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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


January 31, 2007 Holy Ground

Today I attended two prayer vigils for homicide victims. The prayer vigils, 10 so far this year, are part of the MICAH Holy Ground Campaign. By praying at the site of the homicide for the person, his or her family, the perpetrator of the crime and their family, we are trying to take back the streets from the violence that is so rampant in this country these days. At the first vigil today we were joined by a large group of family and friends who told us what a Good Samaritan the young man was, how he would go out of his way to help others. At the second vigil there were just two of us standing by a tree covered with teddy bears, candles and alcohol bottles to remember the 17 year old who had been shot at the site. (For more information on the homicide victims this year go to the Mothers Against Gun Violence? page, and click on the memorials).

Holy Ground is also a song, “We are standing on Holy Ground”, which is one of my favorite spirituals. I always thought of Holy Ground as sacred places like in the Holy Land or at the shrine at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin. But now I see all ground as holy, and that we taking back the holy ground of the streets with our prayer vigils.

It is hard to feel the place of a death as Holy Ground, even with the memorials like the one created at the place of death. However, at the first site where family and friends spoke of what a wonderful human being the young man was, it was much easier to feel that this ground was holy.

Gardens and Growing Power Boxes are easier to experience as Holy Ground. For new life springs out of the ground, food and flowers are produced; worms are busy underground enriching the soil.

Today my friend ‘Olde’ Godsil, the founder of the Milwaukee Renaissance site sent me and many others this link to a piece in that his daughter, in law school, wrote about Will Allen of Growing Power. Here is a black man, former professional basketball player and former Proctor and Gamble executive, creating Holy Ground all over the world. His main instrument of making the ground holy is a worm. The picture of Will with two handfuls of worm castings says it all.

So my challenge in life is to make Holy Ground. In some ways it is a simple task but in other ways it is extremely difficult. I must live with the tension of the paradoxes, like ground bloodied by violence is holy. Actually I do not have to make Holy Ground. It is always there. I just need to see, feel, touch and hear it as Holy Ground.

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January 30, 2007 Presentation

Since tonight was my last meal before a day of fast tomorrow for my medical procedure Thursday, I decided to make something special for dinner. My wife was at work so it was just for my son and me. I defrosted some jumbo shrimp, made some pinto beans, a spinach salad and took from the freezer some stuffed grape leaves we had frozen as an experiment. The grape leaves, which grow everywhere, were from by backyard garden. We picked them last summer and made them in the fall. It is a Lebanese dish that my wife learned to make from my mother. It is a favorite of all of our Graf Family, young and old alike. When when we all get together for a family reunion we have a meeting of the Grape Leaf Club. I, being the oldest of the Graf clan, consider myself the president, and my granddaughter, at two, is the youngest.

However, when I was putting my plate together, adding some labana, (yogurt) with mint from the garden to dip the grape leaves in, I was surprised by how good the plate looked. My cooking, most would agree, is good — although it is unique — but I do lack presentation. Often it is just a good tasty brown mess I have cooked. So being proud of my presentation, I took a picture for my wife and to share with you.

Please note that two items, the grape leaves, rolled with rice and meat and spices, and the mint are from the garden. The spinach would have been from the GP box except I did not have a good experience growing spinach last year, and decided this year to stick with kale, arugula and lettuce mix.

Thinking about the presentation of food made me think about presentation in other areas. I guess even in a garden or growing power box in a sun-room presentation is important. I am proud of the way my garden looked last summer and could do a better job with presentation in the sun-room, especially on the shelf below the box. Of course we all know how much importance we place on how a person presents himself. For example, I think my wearing of hats all the time presents a rebellious spirit to some youths, since youths wear hats as a sign of independence.

When I worked in the advertising field we used to say, “the perception of reality is more important than the reality.” Hopefully some of us can see through the presentation and see, touch and taste the real thing. But a good presentation does help the seeing.

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January 29, 2007 Drug Free Paradox

We talk a lot about drug-free zones in our schools and public buildings. However, by “drug-free” we mean free from illicit drugs, not free from drugs. In fact I believe that we in the USA are becoming more and more drug-dependent.

Today I drove a friend from Sierra Leone to a doctor’s appointment. While she was at the appointment I went to nearby doctor’s office to pick up a list of what drugs I needed to take or not take for a procedure I am having Thursday at a clinic. After my friend’s appointment we drove to a pharmacy to drop off some prescriptions she was given. We started talking about the health system in this country, how it the most expensive in the industrialized world but the least effective. My friend from Sierra Leone had spent some time working in London so she told me some of the experiences she had there with the health coverage. I told her of my friend on dialysis in Holland who could travel all over Europe and Canada and receive coverage for his dialysis anywhere except in his home country, the USA; his European health insurance would only cover half the cost here. Many people I know, including myself, take drugs every day for various things. Taking medications is considered normal, especially for the elderly. Many people suffer because they cannot afford medication. Also despite all the bans against illegal drugs, it remains a big and profitable business with drugs growing in Afghanistan or Columbia finding their way to the streets of our country.

In food the big push, for those that can afford it, is organic food. Food free from chemicals and drugs is healthier. But it costs much more. Still in the media we are constantly seeing ads for drugs, prescription and non-prescription, that will supposedly solve all our problems. So the same person who shops at the elite organic food store might take three or four non-organic drugs each day.

The chemistry of a worm is such that take it can take in all kinds of waste and bacteria, run it through their system and cast off healthy organisms. I understand that even some deadly bacteria like e coli, after it passes through a worm, is rendered harmless or replaced with healthy bacteria by the time it is cast off. Would that we could be like a worm, taking in anything we want, eating our body’s weight each day, stay healthy and unaffected by any bad bacteria, and cast off our weight each day. But we are not worms so we need to take care of what we put in our body. Drugs can hurt us.

Yet drugs are freely promoted or banned, marketed publicly or not, legal or illegal. So while we race to become a drug-free society, we race to become a “drug-happy” society.

Today I was asked to talk to an east side food co-op about my home model of Growing Power. I hesitated at first because some of these persons at the co-op probably would not be seen dead shopping at the low-priced grocery chain Aldi, where I shop (Although some of the same may be seen at Trader Joe’s, the pricey and healthy store owned by the same German company, with many of the same items under different brand names.) But these are persons, unlike me, who generally are dedicated to eating only healthy food. What could I possibly talk with them about? However, I remembered a big article in today’s newspaper about the great loss of farmland in Wisconsin in recent times. I thought maybe my feeble attempt at urban Growing Power gardening in my GP box and small backyard is the wave of the future. Maybe someday backyards, vacant lots and growing of food in a small space organically in urban environments will be common. Maybe turning waste into food, via worms, and waste into energy like they are attempting with the digester project at Growing Power, is where we need to go to really have a drug-free society.

Maybe when we eat healthier, affordable organic food, with the chemistry of nature, we will not need all the chemically produced drugs that we consume to stay healthy. The paradox may be resolved.

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January 28, 2007 Clutter

Some people make a big thing of a little clutter and some make nothing of it. If you could see my office where I am writing this from you would see what camp I am in. However, if you look through the glass doors of the office to the sun-room where the Growing Power box is, you would see a a fairly uncluttered room. This may be from the fact that the sun-room is not really heated and we do not use it much in the winter.

It is cold out there, but some warm-weather plants have risen from the castings in the GP box in the sun-room. Rather than clutter the box with these plants I have placed them in a planter below the box on the shelf in a sunny spot on sunny days. Considering the lack of heat and often sun they are doing surprising well.

Today in Church someone asked me about a simple way of doing composting and using worms. They do not want all the work, and sometimes clutter, that a full-scale system needs. I told her briefly about the system that I first used and probably described on some old postings. It was a simple system taught to me by Will Allen at Growing Power. Simply place some carbon, leaves, wood chips, cardboard, paper on the bottom of the spot where you are building the compost pile. Next place some nitrogen, like coffee grounds, scrap food, grass etc on the pile. Do this repeatedly. To speed up the composting process, in the summer, you can mix the material with a pitchfork. Eventually, when the pile is big enough — and especially with the warmer weather, the pile will start to “cook.” When it breaks down some, add some worms. Keep building the pile, one layer at a time. After time, when the time comes to use the enriched soil from the compost, turn over the pile using the bottom, now mostly castings, for the garden and the top still cooking as the bottom. Keep as many worms in the compost pile as you can and they will multiply and keep the process going. Now this system is not as effective as the one I have used here but it is simple: no worm condo, no worm depository, no great number of compost piles. No clutter, just straight and simple.

