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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


February 28, 2007 Short Month

Today is the last day of a short month, February. I finished today the draft of my February newsletter Living Stones, which I will send out in a day or so. Also today I met with some people to start a project for mental health awareness. There is a time for beginning and ending and sometimes it is the same time.

Today talking with one of my adult sons, my adviser at times, I was reminded how I need to focus on priorities in life and let some tangential stuff go. Life is too short, like February, to live it in the past or in the future or to be wandering too far off the road. Today at the new project I said my priority work was home Growing Power model, working to stop the violence, and advocating for persons with a mental illness.

One of those priorities, developing a home Growing Power model, I have wandered from, especially on this site, “Diary of a Worm,” which is dedicated to Growing Renewable Affordable Food (GRAF) in the home and garden. So once again I renew my commitment to readers of this site to focus on the home Growing Power model.

To this end next month, starting tomorrow, I will focus more on the GP box in the sun-room and preparing for the spring. I started this commitment somewhat today, as I re-taped the plastic to the outside of the doors of the sun-room. One lesson learned about keeping the sun-room warm is to put the plastic up early and well so that the winds and cold of the winter do not wreck it as they did this year.

This month is short, and so is life if we look at it from the big view. Short can be good if we take it in deeply and go for more depth rather than more quantity.

One of the “inside gardening” projects I talked about early on was the cleaning and organizing of my office to make it a more effective workplace. On this project I must admit failure in February. The sun-room is fairly clean and ready to be developed but the office is still a mess. Next month is a long month so there is plenty of time to adjust my goals, to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Speaking of short, my investigation of growing sprouts never did mature. I must renew that adventure and quest this next month.

Like Thomas Merton, I need to step back and to see deeply into the present, particularly here on my work to bring home Growing Power, to see where to go and what to do. The lesson of the short month of February is for me to focus on the small and simple to really see the big picture.

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February 27, 2007 Bananas, Worms and Silence

Today I received an email describing the beneficial aspect of eating bananas. Anemia, High blood pressure, PMS, depression, constipation, mosquito bites and on and on. It is truly amazing the positive effect of bananas on the brain. This work is based on a professor at CCNY university lecture in physiological psych class. As the email says, once you read it you will never look at a banana the same way again. (You can get a copy of the email by asking me since I do not know how to attach an email to this posting.)

What it said about changing the view of how you look at bananas was said to me about worms when I first heard of Growing Power. I certainly have changed my view of worms since I first visited Growing Power, and have changed my view of bananas since reading an earlier version of this email earlier. (Bananas are still 33 cents a pound at Aldi).

One of the favorite foods of worms is banana peel. Banana peels break down slowly, so in a compost pile you will find all kinds of worms around the banana peels. Bananas contain three natural forms of sugar which is probably why they are so desired by worms, who seem to have a sweet tooth, and why they supply humans with an instant source of energy.

It is right and fit that worms do so much for growing organic food and bananas do much good for the mind of humans. Bananas, like worms, are simply one of those simple things that are naturally healthy.

The phrase “going bananas” is said to come from all the positive effects the banana has on the brain. Worms have positive effects on growing healthy organic food for the body. Now all we need to do is to add some food for the soul, like silence, and we will really have a total healthy source for body, mind, and spirit. Pascal says: “ All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” From that we can gather that silence is good for the soul.

So there you have it a healthy plan for mind, body and soul — bananas, worms and silence.

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February 26, 2007 GRAF Kits

Growing Power in Chicago

A few nights ago, Feb. 20th, I threw out the idea of developing Growing Renewable Affordable Food (GRAF) kits that would make the tools of Growing Power accessible to every home and garden. I joked about finding someone to be the “new Ray Kroc” (of McDonald’s fame) for Growing Power, by developing GP tool kits. The kit would include such things as a worm condo, small home Growing Power box for greens and herbs, a cold frame to extend the season, and a booklet describing the essentials of using Growing Power in the home and garden.

Some friends, hearing the idea, offered to help but I did not find anyone to take the lead in this entrepreneurial adventure. Tonight, after a meeting on sustainability, I decided, at least for the time being, to take the lead on the idea.

The speaker at the meeting tonight was from the company hired by We Energies to help organizations and families save energy. He made a statement that poor persons pay more for energy than the rest of us because they cannot afford energy-efficient furnaces and refrigerators, programmable thermostats, etc. However, he made it sound like they ‘chose’ to pay more for energy by not purchasing more energy efficient appliances or having more energy saving homes. However, I think it is like the cost of food being higher for poor persons than for middle class persons. The poor shop at local stores that charge more, and by not buying in quantity they pay a lot more for less food than we do. However, in both of these examples of paying more for energy and for food it is not a choice for people in need. It is a necessity. They do not have the transportation and money to go out, as I did today, to buy enough groceries for two weeks. They do not have the money to purchase energy-efficient appliances. We can educate the poor all we want on how to save but without the means to do so, they cannot.

This realization is one of the reasons why tonight I committed to GRAF kits and to building gardens in the central city. At the end of the meeting we went around the room saying what we can do as a church to educate and take action on being more sustainable. One of the first persons talked about education of neighborhood persons on sustainability, like energy savings. This make me think about GRAF kits. I was one of the last to speak and I said I endorsed the idea of education of neighbors, but with it would like to see persons have the resources to Grow Renewable Affordable Food (GRAF) in their homes and gardens.

Education on Growing Power is essential. But without the means for action, what good is it? But I will need help to make the GRAF kits realizable. I already have promised to help my grandchildren and daughter in law, and Dawn (of “Dawn’s porch”) in the inner city to help build growing power gardens on their land. But Graf kits fit right into these commitments as they give the tools to do this and make it accessible to everyone (just like wiki does for web sites).

In Chicago, led by Will Allen’s daughter, there are Growing Power gardens being developed all over the city, in the downtown areas, the parks and in the inner city.( These gardens are Growing Renewable Affordable Food for people in need. This is something some are trying to bring to vacant lots in Milwaukee. My GRAF kits hopefully can bring this power to each home and garden.

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February 25, 2007 And the Winner is…

What good is this trophy if I cannot eat it

In America we are taught to be good winners and not sore losers. We are taught that ‘winning is everything.’ This makes it hard to accept defeat, as we’ve seen in our preemptive war in Iraq.

Tonight the Oscars Awards are an example of celebrating the winners from the movies of last year. We have all-star games in football, basketball, baseball and hockey, where the best players — the winners — are celebrated. There is the Super Bowl, NCAA basketball tournament, World Series and on and on to celebrate the winners. Losers are soon forgotten and/or neglected.

The same seems to be applying now for our economy, as the divide between the rich and poor grows in the USA. I read a study recently that said America has the highest percentage of people in poverty of the 31 industrial nations. Poverty is rapidly increasing in America, the most powerful nation in the world.
The rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are quickly disappearing. The old slogan, “The rich become richer and the poor become poorer” is a rising sad reality in this great country.

Growing Power turns the winners and losers upside down. The worm, not the big ripe apple, is at the center of GP. Waste is essential and useful and commercial fertilizers are not used. Coyer is sustainable and peat moss is not. Casting Tea beats out “Miracle Gro”, and sprouts make for wonderful salads. Tiny seeds beat out large leaves.

In the world of GP, however, there are no winners and losers. Equality and Balance are more important than winners and losers. So the winner is the loser and the loser is the winner.

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February 24, 2007 Guns or Seeds

This evening we saw the movie “Babel” at the local Budget Theater. To me the movie is four powerful story lines tied together by the modern tower of Babel, worship of the gun. Like in the scripture story, this new idol wreaks havoc on the lives of those involved in these stories, although they are all innocent persons.

If the gun is the new tower of Babel from which destruction and misunderstanding evolve, and from which persons come away unable to communicate in the same language, then what is the new Pentecost, when all hear in their own language the Good News of the One God? What is the symbol of life, as a gun is a symbol of death?

Is it the tiny seed that when planted grows new life? Guns can be big and scary. Seeds are small and safe to handle. Guns need people to use, seeds need people to plant them. Guns are man-made and designed to kill. Seeds are nature-made and designed to grow.

Brother and Sister

Today I spent a lot of time processing the pictures I took during the time when I was with my grandchildren. One nice thing about a digital camera is that you can take lots of shots to get just the right one and not waste any film. Pictures tell stories that words cannot express. Taking digital pictures is like the parable in the scriptures about the planter broadcasting seeds. Some fall on good ground and grow into fertile plants. However, some seeds fall on rocks and die, some fall on weeds and are choked, some fall on the road and are trampled on.

I got my new seed catalog yesterday from Johnnie Seeds. I noticed that all the packets, from the very small size to the large ones contain many more seeds than plants that are expected to grow. In planting there is a built-in rate of success and failure, like taking many shots with a digital camera, knowing some will work and grow and some will fall by the wayside and die.

