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Diary of a Worm’s Life in a Home “Growing Power” Box and Garden

PLEASE NOTE: The articles archived here were originally posted to the online community resource; many internal textual and hyper-textual references to that site remain as written.

Worm Condo

Garden 07/02/06

Compost pile 07/26/06

July 31, 2006 Priceless

It was too hot today to work on the garden or even the box in the sun-room. However, I did buy some things for the garden, hoses and such for the rain barrels, and some lumber to strengthen the Home Growing Power box. Growing affordable organic food might be priceless, but there is a price, even financial, to pay to do it.

Tonight Pat and I went to a birthday party for a friend who just turned 60. We both knew her from the sixties. We reminisced with her, her daughters and some of her other friends about those days of our youth. Her daughters, of course, only know about the sixties from stories they’ve heard from their parents and friends or, like tonight, from some “radical” papers of the sixties, which one of her daughters had come across in the archives of the University of Michigan in Ann Harbor. And of course we experienced that very Milwaukee phenomenon of having friends and experiences in common with everyone you meet. Having friends like Godsil?, the co-founder of this Milwaukee Renaissance Web site, makes it easy to have someone in common. He is someone a lot of people in Milwaukee know, and the person who introduced me to Growing Power. Having old friends like Godsil and the woman who turned 60, and like the new ones we met, is priceless.

Actually I first knew Godsil in the sixties when we were both students on the campus of St. Louis University. That our lives would come together in the future around a common fascination with the mysterious growing power of worms was something we never imagined in those days. Worms were far from our minds in those Sixties days when we were planning how to “save the world.”

Worms came up in my conversations tonight, especially with people who know Godsil. As I thought more about my experiences in growing power I realized how little I know and need to learn, mostly by experience. However, today my only experience was to water things down and wait for cooler weather. The heat was too costly for me today to work outside.

I need to mention that today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. His way of looking at life, called Ignatian Spirituality, has been a priceless gift in my life. Ignatian Spirituality is based on being a follower of the Way of Jesus and of seeing and hearing deeply in all things and thus “finding God in all things”, even the least of a creatures, like worms.

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July 30, 2006 Multiplying Food

Some years ago I was in Israel, near the spot of the story of Jesus multiplying bread and fish to feed a group of five thousand plus. There I heard an interesting anecdote about this miracle which answers the question of why, if the bread and fish were multiplied as people took them, were there so many leftovers?

In Jesus’ day all travel was by foot over hot and dusty roads. There were no food stops along the road. So people kept a small leather bag hanging around their neck with some dried fish and bread in it, just in case they were far from home and hungry. The story goes that after the crowd saw Jesus and his disciples give what little they had, five loaves of bread and two fish, they were moved to also share. Although the bread and fishes were multiplied to feed everyone, people took out the pieces of dried fish and bread they were carrying to share with each other. Thus the 12 wicker baskets of leftovers in the Gospel.

The tour guide who told me that story was a Palestinian Christian. He also told us on many occasions, despite the consternation of some on the trip, how he and other Palestinians in Israel were discriminated against even though many like him have lived there since 1948 when Israel was created. The discrimination against Palestinians was obvious in Israel, be they Muslim or Christian. I remember the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Church for the Middle East, telling us that there would never be peace in the Middle East until there was justice. “If you want peace, work for justice.” (Pope Paul VI)

If some small part of the money and energy that goes toward destroying people, like the innocent children that were killed today in Lebanon, were used to grow organic affordable food, like in the Growing Power system, we would witness a another miracle of multiplication of loaves and fishes. Our urban lots would be sources of food, not spots for violence; there would be enough land to feed everyone; our waste would be turned into compost and via worms, become castings to grow more food.

Yesterday we set up one of the rain barrels to catch the rainwater to make casting tea. It was just in time since we had a good rainfall last night and this morning. The bombs that rained down on the children today killed them and will only lead to more violence and hate. The rain we collected today in the rain barrel was filtered through the casting tea bags back into the ground to grow more life.

Maybe we could all carry around our neck a reminder of the peace in us and how when we share what little we have others are compelled to share what little they have too. Together we can grow a miracle of abundance and some good leftovers. “Together We Are Growing Power.”

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July 29, 2006 Worm Aide

Today I added more worms and some fresh compost to the worm condo. Hopefully there is now enough food and supply of worms until fall when I will move the worms inside to the Growing Power Box and use the castings to plant the seeds in for the winter in the Sun Room GP box.

I used some worms and compost from my small worm depository and from my bigger compost pile in back. But I stopped by the Growing Power center on Silver Spring to get some worms from their major worm depository out back. No one of knowledge was working today, so the lady working the front of the store where they sell fresh organic produce told me to help myself. After gathering two pales of compost with worms I went to thank her and ask her about cooking kale, which they sell in the store. She told me to stir-fry the kale with olive oil. When I asked her for some tips on my worm condo she told me, although she owed her job to the worms, she did not like worms. Appreciating and liking worms are two separate things, I guess.

This morning for the fourth Saturday in a row we worked till noon on building Dawn’s porch. (See the last three Saturday diary entries for more details.) Today we almost finished, but have some work to do next week roofing the porch and finishing off the skirt and rail on top. Some of the same people from past weeks were there today, but also a few new faces. Since there were too many for porch-building a few people cleaned out a basement food storage area for Dawn in one of the houses. Three of her duplexes are now in excellent shape and she has plenty of room for disabled persons. However since the Milwaukee Journal housing series really did her an injustice and because of the ‘politics’ resulting from it, some had to move out. She has plenty of unused rooms. However, one of the new residents is a young woman in a wheel chair (pictured here) with a serious form of MS. She needs around the clock care but she is wonderfully full of joy and helping out wherever she can. She is the rose of Dawn’s houses.

Loren and I installed one of the rain barrels we purchased from the city sewage department today. (Picture to follow). Eventually I will run a hose that will release water slowly from the bottom of the barrel so casting tea will constantly flow throughout the garden. For now I put my two ‘tea’ bags of castings at the bottom of barrel and will continue to use my watering can to take out the tea for the plants.

My favorite custard stand had one of my favorite custards, Turtle Sunday, as the flavor of the day (remember my “cream city diet”?); I sweat off some fat working on the porch and in the garden; I had some delicious custard and talked with a young women full of grace and hope; the worm condo got some aide. What more can one ask of life? I can think of a few things, like peace in Lebanon, but will take what is given to me graciously.

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July 28, 2006 Red Hot Rose

Now that I have time once again to spend in the Home Growing Power Garden, the heat waves continue. When I went out on the deck today, I noticed that a rose bush I planted awhile back, long before I was into Growing Power, had bloomed overnight. Yes it was red hot, like the garden.

I think I have learned a lesson by making a mistake in my Worm Condo. Since Loren had built the condo so large and since I did not have much rough compost from last year, I did not fill it up. But I thought I had enough compost to feed the worms I moved from the inside box Growing Power box outside last June.
I am afraid not. The soil in the ground looks like, and probably is, rich wet castings. However, when I put the screen on the ground with fresh compost on it to attract the worms, only a few appeared. It looks like the worms ate all the food, compost, and since they do not eat their own castings, probably faded away. Fortunately I put a number of worms in an outside worm depository, which I regularly feed, and they are growing and multiplying. But probably not enough. I will probably need to get some more worms at the Growing Power center and put them in the condo with fresh compost, or else just call it quits for the condo now. There should be more than enough in it to top out my inside box for planting this fall (If the above does not make sense check out the last few days of June diary where I digest the vermiculture system that is being used).

Today I connect by Internet with someone like myself who advocates to rid our society of the stigma attached to mental illness. This person is an artist and has a beautiful web site at More to come about this connection of art, mental illness and Growing Power. In my first interview with a worm in the Growing Power box in my sunroom in the winter, the idea of stigma came up a lot.

If my livestock of worms in the condo did die, (I still have hope they are in there and lying low from all the heat) I feel sad. I will keep you updated on these valuable creatures that sure have suffered enough stigma.

I heard on the TV news tonight the obvious: Violence in American cities is on the rise. In last month’s newsletter, Living Stones, which you can find on the Graf family web site in words and on http://www.hopetohealing web site with pictures, I offered a copy of letter I wrote to local politicians with 10 suggestions, a little bit out of the ordinary, of how to curb violence in the city of Milwaukee. None responded and only one, the County Executive’s office even acknowledged getting the suggestions. If they read them at all, probably number one stopped them from reading more: “1) As our government endorses more violence, like the war in Iraq and attempts to bring back the death penalty, violence increases.”

Speaking of the Living Stones newsletter, I just finished today adapting Psalm 22, which goes from despair to hope and mentions being like a worm. I will publish it in the July issue of the newsletter which will be out soon. See my web site or Hope to Healing site to read it sometime next week. Even better, you can get a free subscription of this newsletter by just writing me

So in this one posting I have gone from a red rose to gardening with worms to mental illness to violence to Living Stones newletter to prayer. If you do not see all the connections, do not feel bad, neither do I. But I pray for the “ears to hear and the eyes to see.” If you and I keep looking we will find it.

