Composure amid conflict

The morning after the election, I kept thinking about young girls waking up and crying as they listened to their parents explain that we won’t have a woman President after all.

Later that day, I found myself acting on several delayed plans to do nice things for people I know. And I started a fast on radio and TV news.

By the end of the campaign, I was hitting the mute button whenever the President-elect came on the screen.  I still don’t want to be disturbed by his image or voice, so I’m  giving up NPR and PBS for a while and just reading the New York Times.

The one exception is “Washington Week,” hosted for many years by the magnificent Gwen Ifill, who died of cancer shortly after the election. Her style and grace were so intimate that we spoke of “watching Gwen”every Friday night. Last night, eight journalists spent the full half-hour recalling how special she was.

I didn’t get as upset on Election Day as many people did. That’s partly because I agreed with the outcome of several state and local referendum questions. But it’s mainly because I’m immersed right now in local politics, and an attempt to change our town’s form of government is about to reach a turning point.

And I believe that the President-elect will face serious consequences if he tries to build his wall, or deport 12 million illegal immigrants, or tear up the Iran nuclear deal. I’m more worried about climate change (can Europe increase tariffs on American goods if he abrogates the treaty?) and the Supreme Court (Democrats should tell him they’ll cooperate on appointments ONLY IF the Senate approves Merrick Garland).

But for me personally, I’m trying to say No to Negativity. So I’m looking for a way to express my beliefs without demonizing my opponents, and to retain my composure in a sea of conflict, both local and national. It’s so easy to get caught up in the struggle, but I want to live a peaceful life and avoid making enemies.

One way is to regularly get away from it all. For me, this means engaging in the simple-living activities we’ve described on this blog. Yesterday, I put leaves into a slow compost pile, washed windows and made granola. I looked fondly on my piles of firewood, waiting to help us withstand the worst that winter can throw at us.

I’ll also be praying that the President-elect will remember that he didn’t get a majority of the votes, that I can respect those who disagree with me on local politics, and that I can maintain a sense of serenity in stressful situations.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of more than 150 past posts, separated into 12 categories, including frugality, simple living, cooking, living without, and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.

A walk in the woods

Some people “bag” peaks.  We may give that a try sometime, but for now we’re “trail bagging” around Amherst.

Being out in nature is supposed to be good for our mental and physical health.  And we both like to walk.  So we have resolved to take weekly hikes on nearby trails.

IMG_20160803_093908421Our guides are  Amherst Conservation Areas and Trails, (1988) and Amherst Literary Trails, (2007). The Amherst Conservation Department in Town Hall sells a map of all of Amherst’s conservation areas and trails.

IMG_20160803_083441126This week we started with some trails near Puffer’s Pond in North Amherst.  The Ray Stannard Baker Trail, though short, provided an initial uphill climb to get our heart rates up.  I spotted foliage of lady slipper and wild lily of the valley on the forest floor and a number of mountain laurel bushes, hinting at great springtime beauty.

IMG_20160803_085445135_HDR(1)Part of the Helen Hunt Jackson Trail skirts the north side of Puffer’s Pond, also labeled “Factory Hollow Pond” on our map.  On our early-morning hike, the glassy surface of the pond was undisturbed by ripples from human activity.  We watched in awe as two great blue herons took flight over the water.

IMG_20160803_090030700We noticed that extensive work has been done on this heavily used trail, including conservation plantings. Unfortunately, some of the new bushes appear to be dying, perhaps due to the severe drought this summer.

IMG_20160803_090354629Last, we climbed an uphill  section of the Robert Frost Trail going from the pond to Pulpit Hill Road. As we walked we got curious about these places and place names. We already knew something about Ray Stannard Baker, the muckraking journalist who moved to Amherst in 1910. He wrote philosophical tales of country life published under the pen name David Grayson.

But why did someone call this eminence we were climbing “Pulpit Hill?”  What kind of mill was powered by the water in Factory Hollow Pond?*  Who was Helen Hunt Jackson and what did she write?IMG_20160803_094323130

Seeing all the questions that arose in our minds on this brief excursion, I was imagining what an educational adventure it would be to hike each of the 14 Amherst Literary Trails and then read something written by each author.