Not being a hunter or a police officer I have no need for a gun. However, as an urban gardener I certainly need seeds. Also as a keeper of wiki web sites full of images I need a digital camera. I choose a seed over a gun any day.

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February 23, 2007 Keeps on Growing

Last night I came back home from my trip up North to be with my grandchildren to find that the arugula in the Growing Power box, which I have cut many times, had grown back up to the grow light. I keep cutting it and it keeps on coming back.

Last Saturday we went to see a movie on the Occupation of Palestine called “Occupation 101″, which was sponsored by a number of groups including some Jewish ones. We saw footage of the horrors and suffering of people as the government of Israeli makes life tough for Palestinians to live in their own land, where they have been for thousands of years, to make them leave. Tonight there was a talk from a woman with 11 children from Hebron in Occupied Palestine. She talked how hard life was even for simple things, like going to school. We saw pictures of settler children throwing stones at the Palestinian children as they left school, while soldiers stood by. The other speaker tonight was a nonviolent leader from a village that is torn apart by the illegal wall the Israeli government is building through their land. We saw pictures of one of their nonviolent demonstration suddenly stones were thrown from the Palestine side at the soldiers, provoking fierce retaliation from the soldiers. When the Palestinian leadership tried to stop those throwing stones they found they were Israelis disguised as Palestinians in order to provoke violence. The leaders who made this revelation were than arrested by the military.

The horror stories of Occupation go on and on but so does the steadfast resistance of the people. In fact the Palestinian man explained that for him ‘nonviolence’ meant popular resistance, steadfastness not surrender. Like the Arugula plants, the Palestinians spreading the resistance and the awareness of the true conditions of the occupation, although repeatedly cut down, keep on coming back.

When someone asked tonight “what can we do?” the Palestinian speaker deferred to a young Jewish man in the audience. He talked about how he was raised with the fear of the holocaust happening again, and although that is not the situation in Palestine, as it was not before the government of Israel, persons still operate out of that fear. He urged that we spread awareness of the real situation as the movie “Occupation 101″ and the speakers tonight night are doing.

During the Vietnam War in the 60s I learned that you can never occupy a country and successfully suppress the people. Our country is learning that lesson again in Iraq and the government of Israel still does not get it: that no mater how many guns and nuclear bombs you have, or how many walls you build, you can never suppress the true spirit of the people. They will always rise out of the ashes and keep on growing until they are free.

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February 22, 2007 Fear or Hope

My time with my grandchildren up north is coming to an end. Tonight I will go home to my wife and other son. It is going to take me a few days to digest the lessons learned here and a while to process the many pictures I took. Being intensely with children for a few days has deepened my experience of life. However, it is the privilege of grandparents to come and go.

Although I sometimes wish I could escape to a child’s world, I know I cannot.
In order for my grandchildren to live in a safe, healthy environment I must face the world as it is and with my vision of the “kingdom of God on earth”, work hard to make it so.

I have gone from reading a book called “Crazy” by Pete Earley about the horrible state of our mental health system in America, to a book by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton of reflections on war and nonviolence. The book is called “Passion for Peace” and was written in 1962 but reads like it was written today. All you need is to substitute a few words, like ‘terrorist’ for ‘communist’. Merton describes a world gone mad and declares that our main “task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probably at every moment everywhere.” (p25)

He identifies the root of war and violence as fear. Not much has changed since 1962 in terms of the world condition he describes as one of madness and desperation. However, the attitude toward this path toward destruction has changed somewhat. In the 60s we felt we could change the world by our actions. There was a sense of urgency and responsibility for the conditions of poverty, war and violence. Many people feel today they cannot, working together, change the world. Many others still try, but the “powers that be” instead of reacting to these words and actions of the silent and noisy majority just ignore them. The “powers that be” tell us to vote, yet when we do, as in the last national election rejecting the war in Iraq, nothing much changes except maybe there are more words about stopping the war. The press in America is highly censored and although through the internet we can find out what is really happening, what can we do?

If the roots of war and violence are fear, than the roots of peace and security must be hope. Using this Growing Power analogy we must stop feeding the roots of war, fear, and do more to feed the roots of peace, hope. The roots of hope are to be found deep within ourselves and in the world around us by our awareness that we all share the same earth. Hope is to be found in the smile of child or a handful of worms.

Last night the children and I were drawing pictures. My nine-year-old grandson drew a hill with people of every color on top of it. There was a sun in the corner and inside the hill he wrote: “We share the same earth everyday.” This drawing, which I will soon post to Graf Kids?, is full of hope. The Growing Power motto “Together we are Growing Power” is, as GP itself, a sign of hope. For those of you going on the next tour of Growing Power (55th and Silver Spring, Monday at 3:30pm) you will find hope alive.

The difficult part is taking the hope we find in a child’s drawing or Growing Power home with us to our hearts and to the world around us.

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February 21, 2007 Ashes

Last night I wrote about marketing a home model of Growing Power items, calling it “Growing Reliable Affordable Food”, GRAF. Today I thought of a better word for the R, Renewable. I think Renewable is a better GP word than Reliable. What do you think?

So far I have thought of 4 items to market for this Home version of GP. 1) A GP cold frame for outside to extend the growing season. 2) A worm condo for outside. 3) A GP box for inside growing on ledge or table. 4) A booklet explaining the GP model as it applies to home and garden. Worms, Castings, Waste, rain barrels, water, sun, growing lights, materials for composting are readily available almost everywhere. Can you think of other items to marketing the GP GRAF home kit?

With the little fame this site has achieved it was good to hear today at the Ash Wednesday liturgy as ashes are put on your forehead: “Remember you came from ashes and will return to ashes.” However, in the modern day ritual they used other words. Today the person putting the ashes on my head said something like “Stay away from Sin and Live the Gospel.” These new versions do not have the earthly quantities of “ashes”. At least they still put real “ashes” on your forehead.

Tonight was the first time I had care by myself of all three grandchildren for an extended period of time, about 4 ½ hours. Besides cooking and eating a meal and a little bit of “Sponge Bob”, the time was filled with playing comedy improv games like the ones in the show last might that my nine-year-old grandson was a cast member of. Also we did “color play” and other art with crayons and markers, worked a little on the Graf Kids? web site, taped some interviews with my two-year-old granddaughter and — the all time favorite (at least for the three children) — played hide and seek.

What did I learn from my grandchildren today? I learned that threats do not work to quiet them down but hands-on games and projects do. By the time my daughter-in-law came home tonight they were quietly reading a book or watching a movie in their bedrooms and I was sitting in the living room reading a book. But I did learn the danger of letting your granddaughter take too long a nap so you can have some quiet time by yourself: someone will pay later (In this case it was my daughter-in-law).

Children know a little about “ashes” as they should. They are more interested n the life that rises from the ashes.

Ashes, as most gardeners know, are good for the soil if they do not contain harmful chemicals like charcoal or from cigarettes. Knowing about ashes, a symbol of death and new life, is something only we who are adults of mind and body but children of heart can appreciate. But even with our knowledge of ashes as a symbol, children still know more instinctively about life and innocence, if we allow them to be just children.

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February 20, 2007 McGreen

Today my granddaughter and I were driving around Lake Shawano looking at a few cottages for one for my wife and me to rent this summer. I was planning to take her for lunch at a little restaurant I knew of with great homemade food, especially homemade pies. I could not find the place and since she had, as all kids probably do, mentioned McDonald’s and I had heard that McDonald’s was serving healthy choices for children, I decided to stop there. I ordered myself a chicken sandwich and 2 apple pies off the $1 menu, and for her I ordered a “Happy Meal”. However, instead of fries I chose apple dippers (apple pieces you can dip in caramel), and instead of soda I chose a jug of reduced fat white milk. There was still a hamburger and toy in it. The whole meal for the both of us cost less than $5 — the average price of a value meal for myself.

When I put the meal before her — milk, hamburger, apple pieces with dip, and piece of apply pie and a toy (cloth ghost) — her eyes lit up. What a feast and somewhat healthy! The best part for her seemed to be the apple pieces. There was so much food for her that I had to help her with some of the hamburger, pie and milk. I was impressed, and probably there was a Happy Meal where the hamburger could also be substituted. Afterward I took a picture of her sitting on a bench with Ronald McDonald. I might have enjoyed the homemade cooking restaurant, but she was delighted by this feast.

