Twelve Days of Climate Prayer

Reflected Sky

Today the climate talks begin in Paris, and I am joining with many others to pray, to meditate, to pay attention, to lend our individual energies to this most important project of humankind. Can we act together to shift our way of life from planet destruction to planet healing?

On each of the twelve days of the talks, I intend to pray at sunrise, to ask for help from all of our siblings on this planet–the animals, the trees, the birds, the plants, the winds, the moon.  Help us to learn to live in mutually beneficial ways with all life on Earth!

I don’t put my hope in the goals or plans of the participants in the climate talks.  I have heard that the goals are so modest, they won’t create enough change to save us from devastating global warming.  But I do feel inspired by the ordinary people around the world who have more ambitious goals. We want a planet that is full of life for human beings and all other beings!

I am hopeful because there are so many others who are praying, meditating, paying attention, protesting, changing our own habits, changing our investments, changing what we buy, changing what we grow, changing how we think and how we live.

What do you love about this Earth? Please join in a twelve-day global focus on transformation! If you pray, pray for this. If you don’t pray, take some other action each day on behalf of the Earth. Find hope in the energies of hundreds, thousands, millions, billions who love the Earth, and love life, who are joining in this powerful intention.

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A Greener Housing Walk Through

A couple days ago we had a walk through at our soon-to-be new house with an energy efficiency company representative.  What fun to finally be getting closer to this aspect of our search for greener housing!

Attic DSC02676

Old attic insulation

We started in the attic, which desperately needs new insulation, and which he said will be easy to insulate.  The sellers had reported using 500 gallons of oil last winter–which seemed like a lot to us.  In our current house, which is twice the size, we had used 600 gallons.  But we did attic insulation several years ago.

They can take out the plywood floors, take out the old fiberglass insulation, add extensions to raise the height of the wooden floor joists, and then blow in cellulose insulation of several inches to achieve a high R-factor. Put back plywood floors so we can use that area for storage.  Create an insulated cover for the pull down ladder, and voila, lower heat bills immediately.

Moving down to the main floor, we learn that our windows aren’t too bad–double pane glass, which we were happy to find out.  But he did mention that French doors (which we want to install in the kitchen) can be problematic for air leakage.  So I’ve been researching options that might be more environmentally sound. Wow, lots of research is involved in this process!  I also called the Maine Green Performance Building Supply to get their opinion–the French doors they recommend can take six weeks to arrive by order.  More to think about.

On to the basement, he recommended sealing and insulation at the rim joists, which is the very bottom of the wood frame of the house above the foundation, for those who haven’t been exploring the bones of your own homes. There is already some insulation between the wall board and basement walls that should be okay.

We also talked about air-source heat pumps, and where they might be placed and how many we might use.  One unit in the living room, one in the basement, and maybe one small unit in each bedroom to have more control of the temperature–all these units attached to one outdoor unit.  Once installed, this would be our primary source of heating and cooling, with oil furnace or wood stove as back up in the coldest days of winter.

He’ll be sending us a full report with pricing estimates next week, and then we can see how we stand.  We are also doing a walk through with another energy efficiency company next week, so we’ll have two estimates to compare. It was really satisfying to hear him say that this house is a very good one for making greener.

Projections from the Shadow Side of History

Turkeys DSC02379Thanksgiving is a holiday that always fills me with mixed feelings. Gratitude is wonderful, and getting together with family and friends can be a blessing. But I know that the stories we celebrate are white-washed versions of a history that has brought devastation to so many. I always remember that many Indigenous people call this the Day of Mourning.

The only time that foreign immigrants actually brought disease and destruction to this continent was when the English, Spanish, and French came to settle on its shores. Millions of Indigenous peoples died from diseases to which they had no resistance, or were killed in ongoing campaigns by the newcomers to destroy them and their way of life.

So while I give many thanks for my life, it feels sacrilegious to give thanks for prosperity that was built on the suffering and death of so many others. But it does illuminate for me, in a social psychological way, the possible roots of our American fear and hatred of foreign immigrants. I wonder if perhaps these feelings are a form of projection from this unacknowledged shadow side of American history. People imagine that new immigrants will bring destruction because the first settlers were the immigrants who did bring destruction.

This fear of the foreigner never proved realistic with later immigrants—with the Irish, the Italian, the Chinese, the German, the Jewish, the Puerto Rican, and so many others. Despite being hated and derided, they eventually became a part of the fabric of American life. Perhaps there is a link between facing more honestly our own shadowed and genocidal history, and letting go of our fear of the other.