However, those who regularly read this posting know I am of the clutter camp, although I am a want-to-be person with a neat and organized office. I think I know my problem. When have I finished one project I move on to another, never putting away in an organized matter the former project. That maybe is why I like GP gardening. There is nothing to put away in an organized way. When the compost is cooked, you just feed it to the worms in the condo. When the worms are done, you just remove the worms and use the castings for tea or planting. One project flows into the next. There are never any files or books to be organized or put away. The only time there is clutter in nature is when there is a natural disaster, man-made like a fire, or nature-created like a tornado.

Why can’t all of life be like that, naturally clutter-free? But it is not, and I had better clean my office soon and make it semi-clutter-free before it is declared a natural disaster.

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January 27, 2007 Can a Pilgrim have a Garden?

A friend of mind is writing a book on being a pilgrim; the working title is The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life. This friend, whom I have known since 1968 and the Milwaukee 14 days, now lives and writes in Holland. There will more on him and his writings in the upcoming web page I am doing called “Milwaukee 14 Today”.

The subject matter, of being a pilgrim or pilgrimages, has always fascinated me. Many of the persons whom I have admired in life, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, called themselves, as Ignatius does in his autobiography, pilgrims. I have taken a few pilgrimages myself to sacred sites in Europe, to the Holy Land, to Guatemala last April (see Buried in Guatemala?). The book “Way of a Pilgrim” by an unknown Russian pilgrim, which features the “Jesus prayer”, has played a predominate role in my life.

In fact people who have known me, even when I was in the business world, have called me ‘pilgrim’ at times. To me being a pilgrim means being someone on a journey in life seeking meaning and the sacred in life. People on pilgrimage, usually do not carry much with them, the journey is the important thing.

Having said all this I ask again: can a pilgrim have a garden? Although it seems a contradiction or a paradox, the answer for me is Yes. A gardener, especially a Growing Power gardener, is always seeking better ways to grow. A gardener, especially a GP one, will use anything they find on this journey, even worms, if it will help them grow more affordable and organic food. A gardener, like a pilgrim, does not need many tools to work his or her small space of land or backyard. Like pilgrims they need only be true to the journey to find what they are looking for.

A real pilgrim seeks meaning and holy ground wherever she or he goes, even his or her own backyard. A gardener, like a worm, makes the ground holy and seeks their treasure in their own backyard.

I met a man with his six-year-old son tonight at the shelter where I hang out once and awhile. (My wife does the volunteer work of serving a snack for the families there.) This man, through a series of personal and financial setbacks, finds himself with his son homeless. While his six-year-old son wanted to read me books, the man was seeking my help in looking for a job. Eventually I got his son to read to my wife, who as a children’s librarian was fascinated by his outstanding ability to read, while I had a conversation with the father. He told me his story, gave me a resume, and we talk about jobs, faith and being an entrepreneur, something we had in common.

Finally the son’s reading to my wife, my talking with the father merged into one conversation. My wife asked the man, who was so passionate about working and providing for his son, if had seen the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness” which we have recently watched. I remember coming out of the theater thinking that this story, inspired by a real life story of a man from Milwaukee who with his son went from rags to riches, was good, but made me mindful of the thousands and thousands who have the same desire and enthusiasm as the character in the movie, but who never become rich. Here was one of these men. Interestingly enough, like the character in the movie, he was seeking a sales job.

Here was a man in the shelter with his son who was on a pilgrimage like the character in the movie. His only ally on this journey was his six-year-old son. He told us that when he drops his child off each day at school before job hunting, he says to his son that today he will find a job and everything will be okay. He said that some days now his son, after hugging him, will say the same thing to him. This pilgrim at the shelter may not end with him being a millionaire on Wall Street like the character in the movie, but I believe he will find some peace and comfort on his pilgrimage. As a fellow pilgrim I feel blessed to do my little bit to keep in contact with him and possibly aid him in finding a job. However, if I fail, which probably will happen, I know he will succeed on his pilgrimage. He, as all good pilgrims, has deep trust in the Lord, does not have many possessions but has the hope and desire for meaning and a passion for life that will keep his spirits alive on the pilgrimage. Let’s hope and pray that one day, soon, he can not only be a pilgrim but a pilgrim with a house and garden.

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January 26, 2007 Skin Deep!

Sometimes when we are busy but not in a dizzy way, our minds tire easily. There is too much going on to process it as we desire to do. For example, in a busy day yesterday a short video came across my screen that was made by a high school youth who repeated a simple test from the fifties about the self-esteem of African American children based on skin color. Watch this brief video for yourself. Not knowing what to think about this very sobering video I sent it to some friends. They too were caught off-guard by seeing how young black children in these times, like young children in the fifties, still identify with white as being the skin color of pride and good, while most see black as inferior and bad. How can this be?

Someone asked Will Allen on the GP tour last Monday about the different kinds of worms he had at Growing Power, and how they all got along. He said he had five different kinds of worms, describing in detail how they were different. But he said they all were comfortable with each other and had no perceptible hierarchy among themselves. Can we say that about each other as humans? For us, in the USA, color of skin, no matter how much we deny it, seems to be extremely important in our society.

On a lighter note, my wife is doing a special family project, at the library where she works, for Earth Day in April. She is a children’s librarian and has chosen the book I recommended on the Jan. 21st posting “Diary of a Worm” for the book reading. Someone in the library suggested worm races but I suggested a project showing how waste, like a banana peels and paper could be transformed into food for growing by the power of the worm. Hopefully these children on this family day will understand, by the example of different worms producing the same results, that no matter what your race or the color of your skin, it makes no difference in who you are and your value.

Perhaps this high school girl, by taking the time to slow down and go back to repeat a civil rights test of the fifties, exposed something, a continued deep-down perception of self-esteem based on the color of skin, that we all were too busy to see.

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January 25, 2007 Why can’t we all work together?

Art in Action Camp

In a growing power garden — or for that matter, in any garden or farm — you have this wonderful interaction of soil, animals, trees, flowers, plants, bacteria, sun, wind, water, worms, waste, insects, living organisms and so much more. When they work in harmony it is a beautiful sight to see and produces so much life and food for life. When they do not work in harmony, as in the cold spell now in California or in a tornado, it can mean terrible destruction of life and of the food for life.

I am becoming more aware these days how in society, except on rare occasions, like a major immediate crisis, we do not work together. I see this in the area of combating violence, in the areas of health care, community development, education and so much more. Agencies, community groups, government officials often are competing against each other, repeating and duplicating services, fighting for credit and limited resources and funds. The results can be seen everywhere, rising crime rate, poor educational system in the major cities, an expensive but ineffective health care system, explosion of gun violence in our cities. On rare occasions, like in the Falk Explosion in Milwaukee recently or at 9/11 nationally, all the forces unite, form a central command, work together and resolve the immediate crisis.

The real tragedy is that the garden or the farm falls in disharmony usually only by the uncontrollable force of nature. We, human beings, on the other hand usually choose to compete and thus defeat each other’s efforts for the same goal. I do not know why that is. However, after organizing yesterday’s meeting with some individuals in the neighborhood and Harley Davidson I understand why more and more I am shy of belonging to any organized groups, no matter how good their intentions. For even at that meeting, one very sincere neighborhood person who belongs to a number of good neighborhood groups sounded almost upset at me because Harley responded to this loosely organized group, and was quick to point our “her groups” were working on the same issues. We reconciled after the meeting as I assured her that, despite my mannerism and words, I have nothing in general against any of the groups she belonged to. (Except on some specific issues like the treatment of persons with a mental illness living in the neighborhood.)

My wife says that this is my hubris, my inability to work well with organized groups and structures. Perhaps she is right. That is why I feel so blessed, that I do not need to work for employment (no one can fire me any longer) and can choose my priorities to work on each day. However, like many stigmas, mine as a disagreeable person in organizations, it has some truth to it.

But now except for an act of nature or an act of stupidity, (like today when I locked my car keys in the car with the motor running) I am free like the plant in the garden to move with the wind, to soak in the sun and water, to mingle with the worms, to look at waste, like the coffee grounds I picked up today from Starbucks, and see new life.

This “diary of a worm” has slowly strayed away, like a worm seeking new source of food, from being a writing about bringing the Growing Power model home to our sun-room and backyard. For those of you seeking more about growing with worm power, I promise you that with the spring there will be more. For those who like my wanderings, like those of a pilgrim seeking holy ground, I am glad. To all I say in the words of Rodney King “Can we all get along?”

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January 24, 2007 Growing Power Day

Amaranth Cafe

After hours of bureaucratic phone call frustrating time on a health care issue, I was glad to go to the gathering of neighborhood persons at the The Amaranth Cafe, a bakery and coffee house with great soup. It is a bright spot in an old neighborhood where I grew up. The neighborhood had deteriorated and is being brought back by persons like those who started this bakery and café. The name Amaranth itself is an ancient grain high in protein, vitamins and minerals, and represents the bakery’s dedication to a slower, healthier approach to food. I sheepishly asked one of the owners what he did with the food scraps and coffee grounds and got back the answer I expected: They used them in their own compost pile out back and for the garden at their home.

