthy food.

We agreed that we are all eager to get going on this – to move it forward.  As part of our next steps planning we registered a domain name – Prairiemooncohousing.com!  The entire community that forms over time will decide on our ultimate name, but the initial group was good with Prairie Moon.


  • Write blog entry about the meeting – Diane (this is it – done!)
  • Create Facebook page for Prairie Moon Cohousing – Diane
  • (first step for this is to look at the McHenry County Food Cooperative FB page as a template – Diane)
  • Create website for Prairie Moon Cohousing – Deb
  • Finalize monthly meeting date (we had said “around the 15th of each month, but that’s hard to schedule – I will propose the 3rd Sunday of each month) – all
  • Talk about it with people we know – as we build more materials (flyers, etc) we can publicize more broadly, but to begin with, we want to let people know informally – including via this blog – all

Sue and I were excitedly discussing the meeting afterwards and she pointed out how fortuitous it was that we began our project in earnest at the full moon – full moons talk about things coming to fruition!

We are all very excited at the prospect of forming cohousing in Northern Illinois!  Want to read more about what we mean?  Here’s a post from my blog.  Here’s the cohousing.org website.  And from that site, here is a definition of cohousing.  As a quick sum-up – it’s a community of people who wish to live more cooperatively – each in their own dwelling, but with a ‘common house’ – central gathering place – for group activities liked weekly shared meals, celebrations, craft areas, etc.

Interested?  Let me know here in the comment stream and we’ll continue to keep you posted.  Next meeting is Sunday, March 16 from 2-5 PM, location TBD.

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Chase Bank has lost two BILLION dollars (or more) gambling.  They have fancy names for gambling.  Just like they use fancy names for corporate welfare.  We cut assistance to the poor and bail out rich bankers who give themselves big bonuses for tricking us.

I’m so curious about the somnolence of the American people.

I transferred my money out of the big banks into a credit union after the meltdown.  Yes, I getter better service, better rates and nicer people.  But my primary reason was to ‘vote with my feet’ – to say no to greed, to plutocracy and plundering.  I am appalled by the behavior, lack of ethics and robbery that all the big banks participate in.  I turned my anger into action and moved to a credit union – which supports the local community and is not for profit. 

I don’t understand why everyone hasn’t done this.

I also don’t understand why people are just putting up with being robbed by the rich, overall, but let’s save that for another day.

So I’m curious.  If you still have your money at a big bank, rather than at a community bank or (even better) a credit union, why?

And I’m also curious – have you watched the movie “Too Big to Fail”?  Have you read books about the financial meltdown?  Are you okay with being robbed – truly, personally robbed – as a taxpayer, shareholder (if you have mutual funds you are most likely involved in this mess)?  Really? 

We used to (about 30 years ago) have a democracy in this country.  One of the nice things about democracies is that you get to vote.  And one of the nice things about capitalism is that you get to vote with your feet. You express approval or disapproval in each store you visit (like Wal-Mart? Then you are saying yes to abusive labor projects and misanthropy), each institution you frequent and support.

If you have questions about making the switch from gambling, reckless, ethics-less Big Banks to community banks or credit unions I can both point you  to good resources and also tell you of my own experience.  For a starter, I have never paid one cent for an ATM nor have I had a hard time getting all the cash I seem to go through.  Just not an issue.  That was one of the things I thought about before I made the switch.

So now, over to you.  Mad about being robbed? Whatcha gonna do about it?

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We’ve started a ‘mini-cohousing’ experiment here where I live.  Four households (five, if you include my friend Bill who doesn’t live in the neighborhood but often teams up with us) have joined forces to share more, buy less, and to help one another.

At our initial meeting David & Katja said they have a compost bin behind their garage and that we are all welcome to use it.  I composted all last summer, when my friend Bill had his community-based garden (his town has a plot of land where people who don’t have space to garden where they live can have gardens).  It has really tugged at my conscience to just throw food scraps out since fall.  So I was very excited at David & Katja’s offer.

I’ve seen some fancy composting containers for sale, and if I had a household of more than one person it might make sense for me to get ‘more stuff’ and spend the $20 to get one.  But it’s just me here and Bill came up with a very simple system last summer.  I use 2 different 1-gallon Ziploc bags.