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July 27, 2006 Bob’s Your Uncle and SVDP

Today I did not enter the garden but the garden entered me. What I mean is that between making St. Vincent De Paul calls to persons in need and shopping for and making “grape leaves” I was busy. The time I did have for the garden it was raining. However, the “grape leaves”, a Lebanese dish that my wife learned from my mom, contained grape leaves picked from the vines in the garden and used mint that was also from the garden. Today my wife actually taught me how to make them. Since I was a child I have been picking grape leaves, wrapping them around rice and meat and of course eating them. I need to make them again soon before I forget how to make them. (My wife, with the help of the Internet, did write down a recipe for my Mom’s grape leaves and had me read it before we started. But she kept saying “your Mom did not use that spice” and “that is not the exact amount” and kept changing it. Like my Mom, I am not a person who follows recipes anyway.)

I mentioned that I was on St. Vincent De Paul calls this morning. The St. Vincent De Paul (SVDP) society was created by a bunch of college students right before the French Revolution who wanted to put their belief that we should serve the poor into action. With the help of a Vicentian religious nun they crossed into the worst parts of Paris to bring hospitality and needed items to the very poor. They went two by two and made no judgments on those they visited, just helped them out the best they could. This simple but radical idea really caught on and now SVDP is the largest lay organization in the Catholic Church.

One of the elderly ladies we visited this morning has had a wonderfully colorful life. She and I swapped stories about activitists we knew back in sixties, prison stories and some about working providing food. She had run a famous food pantry after she retired, untill she got seriously sick. Although now in a wheel chair she was full of life. Often on these visits the people we visit give us much more than we give them,

From the visits I got that “Bob’s Your Uncle” feeling that I have talked about before. “Bob’s Your Uncle” is a slang statement of English origin that means ‘No problem, Do not worry.’ It is something I heard from my nephew in Iowa City who worked in a Pizza restaurant called “Bob’s Your Uncle”. I used it as my email handle: and have tee-shirt with it on. I have heard a number of stories about the origin of this saying. The most recent was in this week’s “TIME” magazine which claims it came from Cecil, a Victorian Prime Minister who named Balfour, his nephew, to a series of Cabinet posts. A friend recently sent me a whole etymology of the phrase. No matter what the origin we all would like to have an “Uncle Bob.”

In short, today the garden I have provided for gave me back part of a delicious dinner. The elderly lady to whom I gave a SVDP voucher for some furniture gave back to me a moment of joy and remembrance. Giving is receiving and is especially great when “Bob’s Your Uncle.”

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July 26, 2006 Make Mistakes or Ask Questions

In my youth the words of a poet “Man was made to made mistakes” struck me hard as fear of failing was holding me back from being what I can be. Learning from your mistakes is sure one true way to learn. Another way is by observing someone else and answering questions. If you know the right questions to ask you can usually find out the right answers. Learning is usually not either/or, make mistakes or ask questions, but a combination of both.

Each time (not very often) that I speak by phone to Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power Inc., he mentions both ways of learning. He usually says how it took him five or more years to come up with this way of growing - learning by making mistakes. He also usually says to visit the Growing Power headquarters and ask questions and learn from the staff.

I have done both but now with this worm condo crisis that I talked about last night, I do not know what to do. Recently when I go to Growing Power everyone is busy working there or on the farms. To take someone’s time to ask questions feels like imposing. If I call Will or someone, they will probably say if they are available, that they would have to see the situation to answer my questions. I am not sure what to do. I think I will let my experiment of adding fresh compost on top of screen to attract worms in the box go for a few days. Than I will either go up there to ask for more worms or put some more compost in the worm condo.

Speaking of compost, the last few days I mentioned that I would show you pictures of the compost pile that is now closed and the new one I am starting to grow. The old one is larger and you will notice that I dug into the bottom front of it to get out some fresh compost for the worm condo experiment and to feed the worm depository. Despite the recent rains, it is still cooking and hot. The new pile is just beginning. Yes, that is cardboard on top. Cardboard is a carbon like wood chips and leaves, and I use it when I have a box to throw away. Actually I should be cutting it up into smaller pieces so it breaks down faster.

Learning in life, like in the garden, is all about making mistakes and asking questions. Learning from our mistakes and hearing the answers to our questions is the key to both ways of learning.

In the gospels Jesus often spoke in parables, word pictures that told a story that indirectly made a teaching point. Often at the end of the parable he would say “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” All of the people listening had ears but did they hear the point? Often Jesus’ parables were garden ones, like the sower that went out sow seed.

I can see why garden parables made such good examples, especially to a people rooted in the land. Land and garden stories are grounded and either you have “ears to hear” or you make mistakes. Either way, there is a chance to learn and grow and bear fruit.

Does anyone have any good garden parables to tell?

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July 25, 2006 Seeds of Hope and Despair

I am concerned about the worms in the worm condo. Although the ground in it looks like good castings, I no longer see many worms when I dig into it. My fear is that I did not put enough compost in the box and they ran out of food. Part of that reason was that the box was quite large and part of the reason was that I did not think I had enough compost from last year for the number of worms that I put in. There should have been enough food for the 8–10 weeks that I was told it takes to make castings. Today I put a screen on top of the soil and some fresh compost on top of the screen. If the worms in the box are still alive they should slowly make their way to the top, through the screen, for the fresh food. I will keep you informed; hopefully all is well with the worms in the condo. The worms in the worm depository seem to be doing okay as I keep adding fresh compost to the pile.

Tonight one of the youths I served seven years ago as a youth minister, whom I have been in contact with on and off, came over for a visit and stayed for dinner. It is really good to see someone you maybe planted a few seeds of hope into come back for a visit full of life. This young man just graduated college with a degree in political science and this fall will go to China for a year to teach English as a second language.

Since Loren is up north working on a painting job and my wife, Pat, had to work tonight I convinced him to stay for dinner with my son Peter and me. I made a Spanish tortilla, something my wife taught me that she had learned when she spent a year in Spain as a college student. For those who never had one it is like a big omelet except with potatoes as one of the ingredients. My tortilla had lot of other ingredients and herbs. The big trick in making it is flipping it over in the frying pan without spilling it. It was good and it was good to share it with two young men, my son and my friend.

Today I struggled with someone one who is having a hard time accepting who they are. Knowing what to say (and what not to say) and when to say it is tough in these situations. Also the violence in Lebanon, Iraq, in our streets tore again at my heart. I want to remain open to it, not harden my heart, yet be able to accept what I need to accept while still holding on to my beliefs and not to be afraid.

In the fifties when I was growing up, it was fear of ‘communists’ that drove so much of our culture. The communist were the Russians, Chinese and Vietnamese and maybe some of those in South American we did not agree with. Now we use the same language but we have replaced the word ‘communist’ with ‘terrorist’, and now they are Arabs, Iraqi, Iran, Cubans, Syrians, and North Koreans. China, the lone major communist power, is now our friend and trading partner and is gradually owning more and more of our growing debt.

Times change but fear persists. We were driven by fear to invade Iraq and support the bombing of Lebanon. Who controls fear?

I looked for fear in the garden but could not find much. The birds fear the chipmunks and squirrels when they go after the bird food, and the chipmunks and squirrel fear us humans when we go out in the garden. However, these are just very temporary fears. The birds return to the bird feeder when the chipmunks leave and the chipmunks return after we humans go in or quiet down.

The other day I saw a chipmunk half way up the skinny pole to the bird feeder. As I approached the feeder he went all the way up to the feeder. When I got there he took a big leap off the bird feeder only to land in the garbage pail of water for tea castings that I keep by the garage under the drain sprout. The chipmunk started frantically swimming. I feared to reach down to get him out since I was afraid that in his fear he would bite me. Finally I grabbed the pitchfork from the nearby compost pile and gently lowered it in the water. The chipmunk climbed on one of the forks and I lifted it out of the water. Once free from the pail he jumped and took off running. I would like to say the chipmunk would not be back to bother the birds but I doubt it. His experience and fear of the water will soon pass as well as memory of my life-saving action.

Maybe real hope lies in not being afraid. “Be Not Afraid” is a good motto for everyday living. Fear leads to despair while hope leads to life. What seeds of hope or despair will I plant tomorrow?

(The promised pictures today of the big old and small new compost piles will need to wait till tomorrow since I forgot to take them today.)

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July 24, 2006 Time for Garden Growing Weather

The weather was perfect today for the Growing Power Home Garden. There was a gentle rain this morning followed by a sunny hot day. From my office this morning, looking out over the garden, I could almost see the tomatoes and the firecracker flowers growing. My digital camera has a “moving object” setting, but does not have a “super slow” setting to capture growing.

