Clothing Swaps and Other Eco-Socializing Ideas

Seriously, this was STYLING in the 80's

I swear this was trendy in 1985

I’ve never been known for my stellar fashion sense (see photo, circa 1985) but my wardrobe has seemed particularly stagnant lately so I was excited when my friends Maggie and Siri invited me to the Second Annual Ladies Clothing Swap and Tea Party.  I don’t know how it compared to last year but this year’s event was AWESOME.  About thirty or so women showed up with bags of clothing that was quickly sorted by type – pants in one pile, dresses in another, t-shirts across the way…  The hostesses had made cute little handwritten signs for each pile and carefully propped up mirrors in strategic places around the room.

And then we all dove in.  Well, actually, it was one of those amazing instances of smooth flow without any direction or authority.  At any given time, there were some women trying on outfits while others gathered in the kitchen to drink tea and others found a cozy corner to sit and chat.  I had a wonderful time expanding my wardrobe but it was really the sense of connection with all these other women that made it an exceptional event.

I call it “eco-socializing” – an excuse to get together and strengthen the feeling of community while also achieving an ecological goal; in this case, efficiently recycling clothing by trading it with others.  Granted, a clothing swap may not be as obviously constructive as a barn raising or as altruistically beneficial as a volunteer river cleanup but I still think it’s an integral part of building a green society.  These are the kinds of events we need to be fostering in our towns and neighborhoods, along with canning parties, sewing circles, and leftover exchanges.  They don’t have to be about saving the planet; just about finding a way to spend some time with friends and neighbors while sharing resources in order to reduce waste and reinforcing shared beliefs about green living.

I suppose saving poor souls like myself from fashion tragedies is a worthy goal too.

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Book Review: Last Child in the Woods

Last Child in the Woods by Richard LouvI just finished “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv.  It’s on a lot of “must read” book lists and has generated a lot of enthusiasm for getting kids outdoors, while also creating some controversy.  The basic concept is that kids need exposure to nature in order to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy but our society has made it really difficult.  Some of the major obstacles are lack of open spaces, excessively busy schedules, fear of letting children explore outdoor areas, and concern of potential liability when kids do activities where they might get hurt like (gasp) climbing trees.

Most of the book was information I had heard before and parts of it were a bit dry but I enjoyed the way he wove it all together and came up with suggested solutions that attack the issue from multiple levels – getting our own children outdoors, exploring ways to bring environmental learning into our schools, and lobbying to have more nature-friendly city design.

I was most excited about reading his descriptions of Green Towns and other nature-friendly urban planning concepts.  I have toyed with the idea of being an urban planner for many years because I feel we could create really amazing places to live if we put some effort into it.  Sometimes I think the biggest challenge is convincing people to let go of the status quo.  People seem to worry a lot that switching to more eco-friendly designs will decrease their quality of life but I don’t think it’s true.  Wouldn’t we all enjoy living in towns were we could walk to the store or to work and where we had beautiful natural spaces to enjoy?  I think we just need to let go of the idea that life is incomplete without wide roads and 100% climate control.

In the end, I have not entered the realm of urban planning because redesigning cities is a very slow process that involves years of patient negotiation with a wide variety of stakeholders – community members who have various needs and desires, governments that are interested in maximizing property tax income while minimizing infrastructure costs, developers who want to stay in business, preservationists who want to save various historical sites and buildings, transportation networks, and oh, so many more.  It is not a battle I’m ready to take on.  Not yet, anyway.  But I do believe one of the best things any community can do is to develop a vision of what they *might* look like if everything worked out right.  Not a utopia.  Not some dream of perfection.  But a semi-realistic concept of a town that integrated into the ecological landscape, that supported the needs of all living beings in the area.  Humans are definitely important but I think the way for us to protect ourselves is to do a better job protecting everything else.

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The Heart of Now, Permaculture and Greening Cincinnati

Log movingI went to Cincinnati this weekend to lead a Heart of Now experience night. The Heart of Now is a workshop that invites people to practice being honest and open with themselves and with each other, through the simple act of being present.

