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The Learning Curve

Tally of new plastic waste since our last report: 11 oz.

So, a few weeks ago, I posted very optimistically about the possibility of subsisting through the winter on salads from greens I grew myself, on my windowsill.  And a glance at this picture will explain why.

With our excellent southern exposure and a couple of self-watering planters, I had big dreams for green leafies.

Now, I'm a little wary of any "earth-friendly" project that begins by buying new stuff--especially, as these planters were, new plastic stuff.  But I love salads, and I really did not want to go back to plastic-wrapped salads hauled over distances, so I went online and ordered these.  (I know myself; if it were my job to make it rain anywhere on the planet, that locale would quickly become a desert.)

In this picture, the planters look very promising, don't they?  I planted the lettuce quite close together, as I have done on occasion in the past outdoors, when I've put in "ornamental" bo…

Peter on the Minute of Sending Forth

The annual Sessions of New England Yearly Meeting this year was unusual. The 350th anniversary of NEYM was declared a Jubilee year, and items of business were squeezed into very brief discussions or simply handed down from the clerks’ table in a “unity agenda” for approval without discussion, leaving the bulk of our time together free for “meetings to hear God’s call.”

The week ended with the drafting of a Minute of Sending Forth, which was an attempt to capture succinctly all of the currents of discernment and passion, despair and hope, which had been rising during the week. The minute included a brief statement that had been composed by one of the anchor groups—small groups of a dozen or so that had been meeting in between the gatherings of the entire body. This small, three-paragraph statement proved to be very controversial. It was prefaced with “noting that we as a body cannot claim all these words as our own” and followed by “with pain and regret and gratitude for their faith…

And Another Thing About Spiritual Authority...

And another thing...

I remember my daughter's teenage years.  You would not know it to meet her now--she's poised, charming, generous, clearly intelligent and lovely.  But her teenage years were scary ones for us, her parents.  (More than average, I think.)

I have a gift for guilt and worry, insecurity and obsessiveness.  And I clearly remember when I realized that I just had to set that aside.

It didn't matter if it was all my fault, or not.  It didn't matter if I was a terrible mother.  It didn't matter if she was going to hate me or blame me or if I was going to hate or blame myself.  The  only thing that mattered, the only thing, was the question, what do I do now?

What am I supposed to do, what will be in any way helpful, now, today, to help my kid survive being an adolescent?

Spiritual authority is like that.  It's about when you don't have the luxury of blaming yourself, or worrying about whether or not you're adequate or lovable.  You have to se…

How Are We Doing? A Six Months' Checkup

As of November 26, 2010, six months into our plastic fast, Peter and I have produced a total of 13 lbs., 7 oz. of plastic waste.

By a reasonable estimate, that puts us at about 17% of the average rate of waste production for the United States, though we may be generating plastic waste at a rate of only 7% of the average, depending on which set of numbers you choose to use for the average amount of plastic waste per capita.

For instance, Beth Terry, of Fake Plastic Fish estimates that Americans produce between 85 and 128 pounds of plastic waste per person per year--based on EPA data for residential plastic use in 2008.

The University of Oregon's estimate is a bit higher: "Every American uses almost 200 pounds of plastic in a year--60 pounds of it for packaging." (Source: San Diego County Office of Education, cited in University of Oregon Campus Recycling page).

So how are we doing? Better than we could be, though not as well as we might like. Beth Terry, for…

Spiritual Authority

About a month ago, near the end of meeting for worship, I felt something rising up in me and nudging me for attention.

Sometimes a leading is a deep, powerful, physical thing.  When I was a teen, I used to go out sailing on a sailfish with a single piece of wood, a daggerboard, that was thrust through the heart of the little boat to act as its keel.  In a strong wind, you could hear and feel that keel moaning and keening with the work it had to do, keeping the boat headed where the rudder directed it.

Some leadings are like that--almost unmistakable piercings of the heart that power us forward.

