Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

October 30, 2014

Power With Nature: Low Energy, Low Consumption, The Good Life – Part I

Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt achieves 99 miles per gallon equivalent running on electric power.

A man in an environmental group I belong to recently told the group that he had driven to the group meeting in his Chevrolet Volt (a plug-in electric car). The trip was over 50 miles and the car had used only a fraction of a gallon of gas. (According to Consumer Reports the Volt gets 99 mpg equivalent on electric power.) Even more impressive, most of the electricity to run the car had come from the solar array on top of his house. I was curious just how much electricity was required, as according to calculations I’d made, the solar panels at Paula’s and my house could never come close to running a car. I asked how many solar panels they had. Over 50 panels operated his house and two electric cars, with a small percentage of his electricity still coming from the grid. I just had to ask how many watts the 50+ panels provided. The panels weren’t all identical, but were all over 200 watts each. So, over 10,000 watts worth of solar panels!

Izuzu Trooper

Troopers are energy efficient in their own way. Our 1994 and 2000 Troopers were each purchased used and each has travelled over 200,000 miles. That long life means that massive amounts of energy and materials have not been used to manufacture more new vehicles.

I guess there will be no Chevrolet Volts getting charged up here at Cedar Hill where our array of ten mostly antique solar panels range from 35 watts up to the two newish 100 watt panels we bought two summers ago. Our solar budget is around 600 watts (on a sunny day), a tiny fraction of what the 50+ panel guy has. Never mind. A Chevy Volt would not survive a minute on our rough road and our cherished, but elderly, Troopers are energy efficient in their own way – each one has already travelled 200,000 miles and that long life means that massive amounts of energy and materials have not been used to manufacture more new vehicles. We consider ourselves quite fortunate to be able to operate a refrigerator here. We lived without one for eight years when we first moved here and had far fewer solar panels. Most of the year Paula gets to piece her quilts using an electric-powered 1949 Featherweight sewing machine. But, today, right around summer solstice when the days are long and solar power is normally at a yearly high, she’s back on her human-powered 1921 vintage treadle sewing machine thanks to what seems like weeks of endless clouds and rain. (We’re grateful for all the rain, but come on sun goddess!)

Paula's 1921 Singer treadle sewing machine. This sewing machine is entirely woman powered. You can use the foot treadle or add a hand crank - Paula has both options.

We don’t get 90% of our electricity from solar here, but 100%. We’re off the grid and we live on an exact budget determined by the sunshine (though we have resorted to a gas generator on rare occasions, usually when a carpenter required more energy to operate her tools than we could provide). I have a stack of “to do” stuff piled up next to the computer because there is no way we have enough electricity to turn the darn thing on. This electricity shortage is kind of annoying, but I also love it. I get to skip doing all that computer work (for now) plus my life is keyed into the seasons, the weather, in one more way and I’m just a little more disconnected from the mainstream culture, a culture I find more than a little troubling. We’re obviously far from perfect at conserving energy and reducing consumption – just look at those two fossil fuel burners sitting in the driveway – but we are certainly trying.

But, moving on toward my point… The 50+ solar panel guy generated a kind of visceral excitement amongst many members of my environmental group when he talked about driving his hundred miles per gallon solar-powered Volt to the meeting. Here was someone in the flesh living the sustainability dream – he could drive where he wanted, live the “normal” American lifestyle, but with fossil-free solar energy. (We won’t think about what energy and materials it took to manufacture that Volt or all those solar panels.) I could almost hear (some) people’s inner thoughts – “Yes! This is what we want! We can still have it all!” This 50+ panel vision for a sustainable future reminds me of the high energy/high consumption renewable energy paradigm that Vandana Shiva talks about in her book, Soil, Not Oil. According to Shiva:

“Most of the discussions and negotiations on climate change have been restricted to the commercial, consumption-oriented energy paradigm rooted in a reductive, mechanistic worldview and consumerist culture. Within this paradigm there are two dominant approaches: the approach of global business, especially the corporations that have promoted the fossil fuel economy, and the approach of those seeking renewable alternatives to support an energy-intensive consumerist society.” (p. 4, Soil, Not Oil)

Shiva offers an alternative to the high energy, high consumption paradigm based on a “people’s perspective in the Global South”. She tells us we must “power down energy and resource consumption” and “power up creative, productive human energy and collective democratic energy to make the necessary transition.” (p.4) In other words, she calls for less energy use period, but more human work and creativity, all taking place through political structures based in decentralized, living democracies that spread social power to ordinary people.

When I talk about my own attempts to live a relatively low energy lifestyle people are often impressed that we have solar electricity and live entirely off the grid. But, when they realize the extent of so-called deprivation that Paula and I live with – no running water, no flush toilets, no rototiller, no lawn mower, no tractor, no air conditioning, and, when it gets too cloudy or the days too short, no computer, no DVDs and sometimes no electric lights – most people (in the U.S) assume that they could never live the way we do. They also typically dismiss our way of life as irrelevant, assuming that so few people would choose a low power way of life that it makes no political difference whatsoever that we choose this way of life. For example, one fellow who was convinced that society needs nuclear energy in order to preserve the lifestyle of people in developed nations told me, “I don’t really see a massive change in lifestyle; if you want to go live off the grid and grow all your own food, etc. good for you, but don’t expect the vast majority of Americans to join you.” Other people say what we are doing is just individual change and not very politically relevant – kind of like changing your lightbulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent or LED. A good thing to do for the environment, but too small a change to matter. These critics are entirely missing the point; we are engaged in revolutionary change here at Cedar Hill, working to rebuild society from the bottom up.

If you want to create a non-hierarchical, bottom-up society your goal is to do away with the whole power over, top-down power structure and all forms of domination, replacing power over with power with.

As I recently discussed in my blog, “Stuck in the Mud”, many people think that social change can come only by influencing society’s decision-makers to make changes from the top down. People not at the top can influence what happens by applying various sorts of pressure on the top: lobbying, letter writing campaigns, protesting, boycotts, online petitions, civil disobedience and so on. But, if you want to create a non-hierarchical, bottom-up society your goal is to do away with the whole power over, top-down power structure and all forms of domination, replacing power over with power with. Power with is the concept commonly used by feminists (and now others) to denote social relationships where power is shared between equals and people cooperate to create outcomes that benefit everyone involved. Obviously, the top of a top-down structure is not going to be real keen on eliminating its own power altogether, so there isn’t a whole lot of point to pressuring the top.

Obviously, the top of a top-down structure is not going to be real keen on eliminating its own power altogether, so there isn’t a whole lot of point to pressuring the top.

Political work looks different when your goal is creating a power with, nonhierarchical society. You can work to abolish the top-down structures and/or work to build the society you want. Both strategies are essential. Since building a power with society from the bottom up requires that ordinary individuals (the “bottom”) do the building, the work we ordinary individuals do as individuals, as “families”, as communities to build power with, non-hierarchical households and community structures all counts as revolutionary action.

Since building a power with society from the bottom up requires that ordinary individuals (the “bottom”) do the building, the work we ordinary individuals do as individuals, as “families”, as communities to build power with, non-hierarchical households and community structures all counts as revolutionary action.

The revolutionary change called for by this time of environmental devastation includes not just a change in our social relationships, but also changing our relationship with nature from power over to power with. And as we will soon see (in Parts II, III and IV of this blog) a power with relationship to nature requires a low-energy, low consumption way of life. One way or another, by choice or by nature taking her turn at power over, “the vast majority of Americans” are most likely headed toward a low power future. The sooner we abandon the fantasy that we can use renewable energy to continue a high consumption lifestyle, the better off we will be on every dimension. Our attempts to dominate each other, constantly seeking status and material benefits, create great unhappiness. We cannot feel good about ourselves under a power over social system, as power over destroys feelings of genuine self worth for both the people “above” and the people “below”. A life of power with relationships to other people and to nature is the greatest hope for Americans and everyone else on this struggling planet and certainly for our relatives in the natural world.