First, I fill bag 1 – putting in my fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds (and I believe I can put eggshells in but I want to make sure David & Katja are okay with that in their compost).  I eat a fair amount of fruits and veggies so I can often fill a gallon bag in 4 days or so.  Put stuff in bag, zip it up, put it in the fridge so it doesn’t smell.  Continue til done.

Once the bag is full I get it to the composter – in the summer that means Bill takes the bag and dumps it directly into his garden, now I walk across the street to David & Katja’s composter and just dump it in.

Then I wash bag #1 and while it is drying (my drying rack is to put it over the top of one of my 2 metal water bottles, near the garden window and let the sun dry it), I use bag #2 as above.

Simple.  Easy.  Cheap.  5 household, 1 composter.  I don’t know how much David & Katja paid for their nice composter, but this site has a variety of options in case you, too, want to start composting.

How about you?  Do you compost?  If so, tell us about it!  If not, tell us why.  Is this something your neighborhood or farmily could do?  Join the conversation – I really want to know!



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The problem:  Where to begin?  Income inequality in America, crumbling infrastructure, corporations trying to wrest control of the Internet, Citizens United, global warming….pick your issue!

The solution:  Say no! —- and — Say yes to an alternative!

I spent a lot of last year being outraged.  Well, I’ve been outraged a lot since 2008, watching America change into an entrenched plutocracy.  Being outraged, per se, only hurt me.  Not paying attention (the tactic I see many – most? – people use) is probably worse.

Now I’m focusing on two alternatives, both of which will create positive change (as you know, that’s my theme for 2012 – create positive change).

Say no to what you don’t like.

Or say yes, to a better alternative.

At a philosophical level, I feel the better strategy is to say yes to the better alternative.  My mom used to tell us “you become what you think about” (wise woman!) and one of the tenets of my church (Unity) is that “Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind” – i.e., our thoughts create our reality, so best to choose positive ones.  I agree with that.

But this pugnacious, passionate Irish girl still gets riled up at injustice and inequality.   Rather than wishing I were less bombastic, it’s occurred to me that I can do both – focus on creating good, put my energy into the new world I wish to see.  But also continue to say no.

What saying no looks like for me:

  • Attending “Occupy the Courts” in Chicago this Friday
  • Writing about what needs changing
  • Boycotting companies that are egregiously wrong (top of my list:  Wal-Mart, followed by Target and BP)
  • Getting more involved in Occupy Chicago

What saying yes looks like for me:

  • Getting more involved in the Transition Town network
  • Getting food from local sources – farmer’s markets, CSAs, my friend’s garden, Farmer Nick (local eggs and chickens)
  • Buying locally in general
  • Seeking sustainability from the very small acts (cloth bags rather than paper/plastic), to the medium (buying a shredder with my friend rather than each of us buying one) to the larger (investigating co-housing)

I plan to explore more of these this year and will take you along for the ride.

How are you saying no right now?

How are you saying yes right now?

Which feels more natural to you?

I really want to know!


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We had a bit of a windstorm here on Monday.   They call it a ‘derecho’ and near as I can tell it was like a flattened out tornado with Category 3 force hurricane winds.  It took out electricity to over 868,000 homes in the Chicago area including mine.

I had two and a half days of no electricity and it was a learning experience.  I learned that much as I like to think of myself as living simply (heck, I don’t even watch TV) that I depend on electricity a LOT.  I got to experience (not learn, I knew this part) how much I HATE heat and hot weather (give me 30 below before Chicago’s summer heat and humidity).

I learned what it must have been like for my grandparents before the Rural Electrification Act provided them electricity – you go to bed when the sun does and get up when it gets up.  I wasn’t used to an 8:30 bedtime, but reading by lantern light quickly grew tiresome.

I’ve  learned the value of INCREDIBLE neighbors/friends.  My across the street neighbors came over while I was at work and moved all the food in my freezer and fridge to their extra refrigerator.  Then invited me over for dinner to boot.  They are beyond kind and thoughtful – just incredible human beings.

I learned how lucky we are, we Americans.  How spoiled.  How much we (I) take for granted.  How much having all the time Internet access is something I rely on.  How reading has been coming in second – a distant second most times.