Others are lighter, gentler, and more subtle.  At times I have thought of myself in worship as feeling like a cork, floating lightly and easily, able to respond to the lightest of touches, moving here or there at a mere breath.  At such times, I may feel drawn to talk to this person or that, not even perhaps knowing why, just that it's what's right to do.

Those leadings are delicate nud…

On Hunting

On Saturday morning, Peter and I put on our blaze orange vests, and took a walk together in the woods behind our house.

There's an old woods road back there, maintained by the local snow mobile club, and used by the vocational school's forestry program, as well as various hikers and hunters.  Since bear season is in progress now, I often see a jeep parked at the top of the V.A. Center's access road, the most common point of entry.  There's a muddy spot there made by the action of tires coming and going, but otherwise, the road is paved with leaves, generally in a loose, ruffled layer.

When we were out this morning, however, we noted that the leaves were flattened--clearly there had been vehicles driving farther along the road than is normally the case.

There were other signs to be read in the road, too.  I'd told Peter of a recent discovery, of a scenic outlook off a spur trail, an abandoned logging road that branched away from the main woods road to the east, and …

November

I've been home the last two days, yesterday on family business, and today because it is a school holiday.
I got to make soup, and bake a cake to freeze in slices for snacks next week, and tend my indoor garden.  And the day was mild and sunny, and I woke up very early, so I was able to wash a week's worth of laundry and hang it outside to dry one last time.
My dog is always very happy when I am drying laundry outside.  He gallops alongside me as I walk across the yard to the clothesline, and lolls about munching the grass--or rolling in it--as I clip socks and tee shirts onto the line.
Sometimes we stop together and peer overhead, or into the woods, at mysterious rustling animals or the wild cold calling of geese passing by.
There is a quiet to November.  After the flurry and rush of September and October, November's hush is a surprise and a relief.  Parent conferences, in-service days, school holidays and Thanksgiving punctuate the school year, but it's more than that.  I…

Remorselessly

One trait I've always had is "buyer's remorse": that tendency in human nature to regret commitments made, and to wonder if we haven't made a terrible mistake as soon as a decision is irrevocable.

For instance, when I brought home Morgan, our 185 pound English mastiff and the dog of a lifetime, I spent at least a week fending off a sinking feeling that I had ruined my life (and this dog's), and that it would never, ever work out!  It did--Morgan eventually joined me in my therapy practice, working with me and with my trauma-survivor clients on a daily basis.  She was enormous, she slobbered, but she could sense a painful emotion a mile away, and loved nothing better than to rest her head on someone's knee and look up at them with the big, sincere gaze of a mastiff, telling them without words that she would never have treated them that way.

Of course, there is a difference between a dog, a living, breathing animal who can give and receive love, and stuff. …

Eating In

Mmmm... supper!

I started by baking my own bread, in an attempt to get affordable bread without all the plastic packaging.  One thing led to another, and I returned to making my own pie crusts, as I had in college--only this time, making one to use now, and freezing the second--buying local produce and freezing it, then pickling it and turning it into jams and jellies, and finally into getting pretty much all of my produce local and organic.

But it's almost winter here in New England, and my favorite farmstand has closed for the winter, and I'm reluctant either to give up fresh produce, or to go back to buying the stuff hauled in from California, plastic-wrapped and ready for me at the local supermarket.

In fact, if all goes well, tonight's salad may be the last grocery store lettuce I'll need.

My fingers are firmly crossed; I've never been much of a gardener, though I lived with one as a child, and I know how much better home-grown anything tends to be.