Afterwards I thought how much McDonald’s had adjusted with the times. I am a first generation McDonald’s kid. When my parents took me to the first McDonald’s in Milwaukee, the choices were simple: hamburger, fries and shake. My two sons are second-generation McDonald’s persons. I remember once, when both boys were young children, when we stopped at a McDonald’s around St. Patrick’s day, my youngest child ordered a green shake that was being advertised at the time. Afterward he seemed a little disappointed by the green shake. I asked why. He explained that on the TV ad the person having a green shake felt a tingle all over his body. He had not felt any.

Through the three generations McDonald’s has kept its fan base of children, although some of us adults rarely go there anymore. I imagine the healthy choices are more for the parents and grandparents than for the children.

My friend Godsil, Olde, has this vision of Milwaukee becoming a Renaissance City where Growing Power gardens are everywhere. Will Allen is moving in the direction of Growing Power farms in the city and rural areas. Maybe we need a movement to bring Growing Power to each home in gardens and/or Growing Power boxes.

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s was a middle-aged salesperson of shake and malt machines. He went out to L.A. to find out why these two brothers, McDonald brothers, were ordering so many shake mixers. When he saw why, the fast food concept, he bought the rights to the name and the concept and the rest is history.

Many of us have gone on a tour of Growing Power (The next GP tour is Monday, Feb. 26th at 3:30pm), and some of us have tried to bring the Growing Power way of growing to our houses and gardens. Maybe one of us will be the Ray Kroc of Growing Power, taking the idea and bringing it in an affordable way to every house. My entrepreneurial spirit tells me to be the person, my independent status says let others take the lead, and be supportive. Do we have any takers? Maybe, like McDonald’s, we can focus our appeal to children and thus bring in the parents! Maybe we could call it GRAF (Growing Reliable Affordable Food)?

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February 19, 2007 Little Ones

Today was spent with my two-year-old granddaughter inside her house. She talked a lot except when I tried to record an interview with her. When I was recording she was more interested in looking at the movement of my cell phone than speaking into it. Anything that involves running around the house interests her. She is called a princess, and treated like one, by her two big brothers and parents. I her asked what it meant to be princess a few times, but all she could say or show me was her tea set in her bedroom, her princess nightdress, or one of the crowns she has. A princess for her is just what she is.

All is new for her, every funny noise, every silly look, and every little experience. In a way she is a blessed not to be educated, where everything is marked and labeled, has a name and fits in to some system.

I tried using “color play” with her, a way of doodling with canyons to bring out some images from the subconscious. But even this very loose form art was too structured for her. So we played, watched a little TV, had some food and snacks, took a picture for the Graf Kids? web site, kept trying to record an interview, called Grandma Pat, and just about anything we felt like doing. Tomorrow we will drive to Lake Shawano and check on some cottages my wife and I are thinking of renting this summer. A road trip opens up a new world of experience (not that we need to leave the house to do that).

Often in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the “little ones” — children — and how we must be like them to enter the kingdom of heaven. One of the great qualities of young children is the unconditional love they will give everyone. In fact we must teach children to have some fear of strangers for their own safety. Children naturally know no enemies. Today I came across a quote that the Pope of the Catholic Church gave in a talk yesterday that speaks well of this wonderful quality of “little ones” that we educated adults need to learn.

“Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the “Christian revolution,” a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power. The revolution of love, a love that does not base itself definitively in human resources, but in the gift of God, that is obtained only and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Herein lies the novelty of the Gospel, which changes the world without making noise. Herein lies the heroism of the “little ones,” who believe in the love of God and spread it even at the cost of life. “

Also today my granddaughter and I looked out the back window at the five acres of land that is part of the lot. Back a ways is a compost pile we started last summer, and some cleared land where my daughter-in-law and the three children had a small garden last year. Tomorrow my granddaughter and I will take some of the kitchen waste out to the compost pile and imagine in our minds, as only a child (and old man who wants to be a child) can do, the wonder of the land. She naturally sees the wonder but I must work at it and am helped by seeing the Growing Power potential of the land. For her ‘all is well’ the way it is.

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February 18, 2007 You Got Worms!

In church this morning I was walking around shaking hands with the sign of peace that we greet each other with after the Our Father. I shook the hand of one man I knew and he said: “You got Worms!” I did not know immediately how to respond but knew that he did not mean worms as an illness. Also I knew that I have never talked to him about Growing Power. But I knew he was a retired person who likes sports, so I thought he meant I had worms for fishing. So I went after him and quietly explained that I have worms as livestock for growing but that he could certainly use them for fishing. He just said: “I know” and went on.

During the Mardi Gras buffet we had after the liturgy, a friend of mine who knows of my interest in Growing Power called over to me to point out that one of the deserts was ‘dirt’, a pudding kind of mix with gummy worms. After dinner I was talking with her and told her about the incident during the handshake of peace. She laughed and told me that at an informal gathering of Church members last night, one of the persons in the discussion about various matters said, “Bob Graf got worms.” Some in the room knew what she meant about Growing Power and worms, but some, like this man did not. So after some joking around about my having worms everyone understood, including this person, what she meant.

A few of the persons in that discussion asked me for the link to this web page. I just sent three of them a copy of the link to the Graf Family Mini-Website from which they can follow links to this page. To the email I added this official quote (A quote I just made up): “To every stereotype there is some truth.” Also in a defensive mode to show them how multi-dimensional I am, I had them go through the Mini web site to get to this diary.

Somewhere on a posting on this web site I think I wrote my poem about stigma and stereotypes, and how there is always some bit of truth behind every stereotype and stigma. I do have worms. Now most of my worms are hibernating in the worm depository out back, but I do have some active ones in my Growing Power Box in the sun-room. I did not to have to dig deep to find one to talk about this labeling as a “worm guy”.

Bob: Worm, how do you feel about using your name in such phrases as saying a person has worms, meaning an illness, or in the “as the worm turns” or “you are a worm of person?”

Worm: Bob, we have been over this subject matter many times before. You know these things do not hurt us worms because there is some truth in all of them, we do turn, we are small and crawling, and we are full of organisms, although ours are good, not like those of an illness. So what if we are butts of a joke? It does us no harm. Now if someone steps on us or sits on us with their butt, that can cause great harm and crush us. But names, well-intentioned or not, do us no harm nor any good.
Bob: Yeah I know, you have told me this before. over and over again. However, do you mind if I take your picture before you crawl back into the ground so I can prove to everyone that I really talked to you?
Worm: Sure you can take a picture, if makes you more believable in your mind, as long as you let me go back to eating, casting and reproducing. This sunlight is a killer.

Well yes I “got worms” in my house and in my yard. But they are my ‘livestock’ that make Growing Power possible. Do you want to get some worms too?

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February 17, 2007 Homemade

Today I went to pick up my friend Ella at her home to take her and some of her patch quilts? to a gift store in West Allis. I noticed the sign outside her home read “Homemade Patch Quilts”. The word ‘Homemade’ particularly struck me.

Her patch quilts are original and homemade, reflecting a long tradition of practical folk art in this country. However, because they are homemade, with loving care and personal design, they are hard to sell via any store. When the lady in the gift shop today saw the beautiful homemade patch quilts, she said they seldom sell anything over $50. Patch quilts range from $50 to $1000 depending on the cloth and amount of work. She suggested we go to gift shops in rich areas. We once found one in the town of Port Washington, but the owner wanted too much of the proceeds to make it worthwhile. Once I suggested to one of the persons at the new “fair trade store” in town, Four Corners, that he sell Ella’s Quilts. The store is full of homemade crafts, clothing, musical instruments and art from all over the world. However, he said they only would sell “Third World Products” and not American homemade products. On the way back to her house, Ella said she would continue to sell her patch quilts out of her house and forget about finding a store to sell them. There seems to no room in our many stores in America for a fair-trade homemade patch quilt.

Why the word “Homemade” on the sign particularly struck me today was probably due to the fact that this morning my wife and I were discussing a side dish to bring to our Church’s Mardi Gras celebration tomorrow after the liturgy. My wife wants to make a pasta salad that requires spinach. We had all the ingredients, except not enough fresh spinach. Than I remembered that we have homemade kale growing in our GP box in the sun-room. Kale is from the same family as spinach and would work fine. So I went to GP box, picked some kale, washed and dried it, and now our pasta salad will contain some homemade kale.

Maybe this is what the whole urban Growing Power way of growing is all about — growing affordable, organic homemade foods?

Sometimes when I cook dinner and feel creative, I come up, without using any recipes, with a homemade meal using what I have at hand. It is always delicious (if not always so great-looking). It could be called “patch quilt cooking”. Like creating a patch quilt, you take what is available and put it together in a creative way — tied together by thread or spices.

Wiki is a homemade approach to websites. It is easy to learn, open to the many to be creative with computer technology, affordable, sustainable and available to all.

Now that I think of it, I like most all things homemade — candy, ice cream, crafts, musical instruments, t-shirts.

