Mama Bear & the Dream Team Climb a Mountain: The Story of Gabriel’s Birth

mama_bearThis is the story of how Mama Bear and the Dream Team climbed to the top of a mountain, where they met a little angel called Gabriel who had just descended from the Celestial Realms (or Heaven, depending on your preference) to spend some time on Planet Earth.

It was a stormy afternoon, my favorite kind of weather and a good reminder of the forces of nature I would need to embody in order to bring our baby into the world.  I almost bundled up to go for a walk in the rain, but decided I wasn’t quite ready to tap into those Forces of Nature. Instead, I looked out the window at the stunning view of White Buffalo Mountain, blanketed in snow and embraced by clouds, and reminded myself that I was preparing to climb a Mountain.

It was already six days past my due date, but I was finishing up a grant proposal, the last bit of work I needed to do before I could officially go on maternity leave, and waiting for The Dream Team, who would support me during the birth, to assemble. Our Doula, my dear friend Brittany, had flown into Denver from Minnesota that morning and gotten caught in a blizzard while driving the treacherous mountain passes between Denver and Paonia, the small town where we live. “I’ll be so upset if I miss your birth while I’m in the same state!” she had protested when we last spoke on the phone a couple hours earlier. So I decided not to take any chances starting my labor until Brittany had safely arrived.

a_bestiesThe day we found out I was pregnant, Jeremiah and I happened to be in Minnesota visiting Brittany, who is a midwife. Being the wonderful friend that she is, Brittany went out and got me a pregnancy test after I told her I had woken up in the middle of the night with a strong intuition I was pregnant. And when the test came back positive, Brittany gave me a copy of a book called “Spiritual Midwifery,” written by Ina May Gaskin, a midwife at The Farm, an intentional community and birth center in Tennessee.  The Farm midwives were initially virtually self-taught, trusting in the power of mind-body connection and a strong, positive support system to achieve some of the best birth outcomes in the world: a 1.4% C-section rate, no maternal deaths and just 8 neonatal deaths out of 2028 births, and a 1% rate of post-partum depression. These incredible statistics compare to a US national average of a 32% C-section rate, notoriously high maternal mortality for an industrialized country, and a 15% rate of postpartum depression.

Since I’m a bit skeptical of our modern medical system—particularly how it handles birth—and two of my closest friends are midwives, I always assumed I’d have a home birth with one of them delivering the baby. But synchronicity led us to build our nest in Colorado, far away from my midwife friends in Minnesota, and when we settled into our new community and began seeking recommendations for childbirth providers, several women recommended the birth unit at our local rural county hospital.

spiritual-midwifery-4th-ed-After reading Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth and talking to a few mothers, I had a good sense of the kind of birth experience I wanted to create: safe, supportive, and as relaxing as possible (which helps the cervix dilate and labor progress), with as few medical interventions as possible. Armed with a list of questions, Jeremiah and I went to tour the birthing unit and meet a local family practice doctor who could deliver our baby. The doctor was kind and laid-back, and the luxurious hot tub in the birthing suite (which I fantasized about throughout the winter months living off-grid where hot water is a scarce commodity) outweighed the fact that the hospital bed was too small for Jeremiah and I to fit in together. I felt hopeful that if we did plenty of research and were well-prepared, we could have the kind of birth experience we wanted, even in the hospital environment.

Over the coming months, I read both Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (each twice) and talked to plenty of mothers about their own birth experiences. Ina May Gaskin encourages women to think of contractions as Intense Rushes of Energy that require all of your focus, rather than as Pain. Addie, a powerful woman in our community who birthed five of her own children and has helped deliver many more, pulled me aside one day and gave me a pep talk. She said birth would be like Climbing a Mountain. It’s hard going up, so you have to really push yourself and maintain your strength, but when you get to the summit the hard work is over and the view is incredible!

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Jeremiah and I went to a childbirth class at the hospital, during which we got to know some of the nurses in the birthing unit and learned about the protocols for labor and delivery, which informed our birth plan. The playful nurse who taught our childbirth class warned us that a strict, extensive birth plan can sometimes backfire and end up being “a ticket to the operating room” – in other words, leading to a C-section if the labor isn’t proceeding smoothly and the birth plan doesn’t allow for interventions to help things along. So we kept our birth plan short, sweet, and flexible.

My intention was to not use any painkillers—so that both the baby and I would have as much clarity as possible during his birth, and, I realized in hindsight, as a personal challenge to test my own strength—but I knew it was possible that I would feel like I needed painkillers and promised not to be hard on myself if I did use them. I also wanted to avoid the use of Pitocin or other labor-augmenting drugs, which I’ve heard to be quite harsh and likely to increase the chances I would need painkillers. And, because I’m very queasy when it comes to needles and piercing flesh, I tried to opt out of receiving the IV line that is normally inserted in case the woman needs to receive painkillers, fluids, or other IV medicines during labor. I thought the presence of a huge needle in my hand would distract me from my job.

But, perhaps as a reminder not to get too attached to my own desires for how the birth would go, I tested positive for Group B Strep, a common and generally harmless bacteria that can be dangerous for babies if found in the vagina. My doctor informed me that this meant I would need to receive IV antibiotics throughout my labor. I was disappointed, but it was a good reminder that the birth might not go entirely according to our plan.

My due date was February 2nd, but I expected my baby to come late: the average first pregnancy lasts 10 days past the due date. Though she wouldn’t be delivering the baby, my midwife friend Brittany was committed to being there for the birth and supporting as our Doula, which made me feel much more confident in giving birth. Between Brittany and Jeremiah (a very sensitive partner and massage therapist extraordinaire), I felt like we had a birthing “dream team.” But Brittany could only take one week off of work, so we decided to bet on the baby coming late and have Brittany arrive on February 8th. I mentally prepared for a February 9th due date, asked my unborn son to hold out until Brittany arrived, and took care not to do anything that might stimulate my labor before then.

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We also planned for our wonderful landmate, Sarah, to come with us to the hospital. I thought Jeremiah and I might each need our own doula! The week leading up to our birth, every time Sarah came home and our car wasn’t there she would text and ask “Are you at the hospital?” I promised we would let her know when things started happening! There was also a chance that our dear friend Natalie, who lives in California but would be in Colorado visiting her family that same week and planned to visit us for a day or two, might be able to attend.

I was a little nervous about having so many people participate in the birth, but I knew they would all be very supportive and I trusted each of them enough to be able to be fully relaxed and fully vulnerable in their presence. One of the success factors at many of The Farm births was a strong support network of women, usually close friends or relatives.

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Brittany made it through the snowstorm and arrived at our house just as I was wrapping up the grant proposal. I had begun having gentle contractions about an hour earlier, and thought Brittany had arrived just in time!

Brittany, Jeremiah and I went out to dinner together, and at one point I asked her if she thought I might be in labor but just didn’t realize it because of my strong pain threshold. She laughed and told me no, I would definitely know if I were in labor! After dinner, when we were getting ready for bed, Brittany noticed a couple of spiders in our guest bedroom and was not excited about connecting with those Forces of Nature, so we ended up all sharing our king-sized bed that night.