The persons at this meeting that I had called were all wonderful persons committed to the health and well-being of the neighborhood and the persons in it. I had not met any of them before today but felt I knew them, “Growing Power type” of persons. The meeting was called to meet with a representative of Harley Davidson to talk about a vacant property near the Harley Davidson headquarters. Even the representative was a Growing Power type of person, direct, honest and genuinely concerned, as is his company, about the neighborhood. The meeting was positive and hopefully planted the seed for future action on this site.

One of the things I learned from the owner of the café is that a group of neighborhood persons were attempting to acquire the vacant Catholic Church nearby and make it a space for art and healing for children. The nearby Church used to be St. Thomas Aquinas the church and was the school I attended as a youth, growing up in the shadow of the Harley Davidson building. (My old homestead is now part of the Harley Davidson parking lot.)

Old neighborhoods, like this one around the café and Harley, where I grew up, are like gardens or farmland. When I was a youngster this neighborhood was thriving. As a young adult I saw my neighborhood around Harley and the Café dying. I remember being a part of a community organization called Westside Action Committee (WAC), a community-based group to revitalize the neighborhood. Becoming a community organizer myself led me out East for a few years. When I found my way back to Wisconsin, we went to Madison and, having young children who had been moved around a lot, decided to stay there till they grew up. Seventeen years later, when we moved back to Milwaukee, I drove around this old neighborhood and was shocked at its condition. All I could think is how we had failed with WAC to make a difference. The only remaining landmark I could find, besides the now abandoned Catholic Church and school, was the neighborhood candy shop we frequented. It was still there but its main business was no longer penny candy but the very good chocolate that made it a designated store. However, even the ownership of the store had changed. The old homestead was dying. One day driving by my home, I saw that it was being torn down for the parking lot. The farm was dying.

Now twelve years later I see all kinds of growing power, like the Amaranth café and the people present today. Even in the old days Harley Davidson, where I worked as a high school youth, was dying to competition in the motorcycle world. Now the “Hog” rules and the plant is growing all over the world.

This is what Growing Power is all about, turning waste into new life? Like the yeast used in the delicious Amaranth bread, new life is growing once again in this area.

When I got home and made a few calls I found even the health concern that had been buried in the government bureaucratic wasteland had been resolved. Truly a Growing Power Day.

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January 23, 2007 Smile of a Child

It is getting dark outside and it is still so cold.
There were three vigils for homicide victims today, with one more to go on Thursday.
My son has been trying all afternoon to get through by phone to make a simple change in his health care, without success.
It is approaching dinner time and I am still not clear on what I did or did not do today.

Yet hope lingers on.
The bucket in the kitchen is full of food scraps for the compost pile,
The salad green plants I picked yesterday from the Growing Power Box are growing back.
We have some delicious foods, eggs, tortilla and cheese from which we can easily make a delicious dinner.
I met a child yesterday on St. Vincent De Paul home visit whose smile stays with me.

I planted some seeds today, one in the ear of a newspaper reporter about an article on mental illness,
Some on the Mothers Against Violence page remembering the four latest homicide victims,
One in my mind to get the anti-stigma posters printed and in Doctor’s offices,
Another one in my mind about adding a page on the Milwaukee 14 to Graf Family Home Page.

The day ends and the dark grows heavy,
Since we know that again tonight our President will try to convince us the State of the Union is not what it is,
Like talking about something over and over again makes it true.
Yet the hope lingers on in the smile of the child,
In the seeds we have planted.

No matter how dark it gets, the smile of a child brings us light.

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January 22, 2007 Redemption Through Gardening

Harvey Taylor, Don Richards, Will Allen

On the way back from the store this afternoon I turned on public radio in the car and was greeted by the stories of a couple of ex convicts whose whole life was turned around by gardening. It was a story about a Garden Project in the San Francisco area that takes men coming out of jail and turns them around by use of gardening. The program was started by Catherine Sneed who has helped persons from prisons for years by teaching them to garden. The two men talked about how radical a change they had made in life since joining this program; one of them had made over $20,000 a week from dealing drugs before going to prison, and after he left prison in this program was glad to get a job at $8.00 a hour. The key to the program is gardening. One of the men said that when he first entered the program Catherine told him to go out back and make ‘beds.’ He thought she meant making beds to sleep on. She meant making beds to grow plants. Another one spoke with pride of how he took his children, whom he had neglected in all those years in prison, to a park and showed them how some trees he had planted were doing so well. You can read about this nationally-recognized model for crime prevention and building self-esteem on-line at:

Today was the day of Will Allen’s tour of Growing Power. I was surprised to find there so many persons from my Church, Blessed Trinity. The church had recently started a “Sustainability” program and I had told the part time staff person about Growing Power. She spread the good word. Lots of people in our small church knew I had a ‘thing’ about worms anyway. Now they know why.

Will told the story how about he started this urban farm just to sell some of his crops. Gradually he began to work with youth groups in the area. One of the youth projects had to do with using worms. So he did it and now he cannot conceive of any other way of farming without using ‘worm power’. The troubled youth were not only saved from the streets by gardening, Will was saved for all us by using “worm power to become the “urban farmer” promoting affordable, urban organic farming around the world. Milwaukee is blessed to have Growing Power here. In fact the former alderperson who got the original permit for Will to have this farm in the city was Don Richards, a member of our Church. He was also on the tour.

As usual on these tours I learned a few things and met some interesting persons. One thing I learned was that the mixture in my growing pots should be 50% coyer (coconut shavings) and 50% worm castings. Also I think that next year I will add more coyer to my Growing Power box. I also learned where I can get some brewers’ grain waste which is good for compost piles. I met a woman on the tour who not only reads this ‘diary of a worm’ at times but also is old enough to remember the Milwaukee 14 and has a red arm-band from that era. The Milwaukee 14 was another ‘redemptive act’ that happened in Milwaukee in 1968. (More about this old news Milwaukee 14 event tomorrow or another time)

The third person in the picture above with Will Allen and Don Richards is Harvey Taylor. He is the musician I have spoken about many times and who wrote the song “Growing Power.” You can reach his site by clicking on his name on the sidebar list of “Wonderful Links”.

So be it. with felons, youth, musicians, politicians, former activists or former pro basketball players like Will Allen — Gardening can be Redemptive.

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January 21, 2007 Worms without Minds

If you are looking for a good children’s book about worms that is fun and educational, check out the “Diary of a Worm” by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Harry Bliss. My grandchildren discovered this book in a local library in northern Wisconsin. It is a picture book about a young worm keeping a diary. It plays on facts like worms eat paper. For example the April 15th entry is: “I forgot my lunch today. I got so hungry that I ate my homework. My teacher made me write ‘I will not eat my homework’ ten times. When I finished I ate that, too.” The pictures with the text are wonderful.

Today was full of shoveling, church, breakfast at a New Orleans-style restaurant, more shoveling and football so far. In compost language, today was full of more carbon than nitrogen. Tomorrow, however, promises to have a lot of nitrogen, with St. Vincent De Paul Calls in the morning and the Grand Tour of Growing Power in the afternoon. For you local GP fans the Tour is Monday, tomorrow, Jan 22nd at 55th and Silver Spring at 3:30–5pm. Will Allen will conduct the tour.

In last Friday’s posting on this “diary of a worm” I displayed an anti-stigma bus sign calling for mental health check ups. We are all concerned about the health of our gardens and the health of our pets and (if we can afford it or have good health insurance) about the health of our body. What about the health of our mind? With all the stress of daily living, all the chemicals we digest, it would seem that health of mind would be recognized as important. But it is not; in fact, most health insurance policies (for those that can afford them) do not give equal coverage, parity, to mental health and to physical health. However, any kind of health insurance, in general, is not too great for many Americans, as this bit of humor illustrates:

Two patients limp into two different medical clinics with the same complaint. Both have trouble walking and appear to require a hip replacement. The first patient is examined within the hour, is x-rayed the same day and has a time booked for surgery the following week.

The second sees his family doctor after waiting a week for an appointment, then waits eighteen weeks to see a specialist, then gets an X-ray, which isn’t reviewed for another month, and finally has his surgery scheduled for a year from then.

Why the different treatment for the two patients? The first is a Golden Retriever. The second is a Senior Citizen.