Speaking of “homemade”, this is as good a spot as any to promote some homemade, affordable, 125% fair-trade coffee from Guatemala. When I was in Guatemala? visiting a village called San Lucas Toliman, I had some delicious homemade coffee. I went to purchase a few bags to take home with me. It was only $7 for 17 oz of this shade-grown, organic homemade coffee. I said out loud that I wished I could purchase bags of this coffee in the USA. The pastor of the local parish was standing nearby and said: “You can”. I said, “How much will it cost me?” He said the same price as there, 7$ per 17 oz. In my astonishment I said something stupid like “is it fair-trade?” He laughed and said it is more than fair-trade. All proceeds from the coffee go directly to the persons who produce it. I came home and ordered some. The one catch is that they ship you the coffee from Edina, MN, and the bill includes the UPS or 3rd class postage that it takes. However, the last time I ordered I figured out that with postage it cost about $8 a pound. That is more affordable and more fair-trade than the coffee I had been purchasing. Purchasing it directly from the makers, with no middle person, is a wonderful experience. You can check it out for yourself at I only wish I could do that for all of the wonderful items in the marketplaces of Guatemala?.

So “homemade” are products you can eat, like kale; products to keep you warm at night, like Ella’s patch quilts; products you can communicate with, like wiki; and products you can drink, like coffee from San Lucas Toliman. Homemade is everywhere. Have a good Homemade Day!

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February 16, 2007 Same Old Friends

I have talked on these pages about new contacts and friends I have made over the last year or so of this diary. It is the power of the Internet. The Internet can also reconnect us with old friends.

Today, because of such a connection, I had breakfast with an old friend. This person and I were part of a group who started one of the first, if not the first, alternative accredited high schools in Milwaukee in the early 70s. In those days if a guy got in trouble with the law or a girl got pregnant, the Milwaukee Public Schools just kicked them out. The school lasted for quite a while after the initial group of us left, but eventually the education system caught up and now there are “alternative schools” within the public schools, choice schools, charter schools, schools specializing in an area like a language or the fine arts. Some would say the school system might not have improved, but all would agree there is a lot more diversity of types of schools.

My friend had gone on, with his wife, to establish a research center connected to the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. We had not seen each other for over 10 years, so there was a lot of catching up to do about what past mutual friends are doing these days. But then we started to talk about his work: real work on researching issues concerning employment; and my work: various ministries that I am involved with. To no one’s (or both our) surprise, we found that we’ve been working on the same issues: violence in the city; “endangered species” of young black males in the city; prisons; mental health issues. We had each gone our way all these years, but ended up in the same spot in terms of the passion of work and efforts to make even a small difference in this world. We even were connected through Growing Power, as his wife had interviewed and worked with Will Allen.

Back in the 70s we were both probably a little idealistic about our work and its impact, but we were certainly enthusiastic. Now in 2007 we are both are much more grounded but dealing, in different ways, enthusiastically in similar areas of justice.

I should have not been surprised. A few years ago my wife and I had over to our house a number of people who knew each other from the Milwaukee 14 days in the 60’s. (my “Milwaukee 14 Today” web page is in process). As we went around the circle in our living room updating each other where our lives had gone we could only marvel at how much of how present lives are focused on present day issues of peace and justice, similar to the 60s when we met each other around similar issues like civil rights and the peace movement. Some were now in different cities, different states, or working in other countries, but it was the “same old, same old” issues of concern. As I now think about it, even back in the 60s there was a ‘back to the earth’ movement similar to what Growing Power is to us today.

“People come and people go, but still the world never changes” (Ecclesiastes 1: 4). “Same old, same old” (Will Allen of Growing Power). In my own words “salad bowl friends live in the same old round salad bowl” (see posting on Feb. 12th).

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February 15, 2007 Attitude of Gratitude

Peace 2004 by Patricia Obletz

This morning I visited a man who had very little in life — a mostly unfurnished house, a disability and a very small income. We were there on a St. Vincent De Paul call to provide him with a few basics, like a bed for his son. When we asked what he needed most he kept checking with his fiancée who was sick in bed in the other room. This man kept saying how blessed he was, how happy he was to have found this place to live for his fiancée and their son. He asked about volunteer work. He wanted to give back to the community for his blessings. After giving him a voucher for some of his needs we all read a short prayer.

Next we were to meet with another man who was in need. We were met at the door by his fiancée who said he was at work. When we asked her what the need was in the household, she handed us a long list of things he had left for us. A few were big items and many were small, specific stuff. As Vincentians we are not judgmental, and left for him a voucher for some of the items on his list.

Both men were in need, one grateful and wanting to share with others. The other one, with the long list, we will never know if he is grateful or even satisfied since we could not fulfill his whole list. Both men were blessed and blessed us by allowing us to visit their homes and be of service. However, only the first one knew, and we knew, he was blessed.

In my observations on life I have noticed that persons mostly grounded in life by experience, or perhaps by vocations, like farmers, tend to have more of an attitude of gratitude. Persons who survive a life threatening injury or illness seem more grounded and full of gratitude.

Perhaps this why I am attracted to Growing Power so much. Working with the earth, worms, compost is very grounding. When we see the miracle of life, be it in gardening, watching a new-born arrive or surviving a life threatening accident, we tend to appreciate life, and the source of life, more. Many years ago my wife and I started to call it an “Attitude of Gratitude” and often remind each other of it, especially during tough times.

If the man in the first example was blessed, how much more am I? So is the other man. However, the real question is, do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear how blessed we are?

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February 14, 2007 Valentine Sharing

My valentine gift to the eight persons who read this site (just joking — I do not know if this many read it), I have a Growing Power Valentine Sharing update.

The official Growing Power site has a new look and lots of good links to information on the page (except a link to this GP Home model Diary of a Worm) I saw in it that the next tour of the Growing Power complex at 55th and Silver Spring is: Monday February 26th, 3:30 p.m. I have been on too many tours so probably will sit this one out, but if you are around town I encourage you to go. There is always something new to learn.

Also today I talked to my two consultants and design persons on building home model systems. Andor is coming up with a GP design for a ‘cold frame’ and a GP indoor box, much smaller and more compact than my GP box in the sun-room. Also tonight my son’s friend Loren, the builder of the GP box and worm condo, was over for dinner and we discussed some new ideas to improve the use of the sun-room and the outside garden for growing with Growing Power. Stay tuned for more information on these plans for bringing home the Power of Growing with worms.

The rest of the day was filled with work on Faith In Recovery, working with Mothers Against Gun Violence. I just completed an article on “What to do about Violence in the City of Milwaukee?”, which you can find a link to from the MAGV pages or my Graf Family HomePage or SideBar. Or you can just directly go to it at Essay on Violence in Milwaukee?. This essay combines some of my thoughts on mental health and on violence in its observations and suggestions. You will even find a little bit of Growing Power in one of the the suggestions on how to use the many vacant lots in the city of Milwaukee.

Today is day of love and relationships, which is what happens when persons care about enough about each other to share. St. Ignatius of Loyola makes these two observations on love before his Contemplation on the Love of God:

  1. The first is that love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words;
  2. The second is that love consists in a mutual sharing of goods. For example, “as a lover one gives and shares with the beloved something of one’s own personal gifts, or some possession which one has or is able to give; so too, the beloved shares in a similar way with the lover. In this way, one who has knowledge shares it with the one who does not, and this is true for honors, riches, and so on. In love, one always wants to give to the other.” — Draw Me into your Friendship, the Spiritual Exercises, A literal Translation & A Contemporary Reading by David L. Fleming. SJ. # 230 and 231.

It sounds like St. Ignatius was a “salad bowl friend” over 500 years ago (even though he probably did not appreciate worms as we do now). In an earlier ‘contemplation on hell’ in the same Spiritual Exercises, he talks about tasting “with the taste bitter things like tears, sadness, and the worm of conscience.” (SE 69)

Speaking of worms and hell, a friend of mine, Jim Forest, wrote in an email today from Holland that he has copies for the taking of his book “The Wormwood File: E-Mail from Hell”, an updated version of C.S. Lewis’s famous book about letters from the devil. However, the extra copies he has to share are in Korean, Spanish and Finnish. If anyone wants a copy in these languages let me know, or if you want to read “The Wormwood File from Hell” in English, you can read it online.

So there you have it, my Valentine sharing from the devil in hell to a saint in heaven, from violence to Love, from worms to you. Valentine’s Day is all about sharing.

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February 13. 2007 Connecting Thoughts

People with a mental illness, one in four of us, at times can connect thoughts in their minds that the majority cannot. Here is my attempt at connecting two thoughts that seen unconnected and have Growing Power at their origins.

