Archive for November, 2011


Hey Look! Someone has basically done what I am planning to do and has similarly documented it using a blog! And their blog has got a lot of good info on it. The blog is called The Year of Mud and is about a 27 year old person living at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri. She built her/his own cob house in just a year and it looks great! I particularly found their information on reciprocal roofs very helpful; a beautiful, elegant and simple way to build a self supporting roof with a central skylight or chimney hole. I highly recommend going and looking at some of the pictures; they are truly beautiful. And it would be perfect for my yurt inspired design which is at this point definitely my favorite!

Another cool thing I stumbled upon on our walk back from Fremont was cool looking structure that when we inquired more was made of some kind of membrane in tension. It looked almost like a high tech yurt made of steel and this thick canvas like membrane. The website for these structures is http://sprung.com/. I have to look into it more but I would be curious to know if anyone knows more about these structures and their costs. Some of their disaster relief buildings look interesting as a possible temporary or permanent structure to use to live in, store stuff in, and use as a workshop while building a house. But they don’t look very “natural” and somehow I doubt they are cheap. I am curious to learn a bit more though!

Anyways, just thought I would share some of the things I have discovered and been looking into!

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I have to say that being from the North East it is amazing for me to be somewhere where I can see snow capped mountains on one side of me, the ocean on the other, and be in comfortable 50 degree weather in Seattle. On Friday Penny and I took a short half hour drive first to go see Snoqualmie Falls and then to climb Little Mount Si, a relaxed 2.2 mile hike to a 1,576 ft. summit with incredible views. This was the perfect hike to do as a afternoon hike or with kids (we saw many families including a little girl hiking in a tutu) and the view is definitely worth it, as one girl informed us on our way up. Here are some pictures from Snoqualmie falls and Little Mount Si.

Snoqualmie Falls. There was so much mist in the air from these powerful falls that it felt like it was raining.

Penny on our hike saying hi through a crazy root formation. Nature does do incredible things.

Penny and I at the peak. I think (?) that might be big Mount Si in the background.

More views from the peak of Little Mount Si.

Mountains in the distance on our way down.

I also finally made it to a rock climbing gym for the first time in many months. Although I am not as strong as I used to be it felt good to boulder and use my arms and upper body strength. I went to Stone Gardens Seattle, a large, impressive rock gym and I think I will try to go again before I leave Seattle.

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A Sunny Tuesday led to Penny and I walking from the Ballard neighborhood all the way to Fremont, another funky, fun Seattle neighborhood and the home of the Troll, and the center of the universe. It was a beautiful day and a very pleasant walk. We found some wonderful little stores on our way, even some that Penny hadn’t noticed before, including one that sold beautiful little terrariums called Midnight Blossoms. It made me think, how cool would it be to have a terrarium built into a cob wall? It might have to be filled with non living things as my conversation with the store owner indicated that you really have to be able to open them sometimes to clean out condensation and mold. Or wouldn’t it be cool to have a ship in a bottle as a window in a cob house?

Anyway, there were some other fun architecturally inspiring things we saw on our walk as well. Here are a few pictures of a wacky building and some cement sculptures (they both have roofs over them so they totally could have instead been made out of cob!) and boast houses (now that is another appealing idea… a small, self sufficient, moveable house on the water…)

Funky apartment building

Cement sculpture under the bus stop

The Fremont Troll

The Fremont Troll

Fun brass sculptures of two clowns do-si-do ing

Boat houses across the way

A particularly cute boat house. That would be plenty of room for me!

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Somehow, Tuesday wasn’t enough walking for us so today we walked all the way to Discovery Park, a 534 acre natural area. By the time we had walked there, done the loop trail through the park and walked back home we had walked almost ten miles! Discovery park was beautiful. Today was not as sunny as yesterday but the somewhat overcast threatening clouds added to a dramatic view from the park out over the water.

View from Discovery Park: Stormy clouds over the water

Another beautiful view from Discovery Park

Another beautiful view from Discovery Park

And one last view from Discovery Park

The wind was fierce at some points but the rain held off until just before we got back home. We finished off our day with a trip to Wide World Books and Maps, a travel bookstore, where we listened to a talk called Walking Seattle. I think our next long walk will be at Interlaken Park which is also close to the Washington Park Arboretum… That will be another good day of walking to look forward to.

But first I will be heading off to do a ten day silent meditation retreat. Yup, that’s right. Tomorrow I leave for a 10 day Vipassana Silent Meditation retreat. I am not quite sure what to expect but I am sure it will be transformative in some way or another. Wish me luck!