I’m glad that some of my spiritual work is slowly seeping in. That I was grateful to our utility company for the great job they did, rather than bemoaning ‘my’ loss (we were all in this together, for sure).  I’m glad that my response when the electricity came on hours before my out-of-town guest arrived was gratitude, not “it’s about blippin’ time”. 

And I’m thinking a bit about how I live my life – here in this world – when I could be chasing ‘busy balls’ with my kittens or lying on the lawn watching the clouds go by. 

Though as John prine pointed out – just being is hard for many of us:

“Why is it so hard
just to sit in the yard
and look at the sky so blue.”

For me this was the longest I’ve gone since I was a teenager without electricity.  For some people – people in this country, not just third world nations – this is a way of life.  While I want to live more simply and sustainability I want that living to involve lights at night, all the time Internet and coffee in the morning here in my house (much as I love Starbucks).  I’m grateful that, for now at least, that is what I have.

If you’ve had some power outages I’d love to hear what you learned.  What did you miss most? Least? What will you change after what you’ve learned?  I really want to know!

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It’s Ideas Day here at Taking it to the Streets

A 264 page Socratic dialogue about saving the earth and the teacher is a gorilla?  And Diane says “Read it!”  – say, what?

My local Borders store is one of the ones they closed so I was in there trying to nab some bargains.  I wanted to reread Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse and found I had given my copy away – so that’s what I was after.  The young man who showed me where they hid fiction there said he had always wanted to read Hesse.  I told him Hesse is PERFECT for young people and that his best book, by far, is Siddhartha.  So we struck up an easy camraderie around books.  I had worked in a bookstore when I was in my 20s and somedays I still AM that person, albeit cleverly disguised as an aging hippie.

So the young man told me about HIS favorite book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.  that’s when he told me the gorilla part, apologetically, as, I suppose, I should be with you.  He told me that that really doesn’t get in the way and that the book was really fantastic and inspired him still.  On his enthusiasm alone, I bought the book and this past week I read it.  And wow! I’m glad I did.

I asked the other day on Facebook if “Socratic, didactic” was a redundant phrase and my friend Sean and I came to the same conclusion – a work that is Socratic is, perforce, didactic.  But one could have a work that is didactic, but not Socratic.  This book is both.  The back cover uses the beginning of the story as a hook:  “Teacher seeks pupil.  Must have an earnest desire to save the world.  Apply in person.”

And earnest is a good word to use in regard to this whole book.  Both Ishmael and the unnamed hero are earnest, each in their way.  And Daniel Quinn surely is.  Since I too am earnest about saving the world from the perils created by our modern way of life, this suits me fine, but others may find the preachiness and earnestness too much.

Besides tieing in with my interest in sustainability and the importance of simple living, the book also hit a chord with my philosophical bent.  It touched on some ideas about the Bible that I must say have never ever crossed my mind. Since I want you to read this book and for me those ideas were the most surprising parts of the reading experience, I’m not going to say more, other than it has really given me some new viewpoints.

As one who believes that we are all one and by WE, I don’t just mean white humans living in North America and Western, but all humans, animals and plants (I do limit my ‘all onenness” to sentient beings, so maybe that is my little prejudice), this book rang very true.  I guess that’s why a gorilla is involved – as a spokesperson for all that humankind is so blithely, unthinkingly destroying. 

The timing is good for me.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my impact on the world and have noticed that I’ve been loathe to cut across lawns to get where I’m going, not wishing to tread unecessarily on the grass.  Even I find that odd and a bit too precious, but it has been a strong internal dictum this spring.  So I listen.

Though this super easy to read novel and Judith Schor’s academically-tinged Plenitude would seem to not have much in common, I think they both evince a “middle way”.  I think the Conservative reply to Progressives call for change in response to environmental meltdown is that we’ll all be living in caves like Osama bin Laden – a world with not only no Starbucks or Internet but maybe not even houses or food or jobs – “it will be awful!”

And the Progressives say “Ya, just drive your Hummers and watch the whole world turn into one huge earthquake-tsunami-Gulf Oil spill…” – oh, wait. We have that now.

But both Plenitude and Ishmael say we CAN have a saner life for the whole planet without living like monks.  Unless it’s the kind of monks who have gardens, raise chickens and bees and hang out with friends and chant and sing.  Oh, that sounds like the life I’m moving towards! 

