Monday, April 22, 2013


On litter patrol...
 I had to laugh when a friend asked me if I was doing anything special with my son for Earth Day weekend.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” I responded, amused by the question. Not that I am undermining the importance of the holiday – it’s one of my favorites, after all. But when I look at the things that people will choose to do in order to honor the earth on this day, I am often amazed that they aren’t doing these things every day, as we do. Maybe we’re just blessed to be able to live in a way that intentionally honors the not only the earth, but also its rhythms and cycles, but it’s simple and easy, once you make a few minor adjustments to your lifestyle.

If you headed this weekend out to attend rallies, pick up trash, take your child to a festival where they planted a squash seed in a milk carton or planted trees, kudos to you. Let it be a kick-start to a permanent commitment to honor the earth and her cycles through daily lifestyle practices.

Here are a few suggestions for making every day Earth Day...

1. Unplug and get outside. It’s impossible to appreciate the earth, and nature, if you spend no real time enjoying her. And get your kids out, too. Be outside with them, together. At my house, the television could explode and no one would care. Games and gadgets given to my son by well-meaning family members – who assume he will like them because other children in the family do – gather dust on shelves. One of the highlights of our day is outside time, and unless it’s raining, it’s built into every day’s schedule. I take ‘outside time’ into consideration even when planning how long I will stay at work that day. Gardening, woods walks, or just playing, being outside is good for the body and soul in so many immeasurable ways. You don’t have to go anywhere extravagant; you can take a hike in your own neighborhood; camp out in your own backyard. Children are essential to the continuing the conservation of our earth’s resources, and if they are not taught to value nature more than television and technology…well…prognosis negative, if you know what I mean...

Sometimes I think we spend more time outside than in...
2. Eat local and what’s in season, and eat less meat and dairy. Of course, ideally, eating no meat would be a far better goal, but the indoctrination to eat meat starts early in many people, especially males, and it becomes too precious of a habit to give up. “He’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy” is a common term used to describe men in the South, and it also – falsely – implies that the eating of meat makes one more rugged and strong, just like the idea that human beings need cow’s milk/milk products for optimum health. It’s a lot of dogma to battle, but the greater battle is fighting to keep industrial meat and dairy farms from destroying more wild spaces in order to graze the ever growing herds of cattle human beings are determined to consume. So while Michael Pollan, environmental and dietary author (and one of my absolute favorite men in the universe) nails it when he says, “Eat. Not a lot. Mostly plants,” eating meat and dairy has just become such a mainstream habit, it seems impossible to many families to imagine giving it up. So rather than say no to it all, let’s just agree to eat less of it all. (And maybe, in time, you’ll not have a need to eat any of it at all.) And not enough can be said about the benefits of eating locally verses eating foods from God-knows-where. When you feel compelled to argue that ‘such-and-such says this is an important source of this-and-that and therefore we must eat it year-round’, remember that such-and-such may be on the provider payroll…it’s called kickbacks, it’s a huge part of marketing, and the food industry is one of the greatest abusers of suggestive advertising to ever hit the planet.

You can't put a price on a dinner this fresh..spinach from my own garden, not a state across the country.
3. Complain. And not on Facebook or to your buddies, but to the powers that be whenever you see wild spaces being destroyed. You can’t make people care, but you can let the world know you care, and that will attract to your circle more people that care, and soon you’ll have a small group of people who are determined to change the world…and we’ve all heard the saying that’s the only thing that ever does! Write letters to the newspaper editors, people in government, and environmental organizations. Ask how you can help.

4. Freak out your neighbors and plant a garden where your lawn once was. I mean, what is the point of growing a tidy plot of grass? Unless you have a small herd of goats, there isn’t one. More and more people are waking up to this concept. If you live in an apartment or townhouse complex and only have a few feet of lawn, plant a community garden in a common area, or look for ways to grow things in small spaces. Often there are grants funds available for community gardens; explore those options. Involve your children, too. Chances are, they will remember a garden where food grew far more than they’ll remember the grass at the house where they grew up. And it will serve the added purposes of eating local food that’s in season and spending time outside.

