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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.

GP Box 11/19/06

Garden 07/02/06


December 31, 2006 To Be or not to Be: The Beginning and the End.

My two grandsons, 9 and 6, are here to welcome in the New Year with us tonight. Tomorrow the two boys will go back home up north with a bucket of worms for their compost pile on their land.

Today the two boys and I went to the American Science and Surplus a store, a favorite adventure of mine when I was a youth and now one they share in. It is not a fancy store but it has all kinds of science-related products. Do-it-yourself science rates really close to do-it-yourself Growing Power, and I was glad they asked to go there again.

Here are some of my Growing Power-related New Year’s Resolutions, in no particular order:

  1. Improve this “Diary of a Worm”, and share my enthusiasm for Growing Power with others.
  2. Do more research about worms, the connection between Ignatian Spirituality and Creative Nonviolence and the new Cosmology.
  3. Read More Books.
  4. Increase the production of my outside and inside gardens. Make more effective use of my limited space.
  5. Eat healthier and exercise more.

There are other, more personal resolutions, but these five are more than enough. All resolutions relate to the major choice of life “to be all you can be”.

Tomorrow the boys go home and I stay here to move on to the next year, to begin again where I ended up.

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December 30, 2006 High Tech meets Low Tech!

Today we went with my grandchildren, Graf Kids, and their cousin to the new Discovery World at Pier One on the lakefront. The aquarium and movie on the life of a coral reef were outstanding but the technology portion of the exhibits was still a work in progress. The last thing we did was have a digital picture taken of the Graf Kids, their mom and cousin on a digital postcard sent to my email address. For more information on the Graf Kid’s experience check out their web page at .

What fascinated me and make me ponder about Growing Power is the slogan next to the picture: “WE HUNT FOR THE NEXT GREAT IDEA.” Yes the emphasis in this technology section was on new discoveries in technology. But it made me realize that some of the greatest ideas that have really changed the world are old ideas. For example the use of worms, compost and worm castings to enrich the soil for growing is an ancient practice. Growing Power is not a new idea but one that, revised, could lead to affordable organic food for millions. In fact all the ideas employed in Growing Power have been around for a while. Growing Power is just a matter of finding the right conditions for the right environment. Do not get me wrong; I am not for turning the clock back to a time without so much technology. Not me, a person with a cell phone, computer and digital camera.

But I am old enough to remember a time before “high tech” — even before computers. In those days we thought the dawning of high tech devices would mean more leisure time for us in the future. The opposite is the reality. Americans, according to a recent study, now equipped with all this high tech equipment, work more hours per week than our parents and ancestors did. High tech just means we work faster.

Just like fast food, faster working is not always healthy. Old ideas like the use of Growing Power to grow a lot of affordable organic food in a small space slow us down rather than speed us up. Working on a garden or a home growing box is like taking a deep breath — in contrast to the high tech displays that sometimes leave us breathless.

The positive sides of high tech are many. One is the means to communicate easily, and with the speed of modern day media we can feel connected to everyone. However, unless we take in our experiences and reflect on them deeply, something high tech does not account for, high tech can leave us spinning around and forgetting the lessons we have already learned.

So the paradox of the day is that “the faster we go the more we need to slow down.” Or to state it another way, the higher the tech, the lower the grounding. We cannot solve this paradox of life but learn from the worm that moves so slowly yet produces so many healthful microorganisms.

I just got two new books by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, who although isolated from the world saw deeply into it and wrote some timeless observations on life. He was in and out of the world, slowed down to silence yet wrote so much in such a short period of time. His writing is timely and timeless. He is the one person in my mind who best represents this paradox of life: the faster we go, the more we need to slow down. Now I just need to take the time to read them.

In Growing Power high tech meets low tech and the blend tastes good.

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December 29, 2006 Looking Back to Death and Life

Tonight was a memorial service for the 130 homicide victims in Milwaukee this year. The church was full, as inspirational speakers, prayers, music and lit candles honored those who died in the explosion of violence that has overtaken our city. One speaker spoke of a time in the not-so-distant future when we could say “remember the old days when we were killing each other.” We pray and hope this explosion of violence becomes just a sad memory.

Today I watered the houseplants with the casting tea/water that I spoke of yesterday. Without water, light and nutrients they will die just like the men and women we honored tonight.

Another speaker spoke of what I call, in Amon Hennessey’s the Catholic Worker’s phrase, “the one-person revolution.” He spoke of how one person, like Jesus, Mary, Gandhi, or King has changed the world. My son, in his own way, today also spoke to me about how each of us can only change ourselves. Yet we are one body and need each other to survive — the paradox of life.

GP Box Jan. 06

Garden August 06

GP Box Dec. 06

This is also the paradox of the home Growing Power garden, inside and outside. The plants grow individually, but need the castings of the worms, which need compost, light, water and nutrients to survive. Each worm or plant is an individual organism, but together with other components make Growing Power.

As the year draws to an end we remember the events of the year past. So with the Diary of the Worm. This diary started in January as we were building the Home Growing Power Box in the sun-room. It continued in the spring and summer, moving outside to the garden, where some crops flourished and others did not. However, the Growing Power system, waste, compost, worms, castings, seeds, tea plants, and food were completed. In the fall we moved back to the box, this time renovated and learning from the past, and with a more fruitful crop of greens. In fact this winter so far, before January, I have cut more salad greens than I did all of last year from January-March. How much, you ask? That is for the new scales to soon measure.

Looking back is good only if it helps us more clearly see the present and where we are going in the future, in death and life.

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December 28, 2006 Sign of Our Times

Today a friend sent me this picture of a sign that a child hung up in window at Christmas time in Holland. It says ”I hope there will be less war when I grew up.”

Growing up, be it for a plant, animal or child, is difficult. When a plant is surrounded by a constant storm, an animal by fire or a child by gun violence or war it is even more difficult to grow up, if not impossible. I have seen the fear of death in the eyes of the children who attend our street prayer vigils for homicide victims. Today the same friend sends me a link to some interviews with various people who work with our young men and women at war, mostly soldiers, traumatized/troubled by killing. It’s online at — I was told it was well worth reading, but have not yet had to courage to read it.

Thursday is my regular day to water and take care of our many houseplants. Here it is evening and I have not done that yet. But I will, because the house environment is tough enough on plants, and I would not want to deprive them of water. I will even add, as is my custom, some ‘casting tea’ to the water that I have let rest for a day to rid it of chemicals harmful to a plant. Why can’t we treat the children of the inner city, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Darfur or Somalia with the same concern? On the news tonight I heard about a new legal way to plan for the care of your pets after your death that the Humane Society is supporting. Even the White House is now finally admitting that global warming endangers polar bears. (The Interior Minister of the U.S. made this announcement on TV.)

My soul cries for the child trying to sleep with gunshots or explosions around him. I will be setting up a web page, with Tegan’s help, for a local group “Mothers Against Gun Violence”. Maybe these mothers who have lost children to gun violence will allow some of the rage and anger I feel to be expressed on their page.

The Growing Power movement started by Will Allen emerged from his efforts to help young boys and girls on the streets of Milwaukee by bringing them to his urban farm to grow plants and animals. Growing Power, especially in Chicago with Will’s daughter as lead person, is still involved with youth.

There seems to be something natural about children, land, growing and nature. I have fond memories of spending time each summer on a farm of one my dad’s friends who had a son about my age. Every day was a new adventure of exploring and discovery. There was no ‘gameboy’ or even much TV to distract us from growing up.

So here is another reason for starting a home model Growing Power garden inside and/or outside. Do it for the children. The signs of our times demand it.