But I've go…

Bear Magic

I just came back from a walk in our woods, and for the first time, I have seen a bear.
Oh, I've seen cubs before, even before we moved out of downtown.  As woods have grown up around the small cities in Western Massachusetts, bears have found places to live that are awkwardly close to humans; about a year ago, for instance, the wildlife police had to remove a mother bear with cubs who had made a den in a drainage culvert in the heart of a thickly settled neighborhood.  We even had a treed bear in a sidewalk oak tree just off Main Street a few years back.  That took some pretty skillful work to remove the bear cub without killing him.
And it's well known that only a fool leaves a bird feeder in place once the snow starts to melt.  Bears love bird feeders.  And garbage, so it's a good idea to plan accordingly, especially if you have dogs or small children.
All that is common sense.  So, yeah, I've seen bears before, and I've known about bears for years.
But it's…

Since My Last Confession

OK, so I'm not Catholic.  But it has been a very long time since my last confession here--meaning, the last time I posted our weigh-in of plastic trash and recycling.  (Why do I count recycling?  Because, although I do recycle everything I can, plastic is not like aluminum or glass that can recycle endlessly; plastic actually "downcycles" and becomes, essentially, hazardous waste for thousands of years after only a handful of reuses.  So it all counts, sooner or later.)

The last time I posted our weigh-in was back in July: a two-week tally of 3 lbs. 1 oz.

In the ten weeks since then, we have generated 6 lbs, 7 oz. of trash, which would average out to about 17 lbs of plastic waste per year per person for each of us... in comparison with an American average of over 80 lbs per person.

Of course, I'm not counting my totaled automobile in that amount.  I have to hope that many of the plastic parts will be salvaged, and used on other cars.

But I am counting the dead twenty-yea…

The Orchard and the Hedge

Last April, as I may have mentioned, Peter and I planted a sort of mini-orchard of eight semi-dwarf apple trees.

Our new old house sits on a main artery.  Behind the house are literally hundreds of acres of woods, filled with deer, red squirrels, bears, and every sort of tree--including a few old, abandoned apples, and even some lingering chestnut trees.  Before you've gone a quarter of a mile into the woods, the road sounds have faded away, and there's nothing left but the sighing of leaves and the clacking of branches, the cheeky tunes of chickadees and the perpetual scolding of jays.

By the house, however, especially at rush hour, there is a regular flow of sometimes noisy traffic.  Last year, there was often trash in our yard, thrown out of the windows of passing cars.  And the constant flow of traffic makes the yard feel somewhat too exposed and public.

It was for those reasons we decided to plant some trees, hard up by the road, though back behind the salt splash line.  …

Pieces of an NEYM Mosaic

We have set aside most of our usual business agenda, and are holding instead something we are calling "Meeting to Hear God's Call."

We are hearing a lot of messages about world suffering, economic injustice, environmental destruction.  We hear a lot of despair.

Some of the messages feel rooted in Spirit to me; if others are, it is not in a way that I can discern.  I wrestle with my own anxiety over doing "enough."  I know that I live in a manner that is far more comfortable than 90% of the planet's humans ever will; I know that my lifestyle is unsustainable.  I know that I have not sold all I have and given it to the poor (though I'm also grateful that, as a non-Christian among Friends, that one is not a given for me, but one whose social justice message must prove itself to me on its own terms, not just because Rabbi Yoshua said it back in the wayback.)  (Mind you, it's message is pretty damned compelling.)

I am in the weeds; I am in the tall grass…

Becoming Giants

I'm here at New England Yearly Meeting Sessions, the big annual Quaker business session and gathering for worship.  This year is unusual, in that the agenda-driven business sessions that normally shape the rhythms of our time together have been subsumed, mostly, in a much more open-ended "Meeting to Hear God's Call"--a kind of back-to-basics discernment session about our spiritual condition and where we may be being led by Spirit, as a body.

My attention, however, has been much less on the spiritual condition of my meeting, and much more on myself.  Since I arrived here on Saturday, I have been wrestling with almost overwhelming feelings of self-doubt, excoriating shame, stupidity, and a temptation to be severely critical of others.

This feeling has alternated with moments of extraordinary grace and quiet strength, in which I have found my heart more open and intuitive to the needs and longings of others than I can ever before remember being, and moments so filled wi…