Now if the person had a serious mental illness and was taken to either a medical clinic or to an emergency room, the chances are the person would not be served at all. Many hospitals today do not have mental health sections, and the county mental health complex is being phased out. Jails and prisons are now the major places housing the majority of persons with serious mental health issues.

Worms are very simple creatures yet have unbelievably an complicated digestive system that takes waste and makes it fertile soil. They do not need health care except natural care to be feed and have enough water. Dogs are somewhat higher on the “creature scale” in our society, and as the joke illustrates they get quick medical health care if their owners can afford it. However humans, with brainpower, in the USA have costly but ineffective health insurance and not much health care when it comes to their minds. As this week’s Time magazine explains, the ‘brain’ or our mind is a great frontier waiting to be explored.

In this context creatures without minds, like worms, get natural health care; higher creatures, like dogs, have easy access to health care if the owner can afford it. For us so called “higher beings” with minds and consciousness, it gets a bit more complicated, especially with mental health illnesses.

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January 20, 2007 Leftovers

Earlier this afternoon I looked out the window in the sun-room to see all kinds and types of birds on the feeder and on the ground below, pecking away at the sunflower seeds. When filling the feeder the day before, I accidentally spilled some seeds on the ground. Some of the bigger birds, who normally do not hang around on the tree next door, seemed to find the leftover seeds on the ground more appealing than squabbling with the little birds on the edge of the bird feeder.

Later this afternoon I decided to take a picture of all the birds on the feeder and on the the ground. When I went out with the camera, however, they were all gone, even the ones who regularly hang out on the tree next door. So I filled the feeder again, this time purposely spilling some on the ground. I went to the gas station to get gas and a lottery ticket and came back with camera. With fresh food in the feeder and on the ground I figured they would return. When I came home there was still no birds around, not even the pesky squirrels that try to steal the bird food. Where did they all go? Perhaps they had their fill of sunflower seeds, which I noticed they picked apart on the ground, and went off to seek other fare. Or perhaps they were just plain full, period. Thus the picture above.

In the background of the picture you see the worm depository, which is really a large hill of compost — leftovers — in which hundreds of hundreds of worms reside. Compost is really just leftovers — leftover food scraps, leftover coffee grounds, leftover leaves, leftover newspaper etc.

The USA, with all our consumption, has a lot of leftovers. Some of the leftovers make for good compost and the compost makes for good food for worms to make castings, which in turn are used to grow more food (which will make for more leftovers).

Unlike the birds or worms, however, we humans are not even close to making effective use of our leftovers. Most of our leftovers make their way to landfills and are wasted waste. With Growing Power, we can turn our leftovers to compost and recycle them back into organic food.

In the Bible story of the miracle of multiplication of five loves of bread and two fish to feed thousands, it says that Jesus told his disciples, after everyone had their fill, to collect the leftovers, and they filled 12 baskets. I always wondered why there were so many leftovers. At the spot in the Holy Land where they think this miracle occurred, there is a story written on the wall of how the people of the time used to carry around, in a pouch around their necks, dried fish and bread in case they got stranded in this desert country as they walked long distances. The story goes that when they saw Jesus and his apostle sharing the little they had with everyone they pulled out their food in the bag to share. Thus all the leftovers.

Maybe there is another lesson in this Gospel story: with the 12 baskets of leftovers the apostles could have food for days. One good act of sharing led to more sharing, and leftovers that could continue the sharing. Either way, I am sure Jesus and his apostles made good use of the leftovers.

We are back to Growing Power: the system of growing that is based on leftovers. Perhaps, like the birds and the worms in the backyard, we humans will learn to use our leftovers so effectively that some day all will be fed and there will be no more hunger.

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January 19, 2007 Stress or Sleep

When I was working (employed) full time, on Friday nights I was extremely tired. Saturday was sort of “headache day,” but by Sunday night I was feeling refreshed and ready to go for another week. Now that I am not working (employed), Friday nights are like every other night, and Saturdays and Sunday are like every other day in terms of feeling tired, stressed, or ready to go. The stress or lack of stress from work (employment) probably is the reason for this change. Stress is a big part of our society these days, as we try to do more in the same time. For some, even holidays and vacations can be stressful because there is so much they want to do. I heard this story about someone asking a friend how his vacation was. He told his friend of all the things they did, showed them all the pictures they took. The friend listened to it all and watched all the slides and concluded the person was really not present on his own vacation. He was too busy taking pictures and planning the next thing. Maybe the person’s body was there, but his mind was so rushed that he did not really hear, see or enjoy the vacation.

Being close to the land by growing plants, being close to our mind by silence, being close to our awareness of the present by reflection, are all ways of really being present to each moment and living it fully, at peace and relaxed. The paradox is that slowing down brings us deeper awareness and experience of life. My friend Tegan, the wiki gnome who edits this mini-site, sent me a link to a web-site dedicated to slowing down. However, I have been too busy doing other stuff to look at it yet.

In working in a garden or growing indoors, you set a list of priorities, of what is important — water, light, rich soil — to keep everything growing and healthy. If you stick to your priorities the garden grows well. In life we all say we have priorities — be they God, family, reading, conversation with friends, work etc. Once I was involved in an exercise where we had to write down our priorities in order, number one being the most important etc. Then we were asked to write down how we spend our time outside of sleep. There were very few correspondences of time spent to priorities.

A plant stressed by too much heat and lack of water withers away and dies. When humans get stressed by too much work and worry they wither away and some parts of them dies. However, we can rescue the plant with water and shade, as the persons can be rescued by letting go of worry or slowing down at work.

Now, you that know me know that I do not practice what I preach all the time. So be it, At least I have the desire to practice, slow down and be silent, to be what I say.

Now for a warning! Eliminating stress get cause one to be sleepy. I find myself as I slow down, get older, and worry less, needing to sleep more — at least in the morning. Maybe I am becoming more of who I am, more of a night person, not a morning person who gets up early to get going. Maybe strees keeps us awake. Whatever it is, fortunately I can afford sleep over stress.

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January 18, 2007 Growing Our Imagination

Today we went to the home of a friend, Patricia Oblitz, who has a mini-site on Milwaukee Renaissance. Her house is filled with her artwork, from when she was a child till the present. The ad above is part of the anti-stigma campaign she is running on the back of city buses. Her story of overcoming mental and physical ailments, and tragic deaths in her family, to be the person she is — a true artist — is amazing. Check it out for yourself: her story is at Patricia Obletz. Home Page?, along with some of her artwork.

I am attracted to her artwork by the imagination it displays. She taught us a method of ‘colorplay’ where our subconscious can be released, and from our doodling on paper the creative process begins. It was a fascinating way of starting an art project.

On this posting I have talked a lot about imagination and my effort to help my grandchildren to keep and grow their imaginations. If you’ve read this you can see why this encounter today was so wonderful.

It is this release of imagination that makes some people so creative. Will Allen of Growing Power always says how the use of worms, compost, and the various components of this way of growing are not new. He calls it the ‘same old, same old’. However, what he and his staff have brought to this “same old, same old” is creativity and imagination. It is in trying different methods of growing, over many years, that Growing Power has grown. Discover this new creative way of looking at gardening and farming for yourselves next Monday at 3:30–5pm on the tour of Growing Power at 55th and Silver Spring. Like Godsil said to me, and I have said to you, after the tour “you will never look at worms [creatures who have been around for hundreds of millions of years] the same way ever again.”

Imagination is not only the driving force behind Growing Power and art, but of music and even spirituality. One of my favorite ways to pray is by using the five senses of the imagination. For example you put yourself at some Gospel scene and see, hear, taste, touch and smell the scene. In fact a friend and I, some years ago, using a way of praying form St. Ignatius of Loyola that involves the five senses of imagination and information on the historical Jesus put together a method of praying called: “Praying with the Historical Jesus.” We created nothing new, but just by use of imagination put together a method of prayer that combines our senses with modern information on the historical Jesus.

You can check out a taste of my grandson’s use of his imagination on the Graf Kids? pages, linked-to from the Graf Family mini-web site sidebar. However, you need never go very far to check out the imagination of children. Simply have a personal conversation of equals with a young child from three-six to understand imagination at its best. It is said that in our society imagination decreases with age. This fact is sadly true. Fortunately, like seeds, we can by reading, reflecting, and observing grow back our imagination. Once nourished it grows again.

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January 17, 2007 To Serve is to be Great

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote came across my screen the other day from a friend in Holland. It took me a few days to digest this simple but profound thought.

It reminds me of the trees that are planted next to the coffee trees in Guatemala. Their whole purpose is to offer shade for the coffee trees, which makes for a better coffee bean. They are also carefully pruned and the wood is used to heat fires in the many homes that use still wood stoves for cooking. In Guatemala I was able to purchase a beautifully carved soup ladle from this same kind of wood. Some would say this tree is useless since it produces no fruit. However, it is a great tree because it serves well the coffee growers, the mothers who cooked the meals, and the artists who carve its branches. Sadly I cannot remember the name of this tree.