In daily cooking, my wife and I have been trying to use something from the garden in every meal. Last night she made a delicious pesto pasta dish using pesto made from the basil from the garden. Tonight I made an also delicious Lebanese stir-fry using mint from the garden. Right now it is mostly herbs but soon, with the right weather and help from worms and humans, it will be tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and more. I could have used some tomatoes, green peppers and zucchini as well as mint for my Middle Eastern dish tonight.

“There is a time for everything and everything has a time.” On this garden growing weather day, my timing was not right. This morning I set out around 9:30 on a series of errands to be completed before noon so I could attend the Peace Action press conference on the situation in Lebanon. The first stop, at the city dump, to drop off some pieces of concrete and pick up some wood chips for the garden compost pile, went fine. However, the next two stops, the Faith In Recovery Office to drop off a computer and the Middle Eastern grocery store, I discovered locked, nobody there. They should both have been open. For a second I thought maybe some major world event was happening and everyone had gone to watch it on TV. However, a quick listening of my car radio proved that theory wrong. So I went to two grocery stores to shop and made it back to Faith In Recovery Office with the computer but not back to the Middle Eastern store. However, in the entire running back and forth I forgot the time, and as I was driving home I realized that it was after noon and I had missed the press conference at the Federal Courthouse steps. I guess my timing was off.

I did not get out to the garden ‘till late in the afternoon, and by this time it was hot. However, I managed to plant the rest of the kale, do other daily routine jobs, and start a new compost pile. I am starting a new compost pile because I want the large one I have now to be ready this fall for my Growing Power Box in my sunroom. I mixed it up one last time and than put a seal of wood chips on top. By just leaving it sit and cook it should be ready by fall. The new one I started is smaller, on the other side of garage, but adequate for the rest of the summer if I just use our home waste, wood chips, garden waste, grass and leaves. It will be ready next spring when I need it, with the rest of the major compost pile, for the outside garden. Time to stop growing one and time to start growing a new compost pile.

There is a time for everything but it finding the right time that is the rub.

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July 23, 2006 Primary Sources

Today was one of the few days this week I had a chance to really do some work on the garden. It felt good. One big task was to pick some herbs - basil, savory, oregano, parsley, savory, and two types of mints - which were washed and are being dried. Similar herbs picked earlier, now dried, were shredded and put in spice bottles. “Uncle Bob’s” herb bottles keep on growing and will again this year, more so than last, make for many good Christmas gifts as well as spice our daily meals. What is nice about herbs is that almost all of them come back in stronger form after picking, and some of them even come back year after year.

Also today, I planted some of the kale, a collard-like green that my wife was not too excited about, but a green that hopefully flourishes outside in the fall, winter and spring.

Tonight I reviewed a history that a friend is writing of a group that we were involved in for fourteen years. I found it interesting that the historical research was mostly founded on secondary sources like letters, emails and reports, not on primary sources like human beings who lived the experience. Maybe that is what we are doing with our food supply, depending too much on secondary and sometime third or fourth sources rather than primary sources.

Another example of not going to primary sources is in our purchasing habits, especially of clothes. When I was in Guatemala?, I purchased a number of pieces in clothing in some of the many open markets. The quality was better, and the price was lower, than anything I could purchase in the USA. Even with direct shipping costs, the price was much lower. Yet we Americans, instead of figuring out to get these clothes from primary sources, continue to buy clothes made in sweatshops on the cheap and costing us, because of all the “handlers” in between, much more than we could purchase it for directly. I have some friends who are starting a “fair trade” store in Milwaukee and hopefully can do something toward turning this trend around. Fair Trade, when done right, could be a lot more affordable than unfair trade, just as organic food with Growing Power is affordable over processed food from mass agriculture. Who is stopping us? Well that is another whole essay.

For now I will keep learning from my worms and yard, how to build a sustainable, affordable garden on the little land that I have. From my observations maybe I will get more clues of how to best go to primary resources in all of life. If my harvest of vegetables is only half of what it seems it will be I will be rich in healthy food and the means to sustain its growth - worms, castings and compost.

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July 22, 2006 Dawn’s Porch Keeps Growing

Dawn’s Porch Today

For the third Saturday in a row, I went over to work on rebuilding the porch on a house owned by Dawn Powell, who works at providing housing for low-income persons with disabilities. Three weeks ago we (or at least I) thought it was a one-day job. And now we need to go back at least one more time. A few mistakes along the way did not help. However, I am not complaining. It gives me a chance to visit with old and new friends, to sharpen my wood-working skills, do something for a wonderful woman who really serve the disenfranchised and to work with some great persons.

But working on Dawn’s porch during the day and spending some time with my wife at the family shelter tonight did mean no time, except for some casting tea watering, on the garden. Fortunately it rained while I was at the shelter. But it does mean that tomorrow, after Church, instead of going fishing with Loren (who really wants to go fishing), I will be working in the garden. One of the things I need to do, besides plant the kale and the same old, same old stuff, is to cut some more herbs - basil, mint, savory, sage. My wife said she would wash and dry out the herbs, but besides picking them I need to crush and bottle the herbs. I should make labels for the bottles under the ‘Uncle Bob’s’ name.

As they say “one good deed leads to another”. What they do not say is that doing a good deed for someone can be addictive (in a positive way). The Jesuit Volunteers, a group of young people who, for a year or two after college, work with persons in need before moving on with their lives have a name for this. It is called “Ruined for Life.” Parents of these volunteers coined this term after they notice their sons and daughters were radically changed by the experience of living and working with the poor. These young people, as they re-entered life, were changed and felt the need to incorporate service to others in their lives. What started as a joke, “Ruined for Life” now is a motto they use. I was never in the Jesuit Volunteer corps, but my extensive Jesuit Education and my experiences have ‘ruined’ me for life. (I know a few Jesuits find my zeal for advocating for persons in need a real ‘pain’ and would interpret this motto differently for me.)

Gardening is like this, especially a Growing Power Garden, or vermiculture (using worms as livestock). It grows on you, and slowly but surely seduces you into doing more. I guess there are worse addictions and worse ways to be ‘ruined for life’ besides being a ‘do gooder’ and gardening with worms.

I am not saying I am perfect or without faults. All who really know me know that is not true. However, I seek to be like Dawn’s porch now or like a garden — always growing, learning by mistakes, but keeping on doing the same old, same old yet in a new way.

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July 21, 2006 Finding Good Seedlings

Yesterday when I was in my son’s van with my grandsons (8 and 6) and their cousin (8), we had another interesting conversation besides the one I reported yesterday. These conversations were a result of the fact that I would not allow them to watch the DVD player, which they had in the van for long trips. The older boys started talking about the ‘old days’ and how the six-year did not know about them. Curious, I asked the two eight year olds what they meant by the ‘old days.’ It turns out they meant before the year 2000. The two eight year olds were born in 1998, the ‘old days’. I smiled and said that I was born in the early 40’s, and I did not think even that was the ‘old days’ (this remark went right over their heads).

I worked quite a long time in the garden today, doing some of the same old, same old and something new. I built two new Growing Power mounds (compost, worms, castings) along the walkway where the radishes were growing. When one crop dies, a new one - weather permitting - can grow. I wanted a crop that would grow in the summer, stay through the fall and winter, and produce some healthy greens. A friend had told me about Kale and I went to the Growing Power headquarters in search of some. I was able to purchase a tray of seedlings, along with some more coyer (coconut shavings), which I had run out of. Kale is, like collard, a fall green that can be harvested almost all winter. You plant it in the summer for fall and winter. (Pictures to come.) Finding good seedlings, organic and affordable, was made easy today by Growing Power. My kale is of the green curly kind. They had some of the red type but had already planted all of that at the Growing Power farm. Being in the garden for a good bit of time brought me peace of mind, something I missed this last busy week.

Someone I just met via a mutual friend, who is also, like me, a Lebanese-American, sent me some pictures of the effect of the present war on the Lebanese people. The pictures are hard to look at, and you can sense a tone of anger, justified as it may be, on the site. But if you have the stomach and open mind for it, here is the site where you can see some of the terrible impact of the USA-sponsored war by Israel on innocent Lebanese civilians:

Death and destruction in a garden leads to growth of new seedlings. Death and destruction, as in Lebanon, leads to hopelessness and more death and destruction. We live in a world where we can choose daily to plant new seedlings for growth or destruction. We live in a world where a child’s memories, good or bad, lead to a child’s attitude for peace or vengeance. We live in a world where there is always new life going on but power struggles suffocate innocent lives. Let us pray that we find more good seedlings, plant them and watch them grow.

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July 20, 2006 Three Guys Dismantling Racism

Today I received an email from the founder of the Milwaukee Renaissance Web site, which we are part of, promoting the Milwaukee Renaissance online magazine, which has as one of its themes “Dismantling Racism.” Those words fascinate me and I am not sure what they mean but do know that like the Growing Power movement, a good part of my life has been involved fighting all kinds of “isms”, especially Racism.

