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

Greens Yearning to Grow


Garden 07/30/08

Click below to read any post in full, and to post your comments on it.

Winter Pilgrimage - Friday, December 26, 2008


Tomorrow some of us will be leaving the cold and snow of Wisconsin for the warmth and sun of India. Twelve of us will be going on a Pilgrimage of Peace to India. We will be walking in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi from Hyderabad to New Delhi. One of our guides will be Sri Prasad Gollanaplli a ‘development worker’, or full-time follower of Gandhi. We will visit Gandhi’s Ashram and other holy and historical spots related to the life of Gandhi. We will visit the Nature Cure Ritual center and sustainable, organic farms. We will have conversations with scholars and followers of the way of life practiced by Gandhi.

Gandhi was a prolific writer. Prassad gave each of us pilgrims a five-volume set of “The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.” Although he was a lover of books Gandhi believe real education came from experience, not books. His writings were based on his experiences. In fact his autobiography that he wrote at a young age is called: “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” As many great women and men he learned from reflections on experiences seeking the truth in all aspects of everyday life. His writings about manure to religion were based on his daily experiences.


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Peaceful Christmas - Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jack & Anja enjoying a
peaceful Christmas

Yesterday we celebrated Christmas with my son and his family up north. The grandchildren were busy opening presents and I was busy taking pictures, when I happened to notice their cat and dog asleep under the tree. Usually Anja, the dog, is busy running around, and the cat Jack is out of sight. But not during this Christmas play. Anja was tired after going out sledding with my grandsons and friends, and Jack the cat stayed around seeing what all the excitement was about.

I almost did not get this picture, since my four-year-old granddaughter wanted to get the cat and dog in on the action. After I took the picture she finally woke up the cat. It went off somewhere but the dog was just plain tired and slept on.

There is a Graf family twitch that some of us have of unconsciously sticking our tongues out. It looks like Anja picked up this Graf family twitch.


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Preparing to be Ready - Monday, December 22, 2008

Carson, Ready to Jump

These days seem to be a time of preparing: preparing for Christmas, preparing for my Pilgrimage to India in the footsteps of Gandhi. Today my wife was busy wrapping gifts for our grandchildren, sons and daughter-in-law, and I was busy buying a mosquito net for my pilgrimage to India this Saturday.

Preparing can be busy work only, or preparing can be being ready to receive what is coming. Actually both are necessary. Christmas can be buying and wrapping gifts, or it can be preparing heart and soul to deepen our awareness of “God with us”. Preparing for the pilgrimage can be buying supplies, or it can be reading and reflecting on the life and work of Gandhi.

When I was young I was a boy scout for a few years. I have some memories of Boy Scout camp and I do remember the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”.

Now that I am old I have learned of lot of what it means to be prepared. Life experiences, and recently urban gardening, have taught me that in life you usually find what you are looking for. If you have ‘eyes to see’ and ‘ears to hear’. Like in a garden, when one prepares the soil and plants the seeds, in life when we prepare for what we are looking for we find it.


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Go to the Poor for Blessings - Sunday, December 21, 2008

This boy represents the 250 million
Dalits (doll-leets), formerly called
Untouchables, who have been told by
the upper castes of India that they
are less than human.

After Church today my wife and I went on three St. Vincent De Paul home visits. The St. Vincent De Paul Society is the Catholic Church’s largest lay organization, whose mission it to visit with persons in need and in a nonjudgmental way provide them with some basics of life, like a bed, stove, refrigerator, food, clothes or furniture. With the cold and snow it was more difficult to get around today, but as usual, it was very worthwhile. Although we are the ones providing vouchers for necessary items, we receive much more than we ever give on these visits.

Saying this reminds me of a communication some years ago from an Indian Jesuit priest that we had made friends with when he was studying here in the USA. He told us how he was, at the time, during the day counseling low-income students at the universities and at night providing free marriage counseling in the poorest areas of the city. He himself was a Dalit, formerly called “the Untouchables” in the Indian caste system. Visiting with the poorest of the poor he found great joy and peace. In his prayer he asked God to give him the grace and blessings he found with the Dalits. He told us that one day God answered his prayer and said: “I have given all my grace and blessings to the poor, you must go to them to find it.”