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December 27, 2006 Like a Tree

Today I thought I had finally figured how to send my newsletter out as an email only to find out some people did not get it formatted right or with the pictures. If you want to check out the newsletter you can either subscribe to it by writing me an email, or wait a few days till it is put up on the Hope To Healing site. You can find a link to that site on the Graf Family web page:

I mentioned that my wife had purchased a small kitchen scale for me so I can weigh the amount of salad greens I cut from the box. Today a friend in Madison, who had also heard that I was looking for a scale, sent me a small digital one. So now I have two. I guess you get what you ask for. Now I have no excuse not to measure the salad greens crop.

Today we had a street-side prayer vigil for the 129th homicide victim in Milwaukee. It was for a 17 year old boy who was called away from his 18th birthday party only to be stabbed at a gas station. I pray that our small prayer vigil group does not meet anymore till Friday, when we will have a prayer vigil to honor all the homicide victims and to pray for their families.

I am convinced that the power of nonviolence is the only way to end the violence. More troops and more killings fails in Iraq and will fail here in Milwaukee. However, violence is one of the actions we all deplore and many individuals and groups talk about it and work to stop it. But unlike the Falk Explosion a week or so ago in Milwaukee, and unlike the war in Iraq, there is no central coordinated effort to deal with it. We are fragmented in our approach to violence, some calling for more guns and some for fewer guns. Some want more cops and some want police to be accountable for their actions. There are many community groups out there, some competing against each other for funding. In the words of Rodney King: “Why can’t we all get together?”

Growing Power is teamwork. Without the support of Will and the Growing Power staff my Growing Power model garden would not exist. Without the help of Loren it would not be what it is now. In order for this model to grow and expand and be duplicated it will take a lot of persons working together. Growing Power has started a fundraising campaign to build a new education center, or what we could call a new command center. The model of Growing Power — “Together We are Growling Power” says it all.

There is a parable in the newsletter about a mouse, chicken, pig and cow whose point is how we are all connected. What hurts or helps one hurts and helps the other. (Check in a few days on the newsletter to read it.) Gardens are like this. Soil, worms, sun, rain, and seed all working together makes for a good Garden.

Trees are often symbols of working together. There is the seed, roots, trunk, branches, leaves and bark that make up a tree. Take one part away and the tree suffers. Together, the tree grows. Our bodies are like that and creatures, like us, are like that, like a tree.

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December 26, 2006 The Day After

The day after Christmas is a big shopping day, so they say. The day after Thanksgiving is also a big shopping day. The “day after”, for a person who over-eats or over-drinks alcohol, is usually a down day. There was a movie called “The Day After”, which was about the day after a nuclear attack. So except maybe for some store retailers and bargain hunters, it seems like the day after for lots of people is not so good.

However, in the Growing Power Home Model world, the day after you plant a seed or cut the salad greens is just the beginning of new life or renewed life. The same is true in the religious and spiritual world — the day after an event or an awakening is usually a really good day.

Today, the day after Christmas, for me is a mix of old and new, high and low. I did some little work gardening inside and out, watering, compost making, and feeding the worms outside. I got the main grocery shopping for the week done; cleaned the kitchen really well, caught up with some emails. It was just an average day. I guess by mix I mean the “same old, same old” (in the good sense) kind of day. Life on the edge, middle, left or right is mostly that way, repeating some of the same old things. The trick is to make the “same old, same old”, exciting and new by probing deeper into it.

Worms, which I still have not researched in-depth as promised, are like that. They do the same old, same old each day, eating, casting and sometimes reproducing. They are slow creatures unless you pick one up, out of its natural surroundings. Then the worm wiggles and wiggles. That is probably why our secondary use of worms is for fishing. Fishing can be a slow reflective sport until the wiggling worm catches the eye of a passing fish, which bites it and the hook. The fish, once it realizes it is hooked, comes alive.

Cold blooded lizard in Florida

Fish, lizards, worms and other creatures are cold-blooded creatures, turning little of what they consume into body heat. This is unlike cows, pigs and chickens, hot-blooded animals, which use almost 90% of what they consume for body heat. Now you understand why worms, fish and other cold-blooded animals were here on earth well before all hot-blooded animals. Worms and fish will probably outlast cows and other hot-blooded animals on this earth and still be around the day after.

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December 25, 2006 Being Small is Big

I heard someone describe Christmas as God becoming small. This mystery of God becoming human, a small baby, is at the heart of Christmas. Becoming small is a wonderful gift that takes a lot of giving of oneself.

I had the blessed experience of spending the two days before Christmas with my small grandchildren. They have always a lot to teach me about life. One not-so- pretty lesson is the power of letting our stuff get in our way. My wife accidentally shut off my oldest grandson’s game-boy not aware that it was not ‘saved.’ He was very upset but with the true spirit of being small made a great rebound. In fact this same grandson started a new page on the Graf Family mini web site called Graf Kids?. There is just a haiku poem by him and a brief statement with a picture of the three kids on it now, but with time hopefully we will see more. Check it out by clicking the link on Home Page of the Graf Family web site.

Both days were cloudy and wet from all the rain they had received in this North Country. There was too much mud to go out and check on the compost pile, which my six-year-old grandson is faithfully keeping up. So on Saturday I suggested a walk across the road to the dairy farm. When I said “who wants to go?”, only my 2-year-old granddaughter said “Yes” and went to get her coat. Before we could cross the street my six-year grandson joined us, and after we crossed the highway my nine-year-old, game-boy enthusiast, joined us. My two-year-old, not having been to the dairy farm for a while, was scared of the big cows the first day. However, she was fascinated with the four newborn calves. For her, small cows were better than big cows.

So my farm grandchildren, especially the boys, still have some of the city in them but slowly are becoming comfortable on the land. Next summer with my grandchildren and daughter-in-law’s work, my hope is to see some real Growing Power on their land. I will provide the worms, the cows some of the compost and the small children the faith and trust in the land.

Last night at my son’s house and today at our house in Milwaukee we had Lebanese meals consisting of grape leaves, picked from our yard, along with other Middle Eastern foods. My wife and daughter-in-law were the main cooks but today with just the four of us here in Milwaukee, I made the salad. I made what my mom called ‘salada’, just salad with vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil dressing. Except I had one ingredient that she never had, salad greens of kale, arugula and lettuce mix from the Growing Power Box in my sun-room.

One of my presents this year was a small kitchen scale. Now I have no excuses not to measure my crop of salad greens I receive from the Growing Power box in the sun-room. In terms of Growing Power food production in the Graf Family Home model, I have already some big plans to expand production in my small garden and in the small space in Growing Power box. With Growing Power, small is okay since the idea of this way of growing is to get the most amounts possible of organic, affordable food in a very small space. Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power, say his goal is to get $5 of food from every square food of space in the greenhouses. Once he gets the ‘digester’ producing heat from garbage he may make it.

All in all, being small can be good. Just look what happened to the small baby born to poor parents in a cave in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. Doing a lot of small things this baby, Jesus, grew up to be our God.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year

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December 22, 2006 Being Nine

Today is the birthday of my oldest grandchild. He is nine. In his honor and in gratitude for all he has taught me here are nine seemingly-unrelated quotes and pictures. Maybe in the eyes of a child they are related.

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss
that separates us from ourselves? This (inner and spiritual journey) is the most important of all voyages of discovery.” — Thomas Merton. Wisdom of the Desert

“Unless you be like one of these children you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus, The Bible.

“All you need to know is within you.”

“When we probe something deeply we find God.”

“The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” Bob Dylan

Hope you enjoyed the words and pictures. There is one person in all the pictures; you guess it, my grandson. Can you connect all the thoughts and pictures?