The next day, Thursday, we showed Brittany around the small town of Paonia, and all three of us went together to my doctor’s appointment. I told the doctor I had been having gentle contractions, and she asked if any of them were strong enough to take my breath away. I said no, and she told me she suspected my labor would start within the next couple of days. We knew Friday was going to be an auspicious day, with a full moon and a comet, and thought these Forces of Nature might help bring our little one into the world (apparently this happens often). We scheduled a follow-up appointment for Monday, and I knew that if I was still pregnant at that point – 11 days after my due date – our doctor would want to consider inducing labor, which I was not excited about. At that point I was on a mission to get the baby out!

On Friday, Brittany, Sarah, Jeremiah and I went for a hike in hopes of stimulating labor. That evening I again had gentle contractions, but by Saturday morning they had subsided. I was beginning to feel like the baby would never come. Brittany reminded me that for months I had been asking the baby to come late and telling my body not to go into labor, and it could take some time to shift gears. Rather than sitting at home waiting, we decided to go to some hot springs an hour and a half away. Our trip was relaxing, with no signs of labor. While we sat in one of the pools (me being careful not to get too hot), Jeremiah massaged a pressure point in my hand that was supposed to stimulate labor.

When we got home that night, there was a hot meal waiting for us, the first of the “meal train” (a wonderful practice where friends and community members bring new parents meals) that Sarah had organized for us. I felt a little guilty eating it since our baby hadn’t even arrived yet! Sarah told us about a fun Valentine’s-themed event happening that night at the juice bar where she works, and I tried to convince Brittany and Jeremiah to go. I wanted to give Brittany a taste of Paonia’s “night life,” but neither of them felt up for it. So instead I read my book, The Autobiography of Malcom X, and took a nap on the couch with my head in Jeremiah’s lap and my hot water bottle relieving some of the gentle contractions I was once again experiencing. I woke up around 10:30 and convinced Jeremiah to come up to bed with me. Brittany had already gone to bed (we were still all sleeping in the same bed). I walked over to the window and bent over to pour out my no-longer-hot water bottle into a plant, and was struck with an intense sensation that took my breath away!

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I told Jeremiah what had happened and waited to see if it would happen again. It did, about ten minutes later. I thought my labor might finally be starting! We decided to try to go to sleep for a few hours before things got too intense, and went up to bed. But neither of us could sleep – my rushes were coming on strong every 10-15 minutes, and I needed to moan pretty loudly to make it through them. Jeremiah was applying pressure to my back to help relieve the pain. I was getting more and more excited that things were finally happening and felt like I was getting high from the intensity of the rushes. Somehow Brittany managed to sleep through this for an hour or so. She told us later that she heard me moaning but didn’t want to get up so she chose to believe I was either “practicing” for labor or we were making love in the bed next to her!

After about an hour of trying to get some rest, I needed to go to the bathroom and went downstairs. I also decided to pull a few jars out of the freezer, goodies I had prepared for the birth: carrot-ginger juice and bone broth. I knew that most hospitals discouraged laboring women from eating solid foods (for fear of aspiration under anesthesia in the case of a C-section), which can lead to fatigue and make it harder to push the baby out, so I wanted to have some nourishing liquids on hand. Then Jeremiah came to join me downstairs and stoked the fire, and we lay by the fire timing my contractions. Around 12:30, when the contractions got closer to six-eight minutes apart, I asked Jeremiah to wake up Brittany to have her come assess whether I was ready to go to the hospital. It had begun snowing so I was a bit nervous about getting caught in a storm—the hospital was 45 minutes away—but Jeremiah assured me we’d be fine, and we decided to wait as long as we could before going to the hospital. Brittany went back to sleep on the couch in the next room and Jeremiah and I tried to go back to sleep, but once again the rushes were too intense and I was moaning too loudly for either of us to sleep. Plus, in his enthusiasm Jeremiah had gotten the fire VERY hot, so I needed him to get up and open the outside door every so often to let cool air inside.

By 4:30am, my contractions were about 4 minutes apart and I was READY to go to the hospital. I couldn’t imagine navigating the car ride and the hospital admissions process with my contractions being any more intense than they already were. Plus, the sooner we got to the hospital, the sooner I could get in that hot tub!

hypnobirthJeremiah woke up Sarah and we all got ready to go. We left home a little after 5:00am and listened to a Hynobirthing CD followed by some Tracy Chapman on the snowy drive to the hospital (I had Tracy Chapman stuck in my head for days after the birth). I texted our friend Natalie—who was planning to visit us that day—and told her to meet us at the hospital. I sipped some bone broth to try to build up my strength for the big event, and when we got to the hospital parking lot I scarfed down an apple, some carrot juice, and half an avocado before going inside.

We entered the labor and delivery unit around 6:15am, and the nurse on duty whisked us into our room and told us she would only be caring for me for the next hour until her shift was over. It was clear that she was ready for her shift to be over and was skeptical of us showing up with an entourage. She checked my cervix and said I was 3-4 centimeters dilated – but then things got off to a rocky start and my contractions began to slow down.

The nurse informed me that my doctor wasn’t on call and I would likely be seen by a male doctor who I had never met before. I remembered reading that back in the days before medicine became professionalized, when childbirth was almost exclusively attended by women, it was common knowledge that the presence of an unfamiliar man would slow or halt labor. I was upset because my doctor had never mentioned this might happen. I tried to prepare myself for the possibility that a man I wasn’t comfortable with might deliver the baby, but we insisted the nurse call our regular doctor. The situation continued to deteriorate when the nurse tried to start my IV line and failed, then tried the other hand and failed again (did I mention my fear of needles? And this was a big one!).

I was beginning to get pretty shaken up when the nurse returned to tell me my doctor would in fact deliver the baby, even though it was a Sunday and she wasn’t on call. What a relief! Then the shift change happened, and our new nurse was incredibly warm, kind, and respectful. We were all delighted – it felt like our birthing Dream Team was coming together!

The new nurse tried to insert my IV line, and also failed twice, so she called in a specialist from the lab department who finally succeeded on her second try. By this point I was already emotionally exhausted from all the stress and needle poking. I was shaking and broke down and started to sob while contracting. I felt like I was losing it, but Jeremiah got close to my face, comforting me and breathing with me, which calmed me down enough to stop crying. Both Brittany and our wonderful nurse later told me they were pretty worried about me at that point, but I managed to pull myself together.

a_papa_belly_loveFrom reading Ina May’s books, I knew I needed to keep my butt, thighs, and legs relaxed in order to help my cervix dilate, and I was aware that my hips were clenched and shaking from the stress. Jeremiah began massaging my hips, and someone reminded me that after I finished receiving my IV antibiotics I could get in the hot tub. Hallelujah! When Sarah finally turned on the water to start filling the tub, it was music to my ears. We had already been at the hospital for three hours. Finally, it was beginning to feel more like the birth experience I had imagined.

Jeremiah texted our friends and family to let them know I was in labor. One of our friends, a mama, responded that I should “tone low and deep” to get through the contractions, and that’s exactly what I did. My contractions were coming on strong, and while I tried to relax in the tub Jeremiah massaged my shoulders and head, Sarah kept me hydrated, and Brittany knitted a baby blanket and secretly fed me some frozen fruit. At some point my doctor showed up and let me know she would be there if I needed her but planned to let me continue laboring in the tub until I felt like pushing. The sky outside our room was gray, the hospital was quiet and mostly empty, and our room felt peaceful, almost serene.