Learning from an architect

Staying with Penny has brought many blessings. One is that she is an architect with an incredible sense of design and a high standard for craftsmanship. Being in her house and hearing little tidbits about what she notices done well or poorly in the design of different buildings and spaces has made me want to bring this level of craftsmanship to whatever buildings I may design and build.

Penny also has lots of architects tools in house and so I have gotten the chance to do one of my drawings to scale and I am quite happy with how it turned out! Here is my yurt inspired house to scale. The version on the left is with an interior diameter of 30 ft and the one on the right is with an interior diameter of 25 ft.

The one on the left, with 30 ft interior diameter would have right around 700 ft of floor space, quite a bit for a cob house, which is why I decided to draw it again with a 25 ft interior diameter, which would give about 480 square feet of floor space. I think both designs work and would provide for all of the needs of me and a partner. The outer walls are 2.5 feet thick, which is just in the middle of the range for a structural cob wall in a cold climate. The inner walls are 1 ft wide and create four main areas within the yurt; the largest circular area is the kitchen, the smaller circle the bedroom, then the living area with a desk, shower corner (the toilet would be a separate composting toilet outhouse), and a window seat that is big enough to be a spare bed, and a back door as a second entrance that could also lead to a greenhouse since that is the south side of the building. And the forth small area would be a pantry/root cellar, located of course on the North side of the house. I would love to grow old in a cozy cob yurt like this one.

So I am back in Seattle now for thanksgiving week with my old babysitter, Penny. We have been having a wonderful time here, eating delicious food, going on walks even when we have liquid sunshine (what Penny calls the rain), and other fun outings. My first full day in Seattle Penny took me to the Ballard farmers market. I love a farmer’s market just about anywhere, but I must say the Ballard market is quite a nice one. There was delicious fresh produce, meats and cheese, baked goods, artisans and crafts and lots of street performances happening. One that particularly touched my heart was a young little boy who could not have been older then 8 who was out playing music with his father and younger sister. As his father tuned some of the other instruments this little boy took the stage and began to strum and sing on his miniature guitar. What a beautiful thing to have such a little child empowered to stand in front of an audience of strangers and play. And the passersby loved it. This little eight year old boy was truly glowing.

After exploring the Ballard market we took the bus downtown to Pike Market, Seattle’s equivalent to Quincy Market  in Boston. Tons of little shops and stands selling everything from chocolate pasta (yes, I’m serious) to lobster tails bigger then any I have ever seen. And of course there was the famous tossing of fish that draws many tourists and made me think of the scene in the movie Free Willy when Jesse steals a fish from the market mid toss. Streets markets are a wonderful thing in my mind. They support small, independent businesses and allow customers to have actual relationships with those whom they buy from. They are such lively places and encourage human interaction and cultural exchange.

A few highlights from downtown were a man who was playing a violin as if it were a cello (and he played it as beautifully as any master violin player!), beautiful paper and wood lanterns that demonstrated outstanding craftsmanship, and a delicious sticky rice lunch with yummy goodies inside of it such as pork and egg. A very good first full day in Seattle.

Wednesday night, the evening before Thanksgiving day I got to introduce Penny to something new in her own town; Dances of Universal Peace. Dances, as I have come to call them are a wonderful thing that happens all around the world. I discovered them first in Ithaca, when Peter took me to one, and I have since been hooked. The dances, although originating in the sufi tradition, takes songs and prayers from almost every tradition and culture and puts them to music, adding simple movements that together create a often spiritual and profound experience. It is like prayer and meditation in motion. And it is a worldwide community that I can tap into just about anywhere I go. Singing together in a group has always felt powerful to me and when the songs have a certain prayer-full theme in makes the experience that much more profound. Sometimes I have found myself inexplicably moved to tears. In Ithaca the dances quickly became a comforting and healing monthly tradition for me and as I have been traveling I have have continued to seek them out wherever I am.

The next day was thanksgiving day and so Penny and I spent most of it in the kitchen, preparing the turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing, which would be our three major contributions to our thanksgiving dinner. Penny is an excellent cook and eats mostly gluten and dairy free and these were quite special dishes that I would love to share the recipes for. I have put most of our modifications to these recipes to make them gluten free and extra yummy in parenthesis:

Stuffing Recipe for a 15 pound turkey:

  • 2 one pound loafs of whole wheat bread, finely chopped in a food processor (we substituted with Udi’s gluten free bread and a mixture of other gluten free breads, such as ends of old loafs of homemade pumpkin, banana, or even corn bread.)
  • 2 cups of cooked basmati brown rice
  • 3/4 pound of italian sausage, baked separately (we used chicken sausage), finely chopped
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 1 cup of finely chopped celery
  • 2 cups of chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 large fuji apples with skins on, grated (this helps keep the stuffing moist)
  • 3-4 tablespoons of sage (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning (to taste)
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste

Turkey preparation: We then stuffed this into the back and front of the turkey. Before seasoning the turkey we separated the skin from the flesh using our fingers and then we rubbed the flesh (under the skin) with fresh rosemary and thyme and stuck many thin slices of lemon under the skin. We rubbed the skin with a bit of apple cider vinegar and then we salt and peppered the outside of the Turkey and stuck it in the oven in a covered roasting pan at 350 degrees F. After about an hour we lowered the heat to 325 for the remainder of the time. The last wonderful touch that makes the skin deliciously crispy is about half an hour before done baking we took the turkey out and brushed it with a glaze of Pomegranate Molasses.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe, with Penny’s modifications to make it lower in fat and lactose free:

  • 2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (we left this out)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (we used unsweetened soy milk instead)
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream (we replaced this with 0% greek yogurt. I couldn’t taste a difference)
  • Penny’s addition which I thought was ingenious: finely chopped crystalized ginger, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

All of this is mixed together and poured into a pie filling of your choice. We also glazed our pie crust with apricot glaze made from 5 ounces of apricot preserves and 4 tables spoons of apricot brandy. This is then baked for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F and then for another 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Then, to top this all off there is  topping that is spread on the pie. The topping ingredients are:

  • 2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter (we used earth balance instead)
  • 1 tablespoon whipping cream (here we used soymilk)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (we left this out since earth balance has salt in it)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

This deliciousness is spread evenly on the top of the pie and then the edge is bordered with whole pecans. We then broil this for just about three minutes or until the topping begins to bubble. Be careful not to burn here, it really only takes a minute or two!

I really enjoyed thanksgiving dinner, which was at Derek and Tony’s house- two of Penny’s good friends. Tony had made some delicious candied sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and string beans, among other things to add to our contributions. Thanks giving has always been my favorite holiday; it is all about family, friends and food without the stress of presents.

My travel luck seems to be continuing. My bus from Seattle to Anacortes, where the ferry’s leave the mainland for the San Juan Islands, got to the dock just minutes before the 2:40pm ferry left. Had I missed it I would have had to wait until 4:30 for the next ferry, which would not have been the end of the world but given that I was filled with excited anticipation it felt good to make the earlier boat and be on my way.

I quickly camped myself at the very front of the boat where I could stand in the wind, looking eagerly out over the beautiful water at what lay ahead; a much anticipated opportunity to work one on one with a skilled natural builder.  I had heard lots from Peter about Ryan and his cob house that he has been building on his own for the last three years, but now I am finally going to get to meet Ryan and see and work along side him on this house!

A beautiful afternoon on the ferry from the mainland to the islands

The ferry ride over was beautiful. Islands dotted the horizon in front of me, the sun was out and the water was blue. A seal poked its head out and said hello, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a pair of dorsal fins disappear under the water.

As a lone traveler it has always been easy for me to make friends on my travels. On the bus ride over to the port I met a man who was on his second sail around the world! He had gone to University in Binghamton, NY, not too far from Ithaca but had gone to the virgin islands after graduating and had ended up staying 6 months longer then he intended, learned to build boats, and has been doing that ever since.

On the ferry ride over I talked with a woman who was a holistic veterinarian. She was headed to the islands to learn from and film this woman who works with horses, developing an equal partnership with them rather than having a domineering relationship over them. I love hearing the stories of people I meet while traveling.

Upon arriving at Friday Harbor I sling one back pack on my back an the other on my front and head out to meet Ryan. There he is waiting for me right at the top of the ramp, with unmistakable shoulder length blond hair. This is our first actual meeting, although we have exchanged e mails and skyped a bit, but we give each other of hug hello and my adventure on the islands has begun!

The first evening we drove around the island a bit and went on a short hike near and old limestone mine. The views are breathtaking and conversation is easy. My first lesson in plants begins with learning about the beautiful Madrona tree that has an unmistakable red-purple bark that contrasts with vibrant yellow wood. Apparently this tree has the ability to photosynthesize through its wood so it often purposely sheds its bark where the sun is hitting it to make use of the light. So cool!

Rocky outcroppings right in front of the beach house.

He treats me to dinner and then after running a few errands we head to his parents beach house. The approach to the house is long and windy but then we arrive. The house is sitting just a couple hundred feet from the water, with huge glass windows that face southwest. The waves crash on rock outcroppings and you can hear the wind blow through the open fields.