At the meeting last night about building a “Sustainable Center” at our church, the presenter passed around some material from a “sustainable box kit.” In one piece of material I found this quote from Elle Wiesel, the Jewish Holocaust survivor: “The opposite of Love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not hearsay, it’s indifference. The opposite of life is not death. It’s indifference….because of indifference one dies before one actually dies.”

I wrote the quote down, thinking I have found an articulation of a thought that has been in the back of my mind for years. Watching local nightly news at 10pm I get so mad because the broadcasters are indifferent to the real news, focusing on bits of sensationalism. When I was a professional community organizer in the 70s, officials used to react to our confrontations with them. Now they just ignore the community group or protest group. Thus, thinking how ignoring what is happening, or indifference, is a real problem in our community, I quickly wrote down the quote.

If you try being “indifferent” as a gardener or farmer, you will find that the plants quickly wilt and die.

The indifference of the “powers that be” to protesters also works that way. As I have grown older, I find that my thoughts and opinions that do not agree with those of the “powers that be” are ignored. This used to frustrate me, as it does many others, and sometimes I would resort to reaction tactics that only made me look bad, as if I were the real source of the problem. This making the issue personal is just what the “powers that be” want, and gives them a good excuse for ignoring the real issue. I have been struggling with how to respond — not to react — to being ignored or being treated with indifference.

Now for the second thought, which also originates in an example from nature. In my prayer book this afternoon I read part of this hymn from a Benedictine nun written in 2004.

Unattended and unloved, the earth
Would rave into tangled void,
But God who drew its filaments
From waste is ceaselessly employed
In spinning frames of time and space
Around our fragile dwelling place

As days and seasons weave their web
Of warmth and cold, of wet and dry,
The cattle forage for their feed,
And overhead the sparrows fly
Where God keeps count of every one
Whose span is measured by the sun.

The wheel of time entwines the strands
Of death and life we think to be
Our loss and gain, and makes of them
One single thread: eternity.
The lilies of the field know best:
Where God provides, let spindles rest.

Now for how the two thoughts, these two quotes, are connected. I must admit that I really do not know how, but here is a stab at a connection. Indifference is the real enemy of humankind. Indifference is the opposite of life, love and faith. However, to combat indifference is not to react to it or to ignore it. It is simply to act out of the awareness that if indifference were to reign, the earth would become void. When we face indifference we must become like the lilies of the field that do not worry or fret at being ignored but do their best to be what they are, and trust in a higher power that will provide and prevail.

If the connection between these two quotes is not clear that is OK. There is some mystery in life where we must do our best to speak out and change, yet have the ability like the lilies of the fields to let things go and know that “where God provides, let spindles rest.” I still do not get it. but somewhere buried in nature these two thoughts connect in Growing Power.

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February 12, 2007 Salad Bowl Friends

I finally remembered to pick the salad greens from the Growing Power Box for the dinner salad tonight. The 3 ounces of greens, mostly arugula with some kale, made, with some homemade salad dressing, enough salad for three persons. The salad dressing contained some herbs that were from the backyard GP garden.

When I was young we used to talk about America as the melting pot where various cultures got together to make a great country, like various vegetables and meats put together in a pot for a good stew. With more emphasis on the strength of our unity being in our diversity, that image has faded somewhat.

Tonight I thought the image of the salad bowl with some tasty dressing on the greens made for a good image of the growing network of people with similar passions coming together. This developing bowl of friends is growing just like the salad greens in the GP box.

Like these salad greens these friends are all green, meaning that they are all concerned about the environment, making it healthy for all. We all enjoy the same zesty desire for life as the salad greens share the same delicious dressing. We are organic like the greens in tonight’s salad, which for people in this network means that we have a holistic quality to ourselves, always seeking to connect everything together in our lives. We, like salad greens, come from similar origins but are diverse. Together we seek to feed the hungry, bring justice and peace. As one leaf of a plant we can do little; “Together we are Growing Power.”

Here, from today, are few examples of salad bowl friends working together. Through my salad green friend Godsil, the co-founder of this Milwaukee Renaissance site and organization, I have been connected to all kinds of salad green friends. One of these friends, Patricia Obletz, who was the person who created the anti-stigma campaign for mental illness on the back of city buses, called today. From her bus signs I got the idea for creating posters with the same message to place in public places like doctors’ office waiting rooms. Today she called to say she had another salad green friend in the mental health agency world who knew of a source of funding that could possibly help us to distribute the signs in all waiting rooms in hospitals and doctors’ offices throughout the area.

Also tonight I got a call on my cell phone from another person Godsil put me into contact with last week. He is a carpenter/designer who is coming up with an idea for small GP boxes for homes. I could not take the call because I was in a meeting, in the basement of our church, with salad green friends to plan creating a center for sustainability at the Church.

I could go on and on with examples just from today. But I think you get the point. The salad bowl is an endless network of friends who are united by the zest for life. While keeping their unique diversity, together they are Growing Power. Watch out world, here comes the nonviolent revolution of salad green friends!

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February 11, 2007 Wandering from the Main Task

Main Task

This afternoon there was no football or basketball game on TV worth watching, and my wife had to work. I had the afternoon to myself. I thought that I would work on the article of observations and suggestions about decreasing violence in Milwaukee that I have been thinking about and have done some writing on for a while. Then I was going to do some more on the inside gardening project, like cleaning my office.

However, first I thought I had better check my email. This took a while. Then a call came in about the Mothers Against Gun Violence web pages, and that led to some changes. While I was at it, I thought I would add a picture or two to my photo gallery page and do a little more on the “Milwaukee 14 Today” web page. Before I knew it I was off wandering my web sites with breaks in between to do some things around the house. Then an email inquiry about the article, and notice of a due date for submission to a local neighborhood newspaper that was interested in it, led me back to my original intention. I quickly opened it up, made some changes and emailed the rough draft to someone to check. Not doing my main task this afternoon means I will need to do it tomorrow.

Picking the main task of the day is difficult enough. Wandering from it means it goes undone. We probably all have been at some type of gathering where persons wandered from the main task at hand and thus it did not get done. Computers naturally make wandering really easy. That is why I say (but not always do) that we must be computer monks, focusing on the task at hand and not giving in too much to the temptation to wander.

I wandered so far and wide today that I forgot to cut the arugula in the Growing Power Box for the salad for dinner tonight. A friend who had sent me a scale to measure the amount of greens I picked from the GP box suggested recently that I measure not only the amount picked but also the amount of salad greens a person eats at one meal, and measure that against the cost of growing certain salad greens. I did say I would do more about measurement and weights from the GP box but have wandered from it. (The same friend also told me he enjoyed the Feb. 8th entry on “My Turtle” and told me the average life of a turtle is twice that of a human being. Turtles have more time to wander.)

But I wander again. Wandering, I guess, is all right, if you wander like a worm, slowly, and like a worm always stay on the main task. For a worm that is eating and casting and reproducing. For us the main task may vary but once we know it we may wander a little but need to stay with it.

Once I heard someone say: “The most important thing is the most important thing.” For those of you who read this “Diary of a Worm” to find out more information about a Home Model of Growing Power, I promise to keep on this main task. For those of you who enjoy my wanderings, well, you know they will continue. No pilgrim worth his weight as a pilgrim can help but wander off the main road once in a while. The important thing is to get back to doing the most important thing, the main task.

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February 10, 2007 My Relatives, Rich and Poor

An attack on Kono by Mohamed Kanu, 12

I have relatives in Sierra Leone, one of the richest countries in the natural resources needed for Growing Power — good soil, worms, waste, water, sun, and fish — a country on the sea with a good growing climate. However, it was another natural resource of this country, diamonds, that led to its being the poorest country in the world, with the highest mortality rate of children under the age of five. Until recently a terrible civil war fed by guns and greed on both sides has left Sierra Leone devastated. Male child soldiers captured to kill, or female children taken to be prostitutes, are now back home in a country that (now that the diamonds are gone) no one seems to care about any longer. The award winning movie “Blood Diamonds”, which tells part of the story of the civil war in Sierra Leone, was not even made in Sierra Leone. The country is still too poor and dangerous.

Sierra Leone

Some of you know how I have relatives in Sierra Leone. Nine years ago my wife and I and another couple help sponsored a woman, her daughter, and another teenage girl who had escaped from the violence of that country. Now the women lives in Milwaukee; one of daughters, married with a beautiful son, just called today from Nebraska where she moved after her husband, of Liberian and Ghana descent, just received a good job in engineering. My other niece graduated last year from Marquette University and now holds a decent job in a local social work agency. Her family remains in Sierra Leone living in unbelievable poverty and destitution. Since the time they arrived here they have called me “Uncle Bob”, as they would call all the elders in the village or cities of Sierra Leone.