Some of the great people I have known are great not so much for their talents but for their service. Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker House of Hospitality movement, was like that. Yes, she could write and was a good speaker, but she is remembered for her service, especially to the poor, hungry and homeless.

My experience has taught me that the key to greatness in serving is doing it in such a way that we identify with the person we are serving and treat them as an equal. Persons being served can quickly sense that you are treating them with dignity and respect, and they are quick to give back to you what they have. When we are blessed to serve with compassion, understanding, and humility, we are blessed.

Gardening is a great equalitarian service, for how we serve our garden in many ways is what we get back from our garden. Being a gardener does not take formal education or a great deal of money. We just need some land to use, some seeds to plant, the blessing of good weather, and some learning from our mistakes.

Another quote, from an unknown source, comes to me: “The more we give, the more we get.” Giving, be it of our time, talent, or money, is a service that, if done with compassion and understanding, can make us Great.

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January 16, 2007 1, 3, 4 Flowers

Three of my lucky lotto numbers are 1, 3, and 4. I am not going to tell you the rest since the Mega Buck lottery tomorrow night is worth over 180 million dollars and I may remember to purchase a ticket. There are a lot of reasons why these three numbers are among my lucky numbers, but a part of the reason is my belief in one God with three persons (Trinity), and that we all our connected to this one God. This makes for the four, plus one and three equals four.

As mentioned before I have been feeding my kitchen window plants ‘tea’, water spiked with worm-casting nutrients. My wife pointed out to me that flowers are blooming on all three of the plants above. One, the Amaryllis, the most transient of the three, has four blooms. All three plants are planted in one type of soil made from three components, coconut shavings (coyer), compost and worm castings. There is one sun and one source of water feeding the plants. The plant with the shortest life span is the Amaryllis, which is blooming with four flowers at the present.

The Trinity (Three persons in One God) is a mystery of our faith. How we are touched and loved by God is also a mystery. However, by faith we know these mysteries to be. All three plants with the right environment grow and bloom. But the plants need the right environment, as we do, to grow. With help, I provide that environment for the plants, which they are not even aware of. God, working through humans, provides the right environment for growth when humans trust and do their part. However, we humans, unlike the plants, can consciously choose and shape our environment for good or bad. Since we are all connected in the same ground of life, what one of us chooses affects all of us.

This may explain why there can be so much beauty and destruction in the world at the same time. However, mysteries are not always meant to be solved, but just accepted and made the most of. One ground of life, three flowers and one with four blooms. (If you are thinking, “what is he talking about?” I do not know.)

Today is a good day for plants in the house and especially in the sun-room. It is cold outside but the sun shines brightly. While it is in the 20’s outside, the barely heated sunroom is approaching 60 degrees and the temperature of the soil is slowly moving to catch up with it, now approaching 50 degrees.

One environment subject to the ‘third degree’, cruel treatment and forced confession, can be saved by working together as One making for a ‘fourth dimension.’ something outside the ranges of ordinary experience.

I am writing this midday; maybe I should get back to writing at night. If I remember to buy a ticket and win the big lottery I will let you know.

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January 15, 2007 Power of Water

Still basking in the beauty of the four pink flowers on my Amaryllis plant, I sit down tonight to reflect on one piece of my patch quilt-style of life — the power of water. My mind wanders to our second snowfall of the season, light but white. The snow meant I had to clear out the driveway but it also meant my garden gets a much needed moist ground covering.

Like the earth we all need water to clean and energize our system. Our bodies, like the earth, thirst for water. On the other hand, the story of the women on a radio show challenge who died from drinking a gallon of water without going to the bathroom illustrates that even drinking water can kill. Also, of course, we all have heard of persons drowning in water.

So the cool part of the patch quilt, water, is my focus tonight. In the Growing Power box I always have the challenge of watering too much or not enough. About the only thing I know for sure is that the water that passes through the box, the “tea”, is alive with nutrients, and when put back into the box or on other plants this enriched water gives new life.

Also I do know that ‘bottled water’ is unbelievably popular in our culture, although sometimes the bottled water is not as alive and healthy as the tap water. Also making the bottle probably consumes more energy than the water in the bottle gives out.

In the creation story in the Hebrew Scriptures water was created before the land, growing things, light, living creatures and human beings. In evolutionary theory, from what I understand, life emerged from the sea, the waters. Also I think most of our body is water. In the Gospels Jesus says, “I am the living waters, who drinks from me will not perish.”

Water is also cleansing. We wash and clean in it. Sometimes the business of life muddies the water but if we just stay still and let the dirty water fall to the bottom, the waters become clear again and we can see deeply into our lives.

There is a picture I use for my monthly newsletter “Living Stones”. It is water from Lake Winnebago washing over a stone. The stone is a symbol of strength and endurance, and yet running water can reshape it over many years. Just look at the Grand Canyon to see the power of water.

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January 14, 2007 Four Blooming

All four buds on my Amaryllis plant are blooming. It is difficult to take a picture of all four flowers at one time. This year’s plant, powered by Growing Power, is pink. Pink, considered a woman’s color, seems to be the “in color” in hats, T shirts and other items supporting the fight against breast cancer. So it is good that the plant this year is pink.

Over the weekend I updated three of the web sites linked to the Graf Family mini web-site. One of them is Ella’s Patch Quilt Gallery?. Late Friday night when I was doing this posting and talked about being another year older, I compareded myself to a patch quilt. I was going to put in a picture of one of Ella’s patch quilts, but since I was tired (and talking about losing memory with age) I put in an elephant, by mistake. For lots of pictures of patch quilts check out Ella’s site.

Also yesterday when my grandchildren called to wish me Happy Birthday, I asked them for some more material for their page: Graf Kids?. Today I received a wonderful and imaginative short story from my nine-year-old grandson. You can read it for yourself. Imagination reveals a lot of about the world around us. I am proud to see that, despite the education system, he still has an active imagination.

The third group of pages I updated some is the Mothers Against Gun Violence?. This is a sad but necessary site. Violence will only be stopped when we fight it with creative non-violence.

The fourth site updated this weekend, naturally is this one. Before the anticipated snowfall tonight and the oncoming very cold weather, I put coffee grounds over my three of my worm/compost piles. The coffee grounds topped by snow should seal the piles and protect the worms, in two of the three piles, during this cold spell. I also fixed the fallen insulation in my sun-room, and by turning up the small heater in the room should be able to keep the soil in the Growing Power box at an acceptable growing temperature.

At our Faith In Recovery (found among the “Wonderful Links” on the SideBar) meeting at our church this morning we used a quote by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, for faith sharing. With all the doubts and fears that we live with, I will leave you tonight with this quote. With this understanding and seeing the beauth of the floor blooms, “all is well.”

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. — Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude” Abbey of Gethsemani

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January 13, 2007 Can You Hear God Laughing?

Tonight I was blessed to attend a poetry reader of two Sufi (mystic Muslim) poets. Karen Kolberg performed the poetry of Hafiz, and Bob Roberts the poetry of Rumi. The work of these poets have been translated into contemporary English and although they lived in the time of the Persian Empire, their words ring true today. The modern translation of Hafiz poetry is called: “I heard God laughing: Renderings of Hafiz.”

As part of the evening Karen had persons pick what she called “quatrains”, four lines poems of Hafiz. Here is an example of one my wife picked and read:

“Not until a person dissolves,
Can he or she know what union is?
There is a descent into emptiness,
A lie will not change to truth with just talking about it.”

Many of the poems were about joy, laughter, God, and the beauty of all creation. Both persons had memorized all the poems and spoke them with heart-felt understanding. Their words touched my heart in the silent place where my soul resides and made me desire more. There was also a lot of laughter tonight.

Today I wanted to walk outside and my wife wanted to shop. So we compromised and went to the new Bay Shore center, which is like a town center where you can walk down streets full of stores, most of them serving the wealthy. We went into only two — Trader Joes and Kohl’s — but I still had the stuffed sick feeling in the stomach that I get in shopping malls. It struck me how hard we work and make more stuff in order to purchase more stuff, which leads to us working harder so we can get more stuff.

Sufi poetry gets to the heart of the matter of life where silence and the soul rest. Shopping malls get to the surface of the matter of life, where noise and stuff dominate.