Over the course of the week I  learn that much of the grasses growing around the house are not native. There is also a Himalayan Blackberry that seems to be aggressively taking over, and although the berry’s are yummy, the thorns are vicious and they choke out all other plants. Ryan has been working to cut back some of these Himalayan Blackberry bushes and give some of the native species a competitive advantage. The native species include a type of rose and a shrub called snow berry.

The view from the beach house porch.

After calling it a night I retire to my loft that will be my home while I stay here. It is a nice big open loft from which I can see right out the big windows to the ocean. I wonder if I will be able to sleep as I am so excited to see the cob structures the next day!

Indeed I find myself awake at 4am with anticipation. I manage to fall back into a light sleep but am up as soon as I hear Ryan moving about downstairs at about 6:30, before the sun has even risen.

So we are up before sunrise, drinking tea and making eggs with some beans a cheese for breakfast. We eat a relaxed breakfast, pack some lunch and are on our way out the door by about 8:30 or so.

First stop is GD cat. I soon learn that Ryan is responsible for taking care of his parents cat, who stays at their town house (which I am thankful for as I am allergic to cats).  This means each day begins and ends with a stop at the town house to feed the cat and let it in or out. The abbreviation, GD, stands for a not so affectionate term that Ryan occasionally uses when the cat is being particularly difficult.

Then we are off to The Pump House. The pump house is exactly that, a cob pump house that Ryan is building for someone on the island whose old pump house had partially burned down. When we pull into the driveway I am amazed to see an almost finished, adorable little round structure with a cedar shingle roof on it that makes me think of an owl’s wings. Yes, something about the structure makes me think that it is just going to lift off and fly away! It is absolutely wonderful.

The pump house from the front.

Ryan begins with a bit of an orientation to the site, the project, where he is at and what he has left to do. He points out to me the little stone borders he has used to create walkways, reminders to himself

and others to stay on the path and minimize impact to the area. He shows me how he decided to build the pump house right on top of the water tank, which already had a cement top, there giving him a pre-made floor and preventing him from having to create much more disturbance to the site. Then we get down to business and do a bit of cobbing, just adding a few more inches around the windows and the door. You can’t put too much on at a time without giving the cob time to dry because the wall will slump with all the weight. Because Ryan is pretty far along now he likes to do just a little bit of actual cob work each day, sealing up holes around windows, doors, and ceilings, and doing finishing work.

The pump house from the back.

Now it is off to the “Mud Hut,” or the real cob house that I am SO excited to see. After a short drive we are there. Before we pull into the driveway Ryan asks me if I can see the house. I look, but all I see is woods. This is what he hopes for as he wants his houses to blend into the landscape. Then we pull into the driveway and walk down a short little windy path, also bordered by stones. And there it is! Tucked back into the hill, an adorable little cottage!

 

Although it is not quite finished it is beautiful, with a living roof, earth bermed in the back, and as inviting as any little cottage in the woods I have ever seen. As I enter the house there is a large blue stone inset into some beautiful sunburst woodwork in the floor – quite impressive. On the right is what will be the kitchen area, with a water and electrical line already coming in, and a large wood stove that Ryan obtained for free from someone

Approaching the cob house from the path.

replaces theirs. Then in the right back is what will be the bedroom; a kind of raised loft with a partial wall. This structure wraps around a little atrium that Ryan calls the tree room; a little out door room with a tree standing in the middle. He thinks the tree will have to be cut but he may put a little table and an outdoor hearth there. From a separate entrance a root cellar wraps around the back of the structure helping create an air barrier between the cob structure and the living roof that becomes the hill. Lastly, the roof extends a bit on one side giving Ryan a bit of a covered shed where he can store stacked wood and other things.

The cob house from the front, in all it's glory.

But before I go too much into the building itself I must tell you that Ryan spent three months on the land just deciding where to site it. He wanted the building to blend in and he wanted to create as little additional disturbance as possible. He tells me how he knew the site had been quite disturbed previously from looking at the soil horizons, the plants that are growing, and some of the clearly chain sawed stumps that are around. Ryan also has an amazing ability to see and anticipate succession. He points out a few pines that he says aren’t very happy and are probably on their way out. Also there are a few deciduous that he anticipates will be shaded out soon by the Douglas Firs  that dominate the island. He explains how the fact that the trees are rather small and still growing quite close together means that it is a young forest in which it is basically a free for all race to see who can survive. But as the forest matures it will thin out and probably lose some of its diversity in trees as early transitional species get shaded out and die.