How I was blessed to have a nephew from Sierra Leone is an interconnected story. Matthias is a political exile from Sierra Leone, whom I met when I worked as a youth minister at a church. He had been on death row for his crime of trying to help child soldiers, when he escaped and came to this country. He was in a class with my niece at MU, and once he understood that he could call me “Uncle Bob” he did. Matthias is remarkable individual who realized the best way he could help his brothers and sisters and relatives in Sierra Leone was to form a foundation called Friends Across, Inc., through which he could share the wealth of his American friends with his friends in Sierra. We have worked on a number of projects together, including creating a beauty salon to give the young adult woman from the war some needed skills to survive without returning to prostitution. Friends Across also raised money for a tailoring shop, so the young men who had been child soldiers could find skills for work — sewing and repairs — they could make a living doing. Having worked with the Children’s Defense Fund and UN group in Africa, Matthias has the connections in Sierra Leone to oversee the projects, and is making connections here to help supply the need. You can learn more about Matthias and Friends Across, Inc, by going to his recently renovated wiki web site, which he has created with the help of (who else) Tegan at:

At present Matthias is working to raise enough money to send a donated ambulance to a country that lacks ambulances. For years he asked me to ask local ambulance companies to donate an ambulance, and I made a feeble attempt. However, one day when Matthias was driving by an ambulance company, he stopped and told the manager his story and of the need for an ambulance in Sierra Leone. The manager said “YES” and now we have an ambulance but not the money, $3000, to ship it to a city in Sierra Leone that has a hospital without one.

What has this to do with Growing Power? Much of my interest in growing affordable organic food is due to my relatives from and in Sierra Leone. They have all the ingredients, and worms and fish, unlike diamonds, will not tear their country apart. The country starves while sitting on natural resources, good soil, sea, sun and water that is rich for growing food. Will Allen of Growing Power is working with Heifer International to bring some of the wonders of Growing Power to fertile lands of African. Sierra Leone has the natural resources that, if allowed to flourish, can make it rich rather than the poorest country as it now.

Peace Lily

I need my African nieces and nephew in the USA, and all my relatives in Sierra Leone, as “friends across the sea” to remind me of what life is all about, as they need me as a friend.

Today’s addition to the Growing Within Project was planting a peace lily that I purchased from the commercial plant store store last week for $1. With its one small white flower it is planted in a casting and coyer mix in a pot in my sun-room. May it grow and prosper in the GP mix as Sierra Leone grows and prospers in its naturally rich country.

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February 9, 2007 Seed to Seed, Wiki to Wiki

Of the three salad greens planted in the Growing Power Box in the sun-room, the arugula has been by far the best producer. I keep cutting it for salads and it keeps growing. The kale is growing much slower, and the Encore lettuce mix disappeared after a few pickings.

I have not cut the arugula in the box for a week or so, and now it is not only growing tall but also some plants have started to go to seed. So today I picked off the seeds and planted them in the empty spots in the box - spots left vacant by other plants not growing back. I put some castings on top of the seeds and watered them with some ‘tea.’ We will see if the seeds I took from the arugula plants, which I planted from seed in the beginning of winter, grow. That would be great, filling in those empty spots in the box as well as keeping the supply of salad greens flourishing.

Today I did a kind of planting of seeds with one of the Mothers Against Gun Violence? I showed her how to create another page off the Home Page on which she can type the names and ages of the 130 homicide victims in the city of Milwaukee in 2006?. All I know about wiki web pages came from bits of information — seeds — planted with me by Tegan, the WikiGgnome of the Milwaukee Renaissance site. The knowledge she shared with me has grown to the point where I can share it with others, like the Mothers. So like the arugula plant, now that I have grown some, I was just naturally sharing my abundance with others.

Now as I was showing the mother how to list the 130 names of homicide victims for 2006 we both thought it would be best if we could create two columns. We could not figure how to do this. So I said I would ask Tegan and that I was sure she would have a simple way to do it.

Before I could do that, Tegan noticed from the ‘recent changes’ pages on the wiki that we were listing the 130 names, and wrote us an email saying how she could simply put the names in two columns if we so desired. Now that is Good! It is like she saw what we were trying to do, in the same way I saw what was happening with the arugula plants going to seed, and, just as I did with the arugula plants, followed the natural progression and offered to help plant some new seeds of information.

It is said that when people care about other people they naturally want to share with them what they have. This seems to be natural and true in the world of the good people who share on the Milwaukee Renaissance wiki site, as it is natural and true of plants going to seed.

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February 8, 2007 My Turtle

I have a friend with two sons the same ages as my two sons. In the early years of their lives and for a while in the teen years, we all lived in the same housing unit in Milwaukee and Madison. Our sons have grown apart, but my friend and I remain friends.

When his sons were young he referred to them as ‘turtles’. I thought that was cute. It is not until recent years that I have come to understand the full meaning of this nickname. For him a turtle represents, like a child, a being that does not consume much energy. He was one of the first persons that I knew who did not eat much meat because he understood how much vegetation it took for an animal like a cow to exist. Cows, like all hot-blooded animals, require about 90% of what they consume just to maintain their body heat. Turtles, on the other hand, like worms and fish, are cold-blooded animals and use very little of what they consume to maintain body eat. (Worms, as I’ve said many times before, cast off their weight each day in castings.)

So now when I see a turtle, a real one or this ceramic one, I see something not only cute (like a child) but something that in life needs to consume very little to stay alive — unlike adult humans or cows. This particular turtle was full of flowers in my garden last year. I brought the turtle in to the sun-room in the fall and eventually the flowers died. Today, as part of the Inside Gardening Project that I have been talking about, I planted in the turtle one of the $1 plants I purchased last Saturday at the monthly sell-off at the commercial plant store.

Now the plant in the turtle sits in a mix of castings and coyer soil, watered by casting ‘tea’. It will stay there in the Sun-room, warm during the day and cold at night, till it goes outside again in the fall with a new outside flower planted in it.

So now my turtle represents the essence of Growing Power — growth in an environment of sustainable substance. Turtles are slow creatures, like worms, which might be why this person, who is trying to slow down his own life and make it a vessel of the growth of life, is attracted to turtles. Also I have noticed that my grandchildren, when I have taken them to an ecology center or zoo, are attracted to turtles. Since my goal in life is to be like a child (but not to be one) it makes sense that I like my turtle.

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February 7, 2007 Community is the Answer?

Did you ever hear someone express clearly a thought you were trying to express but had been fumbling about for years trying to say? Today in an article with some information about Iran and Israel the author was talking about terrorism and said:
“If ‘terrorism’ is defined as the killing of civilians, the intent to instill fear, and a disregard for standards of war such as the Geneva Conventions, then a man strapped with explosives around his middle or a man dropping them from his bomb-bay door can reasonably be placed in the same category and equally condemned when they violate these precepts, and destroy those lives. Neither the justification, nor the numbers can make such loss of innocent life acceptable.”

The quote speaks for itself a thought that has been floating around in my head for a long time.

Did you ever find someone who could do something you were thinking of doing but knew you could not do? Today, my friend Godsil, the founder of the Milwaukee Renaissance web site, brought over a local Westside carpenter and designer who could design and produce some ‘cold frame’ outside boxes, as he called them, which home GP gardeners like myself could use to start the growing season earlier and extend it longer. This is something I have been looking for. We are going to keep in contact and I will keep readers of this web site updated on what he comes up with for us home model GP gardeners.

Did you ever look for something and desire it deeply only to find out it was right in front of your face all the time? I have done that many a time at key moments of my life.

These types of questions remind me of the Jesus saying, “Seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened for you.” Why, in this day and age of high tech and speed, do some persons always find what they are looking for? Here is a hint of the answer: Community.

The other day I was complaining to Tegan Dowling, the wikignome or caretaker of all the Milwaukee Renaissance web site, about my poor spelling and grammar skills (which some of you may have noticed if you read my postings before they are edited). In some follow-up discussion about compensating for that by letting other people help, and about helping each other in general, she offered this bit of wisdom, which might be some of an answer.
“Nothing is new, under the sun - we just keep re-discovering some basic truths as circumstances re-illuminate them. This notion of leveraging the diversity of the community is really important to me as a wikignome: there are many, many things that I value in others but don’t do well myself. I feel so very fortunate to live in a time when the technology available allows me to make a contribution using my innate skills and preferences, instead of trying and failing to apply talents that I don’t really have.”

To put it in Will Allen’s words when he is talking about the method of Growing Power, he always says it is the “same old, same old.” In other words there is nothing new about this way of Growing. The sun, rain, fish, coconut shavings (coyer), waste, plants, worm castings have been around since early times in the creation story. There is nothing new in GP, but by seeking and looking Will did discover a way of putting these things together to produce affordable, sustainable, organic food in very small spaces.