Growing Power resides more with the Sufi poets, mystical but grounded in realities of life, than the Bay Shore shopping centers of life, which give us more stuff and work. When you go on a tour of Growing Power — next one on Jan. 22nd — you will hear a lot of laughter, like we heard tonight in the readings from Hafiz and Rumi. When you shop at Bay Shore you hear a lot of talk and noise but hardly any laughter. Maybe the question pointing to the difference between experiences that bring you peace and joy and experiences that bring you work and sadness is “Can you hear God laughing?”.

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January 12, 2007 Another Year Older

As I get older I hopefully get wiser. At least I have the chance to learn from past mistakes and successes.
As I get older I get closer to death, which can happen any time or in the future but it will happen.
As I get older I appreciate the simple things in life, like a good meal, friends or just a smile.

As my garden grows, inside in the winter and outside in the summer, it comes closer to dying.
As my garden grows the plants come closer to dying. Some will die and rise again and some just will die.

As I pray and reflect, I can detach myself from the immediate and see the bigger picture.
As I pray and reflect, I can sense the metaphysical element of life, something beyond the here and now.

As I get older I get tired more easily.
As I get older, there is more to life than meets the eye.
As I get older, like the garden soil, I need a renewal of life.

As my compost pile cooks the soil get rich with nutrients.
As the worms turn in the compost the compost turns to castings.
As the castings are placed in bags in water it creates ‘tea.’

I am like a patch quilt with many life experience patched together to make my life. The patch quilt becomes heavy in time but it keeps me warm on cold winter nights I can look at it and see many parts of my life. This reminds me that I need to add some pictures to Ella’s Patch Quilt Gallery?. Remembering, memory, becomes harder as we become another year older.

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January 11, 2007 One Day at a Time

One Wave at a Time

Cold days of winter and maybe even some snow days are coming, at least so says the weatherman. I wish our politicians had the tools of a weatherman to look back and see ahead and predict, somewhat accurately, the results that present actions will take. Our local newspaper was noticeably absent of any questions or objections to the President’s new (old) strategy in Iraq. Someone in town here sent a letter to the editor listing 20 or so articles off the press wire that the local newspaper chooses to ignore. A friend from Europe did send me this article from The Independent (UK) today by Robert Fisk called “Bush’s new strategy — the march of folly”. Check it out for yourself. I also saw in my email an article by the evangelist Jim Wallis calling the war not only unjust and immoral but also “criminal.” If I could say one thing to the president it would be a quote from the Bible: “If today you hear the voice of God, harden not your heart” (Psalm 95). “Let those who have ears to hear, hear” (Jesus)

At today’s vigil for homicide victims in Milwaukee there were many members of the family. The man had been shot during an armed robbery when he went to help a young woman who was threatened by one of the robbers. This man gave his life for another person. Mothers Against Gun Violence?

With all the death around me today there were signs of hope and new life. Two blooms of the Amaryllis plant blossomed today. There are still two to go. One of my family members who is struggling made some good progress today, and I took time out to sit quietly and also took time to water all my houseplants with ‘tea’ from the Growing Power Box.

I think I need to replant some salad seeds or find some new ways to invigorate my salad greens in the Growing Power Box. I have some casting/compost soil from the garage that I hope, when I put it around the plants, will give some of them new life. They seem to have stopped growing. Maybe I should order more seeds since the cold and snow of winter seems to be just now starting and my plants, having been picked many times, are pooping out. Also the insulating plastic on the west window/doors seems to have gotten loose and needs some new cold-resistant taping.

I hope the cold and snow does not wear down my salad greens before they have a chance to grow some more and spring alive, just as I hope the opposition to the escalation of the war in Iraq does not wear out before action is taken to bring our troops home safe and sound. If the GP box does not produce much anymore it really does not matter much. There is always next winter. However, if the war continues to take the lives of our brave men and women and the people of Iraq, that does matter a lot to me. What can I do? I signed a few more online petitions today, one, at, from parents of Iraqi soldiers who have died in Iraq. I keep on doing what I can do here on the home front, working on Growing Power, helping friends, family and those in need and praying and trusting. All we can do is take “one day at a time” and make the best of it.

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January 10, 2007 To Ignore or Listen - A Garden Lesson

Back in the sixties (for some of you old enough to remember), when people spoke by vote, nonviolent protest, or direct action, the government or institution listened. Often they did not recognize our movements for civil rights, or to end the war, but they always responded and sometimes reacted. Now, while the people keep the same methods of voting, protesting, or taking direct nonviolent action, the government and institutions have adopted a new method of dealing with the voice of the people -— just ignore it.

The president’s address to the nation tonight was a good example of this new strategy. The generals, members of congress, the president and people of Iraq, his own bipartisan study group, and most American people have voiced their opposition in words, by vote and by protest to sending more American men and women into harm’s way in Iraq. Yet he ignores everyone except those who tell him what he wants to hear, and while admitting that his strategy has been a failure, he continues it and increases it. He even justified this in our name, the President of Iraq’s name and the name of the very military personal who tell him that it will not work.

If you ignore a garden, worm livestock or home Growing Power box, we all know what it will lead to — death. Worms not fed in the worm depository will die or seek out new shelters. Plants not cared for will shrivel and die. Nature treats those who ignore it with with death and destruction. Witness all the environmental issues we are facing for ignoring the environment.

The opposite of ignoring something, like the will of the people or a garden, is listening and responding in a compassionate way. When we respond to the needs of our garden, or when enemies listen and respond to each other, there is growth and progress.

When we ignore our enemies — be it a nasty bug in the garden or an enemy country — we strengthen our enemies. Eventually because of our ignoring we need to react, with insect repellant or with violence. When we listen and respond to a bug problem or to the nations we disagree with, the very thing we opposed goes away with our understanding and response to the root causes.

When I listen to someone I do not agree with and that person listens to me, things work out for the good. When we ignore each other it usually leads to reaction and more conflict. Ignorance comes from ignoring, Wisdom comes from listening.

Amaryllis Update. My Amaryllis plant has not bloomed yet this year, but this year, planted in castings and compost and fed by “tea”, it is taller and now has four buds on it. What would have happened if I had listened to it even more? I do not know but do know what would have happened if I had ignored it.

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January 9, 2007 Violence and Worms

A funny but sad quote came across my screen today from Jay Leno of the Tonight Show:
“President Bush is expected to announce that he is now sending more troops to Iraq, despite the fact that his general, his military analysts, members of congress, and most of the American people are against the idea. The reason he’s doing it? To give Iraq a government that responds to the will of the people.”---Leno

I did my part today, emailed congress, went to a prayer vigil for peace, and sent a postcard to my senator in an effort to stop the “surge”, but, as the joke expresses, feel helpless. I feel the saddest for our military men and women and the people of Iraq. For a soldier to fight a war is hell enough, but to fight it with no end in sight and for no good reason or for changing reasons is unbearable. The injuries of this war, of mind and body, are more damaging than in any other war we have fought in our history. Many civilians in Iraq been killed and those who could flee have done so, leaving just the poor and helpless and the warring factions to fight to the death. How sad. This is nothing to joke about, yet he must joke about it to live and hope.

The winter cold returned today just as I got outside to work to re-do the old compost area. I took some wheelbarrows of good compost soil out of the area but there is still more. Taking out the compost I saw many worms in it. Worms naturally seek out food and warmth so I was not surprised. This broken-down compost was a good source of heat and food. But I do have to move more of the compost out before I can start a new compost pile in this old spot. It will probably be the next warm spell when I get it started. In the meanwhile I will put the cut-up cardboard and the coffee grounds over the now-two worm depositories, the big one and the new small one. The cardboard and coffee grounds will protect the worms from the cold as well as provide them with food.

Now for some good news! My friend Godsil wrote me today that there will be a tour of the Growing Power facilities at 55th and Silver Spring by Will Allen on Monday, Jan. 22nd, 2007 from 3:30pm-5:00pm. I urge any of you locally who have any interest in gardening or affordable agriculture to make this tour. Godsil asked me how many I was bringing. I said I did not know, but you may want to write me a note if you can make it. He worked hard to get this tour, so it may make him feel better to know you are coming. I know I will try to be there. Each tour, each visit at Growing Power I learn something new.

Worms make worms, violence makes violence, and peace makes peace. I am for two of the three. How about you?

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January 8, 2007 Double Coffee

Today was double coffee grounds day. This morning on my way home from grocery shopping I stopped at two Starbucks and brought home two bags of coffee grounds. With these grounds and all the cardboard boxes I have been saving I plan to start a new compost pile in the large area behind the garage. That is where I had the major compost pile last year. The small one on the side of the garage is fairly cooked, and today I noticed some neighborhood worms have found their way into it. The third pile is now in the worm condo and that should be ready for worms by spring. For those of you that read these postings for information on a home Growing Power garden I plan to give you a blow-by-blow and picture-by-picture account of my efforts. Growing Power central and Will Allen are focusing on the bigger picture, using Growing Power to grow affordable organic food in urban and rural agriculture farms. I am trying to get them to do more for the home gardener who has been through the tour and attended a workshop, but does not wish to make a business out of it or do a major community project. However, I understand their focus on the bigger picture of producing affordable organic food in large quantities.