May 25, 2014

Stuck In The Mud

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Global Warming,Jeanne Neath,Patriarchy — Jeanne Neath @ 11:21 am

“Oh, goddess! Did you hear the news about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet? Scientists have been warning for a long time that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (the little ice sheet compared to East Antarctica) may collapse and now they say it’s happening. A bunch of glaciers that flow into the Amundsen Sea have already melted so much that the collapse of one whole section of the ice sheet can’t be stopped. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels right now, the whole damn thing will melt away. Even worse, it’s likely to take the rest of West Antarctica with it. That would mean 12 feet of sea level rise over several centuries. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is projecting sea level rise between 4 inches and 3 feet by the year 2100, but they pretty much ignored both West Antarctica and Greenland melting in making that estimate, because they ‘lacked sufficient data’. Well, some of the data is in now and even NBC News is reporting that a three foot rise is looking like a middle of the road estimate. There goes New York City, New Orleans, Miami Beach…”
[See NBC News report and Mother Jones]

This undated photo courtesy of NASA shows Thwaites Glacier in Western Antarctica. Thwaites is about the size of New Mexico and Arizona together and is so connected to surrounding glaciers that it helps trigger loss elsewhere.

“I’d really like to do something to get us off fossil fuels. But, it all feels so hopeless. Our culture is killing off all these different species. The frogs are dying of a fungus we’ve somehow spread all over the place. But, when this climate breakdown gets really underway… They’re starting to call this the Sixth Extinction, but it isn’t a meteor taking out the dinosaurs this time. No, we’re causing it and we may well end up like the dinosaurs.”

“I know what you mean. The problem just feels too big. There’s just not that much we can do. I want to do something, but I just can’t think of anything that can work. The ice sheet melting is unstoppable no matter what now. But, this culture – it feels just as unstoppable to me. I mean, I’ll keep signing petitions and protesting Keystone XL and all that. But nothing feels like it makes a real difference.”

Change From Within, Change From Without

I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to tell you how many conversations I’ve had that sound something like the one I’ve reported. But, not everyone is stuck in the mud, suffering from a stuckness of spirit like the women talking above. People who believe that the “system” can be changed from within know they have plenty of work to do. For example, where I live some folks are invested in the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, working to get a carbon tax passed by Congress and to convince conservatives that a carbon tax will benefit them . They may succeed. The ones I know have great determination.

Then there are the people who are determined to force change by applying pressure from outside the “system.” Some of them want specific major modifications (like not piping tar sands oil through the U.S.). Others are focused on broader revolutionary change. Again, near where I live, folks in Oklahoma with the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance have been using nonviolent guerilla tactics such as chaining themselves to heavy equipment to slow down the laying of tar sands pipelines . Some of these protestors have been camped out for what must be years now, dedicating their lives to stopping this environmental destruction. On an international level there is the 350 movement, organizing marches, demonstrations, boycotts and all manner of non-violent actions to attempt to garner the attention of powerful decision-makers across the planet. Another international movement, Deep Green Resistance, is in its early stages of organization and they are advocating an end to civilization, patriarchy and industrial society, including the use of violent action. None of these folks – the lobbyists, educators, non-violent protestors, or resistance fighters – are stuck in the way others of us are.

Trapped on the Ice, Stuck in the Mud

So, who is it that is stuck and why? Obviously there are people who are clinging to an old patriarchal world, powered by fossil fuels, distributing astronomical wealth and power to a small elite and distributing privilege to a middle class (and military) whose work and support keeps the system functioning. When I say we’re stuck, I’m not talking about the elite or the people who happily support the status quo. And, as I already explained, I’m not talking about the activists who lobby Congress or march on New York City or commit acts of civil disobedience and believe that these strategies will actually work. Nor, am I talking about the resistance fighters. It’s the rest of us. Call us the inactive activists. We know all too well how bad things are, from climate breakdown to biogenetic engineering to racism to nuclear energy to poverty to female sex slavery to extinction to ecosystem breakdown and you can name the rest, if you have room for the list. We’re conscious of at least some of these problems and, on one level or another, fighting, or at least hoping, for change. But, lobbying and protesting and even sabotage seem inadequate to the great change we know is needed. We know that changing light bulbs (a la Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) or getting a carbon tax passed or even leaving the coal in the ground is not enough by a long shot. (You could stop all fossil fuel use today and the oceans would still be full or plastic and depleted of fish, the corporations would still be churning away turning nature into profitable products, men would still be raping and beating up women, and you get the picture.) We “inactivists” don’t have a strategy or even a vision for bringing about the level of social change needed to create societies that would nurture, not destroy, the earth (and us humans too). And maybe that allows some of us in the “developed” world to just take it easy, to do a little political work here and there, but to settle into enjoying our privilege and our earth-destroying lifestyles.

It’s hardly surprising we’re stuck given the depth of destruction created by globalized patriarchy, the failing natural systems, and the level of social change needed.

It’s hardly surprising we’re stuck given the depth of destruction created by globalized patriarchy, the failing natural systems, and the level of social change needed. The fossil-fuel driven, power mad, patriarchal world is self-destructing and that makes the whole situation overwhelming. Even the middle of the road three foot sea level rise prediction for this century will put some or all of major cities like New York City, London, and New Orleans underwater, not to mention huge sections of nations like Bangladesh and Holland, and entire island nations such as Tuvalu. How many governments are going to survive massive migrations as people flee areas made unlivable by drought, wildfires, storm surges, and permanent flooding? What happens when the glaciers providing water to the peoples of India, China, Peru, Bolivia finish melting away, causing rivers critical to billions of people to dry up? Which ecosystems are going to finally collapse as the extinction of that critical frog, micro-organism, or keystone predator comes to pass? What happens when the global food supply shrinks drastically due to a drought in a really bad location – say the main agricultural areas in China?

The globalized, industrial patriarchy will self-destruct, but will that happen quickly enough to stop the accelerating climate breakdown, loss of species, and loss of ecosystems (including the human-modified ones that produce food for 7 billion people)? What ways of life, social structures, technologies, economies, governments will replace the failing globalized and national systems? How can we stop this destructive way of life fast enough and come up with new ways to live? These are the kinds of problems that are overwhelming people who have plenty of political consciousness, but little to no faith in the ability of lobbying, marching, or civil disobedience to bring significant change to established political, economic and social systems. No wonder some of us are stuck!

Bottoms Up?

Back in 1989, EPA director William D. Ruckelshaus asked:

“Can we move nations and people in the direction of sustainability? Such a move would be a modification of society comparable in scale to only two other changes: the Agricultural Revolution of the late Neolithic and the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries. Those revolutions were gradual, spontaneous, and largely unconscious. This one will have to be a fully conscious operation…”

Global society is faced with an enormous challenge – comparable in scale to the agricultural and industrial revolutions – and must make the big changes called for. Meanwhile most national governments and huge powerful corporations are, not surprisingly, resisting change, denying the extent or even the existence of the challenge we face. But, then, who would expect that the powerful, mostly male, elite who run governments and corporations, would want to shed their most treasured and central principles– domination and greed. Let’s face reality, Exxon is not going to cease its concern with providing a profit to stockholders (and millions of dollars to the CEO) in order to bring us back to 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere. Some more truly democratic governments (unlike the U.S. where corporations control many politicians) may take some real measures to address climate breakdown (like the much needed carbon tax), but will never challenge capitalism, industrialization or runaway technological change.

What is there to do when you realize that a system based in domination and greed cannot address the problems that result from human practices of domination and greed? You can’t reasonably lobby that system or protest it because its investment in destructive practices lies at its very core.