Or to rephrase what Tegan said: In the unity of a community, diversity allows us, by working together, to share our individual talents to do things we could never do by ourselves. The Milwaukee Renaissance community is a good example of this.

Now that I have stumbled around with this thought I need to start looking to find someone to say all of the above in one sentence like the author above did with my thought on terrorism. Can any of you say my stumbling thought clearer? Or more likely, probably, someone else has and I just need to look for it. Email your thoughts. [I think you’ve already said it really well, in the paragraph just above. — Tegan]

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February 6, 2007 Today’s Observations

It is still cold outside but relief and sun are in sight.

A friend today asked me for help with a small backyard Growing Power Growing System. I think urban or rural farming with Growing Power is great, but decided my niche is doing small home gardens inside and outside.

The 12th homicide victim last night in the city of Milwaukee barely made the news. Trying to update the Mothers Against Gun Violence? pages, all I could find out was she was shot in a robbery. If Brett Favre (we love you Brett) had an in-grown toenail it would have made more news than the death of this woman.

My wife and I have noticed that TV news at 10 pm is becoming increasingly fluff. The five-minute news summary on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS has more real news than the 35 minutes of news on major local networks. We like watching news at 10 pm, but have tried out the NBC affiliate, ABC affiliate and now are trying the CBS one, looking for some substance in the news. I doubt if we will find it, but will probably keep watching news at 10 out of habit.

Today is my oldest son’s 37th birthday. He is a detective in the Green Bay police force. He and his wife have three wonderful children, the Graf Kids? (see their page on Graf Family mini-website). My son is quiet but has always been a very conscientious and responsible person. We have been blessed by our two sons; the other one is 34 and lives in an apartment upstairs. He also has his own mini-website on the Milwaukee Renaissance, but he needs to update it with more artwork.

I was taught the power of observation, seeing deeply into small things, in college by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Purcell S.J. He has touched my life as he has touched the lives of many and he is still a friend. Today, another friend told me that his health is fading fast. I will need to visit him soon at the St. Camillus Health Center. One of my early observations in the observation book Father Purcell had us all keep is from Oct. 2, 1964. It reads: A multi-colored rainbow effect is produced in the insides of milk pictures after constant use.”

Another friend, my age, send me today a story about Franz Jägerstätter, the simple man who said NO to Hitler’s army and was killed for it. His story was hidden until the early 60’s when an author, Gordon Zahn, wrote a book about him called “Solitary Witness.” Gordon Zahn is from Milwaukee and after his university days came back to Milwaukee for retirement. He is in the same section of St. Camillus as Father Purcell. However, Gordon suffers from a severe case of dementia brought on by Parkinson’s disease. It turns out my friend from Church also knows Father Purcell. So some day soon we will go out to the health center to visit these two great men. At my last visit with each of them I told Father Purcell about this diary of observations and he was pleased. Visiting with Gordon I just conversed in the jagged style of a person with memory lost.

Gardening Within took one minor step forward today when I took time out for reading and reflection. My office still needs more work, and plants still need transplanting but there is always tomorrow, I hope.

Also today I went with Patricia Obletz?, (check her mini-website on ‘Wonderful Links’ on the Graf Family sidebar) to visit with the local director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness. We are trying to get posters of the bus signs she created with the anti-stigma message and artwork into doctors’ offices and public places. After much discussion about the politics of such an adventure we decided the best way to get out the art poster, 17” X 5″, is by giving them out to persons who will place them in their own doctor’s office or public places. If you are interested contact Patricia or me about acquiring one.

Some of the above are not really observations but rambling, loosely-related thoughts from the day. But, observations or not, it is enough.

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February 5, 2007 So Cold!

It is so cold today that cars did not start, schools were closed, and furnaces broke down. Our washing machine broke down last night but that might have been due to age rather than cold. Despite the cold I worked in the sun-room, when the sun was out, cleaning it up and organizing the plants in phase one of Gardening Inside. All went well except for one little mistake. In vacuuming the room I unplugged the small electric radiator heater I keep in this room for very cold days like today. Tonight when I went to check on my plants I noticed it was particularly cold in the sun-room. Than I realized it was cold because I had not plugged the electric radiator heater back in. Now I have, but what makes an electric radiator heater so efficient is that the liquid inside changes temperature slowly, and retains heat. However, that also means to get it going again, radiator heat in the room, will take some time. Let us hope and pray the kale, arugula and other plants in the room can survive while the room is heated back to above freezing. I am not too worried about the worms in the bottom of the box. Soil changes temperature very slowly. So while the air in the room dropped to 24 degrees the soil is still around 45 degrees.

However, like the snow earlier in the year, I think with the help of the media we are over-reacting to the cold. School is being canceled for tomorrow even though the wind chill will not be as bad as today. Maybe I am just getting old but I cannot remember in my life having so much hype about snow and cold as this winter where we only had one bad snowstorm and one very cold streak so far.

Maybe next year I should put buckets of decomposed compost in the four corners of the sun-room, turn the air filters back on, light some scented candles and let the heat of the compost keep the room at growing temperature, just like they do in the hoop plastic houses outside at GP. Compost does generate heat, as the worms in the GP Box can tell you. I am not even worried about the worms in the worm depository outside. Just before this cold streak I put a layer of coffee grounds on the pile, which was followed, before the cold, by snow. I am sure they are cozy in the middle of this pile. They are probably not procreating so much, moving very slowly, but surviving the cold.

This ability for compost to generate heat is the same reason why it can generate energy, as hopefully any day now the digester system at Growing Power Central will be doing: taking garbage, turning it into methane gas and then into energy. Maybe the government should be taking a look at energy from garbage instead of ethanol from corn to run our cars. I heard in a news report the other day how the prices of corn tortillas are rising in Mexico as more and more corn is diverted into gasoline.

Cold in one spot can affect many others in other areas. The other night at a restaurant my son ordered a chicken wrap. The waitress told him that the wrap no longer contains avocado as it says in the menu due to the high price of avocados because of the cold in the growing fields of California. Fortunately for him the buyers of Aldi had made a special purchase of Guacamole (made from avocados) before the cold affected prices. So today at Aldi’s I discovered one of the “special purchases of the week” was Guacamole. I purchased two of them just in case the cost of avocado stays so high.

Yes, plants and thus food is deeply affected by cold and heat. Plants do not grow in extreme cold or extra heat like in a desert. So when it so cold we stay inside, just like the worms deep into the compost, waiting for the cold to pass.

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February 4, 2007 Marrying a computer and a garden


At a workshop recently I took a picture of a religious woman friend of mine who still wears the traditional clothes of a nun. We work together in Faith In Recovery and have very different views and ways of operating on many things. But we remain friends and respect each other. The picture was sort of funny since I caught her on camera during a prayer before the workshop via by telescopic lens.

The other day I had to resign from a neighborhood list-serv since some people I do not even know were attacking me personally because I questioned the possible tone of discrimination in some of the postings. The attack was vicious, one person even calling me a fraud and saying that I did not even live in the neighborhood. In fact I am a third generation west-sider in Milwaukee and people who know me, like this nun, know that I may speak my mind, but I operate out of my value system.

So here we have one person who personally knows me and has a completely different personality from mine respecting me, and and another person who would not know me if he saw me on the street, attacking and misrepresenting me.

This is the paradox of the computer and the garden. A computer, high tech, can put us into contact with persons and information all over the world via the internet. For example, I have a friend from the sixties who lives in Holland whom I have frequent contact with via the Internet since we share many of the same values. Yet via the same Internet a person in my own neighborhood, who does not know what I look like or my values, can consider me the enemy. However, people who share gardening and Growing Power interest, by the internet or in person, may have completely different values, but the low-tech gardening interest does not interfere with their relationship. Computers, high tech tools, are things that can be used for unity or diverseness. While gardens, low tech, can bring people together but rarely are tools for divisiveness.

The lesson I learned from these two experiences, my religious woman friend and the situation of the person attacking me on the list-serv, is that communication can build good relationships only when it is grounded, like in a garden, on personal relationship.

There is an old Eastern proverb that says a good person is known by their friends but an outstanding person is known by their enemies. By that standard I am doing well, have some good friends but some real good enemies. Now when I say enemies I mean the kind in “Love your enemies” which is an easy thing to say and hard thing to do.

The inside gardening project got off to a good start today. At church the gospel talked about fishing, which is close to gardening, and being fishers of people. When we got home my wife and I spent about an hour cleaning up some of the clutter in the basement and I made myself an area to work on plants. I transferred a few of the new plants I bought yesterday to other pots. The only negative is that I tried the transfer upstairs in the sun-room rather than in the basement and made a mess that I still need to clean up. The office remains a mess but there is always tomorrow.