As my grandson would say “I have stuff to do” so I will take a few days to deepen the meaning of life and the birth of Jesus, naturally spend some time with my grandchildren, and be back fresh and renewed on Christmas. Merry Christmas!

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December 21, 2006 As the Worm Turns

Before researching information and writing more reflection on worms, I thought I would write down what I do know on the subject. In the near future I will write some more science facts and imagination fiction on worms. Here are some of the basics, as I understand them.

As the Worm turns in the ground,
It cast out all it eats.
It eats leaves, grass, coffee grounds, wood chips and all types of waste.
As the waste passes through the worm’s body it passes through all kinds of microorganisms
Which change and enrich the waste into valuable castings.

These castings are better than any commercial plant-food
In providing nutrients for plants to grow.
The plants grow with new life,
Produce fruit, herbs and vegetables
Which after use to feed humans and animals
Once again become waste
And the cycle of Growing Power begins again.

Worms are unisex;
They produce eggs
Full of small baby worms,
Which will grow, if fed by waste
And washed in water,
Into adult worms
Who will eat their weight each day,
And cast all of it out.
What goes in one end of the worm as waste,
Come out the other end
As life-giving live cells,
As the worm turns.

In today’s newspaper there was an article linking obesity to the kind of microbes (bugs) in your gut. Like worms, we have trillions of microorganisms that populate our digestive systems. It seems like obese persons have more gut microbes especially efficient at extracting calories from food. I mention that because as we look at worms we will understand that it is the type of microorganisms in a worm that give it the ability to cast such rich castings full of healthly living cells. For more, see “Obesity linked to digestive bacteria”. For more about the digestive function of worms, stay tuned.

In another news story today there was an article about a large female lizard also reproducing, like worms, without sex. It seems that some female creatures can, like the unisex worm, reproduce by themselves. I am not sure what this news story has to do with the other one about obesity but it seems like there is some scientfic connection. The story, as the worm turns, goes on.

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December 20, 2006 Victory Gardens

The understanding by all, except the President and his staff, of how the situation in Iraq has deteriorated so much during the three years of our occupation made me think of Victory Gardens during the First and Second World Wars. “‘Victory gardens’, also called ‘war gardens’ or ‘food gardens for defense’, were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at private residences in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort.” (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

How I got from the tragedy of Iraq to Victory Gardens was from two statements I heard recently from participants in Iraq. One was just today from an Iraqi doctor who was fleeing Baghdad since his life has been threatened. He said how he had thought he would never abandon his country, but that the level of violence was now so great that by staying he would be committing suicide. He talked about how just three years ago, before the American invasion, Sunni, Shiites and Christians were living together side by side in relative peace. But how now this hatred of each other has grown and flourished, and how much sectarian violence there now was. The situation was unlivable, and everyone who could was leaving Iraq except those who were fighting each other.

The other statement was a few weeks ago from a solider who was retiring to Iraq for another round of duty. His biggest regret about the war was how the American people, unlike during the First and Second World Wars, were not paying for this war or sacrificing for it.

Today new numbers of the billions of billions of dollars to continue the war in Iraq came out. This is one of the most expensive wars of all times and much of the money is going to private corporations who are contracting to provide meals, energy, even laundry. This is the first war that has been “outsourced” except for the fighting, “kill or be killed”, which our brave men and women do. But I digress, talking about the war profiteers.

The returning soldier was referring to all the sacrifices all Americans made to cover the cost of the First and Second World Wars: rationing, buying war bonds, working extra hours at low pay, paying higher taxes, going without, etc. Americans are not suffering any of these things for the Iraq War. We are paying for it by going into debt, handing over the cost of the war to our children, grandchildren, and generations to come.

This brings me to Victory Gardens. People planted their own gardens so there were be less pressure on the public food supply, and more money freed up to support the war. Victory Gardens, supported by the US government, were a way to make food cheaper so the government could purchase food for the war for less from the mass producers.

Growing Power gardens are Victory Gardens, although not in the same way or to the same extent as they were in previous wars, which were paid for when they were fought. But they could be. If Americans, besides our military, had to pay for the Iraq War by sacrifices, it would have been over before it started. Americans would have looked at the reasons for the war, which now we know were lies or sincere misrepresentations of the truth, and would have said “No, we will not sacrifice for it.”

But even now, after the bipartisan report telling us the real situation in Iraq and how tragic a position we have gotten ourselves and the Iraqi people into, the president still does not listen. As Jim Wallis, the evangelist says, “People will die because they will not listen.” Maybe if all Americans start a victory garden this spring, if it is not too late, and send the President a carrot, tomato or other vegetable to help pay for the war most Americans and Iraqis do not want, he will get the message. Maybe not! “Let those who have ears to hear, hear.”

One friend today asked me for more specific information on what worms eat and how they use this food, and another friend wrote me in a Christmas card that she has just purchased a book on worm farming. With all of those victory gardens I am proposing, I had better turn my attention back to worms and information on them.

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December 19, 2006 Imagine

Time Magazine’s making us who use the Internet their Person of the Year by putting a mirror on the front cover reminds me of a lesson I learned in the early days of personal computers that I seem to have forgotten. In those days, not that long ago, learning how to use computer software, or surfing the internet for information, took lots of time and often led to frustration and wasted time wandering off on tangents. I soon learned that I needed to be a “monastic” computer user, just learning what I needed to know, focusing on what I wanted to learn and letting the rest go. All was well for a while; I spend not as much time on the computer, but then things got simpler, more convenient and more fun to use on the computer. All of sudden I am in contact and communication with many persons and with much information. The ‘wiki’ web page making has even made it so much easier to have and maintain a web page. Now a lot of my business, personal and other, is done via Internet.

So much for the “monastic” use of the Internet. The monastery has been moved to street. This could be good or not so good. In our Faith In Recovery organization, mental health ministry via churches, there was even a debate whether we should mail our monthly newsletter to those who do not use email. Many do use the internet, but for some elderly person or some persons with disabilities, the internet still remains something they would prefer not to use. Will we ‘exclude’ those without the internet?

On the other hand, if were not for the internet and things like ‘wiki web sites’ I would not be communicating with you right now about my model Home Growing Power site. In my opinion what we need is more personal interaction, grounded in old-fashioned conversation, with the new and always changing technology. Working with worms, compost, soil and plants offers one way of grounding that can free one to use the internet in a more monastic way.

However, the tendency is to go to the computer and not spend time in the grounded part, be in the garden, reflection, personal contact and other non-techno forms of work and communication.

Today I had an old-fashioned conversation with someone who was not feeling good. After the person vented some of their frustrations out loud while I listened, the person said that they “felt better” and relieved. You might get some of this venting effect over the internet, but not to the extent one does in a person-to-person conversation. In fact words, like this posting, freeze the feelings in time and lock them in, while the spoken word comes and goes as the wind.

I noticed that in some of the areas of the Growing Power box where the Encore lettuce mix is, there are now some open spaces where no greens have grown back in after harvest. However, on the other side the kale is growing so closely together that the plants are not growing very rapidly. Simple solution, not found on the net, was to transplant some of the kale to the other side of the box. This is a simple move coming from my imagination. There is no computer software (yet!) to do this. Maybe in the mirror on the front cover of Time we can also see the real person of the year not just “You! Yes, you. You control the Information Age” but You, Yes you. You with the imagination that can change the world.”

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December 18, 2006 Rhododendron Rush

When I purchased this house over three years ago, two Rhododendron plants were included in the backyard landscaping. My landscaping friend told me when I built my garden to keep these two and other plants around the edges. The two rhododendron plants only had flowers on and off, one or two flowers that just lasted a week or two, maybe once a year or two. They were beautiful flowers but short-lived. Even after I purchased some special Miracle-Gro just for these plants, the flower production really did not change.