I do love our community garden. So glad we did not move and leave it behind.
5. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Yeah, it’s become a catch phrase, but it’s a good one. A few months ago I started an online group that exchanges children’s clothing. Since then I’ve given away two loads of my son’s clothes and been given several bags of sizes he can wear next fall. I’m a known garbage picker who will haul a good side-of-the road find home and turn it into something useful any day of the week. My philosophy here is two-fold: the less need I have to spend money, the less time I need to spend working, and the more time I can devote to following my passions…like being outside, planting gardens. Also recycle food scraps into compost bins. Between recycling and composting, I may toss one bag of real, actual garbage a week. And that's a 13 gallon bag. It makes a difference.

6. Turn out the lights when you leave a room and unplug appliances that are not in use. A given, but I visit homes all the time where every light is burning and no one is in the room.

7. Walk or bike whenever you can. Not just weekend-warrior style marathon excursions, but just for daily life, if possible. I gave away my bike a few months ago, an impulsive decision I now regret, but I walk everywhere I can, my son walking or biking beside me. His tax-time treat was an uber-expensive cycle that will grow with him, and he rides it every day. I’m often amazed at his stamina on hills and long treks. As a comparison, a friend of his got a new game system as a tax-time treat, and when he spent an afternoon with us, he could not keep up when we walked to the store, which is just a few blocks away. So there is a two-fold purpose to using our bodies to get us from point A to point B.

The toddler beds that I recycled into zucchini and cucumber beds. Big basket in front, since painted red, was picked up off side of the road. :-)
Well, I think I’ll stop here because otherwise this could go on forever. I’ll leave with the advice to believe what old folks say about honoring the earth’s cycles. Buy a Farmer’s Almanac. Listen to what Native Elders believed about how all things are connected. Think outside of the box about how you can make a difference for the environment. Teach the children well.

And love your Mother.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Bother?

I freaking love this!

Here's an excerpt: "If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others � from other people, other corporations, even other countries."

Now click on the link and read!

Month 4 of No Shopping for Clothes + Partnerships

These fabrics will soon be swishy dresses and skirts...
So I'm halfway into the fourth month of the year I've vowed not to buy clothes, and I'm itching for something new to wear for spring. It was easy the first couple of months, but now...not so much. In the droll winter months, when the world is grey and dark, it's easy to forget about fashion.

But then the season shifts, and ahh, it's spring.

And warm.

And all I want to wear are long swishy skirts or dresses with sandals. I don't want to think about my outfit; I just want to throw it on, brush my hair, and be ready for the day. Although that's not quite how it happens...I do spend alot of time picking out my outfits and it takes at least 20 minutes a morning to get the comb through, then tame with a variety of oils, my hair. Still, I like to look as though it is effortless. Only thing is, for some odd reason, at the end of last summer, I gave alot of my long swishy skirts and dresses away. I had been hurt, and foolishly believed that reinventing myself somehow would ease the pain. But here's a fact - in warm weather, I hate to wear pants. Now I have a closet full of smooth, professional pairs that look like they belong to a middle-aged attorney. A middle-aged male attorney.


So, it's off to the fabric store on Saturday, where I find a delish African-ish fabric to make a new dress. Later that weekend, someone gives me three 5X tops, brand new, that I'll cut into strips and make a skirt with. I'm very excited about these projects, but here's the catch - I prefer to sew by hand. Always have. To be totally honest, my sewing machine freaks me out a little, and while I've already made two dresses this year (part of the reason I took the vow not to buy any new clothes was to inspired myself to make them,) I've not taken the bloody machine out in months.

What does that mean? It means that, in order to reach even these small dreams and goals, I need time. Time that is precious, and in short supply.