On the sidebar of this Graf Family mini-site there is a link to the Growing Power Forum?, which has gone mostly unused. Maybe we can use that to keep some discussion going and tips for us home gardeners trying to use Growing Power.

Today I had the privilege of meeting with Patricia Obletz, an artist from New York who has recently moved to Milwaukee. She is now in the process of conducting an anti-stigma advertising campaign on bus signs. The stigma that society places on persons with a mental illness is something that I have been interested in and fighting against for years. It was good to meet such a wonderful woman dedicated to this cause. You can check out her web site on Milwaukee Renaissance at Patricia Obletz.Home Page

Again today I was too busy with grocery shopping and meeting with good persons to do much with the outside garden. According to weather reports, the weather is going to turn much colder in the next few days. My procrastination on working outside may soon mean I am too late for a while. Maybe tomorrow morning I can get some time in, at least getting the new and improved compost pile started.

I noticed that when I have a busy day (no matter how good a busy day I have), my powers of observation and creative insights lessen as my reflective mood lessens. Martin Luther King used to say that the busier he got the more time he needed for reflection. (I may be repeating myself here.) I really believe that, but practicing it is hard. Maybe it was that double coffee grounds adventure at Starbucks that got me going so fast.

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January 7, 2007 No Worm Zealots

Here is a quote a friend sent me. If you substitute the word “ground” for “truth” it could be from a worm, if a worm could speak.

“Someone who has actually tasted truth (ground) is not contentious for truth (ground). Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth (ground) has not yet learnt what truth (ground) is really like; once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.”

The quote is from a human, a father of the early Christian Church, St. Isaac the Syrian. For some of us humans the quote rings true. Sometimes when we think we know the ‘truth’ we are overzealous and what our friends would call our ‘enthusiasm’, our foes would call ‘self righteousness.’ We are “considered by people to be zealous for truth,” which might mean we have “not yet learnt what truth is really like.”

Worms, who have tasted ground, are not contentious for ground. They are certainly not zealous for ground. They know what it is and just seek out, slowly, the ground they need to stay alive and to be who they are.

After church this morning, at coffee and donuts time, I found myself asking a friend who has just become engaged and purchased an old house he is fixing up if he had a nice backyard, and pushing him zealously to use Growing Power (worm power) in his garden-to-be. A bit zealous I would say. I need to get more taste of the truth of Growing Power in my system, which can only become from working with it.

It was another mild day outside, but contrary to my resolution of yesterday I did not do much with compost or garden preparation. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get more of a taste of working with ground.

Now, I believe, there is a fine line between ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘zeal’. Being enthusiastic for Growing Power, a cause like stopping the war in Iraq, or any truth we believe in is good. Jesus was certainly enthusiastic for his Jewish faith, but he was not a zealot

This also brings me around to another New Year’s resolution (which we so easily forget), to learn more about worms. A friend sent me links to some sites about worms. They seem to be the “in” thing these days in gardening. However, despite my aversion toward “in” things, I certainly can learn more about worms.

At the same coffee and donuts this morning after Church at Blessed Trinity, I did find another source of food for my worm livestock. The person who makes the coffee will be saving me the coffee grounds so I can add them to my compost and worm depository. The coffee grounds are from fair trade coffee from Kenya. I know the worms will like the taste in the compost, but not being zealous creatures, will never let me know.

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January 6, 2007 New Amaryllis

With the New Year a new Amaryllis plant prepares to bloom. Like the one I featured last year on this site, this one was purchased in a box at Aldi’s before Christmas. From the old days I have some Miracle Gro plant food for it, but so far have just used casting tea to water it. This bud, ready to bloom, is a sign of new life.

This helps offset some of the rest of my day, when I prepared the Mothers Against Gun Violence mini-website?. Putting up the pictures of the three young men whose deaths inspired this effort to curb violence was difficult. They all had so much to live for and their lives were cut off by a man with a gun that he should not have had over an argument at a bar. The Mothers’ hope is that their three sons’ deaths will inspire others to work together to Stop the Violence.

The weather again today was mild. Working outside on the worm depository and compost piles, I decided that as long as the weather was so mild this winter, I would allow myself, like the plants, to start thinking it is early spring and begin to prepare the garden. Why not? As I mentioned before, the Rhododendron plant outside is getting ready to bloom so why should I not get ready for planting? However, the difference between me and the plants is I will not be fooled by the weather. I know it will get below freezing again so will not do anything (like the plants may do) that will be harmful to growth in the spring.

One of the things I can do that is weatherproof is start to build another major compost pile. I have a bunch of boxes ready to be torn up, and can always get more coffee grounds from the coffee shops. You can never have too much compost.

Tomorrow is the feast day of the Epiphany, the showing of Jesus to the three wise men from afar. It is a major holy day in the Church outside the USA, for this celebration recognizes that Jesus came for all persons. The star the wise men saw in the distance led them to him. This tale offers a lot of hope to us who keep looking for the epiphany, the discovery of God in our lives. Perhaps the Amaryllis will bloom tomorrow. That would be fitting.

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January 5, 2007 Growing Power and Wiki Masters

GP Master Will

Wiki Master Tegan

Almost two years ago my friend James Godsil took a tour of Growing Power at 55th and Silver Spring. He told some of us about it and how he would never look at a worm the same way again. So out of curiosity I took the tour. After a few more tours and a visit by Will Allen of Growing Power to my house, Loren (a houseguest at the time) at I built the Growing Power Box in the sun-room. That was about a year ago and at the same time I started this “Diary of a Worm”. The diary was made possible by another friend of Godsil’s, Tegan Dowling, who has knowledge in the “wiki” method of web sites and aids those working on this Milwaukee Renaissance site. Wiki is an easy way of doing a web site that, with guidance, even someone like me can learn. In the spring and summer I took the Growing Power system outside to the garden, and I applied the ‘wiki’ method to create web pages about other experiences — my pilgrimage to Guatemala, my son’s art work etc.

So while I grew in knowledge of Growing Power, I grew with Tegan’s guidance in the ways of “wiki”. As my Graf Family home page (click above) will testify, the number of web pages, like the garden greens and worms has multiplied.

All of this history is to tell you how I spent my morning today. Part of it was with my friend Marna, one of the Mothers Against Gun Violence, getting material for and working on their home page (check it in a day or so), and part of it was with Ella Brooks getting more pictures for her home page? on her patch quilt work.

The seeds planted in me by Godsil, about worms and wiki web pages, have grown and grown. This is one of those good cycles that we want to continue. I feel like a novice who through introductions from my old friend Godsil, has been introduced to two masters, Will Allen and Tegan Dowling, who have taught me Growing Power and wiki, but more important how to grow and learn in this knowledge. Now I feel the need to share my knowledge with others. The masters pass on knowledge to novices who grow to pass it on to others. The cycle continues.

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January 4, 2007 Break or Continue The Cycle

Break the Vicious cycle

Growing Power Cycle

Today a friend, musician Harvey Taylor, pointed me to a new song on his homepage. It is called “Break the Cycle”. It is about breaking the vicious cycle of suffering, violence, abuse and other ‘hell hounds.’ You can listen to this brief but timeless song at: I played the song over and over again as I was working on the computer and cleaning my office. (Yes, I did start to clean my office.) The song is almost hypnotic, and by repeating it over and over again I hope to do my best to break my contribution to the vicious cycle of suffering.

There are other cycles of life that are not vicious, that we do not want to break but continue. One is nature’s cycle of dying and life that is all around us. In fact, in Growing Power we try to enhance the cycle by turning waste into compost, enhancing it with worm power, using it for growing and then taking the waste and starting over again.

The cycle Harvey is talking about is the cycle of insanity. The cycle of Growing Power is the cycle of nature. One is vicious, one is peaceful.

I had a glimpse of the vicious cycle of suffering at the two vigils I attended today for homicide victims on New Year’s Day. Both were young men who suffered senseless deaths by gun violence. I could see and feel the vicious suffering from violence in the families of the young men. This cycle of violence in Milwaukee needs to stop.

I also got a glimpse of the cycle of life today when I visited the St. Camillus nursing home today. I visited with Gordon Zahn, an author and leader of nonviolence, who now suffers from severe dementia. My words were senseless to him and his words were senseless to me. Yet we did communicate. In his own way he talked abut his hope for tomorrow and how we must accept the present. I then briefly met with a Jesuit friend in the same home whose mind is intact. He was my teacher many years ago and taught me the “power of observation.” I told him about this diary, which tries to practice seeing deeply into the small things of life. He smiled broadly. This cycle of observation I want to continue.