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Green Grows in the Cold - Saturday, December 20, 2008

Green Grows 12/20/08

More snow fell today. December has been a month of endless snow. And now we have wind and cold to add to the snow. The wind chill, they say, might be –30 tonight and the new snow and wind will make visibility difficult.

Despite all this the sunroom remains, with help from five-pane windows and a small heater, between 50 and 60 degrees. This is salad-growing weather, as can been seen in this picture. Green grows in the cold, snow or heat.

Today, with help of the wiki gnome Tegan the nonviolent worm home page was spiced up. There is now a new feature on the ‘nonviolent’ side of the page, the MU Peace Update. Very Slowly but surely the seeds of resistance to the military training on Christian campuses are starting to take hold. I am starting to hear from local and national persons of pent-up resistance to training “to kill or be killed” on campuses. Yesterday someone sent me a copy of a letter from a graduate of another Catholic University to the president of that University and the Board of Trustees objecting to ROTC on campus.


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Reject Christmas Tree - Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Tree 2008

This year Christmas comes between the unexpected funeral of my sister-in-law, Nancy, and my pilgrimage to India. Top that with all the snow we have been having recently, 12 inches today, and we almost did not have a Christmas tree this year. With the cost of real trees, which I always insist on, being so high and our lives being so busy, this year my wife suggested we go without a tree.

I was starting to agree with her when I went to a home-builders’ store the other day. On the door a sign said there was 50% off of all real trees and wreaths. I went out to the garden center in the store to see what they had. I did not see any trees and was ready to leave when I saw a small Scotch Pine in the corner of the bin. It had a net around it and thus was very thin. I could see why many had rejected it. Besides being small the bottom of the trunk was twisted.

There was no price on it so I asked the store clerk in the garden center how much this tree was. She took the tag off the tree and went to her desk to scan it. She said it was $8. Since a regular tree is about $80 I purchased it. I thought it was better than no tree. It sat in the garage and the basement for a few days before we tried to put it up. It would not work with our tree stand so I purchased another one at the drug store. I set it up in the living room.


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Learning By Doing - Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bubble Wrap Insulating

In my effort to practice what I preach I used some bubble wrap to insulate two side panels in the front entranceway to our house. I also did a window on the inside door and a side window in the entranceway with clear layers of plastic to create AIR insulation. I thought the bubble wrap side windows would look cool with Christmas lights on the outside or inside but have not have a chance to do that yet. When my wife came home from work I showed her my new experiments with AIR insulation. She did not even notice the windows with clear glazing but liked it when I told her about it. She did not like the bubble wrap insulation on the side windows. She said it was because it was not clear, but I think it was because it was bubble wrap. I told her about my Christmas light idea but she will need to see it to believe it. Bubble wrap is not yet an accepted way of insulating.

This small experiment reminded me of a story I heard about Dorothy Day recently, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. A friend told the story how she and Dorothy were on the ferry on a cold, windy day in New York. When the friend complained about the cold Dorothy said she was glad she had learned from the homeless men and woman on the streets about stuffing old newspapers in your coat to keep warm. She had just done that, using the pockets of air created by the newspaper as insulation.


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Experiments Not The Results - Wednesday, December 17, 2008

“Our own life is the instrument with
which we experiment with truth.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

In preparation for a Pilgrimage to India I am reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, or as Gandhi liked to call his life story, “experiments with truth.” He said in the introduction “my life consists of nothing but those experiments.” Some were grand adventures like leading the people of India with nonviolence to independence. Many were small failures, like his trials with eating meat or smoking when he was young.