A clue of what this phrase means came today as I was driving my two grandsons and their cousin on the North side of Milwaukee, to pick up some bait to go perch fishing at the pier on Lake Michigan. My two grandsons and their cousin are very color blind to persons skin color. Part of that probably comes from having cousins like each other who are white or biracial. They are pictured to the left last March in front of our first attempt at a compost pile on my son’s family land.

We were driving east on Center Street, the heart of North side and a mostly African American neighborhood, when all three of them started to question me on why there were so man ‘blacks’ in this area. My grandsons live near a small town in Northern Wisconsin where they do not find many African Americans. Their cousin who was with us comes from a larger city in Wisconsin where you find some, but not many African Americans. The conversation went something like this, with one of the three mentioned as the child and I as the adult.

Child: Why are there so many blacks in this neighborhood?
Adult: This is the North side of Milwaukee where many blacks live.
Child: I saw a man with something in his pocket. He must have stolen something.
Adult: What makes you say that?
Child: There are so many blacks in this area.
Child: My father is black. He used to live in Allied and there was a lot of crime in his neighborhood.
Adult: Where is the city of Allied?
Child: It is just a street in my city where lots of blacks live. He told me a lot of stories about the area.
Child: There are sure a lot of blacks living here. There must be a lot of crime.
Adult: What makes you three think that because there are a lot of backs in this area there is a lot of crime?
Child: That is just the way it is?

These three cousins are close in age and are the best of friends. Their attitude equating lots of black persons with high crime has nothing to do with racial skin color. It is just something they have learned, white or black, culturally. Now some of the areas on this part of Center Street are more crime oriented but it has nothing to do with race but with poverty, education, value systems, opportunities, experiences etc.

They were also counting the street signs from 23rd and Center down to 1st and Center, another phenomenon, numbered streets, they do not see towns where they live. When they got to 1st street I was proud to point out a garden on the South side of the street that another ‘white guy’ and I had started with the children of Gingerbread Land, African American children who gather around the safe block of Gingerbread Land on First and Center for one block going South. The garden still exists. I could also have pointed out that the corner on the North side of the street was the corner from where a young boy was recently beaten up and killed outside of a middle school in an act of senseless violence. But I didn’t.

The connection between a garden and Dismantling Racism I can see. Working on the Gingerbread Land Garden we were all equal - educated or not, black or white, male or female, adult or child. Mother Clara, founder of this safe block called Gingerbread Land, started the garden and to teach children to be proud of who they are and could do. Children and adults called her “mother”, ‘grandmother’ or “auntie”. Children called me “Brother Bob”. On that street, and especially in the Garden we were all equal, brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles, mother or grandmothers. Perhaps working together with more urban Growing Power gardens in the city and the world, we would see ourselves as more of brother and sister, cousin, aunt or uncle and by our religious faith or cultural identity, and less as people to be feared because of the color of our skin.

I guess the saying about how wisdom and understanding comes out of “the mouths of babes” is true. Also we did not catch any fish of any skin color.

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July 19, 2006 Bubbler

After everyone left today and it was just my granddaughter and me, I tried to get her interested in working in the garden, or playing in a neighbor’s yard, or playing in the playground at the golf course in the park across the street, to no avail. All were only of very short interest to her. Finally, I took her into the small shelter at the par three golf course to get her something to eat or dink. Bingo, she found what she was looking for: the bubbler (for those of you not from Milwaukee or Boston area a bubbler is what you would called a water or drinking fountain). After pulling up a chair so she could reach it by herself, I just watched. As in her visit to the West Allis children’s library, she learned to master how to turn the water on and take a drink all by herself. Every once and awhile she would stop and say “Your turn” and than take another drink, one after another. A delivery person noticed her drinking over and over again from the bubbler and said she really must be thirsty. I think, just like in the library, she was fascinated by the fact she could drink all the cold water she wanted all by herself. After a very long time at the bubbler she finally said she was done. I took her off the chair and she made a dash to the restroom (men’s) saying “potty, potty.” She is not potty trained yet, so I explained to her that they did not have a potty in there for her, then took her home and changed her diaper.

Just as humans need water to survive, so do gardens with flowers, other plants and worms. In hot weather, like we all are experiencing in the USA, gardens need more water than normal - as we do. I water the garden, worms, and compost pile every day with casting tea or just plain old water. Tomatoes do especially well with the combination of very hot weather and lots of water.

My granddaughter is napping now, but when she wakes up I hope to take her with me to a Holy Ground prayer service that a local interfaith citizen group is holding at a local gun shop. This gun shop has been rated number one in the USA for a number of years for selling the most guns traceable to a crime. Just like we do at the vigils of those killed on the streets, we hope to pray and take back this place of death and make it once again Holy Ground.

Mentioning Holy Ground makes me think of the Gospel song ‘Holy Ground’. You can check the words out at this site: . I would recommend John Michael Talbot’s version of this song if you were going to purchase it. Also the shrine at Holy Hill, Mary Help of Christians, comes to my mind when I hear Holy Ground. There is something special and sacred about this shrine on a hill that makes one feel they are truly standing on Holy Ground.

Home Growing Power Gardens can be Holy Ground if watered and cared for. The bubbler for my garden is the hose, sprinkler, or rain-collecting plastic garbage can. We all need Holy Ground in our lives and plenty of life-giving waters to survive and grow.

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July 18, 2006 Close Up and Personal

Sometimes things are more beautiful or more ugly when seen close-up than when seen at a distance. I heard on TV today an American woman who had personally witnessed the destruction of innocent human lives in Lebanon. She kept saying, over and over again, that we Americans do not know what it is to personally witness such terrible violence and death. If we did know, could we live with ourselves and justify the million of dollars for bombs and planes to wreak such destruction on the Lebanese people? (Another report was about how much we make in our media of where the Hezbollah missiles are made and never mention that Israel’s bombs are made in Settle, Duluth and Miami. Does that made us accountable for deaths of innocent lives as we claim Syrian and Iran are?) Sometimes the close-up view can bring perspective, be it horrible or beautiful.

In the Home Growing Power Garden the close-up views are only of beauty. Here are some close-ups of flowers, tomato and zucchini buds.

To be alive and aware of life we need to see the close up view so the bigger picture becomes personal and not a remote thing that we can numb ourselves to or ignore. However, close-up views can be a source of great beauty or suffering.

Yesterday I was able to talk to Will Allen of Growing Power for a few minutes by phone. I learned that I should probably cap my compost pile and start a new one, and that the castings in tea bags in the rain buckets should be changed often with the old stuff being dumped in the garden.

Tomorrow I have the chance to baby-sit my two-year granddaughter, while my son takes the two boys and one of their cousins to Great America, my daughter-in-law goes to class, and my wife goes to work. When it is just the two of us together we can do simple things, like watch cows in the field by her house or tomorrow sit on the deck of our house and watch the birds and butterflies.

I saw our Garden monarch butterfly today when I was working out there but he/she was gone by the time I got my camera. Finally here is one more picture, that of a close-up of a baby worm in the worm depository. Is it a thing of beauty or ugly? It is all in the eye of the beholder.

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July 17, 2006 Worm of a Person

Working in the garden today, my mind was present from the initial sighting of a monarch butterfly to my building another Growing Power mind with what I was doing. It is fascinating how present I am to tasks at hand when working in the garden. It is only after I have come in, showered to clean off the dirt, and put on clean clothes that my mind begins to wander to the violence and wars of the day and becomes heavy with the suffering of the victims - now the people of of Lebanon and what they are enduring.

The wars in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon as well as wars all over the world, as well as violence on the streets, seem to be based on acquisition of land, power, wealth or natural resources. A few with the biggest weapons become rich and powerful while the others may fight or resist, and suffer deeply. I can turn a blind eye to what is really happening and just watch the news reports which tell us who the good guys or the bad guys are. I can become numb or ignore what is going on, or I can look into the issues, read the side of conflict on the internet that we do get in our media, and feel the pain and suffering that the innocent - like the two hundred dead Lebanese and thousands displaced and left hopeless by the bombing - are feeling.

I find myself praying Psalm 22 in the Hebrew scriptures, which starts off in a cry of despair, talks about being like a worm hardly human, but somehow manages to end up with hope. I just cannot get much past the worm part. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to rewrite psalm 22 in terms of everyday life today.

What is the connecting factor of all the above? I believe it is the worm. When humans take care of worms in a garden, they are wonderfully productive livestock. When we humans treat each other as worms, as hardly human, and are willing to kill each other in senseless violence to get something - power, land, oil, diamonds, glory - that we want, then we are in trouble.