Hard thoughts for a quiet holiday at home. But so many are cold and hungry and desperately seeking a safe harbor. And the tide of xenophobia and racism in our country seems to be rising out of control. Let’s help our friends and neighbors to keep their heads about them. I believe that when we are lucky enough to have shelter and food and clothing and safety, we are responsible for sharing what we can with those who are in need. To me, that is what thanksgiving should be all about.

Called to be Better: In Light of the Attacks on Paris

Heart Candle Flame DSC01573

How tragically ironic, as we approach the season of Christmas, (which celebrates a Middle Eastern refugee family seeking shelter), that so many in the Christian world are now, in response to the attacks in Paris, calling for shutting their boundaries to refugees from Syria. Haven’t people heard that these refugees are fleeing from the same terrorists who killed in Paris? I understand that people are afraid. That is the purpose and consequence of terrorist acts. But to extend that fear to all refugees, to all Muslims, to all Syrians is one of the worst forms of human cowardice.

We are called to be better than that. I am not saying it is easy. But I was inspired when I heard about Antoine Leiris, whose wife was shot in Paris. He posted this message to those responsible:

On Friday night you stole away the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. I do not know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If the God for whom you kill so blindly made us in His image, each bullet in my wife’s body would have been a wound in His heart.

Therefore I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it but responding to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that that has made you what you are. You want me to be afraid, to cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens, to sacrifice my freedom for security. Lost. Same player, same game.

We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than all the world’s armies. In any case, I have no more time to waste on you, I need to get back to Melvil who is waking up from his afternoon nap. He’s just 17 months old; he’ll eat his snack like every day, and then we’re going to play like we do every day; and every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom. Because you don’t have his hatred either.”

His is a beautiful example of what heroism looks like. Most of us are not being asked to be that heroic right now.  But are we perhaps being called to take a few small step of heroism ourselves?  A few small acts that ask only a small amount of bravery come to my mind. We could contact our governors and our Congressional delegations to let them know we don’t agree with those who want to refuse refugees. We could contact the President and encourage him to hold strong, and in fact to increase the numbers of people we welcome from Syria.  

On a more involved level, we might take it upon ourselves to learn more about the roots of the Middle East conflicts, and how U.S. foreign policy is linked to all of this. Some articles that I have found helpful include several interviews on Democracy Now that can be found on their website: www.democracynow.org. And perhaps, we could be active in welcoming those refugees who do arrive, helping them to get settled in a new and unfamiliar place.  Let us open our minds and hearts to the deeper realities of our world, and become our best selves—let us move beyond fear and hatred into compassion and hospitality toward those who are suffering.

The Adventure Continues

Back Door & Window DSC02518Despite the setbacks we’ve experienced, we are still feeling good about this small house with the lovely yard we’ve found in Portland. Today we did something fun–we talked to a carpenter about some renovations we want to do.  We need to convert a one-car garage into a two-car garage–and it turns out it’s fairly easy.  The garage is wide enough, we just need to add a wider door.  We want to put in a French Door from the kitchen to the backyard, in place of the door and window in the picture.  With such a great backyard, we want to have a better connection between the interior and the exterior.  Plus, a French Door will make the entrance wide enough for wheelchair access when we need it.

We also talked about widening the bathroom door for the same access reasons, and putting in French Doors to the office across from the bathroom–to create a wider turning radius in the hallway, and make that room accessible in case of future needs. It will also bring in more light into the hallway.  One more project is to add a window in the back bedroom to bring in more light and connection to the yard. The carpenter said all of these were very straightforward projects, and he’ll send an estimate in a couple days.

After the last weeks, we had to step back and re-decide if we could love the property, even with the Water District taking up part of it.  We learned that the water main is of a kind that may never need replacement or maintenance–the old cast iron pipes before World War II were better made than those following. And the undeveloped land off the back is owned by several abutting neighbors, which makes it less likely to be the site of a big future development. Now we have another land survey issue that we’ve asked the sellers to work out.  So many complications. But all in all, we feel so lucky to have found a good home with a big yard in the city, and so we’ve decided to go forward, and hope that all the complications can be sorted out. Send us good luck and prayers!

 

Bittersweet

Some hard realities are emerging in our pursuit of the house with the beautiful back yard. It has been a whirlwind of activity for acting on due diligence for the purchase and sale. We’ve had a home inspection, and a solar evaluation. We’ve discovered a few moderate-sized challenges–we’ll have to replace the roof before we can install solar panels.  We’ll have to prune a large tree whose branches hang over the roof.

But perhaps the worst came yesterday, when our realtor called to say that in looking closer at the deed and the page on which it was registered, it appeared that not all the land that seemed to belong to this property actually belongs to it.  There is a Portland Water District parcel that runs next to the land, and it takes up part of the space that was being occupied by the current owners.