These two plants are next to my garage, with sun coming from south and west. When I set up my first rain barrel last summer to catch rain from the garage roof and make ‘tea’ with it, I did not give much thought to crowding one of the plants with the rain barrel. After all, neither plant had ever had much flower production. I did notice that when extracting ‘tea’ from the rain barrel, quite often the ‘tea’ spilled over onto the rhododendron that the barrel was crowding. Last summer I had a few buds and a flower or two on this plant but none on the other one.

The other day, when checking on the worms in the worm depository nearby, I noticed, to my great surprise, over a dozen buds ready to bloom on the Rhododendron plant next to rain barrel. This is good and bad. Good that the spilled ‘tea’ from the rain barrel has really fertilized this plant, much better than the Miracle-Gro did. This is bad because of the unusually warm weather this winter the flowers are ready to bloom much too early. My hope is that the dozen or so buds will hold off till warmer weather. In contrast the other rhododendron not near the rain barrel looks good but has no buds ready to bloom.

(For those of you new to the “Diary of the Worm”, ‘tea’ is a term used for the water that has been enriched by worm castings. This is done by passing water through castings, like in the Growing Power Box or by placing tea-like bags full of castings in the rain barrels.)

Worm Update: I dug a few holes in the Growing Power Box, past the castings, to the compost below it. There I found some worms alive and healthy. My interview with a worm or two will come in a day or two. Also today I stopped by a local Starbucks and got a big bag of coffee grounds to feed the worms in the worm depository outside. With the warm weather they will need more energy.

On the news tonight I saw that this warm weather patch is all over the country, especially in east. All kinds of plants are being fooled into blooming early. Let’s hope there is no rush by my two rhododendrons so the flowers will not come and freeze.

Early warming can feel nice but can do harm.

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December 17, 2006 Let It Be

“As Mother Mary said to me, Let it Be, Let it Be.” This Beatles song line I understand had nothing to do with Mary the mother of Jesus, but echoes the same sentiment we associate with her when she learned that she was to be the Mother of Jesus, the Christ. The line comes to me this Advent Sunday when in the lectionary reading we talk about the angel’s announcement to Mary and we anticipate Christmas.

Christmas can be a season of anxiety or a season of joy, depending how we let things be or not be. When we are free to be who we are and allow other creatures to be who they are, then Christmas is a season of joy. When we try to control our being or that of others, Christmas is a season of anxiety.

I dug in my Growing Power Box today looking for a worm. I found one but since it was Sunday I decided just to let it be. I was glad to see the worm being who the worm is, and maybe should check up on a few more tomorrow. But there is no need to bother them and if they are alive and well then I’ll just keep watering. There should be plenty of compost below the castings to last them the winter.

I may still do that “interview with a worm” I promised since that, as we know, is just a part of my imagination of a worm’s response to present-day world issues. I think I will ask the worm what he or she (worms are unisex) thinks about global worming [this is one typo I’m just going to leave in place - td]. At a St. Vincent De Paul Christmas party today, I encountered a person who believes that Global Warming is a bunch of bull, and that scientists disagree on it. Fresh from watching the Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth” last night, I started to answer with the survey of all scientific reports on the subject, in which no scientist disagreed that there is global warming. But a quick look from my wife, and the conversation moved on. But now that I have some opinions on the issue it would be good to get a worm’s perspective, at least one in my imagination.

It is hard to do much else in Christmas season except eat, sleep, shop, watch TV, talk. Tomorrow I will try to get back to some of my regular routines like organizing my office at least a little bit (it is a royal mess now), taking better care my plants and sun-room, making some St. Vincent calls to people in need, and of course my writing and maybe even some reading and praying. At least I can try.

My friend Godsil sent me an email about giving Growing Power Gift Membership Certificates for Christmas. I guest they are tailored-made Membership program for the urban Growing Power person in you. I was somewhat taken aback by the idea of crossing Growing Power with Christmas gifts, but you can check it at Tailored Membership Brainstorming?, or just go to the official Growing Power site, located at

As a Christmas gift or not, remember that together we be Growing Power.

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December 16, 2006 Worms, A Convenient Truth

A friend, responding to the article I mentioned a few nights ago, “Cows, pigs and sheep: Environment’s greatest threats?” explained to me in simple language why animals like cows are such an environment threat. It seems like warm-blooded animals need a certain amount of energy to maintain their body temperature, no matter what the environment. For example he says: “ It turns out that about 90 percent of what the cow eats goes just for maintaining this temperature, while only 10 percent of what the cow eats goes to making new tissue. Not too surprisingly, a bag of feed might contain 90 percent Corn (carbohydrate) and 10 percent Soy (protein).” However other animals like turtles, lizards, fish and worms are cold-blooded and do not need much energy to live, grow, and reproduce.

This reinforcement of something I already knew made me gladder that the only livestock I have are worms. However, we did consume a beef roast for dinner tonight and there is the rub.

Speaking of worms: with the snow melted, I decided to check on my worms in the worm depository today. I did not have to dig very deep to find the soil rich with worms. They just keep on eating, casting and reproducing. If this warm weather keeps up I may need to take a trip to Starbucks to pick up some more coffee grounds to feed my livestock. I did put some more compost on the pile today, but even that was full of worms from the neighborhood that have migrated to this source of food.

Another good thing about worms and the castings they produce is that castings do not smell. I have a couple of piles of compost in the yard that, when I went to check today, had was a little bit of a “garbage” smell. Not true, however, for the worm depository. Also it is not true for the Growing Power Box in the sun-room. The layers of castings on top of the box keep the smell of the compost from escaping. Why worm castings, so rich in organic material, do not smell I do not know — but I am glad.

Tonight my wife and I joined thousands of other Americans at a home viewing of the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore. The movie lived up to all the hype I had heard about it. Ignoring the earth has come back to haunt us in a big way. The only way to prevent a world-wide ecological disaster is for each individual, each family, and each group to find out the truth about global warming and to start taking action. For more information on this vital crisis of global warming you can visit Al Gore’s site:

Worms do not add to global warming but actually are a factor in reducing it by recycling waste into rich organic Growing Power. Tomorrow I will check out the worms in the Growing Power Box. Maybe I can grab another interview with one of them like last year.

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December 15, One Bowl At A Time

A few persons have mentioned to me that I should measure the amount of greens that I cut from the Growing Power Box in the sun-room. I could weigh each harvest and find a total weight for the season.

I said that I had picked a number of bowls of greens already. One of the persons suggested that I pick one bowl today, weigh it and estimate the number of similar cuttings I have made earlier. I figured I’ve picked around 10 bowls to date. So I tried to do that, only to find the only scale in the house I could use, an old postal scale, was badly broken. So I did the next best thing and took a picture of the bowl of greens (mostly arugula, some kale and a little encore lettuce) that I picked today. Multiply this bowl by 10 and this is the amount of greens that we have picked so far.

Now in terms of eating, this amount probably would not be enough for a salad for the three of us, but in terms of being one of the add-ons to the Mexican pork/zucchini with tortilla it was more than enough. Arugula by itself has a little bitter taste to it, but when it is mixed with other salad greens and with the ingredients of the tortilla it has a complimentary taste. Of course there waere other ingredients in the mix besides pork and zucchini. There was onion, green pepper, a little hot Sierra Leone sauce, salsa with add ons besides the greens of cheese, tomatoes, olives, sour cream. If the dish sounds good, it was. But like my other tasty concoctions, it will never be repeated exactly the same.