The major institutions of modern society are all based in the exercise of “power over” or domination. They are top-down structures that use hierarchy to enable the people at the top to exert control over people below them and control over society. Our large-scale, top-down political and economic systems favor dangerous technologies that work with a large-scale, top-down approach. For example, most governments, especially in the developed and rapidly developing worlds, support and promote large-scale, industrial agriculture and not small scale market or subsistence farmers.

The activists who are lobbying and protesting governments may or may not lack full awareness of the extent of our problems, but they must at least have hope that those governments can adequately respond to the challenges we now face. Their quarrel is likely with specific laws or specific government or corporate activities and not with the top-down, power over structure of these institutions, the structure that generates all the problems. In contrast, those of us who are stuck do have a full understanding of the extent of the challenges we face, but lack hope that the top-down, power over “system” can respond. What is there to do when you realize that a system based in domination and greed cannot address the problems that result from human practices of domination and greed? You can’t reasonably lobby that system or protest it because its investment in destructive practices lies at its very core.

What actions are available to the activist once she realizes that the top-down system cannot rescue us? There are two that I am aware of: abolish the system or create a new way of living from the “bottom-up” that is based on “power with” and not on a top-down system (or power over/domination in any form).

February 18, 2014

Quilting With Heart

Filed under: Needle and Thread,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 3:24 am

Inspiration is where you find it! You’re the only one with your particular life experience. Even if you had a twin, her experience of life and the world would be different! None of my own teachers in sixteen years of formal schooling considered me “artistic” or “creative”. Another woman’s insight expanded my thinking about creativity when I read this quote, “Creativity is usually regarded as an individual attribute, but it depends on opportunities for expression and on a receptive audience.” Margaret Cruikshank wrote these life-expanding words in her book Learning To Be Old: Gender, Culture and Ageing published in 2009.


Gold Dust, 2001, inspired by the traditional Wagon Wheel block featuring contemporary batiks and even a lame fabric.

Because of that insight, I no longer view “creativity“ as an individual attribute! All of us have creative impulses lurking inside and waiting for a chance to be expressed! I know we quilters influence and inspire each other. I find that my local quilt guild, Quilters United In Learning Together of Northwest Arkansas, or QUILT, provides both an “opportunity for expression” and “a receptive audience”. Fascinated by fabric since my girlhood, I’ve found my creative home in quilting. My talented mother, Marie, loved creating with fabric and I believe this love is in my genes or at least in my Scotch-Irish heritage.

Almost thirty years ago I made my first quilt–a baby quilt for my sister Lea’s young son, but it was not until 1994 that I had the time to begin quilting with a passion. That year I met Lila Rostenberg who had recently opened a quilt shop in nearby Fayetteville AR. In Lila, I found a friend and mentor.

Two hundred thirty quilts later, I still feel the excitement of playing with fabric both in my mind and on the design board. Historical quilts thrill me, batiks fascinate me and bold plaids call to me. Some of my quilts are traditional and others are contemporary. Many of my quilts are scrapbook quilts or memory quilts full of visuals and vital events in my life. Perhaps I can describe myself as a visual historian making scrapbooks in fabric. I want to record happenings and thoughts and attitudes that shape my life. Quilting is my grand adventure! Teaching and sharing my skills and my enthusiasm are part of the adventure.

Without the guild I would be limited in my opportunities for expression and a receptive audience. In reality, I find we quilters are vital inspirations for each other. A recent example of this phenomena happened last July at our quilt guild meeting. Jeanie Schneider showed her wonderful quilt featuring large hexagons all cut from different sections of the same bold fabric. The hexagons tumbled down from the upper left hand corner moving from lights down into darks at bottom right. I found Jeanie’s quilt a complex, exciting visual feast. When Jeanie showed her quilt to the group she explained that she had been inspired by my quilt Gold Dust (displayed at my show at Arts Center of the Ozarks in 2008). I appreciated her acknowledging that connection. Both quilts are here for you to see the similarities and the differences.


Star Dust by Jeanie Schneider, 2013 inspired, in part, by Paula's Gold Dust, 2001.

Jeanie had not yet named her quilt and asked if I had any suggestions. Days later I thought of “Stardust” and suggested that as a possibility. Jeanie was delighted and did name her quilt “Stardust”–another connection between our two creative efforts. Whenever I teach classes and show “Gold Dust” I always mention that the arrangement of blocks was a principle that I learned from Lila. She had pointed out that since in our culture we read from left to right and begin at the top of a page moving downward, we are used to and quite comfortable viewing that arrangement. It is pleasing to our eyes to have the lighter colors arranged at the upper left moving down to the heavier and darker colors at bottom right.

Writing this blog and thinking about quilts and creativity has inspired me to create another blog, to explore these ideas in depth sharing my own quilts and what influenced and inspired me to spend hours and hours making “blankets”. Quilts are not blankets, but some cannot see the difference. My quilt blog is dedicated to those who know the difference first hand! If that is you, please visit and leave me a message.

You have a chance to express your own version of the world in your quilting. Playfulness and creativity go hand in hand. “What if” thinking is one doorway into playfulness. Quiltmaker Betty White speaks to all of us when she wrote in Quilter’s Newsletter (August/September 2013) “Respect your gift. Not everyone can or wants to make a quilt. If your gift is to do so, then by all means make quilts.” There has to be room for all of us to express ourselves in the “big tent” called quilting! Whether we work with preprinted panels or intricate appliqué or traditional pieced blocks we are all exploring creating with fabric and our own ingenuity. Go for it! Work from your passion. Enjoy petting your fabric, bonding with your machine, and praising your outcome. We quilters are united in learning together!

February 5, 2013

Motherhood, Only if Chosen!

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Patriarchy,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 6:38 am

Paula, in 1950 Miami Springs, Florida, surrounded by the tools of womanhood in that historical era.

I am thankful for the women before me who worked to secure my right to make motherhood a choice! Compulsory motherhood is central to male control of women, that is, patriarchy. Access to birth control gave me the chance to explore my heterosexual self. Six years later, at 28, I was actively involved in the women’s liberation movement. I fell in love with women. I found these women exciting, funny, articulate, determined, talented, and sexy. Lesbians became my people. Only because other determined, strong women proceeded me, was I able to make this choice. I am thankful for their courage to stand together against all the institutions of patriarchy, including church, state, science and educational institutions.

My mother, Marie Donovan Neilson, did not have these choices. Marie was a “war bride” in 1944. My father William Paul Neilson, was shipped to the Phillipines as part of the force preparing to invade Japan. He left knowing my mother was pregant with me. After his safe return in 1946, two more babies arrived in quick succession. After her third child in five years, mother asked her doctor to “tie my tubes”. His condescending reply was, “Now, Marie, you know I cannot do that. You’re a young woman still.” Her body, her life, her marriage, all suffered form this man’s callous disregard for her wishes to limit her exposure to motherhood.


My mother, Marie Donovan Neilson, wearing her new dress and smiling at my dad, Paul, on Christmas morning 1958, Miami Springs, Florida.

Our family in 1958.

Our family on a Florida vacation trip in 1958, Paula, Karl and mother in the back, with Marsha and Lea (the youngest) in front. Photo by dad.

Yes, there were two more pregnancies—one resulted in a miscarriage and one was a perfect towhead girl. Four children to love, nurture and care for—she gave us all her love. I am thankful to this woman who loved and nurtured me. She gave me strength and courage. I wish she had not died at 62. I have so much I’d like to say to her….

I am thankful for all the other women today who dare to defy the commands of patriarchy! Compulsory motherhood is the goal of every effort to limit access to birth control, family planning services, and abortion. Creating and nurturing a new life within one’s own body needs to be a chosen experience. Carrying a child full term is more dangerous to a woman’s health than having an abortion in the first trimester. Every preganant woman risks loosing her life. Or she may experience long-term health problems resulting from pregnancy. These risks should be taken by her own choice!