After a while I felt like standing up, so I got into the shower with Jeremiah rubbing my back. And after doing that for a while I was starting to get pretty exhausted and felt like I needed a break. The nurse was ready to check my cervix, so I laid on my side in the hospital bed. I could barely talk or lift my head. I was definitely not interested in an epidural after all the needle poking I had already endured, but was considering asking for some IV painkillers depending on how well my labor was progressing and how much longer I would need to keep at it!

When the nurse announced I was 8 centimeters dilated, we were all thrilled and the mood in the room felt celebratory. Things were happening! Soon I would be going through transition and then pushing! Since I had already made it this far, I decided not to take any painkillers. The nurse suggested I drink some juice to build up both my strength and the baby’s. I remember asking for a straw to drink my carrot juice with since I was so tired I could barely lift my head. After drinking the juice, the baby’s heart rate picked up and the nurse said I could go back in the tub if I wanted to. Brittany and Sarah persuaded Jeremiah to drink the rest of the juice because he had been at my side the entire day without eating or drinking and was starting to get a little faint too.

I got back in the tub and the contractions continued to come on strong. I remember being deep in a contraction, eyes closed and moaning deeply, then slowly opening my eyes as the contraction subsided to see a room full of people staring at me: Jeremiah, Brittany, Sarah, our nurse and our doctor. I felt like I was on stage in my most vulnerable condition – totally naked and navigating the depths of intense bodily sensation. The doctor told me to let her know when I felt like I needed to push.

Eventually I got back in the shower again, and Jeremiah got a text from Natalie saying she had arrived at the hospital. Jeremiah was such a strong support to me throughout the whole labor process that I didn’t want him to leave my side even for a minute to go collect Natalie from the parking lot, but he promised to be quick. I was between contractions, wet and naked, bracing myself against the shower wall when Natalie walked into the room and gave me a hug. “Great timing,” I managed to say and smile. We were both amazed that the day she came to visit happened to be the day our baby was born!

Finally, around 2pm, I started to feel a bit different, like I might be ready to push, so I got back into bed. We were all very excited, and Jeremiah started to tear up knowing he was going to meet our son soon. Multiple people were massaging me and helping me relax. I was so focused on my body that everything around me seemed hazy, but I remember smelling the energy nuggets I had brought along as snacks for the Dream Team to eat during the labor. No one had wanted to eat in front of me, but by this point everyone was starting to lose energy and needed a little boost before the grand finale, so Brittany had quietly distributed the energy nuggets and my Dream Team was standing around my bed chewing on them, trying to hide the treats in their mouths.

Our doctor checked me and told me I wasn’t yet completely dilated, and the baby was still pretty high up, but if I felt like pushing I should go ahead and give it a try. After all this time my water still hadn’t broken, and the doctor asked if I wanted her to break it to speed things up. Brittany had told me the contractions would be more intense once my water broke, and I really couldn’t imagine dealing with more intense pain, even if it meant the labor would be over sooner. Plus, the day before I had seen a picture of a baby born “in the cul,” or with the amniotic sac still intact, and it was pretty incredible. Brittany told me it was quite rare and a sign of good luck in some cultures. With all that in mind, I asked the doctor to hold off on breaking the sac.

When I started pushing, I was kneeling facing the head of the bed, with my upper body leaning over the head of the bed which had been elevated to support me. The nurse who led our childbirth class had modeled this position in class, and I had read that being upright can be more effective for getting the baby out than lying on your back (gravity!). I felt a little self-conscious with my butt facing everyone and asked to be covered up, which surprised some people in the room who know how much I like being naked. I thought it would just take a few strong pushes for the baby to come out, but when I asked if we should get a camera ready, the doctor said it was going to take a while. The rushes were coming on so strong that it was rather demoralizing to hear that!

After some time I grew tired of kneeling and shifted onto my back. The doctor told me that with each push I should pull my torso forward and my legs back (kind of like doing a sit-up while in Happy Baby). I tried a few times and murmured that I didn’t have the core strength to pull myself up, and suddenly was surrounded with helpers. On each push, Sarah pushed up my torso from behind and someone (or maybe multiple people) pulled back each of my legs. The nurse who had taught our birthing class had joined us and was helping too. There were 8 people in the room at this point, all focused on getting that baby out!

My main job was to push as hard as I could, four or five times during each rush. In order to get through each push, I let out a deep, guttural, Earth-Shaking scream, louder than I’ve ever screamed before, and louder than I thought I possibly could scream! I felt like an animal, maybe a cow or a mama bear giving birth (growing up in rural Wisconsin, I’ve heard a lot of cows in labor!). I was hoping no one outside our room could hear me, and was grateful it was a Sunday and the hospital and birthing unit were virtually empty. I assumed I was alarming some of the people in the room with me, but didn’t feel like I had the strength to get through the pushes without the screaming, so I just kept getting louder as my son’s head got closer and closer to making an appearance. Between pushes, Jeremiah massaged me, reminded me to relax certain parts of my body, and helped me stay calm. At one point he whispered the magic word “Savasana,” the Sanskrit word for the “Corpse Pose” in yoga, which my body has been trained to respond to with complete relaxation…and it worked!

For the final stretch I decided to try kneeling again, which proved to be very fortunate. As the baby’s head started to crown, our nurse stood next to my head and said “stretch and burn, stretch and burn” with each push, reminding me that I was stretching out my cervix and perineum to allow the baby’s head to come through. It was a helpful reminder, because at that point I felt there was no way I was going to get his head out without tearing my body apart, but there was no way out of the situation except to surrender and push even harder. So I did.

Finally, the baby’s head came out!

I was so relieved to know the labor was almost over and expected the rest of his body to come out easily.

But it didn’t.

I couldn’t see what was happening since I was on my knees facing the head of the bed, but the doctor and nurses were frantically telling me to push harder, forcefully shaking my hips and pulling on the baby. His head had emerged, dark purple, almost black, still in the sac, with the cord wrapped around his neck twice and his shoulder stuck behind my pelvis (called “shoulder dystocia”). It took almost two minutes for the doctor to break the sac, remove the cord from his neck, and get his shoulder free and the rest of his body out. His time of birth was 3:46pm.

Certain members of the Dream Team were terrified when they saw his purple head, but my kneeling position made me oblivious as to what was happening. The kneeling position is also the best one for resolving shoulder dystocia, so it was either incredible luck or intuition that I had switched back to kneeling before the baby came out.

a_in_my_arms_7(1)Finally, the baby was out and the doctor quickly passed him to me between my legs, while I was still kneeling on the bed. I was in a daze, amazed that the labor was finally over and my son had been safely delivered. He was heavy, much bigger than I expected (9lbs 2oz), and still a shade of purple. I held him and welcomed him to the world.

I was so weak that I could barely hold myself up, so I laid back down in the hospital bed and pulled the baby to my chest. Jeremiah was crying tears of joy, and loving on us both. Jeremiah and I admired our Sweet Little Angel. The baby laid on my bare chest for an hour, the “skin-on-skin” protocol that is so important to bonding, nursing, building up the baby’s immune system, and more. Then I got cleaned up and practiced nursing. The whole time I felt high, ecstatic, other-worldly. I had reached the summit, and the view was incredible!