So I have to say, I found the gorilla part a bit too precious, really I did.  I think it would have amused me more when I was the hippie bookseller, not the aging hippie talking to the cool-dude bookseller.  But  the points Quinn makes are valid, it’s well-presented, and very thought-provoking.

And hey, if you’re WAY into it, he’s got a whole online community happening.

And I think Ishmael was right – we’re running out of time.  So have a read, think about the world you are helping to sustain and the role you want to play in it.  Definitely a thought-provoking book!

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My friend Lisa and I stumbled upon a presentation a few weeks ago that promised information about beekeeping, canning, soapmaking and all sorts of “back to the land” and simple living skills.  It was presented at the Unitarian Universalist Church in rural/hip Woodstock, Il.  I didn’t pay much attention at first as to WHO the organizers were – only that the day seemed to fit in with a sustainable way of living that Lisa and her family and I were interested in. 

It was a fascinating day.  And really, the tip of the iceberg, as it was my introduction to a movement afoot called “Transition Towns.”

Wikipedia says “Transition Towns (also known as Transition network or Transition Movement) is a brand for environmental and social movements “founded (in part) upon the principles of permaculture”  based originally on Bill Mollison’s seminal Permaculture, a Designers Manual published in 1988.  Following its start in Kinsale, Ireland it then spread to Totnes, England where Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande developed the concept during 2005 and 2006. The aim of this community project is to equip communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. The Transition Towns movement is an example of socioeconomic localisation.”

They showed us a little video amidst the beekeeping, soapmaking and make your own solar panels presentations.  I found the whole concept of transition towns fascinating –  working to set up YOUR community to be more sustainable as the changes we’re amidst start to kick in earnestly.  Though created in Ireland and England, the movement is now truly global, with the broadest reach being in Western Europe and North America.

There are 3 “official” transition towns in my state of Illinois with several others in “mullers’ status (ie., mulling it over, forming), one of which was the one I attended – Transition Town McHenry County.  Though I joined the McHenry County forum and got online with them, it didn’t occur to me til I sat down to write tonight to check online for the broader organization – there’s a US site, a global site, and articles aplenty about the movement.

I’m both a doer and a thinker – and once I see that we’re in harms way I am very programmed to jump into action.  I think the triple whammy of Peak Oil, Global Warming and Economic Meltdown qualify as “harms way” so I am eager to find out, “how then shall we live?”

I also like that the tenor I’m seeing is “start where you are” – so if you’re reading this post and saying “Diane, what are you, nuts? Soapmaking?  With my 50 hour workweek, husband and 2 kids, when exactly do I do THAT?” – well, you start where you are – with things like recycling, figuring out how to drive less, etc. – and leave the soapmaking til after you’re entered more of the Transition Town or Plenitude lifestye.  Or never.  You just may not be the soapmaking type, after all.

I’ve been thinking lately, as I hear people bemoaning the state of the world, “Gosh, who has time to kvetch about the old order fading away?  I’m too busy working on building the new world to complain that the old one will soon be gone.”

That is, if we can keep ourselves alive long enough to get there.  But if more and more of us decide “none for me, thanks” about the current plutocratic, global-warming, war-crazed lunatic world we seem to be in and instead turn towards a world of sustainability, kindness, concern for life (that means the planet and ALL its inhabitants) – you know, “plenitude”, then I think we MIGHT just make it. 

the guy who started the McHenry chapter asked me if I’d be interested in starting a Transition Town in my hometown – and I’m thinking I just may.  Have a look at the sites I linked to. Then — how about starting one in YOUR town?  Or joining one that exists.  I think it’s pretty urgent that we switch gears – and do it quickly.

One way I think about it is thinking about my grandnieces and grandnephews.  I’d rather envision them saying “Auntie Di, tell us again how you banded with others to help keep this old world alive.” or “Auntie Di is it REALLY true all the crazy stories I hear about the waste of resources and the killing to get oil and the ‘bad old days’?” then to hear “Auntie Di, how could you let this happen to us?” or worse yet —- silence. Because none of us would be here anymore.

I do think we’re at a turning point.  You can keep on with what Judith Schor refers to as “Business as Usual” – or you can make a difference.  Maybe even, you know, save the world.

What are YOU choosing? And why?

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