Today I unsubscribed from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin progressive email newsletter because he supported and justified Israel’s bombing of innocent persons and the infrastructure of Lebanon. I already had problems with his pro-abortion stand, and with this new position on the Middle East realized he is just another “left liberal” who does not get it about the dignity of human life. Not that the “right conservatives” get it right. Where does that put me? Again I come back to Psalm 22: “But I’m a worm, hardly human, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.”

The upshot of the above reflection is that when someone “just does not get it” like you do, or you do not “get it” like they do, there is not much sense in dialog or conversation. The best thing is not to argue, harm or belittle the other person, but to take nonviolent, creative action for what you believe. Working in a Home Growing Power Garden, being present fully to what you are doing, provides energy and strength to do this.

Tomorrow this diary will focus once again on the garden with a new series starting “Upfront and Personal” that will feature images and descriptions of the almost unseen details of the garden. Peace!

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July 16, 2006 Garden of Peace

Supersonic sounds shout out in the air in Milwaukee, while the same sounds rain down destruction over Lebanon. Here it is for an air show to entertain, there it is to kill Lebanese and destroy their infrastructure. As a Lebanese American I am horrified at this USA-sponsored destruction of a sovereign country by Israel to get back at a political party that threatens it. With the Vatican, my Catholic Church, I condemn the actions of Israel while not condoning the violence of those who are using violence to defend themselves against violence and occupation. The violence in the Middle East, with Iraqis fighting American sand other Iraqis, with Israel fighting Palestinians and Lebanese, is further proof, if we need it, that violence only leads to more violence.

The air show’s attendance for the display of power suffered from the heat. The Home Growing Garden benefited from the heat, especially the tomatoes and peppers, which need sun. The Garden today did require some work but not much, just enough to get a work out and work up a sweat.

I heard last week that three people were shot on 38th and Courtland, where my church is located. At mass today I heard nothing about it, and when I asked someone at coffee and doughnuts, he knew only what I did from the news, that three people were shot on a porch. If they die I will get a call about a vigil to mark the Holy Ground were they died? I tried to look back at some old newspapers about it but could not find it. Shootings are buried deep in the newspaper, and as in Iraq, Palestine, and now Lebanon, are considered daily happenings.

The Growing Power garden stands as a little bit of tranquility in the midst of such turmoil. Even my adult son who lives in the apartment upstairs, said today how beautiful the garden was, as he sits on the deck smoking his cigarette (cancer death stick he cannot smoke in the house).

Life is full of contradictions, paradoxes, beauty and ugliness. We need one, like a garden, to endure the other, like senseless violence.

Tomorrow I need to call Will Allen with a list of small questions about the garden: Can a compost pile get too hot? Do we need, and if so how, to check on the worms in the condo producing castings? There are others that some of you may have the knowledge to answer.

As my weekend has moved from building a porch for a house for people with disabilities, to an African picnic with my Sierra Leone friends, to the garden, to the killing in my ancestral homeland Lebanon, I need to stop and listen at the quiet moments of peace, as in the garden, to face the daily death moments of violence.

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July 15, 2006 Porch to Africa via Middle East and Garden

First, here is the picture of the Growing Power mound of Basil in the garden. I am using the GP mound system for the cucumbers and zucchini (Picture above) and next year hope to use it for all the plants.

Today started off like last Saturday. We went to a house on the North side to help build a porch for a woman who has been providing housing for poor people with disabilities for over 12 years. Some unfair publicity in the local newsletter caused her to lose residents, but gain some good people to help her rebuild the porch on a house she is rehabbing. We did not have as many people as last week, but got more work done on the porch because we had built the structure for the porch last week. After a long hot day we did not get enough done to be able to roof the porch tomorrow, which is just as well as it should be another very hot day tomorrow, near 100 degrees. We will finish the porch off next Saturday, and roof it after our roofer friend returns from a youth mission trip to Appalachia. While I was there I talked to owner about using some of the back yard space of her four houses on the block for a Growing Power Garden next summer. That will depend if I can get others interested in this project. She has the space and the need for healthy food to feed her residents. Naturally there are enough worms and waste for compost to go around.

After I got home my wife and I went with some members of our African family from Sierra Leone to the annual all-African picnic at Brown Deer Park. There was music and food from all the countries of Africa. People went around greeting each other as Auntie, Uncle, Brother or Sister. As I mentioned before I am “Uncle Bob” to my African friends from Sierra Leone. My biggest interest in going was to see my African niece’s son, called John, Flavius, Boogie or a Ghana word for Saturday (the day he was born). He is nine months old and just taking in all with his big wide eyes. He is by heritage of Sierra Leone on his mother’s side, my niece, and on his father’s side, of Liberia or Ghana. Being so tired out from the day I came home for a while and than went back to pick up my wife and a friend, an Auntie herself, but mother of my niece and grandmother to John or Boogie. I noticed that people from Africa, particularly Sierra Leone, have good taste in beer, Guinness or Heineken, not watered-down stuff from the USA.

When I came home for a while I watered my graden. It is good that Growing Power Gardens can be so low maintenance on hot days like today when you are doing other things.

Speaking of heritage, part of mine, on my mother’s side, is Lebanese. My country of heritage took a major beating today, bombing of infrastructure, killing and injuring of many civilians by Israel with its USA supplied weapons of destruction. Beirut, capitol of Lebanon, has just been rebuilt after the terrible civil war in this country of the 70’s and 80’s. Now this destruction. People must feel very hopeless.

Sierra Leone, where my African family is from, also suffered a terrible civil war, this one from the nineties till just a few years ago. This is why my friends came here. The civil war in Sierra Leone was about diamonds and stealing them from the country. Now it is the poorest country in the world. I knew from the food of Sierra Leone there was a heavy Lebanese presence in Sierra Leone. Tonight for the first time, on the way home from the picnic, my friend told me that she felt much of the rebuilding of Lebanon was done with the money from diamonds stolen in Sierra Leone. If true how ironic is this whole cycle of violence and killing. People kill for oil or diamonds only to be killed by others seeking land or wealth.

Both these countries have great climates and good water and sun for all year around Growing Power agriculture. In fact I believe the red worms used at Growing Power and for sure the Tilapia fish come from Africa and are prevalent in some fertile areas of Middle East, like Iraq and Lebanon. Tilapia is the fish grown in large numbers at Growing Power. In fact one of the Sierra Leone dishes we always have at these special events is Tilapia fish boiled and deep friend. My wife was always hesitant to try it, since it comes with bones and all, but did today at the picnic. She found it was delicious. How ironic that both these countries, rich in natural resources and culture, should be kept in deep poverty by the “powers that be”. Reminds me of Guatemala. (See pictorial diary: Buried In Guatemala?.

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July 14, 2006 Tired Fridays

Friday nights are always tiring. When I was employed I thought that it was natural to be more tired at the end of the work-week. Now that I am no longer employed I still feel extremely tired on Friday nights. Perhaps it just in the mind — Friday night is just the time to be tired.

With some rain this morning and sun this afternoon, the garden did not take much of my time today. A little bit of work here and there, but for the most part it was a maintenance-free day in the garden.

Today I finally finished my pictorial diary, of my pilgrimage last April to Guatemala, called Buried in Guatemala?. There is a real sense of accomplishment in finally finishing a project. Tomorrow I hope to feel this sense of accomplishment again as we return to finish off the porch we started to rebuild for a home run by Dawn Powell, a women who cares for poor persons with disabilities.

However, finishing one or two projects marks the beginning of starting a few more. My Ignatian retreat of daily life for church groups, Finding God in All Things, is patiently waiting for me to complete as well as some other research on Ignatian Spirituality and Creative Nonviolence.

My Growing Power gardens, inside and outside, will never be complete. Just like food, it is a constant now in my life. There is always something new to do or something old to complete in the garden. Now as my radishes are picked, the land next to the walkway needs to be made into a Growing Power mound for kale and other year-round greens.

Speaking of Growing Power mounds, at the end of last month I told you about the three types of growing in the garden by talking about the three ways we are growing basil. At the time I said the planter method was working bett than the standard in-ground method and the mound way of growing. Now I need to change that. The basil in the Growing Power mound is doing the best. If you remember, putting a layer of compost on the ground, worms and then some castings on top before broadcasting the seeds creates the mound. With more compost that we are cooking and with more castings the worms are producing as this is being written, I hope to have the mound method everywhere in the garden next year. A picture of the mound of basil, even after I picked a bunch of it, will come tomorrow. Perhaps also a pictue of the new porch. Now I am too tired to continue.

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July 13, 2006 Growing but not Grown up

As you can see from this picture the garden is growing but not grown up. For when the garden becomes all grown up it will be dying and disappearing. Now some plants will grow back next year and some plants can be planted again but the full beauty of any garden is when it is growing and bearing fruit, not when it all grown up and dying. On a sunny day like today the bees, the butterflies, the chipmunks, and we humans can enjoy the beauty of the growing garden.