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After the Dream Team all got a chance to celebrate and calm down a bit from the climax of the baby’s arrival, they gave Jeremiah and I some time alone with him and ventured out to bring us dinner. This was very exciting for me, since I hadn’t eaten in twelve hours and had just Climbed a Mountain!

The mediocre Himalayan food that Brittany, Sarah and Natalie brought back from a neighboring town was one of the most satisfying meals of my life. After we shared the meal, the ladies went back to our house in Paonia, and Jeremiah pulled up a cot next to my hospital bed. We were exhausted and getting ready to snuggle in for the night with our new babe. This whole time people were asking what the baby’s name was, but I didn’t feel like I had any spare brain power to spend trying to figure out the Perfect Name for this Perfect Human. That could wait until the next day. I just wanted to savor the moment, integrate this life-changing event, connect with the babe and Jeremiah, and celebrate my wonderful, empowering, beautiful birth experience.

I tried nursing some more, and the baby had his first big meal. He nursed for so long that Jeremiah fell asleep, and I passed out with the baby in my arms. The nurse came in around 11pm and tucked the baby into a bassinet beside me. I had been awake for more than 36 hours and was absolutely exhausted. I gazed in amazement at the immaculate little being that had come into my life, and quickly dozed off into a deep, dreamless sleep.

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Four hours later, I awoke with a start to the shocking sound of a Wailing Baby! Jeremiah and I both jumped up and went to the bassinet. The baby was fine, but the reality of being Parents began to sink in. We took turns snuggling the baby and dozing until mid-morning, when the Dream Team came back to visit, bearing delicious breakfast treats. Then the hard work of deciding on the baby’s name began in earnest.

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This was not a task I took lightly. Over the past nine months, we had considered more than 100 names. We narrowed it down to 25 finalists, and I researched the meaning, history, and cultural heritage of each.  By the time we got to the hospital, we had a handful of top contenders. The morning after Gabriel was born, our friend Natalie sat down with us and, with her no-nonsense way of doing things, guided us through the tough decision-making process of naming our child. Upon a bit more research, we learned that Gabriel is the archangel of Sunday, and since our son was born on Sunday, it seemed like the sign we needed to make a final decision. We threw in three middle names – “Bodhi” and “Adelajah,” each with their own special meaning, as well as my last name, “Mommaerts,” and ended up with one of the longest legal names you’ve ever seen, so long it doesn’t even fit on his Social Security Card. But Gabriel Bodhi Adelajah Mommaerts Garcia is a name rich in spiritual and cultural significance, fitting for a Global Citizen.

love_in_the_time_of_choleraThe short version, Gabriel Garcia, has a nice ring to it, an Alliterative Allusion to my love for Magical Realism.

100-Years-of-Solitude

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Brittany told me later that Jeremiah had told her he wanted the birth experience to be transformational for everyone involved, and she felt as though indeed it had been, and even shifted her thinking about how to serve her own clients during birth: she recognized what an important role my months of preparation and my wonderful Dream Team support system had played in my birth.

Jeremiah likes to tease me for my intense screaming, or rather, ROARING, during birth, but I know he was awed to witness me in my power, as were the others present. And I was impressed with my own strength! I’m grateful to have had the ability to tap into the Forces of Nature, prophesied months earlier in a vision I had while camping alongside the Mississippi River, while still coming to terms with my pregnancy and the massive changes about to take place in my life. I was communicating with the baby inside of me and told him “I hope you know what you’re signing up for by choosing us as parents. We’re not your typical family – we are radical activist homesteaders.”

gabriel_helloworld.jpgIn response I received a Vision of a Bear, a Lion, and a Black Panther, one after the other.  I’m not a very psychically attuned person and rarely receive visions, so this was pleasantly surprising and comforting. I took it as a sign that our child would be strong and brave.

Months later, when I was eight months pregnant, I described this Vision to a friend of mine who is a Diviner. His interpretation of the vision is that I was represented by the Bear, Jeremiah (a fiery redhead) was represented by the Lion, and our child was represented by the Black Panther. I accepted the role of Mama Bear, agreed with Jeremiah’s fire showing up as the Lion, and imagined the possibilities of what the Black Panther—a fierce, cunning, and elusive, almost mythical creature that has been adopted as a symbol for Black  Liberation and Revolutionary Spirit—could signify for our child.

Armed with this mystical gift of Vision, along with all the birth stories I’d heard and read, and all the practical research I’d done, and supported by the Dream Team, I was prepared to tap into the Forces of Nature, channel my inner Mama Bear, and Climb that Mountain, where the Sweetest Little Angel Gabriel awaited us.

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Homesteading Hacks: Creamy coconut & solar-roasted zucchini soup

zucchini dilemmaLike many overzealous gardeners, this time of year we are faced with an overabundance of zucchini, one of nature’s most prolific annual vegetables. I hate wasting food and thus embraced the zucchini challenge head-on, quickly coming up with a healthy, tasty recipe for creamy coconut & solar-roasted zucchini soup that is simple enough to whip up while my 6 month old son Gabriel is power-napping. The entire prep time from start to finish takes about 20 minutes (but roasting the vegetables take about 2-3 hours in the solar oven). The final product is cheap to make (especially if you make your own coconut milk like I do) and easy to package in glass jars to freeze (if you leave room at the top) or share with friends and neighbors.

Recipe: creamy coconut & solar-roasted zucchini soup

solar_zucchini.jpgIngredients

3-4 large zucchini

1 quart of homemade coconut milk (or 1 can of store-bought coconut milk + water as needed)

1 small/medium onion

4 cloves garlic

Directions

  • solar_oven_glory.jpgSolar-roast the vegetables: Cover bottom of two Solavore graniteware pots with a thin layer of water or coconut oil. Chop zucchini into 1-inch thick slices and layer into pots. Chop onion and put half into each pot. Place 2 cloves of unpeeled garlic into each pot. Place pots into Solavore oven for 2-3 hours in full sun on “low” (no reflectors).
  • Make your own coconut milk: If you want to make your own coconut milk, put 1.5-2 cups of shredded coconut into a high-speed blender filled the rest of the way with hot water. Blend on high for 10-15 seconds, then strain the liquid through a nut milk bag to remove the coconut pulp (which can then be dried and ground into coconut flour).
  • Blend milk & veggies: When zucchini is cooked (soft when you put a fork in it), put the zucchini and onion into a blender (I did mine in two batches – one batch for each graniteware pot). Peel the garlic and add to the blender, along with one pint of homemade coconut milk or half a can of store-bought coconut milk. Blend on high for 30-60 seconds or until soup reaches desired texture. If needed, add water, vegetable or bone broth until soup reaches desired consistency. You may also wish to try substituting broth for some of the coconut milk.
  • Season to taste: I did one batch with chili pepper flakes, cumin, smoked paprika, and turmeric, and the other with just salt and pepper – both were delicious!
  • Share the bounty! Package into glass jars for sharing. You might even want to include a copy of this recipe to inspire others who are facing their own overabundance of zucchini!