Talking with a friend yesterday, we discussed partnerships, i.e. marriage, and the notion of 'double income families.' Is it really the ideal to have as much money as possible at the cost of very little time together? I ask the kids in the neighborhood if they are excited about summer break, and several of them sigh and say, "No, I'll just be in daycare instead of school." I think about some of my friends, who do not work outside of the home in order to either homeschool their children, or simply be there as a steady, constant part of their day when they come home from school. Money can be tight, so they live simply. But here is the thing - they live. And one thing they have that I envy is time. Time with their children, their spouses, and time for themselves. Life is not a mix of running to a from a timeclock. They don't live just for weekends. They have a sweet sense of freedom, and their spouses/partners? They, too, are less stressed. They work, and they handle the finances, and they come home and enjoy time with their families. Some of the stay-at-homers are men. Some are women. But here's my theory - I believe we are at a point in society where we're realizing that allowing our children to be raised by schools and daycare and having precious little sacred family time just so that we can have all sorts of gadgets and huge house and this, that, and the other...well...maybe that's not progress.

Maybe somewhere, somehow, someone needs to actually be there with the children, and for the children, and the home. I don't mind being the breadwinner, no. I don't mind being the homemaker, either. But being both affords precious little time to be, well, anything else. A writer friend of mine quit working years ago when it was determined that the family could make it just on one income. While her child is in school, she spends half of her day writing books - something that was difficult to accomplish when she was juggling a 'career' with being a parent and a wife. She's deliriously happy and by making simple adjustments to their lifestyle, they have not only done fine on one income, but they've even traveled abroad...twice. Now her books are beginning to get attention. The second income is coming in, and her dreams for herself and her family are being realized. Hmmmmmm....

Someone has to work. Someone has to take care of home and family. Everyone has dreams. Kids need parents who are not exhausted and overworked. Dreams are damn hard to realize when, at the end of the day, one is too exhausted to move, much less sit down in front of a computer, a sewing machine, or an easel. So here's my theory - life's just easier if you a) live simply b) have a partnership c) realize that sometimes we need to live simply and have a partnership if we want to reach our dreams, whether they are small ones like making a few clothing items, or big ones, like becoming all we know that we can be because there's someone else who believes in us, who makes our life easier by being the other half of our partnership.

Of course...that's just my observation. Now I must step over the basket of laundry that needs to be put away later and step into the bathroom that has to be cleaned this evening, and get ready for work, a stressful work that will consume the bulk of my day's hours. The stacks of fabric sit in a chair. Outside there are seedlings that need to be planted. My son has a guitar lesson later this afternoon that he'll need to be taken to, and groceries will need to be purchased. My eyes burn from lack of sleep, as I have a deadline on a article that I've been burning the midnight oil to write.

Everything seems to have a deadline when there's only one person to meet it.

But summer is coming...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Point of My Compass

Painting of Eric in his dance regalia...he was 4.
I am itching to be in the mountains, the Western North Carolina Mountains, my second home for as long as I can remember. There, on the banks of the Oconaluftee, is where I feel I really grew up. I did not cry 15 years ago when I left South Carolina and moved to Michigan until I drove through the Great Smokies of North Carolina and fully comprehended, perhaps for the first time, the distance I was about to put between myself and that sacred place. Leaving my friends and family behind did not affect me so much as leaving behind those mountains. And something about the arrival of spring always sends me spiraling towards them, like a bird migrating back north to its true home. So it was with great enthusiasm that I went online yesterday to make reservations for the Memorial Day Powwow in Cherokee.

Oh geez,” I thought to myself, seeing nothing about the Powwow on the website. “They must not have updated the website.” So I called the Welcome Center, just to be sure of dates. For as long as I can remember, I’ve stayed at the Drama Inn, just across the street from the Ceremonial Grounds, right on the shores of the Oconaluftee River. With such a prime location, the rooms fill quickly, and while I may not be sentimental, I am a creature of habit. To have to stay somewhere else would throw the entire trip ‘off’ in my mind. The friendly receptionist at the Welcome Center busted my bubble pretty quickly, however, explaining that the website was right. There was no Memorial Day Powwow this year. Nor was there a July 4th Powwow or any of the other smaller powwows that used to fill the spaces before, between, and after. In my teens, I was on the reservation nearly every other weekend for an event. “There is only one powwow this year,” she said, giving me the dates. “It’s the 38th Annual Powwow, June 14, 15, and 16.