All of this is fascinating to me and as the week goes on I find that I will be learning lots about not just cob, woodworking, and building, but also plants and ecosystems. By the end of the first week I am learning to be able to tell the difference between a Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, and Pine up close and even at a distance as we drive by. Ryan is also really good at identifying what kind of tree a piece of driftwood came from – that one is more difficult for me.

Working on the mud hut and pump house is slow and steady work, but it feels like it is

Sunburst woodwork in the floor. I can't wait to see what it looks like when it is sanded, stained, and varnished!

feeding my soul. I like the rhythm of our days a lot. We go to bed early and get up before the sun rises. We eat a big breakfast, take a lunch break and eat yummy dinners. Each day we probably do a bit of cob mixing (two buckets of sand mixed with a bucket of wet clay, add more of each to taste and then some straw. All mixed with your feet of course.) and a bit of cob laying on one part or another of the wall. Right now the priority is to try and get all the holes filled before winter really sets in we have been working on getting windows how we want them and installing them. Ryan is a perfectionist who values craftsmanship so we work carefully, seeing how each modification to the window framing and the cob affects the light, the aesthetics of the window etc. At the end of each day we try to do a reflection, noting everything that we did that day and giving ourselves a pat on the back for our hard work. We also seem to work really well together, bouncing ideas off each other and trouble shooting together. I find myself not wanting to stop and we often work past sundown.

All in all it has been a fabulous week. I am a bit sad to leave honestly and excited that I will be coming back after the holidays. The first week, which was meant to be sort of a trial week, has been a huge success. Maybe I could do this for a living….!

Hello Seattle!

As I walked towards baggage claim in the Seattle/Tacoma airport I reviewed in my head where Penny had told me to meet her. She doesn’t have a cell phone so we had made plans for a very specific rendezvous point. Penny was my babysitter was I was little, but we haven’t seen each other since I was 7 years old, 15 years ago! Honestly, she was much more then a babysitter to me. She was part of the family, a mentor and a teacher. She was not your typical babysitter; there was never a dull moment with her. I remember going on many outings with her and doing many arts and crafts projects, including some amazing ones that I look at in wonder even today and don’t know how she got me, as a seven year old, to create such amazing things!

When I was seven years old Penny decided to move to Seattle and we have not seen each other since. But, amazingly enough, we have kept in touch. Penny, like me, is also a wanderer and traveler at heart. So when I took my first year off between high school and college and decided to travel through Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador I exchanged many e mails with her, asking her questions about what it is like to travel as a woman alone, what were some of her favorite places in those countries, and general travel tips. Since that year we have talked about someday seeing each other again, and now finally, almost four years later, I am in seattle.

I spotted Penny immediately, sitting in her silver-grey prius right where she said she would be. After big hugs of hello we she takes me on a wonderful little driving tour of Seattle and her neighborhood. The air here feels warm after being in Minneapolis. The city look modern and clean. Penny’s neighborhood, Ballard, feels cozy and progressive, with lots of cute little cafes, restaurants, and places advertising massage, and other holistic health practices. It is right on the water with the beautiful, snow covered olympic mountains visible across the Puget sound.

Penny and I are getting along fantastically. When we arrive at her house she shows me the amazing little cocoon  of a room that she has created for me. It is so adorable, with a bed, desk, lots of plants, and shelves full of books, many of which look interesting to me. We heat up a delicious meal of black bean soup, home made chick pea – edamame hummus, and some sweet potato salad. Mmmmm, so yummy. And of course, I got to try her delicious energy bars that she plans to soon be selling. They are rich and flavorful, almost like chocolate, but not too sweet and not at all dry. They taste healthy, but not too healthy- just like they are made of real, high quality ingredients, which they are. I think they might be the best energy bars I have every tasted!

Even though I have just arrived, the next day I will be heading out to the San Juan Islands for four days to learn the ropes and get a feel for my cob building apprenticeship with Ryan (more on this later). Then I will be back in Seattle for thanksgiving and more adventures with Penny before I go back to the islands!

There are two first impressions about Seattle that have struck me. One is that the people here seem really friendly. I have already had a conversation with with someone on the bus, a man who builds boats and is on his second sailing trip around the world, and a woman on the ferry, a holistic veterinarian who is thinking about moving to the islands. And people have been happy to help me find my way to the bus station, navigate the ferry’s and answer any questions I might have. The second thing that has struck me about the Ballard neighborhood in particular is that something about the aesthetics of the place remind me of Japan. Maybe it is the influence of the many Japanese people who do indeed live in Seattle, but I swear that something in the layout of the streets, the buildings and architecture, and the landscaping make me feel like I could be in Japan! I have a feeling that I will enjoy my stay here, especially if it is a strange melding of the two cultures of my parents.