Q&A on the Transition Movement for Nonviolence Magazine’s “Climate Action” Issue

The following is an excerpt from a Q&A I did with Stephanie Van Hook of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. For the complete interview see the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Nonviolence Magazine.

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Stephanie: Gandhi created models of Transition Towns during his campaigns, but he called them ashrams, or spiritual communities. How do you see the Transition movement fitting into the nonviolent revolution — building the world that works for everyone?

Marissa: Much of the violence in our society is the result of an economic system based on exploitation and extraction and an accompanying culture of disconnection and isolation. Racial injustice, extreme wealth inequality and even terrorism are all tied to the violent and oppressive methods the dominant economy utilizes to extract resources, exploit labor and consolidate wealth.

Transition was created to be a model for empowering individuals to take constructive action in creating a world free from dependence on fossil fuels and a violent economic system, while at the same time re-weaving the fabric of community and connection.

Transition communities are re-imagining and re-designing the vital systems upon which we depend (food, water, energy, transport, housing, healthcare, etc.) to be community-oriented and ecologically regenerative. Like Gandhi’s cotton campaign, Transition — and countless other organizations and movements around the world — are building an alternative economy from the bottom up, an economy that will someday either displace the dominant extractive economy or serve as a lifeboat when the dominant economy collapses. Look at what has happened in places like Greece and Spain, where economic collapse has led to the rise of solidarity, gift and sharing economies. People are coming together and helping each other meet their basic needs.

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Stephanie: The Metta Center for Nonviolence encourages people in the nonviolent movement to personalize their relationships. How do Transition communities build supportive, nurturing systems that undermine separation and competition?

Marissa: Transition is all about relationships and mutual support: we believe connected communities are the foundation of the social change and ecological resilience we need in order to survive as humanity on this planet.

We strive to create localized communities where people know their neighbors and see each other as friends and resources; where the economy is based on relationships, and businesses exist to serve the community rather than extract wealth and resources; where elders are valued and integrated into society; where diversity is seen as beneficial and where fewer people are marginalized, vulnerable or isolated.

As much as we can, we embody these ideals in our daily lives, and we know at a visceral level what kind of societal transformation will be possible once this fabric of community and connection really spreads and permeates our culture.

One of the most inspiring and unique things about Transition is the type of people it attracts: folks who are warm, open-hearted, welcoming, tolerant, caring, generous.They share a positive vision of the future (despite being all too aware of the realities of the world in which we live). I know I can visit any Transition Initiative in the US and meet people who feel like family, who will open up their homes and share meals with me. And I will return the hospitality.

Stephanie: What community guidelines might people consider adopting, based on the experiences of those in the Transition US movement?

Marissa: We don’t have any official guidelines, but rather a collective culture or ethos. Here are a few informal guidelines for developing a more resilient community:

  1. Get to know your neighbors — by more than just their first name.
  2. Reduce consumption — buy less “stuff” and use less energy.
  3. Support local food producers and resilient regional food systems.
  4. Know your watershed, and use water wisely.
  5. Support local, independent and resilience-building businesses.
  6. Switch to community-scale, renewable energy sources.
  7. Walk, bike, carpool or use public transportation when possible, rather than driving a personal vehicle. Avoid flying, especially long distances.
  8. Reduce waste, recycle and start composting.
  9. Build resilience on your street and in your neighborhood by using Transition Streets, facilitating an emergency preparedness plan or holding block parties
  10. Collaborate with community groups, schools, libraries and more.
  11. Get involved in local government. Show up to city council meetings, hold your elected officials accountable, collaborate with local government agencies or run for office. Develop your own person power — your inner strength, resilience and self-awareness.
  12. Hone your skills in effective collaboration and conflict resolution.

Stephanie: What are some key skills that help people in the Transition US movement feel most effective and inspired in their daily labors?

Marissa: Great question! Becoming an effective, inspired Transitioner is a constant process — this is challenging, cutting-edge work. We have a huge mission and a small budget, so we have to be very resourceful and conscious of avoiding overwhelm. Here are some of the skills I see as especially important:

  1. Systemic thinking: understanding the interconnectedness of the systems we depend on. Since most of our civilization depends on fossil fuels to function, getting off fossil fuels requires much more than putting up solar panels. We need to redesign our food, water and sanitation, transportation, housing, healthcare and manufacturing systems and so much more. We need to think long-term and understand the impacts our choices as consumers and citizens have on the big picture.
  2. Community organizing: convening people around an important issue, inviting real participation, designing and executing a campaign or project and creating a sense of community ownership over the process and outcome. This does not come naturally to everyone, but there are many resources and trainings you can draw from to learn and practice.
  3. Good social and collaboration skills: self-awareness, conscious communication, conflict resolution, etc. The hardest thing about working with people is the people! This is especially true in a collaborative, egalitarian, post-hierarchical setting (like most Transition Initiatives). In order to work effectively as a group, you need to be very aware of the way you yourself are showing up and participating, and be well-equipped to navigate interpersonal challenges with other members of your group. Transition US provides a lot of resources to support Transitioners in developing these skills, like our “Effective Groups” and “Power of Conflict for Building Community” trainings.
  4. Permaculture/homesteading/DIY/renewable energy, etc.: hands-on, concrete skills that you can use to build resilience in your own life and share with others. Teaching hands-on skills is a fun, empowering way to engage people in Transition, and it tends to be more successful than preaching about what people should or shouldn’t be doing. We call this type of hands-on learning “reskilling.” Hands-on skills also provide a balance to the community organizing and advocacy work, where you don’t always see the direct results of your efforts. I know many Transitioners who relax by getting their hands in the dirt and growing things.
  5. Inner resilience: personal practices to help you avoid burnout and be able to face the realities of the world we live in without being paralyzed by anger, grief or fear. I think this is part of what the Metta Center for Nonviolence would call “person power.” An important piece of Transition is our “Inner Transition” work, which helps us build inner resilience through positive visioning. Our Western culture (especially in the US) tends to be more action-oriented than contemplative, so we also strive for a sense of balance between being and doing.
  6. Movement-building: collaboration with other community groups and local governments in order to expand our base and grow our impact, as well as collaboration with the broader Transition movement to craft a shared narrative and strategy.
Transition founder Rob Hopkins (turning compost) and members of Transition Milwaukee at the Kompost Kids community compost site in Milwaukee, WI_Dan Felix, Transition Milwaukee

For the complete interview see the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Nonviolence Magazine.

 

Residential Community Resilience Internship – Paonia, CO

Come learn hands-on and community organizing skills for building community resilience while living and working off-the-grid in Colorado’s Western Slopes region. During this 3-month internship (June-August 2017), you will spend approximately 20 hours per week learning and practicing the following skills:

  1. Community organizing and movement building with Transition US, the national hub for the international Transition movement (a network of communities moving away from dependence on fossil fuels toward local resilience), including:
    • Strategies for redesigning our communities to be fossil-fuel free,
    • Best practices for community organizing,
    • National network-building,
    • Collaboration with local government,
    • Writing, blogging, & social media,
    • Fundraising,
    • And more!
  2. Practical Skills for Community Resilience, including:
    • Permaculture and sustainable agriculture;
    • Homesteading (with an emphasis on off-the-grid cooking and food processing);
    • Natural building;
    • Living in community;
    • Holistic health;
    • And more!

