Hopeful Weekend Links

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Become a Radical Pragmatist – Alan Webber, Do Lectures

Top 16 TED Talks for Foodists – Darya Rose, Summer Tomato

Guide to Seasonal Living: Spring – Mother Earth News Living

Oregon Moves to Help Disappearing Honey Bees – Jodi Peterson, High Country News

How Finland created the best education system in the world – Christine Gross-Loh, The Atlantic

Cure “plant deficiency syndrome” with the wild medicine solution – Guido Masé, Herb Mentor Radio

Celebrate the First Day of Spring

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Finally . . . the first day of spring is March 20! Here are some simple ways to celebrate.

Explore

Go on a hike and identify wildflowers if some are sprouting in your area. Or visit a local farm and see if you can get a glimpse of calves, lambs, or chicks in the barnyard.

Play

Fly a kite. Or make dandelion or clover chains and wear them as spring crowns.

Gather

Hunt for spring flowers, cherry buds, egg shells, a bird’s nest, and other signs of spring. Decorate the house with crocuses, daffodils, tulips, or dandelions.

Observe

Watch the sun rise and set. (You can find out what time it will rise here.)

Plant

Sow seeds. Have each family member pick a favorite flower to plant. Designate a special garden, and make a ceremony of it.

Read

Check out this list of novels “where the characters blossom and where there is hope in the midst of struggles, like flowers on bare branches.”

And don’t forget about the kids. Some of my family’s favorite spring picture-books are: Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schur, Spring by Ron Hirschi, and Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. We also enjoy reading aloud from The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson.

Eat

Make a spring feast with the first crops of the season. Dandelion leaves, steamed nettles, and asparagus are delicious spring greens. Other traditional spring foods include eggs, ham, and sweets. Eat outside if weather permits, or have a picnic on a blanket in the living room.

Make

Attract birds to your yard by making these easy Audubon-approved bird feeders out of peanut butter and bird seed.

Or create your own traditions to welcome spring this Thursday.

Resources for seasonal celebrations:

The Artful Spring by Jean Van’t Hul
Ceremonies of the Seasons by Jennifer Cole
The Spring Equinox: Celebrate the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson
Together: Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes
The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

Do you have plans or ideas for how to celebrate spring this year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Hopeful Weekend Links

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What Happens in One Minute Around the World – Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

Farm-to-Table Living Takes Root – Kate Murphy, New York Times

Freedom in 704 Square Feet – Sandy Keenan, New York Times

Help Kids Learn About Business and Finance : 60+ Resources – Laura Grace Weldon

Americans Are Riding Public Transit in Record Numbers – Justin Prichard, Associated Press

‘Genius Hour’ : What Kids Can Learn From Failure - Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

Why Spring is the Best Time for Birthing Projects

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“Then there are those rare days … that dawn with a clarity that muscles its way into every home and studio and office, lending a crispness and cogency to almost every thought. … There’s a delicious radiance that seems to come from the things themselves, from even the tables and the plush rug, and when we step outside we can taste it in the air and in the way a few fluffed clouds rest, almost motionless, in the crystal lens of the sky. How far our vision travels on such days!” – David Abram

We experienced our first spring-like day this weekend — birds singing, sun shining, daffodils in full bloom, windows open. Ahhh.

All day I was bursting with ideas and creativity. For most of us, our employers, clients, or the accumulating bills insist that we keep making our to-do lists and checking off items right on through the darkest, coldest months. In many of my former workplaces, summer and winter were interchangeable. Not once did a manager suggest we adjust our work to be more in sync with our natural seasonal inclinations.

But these first spring days have a way of showing us how stubbornly linked our minds and moods remain with the seasons.

One of my friends manages an organic farm, and not surprisingly his life is more in sync with nature than most of ours. In the winter he rests or travels. Then in the early spring he starts working, gradually increasing his hours with the longer days.

But you don’t have to trade your computer for a hoe to get more in tune with nature. One independent author realized that winter was an excellent time to stay inside writing, whereas spring was the ideal time for book releases, so that’s how he arranges his life now. Some companies have started giving employees extra time off during the summer, since that’s when people want to be outside and with family. My dad, a freelance writer, took nearly every afternoon off in September for fall hikes.

I’m fortunate to have some flexibility in my working life, so I try to pay attention to nature’s cycles and adjust my life and work accordingly. But it’s not easy, because our modern lifestyle — climate controlled houses and vehicles, cities lit up around the clock, ripe tomatoes available year round — are so adept at inoculating us from nature’s whims. Planting a garden helps, since I have to pay attention to and cooperate with nature from spring to early fall.

But every spring I realize how hard I’ve pushed myself to keep running, biking, producing and working at full capacity right through the winter elements. I suspect winter colds and influenza may be nature’s way of saying, “Enough. Rest already,” since many of us are bad at heeding the weather’s hints.