We feel angry and betrayed that the sellers never disclosed this information.  In the listing photos and in the placement of some children’s playground equipment, we were led to believe that this property went up to the neighbor’s fence.  But in reality the larger part of the side yard belongs to the PWD.  I remembered that there had been the remnants of a little fence from the front corner of the house over to the neighbor’s fence that had been removed except for the posts.  We are guessing that the realtor suggested they take down the fence because it wasn’t legal, but who knows?

We went to the property today to do some of our own measurements, to see where the boundaries really are, and to try to decide if, with this new information, we still want to choose this property.  We really don’t like the underhanded aspects of real estate–the attempts get the best deal you can, even if you play dirty.  Our own values say, be honest, let it be fair to all involved. We are so glad our realtor shares those values, and also that he is so conscientious and went the extra mile to discover these discrepancies.

Red boundary flag, photo by Margy Dowzer

Our red boundary flag

When we did the rough measurements we discovered that the actual front boundary of the property stops about even with the side of the house, and then slants back to the left, away from the house, directly through the play equipment. The big tree, and the neighbors fence too, by the way, are all on PWD land.  We spent a long time in the yard, trying to sort out our feelings about it all.  We still need some more information from the water district. It seems that all the neighborhood properties are currently encroaching on their land.  There is a 20-inch, 101-year-old water main that runs on their land, fortunately toward the other side of it. But will they be tearing it all up to replace or repair in the next twenty or thirty years?

What we’ve learned in this process is that the privacy of this back yard is vulnerable. Along with this water district land, there is a paper road that is undeveloped at the back of the land, that may never be developed, or will it?  On the plus side, all of it expands the sense of space that one feels there.  But on the other hand, will there be future changes over which we have no control? We’ll try to get more information on Monday. We have until Tuesday to withdraw.  But for now, we are still feeling a connection to the land, even tender toward its neglected needs.  In the undeveloped areas off the back edges, there are invasive vines and bittersweet.  One of the values of permaculture is to bring healing to the land. We feel good about that. Please send us prayers for clarity, and the revealing of important truths.

All this is PWD owned land.

All this is PWD owned land.  Photos by Margy Dowzer.

The Beautiful Backyard!

Our new backyard

Our new backyard (Listing Photo)

We are under contract! We looked at a house on Halloween, made an offer the next day, and last night signed the Purchase and Sale agreement with the sellers. It has a beautiful backyard!  It is in Portland, just a 13 minute walk to the Evergreen Cemetery Trail, a 17 minute walk to a bus line, and a 51 minute walk to the house of one of our friends! (I love the “walk and bus” feature of Google Maps) And did I mention it has a great backyard? It is .43 acres, and resonates so deeply with our desire to be in the city, but also connected to nature. I am already imagining what a great permaculture design we will create for this land.

As we have looked at houses during the last three months, we’ve come to better realize what was most important to us in our search for greener housing, and what we could let go. We realized that location and connection to nature were vital.  This place feels just wonderful in that regard.

The house itself is a very simple and well maintained ranch style. It is on the small end of the range we’ve considered–just 1025 square feet of one level living.  We hesitated a bit on that–could we really downsize enough to live in half the square feet of our current house?  But isn’t that just what we are trying to do in this journey?  Reverse course from the bigger-is-better mentality?  (And luckily, it also has a partly finished basement that will offer extra space as we make this transition, and offer room for guests and projects, and probably lots of boxes.)

As I look back at our list of hoped-for features, there is no laundry on the first floor (that is in the basement) and no mud-room.  We also need to convert the garage door from a one-car to a two-car–the garage is wide enough, but has been used as one bay and storage. We hope to add a couple more windows toward the back yard to let in more light and create a better interior connection to the beautiful back yard. But everything else lines up. It has a fairly south facing roof for solar, seems like an easy layout to add air-source heat pumps, and has a wood stove insert in a fireplace.  It has wood or tile floors throughout, and a feeling of peace and beauty. You sense that it has been crafted with care.

I am feeling a deep sense of joy this morning.  I want to say one more thing about this part of the journey, though, something that I learned yesterday, when I was caught in the exhausting anxiety of the offer/counter-offer real estate process.  I often feel guilty about feeling anxiety–like I should be more peaceful and trusting if I am flowing in the River of Life. But lately I have been reading about how being present to the moment is being present to all that emerges.

So I took some quiet time to be open to the anxiety as well, to pay attention to it. When I did that, there was a deep intuitive feeling that told me–act now! Margy and I talked, and we told our realtor we wanted to accept their counter-offer, even though we still agreed it was a bit over-priced. My intuition seemed to be saying, there will be other parties interested in this house, and you must act now for it to come to you. So I trusted my anxiety this time, and here we are–ready to continue on the next chapter of our search for greener housing!