Women who dare to question compulsory motherhood deserve my praise. Women who dare to question compulsory motherhood will be ridiculed and condemned by many people as selfish and unwomanly. Patriarchy is the root of overpopulation and climate change–domination is the central tenant of patriarchy! Without this supreme value neither overpopulation or climate change would be our issues today. Ecofeminism makes this connection! I mentioned by mother’s personal experience because it is one vivid example of how overpopulation is linked to patriarchy! I mentioned my choice to be a lesbian because it, too, links to a solution to overpopulation–a lesbian’s feritlity is totally controlled by herself (unless she is raped.)

I am proud of every woman who questions the “breeder role” assigned her by the patriarchy. Every woman is indoctrinated with the cult of motherhood from birth to our death. Women labeled “childless” have failed in the basic expectiation of woman in patriarchy. When we women question all this, we resist patriarchy.

When we women question the patriarchs, the power of resistance is both personal and political! Demanding the right to think, talk, write and explore questions about mothering is an act of resistence I support and promote. We “childless” women made our complicated choice for complicated reasons. We women, mother and nurture on many planes. We add our creativity to the universe and nuture in many ways whether or not we have been mothers to a human child. I am thankful for the creativity of women because it keeps me alive and thriving.

June 14, 2012

Gumption and Grit Grabs the ONF Board’s Attention!

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Economics,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 12:12 pm
On strike at ONF, June 11, 2012.

Ozark Natural Foods, our coop, was shut down by striking employees on June 11! Yes the doors are locked on a Monday morning!

“Closed until further notice,” the voice on the answering machine for ONF informed me! The staff of Ozark Natural Foods was on strike demanding the resignation of two of the board members who have in recent months participated in firing Alysen Land, long time general manager, attempted to change bylaws and hired an unscrupulous lawyer. Gumption and grit fueled their actions! Many of the staff had sent letters and signed a petition in support of the general manager, and voiced their opinions at board meetings and owner meetings. Most all of the staff are also vested owners of the coop and believe strongly in the cooperative model of doing business.

These women and men were as frustrated as I have been in trying to communicate our desires to the seven people on the board of directors of ONF. This new board (seated in April, 20012) has been dealing with trying to fix the poor decisions of the previous board. (Note: five of the board members are holdovers; two are newly elected including the president.)

On strike at ONF, June 11, 2012.

Staff members carried signs expressing their demands to the board.

After the last ONF’s owner’s forum on June 2, I wrote this to a friend:
“The board has, in fact, set itself apart from the member/owners. It all feels very patronizing–the board seems to believe they must hoard information and make the decisions for the peasant membership–all the while hiding behind “legal vulnerability”. (Remember the legal system is set up to protect the status quo, and those in power benefit most from the legal system.)Delay, postpone and stall seems to be working! The situation seems very discouraging–unless someone takes up the banner and does protests outside the store or something.”

Bold action!

Well, someone did take a bold move–the staff closed the store! In the letter posted on the ONF website and in the flyer handed out in front of the store, the staff described their frustrations and their demands of the board. Sixty staff voted on Sunday, June 10 to close the store and to hand out information on Monday to all who came to the store (see a copy of this letter below). They announced their intentions to the media on Sunday evening. The interim general manager Mike Anzalone, who worked under Alysen Land as store manager, was one of the strikers.

Monday morning was bright and sunny. The staff erected four ONF tents to shield them from the blazing sun and from the rain predicted later in the day. The tents lent a festive feel to the somber, yet determined, action these women and men chose to take believing they were acting in the long-term best interest of their coop. I agree. Their letter lists no demands for raises or improved working conditions. Arkansas is not a state known to be sympathetic to the needs of employees. And these workers did not even have the protection of a union. Each of the staff took a personal risk because they believed the board was not hearing the voice of the owners and the staff.

Staff explaining their actions to shoppers

Dialogue between ONF staff members and concerned shoppers.

President of the board with staff.

President of the Board of Directors, Joshua Youngblood, (on left) talking to staff members before the Monday afternoon meeting to discuss the demands of the striking workers.

Early Monday when we heard about the strike, Jeanne and I headed to town. We had been to board meetings and owner forums. We created a handout in May and passed it out to other shoppers–one of these is still on the bulletin board. I called everyone I can think of to ask them to email the board. All this seemed futile, until the employees united and made their strong voices heard.

We talked to the strikers and listened to their stories. I also spent about two hours talking to shoppers and owners who came to ONF. I explained that as a long-time owner, I had gone to the meetings, read the previous board minutes for the last year and still felt like I only had a small piece of the puzzle. That’s why you will see me standing with the sign. Most people were supportive and understanding. Some even asked how they could help.

The personal is political and the political is personal!

As an ardent radical lesbian feminist I observed several principles during all this. We know that, “The personal is political, and the political is personal.” I interpret this to mean that each of my personal choices—say to not eat meat—has additional political implications. A vegetarian diet uses far fewer resources to keep this one human alive. Animals will not be mistreated to offer me meat calories. Long-term healthcare costs are generally lower for non-meat eaters, etc. Additionally, all my political choices have personal implications and responsibilities. When I advocate for reducing our carbon footprint as a nation and as a species, it means my personal choices are going to be affected—no more jet plane trips, choosing to live without using air conditioning in my home, etc.

Come sit with us...

Come sit with us.... It was a long, stressful day for ONF staff who tried to make the best of the situation..

Taking a personal risk of losing one’s job because you believe your risk may correct a political situation in a positive way is a powerful statement. Taking personal power is a heady choice as we have seen in those involved with the Arab Spring uprisings. Exercising personal power is a risk. Collective action can change your world!

Positive outcome

The ONF Board of Directors has not taken retaliatory action (although I have heard that some on the board suggested this). In fact, the board by a four to three vote has chosen to rehire Alysen Land as general manager for the next year! I am pleased. The staff is relieved. However, her boss will be this severely divided board of directors. It will not be an easy year, but if feels like a hopeful move on the board of director’s part. I appreciate each of the directors who voted to hire the best person for this job. Their job has not been an easy one. The next few months will present more challenges. We, the owners at ONF are the only “boss” of the board. We need to be informed and involved in order to keep our coop strong.

I believe the board could benefit from radical feminists’ concept of power. We differentiate between “power over” and “power with”. “Power with” is the essential willingness of people to work together to create solutions to all the situations that face humans. “Power with” models depend on consensus decision-making where the voices and concerns of all are heeded as important and valid. The hierarchy that produces more attention to “prominent citizens” and “powerful men/women” is not reinforced. “Power over” models depend on top down rule-making and depends on fear to keep people in line.

Avoiding a discontented minority

We live in a culture where the “majority rules”. Consensus may take more effort to achieve. But those of us who believe in the consensus model are well aware of the damage the dissatisfied minority usually creates in ongoing disputes where the majority attempts to impose their decision on the others. This is my fear about the current situation with a severely divided board of directors. I know that the current president has made determined attempts to have the board “speak with one voice”. I have no easy answers. My observations are that the current methods of decision-making and communication are not working. Spontaneous cooperation is our goal. Let’s brainstorm about what would help make us all more willing to spontaneously cooperate.

On strike at ONF, June 11, 2012.

Paula's first strike experience was in 1971 striking as a flight attendant against Trans World Airlines (TWA)--she needs to keep up her striker credentials!

The staff wrote this letter to the public explaining their actions. The letter was posted on the ONF website and passed out during the strike. Many of you may not have had the chance to read it. I value this letter because it is strong, simple and clear.