This points out the real appeal of Gandhi for me. He considered his life a whole. There was no separation of life into parts or categories. He wrote about manure and about love with the same voice and intensity. “My life is an indivisible whole, and all my activities run into one another; and they all have their rise in my insatiable love of mankind.” (Gandhi)

When his experiments in life failed it did not stop him and his desire for the truth. Like Thomas Merton, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and Dorothy Day, my mentors, he believed it was in the desire and action to do the right thing, not the results, that mattered.


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Christmas Gift of Life - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Peter Maurin

In the spirit of the easy essays of Peter Maurin I offer this one.

Into the cold dark winter of death
A cry goes out “Wake Up!
The time has come for God to be with us.”

Some, poor and sick, just wait,
They have nothing to give but are ready to receive.
Some, rich and important, get going,
They have plenty to give but rather receive.

Persons cry out for a change of heart.
The words, like seeds, fall on fertile ground and are heard or
Fall by the wayside and are just ignored.

Marquette, a Jesuit Catholic University
Marks the coming by giving students and staff time off to celebrate.
It honors God with us in words but ignores the Word of God.

Gandhi said, “My message is my life.”
Marquette says we are peacemakers
Yet teaches war and violence.


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Time to Insulate - Monday, December 15, 2008

Time To Insulate

It is time to insulate. Since last Thursday when we left for Iowa for the funeral of our beloved Nancy, the weather has turned very cold. I left the house with more windows and doors to insulate with AIR. It is time now to finish the insulation. The cold drains energy from the plants and bodies, making them weak and tired.

Funerals can be very draining events. The memories of the loved one suddenly lost can wear at us and make us tired. At Nancy’s viewing long lines of people from all walks of life passed by the casket and gave warmth and comfort to my brother and his children. For five and half hours my brother who has leg problems and other health issues, stood receiving persons with consolations. Every time he seemed ready to collapse with exhaustion another person would hug him and express their sorrow and grief.

At one point in the weekend all the family at my brother’s house went to lunch allowing me to sit alone in the house that Nancy had created and kept. Reading some Merton and Gandhi and reflecting the spirit of Nancy invaded my mind. I felt renewed in my efforts to combat the spirit of death, “kill or be killed’ that has pervaded our society. The energy and strength I received being silent in Nancy’s house gave me new life and new ways to awaken our institutions that have become so numb to death that even a Catholic Jesuit University like Marquette can host the teaching of war and violence and justify it.


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There is a Time for Everything - Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Graf Family Reunion Thanksgiving 07

There is a time for everything under the sun. The next few days is a time for me to mourn the loss of family and friends and to reflect on and celebrate their lives. Here are some petitions for the next few days. Put in your own names.

God Bless all family and friends who mourn the death of a loved one and celebrate their life.

God help us to serve each other with love and kindness as (name) served us.

God we pray for peace and justice in the world; help us to create heaven on earth.

God we prayed for all those touched by the life of (Name), may her/his spirit of goodness and deep faith shine in all of us.

There is a time for everything. The Diary of the Worm will return Sunday or Monday.


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Lets Us Grow - Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lettuce Grows

It was the night before just another day,
Outside it was cold and snowy,
But inside the sunroom,
Insulated by Air,
Lettuce for the salad was growing
In the Growing Power Box

Each day humans need to eat
And every night food grows.

In the day, light and sometimes water
Nourishes the lettuce
With nutrients sinking deep into the roots.

In the night without the light
The roots grow down
And the lettuce grows up.


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Here Comes the Three-Year-Old! - Monday, December 08, 2008

John is now Three

Today I was feeling sad from the sudden death of my sister-in-law yesterday and still recovering from the flu, when I was asked to take care of John, the three-year-old son of my African niece from Sierra Leone. She was taking a final exam in nursing school and the day care center at school was not available for her today. Reluctantly I said yes but was glad I did.

John is a three-year-old who does not play by himself. He followed me wherever I went in the house. I got a few things done but mostly played with him, silly little games that only a three-year-old and an old man want-to-be three can understand. One of the games was pretending that a small piece of plastic, probably something from a game, was a monster and we would trade it back and forth.