Tomorrow if I can do some inside gardening, cleaning and organizing my office, maybe the emails and writings I do on the computer in the office will have more of a grounded sense and I can communicate more clearly. And maybe when the sun-room is cleaned and more plants are planted the plants will flourish and with a little heat I will have a room for quiet, reflection and reading. Maybe someday I will get a portable wireless computer, take it in the sun-room or on the deck overlooking the garden and marry this noisy high tech tool of a computer with the silent low tech tool of a garden.

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February 3, 2007 Inside Gardening

Before Picture

Today is the coldest day so far this winter, but the day I renewed my interest in inside gardening. It started when I remembered that on the first Saturday of the month a commercial plant-design store near where I used to live has its monthly sale of inside plants. From 10am-2pm they sell off their excess office plants at very discounted prices. When I lived nearby I used to line up at 10am at the doors with all the other people waiting for them to open. I discovered that around 11:30–12am, after the initial rush, they discounted the remaining plants even more, many going for a dollar or two. I had not been there for quite a while and so went today to get some new indoor plants.

I was there around noon, and for about 9 dollars came home with 4 very nice plants. I have been meaning to plant more in the planters below the Growing Power box. So today I brought in from the garage buckets of castings and compost, and a box of coyer along with some planters. Some stuff I put in the sun-room with other indoor plants and some in the basement where I store planters and gardening stuff. Soon I discovered this job of renewing my inside gardening was a major task. I would need to clean out a basement area to work on the planting, and clean out the sun-room, which is now overcrowded with plants old and new. And today it was, even with the sun, very cold in the sun-room. So I did a little, went on to some other house chores, and decided to get serious on this inside gardening organizing tomorrow.

Once at a conference on spirituality I heard an Indian Jesuit priest talk about how he and some of his friends one Sunday a month had a gathering to clean their basements. The cleaning of the basement where many of us keep leftover and largely unused items, often in a mess, is real need and a symbol of our souls, which also get cluttered. So I asked my wife and son if they would help me clean the basement for about an hour tomorrow afternoon. My wife said yes, and my adult son was non-committal but will probably help since he uses the space in the basement the most for his musical instruments.

This all got me thinking about the clutter in my office and how I should be cleaning and organizing my office. The office, where I work, also represents symbolically the clutter of my soul, where I get so busy doing that I do not take the time to slow down and silently let the clutter go. So from the inside gardening project on plants, I moved to the greening of my office, to inside growing of my spirit and soul.

The picture above is “before picture” of the sun-room today after moving stuff in there but not doing the inside gardening. When I finish, hopefully in a few days, I will show you an “after picture”. As for a picture of the clutter of the basement and my office, you will need to use your imagination, since these pictures would be too embarrassing.

As for the clutter of my spirit, this I cannot show you, but you should be able to see the difference in my writing as I clean out the hardness of my heart, plant some new seeds and allow them to grow. “If today you shall hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts” (scripture). Garden inside, get rid of the clutter and you will find the real you and hear the voice of God. For me this means to start with office, sun-room and myself to garden within.

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February 2, 2007 Technical Difficulties

High Tech

Low Tech

Last night (or early this morning), I experienced technical difficulties posting this diary for yesterday. Tegan cleared up the difficulties, and this morning (daylight time) I placed one of Patricia Obletz’s art pictures on the Feb. 1st posting. Also today I made another attempt to send out my newsletter, pictures, format, language, all in order. As usual I put it together in “Word”. But this time I not only transferred the document to Outlook but sent it by Outlook directly. Some of the pictures were on the wrong side of page, but it looked good when I sent it to my friends and self. I thought that after 18 tries I had finally found a way to send the newsletter by email. Wrong! What I sent by Outlook and what I received in my email box on my SBC Yahoo account were not the same. The format was once again all mixed up. Sending out the newsletter with pictures and words is one technical difficulty I cannot overcome. Thank God for John V. in California who will, in a few days, post the newsletter (if he got it okay) on the web site Hope to Healing, reformatted to look good. Despite these difficulties I remain a “computer monk”, focusing on only what I need to know about computers and refusing to spend a lot of time learning new technical things I do not absolutely need or ‘surfing’ the web. Computers are a real blessing in communication and life, but they are also a real curse. Learning to turn your curses into blessings is a matter I strive to attain. Thank God for people who master computers and share their knowledge like Tegan Dowling, the wiki gnome of the Milwaukee Renaissance site.

When I was watering my houseplants with tea from the Growing Power box today, it occurred to me this tea was a very low tech but rich in energy substance. Tea, as it is called, is water that passes through worm castings and compost, like the run off from the bottom of the GP box in the sun-room and is caught in a pan. All of Growing Power methods are low tech but high life methods. In fact at the Growing Power main center, I am sure there is a computer somewhere but it is probably for communications (they never respond to emails anyway) and there is little technology employed, maybe a pump or two, in the growing process. Now all that might change if the “digester” that takes tons of garbage and turns it into energy ever gets online. That piece of equipment is very high tech but as important as it is to crating energy from waste, it is not the key to Growing Power. Worms, very low, non-technical creatures, are at the heart of Growing Power.

It is hard to imagine life without cell phones, computers, TV, and such. Technology is a blessing when it used by persons to create more time for imagination, communication and leisure. However, as so often it is used for more business, less imagination, over-stimulation, more tedious work, it is a curse. Growing Power, in gardening or farming, only has one purpose — to produce healthy food for people using our waste, via the livestock of worms slowly turning it into organic affordable food. You may encounter difficulties dong this but they will not be technical difficulties. Children and adults, as young as my grandchildren or older than I am, can use the power of Growing Power to grow. Often, some, especially the old, cannot use high tech items. They have technical difficulties.

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February 1, 2007 We are One

Origins 2003–04
by Patricia Obletz

It is a start of a new month and just today I finished the draft of the January issue of the email newsletter “Living Stones.” Since it will take a day or so for it to be edited and completed and for the email list to be transferred to Outlook (I am trying my 18th time to get it send out right with pictures and all) you can still subscribe by an email to me.

Where did the month go? Some of the answers are in the newsletter, as far as how my time was spent. Sorry to say very little was spent directly on my garden or Growing Power box although I did come up with some thoughts about how to improve the garden this spring and summer, or the box next winter. Also you will find some connection in all I do — at least there is in my mind.

If you read this diary regularly or read the newsletter you know I am constantly searching to connect all the parts of my life, from working with Mothers Against Gun Violence? to working with worms. I have felt this need for unity, to relate everything, all of my conscious life. There is only One God, Christian, Jews and Muslins believe, and God is Unity. That is probably the reason why I like Ignatius Spirituality so much, the spirituality and way o seeing life, first developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. He was always “seeking to find God in all things”. St. Ignatius starts his most famous writing “The Spiritual Exercises” by telling us how all things in this world are created by God’s love and ends with a contemplation of love, seeing God in all things. Many a person has talked about our deep search for meaning in life and some have said how it will never be satisfied till we see the face of God. “Our hearts are restless till we rest in thee.” (St. Augustine)

Growing Power represent unity. The sun, rain, worms, seeds, and human work all work together in Growing Power. All life in the garden is related as all life in nature is related. You’ve probably heard of that sequence describing how a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of world, after a long series of cause-and-effect, ends up resulting in a tornado in another part of the world. I believe all life, even human life, is like that. With modern communications we can see more clearly how we are all connected and how, as St. Paul said, “we are one body.”

I believe that once we see the unity of life we cannot look at war and violence the same way. The killing of life, especially innocent human life, becomes impossible for us. Today I read an article in this month’s issue of America magazine, a weekly Jesuit magazine, about selective conscientious objectors in the present military. The military does recognizes conscientious objectors, like Quakers who believe all wars are immoral, but will not recognize selective objectors, those who believe that some wars, like this one is Iraq are immoral and will not fight. If you read the article about why these men and women are refusing to fight you see it is the taking of innocent human life. They feel a connection to the lives of innocent Iraqis they are ordered to kill and they cannot do it. You can read the article for yourself. Many come back suffering from serious mental health problems. If we see the enemy, especially the innocent, as one of us, how can we kill that person? The military training tries to desensitize soldiers, to get them to look at Iraqis as not human. The movie Ground Truth, the record of Iraqi veterans, truly illustrates this point.

Yet, those who can see life in a worm can truly see life in a human being, no matter the age, what the person has done, what nationality or the belief system the person has. The test of unity becomes a good way to discern choices in life. What brings us closer together in relation to nature or other life is usually the right choice. What pushes us further apart, divides us, is usually the wrong choice. We are truly One.

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


Kevrell — 23 January 2012, 13:22

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sripkum — 24 January 2012, 04:15

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aujfmn — 26 January 2012, 12:34

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