Letter from the Coop staff addressed to Co-op owners:

We, the staff of your co-op, Ozark Natural Foods will no longer stand by while your voices and the will of the staff remain ignored.

A group of owners asked for a special meeting in order to discuss the conduct of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham. The owners were denied that meeting. The owners chose to meet anyway. Those owners met quorum; voted to remove both board members, and submitted those results to the board of directors. Linda Ralston and Sue Graham remain seated against the will of the membership.

The majority of the staff wrote letters to the board of directors and overwhelmingly signed a petition for the reinstatement of Alysen Land. That request has not been acknowledged.

We, the staff of Ozark Natural Foods, believe that our co-op is in crisis. We will no longer stand by while we are hushed like children and told to be quiet while the adults in the room decide our fate.

As of the close of business on Sunday, June 10, in the spirit of passive resistance, the doors of the co-op will be locked; and before you we will sit down. We refuse to work under these conditions. We refuse to continue as if nothing is wrong, while the basic tenets of co-operation are being ignored. We will fight for the co-operative principles, for transparency, and for the voices of the ownership and the staff to be respected. Because we insist that the vote of the ownership be respected, we sit before you with a single goal:

We demand the resignation of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham.

We believe that it is impossible for our board of directors to carry on a reasonable relationship with this management team, with the staff, and with our ownership until Linda Ralston and Sue Graham resign. We believe that in their absence, Alysen Land will be returned to her postion as General Manager; that John Eldridge will be removed and an attorney who is willing to defend our bylaws will be hired; that our mortgage will be paid in full as we promised the ownership many months ago. We believe that in the absence of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham, our ownership and our community, rather that personal agendas, will once again become the focus of our board of directors.

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this will cause to you and to the interruption in your ability to get wholesome food for your families. But we believe that the very nature of co-operation is now in jeopardy. We ask you, our owners, our friends, our family, our community to please sit with us in protest.

We ask that you contact all of our board members and plead for the resignation of Linda Ralston and Sue Graham. We hope for a speedy resolution so we can return to being your community owned co-operative grocery store.

May 12, 2012

Cooperative Principles Gone Awry

Filed under: Economics,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 8:02 am
Rock St

Ozark Natural Foods, our coop, used this location on Rock Street in the 1980s. The house was funky, cramped and cozy.

About Consumer Cooperatives, aka a Coop
Consumer cooperatives are a direct challenge to capitalism. We owners do not receive profits from this business model! We contribute a particular amount of money to become an owner—this is our owner equity in the coop business. Currently it is $140 at ONF which can be paid at $20 per year–and we can withdraw the entire amount later, if we choose. If a cooperative pulls in more money than the cost of goods, services received, and employee salaries, all that money is returned to the owners. This returned money or, as our coop calls it, “patronage refunds” is not profit pulled from employees salaries, extracted from suppliers or the result of selling poor quality goods as many of the big-box retailers operate. This patronage refund returns to owners money they spent at the coop during the last year.

At times, the general manager and the board may choose to keep back part of the owner equity to cover planned expenses or unexpected expenses. The board votes each year on what percentage will be returned. Usually 20% is returned and 80% retained to be returned at a later date. Some coops don’t return the retained. However, during general manager Alysen Land’s watch, the funds have been to returned to owners within 7-10 years after they were first retained. This all depends on the financial health of the coop.

Dickson St

ONF moved downtown to the Dickson Street location in 1993.

current location

ONF moved to this current location in Evelyn Hills Shopping Center in 2000 and has since purchased the building.

About My Coop, Ozark Natural Foods
ONF began as a coop in 1971. I began shopping there in the early 1980s when I first bought land in the area. I became an owner before I even moved to northwest Arkansas. The first place I remember shopping regularly was the cramped house located on Rock Street across from the police station. It was a funky little store with some severe management problems. After a long financial struggle the store recovered. In 1993 ONF moved to a downtown commercial location on Dickson Street. There the store grew, but parking was limited. After the move in 2000 to Evelyn Hills Shopping Center and the financial crises involved that year, the current general manager resigned and Alysen Land was promoted from within to the general manager position.

With the help of a financial consultant and some drastic cuts, the coop struggled to reduce its debt. Within six months the financial picture was improved. ONF, under the leadership of Alysen Land, has gone on to win national awards and now has an excellent credit standing. Recently ONF has purchased the entire building allowing for the possibility of expansion. Current plans project paying off that mortgage by fall of this year! Would you fire a general manager who has accomplished all this? I would not! I would give her a raise!

Firing a Successful General Manager for “No Cause”
On March 22, 2012, the previous board of directors of ONF fired general manager Alysen Land for “no cause” in a four to three vote by the board. We, the owners did not receive any official word of the firing and the employees were warned by the board not to talk about it at the store. Rumors abounded. I was shocked and then outraged the more I looked into the situation. Below is my letter to the board of ONF. This is a board with some new members. I urge you to write your own letter to the board:

Dear Board Members,
Ozark Natural Foods is one of the main reasons I live in northwest Arkansas! As a member since the early 1980’s I have watched the many transformations that bring us here today. The board is answerable to the owners—that means we need information about important board actions. As one of the owners, I expect to be allowed to attend any meeting of the board when the board is conducting Coop business. I expect the Coop Newsletter to inform me of important Coop news –like the board decision to fire general manager Alysen Land last March. Keeping vital news of board actions from the membership does not serve the owner’s best interest.

I attended the so-called Owner’s Forum last Saturday and was sorely disappointed in the tone and content of the board response to our owner concerns. Many of us care deeply about the ongoing health of Ozark Natural Foods. We have trusted Alysen Land and her leadership team for the last twelve years. The board gave us no information to make an informed judgment about the wisdom of the board’s action to terminate her contract.

In light of your actions to date, I am doing everything in my power to inform owners and other community members of the current situation at ONF and encourage both owners and shoppers to seek out the truth.

I sincerely hope that the board will reinstate Alysen Land at the May 15 meeting and I encourage you to give her an apology for all the previous board has put her through. Additionally, I believe a well-earned raise is in order! I also hope this board will eliminate the restrictions place on discretionary spending imposed by the previous board. I urge you to hire legal counsel who respects coop principles.

Unannounced and secret board meetings serve to heighten suspicion and mistrust. An open meeting policy would go along way to healing the rift the previous board created.

Best regards, Paula Mariedaughter

April 30, 2012

Garden Connections

Filed under: Ecofeminism,Homestead garden,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 10:29 am

hawthorne flowers

Hawthorn trees are thick with thorns year round and lush with flowers in spring.

hawthorne flowers

Hawthorn trees are thick with thorns year round and lush with flowers in spring.

A garden is a web of life: mineral, animal and plant life.

We gardeners orchestrate much of what appears in the garden. But Mother Nature is the true spinner of the web of life in our gardens. I am drawn to a garden with personality and unexpected quirks. I am drawn to gardens emphasizing the collaboration with Nature. Our gardens have appeared slowly over the last twenty-five years. Nature has presented unexpected treasures like the tree along our front entrance with the large thorns marching up its trunk and spaced down the limbs. The deer would not dare browse this formidable forest citizen. But, a wild grape vine with a five-inch trunk had engulfed the canopy of this unidentified variety of hawthorn almost killing it. Once we cut back the grape and removed some large sweet gum trees that kept the hawthorn in shade, we discovered this lovely spring bloomer. Four years later our sturdy hawthorn has grown taller and greets the sunny days of spring covered in delicate white blossoms as it arches over the walkway. In fall the red/orange berries provide food for the birds preparing for winter. In this case, all we did was remove the other plants stealing the sunshine on the hawthorn–we just got out of the way!

ladyslipper flower

In the orchid family, but Yellow Ladyslipper flowers bloom in our Ozark hardwood forest.