Our play was interrupted by phone calls about funeral arrangements for my sister-in-law and my wife coming home from work very sick, probably with the same flu that I had. Also John was not interested in TV, which usually works for a little free time, so we played.


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Death Comes Home - Sunday, December 07, 2008


This last week I have been writing a lot about death. Just today I posted a note on the death of Patrick Flood on the Friends of Milwaukee 14 Today web page. I have written in this posting about a farewell to a friend facing death, Jim Harney, a member of the Milwaukee 14. Also, the winter cold reminds me of death in nature. However, in nature there is a resurrection next spring, but with friends there is resurrection on the last day.

But nothing prepared me for the phone call I received this evening from my brother in Iowa. His wife of 39 years, Nancy, mother of their four children, had died in a car accident this afternoon. Nancy was more than a sister-in law to my wife Pat and me. She was like a sister. We traveled with my brother and Nancy to Hawaii, Florida and many places. She was our friend and companion. My brother’s voice on the phone was unrecognizable. He, like us, cannot fathom this death.

Nancy was a very active mother, a person of faith, wife, and had a kind soul. When her children grew up she went back to school earning a degree and pursuing a career she had left behind when she married my brother. In fact she was coming back from a class in Lacrosse to Iowa City when the accident happened.


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Smart Locks and St. Nick - Saturday, December 06, 2008

No ‘smart locks’ for St. Nick

I am glad there were no “smart locks” at the time of St. Nicolas, who we honor today. In his time homes were open, as they still are in some towns and rural areas. But now in most cities, at least in the USA, we must have locks on our doors. We need to lock our houses, cars and garages to be safe and protect our property and ourselves.

One of my keyed locks on a door was broken. Richard, the Catholic Worker from Chiapas who is visiting with us, offered to fix it if I purchased new door handles and lock. I thought that was simple, since another friend had told me what type of keyed lock to purchase. However, it turned out to be a nightmare. After having purchased a ‘smart lock’ lockset, visiting a locksmith, returning the lockset, talking to two more locksmiths by phone, and taking back the original ‘smart lock’ I returned, I thought I had solved the problem. Richard installed the door lock in 15 minutes — something that would have taken me hours. The job is almost done. I just need to purchase a few more copies of a key. Preparing for the installation was tougher and took a lot longer than the installation of the lock.


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Out of Nowhere - Friday, December 05, 2008

Richard’s neighbors in Chiapas

Out of nowhere, like St. Nick coming this eve, Richard Flamer called me tonight asking if he and another Catholic Worker could stay here for the night. I had heard of him. Richard Flamer and his wife have a Catholic Worker farm in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. He and another Catholic Worker from Des Moines were at Marquette University where Richard, a professional photojournalist for many years, was arranging to archive his photos. You can read about Richard and his work in Chiapas on the Bishop Ruiz Project web page.

Tonight we discovered we have a lot more in common than the Catholic Worker and mutual friends. Richard, as I, uses worms in his growing on the farm, and has come up with all kinds of ways to save energy and use waste, much more than I can hope to do. Tonight he gave me a design for a greenhouse that uses discarded sliding patio doors and angle irons.

Richard’s wealth of life experience is way beyond that of anyone I know. He was a photojournalist for many years in war-torn countries, forensic photographer, and photojournalist for stories on Italian restaurants and orchids. He is in the USA to make some money by doing construction work and to visit friends.

As a Vietnam veteran he knows the futility and horror of war firsthand. He has made the connection between nonviolence and the worm. Sharing experience with him has given me a lot to think about and to write about. You never know what blessings come unexpectedly out of nowhere.


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Changing Death Into Life - Thursday, December 04, 2008

“You must be the change
you wish to see in the world”

Life, as nature, is full of life and death issues. Life is full of change. I was awakened this morning by a reporter from a Catholic News Service. He wanted to confirm that Jim Harney, a member of the Milwaukee 14, had died. Jim is alive but on his deathbed, I told him. What happened was that I had sent an email about Jim’s condition to a person who passed it on to the Catholic Worker network, which this newsperson receives. The person passing on my message had not read it, and assumed that I was writing about Jim’s death since Jim has been facing death for a time. With time we were able to change the message of death to life.