So much to learn!  So many trails to explore!  Who needs Pokemon Go when curiosity can conjure an underlay of past times and ghosts of those who came before, even as we walk through today’s landscape?

This is a good life, indeed.

New readers of this blog can link to more than 150 past posts here or hover on “Index” above. They are divided into categories such as simple living, frugality, gardening, cooking, living without, food preservation and climate change.

*Reader Elisa Campbell says that mills powered by the waters of Factory Hollow pond included cotton, several kinds of paper and later, railroad equipment.  She recommends a number of historic works with further information.


Serenity amid controversy

Is it possible to live simply and serenely while debating controversial issues?

On March 25, I wrote this blog post about my concern that as a candidate for an Amherst commission considering new forms of government, I was turning into a more argumentative person than I want to be. Four days later, I was elected to this “charter commission,” and since then I have participated in five meetings and a public hearing.

I’m pleased to report that the nine members of the commission are treating each other with open-mindedness and respect. I am one of six members who were endorsed by a group seeking fundamental change, and three of us were supported by a group seeking only minor adjustments to our form of government.

charter commission two

The Amherst Charter Commission: from left, Meg Gage, Tom Fricke, Diana Stein, Gerry Weiss, Andy Churchill, Irv Rhodes, Mandi Jo Hanneke, Julia Rueschemeyer and Nick Grabbe.

Under the conciliatory leadership of Chair Andy Churchill and Vice Chair Mandi Jo Hanneke, our differences have been of lesser importance as we seek feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. We recognize the seriousness of the task, and our attendance at meetings has been 100 percent. Most of us seeking major change admit that there are wonderful things about our current form of government, and most who want only minor changes acknowledge its problems.

We all know that when we get down to crafting a new form of government early next year, we will have vigorous debates. But now we are slowly building up trust, so that when those debates come, I hope we can consider ideas on their merits and with a minimum of rancor.

We’re finding some common ground. I’ve met twice with Meg Gage, a member from the “other side” who I’ve known for 30 years. Last week we took turns describing problems that we see in the current form of government. I interviewed a potential consultant with Diana Stein, another member who was endorsed by a different group. This week I’m meeting with a community leader who has a different perspective than mine.

I’ve been making a list of things that all of us might agree that we want in our local government: broad citizen participation, elections that matter, a forceful voice speaking on the town’s behalf, avoidance of big-money politics, a feeling among all constituencies that their views are represented, issue-oriented debates during campaigns,  greater voter turnout, and productive, happy town employees.

I’m making another list of ways that we could broaden citizen participation, which is a strong point in our current form of government. I realized last week that if I could magically replace some of the commission members from the “other side” with new ones seeking fundamental change, I wouldn’t do it. I think it’s better to seek consensus through compromise than for a majority to ram through its wish list. After all, voters will have to approve of our ultimate recommendations.

So I’ve been planting our garden and then going to Town Hall meetings, chopping wood and then listening as citizens speak about the pros and cons of our form of government. There’s been no sacrifice of peace and serenity so far. I hope it stays that way.

To learn more about the Amherst Charter Commission, click here.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of 150 past posts, in categories such as simple living, frugality, living without, gardening, cooking and climate change. Or hover over “Index” at the top to read all the posts in a particular category.






Homemaking revolution

I’ve spent most of the last 35 years working as a homemaker and stay-at-home mother. You could say I’m invested. But I have often felt out of step with most of my age, class,  and education peers, not to mention the consciousness and culture of the work world.

IMG_20160406_113830934I was an early adopter of second-wave feminism. I found confirmation of my belief in the full personhood and value of women, and the principles of equal rights and freedom of choice.

IMG_20160406_114156384_HDRAnd my choice, my longing, led me to prioritize having children and a committed equal partnership.  I have enjoyed the life Nick and I have created.

IMG_20160406_113934525For me, and for Nick, frugality, gardening, food preservation, and do-it-yourself homesteading were central to how we lived and made our home and family. We called it back-to-the-land, simple living or voluntary simplicity, and it was usually creative and rewarding.