Internship is unpaid, but includes housing in a simple mobile tiny house with an outdoor kitchen in a small off-the-grid intentional community near Paonia, CO, a region with the highest concentration of organic farms in the state and abundant access to outdoor recreation. The internship program has a strong emphasis on professional development and mentorship (resume and networking support, professional and community organizing skills –ex: meeting facilitation, project management, event planning, etc.—livelihood creation, and more). Intern will also have an opportunity to participate in the first-ever Transition US National Gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota in July 2017.

You will be working closely with Marissa Mommaerts, Director of Programs at Transition US, who is also a community resilience consultant, permaculture designer & educator, and radical homesteader (read more at www.madmillennials.wordpress.com); and with Jeremiah Garcia, a permaculture designer, ecological landscaper, and holistic health practitioner.

Internship candidates should be mature self-starters with a strong interest in moving our society away from dependence on fossil fuels while creating vibrant, resilient local communities. Strong writing, computer, and communication skills; willingness to get your hands dirty; desire to live a low-impact lifestyle, and commitment to personal growth are important qualities for the intern to possess.

To apply, please submit your resume and a 1-2 page cover letter detailing your interest in the position and relevant experience to marissa@transitionus.org by March 15th, 2017. Interviews will be conducted in April 2017 and a decision will be made by early May 2017.

Becoming a Parent in the Age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock

Our son will be born just a few days after Donald Trump becomes President.

As soon as possible I intend to teach him the “Golden Rule,” as my parents taught me. For me, this important lesson grew into a fierce passion for justice rooted deep in my soul. One of the scariest things about learning I was pregnant was the fear that I would have to trade my identity as an activist for that of a mother. But that’s not possible. Because in order to do my job as a mother, to ensure my baby has the best chance possible of surviving and thriving in this world, I’m going to have to work harder than ever before. And I’m not just talking about bringing my child to gymnastics and violin lessons and helping him with his homework. I’m talking about ensuring he has access to the very basics required for human survival: clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and healthy food to eat. And in an era of climate change and a pending Trump presidency of climate change denial and profiteering from fossil fuel development, that will most likely mean putting my body and my freedom on the line.

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Becoming parents!

On one of our first dates almost three years ago, Jeremiah and I went to hear Winona LaDuke speak about indigenous resistance to extreme fossil fuel infrastructure like tar sands and pipelines. She challenged everyone in the audience to burst out of our Northern California bubble and support the frontlines in places like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada, where indigenous people were risking their own lives and freedom to preserve a livable planet for us all.

Roughly two years later, we had finally managed to organize our lives in such a way that we were liberated to serve at the frontlines and to travel around the country working on regenerative agriculture projects that would heal our broken food system, rebuild topsoil, sequester carbon, and reduce the amount of pollution poisoning our waterways. Our ambitious goal was to plant – with the help of family and friends – one million trees before having our first child. Or, if not a million, at least a few hundred thousand… enough to feel as though we were being somewhat responsible parents by helping create an ecological safety net for future generations.

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We figured this endeavor would take years, and with the help of family and friends we were able to purchase a work truck and convert a 6’ x 12’ enclosed cargo trailer into a mobile tiny house we planned to live in during our journey as nomadic regenerative activists until we were ready to “settle down” and have a family.

Our first stop was my hometown of Oconto, Wisconsin, where we planned to plant a community food forest (a perennial food-producing ecosystem) on some marginal land my family owns. After that, we intended to connect with and support some of the indigenous resistance efforts in Canada or the northern US. We left California mid-May of this year, visited a handful of beautiful and inspiring places en route, and two weeks later, on May 30th, my mom’s birthday, we arrived in Wisconsin.

That same day we found out I was pregnant.

Suddenly our plan seemed a little crazy. We spent our first nights in Wisconsin battling poison ivy, mosquitos, and fierce summer storms, wondering why we had given up our jobs and home in California. We gave ourselves a month to come up with a new plan, and in the meantime I insisted we go ahead with installing the food forest.

It was in part my stubborn Taurus nature wanting to complete what we had set out to do, and in part extremely practical. If we were going to bring a child into this world of profound uncertainty, a world of converging ecological, economic, and social crises, the least we could do was create some sort of safety net for them – a place where they can someday harvest food and medicine and build a shelter and harvest rainwater if needed.

oconto_garden_fenceThis particular piece of land is not very desirable for conventional development – it’s swampy and covered in a thicket of invasive shrubs and poison ivy – which made it a relatively safe investment of our time, energy, and limited financial resources. So we (by “we” I mean mostly Jeremiah, with help from our good friend Zach… I was too sick and tired from early pregnancy to be very helpful) got to work: clearing space for a garden; building beds out of composted horse manure and mulch we had acquired for free; planting vegetables and losing most of them to deer; building an 8’ deer fence and replanting the garden with trees, berries, medicinal herbs and other perennials; and building relationships oconto_garden_partywith our neighbors (which was especially helpful for our encounter with the local police, who showed up in force to accuse us of trespassing and try to kick us off my family’s land). Jeremiah was rather appalled by the condition of the land when we arrived – I had failed to mention the dense thicket of Buckthorn and the hordes of mosquitos – but he dutifully poured his sweat and love into the land, day after day, until a resilient, lush garden emerged on the corner of a dead-end street, a gift to our budding family and to the community in which I grew up.

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The garden explodes!

By the time the garden was finished, we had come up with a new plan.  Though I loved being close to my family, we decided Northeastern Wisconsin was not the right place for us to build a nest at this point in our lives. Access to local, organic food was particularly challenging, and it would be years before the food forest was really producing. Friends of ours from California were buying land in a small community in Colorado’s Western Slopes called Paonia. The area is a “banana belt,” with the highest density of organic farms in Colorado, a low cost of living, and is surrounded by National Forests.

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Our cozy straw bale/passive solar home

Synchronistically we found an off-the-grid homestead to rent in the high desert surrounding Paonia-a beautiful passive solar straw bale house powered by 100% solar power that utilizes rainwater catchment for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Located mid-way between mine and Jeremiah’s homelands, it seemed like a good place to bring a new life into the world. So we took a leap of faith and agreed to a year-long lease without ever having been to Paonia or having seen our new home.

We left Wisconsin on a high note after attending the Wisconsin Permaculture Convergence; stopped in Rochester, MN where my dear friend Brittany who is a midwife at Mayo Clinic was able to show us our first glimpse of our baby via ultrasound; and moved into our new home on August 15th. Jeremiah found carpentry and landscaping work, I continued working remotely for Transition US, and we started nesting and found some lovely roommates to join us in our off-the-grid compound. Though we were missing – and still are – our friends and families, we felt good about our decision to bring our baby into the world in such a peaceful, beautiful place. We’re grateful for a slower pace of life that will give us the ability to really enjoy this important transition, and for a community that is incredibly supportive of children and new parents.

delta_countyPractically speaking, this rural, wild area (we have herds of deer on our land, hear coyotes howl most nights, and are occasionally visited by bear and mountain lions) seemed like a safe, resilient location to weather the coming turmoil of political and economic instability compressed by the increasing impacts of climate change like drought, natural disasters, and food insecurity. We knew that regardless of who won the presidential election, we would need to be prepared to deal with the impacts of our unsustainable economy and continue working to heal the distressed planet our child would soon inhabit.