Getting back to greens production, all in all probably the amount of greens I cut from the home Growing Power Box this year will not add up to the cost of producing the box. However, the box can be used year after year, production through trial and error can be increased, and the castings, which the worms in the compost below the surface are producing, can be used in the garden next year. Also there is the ‘tea’ that the box is producing, which is being used on all the houseplants. I even put a little of this “alive water” in the Christmas tree stand yesterday. Also I am learning more effective ways to grow in a small space, which could be useful in the future. This is a good case of having my cake (greens) and eating it too.

The one green that I need to learn how to grow more efficiently is the Encore Salad green mix. Unlike the arugula and kale it does not seem to be growing back as well once it is picked. I will need to get the ear of someone at Growing Power headquarters someday and figure out what is going on. This mix is one of the best crops at Growing Power, since restaurants favor it for salads. I will keep you posted.

Meeting up with Tegan, the wiki gnome of the Milwaukee Renaissance sites, last night inspired me to do some more stuff on my Graf Family mini-website. If you check the links on the SideBar, you will find “Bob’s Photo Gallery” and a new section of “Wonderful Links” added to it. Wiki technology, like Growing Power, is something that is easy to learn by trial and error (with a little instruction from someone like Tegan).

So whether your harvest is measured by ounces or by bundles, I do not think is so important. What seems important is that what you measure keeps coming back, is sustainable, and that you find more effective ways to grow it. This will mean many more bowls.

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December 14, 2006 Cows, Timbuktu and Guns

In this morning’s email, from a friend in Holland, came an article called: “Cows, pigs and sheep: Environment’s greatest threats?” The article tells how the growing demand for meat and the enormous amount of resources it takes to feed animals like cows has a devastating effect on the environment. You can read the article for yourself in “The New Scientist”. The article made me think how we need a version of Growing Power for animals. And then I remembered that at the Growing Power Headquarters at 55th in Silver Spring there are animals, chickens, goats, sheep, turkeys, rabbits, growing on this small 5-acre farm along with all the fish and plants. There are also a number of farmers belonging to the Growing Power co-op that raise animals. I know these animals, like the vegetables are sustainable and organic, but unlike the plants are probably not affordable, yet!

Tonight at a celebration for the second anniversary of Club Timbuktu, I heard that Growing Power is having a tour this Saturday at 10am. I will try to confirm that and get back to you. The party was a healthy mix of young and old, people of various races and ethnic backgrounds, male and female. The good but loud music limited the conversation, but I got to visit with some new and old friends, people of like spirit. These were all Growing Power type of persons.

From there I went to a meeting of “Mothers Against Gun Violence” hosted by the local Campaign Against Violence. Mothers Against Gun Violence was started by three mothers whose three sons were killed in a triple homicide a few years ago. Their big drive now is to pass a state law that would make a purchaser of a gun from an individual owner go through the same background check a buyer goes through now at a store. Presently one can purchase a handgun from a store and turn around and sell it to another person, even a child, without the purchaser going though a similar background check. The man who sold the gun to the person who committed the triple homicides would not and could not have sold the gun under this law. This new law, if it ever passed, would only be for Milwaukee County. It is a small step, “foot in the door” toward limiting gun violence in our city.

At the end of the meeting a young man, a Muslim, inspired the people gathered there with a hip hop statement that came back to the theme that no matter what you do to us you cannot take our soul and stop us from going home to God. These two events, celebration at Club Timbuktu and the meeting of Mothers Against Gun Violence, renewed my spirit by seeing the joy and determination of people to “do the right thing” no matter what obstacles are put in their way

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December 14, 2006 One Body

Below the GP Box

Yesterday I saw on TV an animation film, made by a biology teacher, showing all the actions taking place in one of the millions of cells in our body. Each cell is always in motion, growing and dismantling. It was a fascinating film clip.

When I water my Growing Power box in the sun-room, the water goes through castings and compost and drains out the holes in the bottom of the box, falls into a slide and runs down into a tub at one end. This water is now what is called “tea”. It is the same type of tea I make in the rain barrels by putting paint sacks of castings in the rainwater in the barrel. This tea is rich with living organisms. There are millions of cells growing and dismantling inside the tea. This tea is rich in growing power, better than any kind of commercial fertilizer. I feed my garden, my salad greens in the box and all the plants in my house with it. The wealth of growing power in the tea comes from the castings, which come from worms as they daily eat their own weight of compost (which is waste cooked) and cast it off.

When I saw the animation of actions in a cell I marveled at the mystery of life. How complicated it is and yet how simple it is. Cells put together form parts of the body, and parts of the body put together form the whole body. All cells and parts of the body are interdependent. Individual bodies need other bodies to survive and grow.

In my Catholic faith we talk about the Body of Christ, Eucharist, and receiving it in our bodies as food for life. We also talk about all humankind forming one body. The name we used for that was ‘mystical body’. A better name might be ‘mysterious body’.

We need not be religious to appreciate this analogy of one body with many parts. We say, “all humans are created equal”, that “no person is an island” and “together we are Growing Power.” These are all expressions of the same reality — that we are individuals, but together are also one body. If we push this analogy further we can say, as many Native cultures do, that all creation is one. Awareness of Growing Power helps us to see how we are all related and one.

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December 12, 2006 Darkness and Light

It was warm today but cloudy and dark. I moved my small growing light to the other side of the box, the side with the kale. Because of the dark days, the growing light has made a big difference this year. We all need the light, especially plants.

Christmas is the season of lights: Christmas lights, and light of Christ, light of the world. In fact, early Christians made the birth of Christ about the same time as the pagan holiday celebrating the days becoming longer, Dec. 20th. So for all, Jewish, Christian, and Pagan, this is the season to celebrate light. We certainly need it this time of year.

It is also easier to understand why persons suffering mental illnesses have a tough time during this season. With all the anxiety of the holiday season and the dark days, it is tough for the brain to keep its balance. Personally I am more tired these days and sleep more.

An interesting fact, if it is true, that I learned from Loren is that plants, although they desperately need light, actually grow in the darkness. My growing light is set on a timer for about 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. The plants supposedly grow in the darkness.

I know persons who consider themselves ‘night people.’ They feel more creative and active at night and not so in the day. This is the opposite of most of us but seems to be the situation.

Light breaks through the darkness and the darkness overcomes the light. It seems we need both to grow.

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December 11, 2006 Living Stones

So often people associate their work or employment with who they are. This is dangerous since if they loose their job they can suffer losing some of their identity. At times when I was unemployed in life, persons would ask me what I did, meaning my job or employment. I would answer back saying “nothing” instead of saying I was unemployed.

In fact for a while I built up a whole thing about ‘doing nothing’ as a real skill or spirituality. Actually when I am unemployed, as now, when I am “retired” I often was busier than ever. However, in some persons’ eyes, then and now, I felt that I was not as important as I would be with a “real job.”

I guess the real point is that working, employment or “doing nothing” the key is to being detached from what we ‘do’.

This is where I think the Growing Power style of life comes in. In Growing Power it is not so much what you do but how you create the environment that plants, waste, compost, sun, water, and worms can do what comes naturally to them. Simply allowing them to be.

For me ‘being’ is a lot more difficult than ‘doing.’ To be, we need to slow down, like taking some time to work in the garden, and just let be what will be. It is not a passive position but an active one in which, like the gardener or the person in AA, we accept Nature, the ‘higher power’ or Spirit in our lives and not feel we must always ‘control’ the situation. If we have a job or not have a job, we, like a worm, must be who we are and from that being, do what comes naturally.