It’s noteworthy that until relatively recently, many cultures observed the new year in March. These early spring days, with their “delicious radiance” do seem a perfect time for making resolutions, for birthing books into the world, and perhaps for opening new businesses and starting ventures. What might the rest of our work lives look like if could take our natural seasonal inclinations into account?

Do you adjust your work with the seasons? Could you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Pause. Relax. Breathe. Plan.

Photo: Rennett Stowe

Photo: Rennett Stowe

 

Last week, I realized I lost a lot of images in my blog conversion. It was an awful feeling to scan through my older posts and see years of pictures wiped out. I spent a night feeling pretty devastated.

But the next day, as I scrolled through old blog posts looking at the damage, I couldn’t help but look at the other things too, like all of these words I’ve worked so hard to write week after week, year after year. All these stories, memories, and ideas. How much my kids have changed. How much I’ve changed.

So often we don’t take these moments to pause and reflect on how we’ve evolved and where we’re going. We keep navigating forward, one foot in front of the other, without stepping back to reflect, analyze, brainstorm, and strategize.

That’s why I’ve decided to see The Case of the Missing Photos (Have I mentioned Ezra is crazy about mystery novels right now?) as a message to do just that.

So for the next two weeks, I’ll be taking my own little managing retreat to think about my business, my writing, and my short and long term goals. I’ll be pausing, relaxing, breathing, and planning.

It feels like the perfect time to think about the future and growth, with the sun shining and the flowers and trees just starting to come to life here.

As for all of those lost images, I’ve thankfully recovered quite a few and have some tricks to pursue for the rest. I’m ever hopeful, and I’ll see you back here in a couple weeks!

Have you taken time to pause, relax, breathe, and plan lately? Do you need to? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hopeful Weekend Links

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These two young artists quit their jobs to build this glass house for $500 – Ilyce R. Glink, Yahoo News

We Warp Time – Laura Grace Weldon

Clean naturally with essential oils – Mother Earth Living

How cooking can change your life – Michael Pollan, RSA Shorts

Tiger Mom, Helicopter Dad, you both have it wrong – Melinda Blau, Shareable

The benefits of biking – Kelly McCartney, Shareable

Become the Solution

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I love brainstorming for solutions. That’s why I started this blog. I wanted to ponder answers to some of the questions I was asking myself after my first son was born, like how can my husband and I create a healthy, happy, sustainable family life? How can societies redesign communities for health and happiness? Four years later I’m still here brainstorming.

Often I come back to a movement that may hold some of the answers: permaculture.

Permaculture is a gardening movement that originated in the 1970s in Australia. Its “father” Bill Mollison defines it as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”

Sound confusing? I haven’t even gotten into the three tenets or twelve design principles. Honestly, I don’t wholly understand permaculture, which may be why I’ve yet to transform my yard into a food forest.

But I find it to be an incredibly refreshing and hopeful philosophy, because it re-frames a tired conversation about our role in nature.

Most of us are well-versed on humans’ criminal performance as stewards of the natural world. Nearly all my earth science lessons from first grade through college ended with discussion of humans’ destruction: a hole in the ozone layer, acid rain, rampant pollution, global climate change. After my dad died, I saw a photo of a polluted landscape and immediately recognized the emotion I’d been feeling during all of these environmental lessons: grief. I’m sure I’m not alone in that emotion.

The environmental movement often espouses footprint reduction as the solution to the devastation. In An Inconvenient Truth, we saw a list of the same solutions I heard in elementary science classes: turn off the lights, drive less, buy energy efficient appliances.

As you know, I’m all for finding joy in simpler lives. But I’m not convinced it’s the answer to our environmental problems.

Derrick Jensen makes a good point in his 2009 critique of simple living “Forget Shorter Showers”: “The logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. . . . we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.” Jensen is trying to provoke political action in his essay, but he captures how psychologically depressing and even destructive it is to think the way we can best serve the world is to disappear.

If our presence itself is the problem, how can we be the solution?

Perhaps that’s why when I first read about permaculture, I felt a rush of relief. The movement is not about shrinking, shriveling, or getting smaller. The ultimate goal isn’t disappearing. It’s about doing something productive that makes the world a better place. It’s about improving the environment through our actions.

In their memoir Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City, Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates describe how they built a permaculture food forest that transformed their barren urban lot into a high yield food-producing habitat for fish, snails, frogs, salamanders, raccoons, opossums, woodchucks, bugs, and worms. “Imagine what would happen,” Toensmeier writes, “if we as a species paid similar attention to all the degraded and abandoned lands of the world.”

Permaculture is incredibly powerful, because it inspires us to become the solution. It shows us that we can create systems of abundance where everybody wins.

What if we apply the same mindset to other seemingly entrenched problems? We’d probably be able to re-frame all kinds of tired conversations and focus on what we can design and create to affect the world for the better.