We can choose to pass on the cycle of violence as was done to the two homicide victims, or like these two elderly men pass on the cycle of learning and wisdom.

Today was another good day to get coffee grounds from Starbucks. While my wife ran in to a store to pick up a few items, I stopped at the nearby Starbucks for coffee grounds and was rewarded with a big bag. I will recycle these coffee grounds along with the cardboard boxes I am collecting to feed my compost pile and my livestock, worms. In this way I am continuing the cycle.

Here is a site with 25 ways to break a vicious cycle that Harvey is talking about:

Here is a site with information on how to continue the Growing Power cycle:

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January 3, 2007 Feeding the Birds

When I was putting sunflower seeds in the bird feeder this afternoon, the question came to me: “Are the birds taking advantage of me or am I taking advantage of them?”

When I worked at a downtown church some years ago, there was a constant dilemma of what to do about the beggars who were always asking for money outside the church. Do we give them money or not give them money? Do they really need money for food and their families, or are they just looking for money for drink? How do you know? Some in the parish were vehemently opposed to giving a beggar any money, and thought it would just lead to more beggars at the doors of the Church. Some thought we should give them some small amounts of money if we had it. There was no good answer to this dilemma but the Church had come up with little blue cards with lists of agencies and organizations that could provide services for them. However, handing a beggar a blue card, for some of us, was not very satisfactory — as it probably was not for the homeless person.

The Society of Jesus, Jesuits, ran the Church. The founder of the Jesuits was St. Ignatius of Loyola. Before his radical conversion he was a man of the court and fancied himself with nice clothes and swordplay. After his conversion he surrendered his sword and exchanged his fancy clothes for thse of a beggar. He became a beggar. In his autobiography he tells the story of how a mother and her daughter who were also begging joined him. At a lodge one night they met some soldiers who gave them some food and wine. At midnight he was wakened by the screams of the mother and daughter in the courtyard as the soldiers were attempting to ‘violate’ them. He was so overcome with emotion that he began to shout at the top of his voice. Everyone at the inn was woken up and no harm came to the mother and daughter who, with St. Ignatius, immediately fled.

Were St. Ignatius and the mother and daughter taking advantage of persons, especially the soldiers, by begging? The soldiers were certainly trying to take advantage of the mother and daughter.

This brings us full circle back to the birds in the backyard who continue to take advantage of the sunflower seeds in the bird feeder until it is gone or the local squirrel finds a way to take advantage of the birds by stealing their food. If I see the squirel stealing the food, I yell and scream, like St. Ignatius, till the squirrel goes away. The birds flee but come back.

Maybe I am taking advantage of the birds by providing food. They sit in the tree outside my fence most days just singing away, perhaps singing for their supper. Do they really need the food or am I just feeding them so I can keep them around and take pictures of them? In the summer am I just keeping them around by food to eat the bugs that might harm the plants?

Maybe we give food to the birds or money to the beggars not because of any judgment we make or any advantage on anyone’s part. Maybe it is just natural to hand the beggar money and provide food for the birds. No one is taking advantage of anyone. When someone is taking advantage of someone, like the soldiers were with the the mother and daughter, we, like St. Ignatius, will know it, yell, scream, and flee from the harm. Please feed the birds and they will feed us.

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January 2, 2007 A Worm Speaks Out on War Concerns.

Tonight at a candlelight vigil at the Federal Courthouse we held a ‘die in’, while some veterans read the names of the Wisconsin soldiers killed in Iraq, out of the three thousand American military killed so far. Lying on the courthouse steps listening,c my mind started to wander when all of sudden the name Richard Warner was read. Richie was a youth at a church where I was a youth minister some years ago. I remember him as a fun loving sophomore who was enjoyable to be around. I lost track of him until one day I saw his name and picture on TV. I could not accept that it was the same young man, until I read the obituary in the paper. Knowing his stepfather, his mother and sister I went to his funeral. The service was a mix of feelings. There was Richie the young man who had much to live for, killed suddenly in Iraq; the service was in a Catholic church that teaches us the war in Iraq is immoral; there were the guns firing outside the Church in his honor at the end. I saw many friends besides Richie’s family and was full of joy and sadness.

Before this event each word of a soldier’s death in Iraq would tear at my soul. After Richie’s death I had to numb myself to keep going.

The theme of the vigil tonight was “no more deaths and no more money.”
Maybe if congress can cut off money for the war in Iraq this nightmare will end. One friend said tonight we first must believe it will happen, pray for the end, and think it before we can stop it. I want to believe but find it hard. God, help my unbelief.

I asked the ‘worm’ that is at the heart of Growing Power what it thinks on this war concern. Here is some of the conversation:

Bob: First, worm, I want to apologize for not checking with you earlier on how you are doing during this time of great turmoil.
Worm: No need to apologize, Bob; we worms understand what we can do and not do and thus do not suffer from any turmoil around us that we cannot control.
Bob: I understand, but we humans are taught that by vote, working, and words, we control the world around us.
Worm: Maybe so, but maybe you humans can learn form us worms something about helplessness.
Bob: What do you mean?
Worm: In our simple world what matters is doing what we are designed to do — eating compost, casting it off and reproducing ourselves. To do that we keep seeking food. However, as you know, Bob, by doing what we are designed to do we cast off rich soil full of healthy alive microorganisms, good for all living creatures to grow? Now if you were to ask me how we do this, cast off all these organic cells full of nutrients I would have to say I do not know. That is just what we do. Whoever and however we were designed gave us this power. All we do is accept and use it.
Bob: Are you saying that I should just accept who I am and like you be all I can be, and all will be well?
Worm: You said it, Bob, not me.
Bob: How do you do that? How can I do that?
Worm: For me it is instinct, for you with your big brain it takes of leap of faith, believing in a power beyond yourself.
Bob: Thanks, worm, you have given me something to think about.
Worm: You are welcome.

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January 1, 2007 Imagine a New Year

GP Box Jan. 1, 2007

The New Year begins with a Wisconsin Badger victory in a bowl game. The New Year begins with trading worms for old manure with my grandchildren. It begins with the 3000th American soldier’s death in Iraq, and a President promising to honor our fallen soldiers by sending more kill to or be killed.

First the Encore salad greens, and now the arugula greens, are thinning out in my Growing Power Box. I am filling in the bare spots with some of the kale greens that have been growing slowly because they were too close together. I hope with adding some casting soil to the box and more sun and transplanting the kale, the box will flourish again.

Yesterday I did cut some salad greens, weigh it on my new scale and from that estimate how much I have picked so far from the box. The estimate is only about 1 ½ lbs. This is not a big number, but by continuing the production and maybe learning how to grow more with less seeds I hope to increase production in the future. Casting seeds seems to work well outside on mounds, but not so great in the box. In the future I will plant fewer seeds in rows, and probably produce more salad greens in the box.

The unusually warm winter means that I probably should be doing some work outside after the ground dries soon. I can plan what to plant, where to put the mounds, feed the worms, collect some more compost, prepare the irrigation system I plan to flow from the rain barrels etc. Also more time on the household plants and Growing Power box will be helpful. Was this not resolution 4 of yesterday — to increase the production of my indoor and outdoor gardens?

Today my grandsons asked me what I do for a living. I thought they were asking me about my work, so I told them about writings, Growing Power, work with persons in need and advocacy work. The said no, they did not mean that kind of work, but work I did for money.

Yesterday I took them to the science store in Milwaukee. One of my grandsons purchased some little toy figures with some of his Christmas money — one bag of pirate figurines and one of dinosaurs. He planned to use them to drum up in his imagination some great adventures. My wife and daughter-in-law were not too happy with me for allowing the purchase of these figurines. Today when he tried playing with them in the living room he was sent to the basement or his room to play. After playing awhile in his room upstairs he and his younger brother’s attention turned to playing video games, the “improved”, non-imaginative form of playing. Just being, playing with your imagination, even writing with no money in prospect is not acceptable in the “education plan” these days for children or old guys like me. Productivity means making money or preparing to make money.

However, there is hope. Today, during the half-time of the football game, when I went out to the compost pile on my son’s land to deposit my bucket of worms and collect a bucket of his good compost, both grandsons tagged along till the going got rough with the mud and water near the compost. So with the help of Growing Power and some fishing, one of my tasks this year will be to encourage the imagination children naturally have and help them hold onto it in the face of the education system. In return they will certainly help me to keep my imagination alive and active.

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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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