Water is Life: the Age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock

Shortly after moving to Paonia, we learned that the Bureau of Land Management was considering opening 95% of public lands in this area (managed by the Uncompahgre Field Office) to oil and gas development, particularly fracking. In case you aren’t familiar – fracking is a form of unconventional, horizontal drilling for the natural gas found in shale deposits. Ecologically speaking, it’s a devastating practice that blasts huge amounts of fracking-fact-graphicwater (millions of gallons per well) and sand (much of the sand used for fracking is mined in Wisconsin), mixed with a long list of chemicals (some of which are known carcinogens), into the earth. Fracking has been linked to water contamination, increased seismic activity (earthquakes), and negative health impacts on people living nearby. Not to mention that fracking perpetuates the use of fossil fuels at a time when we desperately need to be switching to renewables in order to slow climate change.  Natural gas is not, as some proponents claim, a “bridge fuel” to renewables, because the methane emitted by fracking is a greenhouse gas 20-25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its ability to trap heat in the atmosphere.

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Paonia was previously a coal mining town, but two of the three mines have closed in recent years creating a loss of jobs, an economic shift toward organic farming and outdoor recreation, an accompanying demographic shift (miners leaving the area and people like Jeremiah and I moving into the area), and some clear political divides. There remains some support for fracking among locals in the interest of job creation, but many, many people (including conservative ranchers, sportsmen, etc.) are opposed to opening up public lands to oil and gas development because they know this is a short-sighted strategy for economic development that will leave our beautiful bio-region and the emerging sustainable agriculture economy in ruins. More than 40,000 people provided comments to the BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan for our region – more than the population of the county we live in – demanding very limited or no fracking. Now we wait for a response from the BLM and prepare to strengthen our resistance strategy, if needed.

Meanwhile, we watch and take inspiration from the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) centered around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the Missouri River in North Dakota. If not for being pregnant and concerned about harsh winter weather and police brutality (a shot to the belly from a rubber bullet would be detrimental to our developing fetus), we would most certainly be there in solidarity.

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standing_rock_2Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the struggle for indigenous rights it epitomizes, is perhaps the most important battle of our time. Oil pipelines burst constantly – it’s not a matter of if, but when – and DAPL threatens the water supply of not only the Standing Rock Sioux, but the millions of people downstream who get their water from the Missouri River. The Missouri River feeds the Mississippi, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and already contamination of the Mississippi River has created a “Dead Zone” the size of Connecticut in the Gulf of Mexico.

mni_wiconiHuman beings are made of roughly 60% water, and there are now more than 7 billion of us on Planet Earth. Almost all other life forms, including our food sources, are also mostly water, but just 1% of our planet’s water is drinkable. The oceans function as the lungs of our planet, and are already suffering from air and water pollution (the oceans absorb much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere).

When we are talking about the ability of our species, our children and grandchildren, to survive on this planet, water is so much more precious than fossil fuels. So rightly, powerfully, the rallying cry of the #NODAPL movement is “Water is Life” or “Mni Wiconi” in Lakota language. The first baby born at Standing Rock, to a Lakota woman much braver than I, was named “Mni Wiconi.”

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Baby Mni Wiconi, born in a tipi on the banks of the Cannonball River

I am becoming a mother in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Our new president, Donald Trump, has invested more than half a million dollars in the company Energy Transfer Partners, whose subsidiary Dakota Access is building the pipeline. This makes me very uneasy and appears to be a clear conflict of interest, as it is up to the federal government (US Army Corps of Engineers) to provide approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River. And, even if DAPL is halted, how many similar projects will be greenlighted in the future to enhance the investment portfolio of President Trump and his allies, at the expense of the well-being of us common folks? (By the way, water privatization is another looming threat to consolidate scarce resources and make the wealthy wealthier. After all, water is more precious than fossil fuels!)

The Big Trade-Off

One of the main reasons people I know voted for Trump is “jobs.” But it’s not that easy. Trump is not going to fix the economy for us. Neither of the two-party candidates would tell us this, but THE ECONOMY CANNOT BE FIXED… at least not by job creation based on extractive industries. That’s because we live on a planet with finite resources, but our economy is based on an infinite growth model. If you dispute this truth, watch this video and then let’s talk.

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wealth_distributionThe economy is contracting because we have over-exploited the natural resources on which it depends. There is already so much evidence of this: drought and aquifer depletion, massive topsoil loss, and a shift to extracting ever harder to obtain (and less profitable) forms of fossil fuels like tar sands, fracking, and off-shore drilling. All you need to confirm this reality for yourself is an open, critical mind and a Google search. Precious, life-giving natural resources are becoming more and more scarce, the result of our lavish, wasteful consumption habits combined with rapid population growth. And this resource scarcity is compounded by wealthy elites consolidating as much wealth as possible, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs.

The future of our economy is not a return to the days when anyone who worked hard enough could easily buy a big house, a new car, raise a family, and live the American Dream.

out_of_stockI’m sorry, but that’s not the reality of the physical world we live in. I say this as someone who invested five years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars in a college education and Master’s degree and think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever own property or a new car or have a retirement fund (at least not in the way this has conventionally been done). And I’m not willing to trade my child’s future in order to have these things. At the same time, I know I don’t need any of these things. I can be perfectly happy and fulfilled with an inexpensive tiny house, a bike and a used biofuel vehicle, a food forest as my retirement fund, and the knowledge that my child will have a livable planet as his inheritance.

Continuing down a path of extractive economic development puts future generations’ access to water, air, and food at risk. It increases the possibility that they will experience the crumbling of our civilization and with it the sort of suffering—poverty, hunger, violence, conflict, chaos—we see in the countries we have destroyed in our insatiable quest for resources (often under the guise of “democracy”).

With all due respect, if you are willing to make that trade-off, or choose to stay ignorant and pretend everything will be fine and we’re passing on a perfectly lovely future to our children, shame on you.

I am not just directing this at Trump supporters. Though Clinton acknowledges climate change, her pro-fracking, pro-Wall Street agenda is absolutely inappropriate for the scale of economic and ecological crisis we are facing. At least with a looming Trump presidency, people have been startled into paying attention and will hopefully stay awake long enough to get organized, rather than simply returning to business-as-usual. There are many alternatives to the extractive, fossil-fuel driven consumer economy, but making the transition to a sustainable economy requires us to really think about our how we spend our money and what we are supporting.

Another reason for supporting Trump I’ve heard from several people—particularly kind, loving, generous women—is because he is pro-life. If this is you, I’m asking you to promise me that you are going to fight for my child’s access to clean water and a livable planet. Otherwise, with all due respect, you’re being cruel and hypocritical. And if I lose my freedom—or worse—by fighting for my child’s access to clean water and a livable planet, then promise me you will help take care of him.