IMG_20160406_114131106_HDRNick spent a large portion of his time and energy working at a full-time job, to bring in sufficient income and health insurance for our family’s needs. I birthed babies, and did more than half of the child nurturing, and of the extended DIY chores around the house and yard. This division of labor worked for us.

Recently I have been reading about a new wave of “radical homemaking” practiced by today’s younger adults (20-, 30- and 40-somethings). Sounds like this trend has much in common with our earlier approach, updated with concerns about climate change and economic insecurity, and a postmodern punk aesthetic instead of our wannabe hippie style.

Today’s radical homemakers, like us, seek alternatives to the mainstream American lifestyle, where it is based on mechanization and consumption instead of hands-on production; where it is based on high use of energy instead of a lower carbon footprint; where it is based on using more than one’s share of resources instead of striving to use only a fair share so there is enough for all earth’s inhabitants; and where it is based on valuing wealth and stuff more than our relationships with people and how we behave toward others.

In future blogs I plan to explore the whys, hows and whats of this brand of homemaking, in the context of the multiple, interwoven crises unfolding in our time: climate change , resource limitations, pollution, inequality, injustice, etc. These crises are happening now and will have a huge impact on the future life of humans on this planet.

I hope to answer questions like: Why bother? Why value homemaking?  What can we learn from the domestic practices of other times and places?  What are the ethics of how we live in our homes? How do we balance personal and political action? How do we sort out our needs and wants?  What is the implication of radical homemaking on women and gender equality? What can radical homemaking look like?

I hope you’ll join me and share your thoughts as we have more adventures in the good life together.

New readers of this blog can click here for a quick overview of more than 150 past posts on frugality, simple living, living without, cooking, gardening and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.









Back in the battle

I haven’t been spending much time with my garden, woodpile and compost heaps this month. I haven’t been baking bread, listening to birds, or writing blog posts as much as I would like. I have lost some of the serenity that’s central to simple living.

When I retired from newspaper work three years ago, after 32 years of immersion in the intense politics of the town where I live, I vowed to leave it behind. In all those years of staying neutral about local politics, I was aware that our town’s governmental system didn’t function as well as it could.

When someone close to me said he was disillusioned with town government and suggested that we try to change it, I was skeptical. Our town went through a divisive battle over this just 15 years ago, I told him, and it takes a gargantuan effort to collect 3,500 signatures, just to start the process.

Last summer, a group of people did start a campaign to reform our system, and I went to one of their meetings. Next thing you know, I was passing around petitions in my neighborhood and in front of supermarkets. Amazingly, we collected those 3,500 signatures without much trouble. In collecting 180 of them, I encountered a lot of complaints about the status quo.

But I didn’t think I would become a candidate for the commission that would consider alternative forms of government. I’ve already attended a lifetime’s worth of Town Hall meetings, and my brain functions better in the morning than in the evening, when the commission would meet. I didn’t have a strong preference for an alternative, and I feared that the contentiousness would disturb my peace of mind.

Gradually, I became aware that I felt a responsibility to put my name forward, despite my misgivings. First, because I’m retired, I have the time and energy to devote to the task. Second, I have knowledge of the process and historical perspective that could prove valuable. Both times our town has gone through this soul-searching  before, I have been deeply involved in reporting on it and refereeing letters to the editor. Third, I did some research and found that citizen involvement in the current system is shockingly low, and declining.

On Feb. 19, I wrote in my notebook, “Retaining my composure and not demonizing my political opponents is more important to me than winning this election.” A week or so ago, I realized that I wasn’t paying close enough attention to this. So I cut back on my social media participation and started looking for common ground with those who don’t see the town’s problems the same way I do.

On Tuesday, I will find out whether our town will go through the process of considering alternative forms of government once again, and whether voters have chosen me to be member of the commission. If I’m elected, I’ll try to find the right balance between advocacy, consensus-building and promoting peace between the factions. Whatever happens, I’ll be glad the campaign is over and look forward to concentrating on gardens, woodpiles and compost heaps once again.

New readers of this blog can click here for a quick overview of more than 150 past posts in 13 categories, including simple living, frugality, cooking, gardening, living without and climate change. Or hover over “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.