Providing a shady spot for the native yellow ladyslipper orchid was a different challenge. Over a decade ago we discovered a small colony of these showy yellow wildflowers
in the moist woods beyond our house. Each spring we looked forward to viewing their spectacular curved blooms. Then came the spring where the deer mowed the entire colony to the ground causing us to fence that three foot area and hope the plant would recover. It was several years before the ladyslippers recovered and bloomed in their protected enclosure. Five years ago I noticed that a single stem of new growth had grown beyond the fence. I carefully transplanted that shoot because I knew how fragile was the existence of the colony given the deer population. By that time, I knew I could provide a spot for it in my Rusty, Rustic shade garden. You can see the picture of this plant thriving next to a lush maidenhair fern. Ladyslippers are in the orchid family—our Orchid Creek was named by our neighbor Sharman Sturchio in honor of these lovely native orchids. In this case we actively assisted nature by providing a protective enclosure for the ladyslippers.

lady slipper flower

Here the Ladyslipper is thriving next to a lush maidenhair fern.

Years ago I heard an interview with southern writer and avid gardener Bailey White on NPR as she recounted how gardens had been an important asset in binding a community together. In the South, in the days before big box garden centers, gardeners swapped plants and gave starts to each other of plants that thrived in the locale. “Pass-alongs” were a tradition connecting gardeners with a passion for growing as many plants as possible. She explained that if you wanted a start of a particular rose or a lush hydrangea in south Georgia in those days, you made sure you were in good standing with the gardener who grew those plants. Gardens were nurtured by gardeners who shared extra plants. Seeds, seedlings, slips and starts, cuttings and divisions from one gardener enriched the life of anyone receiving these pass-alongs. Often the shared plants came with stories of their origins. Always the plants came with accurate information about preferred growing conditions. And you knew the plant was well adapted to your area!

Seven hundred hostas later I can speak of the value to my garden of a dark green hosta given to me by my long time friend, Martha Payne. Eighteen years ago Martha gave me three hostas belonging to her mother after her mother’s death. Once the lovely white flower stalks mature they drop hundreds of seeds teaching me the meaning of the phrase “prolific self seeder”. Often times that phrase is issued as a warning when one receives a pass-along plant to warn you of the possibilities of many more seedlings. In this case Martha’s hostas from Kansas City, KS have thrived here and given a lush richness to my shade garden and to the shady sections of our back yard. I pot up hundreds of seedlings and pass them to neighbors and friends. If you want some of these hosta seeds, send me a self-addresses, stamped envelope and I will pass hosta seeds along to you.

red gazing ball

Fran's red gazing ball reminds us both of Jeanne's mom.

Our red gazing ball is a new addition to our garden. Jeanne gave it as a gift to her mother a number of years ago. Fran enjoyed seeing it in her yard for many years before her death at 94 last July. Her gazing ball compliments our blooming peonies. We want to update you on our ceiling project–we’re two-thirds finished.It has been slow-going due to Kas’ schedule and our own schedules. It looks good and we look forward to removing the scaffolding from our living space.

The other news is that our kitten, Catfish, and Scout have bonded! Catfish is full of energy and enjoys following Scout to pounce on him whenever possible. They often sleep together like good buddies. Catfish is now eight weeks old. We feel we have been successful in providing a new feline companion for Scout after loosing both Summer and Striper. All four dogs have accepted him and Zora enjoys playing with him at times she chooses.

Catfish and Scout--feline companions

Catfish and Scout--feline companions.

March 21, 2012

Creeks Are Up!

Filed under: Global Warming,Homestead garden,Patriarchy,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 11:00 am

Orchid creek rises in heavy spring rains and we can get trapped at home or prevented from returning home! The tender creeks are transformed into rushing, raging rivers. Sometimes these rivers move boulders through the country roads we drive on to get home. Until the county graders and dozers restore the road, we are limited to foot travel. Tomorrow night is our monthly quilt guild meeting in Springdale about 43 miles from Cedar Hill. It has rained for three days. Our garden paths are now flowing with water even though we built the garden following the natural contours of our mountain. We know from this sign that it will likely be days before the creeks are passable in a vehicle. And the road may well be washed out where the creek overflowed and ran along the road heading for the White River. It is still raining. So far we have our phone landline. If the line survives the flooding intact, when the county road grader reshapes the road, the phone line is often cut. No other road connects us to the outside world. Living with rough country roads has the advantage of keeping out strangers, sightseers, and would be burglars!


Kas lost her brakes on our steep mountain road and lived to tell the story.

Many times city people romanticize the idea of living in the country. Many times people who live in the country encourage this silly idea. Living in the rural mountains of northwest Arkansas is full of delights and overflowing with challenges. Water is an ongoing issue for us here at Cedar Hill. We haul all our drinking water using five gallon BPA-free plastic containers. For the gardens, we collect water from our metal roof in large galvanized stock tanks. By August, those tanks are low and we may be hauling water to keep the garden alive. As we age, Jeanne and I are considering options to modify this arrangement, but no solution seems easy or perfect.

Maneuvering our roads can be a challenge as you can see in the photo. Kas is our carpenter friend working with us to install our beadboard ceiling. She was hauling a flatbed trailer loaded with supplies for our ceiling project. Home Depot, where we purchased the insulation and beadboard will not deliver to us because their semi-trucks cannot handle the narrow country road! As Kas approached a steep part of our road, her truck lost power and the power brakes. Both truck and trailer started sliding backward and lodged in this postion.
Kas managed to get out safely and walked to the house to
get our help. I was in Fayetteville going to guild. Jeanne and she eventually found our local tow operator who maneuvered his vehicle past hers on this narrow road to carefully move her truck and trailer. He has been doing this work for forty years and is quite skilled–he has been here at least ten times over the last twenty-four years so he knows our place. Jeanne said he reported that his vehicle was about a hand’s width from
her vehicle as he went up on the steep bank to pass to the front. Jeanne was
awed by what she witnessed. As you can see from the picture it was a life-
threatening situation that ended well! No one was hurt and no vehicle or
cargo was damaged.

Jeanne, Kas and I started the ceiling using a five foot tall scaffolding to make it easier, but the scaffolding is almost eight feet long and five feet wide. Across the top are six boards each eleven foot long. Obviously it takes up lots of space. We started on Jeanne’s side. The scaffolding sits like an elephant until we finish the project. We will slowly move it from section to section. We have completed one sixth of the ceiling and now project it could take months of living in turmoil. After our crew boss, Kas, leaves each day we try to carve out some liveable/workable space until the next workday. You can see Jeanne at her desk located under the scaffolding in the first photo. In the second picture I focused on the part of the ceiling we’ve completed.


Jeanne framed by the scaffolding.


View of our new beadboard ceiling.

Keeping our feline and canine companions safe from local predators continues to be difficult. Five years ago, out rat terrier Taylor was snatched while Jeanne was walking with her and the other terrier on the top of Mahaffey’s Knob not far from home. Since then we have imposed a curfew on our two small dogs from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00p.m., unless they’re locked in the main garden with us. Additionally we got two bigger dogs to help patrol the area. We learned that the peak time for predation of pets by wild critters is March and April when the wild animals have their own offspring to hunt for.

Last Tuesday, March 13. we came home from errands in Fayetteville about 4:00 and saw vultures on a small carcass near the parking area for our house. Striper, our big orange tabby cat, was dead. Apparently killed by a coyote the night before. With tears in our eyes, we gathered our shovels and buried him. We marked his grave with large rocks we hauled from nearby. About six weeks ago, Summer our small seal point tabby cat, disappeared after living happily with us for nine years. What comforts me is knowing they both had a good life here enjoying their freedom to be cats in the outdoors. Our remaining cat Scout is now out only in the daytime, but this will be hard to enforce when the days get warmer. We grieve for both cats and their place in our family group. Both got along with all four dogs. Scout misses his sleeping companions, so we’ve located a kitten who will soon become part of our homestead family. Keeping the cats safe without locking them inside all the time will be on ongoing learning experience.

cats again

It took several years for Summer to warm up to Striper.