This is what it means to become a parent in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Many mornings during my tumultuous first trimester, I awoke to stories of police brutality and mass shootings and lay in bed grappling with the reality of being pregnant during these times. Last month a Saudi Arabian student was beaten to death on the University of Wisconsin campus where my sister went to college. Since Trump’s election I hear more and more stories of emboldened racists/sexists/bigots/ xenophobes threatening and harassing strangers as our national shadow bubbles to the surface. This is not the kind of world I want my son to grow up in.

When I told my father, who recently turned 81, that I was pregnant, he said something along the lines of “too bad the world is such a mess.”

We Are Not Afraid

It’s a scary time to become parents, but we are not afraid. We have looked realistically at the impacts of climate change, of what happens when societies collapse and people compete for scarce resources, and of the current impacts of the American way of life on the rest of the world. It’s not pretty. In fact, for years this awareness has given me horrific nightmares (as well as deep motivation for my work). But ignoring or fearing the ugly realities of the world we live in is not helpful. What’s needed now is action.

Our son’s childhood will not revolve around screen time or consumer culture. Rather, we will be sharing with him an understanding of where we are in the evolution of humanity and an awareness of his role and responsibility as a white man in this world. We will be giving him tools to create a positive future given the realities of the world he is inheriting, tools like homesteading and survival skills; community organizing and non-violence education; and hopefully a strong spiritual foundation he can fall back on when things get hard and he sees the dark side of humanity.

We will teach him not only the Golden Rule “treat others as you want to be treated,” but also its important translation “no one is free until we all are free.”

And of course, we will teach him unconditional love.

The gift of living in uncertain times is that it makes the present that much more precious. The gift of living simply is that it creates more space for the things that really matter. And the gift of having deep compassion and empathy, for feeling the pain and suffering of the world as deeply as I do, is that this capacity for feeling pain and suffering is matched by a capacity for love.

earth_mama_5That’s why we chose to bring this child into a world of uncertainty… and, we can only imagine, why he chose such unconventional parents.

In a world rife with hate and callousness and immense suffering and the potential for so much more suffering, the only thing that is true – the only purpose for existence—is love. And you can bet we will teach this to our son.

Because that’s what it means to become parents in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Voting with Every Dollar We Spend

Originally posted on Transition US

There’s so much attention on the upcoming election, and with good reason: our future is at stake. But it’s important to remember that political power is tied to economic power, and we vote every day for the kind of world we want to live in with every dollar we spend and every purchase we make.

cer_2349-5resizeWe can choose to support businesses that actually make our communities more resilient rather than extracting local wealth and resources. Sometimes it costs more to support businesses that are aligned with values of social and ecological responsibility, but that’s because those prices reflect the true cost of production. When we purchase cheap consumer goods, the true cost of production is often passed on to workers and to future generations (through environmental destruction). And when we shop at chains or big-box stores, much of the money we spend leaves our community. But when we shop at local, independent businesses, our money is recycled locally and strengthens our local economies.

Certain businesses take economic transformation a step further by committing to providing good jobs and building community wealth, or to making environmental stewardship part of their business model. And some businesses do it all!

reconomy_report_coverIn this new report by Transition US, “25 Enterprises that Build Resilience,” we look at twenty-five businesses across the US that actually build community wealth and resilience. From innovative ecological and social justice-oriented farms and food hubs to small-scale energy companies, from bicycle-powered delivery services to alternative strategies for providing affordable housing, these business models will inspire you to reimagine and transform your local economy.

The report focuses on enterprises that aspire to meet the following criteria for resilience-building businesses developed by the Transition Network REconomy Project:

1. Appropriate localization: Enterprises operate at a scale appropriate to the environment, the needs they are meeting, and their business sector, with regard to sourcing, distribution, and interaction with the wider economy. They don’t all have to grow endlessly. They provide local goods for local people as locally as possible, where this makes sense.

kiuc2. Appropriate resource use: Enterprises make efficient and appropriate use of natural resources, respecting finite limits and minimizing and integrating waste streams. The use of fossil fuels is minimized, and use of renewable energy sources maximized.

3. Serve a purpose greater than profit: Enterprises aim to provide affordable, sustainable products and services and decent livelihoods, rather than just generate excessive profits for others. Enterprises can be profitable, but excess profits are used for wider benefit rather than just enriching individuals.

pedal_people4. Part of the community: Enterprises work toward building a common wealth, owned and controlled as much as is practical by their workers, customers, tenants and communities. They treat and pay all workers fairly. Their structures are as open, equitable, democratic, inclusive and accountable as possible. They consciously operate as part of a collaborative and mutually supportive local system.

5. Strengthen community resilience: Enterprises help ensure the main needs of the community are met despite wider economic instability, energy and resource shortages and global warming impacts. Enterprises are also resilient in themselves, seeking to be financially sustainable and as independent of external funding as possible.

In addition to the 25 enterprises—nominated by Transitioners and community resilience-builders across the country and reviewed by a team of experts—the report is full of additional resources to help you deepen your knowledge of local economic transformation and give you the tools to get started. Enjoy!

Download the report.

Learn more about the Transition US REconomy Project and opportunities to get involved here.

Photos (from top): Soul Fire Farm, REconomy Report Cover, Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative, Pedal People.

Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven~Part 4: Recipes & Tips for Solar Cooking

You’d be surprised by the variety of what you can cook in a solar oven! It’s definitely an art, and there are a few nuances that make it different from cooking on a conventional stove. Here are a few tips and recipes to help you get started.

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Solar-roasted beet hummus

To begin, Solavore has a wonderful website full of tips and gourmet recipes. Check it out: http://www.solavore.com/

Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

Punjabi Eggplant (Baingan Barta)

Rosemary Potatoes

Roasted Beet Hummus (This version calls for canned chickpeas – I’m working on a version that uses raw/sprouted or solar-cooked chickpeas)

Veggie Broth

A few other tips…

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Solar-infused veggie broth

You can cook soups and other liquid-y items in a solar oven if you first bring it to a boil on your kitchen stove, then put it in the pre-heated solar oven to simmer. I’ve made some delicious solar-infused vegetable broth this way.

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Solar-hard-cooked eggs

I’ve had success cooking hard-boiled eggs in the Solavore Sport Oven without any water – I just set the pot lid upside down inside the cooking pot and let the eggs cook for about an hour and a half (I’m at a higher elevation so it could be less – I’ve read 45 minutes works for some people).

You can also bake in the oven – I’ve made delicious banana bread in the Solavore but ended up throwing it in the conventional oven for a few minutes at the end because I got a late start and ran out of sun. Solavore has a carrot cake recipe they strongly recommend, which I’ve yet to try (I’ll probably try a reduced-sugar version!).

Overall, I’m stoked to be cooking with the Solavore Sport Oven and looking forward to fine-tuning my craft! I love cooking for dinner parties and potlucks in the solar oven because people are so curious and often surprised by what’s possible. Next up: granola (with no processed sugar), lentil soup (a staple), garden veggie frittata (with eggs fresh from the chicken coop) and scalloped potatoes (a decadent Thanksgiving treat for my family).

This article is Part 4 in a 4-part series: Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven. The rest of the series is linked below:

Part 1: Why Go Solar?

Part 2: Choosing a Solar Oven

Part 3: Cooking with the Solavore Sport Oven