The second shock was that it isn’t even being held on the Ceremonial Grounds, but at the old high school on Acqouni Road. I have never been to a Powwow in Cherokee that was not on the Ceremonial Grounds…that is the purpose of the Ceremonial Grounds. I was, and still am, baffled by the change….but I also did not return to the reservation last year. I went east instead, to the sunny shores of Wrightsville Beach, to the mountains of North Georgia, to the Isle of Palms. My inner compass having gotten spun to hell and back early 2011, I was still trying to find my center a year later. I was still looking for myself, my place, my peace. I thought perhaps it was in change that I would find a way to put the pieces of my life back together. Now I know better. Perhaps had I returned to those mountains, and continued to read the Cherokee paper, and stayed in touch with friends there, I would have known why this change of venue and events had happened. But I didn’t. I sought something new. No harm in that. Running into the ocean on my birthday was a thrill I’d always wanted. Watching my son surf the waves made my heart swell with pride. Eating breakfast in a small German bakery was like a mini-trip to Europe without spending a grand. All those trips were wonderful…

At the Isle of Palms on my birthday, creating his childhood memories...
But it is this place, and these mountains, and this river where my compass originates. It is from here that I spin outward into all those other different directions.

And it’s changing.

Talking with a friend later in the evening, I expressed to him my dismay at the dwindling number of powwows hosted by the reservation. We speculated as to every cause, from the economy (it actually takes considerable funds to host a powwow) to the arrival of Harrah’s Casino. All were viable explanations…but none eased my feeling that something, somehow, has been lost. Yes, I’d wanted my son to experience some of the things I had, and he’d been dancing in powwows since he was 2, calling them ‘Big Song’ and making the circuit with me a few times. I’m not so vain to try to recreate for him the exact same experiences, however. He will have his own, different, childhood, with his own experiences.

This was and is for me. This is something I need.

Do our ancestors live in our own souls? Maybe. Perhaps that explains why certain members of a family are called to explore certain aspects of their heritage while others could care less. Standing in the Museum of the Cherokee Indian with my son years ago, looking at a mural depicting the Trail of Tears, I remembered  the moment I saw the family names of my ancestors on the Western Roll. They were part of The Removal, but could not stay away from the mountains they loved. I don’t hold on to the past, I don’t feel anything is to be gained from holding on to hurts and wrongs of other times. But when my son, 4 at the time, asked, “Are these my people?” I was moved to tears. Don’t look back, be in the moment, forget the past…I reached out to trace the face of one of the female figures, and thought about a grandfather who would not set foot in his daughter’s house because her husband was white. He was my grandfather, as was his white son-in-law, and all the grandmothers and grandfathers who came before them. “Yes,” I responded, “These are all your people. And there are so many, many more.”

My son’s father comes from the west, and at some point, I will need to take him there. He needs to see the deserts of his own origins, to breathe the arid air, to see the plateaus and wind-whittled earth sculptures that lit the soul-fires of home for his own ancestors, also removed in the name of progress. They, too, returned, a century later, and for different reasons. But nevertheless, they came home. Perhaps the desert will call to his spirit one day as the mountains always have to mine. If so, I hope he’ll honor it. We blaze forth in life, forgetting the connections that created us, that hold us to something more sacred than a man-made home or stretch of field someone purchased a century before. We are a part of something that existed before land could be owned and homes had to have walls. A decade ago, I stood at the window of an apartment I loved in a suburb of Detroit and stared at the vast expanse of buildings and flat lands before me. I loved my life and friends there...but in that moment, I knew I’d spent enough time in a world without mountains. Like so many others before me, I came back to the place I began, the point of origin for my inner compass.

Me, Patrick, Angela and Phylicia, circa sometime in the 1990s, at the Ceremonial Grounds, post powwow...
Last night, an old powwow buddy who disappeared from my life in the 1990s sent me a friend request on Facebook. Delighted, as I’d just been speaking about him that day to another friend, we spent the evening chatting and catching up on one another’s lives. When he sent me the picture above, I knew I could not wait until June to be back in the mountains. Powwow or not, it was time to head north.

We can’t go back, no, but we can go forward, create new experiences, new memories, and new connections.

And we can remember that one powwow a year is certainly better than none.