Summer is on the left as she and Striper lounge together on the wood box.

two cats

Striper and Summer snuggle in the chair I recovered.

Trouble and trauma are only part of the fabric of our lives. We live with our disappointments large and small. Romanticizing other people’s lives does no one any good. Pat Carr writes in Writing Fiction with Pat Carr, “Our world has become increasingly fragile because of separations and misunderstandings, and right now it needs our shared wisdom. We must learn to understand and sympathize before it is too late. Now is the time for our stories to be honest and authentic.” I want my words to be authentic whenever I write here. I do my best to not romanticize. I do not want to only write about “upbeat” subjects because I do not believe it serves our best interest in understanding our own lives or the lives of others.

Living on the land here in the midst of an oak/hickory forest with a reliable roof over my head pleases me every day. I love the quiet and I love the light that streams in our windows with views of the forest around us. Yet, I know there are dangers around us—from brown recluse spiders to timber rattlesnakes. Every environment has its pleasures and dangers. I am comfortable in mine, but realize that comfort can be destroyed in an instant. I like to focus on the words of poet Emily Dickenson written in 1861:
“’Hope’” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without words
And never stops—at all…”

It is extremely unlikely that I will be able to visit my quilting friends at our quilt guild tomorrow night because we will still be flooded in by the creeks. If not, perhaps I will be able to finish the hand quilting on the doll quilt I’ve made from vintage bowtie blocks. That would be fun!


The vivid yellow of the forsythia brightens my day each spring.

February 4, 2012

Time is a Seamstress, continued!

Filed under: Homestead garden,Needle and Thread,Paula Mariedaughter,Wildlife — Paula Mariedaughter @ 1:58 pm

“Time is a seamstress, specializing in alterations,” observed Faith Baldwin. We here at Cedar Hill have experienced death, loss and new beginnings all woven together. If you have not read my previous post, please do because I wrote about all the events of the first months of 2011. I will continue writing about our October vacation in Colorado near Mt Princeton and the Chalk Cliffs. The last quarter of 2011 brought many challenges.

quilt shop

Paula lounging with the local quilter's scarecrow at Bev's Stitchery.

Bev’s Stitchery, the local quilt shop was thriving. Jeanne took my picture with the decorative quilter posted outside the shop. I found fabric I likes and enjoyed my conversation with Bev–we talked knitting and quilting and visited about her long history as a quilt shop in Buena Vista. Next, Susan, Jeanne and I went exploring the ghost town of St. Elmo high in the mountains and found a happy colony of chipmunks usually fed by the summer tourists. We were feeding them in October and they scrambled and scavenged for the crumbs we offered. Some bold chipmunks scrambled up our hands and arms. Then the local big blue Steller’s Jays appeared on the scene to steal what they could. We watched the spectacle for at least an hour enjoying all the activity generated by our feedings. One of my favorite pictures from our trip, was one I worked really hard to frame. Finally, I caught an image of one of the striking dark jays against the patch of snow.


Dramatic Stellar's jays are well adapted to Colorado's climate.

More of those unique scarecrow figures dotted the small town of Buena Vista, from the local newspaper office to the library and the knitting shop. I see them as examples of public art and humorous adventures into creativity. As you can see these figures added personality to a small community for both the locals and for the visitors like us. I persuaded both Susan and Jeanne to be part of this photo shoot too. Jeane is pictured outside of the newspaper office and Susan is associating with the library’s mascot who holds a stack of–what else–books.

newspaper scarecrow

Jeanne with a crow and a scarecrow.


Susan outside the library in Buena Vista, CO.

Hiking and soaking in the hot springs pool and in Chalk creek happened every day, sometimes we visited the hot springs twice a day! Because it was October, we sometimes had the creek area to ourselves. One late afternoon, we three soaked in the hot water and looked across the creek to see deer browsing without regard for our presence. These mule deer act like our whitetail deer in Arkansas, but they have tall, mule-like ears. I wonder if they can hear any better than whitetail deer? Chalk creek, at Mt Princeton resort, is about thirty feet across and the cold water rushes across rocks and boulders with spots of very hot water along some edges. We visitors can rearrange the rocks to create sandy soaking pools. The mountain air is cool, but by laying back in the water one is delightfully submerged. Today the resort makes no claims that the water has healing properties, but one hundred years ago this area was advertised as having mineral springs with healing properties. Before the Europeans arrival, the Ute Indians sought out the springs when in the area. All I can say is that the water feels healing to me–both emotionally and physically.


Mule deer browsing at dusk across Chalk creek while we soak in the hot water.

The local landmark named the Chalk Cliffs rises to the north of Chalk Creek. The cabin we rented backed against the chalk-white cliffs rising straight up hundreds of feet. Susan and Jeanne did some difficult exploring of the shard-filled area below the cliffs, coming back more than ready for a long soak. We heard and saw deer there morning and evening. While hiking a different mountain, Susan took this photo of us and the rat terriers with the Chalk Cliffs in the background.

dogs and us

Jeanne and Paula hiking with the Chalk Cliffs appearing the background.

The Arkansas River is a predominate feature of this part of Colorado and we found Heckla Junction public access area and park to be our favorite part of the river. Two different days we explored this river park and reminisced about our dog, Annie, swimming across the river the first time we discovered Heckla Junction. Annie was a red heeler who we rescued as a puppy after she was hit by a car on AR highway 16, our notorious narrow and curvy local highway. She was headstrong and half wild, as well as a great swimmer. These pictures give you a sense of the beauty of this high desert area fed by the Arkansas River. The boulders are personalities that inhabit the landscape.


The Arkansas River at Heckla Junction in early October.


The rocks and boulders of Heckla Junction park seem like living creatures lounging in the water.

While in Colorado, we got a phone call from our realtor telling us she had an offer on the Kansas City House! We were hopeful that we could find an ideal buyer. Before our trip I had seen a doctor about a suspicious spot on the mammogram of my remaining breast, but I felt hopeful that it was benign. I had chosen to seek a second opinion and found a woman surgeon in KC. We had an appointment after our trip to Colorado. That small growth was not benign.

The first offer on the house fell through, but a second one appeared and looked promising. Adjusting to the shock of a cancer diagnosis is not easier the second time. Adjusting to this new reality and considering my options took time and energy. Time at home and time with Jeanne both helped. Along side of this bad news, came the good news that the sale of the house was proceeding. My surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, November 21 and the closing on the house was to happen November 30. We needed to have everything out of the house by Saturday five days after surgery! Jeanne’s cousins helped load the rental truck and we did leave KC on schedule.

Friends have been supportive. Returning to the routines and rhythms of living together on our homestead has sustained me. Yoga classes at the Arkansas Yoga Center ( have helped me regain my strength and full range of motion in my arm and shoulder. In fact, yesterday I moved three huge rocks with the help of a prized homestead tool. Over a decade ago a friend gave us this unique tool—it is six-foot long pry bar created from the axle of a Model T Ford! One end is modified to slip underneath the rock to initiate movement. Once I can get the rock (really a boulder) to wiggle, I know I can move it. And I did without hurting my back or shoulders.

After having our favorite carpenter, Kas, do some major renovation needed in our cottage/storage area, we are sorting and organizing and passing things along. We are rearranging all our indoor spaces, as well as trying to clear space in the cottage for me to have a three season quilting studio! This is a dream that pleases me and excites my creative self every day.