At my second interview with a worm in the Growing Power Garden I asked him/her about what cycle of the garden they most enjoy. Here is part of his/her response: “As you know, Bob, we worms do not like light, and prefer the darkness of the underground. From the below-ground perspective the best time in the garden is when the ground is warm but wet, when there is plenty of natural compost in the soil, when we are left free to breed, eat and produce castings. In above-ground terms I guess that would translate into the growing season from spring to fall. Winters are hard on us; we need to dig deeper to keep warm, and with less food we do not breed or produce much castings.”

So there you have it from my perspective and from a worm’s perspective. Looking at it from a biblical perspective I think you can say the same thing: the growing period, always seeking the presence of God in everything, is the best time for building the kingdom of God. Jesus probably said it best when he said we need to be like children to enter into the Kingdom of God. Children are always growing, seeking out the new, wondering at the old. Grown Ups are the ones who often stop looking and start labeling everything.

Growing Power’s goal is to provide sustainable, affordable food, to always be growing, in cold weather and hot weather, in winter and summer, in fall and spring, on sunny or rainy days. It is always to be growing.

If you understand the above you are a growing person. If you don’t, that’s okay, it just means you are a grown up. Most of us are somewhere in between growing and being grown up.

Today’s pickings from the Garden: radishes, basil for pesto, grape leaves.

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July 12, 2006 Same Old New Tree

Persons visiting the Growing Power home garden usually ask me what type of tree is in the corner shading the worm depository. A landscape friend of mine once told me what type of tree it is, but I forgot. Also, since the tree is surrounding by compost and the worm depository, I placed some rocks around its base to keep its trunk from becoming rotten. Is that enough or should I put a sleeve around the base?

Today’s work in the garden consisted of some of the same old things, feeding the worm depository, spreading casting tea around the garden, building the compost pile. But there were also a few new twists.

I finally planted the package of rosemary herb seeds I had purchased much earlier. The lure of purchasing this herb, new to my garden, was the packaging, which claimed that rosemary is an anti-aging herb, something we all like to think works. My wife also says it is good to cook chicken with, a much more realistic use.

Also today I noticed that some of the radishes are done. That is good since I plan to replace the two rows of radishes along the walkway into the garden, as well as the head lettuce and onions that did not grow, with two mounds of kale and a certain type of onion, both year-round-weather plants that Harvey Taylor told me about.

Although a lot of garden work is the same old, same old, there is always something new to do.

Today I used some left over hot red and jalapeño peppers from last year to make the burrito mix I made for dinner. The jalapeños were frozen and I just chopped them up (minus the seeds). The red peppers that I had hanging in the kitchen all winter drying out I put in the coffee grinder and ground them up. I notice everyone in our household likes spicy food, but some not as hot as others. I try to reach a happy medium, and was fairly successful with my burrito mix of meat, black beans, onions, hot and green peppers, Mexican cheese, cilantro and other spices. I put salsa and two types of hot sauce on the table for those who want it spicier hot.

There are some things in life, for me, that just are the “same old, same old”, like moral principals such as the dignity of each human life. Then there are some things in life that are ever-changing, like my cooking each night, never the same thing. Those who think all is relative do not agree with this thought , and nor do those who believe in traditional absolutes. Maybe that is why gardening is so natural for some of us. It is the same old, same old, but always new.

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July 11, 2006 a particular hope

by Peter Graf

President Bush comes to Milwaukee for a ‘million dollar’ dinner for Rep. Green.
There is a vigil for two young men killed on the streets of Milwaukee,
One of them stabbed by his cousin.
It rains again, selectively this time and not as hard.
Bombs go off killing civilians in India, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reporter for the newspaper still does not get it,
Why her articles hurt persons with mental illness.
More wood chips and coffee grounds for the compost pile,
More food for our table,
The rich with too much want more,
The poor without enough stuff get less.
Someone is born and someone dies.
We mourn the loss of a legend, Mayor Zeidler,
The American League wins again in the All Star game.
Children go hungry and children are overfed.
This is another day full of life and death,
Paradoxes, Contradictions and Blessings.
The worms in the garden quietly and slowly
Taking in waste and casting off rich soil.
The lottery number is 711 and
Hope still lingers on.

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July 10, 2006 Spice of Life

Before I was a Growing Power gardener I was a gardener. My main plants were herbs, tomatoes and peppers. Now I am a Growing Power home gardener and these are still my main plants. This combination makes for good salads, homemade Italian pasta sauce, and salsa - all staples of our family diet.

Now that I am cooking more, since my wife works full time and I do not, I am especially glad to be growing herbs. We use lots of herbs in our cooking. In our present garden we have basil (lots), two kinds of mints, oregano, sage, savory, thyme and parsley. We have green peppers, hot red peppers and jalapeño peppers growing in the garden. Besides a few other vegetables like cucumbers, eggplant and zucchini, we have lots of tomatoes.

The shelf below the growing power box in the Sun Room, which was used to start plants for the garden, is now the herb center. On it we have a dehydrator that my wife purchased while I was in New Orleans, a coffee grinder that we use now for herbs and peppers since we purchased our fair trade coffee already ground, a number of baskets that I purchased inexpensively from Goodwill with dried herbs in them, and a number of empty spice jars.

At first I did not like the fact that my wife purchased the dehydrator without consulting me, but she used it last night to dry out some herbs and now I am a believer. The sun method worked fine for me, but the dehydrator was faster and left a very nice smell in the sun room from the five herbs she dried out at one time.

The wooden bowls I purchased today at Goodwill where less than $1 a piece and the coffee grinder was just sitting in the cupboard unused. The spice jars are used ones that I clean and label, like the one in the picture called “Uncle Bob’s SPC mint”. I had enough of the mix of the three herbs - spearmint, peppermint and common mint - last year to make a jar for my brothers and my cousins for Christmas presents, all of whom use mint in Middle Eastern cooking.

One herb that I’ve stopped growing is Cilantro. Unlike other herbs and grape leaves, it does not grow back once you pick it. Besides, you can purchase cilantro at a supermarket, especially a Mexican one, for as little as 25 cents a bunch, cheaper than you can buy the seeds and grow it.

As I said before tomato, herbs and peppers go well together to make salsa and pasta sauce, things we use a lot in our Italian and Mexican cooking. Mint and the rest are good for the salads and middle eastern cooking like grape leaves, which also is a renewal plant in the garden.

We all need spice in our lives, just as some of us need to grow herbs in our garden to spice our food. We all have our favorite spices in life and we all have our favorite herbs to grow. The trick is to find the right spice to bring out the taste and smells of food and life and to have them be renewable. The more spice you use the more you have. What a dull world it would be without spice.

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July 9, 2006 Rain on my Sunday

Yesterday I wrote in this diary of how a wrongful newspaper story about the condition of a group home had been turned into a ray of light. Today I woke to find, on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, another article by the same reporter - again refering to persons with mental illnesses as mentally ill (would we call a person with cancer ‘cancerous’?), and again pointing out the lack of good housing for persons with disabilities and pointing the finger of blame at those who run group homes, instead of at the city, county and state officials who refuse to provide funding for good housing. The reporter even ran a separate article and picture about Dawn Powell’s group homes, telling of how an out of town family, who had been neglecting their family member with a mental illness until the reporter’s first set of articles came out, now want her out of Dawn’s home, even though the woman likes her care treatment there and wants to stay.

What about all the good work Dawn has done for poor persons with mental illnesses for 10 years; what about all the good work that was done yesterday building the porch? Why not report on the persons who care and are trying to do something about the plight of the poor with a mental illness instead of giving people an easy scapegoat for their own neglect of these human beings. No amount of city inspectors making life hard on those who house the poor will ever solve the problem.

Tonight I was going to give the garden another thorough watering, since again we have gone days without rain, and just putting the tea water on the plants is not enough. However, while my wife and I were at Greek Fest at State Fair the rain came pouring down. The storm was so strong that we thought the tent that we took shelter in might collapse. It did not. We got some Greek Food and came home. The rain came again and blew a fuse and somehow struck my water heater in the basement. My son was in the basement practicing on his guitar when he saw sparks come out of the water heater. I reset the fuse and got the water heater working again. The bright side was there was no need to water the garden thoroughly.

The main headline of the paper today was about the death of former mayor of Milwaukee Frank Zeidler, the great socialist mayor of Milwaukee during my childhood and teen years, 1948–1960. He was recognized by all as a living legend and did so much for the city of Milwaukee, always keeping the public welfare of its citizens as his number one priority. He was still active in his 90′s when he died yesterday. A model of how to govern, and hero to many of us, has fallen.

So rain, rain, go away or just fall on my garden and let the rest of my life alone.