It’s the mindset that inspired Seattle to create Beacon Food Forest, seven acres of fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs and vegetables that will be open to the public for foraging, that helped Judy Wicks build a successful business while creating a thriving local economy in Philadelphia, and that helped a Spanish biologist build a fish farm in Southwest Spain that reversed the ecological destruction of the Guadalquiver River valley.

If you haven’t seen Dan Barber’s TED Talk about that Spanish fish farm, it’s an incredible reminder of what can happen when we become the solution.

Check out these resources for more inspiration:

Hopeful Weekend Links

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How green microbeweries stoke sustainability – Peter Brewitt, Orion

The full-fat paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean – Allison Aubrey, NPR

How to Change the World – Renee Tougas, Fimby

60 Plus Nutrient Dense Recipes That Any Kid Will Love – Kristen Marr, Live Simply

Some good news in the farm bill – Karen Stillerman, Union of Concerned Scientists

It took this man two hours a week to change the world – Sage Cohen, The Path of Possibility

5 Ways to Make February Fabulous

It feels like the perfect day to revisit this post (and I’m still in need of a fabulous February tradition if you have ideas to share).

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“In the coldest February, as in every other month in every other year, the best thing to hold on to is each other.” – Linda Ellerbee

So maybe I was a tad optimistic in that title. Perhaps I should have stuck with “fine” or “fair”. We are talking about February, after all. I often find this month a bit, well, challenging. All of the newness of the year – the parties, the resolutions, the bowls of black-eyed peas – too often give way to the realization that there are lots of cloudy days and long cold nights to go as my little corner of the earth rotates back toward the sun.

I love winter. It just has considerably more appeal in November, when sweaters,  crackling fires, and root vegetables are still novelties. Apparently I’m not alone. A quick Google search turns up dozens of articles and blog posts entitled, “February Sucks,” lamenting everything from Valentine’s Day to midterms to sinus infections.

But this month, I decided I will not just quietly cope with my February malaise. I’m on a mission to pull February from its shadowy reputation – at least in our house. In August, as we’re sitting outside watching the sun set at nine and eating vine-ripened tomatoes, hopefully we’ll say, “This is nice, but remember February?”

Maybe you can use some February mood-lifters too? Here are five ways I’m hoping to rescue this poor wreck of a month:

1. Plan the Garden

What’s the next best thing to eating those first sweet, crunchy snap peas and juicy raspberries? Dreaming about them, of course. And what better way to do that then to sketch out some garden plans? Last year, planning was my key to gardening success, and I learned a lot from what worked and didn’t work. I’m looking forward to spending some February afternoons with a cup of tea, some gardening books, and my sketch pad.

If you don’t have space or desire for a garden, you could plan some containers for your deck, or a window box, or adopt a house plant. Just glimpsing plants has been found to speed the recovery of surgery patients and improve workers’ job satisfaction. Hopefully plants can help rescue February too, a month altogether wanting for more shrubbery.

2. Invite someone new over for dinner

We have new neighbors, who also happen to be old acquaintances, and we’ve been meaning to invite them over for awhile to welcome them to the neighborhood. February is calling for a break-up in the old routines. Why not invite someone new over to your house too? It’s the perfect excuse for a feast. Eat. Play some games. Discuss ways to spruce up February.

3. Create something everyday

Around this time of year, after all of the baking and the making that comes with the holidays, I often find myself in a creativity lull. Dr. Kelly Lambert might say this explains why February is so challenging for me. She asserts that cooking, knitting, sewing, building, or repairing things with our hands and seeing tangible results from our efforts bathes our brains in feel-good chemicals. I know she’s right. I feel much better when I’m creative. “An art or craft everyday” is my new February motto.

4. Listen to music

Music – notably up-tempo music played in a major key – makes people happy. Research indicates that listening to music we enjoy triggers the release of the natural opiates known as endorphins. And in studies, music has been found to boost surgery patients’ immune systems, lower stress in pregnant women, and reduce complications from cardiac surgery. I know music makes everyone in my house happier, and yet I often simply forget to turn it on. I hereby proclaim February the month of music. We will listen, sing, play, and dance.

5. Start a new tradition

Okay, so I’ve come up with a few ways to improve the next couple of weeks, but what about next February and the February after? I mean, if I’m going to make this a legendary month, we need a tradition that we talk about all year. Should we make valentines? Or truffles? Go on a scavenger hunt? Take off for a weekend getaway? I haven’t decided yet … I’m hoping you’ll share your ideas.

Do you love February, or at least like it? Do you have any fabulous February traditions? I’d love to hear from you.

Ice Storm

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The Pacific Northwest got hit by another epic storm last weekend, which dumped close to ten inches of snow then covered everything with a thick layer of ice. The ice isn’t as fun to play in as snow, but it makes for beautiful photos.

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I couldn’t get enough of the brilliant pink buds encased in ice. What a wondrous image for February, when one day we were fawning over the first crocuses of the season and the next we were gliding through our neighborhood on cross-country skis.

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