It’s one of those things that is simple but not necessarily easy. How often do we find ourselves lost in thought, worrying about the past or dreaming about the future or simply off on some dreamy tangent? And how often do we choose to ignore where we are right now, willing the time to pass by or stuffing down emotions we don’t want to deal with?

The problem is, when we’re disconnected from ourselves it’s even harder to connect with each other. Well, that’s one of the problems and I believe that’s why the Heart of Now has been successful and why it is often associated with permaculture and with community living. I first found out about it as part of my crash course in hippie west coast alternative living when I moved out to Oregon to take an eight-week course in permaculture and eco-village design.

Permaculture is a design theory that says we can create human settlements that will provide for all our basic needs (food, water, shelter) and also give back to the natural environment if we design them correctly, working with nature rather than against it. Many of the ideas are based on simple common sense that we seem to have forgotten, such as orienting buildings to take advantage of passive solar heating. There are many elements involved, such as sustainable agriculture, natural building practices, ecologically sound water management, and treating “waste” products as resources (e.g. kitchen scraps become chicken feed).

Eco-villages are communities that are designed to implement permaculture practices at the community level and to also support all the community members’ social and spiritual needs. As you might imagine, one of the biggest challenges of living in community is dealing with interpersonal conflict. Our class had sessions on some of the technical aspects of building an eco-village (building houses out of straw bales and cob, designing water management systems, creating forest gardens) but also all of the necessary social skills (non-violent communication, consensus decision-making, creating community policies).

The Heart of Now session I led in Cincinnati was part of a local permaculture course and it was really inspiring to see how it appealed to a group of people who are working to green a very urban landscape. Cincinnati is an old river town with a lot of history and a lot of typical urban blight issues. My host was telling me that there are houses in the poorer neighborhoods that are available for $7,000 and are often historical homes that were constructed in the late 1800’s. He has dreams of revitalizing inner city neighborhoods with gardening projects and radical community involvement.

Mostly, though, the participants were just excited to have a way to strengthen their small community that’s already working to create a small counterculture of green living in an area where the traffic never stops and 90% of the land is pavement. There’s already one eco-village going in Cincinnati and there are dreams of starting others. There are also dreams of starting farms at the fringes of the city and inviting inner city kids to come out to experience growing their own food.

I am excited to be a part of it all. Sometimes I worry that I’m not making a positive impact on the world and I wish I were out doing something radical like gardening in the ghetto or inventing the latest green technology. So I’m happy to play a supporting role in greening the city of Cincinnati as I continue striving to make a difference in my little ol’ hometown of Bloomington.

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Be Kind Rewind

YouTube Sweded from http://www.bekindmovie.com/youtube.htmlMaggie and I just watched Be Kind Rewind. Directed by Michel Gondry (of Eternal Sunshine fame), it follows Jack Black and Mos Def as they accidentally erase all of the videos in the store and have to recreate them with a handheld camera and a $20 budget. The overarching threat is a condo development that will replace the video store unless they manage to raise $60,000. If it sounds a little like Empire Records, that’s because it is, with one huge exception. Where Empire Records focuses on the lives of the employees, Be Kind Rewind is about the entire community of Passaic, NJ.

At turns funny and sad, Be Kind Rewind is, at heart, a paean to localized connectedness. The Be Kind Rewind store and its ensemble of weird patrons contrast with “West Coast Video”‘s army of identically dressed customers, who all get the same two movies. Implied too is the difference between the big budget movies we’re familiar with and the recreations of Be Kind Rewind. The movie deftly argues that community, and movies with heart, are more important than cookie-cutter national corporations. At the same time, the movie left me questioning how much change you can actually make in your community. It’s just not worth going up against big companies on their turf. They’re extraordinarily good at making money in ways that you just can’t compete with locally.

My takeaway is that as communities, we need to be looking for ways to reconnect that don’t involve “economic” one-size-fits-all solutions. The “sweded” movies that Black and Mos Def make are important entirely because of their context. Remove them from Passaic, sell them across the country, and they become meaningless.

It’s those very things that end up leading to real happiness.

If that’s a little heavy for you, and I don’t blame you, you should check out the “sweded” trailers a YouTube Sweded.

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