Highlights from Minnesota

I am now about to leave the heartland of the country, St. Paul Minnesota. I first came here a little over three years to start my undergraduate career at Macalester College. When applying to colleges my father had jokingly told me I had to stay on the east side of the Mississippi and so, being a restless young teenager, I had ended up right on the Mississippi.

But being as restless and eager to experience the world as I was, this small liberal arts college in Minnesota felt too small and insular for me. It felt like it didn’t quite have the myriad of cultures and people that the big cities of the east coast had and it also didn’t quite have the natural beauty of a rural campus. And I found myself frustrated with an environmental studies program that strongly emphasized policy and politics when I really wanted to be doing science. And so by my sophomore year I was applying to transfer and ended up at Cornell in Ithaca, NY.

But now, as most of my freshman class is in their final year I find myself back at Macalester, visiting old friends and old professors. There is something to be said for the bonds created during the first years of college, when all of you have recently left home and are trying to figure out your separate identities. It has been wonderful to feel welcomed back by old friends. The people at Macalester are truly wonderful people; independent, critical thinkers, and loyal and dynamic friends. It’s also amazing to see how our interests have grown and changed but many of us are thinking about similar transitional things now. Many of us are asking ourselves what is our purpose in this world? What do we want to do once we graduate? It is comforting to know that we are all asking these similar questions now and that most of us don’t yet have the answers.

I spent my first night here with my freshman year roommate! It is crazy to think that already almost 4 years has passed since those first days in college. We went out to a delicious hole in the wall Turkish restaurant, the Black Sea, that she has discovered sometime in the year and a half that I have been gone. I then went to Carleton college where I visited a friend I have known for eleven years! She is a friend I have known since middle school and who I have, if anything, grown closer with over the years. Having friends who have known you for so long is truly a gift. There is a certain trust and stability in such friendships. We have seen each other grow and change and have known each other through both good and bad times. And you are just so comfortable around each other! It is a similar bond to that of family, but it takes a bit more effort to maintain since, unlike family, we have no reason to cross paths if we don’t want to. Instead we have chosen to make each other part of our extended family. The four days I spent at Carleton with her was probably the longest chunk of time I have spent with her since we were in middle school together! And it was quite wonderful. I did art with her as she worked on her final senior project in ceramics. And it’s funny, many of our afternoons together in middle school were also spent doing art together in my mom’s studio!

Upon returning to Macalester I stayed with the crowd that had lived in the coop my sophomore year. This was truly wonderful as well. I felt so welcomed by these people who gave me big hugs and said “welcome home!” when I walked in the door. Sometimes I wonder if I had ended up living in that coop my sophomore year would that have changed my decision to transfer. And then what a different trajectory my life would have right now… I do think Macalester has some wonderful people, but the place itself as a kind of surburbia that still does not appeal to me.

From this home base at my friends house I have eaten almost every meal with an old friend, I have done my best to show my gratitude for their hospitality by baking pumpkin pie and bread for everyone, and I have just had a jolly good time 🙂 Thursday night two of my friends and I went out swing dancing- why did I never discover swing dancing in the twin cities before?! It was such a good time. No bar scene, or pressure to be good. Just pure, fun, funky, goofy swing dancing. And I don’t even know how to swing dance but it was SO much fun. Only one of us actually knew how to swing, so she taught the other two of us the basic steps and then we just went for it! It is amazing how much fun dance can be when you are able to just let go and have a good time. We danced with each other, we asked guys to dance, and we got asked to dance. Sometimes I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and sometimes I got compliments for my dancing, but it was always a fun, friendly atmosphere.

It was also great to have lunch with my old advisor. Having an adult during those first years of college who took the time to get to know me as not just a student but as a person was truly a blessing. He guided me and listened to me as I made the tough decision to transfer, and we have been in touch just a few times a year since, but that has been enough so that I felt able to e mail him and plan a lunch date during this visit. And we just caught up on everything from school to family and home life, to plans for the future and it was so nice! I am very glad I still have that relationship as I have found it difficult to build a relationship with professors at Cornell.

Having only turned 21 after leaving Macalester, we have gone out to the Tap, a little bar nearby bar, to experience some of the over 21 scene. I have also climbed a campus building while here, an old tradition that involved an easy scaling of the building. From the top the campus looks quiet and peaceful at 1 am in the morning and you can see the sky dotted with stars. It was a full moon night, the perfect night for such an adventure with old friends. They also, conveniently, always leave a door open on the roof from which to enter the building; A smart decision on the colleges part as I think it would be much more likely for students to hurt themselves trying to climb down. So an old friend and I tromped around the inside of the building a bit, finding a nice lounge to sit and talk. At this hour it is hard to find many indoor spaces to hang out, and the outside air is getting cold enough in Minnesota that you would rather be inside, so this was a good option. Eventually we headed back to my friend’s house, ate some pumpkin bread and parted ways. It was a good evening.