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July 8, 2006 Calla Lily, Weed or Flower

Calla Lilies 07/08/06

Most of today was spent with some folks from Faith In Recovery and from St. Margaret Mary (the parish where I used to work as a youth minister), trying to rebuild a porch of a house Dawn Powell is restoring. Dawn started over 10 years ago taking in one disabled person. She saw the need for housing for poor people with disabilities and over time with lots of hard work had three houses full of people in need that she was providing food and shelter for. A newspaper article in the local paper almost ruined everything for her when it presented her as an landlord who was taking advantage of and neglecting poor persons with a mental illness. The reporter, although good intentioned, had not talked to Dawn at the homes or seen the good condition they are in. In the newspaper they pictured the boarded-up fourth house, which she is in the processing of renovating. The county government, reacting to the newspaper article, not to the reality of the situation, pulled the disabled persons out of her houses.

However, what seemed like a tragedy turned out to be a blessing. Sister Ann Catherine, president of Faith In Recovery, went there to check it out for herself. She found a wonderfully devoted woman and clean houses. Sister Ann Catherine and I were able to get Dawn some help to rebuild a porch on the fourth house she is rehabbing. St. Margaret Mary came through with labor, expertise and money to rebuild the porch; Faith In Recovery and a few students at Milwaukee School of Art and Design provided other laborers and today the work of rebuilding the porch began.

It turns out that rebuilding a porch is much more difficult that tearing down an old one and building a new one. However, a new one requires a permit that she might not have been able to get. So much of the time today was spent with the persons who know what they were doing figuring out how to proceed. Near the end of the day they got the basic structure in and next Saturday the porch will be completed. We not-so-useful porch builders did other jobs around the home like painting, cleaning and landscaping. I got to move some day lilies from the construction area of the new porch to one of the backyards. Dawn is gradually getting back some residents and with this new house completed will be able to take in more residents in her four community houses where she also lives.

When I got home I immediately when to the growing power garden to water it with casting tea. I noticed the Calla lily bulbs that Loren had been given by one of the ladies he was painting for have really grown in the last few weeks. They need warm moist weather and are native to Africa where the plant is considered a weed. However, after seeing the pictures of the fully-grown flowers, which the lady also gave Loren, the flower is beautiful in our eyes.

Dawn’s story is like the story of the daylilies I moved today or the calla lily growing in the garden. What was in the way, or considered a weed by some, turns out to be a beautiful plant when it is planted in rich soil and gets a lot of water. The neglected persons living in Dawn’s house are flourishing under her loving care. What seemed like a real set back to her group homes, with the blessings of the Lord for all her years of hard work with some of the poorest of the poor, is now blossoming with the help of a parish and some good people into something beautiful. I hope the daylilies I transplanted fare as well.

You can check out the calla lilies in the garden above and the rough pictures of the work day today rebuilding the porch in my Yahoo picture album.

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July 7, 2006 Interview with a Worm, Part II

Last winter I interviewed a worm?, who like all worms is nameless, in my Growing Power Box in my sunroom. Today I ventured outside to the the worm depository in the Growing Power Garden to interview the same worm, who now lives there. This is part of that interview.

Bob: Do you prefer living in the Growing Power box or out here in the garden?
Worm: That is a silly question. Naturally I prefer living outside. Also living in the depository where you are just growing worms is a real plus, a much better life than in the regular ground or in the worm condo.
Bob: Why is that?
Worm: Because here in the depository you feed and water us regularly and encourage us to grow and multiply.
Now out here we do produce our weight in castings each day, but there is no pressure on us to “do our thing” like in the condo. Also this is a much better environment in which to grow and multiply.
Bob: Is breeding fun?
Worm: Bob, you know that we worms are unisex - that we link together to produce eggs - but we do not find that way of breeding “fun”, just something natural and effective. But what is what you might call “fun”, is the environment you created for us in this constantly fed compost pile.
Bob: But there is no fence or barrier around the depository compost pile. Why do you stay?
Worm: Bob, as long as you feed and water us, why should we go anyway else? You humans are always looking for greener pastures. We worms, just dig deeper where we are to find our treasure.
Bob: So you like this spot.
Worm: Oh well, we certainly do. It is under a nice shade tree so we do not get too much sun we do not like; there is a rough compost pile, our source of future food nearby, and we get water almost every day.
What is there not to like about this spot?
Bob: I know I asked you this somewhat before, in our last interview, but let me ask you again: Do you worms have conflicts and if so how do you resolve them?
Worm: Well we do not have a society of individuals; we are a community, so right there that eliminates a lot of conflicts over competition. Also conflicts are often over raising one’s status over each other. Now for us, if you are a worm, you are a worm. You may be a different kind but you are still a worm, one of the lowest creatures on earth. Any conflict we might have would be over some food or water, but even there if there is a lack of food or water we all suffer and maybe die. We are all in the same ground so there is nothing to really fight about.
Bob: What do you think of my Growing Power Home garden?
Worm: From my viewpoint, underground, all I see is rich soil, thanks to our castings and casting tea. That compost pile next door looks good to me, now that I am above ground to see it. That is all that matters to us. Now I need to go down for a while, this bright sunny air is too much for me to take at one time. Also I know you and Loren went fishing yesterday and today, and I do want to give you any ideas. I will return soon to answer your many questions - although I do not see the point of questions or answers as you do.

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July 6, 2006 Observation

The grandchildren have gone home and life is back to normal at our household. I have learned how to pace myself with the children so I am tired but not extraordinarily tired. However, now I can focus my attention back on my other work, like the Growing Power Home Garden.

During the last few busy days I noticed a bunch of little things that need to be done in the garden - repair of the fence, pruning tomato plants, order the rain barrels from the sewage commission, extending the compost pile and more. They are all little things, but it is the little things that make up the bigger picture.

Observation, the gift to see deeply into little things and thus see the bigger picture more clearly, is something I need to foster. Being quiet and listening are good ways to start. Prayer, reading, meditation, emptying the mind, slowing down, are all could ways to sharpen the power of observation. Writing down one thought such as I am doing is also a good method to share observation.

In a garden, as in life, there is much to see, hear, taste and touch with the imagination as well as the body and spirit. The downside of observation is being vulnerable. A garden is vulnerable to insects, chipmunks, and weather conditions. When we really see and hear what is around us we are vulnerable to being hurt and we find ourselves saying and doing things we need to do and say, despite what others may think.

In my second interview with a worm in a home Growing Power Box or Garden I will focus on asking questions bearing on the worm’s observations of human nature.

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July 5, 2006 Three on Three

Today three in our household - Loren, Pat and I - took the three grandchildren - Carolee, Carson and Dustin - to Pewaukee lake for a day of swimming and fishing. Loren spent the whole day fishing out on the lake; Pat, Carolee and Dustin spent the whole day on the beach. Carson and I spent the morning on the beach and the afternoon on the lake with Loren fishing. The picture you see on the side is Loren showing Carson and Dustin how to clean the bluegills we caught. This is day three of the grandchildren’s four-day stay at our house. I think the four of us adults in this household will survive, although tired, the three children.

The Growing Power Garden took did not get much attention today. I got some watering with tea and watering with water in after we got home.

All the energy of the children reminds me how much energy we all have in us to be present in the moment. This energy is so close to us yet seems so far away at times, when we do not have others around us, such as young children, expressing that type of presence in the moment. What makes us human, our minds and thinking abilities, can also keep us from being in the present.

My appreciation of worms that are so focused and always present on their job of eating compost and leaving behind valuable castings, grows each day. Like little children, these lowly creatures are always fully present to what they are doing. Other higher animals like dogs and horses, we train to do certain things, but no one trains a worm. They just do what they do What do most people expect out of a worm ----- nothing! (Well maybe to help catch a fish.)

I noticed that children playing by themselves with no ‘adults’ around who have expectations on them act differently than when adults are around, be they parents or others. (I can notice this since children look at me often as another child, and not an adult — which I take as compliment from children but not when adults do it.) When expectations are put on them they cry and whine more, and often are very reactionary. Teenagers used to tell me when I was a youth minister, “adults just do not listen to us”. Children could say the same thing if they were culturally educated as teens, but not being so, they just act out.

For those reading this ‘diary of a worm’ for information about the growing power garden check out the last four days of June or just be patient till this visit of my grandchildren passes. For those who are looking for more whimsical connecting of thoughts, stay tuned for the second interview with a worm, this time from the Growing Power garden.

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July 4, 2006 Graf Family Growing Power Doll Buggy Takes First

Happy 4th of July, a day of gratitude and remembering how great a nation we can be. We all got up early, Pat and I and the three grandchildren, to enter the children’s 4th parade up Wisconsin Avenue to Merrill Park. The theme of our stroller entry was Growing Power, with Carolee as the flower growing inside and Carson with his swirling hoe and Dustin with his garden watering can at her side. Since we had an hour to decorate, Carson might have gone a little over board with the crepe paper but you could see the Growing Power signs he made, worms and all, on the sides.