Looking for a picture in “My Pictures” for an picture to represent this thought, (see Bob’s Photo Gallery? for some examples), I came upon the one I used in the masthead of “Living Stones” newsletter. Being a “Living Stone” might be a paradox, but that is what we need to be to be who we are.

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December 10, 2006 Stuffed or Simple

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas season is stuffed with shopping, gift giving and receiving, food and more. Today I experienced my first major meal of the season. My younger brother and his wife who were visiting from Denver in Chicago drove up and met my wife and me for a Sunday Brunch. Many hours later I am still feel stuffed.

However, no matter how full we were, my brother, his wife and I had room for custard at Robert’s Custard on the way home from visiting our parents’ graves. The flavor of the day was “Turtle Sunday” and how can any true Milwaukee person drive by a custard stand with a younger brother who grew up in Milwaukee but now lives in the custardless land of Denver, and not stop? To stop was a simple decision. For those of you reading this who are not from Milwaukee or Wisconsin, custard is a very rich ice cream-type of food. However, it is NOT ice cream. Custard stands in Milwaukee are plentiful and open all year around although most have no indoor seating.

Today was not all about stuffing myself with food. After Church this morning we had our first meeting of the Faith In Recovery group at our local church. Faith In Recovery ( is a mental health ministry in faith communities developed here in Milwaukee. The Christmas season is a particularly hard time for persons with a mental illness and their families. We all were happy to find a time when we could meet on a regular basis. Faith In Recovery groups in Milwaukee, although based in spirituality, are open to all persons of all faiths. The Spirit is one thing that you can never be stuffed from.

The Merry Christmas picture above is a close-up of a patch quilt that our friend Ella Brooks gave us last Christmas. To see her gift to us this year, queen size patch quilt, and to learn more about her work in this very practical art check out her home page:
As I mentioned before, patch quilts, like Growing Power, are another form of something that is sustainable. Growing Power uses waste and worms to grow, Ella uses leftover patches to create her quilts.

Our church is looking for ways to become more sustainable. At church this morning I talked with the person heading this effort. I reiterated the offer made by the Renaissance web site, which hosts all my pages, to use it for a web page for this effort. Her response was that she did not know enough about making web pages. It told her that neither did I but that is where ‘wiki’ web pages like the Renaissance site and ‘wiki gnomes’ like Tegan came it. They make it easy. I am not sure she believed me.

I can understand this. It is hard to believe that simple sustainable things in life like Christmas, wiki sites, Growing Power boxes can be easy to do. Like stuffing a kid with so many toys that he or she loses his or her imagination, we tend to stuff life so full of things that we lose our capacity for simplicity.

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December 9, 2006 Green Ink

The sun came out today long enough for the sun-room to get into the sixties, and to allow me to put clear plastic insulation on the last two remaining windows on the south wall of the sun-room. Well almost finish, since I ran out of clear plastic for the last foot of the final door. Oh well, a patch of cloudy insulation will hardly be noticeable in this corner door window. Now with some sun and an insulated room I will need to clean, the sun-room can be used during the day for reading and reflection.

The salad greens in the GP Box seem to be enjoying the sun today. I felt good about making another cutting of greens for the table. Sun or light can make a big difference in some person’s life, especially for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

We went out and got our Christmas tree today. Although I am not big on cutting down trees, a real Christmas tree is a deep tradition within me. I am all into the lights, the many homemade ornaments we have, and talking my wife into allowing tinsel on the tree again this year. To me there is something warm about a Christmas tree that all the gifts and consumerism of Christmas in the world cannot cannot beat. I have few memories of gifts I received as a child at Christmas, but I warmly remember decorating the Christmas tree each year. My wife is from out East were artificial trees seem more acceptable and where tinsel on the tree is unheard of.

Giving and Receiving Food is big in the Christmas season. It seems like cakes, candy, special dinners are everywhere. Growing Power is all about growing affordable, organic and sustainable food so it should be big at Christmas too.

A friend sent me a quote by email today that is too good to let go till the next issue of Living Stones Newsletter. So here it is. Enjoy!

“Printer’s ink has been running a race against gunpowder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for centuries.”—Chistopher Morley, “The Haunted Bookshop”

What does this quote have to do with Growing Power and salad greens? I am not sure. But Green Ink comes to my mind.

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December 8, 2006 More Cold!

The weatherman said it would be warmer today. It seems colder to me. In fact it was so cold that we had to shorten our prayer vigil at a homicide site today so we did not freeze. It was so cold I could not put the clear plastic on the inside of another window on the south glass doors in my sun-room. It is so cold that despite running my small heater at full blast the sun-room is still in the 40’s. Fortunately for us the ground in the GP box is a few degrees warmer than the air and the salad greens are hardy. They may not be growing but they are surviving this cold blast. Now the weatherman is saying the warmer weather has been delayed till tomorrow. Let us hope he is right. Now I know why I complain that there is too much attention paid to weather reporting. Whenever I hope too much the weatherman is right, he seems wrong. I need to be more detached from the weather, which will be what it is going to be anyway.

I worked on Ella’s Patch Quilts? mini-website today. With Christmas close and she having such wonderful sustainable and beautiful gifts available, I feel compelled to get that page out. Ella got a free commercial for her quilts on one of the local TV channels. But it is only 10 seconds long, so you need to be watching it fast to get her phone number. I am hoping this new home page for Ella will come up soon on a web searches.

Last night was The Digital Art Show that my son participated in with some of his computer art. One of his friends of many years ago googled his name yesterday by chance and came up with Peter’s Home Page. From there he learned of the digital art show, came and linked up with Peter again. I am starting to feel good about my mastery of ‘wiki’ web pages. But I must admit that I owe my limited knowledge and ability to my ‘wiki gnome’ Tegan. If you ever need someone who can teach you a lot about creating and maintaining web content very simply, she is the one.

Indoor Growing Power, such as I am doing in my sun-room on a limited basis, does not take much time. It is just like growing most plants inside. You need to water them and make sure they are in the right spot and in the right soil. Maybe next year I will expand my inside Growing Power model. I have a few ideas that would use some wasted space above and below the GP box. Using waste is key to Growing Power.

Rather than broaden the scope of this already too broad “Diary of a Worm” I think I will dig deeper in the knowledge base of inside Growing Power growing for the winter. Stay tuned for more knowledge, pictures and reflections on worms, casting tea and plants in the days to come. The word ‘more’ can mean many things. It can mean ‘more’ things like in more quantity, it can mean repetition, like repeating something, and can mean digging deeper into something. So stay tuned for more.

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December 7, 2006 Growing Life in Word and Action

Growing Power Box 12/07/06

When I was at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii some years ago, I was surprised by the great number of Japanese visitors to the site. The nation of Japan who bombarded us at Pearl Harbor and on whom we unleashed two nuclear bombs is now our ally and friend. China, once our Communist enemy, is now providing us with low-cost goods and buying much of our debt. One-time enemies are now allies and business partners.

Today I heard Bush say he would not, as recommended by the Iraq War Study Group, talk with our new enemy-country Iran in order to resolve the disastrous situation in Iraq. As the bipartisan commission made clear, you cannot pick and choose whom you will talk with in the Middle East. It is words or violence to solve problems.

For some years now I have been thinking about a Constitutional amendment that protects the human dignity of life and makes for less violence to each other. Today I came up with some wording that I think conservatives, liberals and the growing number of us in the middle can agree on. It is: “No individual, state or government can take a human life except in self defense.” If this were adopted, clearly the death penalty would be eliminated (as it has been in most of the world). Pro Choice and Pro Life persons around abortion should be able to agree on this amendment, since pro-choice persons do not consider abortion as taking a human life, while pro-life persons do. That battle would need to be fought on the fields of science rather than in political circles. Also the amendment would ban wars like in Iraq that are “preemptive” not in self-defense.