Friday night I got to see someone who took my permaculture and green Building course with me this past summer; Kaitlyn! Her and her mom drove into the twin cities for a day on the town and we all went out to dinner at a cute diner in Minneapolis. This was Great as I had wondered if I would ever see Kaitlyn again, and hearing what my fellow alumni from Living Routes are doing is always inspiring and motivating.

The weekend came and Saturday was a beautiful relaxed day. A few friends and I took a nice walk in the Louise Butler Wilder Flower Gardens, a nice pocket of wilderness in the cities.  Then the evening was spent brewing some beer, talking and just hanging out. Sunday I made vegetarian chili and another pumpkin pie for a potluck in the evening that we hosted. The potluck was lots of fun and gave me an opportunity to see some faces I hadn’t yet seen, including some mac grads that had welcomed me to the campus and shown me the ropes as a freshman. The potluck soon turned into a jamming session later in the evening and someone even had a violin that I could play so I was very happy!

Now I am sitting in the Humphrey terminal of Minneapolis/St. Paul airport waiting for my flight that will take me to my next stop: Seattle, Washington. It is a bit bittersweet as I am very excited for my next stop but also sad to be leaving friends again. My visit to Minnesota was a great success. Although keeping in touch is always hard and can take away from present experiences, these friends here will always have a place in my heart I will welcome them with open arms wherever we again cross paths. And having revitalized these connections I feel confident that many of us will again cross paths.

A Quote on Hope

“Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky…. Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency;…hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for actions; action is impossible without hope.” –Rebecca Solnit (taken from Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin)

Community

My Butterfly Spread. The Bear is East, the Snake is South, and Wolf is West, and the Lizard is North.

As my last full day in New York came to a close my grandmother gave me one last gift; a reading of my choice using the medicine cards. I chose what is called the butterfly spread. It is a spread is used give insight into the path of a project or life.

To begin, I stood facing my grandmother with two feet on the ground. We breathed and centered ourselves and then sent down our energetic tap roots from between our ovaries, going down and down into the depths of the earth. Then we spread roots from our right foot and our left foot, grounding ourselves to the energy of the earth. Then we asked for the energy of the earth to come up and into us, cleansing us. It came up through our feet chakras, swirling around and through our body, then our survival chakra that lies between our ovaries, and the second chakra, the one of emotions that lies right below the navel. Then to our solar plexus, the energy center of our body and our third chakra. From here we sent the energy of the earth up through our heart chakra and out to our fingertips, where our hand chakras, the ones of creativity, lie. Then to our throat chakra, communication, and to the third eye, and then lastly to the seventh chakra that lies at the crown of our head. As the energy came up through our crown and swirled around us we then took a deep breath and ran the energy back into the earth, flushing out any and all good and bad energy in each chakra and leaving us a clean and open slate.

Then again I went down deep into the earth, this time asking what is the question or the task that I will ask the medicine cards about today? All at once there is was. The word Community. How will I manifest community? What will be my role in it? Why is community important? And so I brought the task of creating community to the medicine cards.

The first card I drew was the card for the east- the place of birth and beginnings, the Egg Card. Here is where the nucleus or seed of my project would lie. I sat with the cards in my hand until I knew just which one I wanted. Pulling it forth I saw that it was the Bear Card, the solitary Bear of Introspection. Then the card spoke to me quite powerfully, bringing tears to my eyes as I realized that I, like the bear, felt alone, and was seeking a sense of belonging. And in that desire for belonging is the seed for the manifestation of community.

The second card is for the South, the Larva Card. This card is about early doing, the laying of the groundwork that will allow for the completion of the task. In this card lies the question of whether or not the energy will be great enough to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. And it seems my cards are speaking a resounding YES. I drew the Snake Card, a card that speaks of being able to transmute all poisons, transforming them into creation.

“Snake medicine people are very rare. There initiation involves experiencing and living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, be they mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The power of the snake medicine is the power of creation, for it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy reproduction, and ascension (or immortality).”

Could it be that this is speaking of the experience of losing my first love at age 21 to a tragic death? Despite the words of those who love me wishing I did not have to go through such things, I feel strongly that I would never have had it any other way. And that indeed my experience with Stephen gave me much more then it ever took from me. Perhaps this is because I did indeed experience it, willingly and without resistance, a quality that is strongly embodied in Snake medicine.