At the end Carolee took home a trophy for the best doll buggy and Dustin won a prize for an individual walker. Carolee, not used to winning trophies, tried to eat it, but Carson and Dustin were proud of the trophy. Carson and Dustin also won various other prizes in the games that followed. There was even a visit and brief talk from the Mayor of Milwaukee to make the whole thing official. After another hot dog meal, Carson’s fifth in seven days, we came home to rest. Dustin and I worked a little in the garden, watering and picking grape leaves.

Tonight we will cook out some brats and go see the fireworks in a nearby park. This all reminds me of my typical 4th as a child over 50 years ago. We did the same things at nearby Washington Park. I find it easy to participate but knowing what I know now I find it difficult to proudly wave the flag. Many whose morality I do not agree have taken over the flag for themselves and used it to symbolize so much I cannot accept, like the immoral war in Iraq.

I was real proud of my grandchildren when they had a choice of prizes and did not choose a big water gun. They also ask thoughtful questions like Dustin, 6, did yesterday when he asked why there were so many ‘brown’ persons in Milwaukee as compared to the rural small town they live in Northern Wisconsin. There were no racist overtones in these questions, since his closest cousins are African American, but just a simple question of why our cities and towns are so segregated. So hope rests in the children that despite what they learn in school, see on TV, and hear about from adults, they will learn that this country is built around equality and basic rights for health and life for all, the common good and sharing our abundance. I pray they can ignore the message of individualism, violence and major value of money they hear at home, school and society.

Someone just sent me a scientific report today of how more money does not buy happiness. Affordable, organic, urban agriculture, however, might go a long way toward happiness and maybe someday we will be able to eat our trophies.

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July 3, 2006 Exhausted!

For today’s casting tea watering of the garden I had two helpers, the two youngest of my three grandchildren who are staying here for a four-day stay. The next three days I will have my wife to assist me but today it was just I and the three of them. Besides working on the garden we went to Growing Power headquarters, the Ecology center, the West Allis library where my wife is the children’s librarian, and to the Dollar Store to purchase stuff for our entry into the children’s 4th parade at a nearby park. We are going to have a Growing Power Float. Carolee will be the flower in the stroller in the black ground and the Carson and Dustin will drive her around, one with a watering can and one with a hoe. They worked on some the decorations for the stroller tonight, worms, and flowers, growing power signs. They came up with some unique variations on the ‘float’, like Carolee throwing out in the crowd healthy food. Since I insisted that it be wrapped food, I am not sure Wonk Nerd Gumballs are exactly a healthy choice. But I am sure the parents along the parade route will appreciate them more than the unwrapped apricots and nuts which they first picked out.

The ecology center was one stop I insisted on. My oldest grandson, 8, insisted that it would be boring and did not want to go. I told him not to prejudge it and that I had heard, this was true, that children really enjoyed it. Naturally he was the one most interested in the ecology center and the one that did not want to leave. Carolee the two year old had not taken a nap today so she slept through in my arms most of the time. She did wake up in time to take a look at the turtles, snakes and other animals they have there. Also at Growing Power Carolee was the most fascinated of the three by the fish, goats, chickens, turkey and other farms animals. The boys were most fascinated at the ecology center by a simple marble-rolling game where you try to move a football by rolling marbles over your opponent’s goal.

And of course we had to stop for custard on the way home for our cookout with Loren and Peter of hot dogs and hamburgers. Carolee kept asking for cheese all day. She really takes this Wisconsin cheesehead thing seriously.

Needless to say we were all exhausted, especially me, by the time my wife came home around 9:15 pm. She gave them all a bath, and got them ready for bed. Being present and watching children is certainly rewarding, especially when you can be outside and they are permitted to use their imaginations all day.

Tomorrow the children’s parade and some games will take up the morning. Hopefully tomorrow afternoon, my wife will take over some and I can get more work done on the garden and catch up on a few things.

I got word today that the same worm I interviewed last winter in the Home Growing Power Box is now in the outside worm depository and wants another interview. It will be coming soon when I am so exhausted.

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July 2, 2006 New Day to Share

Sunday is the first day of the week, a good time to start anew and a good day to share. At church this morning I was struck by one of the readings from St. Paul where he urges the early followers of the Way of Jesus to share their abundance with others in need so there may be equality. It says ”…that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.” (2 Cor: 8, 13–15) The economics of the early Christian church was fairly simple, share what you have with others and they share with you what they have. We forget that Jesus and his early followers were radical equalitarians. After Church we went downstairs to the church hall to share a meal. Around the table everyone was equal.

If everyone in a neighborhood had a growing power garden, in the USA or some third world country, growing what they can and sharing their abundance with others in need, would there be a shortage of food and people going hungry? I doubt it. Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker house of hospitality said the same thing about the homeless. If everyone who could, took in a person in need of shelter, there would be no homeless in this country.

Now before, at this 4th of July time, I am accused of being un-American, socialist or communist, let me state I think sharing our surplus or abundance with others is natural when we consider the person part of our family. If we were to have community gardens and sharing our food with each other we would get to know each other. When we feel we know someone we naturally want to share with them.

Today we planted the little entranceway to the garden that Pat had thought of the other day. Tonight we got to share our garden view with some old friends from the Cleveland area who stopped by for a cookout, to share some food, drink and conversation. My friend is into gardening and now into worms and worm boxes (condos). It was good to see their three youngest children with them and how they have grown.

After they left tonight my son and his family came by for the night. They are leaving the three grandchildren with us the next few days. My oldest grandson upon leaving his van in our driveway and approaching the garden, reminded me how I said a few months ago how I would pay them to help me with the garden. Now he is here but most of the garden is planted. However, I am sure I can find some work for them to do tomorrow. Maybe instead of money I can convince them that it would be more important to share in the fruits of their labor, the food we are growing. I would be glad to share with my family food we grow.

The neighbor on one side cut his grass yesterday and dropped off two large garbage bags of grass cuttings for my compost. The neighbor on the other side was having a friend side his garage. His friend asked me what I was dong in my yard. I talked to them a little about growing with worms.

So maybe sharing food, shelter and what we have is not such a radical idea. If only we could think of people we do not know as our family, brothers and sisters and extend the same treatment to everyone, what a world we would live in.

If this all sounds too simplistic, it is. However another friend sent me a quote today that gives me hope that by thinking this way, that we are all family and share what we have with each other, we can become this way. The anonymous quote says: “The greatest discovery is that a human can alter his/her life by altering his/her attitudes of mind. If You Believe it…… You can Become it……”

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July 1, 2006 New or Same Old

Today starts a new month. My wife came up with a small way to beautify the garden. We went to the garden store to purchase some a small white picket fencing for the corner by the driveway and some flowers. Tomorrow it will be the same old garden with a new touch.

Today was the first Saturday of the month, which means the Interiorscape store near my former house on North Avenue had its monthly sale of plants they no longer use for their business customers. There are some good deals on household plants to be had at these sales and I am a regular customer. Although I have a number of plants from there in my house, I could not resist purchasing more for 50 cents to $4. Some are to replace old ones that are dying away, some are for trying something new, like growing an orchid out of bloom I bought for 1$ and some are just plain new ones for the house.

Tomorrow I will plant the outside plants in the garden and plant the inside plants in planters full of coyer and castings. Whether outside or inside, the plants will add something new to the garden and house but it will be the same old garden and house.

Also the first Saturday was our monthly meeting of our Faith In Recovery group at a local German restaurant. There were some new faces there, like my son who came with my wife and me, and many old faces. We had some good food and some good conversation. Nothing great but something good.

All this above philosophizing, if you can call it that, brings me around to a quote I mentioned in this diary of a worm in the recent past. It is from Mother Teresa and says: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” It sounds like a quote that belongs is a “Diary of a Worm.”

Today’s experiences, although small in nature, tell me it does not matter if what I do is new or the same old, same old and it does not matter what I do, whether something great like saving someone’s life, or something small like cleaning the table off. What matters is how I do it. How I plant the flowers in the garden or in the house. How I treat people, important or ordinary.

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker used to call it the “little way” after, St. Teresa, the Little Flower, who did only small things but with such great love that she was named patron saint of missionaries although she never left the convent from when she entered in her teen years to when she died as a young women. She is considered a great saint, although she did no great things but only small things with great love.

So tomorrow when I go to plant the plants inside and out, I will need to remember that how I do these small things is what really matters.

After the flowers are planted in the garden, plus a few new herbs and vegetable plants that I could not resist at the garden store, I will take some new pictures. You can see that it is the same old, same old garden with a small new look. New or same old, what is the difference?

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PR MINISTRY 414 379 4162, Publisher of Living Stones email newsletter and facilitator for Retreat in Daily Life.


Honney — 24 January 2012, 18:05

To think, I was confsued a minute ago.

ccqyiknwkj — 25 January 2012, 13:09

yoJ7Xo <a href=“”>lesoqcbndcsf</a>


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