What has all this to do with Growing Power? Growing Power is all about sustainability. The taking of life not in self-defense is all about unsustainabililty. We recycle plants and vegetables, not destroy them, in this type of growing. The bombing of Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima is all about violence and destroying life. Working on sustainable, affordable, urban agriculture is all about food for everyone and giving life.

A friend today challenged me today to put some of my experiments in the growing power home model in quantified terms. I am not sure how but am interested. Any ideas? Persons like quantified terms in America although, I think, quality terms are more significant. Maybe that is how my suggested constitutional amendment and Growing Power Home Model are connected. Both are quality of life issues but both can be measured. Cutting back on the number of deaths not in self-defense can be measured, and the amount of growth of food in a particular space can be measured.

Tomorrow I am going on a prayer vigil for the 124 homicide victims in Milwaukee, and tomorrow I will work on insulating the sun-room for the Growing Power Box growing salad greens. Also tomorrow I will work on developing our Faith In Recovery ministries, a mental health ministry in faith communities. All are connected by our desire for life and to live it in peace of mind.

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December 6, 2006 Together We Are Growing Power

When I was a child, Dec. 6th, the feast of St. Nicolas, was an important day. The night before, we would hang our stockings on the fireplace. In the morning we would wake up to find them full of good stuff, small toys and candy. It was a Christmas-preview ethnic event, at least in Milwaukee. Today I barely remembered it was St. Nicholas day and I doubt my grandchildren in northern Wisconsin got their stockings full. Maybe so!

Today will go down in history as the day of the major explosion at the Falk Manufacturing plant in the valley nearby. Falk is one of the last major manufacturing businesses left in a town that used to pride itself as a ‘blue collar’ city. A propane gas leak caused the explosion. Fortunately most were evacuating the building at the time of the explosion so the death toll was only three and the injury total around 45.

The response by the City, County, Fire and Police Department, Emergency Crews, Federal Agencies, Health and Neighborhood Services department and many other groups was phenomenal. In little more than 3 minutes after the explosion, the fire department was on-site. All the agencies coordinated their services and soon the massive fire was out and everyone accounted for. In press statements throughout the day the Mayor and others brought attention to how well the groups worked together in this crisis.

In the newspaper last week and in this issue of Time magazine we read about the crisis of violence in Milwaukee, how the rate of violent crime has sharply increased this year. We all have known this for quite awhile. Every time I go on a vigil to make ‘holy ground’ the scene of a city homicide I am reminded of this fact. There are all kinds of groups talking about this issue. This crisis is much greater, unfortunately, than the crisis at the Falk Corporation explosion today. Yet, for some reason we cannot seem to work together to do something about this crisis that seriously affects all of us.

I and many others have attended meetings discussing the violence, written letters on the issue, prayed about it and certainly talked a lot about it. Yet the sense of crisis and working together, which took over all the city and county governments today, do not seem to be there on this issue. Sadly we almost accept it as part of living in the city.

Now I understand that the crisis of violence in the city is more complicated than the crisis of the Falk explosion today. But all that means to me is that we should be spending more effort, time and money on this crisis than we did on the explosion.

As you know by now this posting is not about ‘answers.’ But I have a hint of the solution from Growing Power. The slogan of Growing Power is “Together We Are Growing Power.” This slogan recognizes our interdependence on each other and how our power to grow comes from working together.

I was always taught in school, the days of St. Nicholas, that the purpose of government was for the “common good”. In these days of ‘tax cuts’ and going into deep debt to pay for things like the war in Iraq, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, hate groups, demonizing groups different from us, ideological talk show hosts, elimination of welfare, lack of universal health insurance, ready available guns for everyone, and invasion and protection of privacy to the extreme we seemed to have lost this sense of the purpose of government being for the “common good”.

We get a glimpse of government and people working together for the ‘common good’ in a crisis like the Falk explosion today. Why can we not take this lesson and apply it to the explosion of violence in our city. “Who will Answer”?

I am in the process of growing the Graf Family ‘Mini Web-site’ with some new sections and refreshing some old ones. It is a work still in process, but you can check it out by following links from the Home Page of the Graf Family ‘Mini Web-site’.

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December 5, 2006 Hot Ground!

Loren (my partner in building the home model Growing Power Box and worm condo) last spring cross bred some red ornamental peppers with some green jalapeño peppers. What he got was a plant with some very hot, small, orange peppers. In the fall we picked some and dried them out and moved the plant inside. I noticed the plant had stopped growing in the cold of the sun-room without much sun these days. So today I picked the rest of the orange peppers and put them in the basket with ones already picked and one red hot pepper. I placed them all in the dehydrator and in a day or two will grind them all up in the coffee bean grinder and we will have a bottle or so of some real hot pepper seasoning. Loren, my son Peter, and my friends from Sierra Leone really like ‘hot’ food, so they should enjoy. My wife and I enjoy ‘hot’ food too, but less ‘hot’.

People have asked me if the worms in the worm depository pile will freeze in the winter. I remind them that compost, when it is cooking, is very hot. That heat plus the covering of leaves and now snow will keep the pile warm all winter long. The worms might not be moving so much in the not-so-hot ground but they are slow creatures anyway. They will just eat, cast and produce less during winter months.

So we have hot ground peppers and hot ground deep in the worm depository pile.

It was refreshing but sad today to hear the nominee for secretary of state say we are losing the war in Iraq. He, like the rest of us, does not have the answers, but is looking at increasing force and violence, not decreasing it soon, as a way out.

At a gathering last Sunday, my old friend David gave me a copy of a CD with the 1968 song “Who Will Answer” by Ed Ames. The song playing now has a number of rap/chant lines that lead to questioning situations. The response to each, mostly tragic, situation is “Who Will Answer?” This song written at the height of the Vietnam War has a haunting sound heard in today’s world context. Bobby Dylan dealt with this question of “who will answer” in his 60’s song “Blowing in the Wind.” He says, “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” Unfortunately not many of us can be still and silent long enough to hear the “answer” blowing in the wind. In the bible the word for spirit, like in Holy Spirit, is the same as word for wind. Jesus says in John 3 that the “The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3:8) Putting all the above together in my little mind means that we do not have the “ears to hear” the wind these days and need to pray the words of the psalmist: “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts….” (Psalm 95 7–8).

Areas wracked with violence in the Middle East or in our central cities are called ‘hot ground’. This type of ‘hot’ means full of violence. The ‘hot’ of Loren’s homegrown peppers after they are ground means spicy hot. In deep ground and the compost pile we find ‘hot’ ground. I will take the hot of spicy food that heats our insides and the ‘hot’ of the ground deep within the compost pile that warms the worms any day over the ‘hot’ of violent zones. Where do we find the good hot ground? “Who will answer?” “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” We pray for the ears to hear.

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December 4, 2006 Salad of the Mind

Encore Lettuce Mix

The third green growing in the Growing Power Home Model Box is Encore Lettuce Mix. It is a unique product from Johnnie Seeds, where I, like Growing Power, purchase my seeds. It was a new product from them last year, and is an organic lettuce mix! It is described in the catalog as “a stunning mix of different colors, shapes and textures. Varieties include Dark Lollo Rossa, Firecracker, Red Saladbowl, Tango, Parris Island, and others.” It is suitable for outdoor production or in low-light conditions like present in my sun-room. It is great for salad since it is such a good mix of different varieties of salad greens. With the onset of the very cold weather its growth seems to have slowed down. However, tomorrow I am putting some plastic on the south wall of patio window doors. This should keep the room warmer. The plastic on this set of windows, overlooking the deck and garden, will put very clear plastic insulation on the inside. It is not as insulating as cloudy plastic on the other two walls but it allows us to see outside to the garden area. It will mean no more exit doors to the deck where my son goes to smoke. However, he has agreed to smoke outside by the side door for the winter months. I think his respect for the salad greens in the box has grown to the point where he understands how toxic smoke is to plants and other living creatures.