Today I finally got onto the web, with a great thanks to Tegan of Emergency Digital, the Debate Forum on the The first question for debate is: “Is it moral or ethical for Marquette University to host military training?” For me this is also a life and death issue. For me it seems our culture of violence and death is such an everyday thing that even when a Christian University teaches military values that negate Christian values it is barely noticed and easily accepted. Checking over the revised Army Leadership Manual today, I found a new statement on the priority of Army values over other cultural and religious faith values. It states: “Soldiers and Army civilians enter the Army with personal values developed in childhood and nurtured over many years of personal experience. By taking an oath to serve the Nation and the institution, one also agrees to live and act by a new set of values — Army Values.” The Army value on taking life, be it in a just or unjust war, is not the Catholic Church’s value of the priority of conscience, and goes way beyond self-defense. Join the debate on this issue of life and death.


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Growing In Cold - Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Kale Growing In Cold

Over the years of this Diary of the Worm in a home garden, inside and outside, the winter months posed the greatest challenge to Growing Renewable Affordable Food ( G.R.A.F.). The five pane windows and the AIR system have helped to keep the sunroom and house warm with less energy, but my new challenge of growing in a small greenhouse with plastic and wrapping bubbles has had mixed results. Tomorrow I will began a full-scale test of all energy efficient systems, measuring the house, office, sunroom, greenhouse and outside temperatures as well as tracking the amount of electricity for the small heater in the sunroom and the gas bill for the rest of the house. I will keep readers of updated on these experiments with sustainable growing and saving energy.

But it seems like the Air method, while successful for house and sunroom, is not working in the greenhouse outside because of the loss of infra-red heat that glass contains but plastic does not. Here is the explanation from my friend and ‘science advisor’.


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Farewell Friend For Now - Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Portrait of Jim Harney by Rob Shetterly

My friend, Jim Harney, a member of the Milwaukee 14 is dying. Today I got this message:

Dear compañeros and friends of Jim Harney.

Jim’s journey on this planet is nearly ended and he wanted you to know this:

“I want to tell you that I love you. I want to tell you goodbye and wish you well in the struggle and challenge ahead. There is no other time but now.”

Jim and Nancy wanted you to know that if you want or need a quiet moment in prayer bedside with Jim, the door is open. Also, know that he is sleeping now most of the time and his hearing is hyper-sensitive, even with ear plugs. Please, no phone calls.

You are also most welcome to share this message with friends and to post your own messages to Jim in a public forum at

Thank you very much for all of your love, support, prayers and well wishes for our dear and beloved friend.


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“Are You Dead Yet?” - Monday, December 01, 2008

“Are you dead yet”?

Recently we have been talking about how deeply rooted in the soil we are. The renewal of this back-to-earth movement, urban farming and gardening, is just in time as our culture becomes deeply rooted to the antithesis of healthy rich growing soil: violence, death and destruction. I was reminded of how deeply rooted we are in a culture of violence when driving around town with my grandchildren last week. One of my grandsons asked the other: “Are you dead yet?” Of course he was referring to the video game character in the game he was playing. In many video games, even lots of G-rated ones, you lose the game when your character is killed, and you win when you kill other characters. Video games are like the ‘toy guns’ of my generation; however, they are much more realistic and celebrate killing not in the Wild west of old but in the present time. In fact the military is one of the major developers of video games to be used in training soldiers and by the public.

My grandson’s question helps me understand why Marquette officials will not answer the question: “Is it moral or ethical for Marquette University to host departments of military science?” How can they answer? If they say yes they need to justify the teaching of values on campus contrary to the Catholic faith they profess. If they say no, how can they continue to host departments of the military for nine colleges and universities?


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