But the part of the snake that spoke most powerfully to me was it’s rattle, telling me that in the now, I must be willing to sound the alarm, stir up the pot and make some noise. I must work to make my voice heard, despite my soft-spoken nature if I am to bring this Community to fruition. Perhaps creating this blog is part of me doing just that?

The third card is for the West and is the Cocoon Card. It is the place of the spirit, and speaks of higher purpose and transformation. How will this Community serve the Great Spirit? Here I drew the Wolf Card, the card of the teacher. The wolf is the pathfinder and forerunner of new ideas; the one who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine. And it is an animal with strong familial ties.

It is also an animal strongly connected to the moon, a symbol of psychic energy, and the unconscious that holds the secrets of knowledge and wisdom.  The moon in this card is what spoke to me most strongly, speaking of a community that looked to a broader, larger, cosmic vision and stood as a beacon of light and a model for the world to strive towards.

My forth and last card was the card for the North, the Butterfly Card. This is the card that speaks of the rewards to be gained in this project, and whether or not the Great Spirit has walked hand in hand with this community. Although this card speaks of manifestation and the rewards that may lie at the end of ones path, it is also a place of Spirit, but one must remember that matter follows vision and spirit.

For my North Card I drew the Lizard. Looking at the lizards card made me think of chameleons and the ability to survive in the harshest of deserts. To me this card spoke of a community able to change, adapt, and evolve, thereby surviving even the hardest of times. The lizard is also a creature of dreams and shadows. It is truly an animal of spirit, and a fitting one to tell of a dream come to fruition and evolved into even bigger dreams.

Time with Elders; A Lost Privilege

It is not often in todays society that a grandchild has the privilege of  intimately getting to know their grandparents. Tomorrow marks the end of five whole weeks that I have lived with my grandmother and grandfather in their apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. I obtained this privilege of spending this time with the elders on my father’s side of the family by willingly agreeing to be a helping hand as my grandfather recovers from an operation. And this time has truly been a gift for me as much as for them.

How often does one get to see a couple, married for almost sixty years, still vibrant with love for each other? And how often does a young woman trying to navigate the labyrinths of relationships and the world get the chance to speak honestly and openly with her grandparents who have lived, and are continuing to live in their 80’s, such rich fulfilling lives and seek guidance from them? During this month I have heard the stories of how my grandfather and grandmother each found themselves on their path. I heard about the unexpected marriage of psychotherapy and art that led my grandfather to become one of the founding names in the Art Therapy Movement. And about the group of mothers upset about a park closing that led to the birth of my grandmother’s Shadow Box Theatre, a musical puppet theatre for children. I have learned some basic healing techniques and experienced some of my grandmother’s profound healing work. I have seen the power in doing work you truly love, your soulcraft, and the gift such work brings to the world. At 83 years old, with no real knee and on a daily IV antibiotic, my grandfather insists on returning to work as soon as possible. For three weeks now he has been holding his supervision groups and seeing patients and I have watched it bring life back into him. And I have seen my grandmother stretched thin as she wakes up at 4am to work on a grant for her non profit theatre. And yet she returns home from a show filled with renewed energy as she tells me of the public school teacher that gave her big hugs and thanked her for her work. And I cannot help but be inspired and uplifted as I sit in the audience of one of her shows, in an auditorium filled with public school children who are cheering and singing with the characters of the story. These are stories of substance that address issues of race, gender, the environment, and culture, as well as bullying and safety among other things. This is the kind of art that truly enriches a child’s education and helps them grow into a conscientious person.

I have watched how my grandfather’s face lights up when he hears my grandmother walk in the door, and I have watched how she loves him from a place of utmost acceptance and non-judgment. I have seen a more playful, laughing, and smiling side come out of my grandfather- a side I always sensed was there but rarely before had the privilege of seeing. And I have had honest, heartfelt conversations with both of them about my own struggles; the different professions I am considering going into, the process of healing after the death of a close friend, and the choosing of the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. To be able to ask advice, receive insight, and learn from one’s own grandparents in an intimate and heartfelt way, as well as to be able to give back and help them in a meaningful way is a truly beautiful experience.

Guidance and mentoring between generations has been an integral part of almost every culture worldwide except the modern western culture. This, to me, feels like a huge loss. We have much to learn from our elders and much to give them as well and I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to fully partake in this exchange. Tomorrow I will leave with new insights, a backpack a few books heavier, and a more intimate love and understanding of who my grandparents are. Hamdallah.

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