Today, I had to do some shopping — something I dread. The grocery shopping is okay, but we needed to do other shopping today. My son went with me to the hardware store to get some plastic for the sun-room insulation; we stopped at Goodwill to check on clothing, got some stuff from a camera shop for my camera, took a break for lunch/dinner and purchased a gift card at a drugstore for my wife to give as a gift. We both do not like to shop but at least getting in and out of the car, driving and food broke up this trip. It is the mall where I have some serious problems. Fortunately my wife likes to shop and has taken this Christmas burden off my back. Praise the Lord!

With the shopping and a St. Vincent De Paul meeting tonight I did not get much else done today. However my friends John and Tegan put my November newsletter Living Stones on the Hope to Healing web site and on my own Graf Family Web site. You can check it out in its full glory at: (or view it without pictures here, on the Graf Family mini-site?). In the newsletters you will find another kind of mix of pictures, jokes, quotes and words. A salad for the mind.

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Dec. 3, 2006 Arugula to Sierra Leone


Arugula, also known as “rocket”, is a fast-growing green that, like kale, is from the mustard family. It adds a distinctive, tangy taste to salads, which some like and some do not. It grows well in cool weather, which makes it great for the Growing Power Box, which now is in a 43-degree sun-room. Arugula has been grown as a vegetable in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, and was considered an aphrodisiac. It is the best producing of all the plants I have grown in the sun-room.

Speaking of distinctive food, tonight we feasted on food from Sierra Leone which our friend from there provided. The tilapia fish, plantains, sweet potatoes, black eyed peas and the other dishes were all fried and tasty. Also a pepper sauce was available to spice up the already spicy food. Sierra Leone food is hot (spicy) like most foods from countries in warm climates. Once the chef for an African restaurant explained to us that the warmer the climate of a country, the hotter the food.

Sierra Leone, rich in natural resources, is the poorest country in the world. A terrible civil war, fought largely over diamonds, has left the country devastated. War (a non-sustainable item) has left this country by the sea, which is rich with fish, fertile land great for Growing Power, and many natural resources, an economic disaster which now features the world’s highest death rate for children under five.

Send this Ambulance to Sierra Leone

Another friend from Sierra Leone, Matthias, is a political exile who started a foundation for the people, especially the young adults, who were most harmed as children by the civil war. It is called “Friends Across Inc.” ( His latest project is to raise enough money to send an ambulance he recently had donated to Sierra Leone. Ambulances are scarce in the country, and in emergencies persons need to depend on unreliable taxis caught in traffic on terrible roads. He has the ambulance planned for a city with a hospital but no ambulances.

There is new movie coming out that touches on the civil war in Sierra Leone. It is called “Blood Diamonds”, and according to reviews I have read is very good. Maybe I should go see it with my friend from Sierra Leone who provided us with this great food today. She was the first one to tell me that the civil war, which she fled with her daughter and another young girl (my African nieces), was all about stealing diamonds.

Growing arugula, an ancient plant, is simple if you have rich soil, like worm castings and some light. Surviving in a country like Sierra Leone, rich in natural rooms but ruined by greed, is difficult. My hope is that people in the USA can see that the persons of Sierra Leone are really our brothers and sisters and we really are uncles and aunts to their young adults. We will understand that we can plant seeds, from arugula to an ambulance, that will make that country well once more.

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Dec. 2, 2006 Kale to Art to Worms Sustainability


Kale, one of the plants in the Growing Power Home Model Box, is a hearty plant in warm or cold weather. Kale is derived from the cabbage plant and is part of the mustard family. It grows all year around. The kale in the garden outside is still alive and well, while the kale in the growing power boxes is growing.

My friend Harvey Taylor introduced me to kale last summer when he brought some over for lunch. As a salad green it was tasty and I had heard that it was even better cooked. Since it was late in the summer I bought some seedlings from Growing Power and started growing kale in the garden in the area where my lettuce had failed. It grew quickly and provided a good ingredient, like spinach but even more tasty, for many a hot dish and was soon a regular in our salads. Unlike other plants, the more you pick the curly leaves of the kale plant the tenderer are the new leaves.

It stays alive outside in the winter although it does not grow. So I purchased some seeds and started to grow it in the growing power box. From seed it grew slowly but now is in a position to be harvested. Presently we just use it in salads but when the plants are bigger we will use it once again for cooking. Kale is truly a ‘sustainable’ garden plant.

As I mentioned earlier, my son Peter is in a digital art show this coming Thursday. If you would like to see some of his digital art check out his gallery web site at:

Today I helped a friend Ella shovel her walk. Before I started to work she gave my wife and me a beautiful Christmas gift, a homemade patch quilt. It was too large to photograph, so I put in on our bed and took a picture of that. Soon I am starting a ‘wiki’ mini-website for Ella’s Patch Quilts?. Patch quilts are practical works of art with a colorful past. When you hear the story of how they came to be you will know that they too are a sustainable item.

Yesterday I mentioned that the worm depository, another very sustainable creation, was covered with snow. Below the snow the worms are warm, eating and producing castings and breeding, although somewhat more slowly than usual because of the cold. The worm depository is a sustainable product that just keeps on producing and growing.

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Dec. 1, 2006 Three Greens in White

The well-publicized winter storm did come this morning. As predicted last night my snowplower did not work so I shoveled by hand the long driveway to our house to get my wife’s car out to the street. However, later in the morning when I was checking on the snow blower type to call the store for repairs, it started. Amen; I guess the threat of going to the shop did it. Whatever the reason, I was glad to have it back operating, and cleaned the rest of driveway and sidewalk. More cold and snow are predicted, but I am ready, I think.



Encore Lettuce Mix

Here are pictures taken today of the three types of greens that are growing in the growing power box. All three are growing well and provide delicious ingredients for salads. The kale, which got the slowest start, also is good cooked. These are three bright green spots on this cold white day.

Watering the rest of my inside plants today with casting tea I noticed some of them are suffering slightly from neglect. A little more care, especially some casting soil, should get them all back in shape.

Snowed-in, today, gave me a chance to rest and read for a while as well as work on a few projects. Snow days can sort of be catch-up days.

The next few days I will try to tell you more about the three green plants providing our family with salads for the winter. Although it is only about 50 degrees in the sunroom there seem to be enough nutrients in the soil and light from small growing lamp and outside to keep all well.

Another advantage of being snowed-in is that it makes one be creative in cooking with what one has in home. Usually that is not a problem since there are just two or three of us at dinner. But tonight we are supposed to bring some snacks to the homeless families at the Cathedral Shelter. I found some frozen cooked chicken breast in the freezer and an extra bag of potatoes we had downstairs. With some shredded cheese and other toppings for the baked potatoes this should make a good snack for the four-six families at the shelter tonight. Maybe I will pop some popcorn, just in case chicken and baked potatoes do not strike some children as a ‘snack.’

If there were more greens in the box I could make a salad for all. Maybe next year I can find a way to get more greens growing in the sun-room so I can feed more than the three of us.

One advantage of a heavy snow followed by cold is that the cold snow provides a good insulating blanket to the compost piles and worm depository. Worms and other living organisms can stay warm deep down below the snow.

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



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