Kas will also be working with us next month as we add more insulation and our first ever ceiling to our house. We’ll be up on scaffolding and working over our heads for several weeks, but after that will enjoy our beadboard ceiling every day. In winter, the house will be warmer and in summer it should be cooler. Jeanne researched insulation to try and find something with relatively minimal environmental impact. She found this one with a R-14 value: 4’x 8’ sheets of 2” thick ThermaSheath (polyisocyanurate) from a company called R-Max (special order from Home Depot). Some companies make this with ozone-depleting processes. Others don’t, so check out your sources. We’d have preferred to use a more natural material, but this product is a panel that can be nailed to the bottom of the rafters, adding to our existing nontoxic insulation.

Here at Cedar Hill in the Boston Mountains of the Arkansas Ozarks, we have hundreds of daffodils popping up in sunny spots. The snowdrops are setting buds even without any snow. If you think we do not get snow here, you are wrong. Here’s a snowbound picture from last year. Climate change has brought us a mild winter. Today it was 65 degrees! On February 1 we planted the Amish Snap Peas we are fond of eating–often we eat them in the garden right off the vine because they are so fresh and crunchy! Our Virginia bluebells are waiting for their chance at center stage again this spring—that hasn’t changed. We are back online and hope 2012 will be a good year for all of us to reduce our carbon footprint by growing more of our own food and by staying home to enjoy all home has to offer.


Eight inches of snow covers everything in our Rusty, Rustic shade garden last year.


The women at Serendipity Yarn ( created a scarecrow for an avid knitter featuring a variety of her UFO's (unfinished ojbects).


Aspens at the lower altitudes were still golden bright. Look closely to see the gold leaves resting on the fir needles here. Behind Jeanne and Paula is an unusually large multi-trunk aspen growing in a sheltered spot.


Images reflected in the window behind Paula create a new dimension to this simple portrait.

January 30, 2012

Time is a Seamstress

Filed under: Homestead garden,Needle and Thread,Paula Mariedaughter,Wildlife — Paula Mariedaughter @ 7:12 am

The wheel of the year has turned through four seasons since we communicated here! “Time is a seamstress, specializing in alterations,” observed Faith Baldwin. We here at Cedar Hill have experienced death, loss and new beginnings all woven together. John O’Donahue cautioned, “…be patient with the natural unevenness and unpredictability of living.” Both people expressed ideas that helped sustain me through a year of unpredictability and rapid change. When my friend Lila shared those two quotes with me last March, I had no idea about the changes I faced!


Virginia bluebells, a native wildflower, up close in our shade garden.

Looking back along the length of the circle of 2011, I’d like to share some of the highlights of my year as recorded by me and my camera. Winter moved into spring with no grand surprises. Virginia bluebells are an expected spring miracle, producing delicate blue flowers when the weather is still unpredictable and cool. I delight in the red-purple of the unopened buds gathered next to the blue of the dangling flowers. The bluebells bloom when the hostas are still nudging their foliage up about six inches. As a spring ephemeral, bluebells gather their sustenance for the year and die back by summer to rest until the next spring.

In early April, our quilt guild held our biennial quilt show creating a deadline for me to finish several quilts I wanted to include in the special exhibit I did called, “When This You See, Remember Us”. I asked others in the guild to loan any timespan, memory or signature quilts for this display and several other women responded. I am pictured here in the midst of the display.


Special Exhibit of Memory Quilts: When This You See, Remember Us.

Guild members also created a large exhibit of antique and vintage quilts from our own collections allowing everyone to see the inspirations of our mothers and grandmothers. You can see the selection of antique quilts I brought to share.

antique quilts

Most of these antique quilts are treasures I found at flea markets or thrift shops over the last thirty years.

In May, the guild gathered together for our annual picnic and Airing of the Quilts where we drape favorite quilts along the fence at a member’s house. After our potluck picnic, we walk the fence and learn about each quilt. Some are antiques and some were finished yesterday. In the picture, Valerie and I were admiring fat quarters of fabric destined for my stash.

Valerie and Paula

Valerie and Paula at the Airing of the Quilts in May.

Jeanne and I planted our big front garden although she was in Kansas City much of the time caring for Fran, her 94-year old mother. I watered and sewed and kept the homestead functioning. The days went quickly, but the evenings did not. I’ve listened to hundreds of audio books from the library over the last three years as I sewed or washed dishes. Our dogs and cats were good company too. One night in the midst of the drought, we had a disturbance in the back yard and I found a raccoon trapped under the two big dogs and the small terrier was nearby, barking her excitement. Once I managed to get the dogs in the house, the raccoon left. I believe that critter must have been desperate for water and came to the stock tanks where we collect water from the roof.

On a late afternoon Shyla, our mixed breed dog, alerted me with her special bark to the presence of a rattlesnake in our driveway. I hustled all three dogs inside and grabbed my camera. The large, but docile, snake was moving steadily into our asparagus bed and away from all the commotion. We are always alert for snakes in the summer, but a recent sighting renews our awareness of their presence.


In late July, we have often seen large timber rattlers passing through our land.

At dawn on the morning of July 20th Jeanne called me to tell me Fran had died in her sleep overnight. She had been failing, so this was not unexpected. We comforted each other and began the process of accepting this loss of the woman who birthed and raised Jeanne. I was there in Kansas City by late afternoon and we began the plans for her funeral and memorial service. You can see the collage of photographs from Fran’s life that we created for the service.

The next months were spent making repairs on Fran’s house, interviewing realtors and preparing for a huge estate sale. I traveled back and forth trying to keep our garden hydrated and the tomatoes, basil and cucumbers picked. Jeanne managed to get home some, but her energies were focused on clearing out Fran’s house of 40 years of possessions, and on finding the perfect new owner for the house her parents bought new in 1969.


We displayed pictures of Fran taken throughout her life.

We planned a Colorado vacation for September to celebrate Jeanne’s birthday, but it had to be postponed until October where it snowed on our first night. Our long time friend Susan accompanied us and our two rat terriers. We returned to central Colorado where we enjoyed the hot springs and hiking in the clear mountain air. On a whim we visited Serendipity Yarn shop ( where we were dazzled by the vibrant yarns. Jeanne and I each bought enough to make a simple scarf. As we planned, I returned and took a refresher lesson on knitting. Once I got my needles clicking, I showed Jeanne how to maneuver her bamboo needles to start her scarf. We made our favorite meals, read and hiked together from the home base of a cabin we had rented. Every day we soaked in the hot springs and melted our cares away! Jeanne’s knee started to heal and my body relaxed all its kinks. Susan was great company and accompanied Jeanne on some of the more adventuresome hikes.


Susan and Jeanne with our dogs hiking in the snow and ice.

As three book lovers, we were enchanted by the Book Nook in Buena Vista. While browsing there I discovered strong words from Susan B. Anthony. In 1871, she is quoted as declaring, “Away with your man-vision! Women propose to reject then all, and begin to dream dreams for themselves.” Susan, Jeanne and I often repeated her words at appropriate moments for the rest of the trip.

One night we opted to eat out at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Driving in the late afternoon, we saw two red foxes playing along the edge of the road. I managed to photograph one as she merged with the dusk.


This elusive red fox showed herself along the edge of the road, then faded into the dusk.

Some things had changed in the area since our last vacation in 2005—we searched and searched for our favorite beaver dam-filled valley. We had visited that valley several times before, but could not find it. I did photograph the recent demise of a tall tree to the persistent nighttime visits from a beaver determined to use that tree as a log for her own purposes. Change is everywhere…. To be continued in early February.

beaver chew

Night time forays allow beaver to select the trees they'll harvest.


Spring Beauty is my original design inspired by the work of other quilters and featuring a spring iris broken in segments by strips of silk. I made the blocks after seeing Adele Athea's quilt in our 2009 quilt show. I separated the blocks when I discovered the iris fabric at our 2011 show and used them to surround the blooming iris.

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