In my hunt for relocation out of Chicagoland, I set some parameters (good music college, strong cycling community and good outdoor recreation particularly rock climbing) and I began making lists of urban locations (LA/Riverside, Davis, San Diego, Sacramento, Portland, New Orleans, Atlanta, Savannah, Austin, Santa Fe, Denver), and lesser urban areas (Lexington, Stanton, Slade, Joshua Tree, Taos, any-mountain-town-Colorado) thinking maybe I’d try homesteading or loosen my parameters.
At the time, I had just finished Derek Sivers' book, Anything You Want. At the end of his book he writes something like send me an email when you finish this book, I’d like to know your thoughts and, yes, it is me not an assistant answering emails. So, I sent him an email.
He wrote me back: Oh, you’re from Chicago? I used to live in Hinsdale.
Yes, I do, but I am getting ready to move, I replied.
Where to? He asked. And I gave him a partial list saying that Denver and Riverside were out due to breed specific legislation and that Portland might be rising to the top of the list.
Consider Pittsburgh, he said. I've heard many people say it's the next Portland. One of the cheapest cost of living in America now, but partially due to Carnegie Mellon U has attracted a bunch of smart cultured people, and many of NYC's top chefs have left New York to open their restaurants there, because it's affordable to do so, and run it profitably.
Sounded like good advice and I have a friend there who I can tap into to get the scoop. After looking at some properties and some maps and googling ‘cycling Pittsburgh’, I reached out to Dianne Peterson to see what trouble she’d been causing and gather her thoughts on the ‘next Portland’. Knowing what a character she is, I told her I’d be interviewing her and writing about it as well since surely she’d have taken over the town by now. Although she insists on a do-over, she didn’t disappoint and, yes, she has taken over the town.
At the time, Dianne and I had another thing in common: we were caring for aging mothers suffering with memory loss and strange new habits. My mom would collect and fold paper towels so as not to be wasteful and reuse them. She was wheeling her mom around to protests and painting signs that say, Mother Earth is Even Older Than Me - Respect Your Elders! I loved it! (She had wielded a 'Science is older than me' also - Dianne likes Mother Earth better)
“Well, the first thing you should know about Pittsburgh is it’s got poor air quality. I’m just going to get that out right now,” she insisted. “However … How-EVER, it IS an opportunity hub. You can’t spit without hitting an astrophysicist or someone with a Ph.D. CMU is here, the mayor is great, there’s Google … Disney Creative … It is NOT Chicago. The museums and such don’t even compare, but there IS a Warhol Museum where we threw a prom for alternative kids that didn’t have a prom: trans kids, LBGT kids, boys in dresses and the like.”
Dianne always speaks with such emphasis, and she speaks really quickly which is very much how she seems to live as well. She lives with emphasis and she gets things done quickly, yet always with modesty. Dianne moved to Pittsburgh with her daughter, Anaïs, who is eighteen and going to University of Pittsburgh, her son, Boomba, who is in high school and her husband, Bob, who works at the University of Pittsburgh. Their motto could be ‘the family that protests together, saves the Earth together’.
“Bob was at University of Chicago, but wasn’t feeling the support,” she said. “He is a full professor at University of Pittsburgh. He wants to save lives. He is getting the support he wanted and needed to move forward at University of Pittsburgh (in cancer research). You would looooove it here. I’ve met Bernie Sanders twice and Hillary since I’ve been here - Did I hug and kiss them? Yes.”
She laughed. Of course, her laugh is contagious, so I had to laugh too.
“Anäis - who is currently involved on divestment (through the student organization, Fossil Free Pitt Coalition) - created an anti suicide event called the Festival of Hope,” she continued. “But the Merton Thomas Center for the environment - You MUST call them and talk with the director - you would LOVE it. The dance community is fabulous. We went to see Alice in Wonderland and the director was right there and so welcoming. The theater is amazing. I have seen my favorite top five performances here in Pittsburgh. There was this one - it was French hand dancing and after you get to hang out with the dancers and director. It’s amazing.”
Dianne runs an eco friendly goods company which used to be mostly composed of toys, but she now has reusables such as to go containers and portable picnic plates and forks and such. She doesn’t have a website (yet), but she stays busy enough that she doesn’t want to have to pay attention to it more than she is right now because of family obligations and her other activism. In addition to considering having a monthly salon for teens at her home, she occasionally opens up the house for product parties.
Eight or nine years ago the family moved back to the states from Sweden - where Bob was working at the time.
“Everyone biked everywhere. If you were running late and had to get your kids to school and it was raining you’d still just pile your kids in their bike seats and on their bikes and off you’d go. There was a saying in the town we lived in: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. Swedish people were clueless to being so environmental. They just cycled everywhere with their recyclables and with kids on their backs. It is just a part of their culture. When we moved back, we went to Trader Joe’s which is great, but still I was just appalled at all the plastic. Why waste? We vote with our dollars. If we don’t buy it, they won't produce it. What was worse, there was no way to bike there even though it was just a few miles. Then Anäis got involved in Batavia’s Environmental Commission, I went to one meeting and ended up running programs for 5 years.”
She invited me to visit to see Pittsburgh for myself, but alas, I could not being very busy with work and being the sole support for my mom at the time. My mom, who passed in May, would have been a big deterrent from a move to Pittsburgh due to the cold and the hill I’d have to climb to even get to my front door and the stairs thereafter. Many hills in PGH - hills I would have loved to ride my bike up and down. Dianne informed me that you can find a great home in ‘the middle of the woods’ yet be fifteen minutes from the art museum. Pittsburgh, she said, is one of America’s top ten bicycle cities. Lots of road riding and in winter people ride with chains on their tires.
It was time for our conversation to end since we each had things to do and she was heading out to an event called “Eat, Watch, Resist” that she helped to create with Mark Dixon, Wanda Guthrie from the Thomas Merton Center, Kate Fissell from 350.org where they were going to watch “Fence Line” (a film about the chemical-petrol in Louisiana) and which required her to get Chipotle catering or something. I’m certain there was a protest involved also since Shell was turning ethane into plastic pellets and, OF COURSE, we would have to paint signs for that. No one makes going to a protest more fun than Dianne. I found myself slightly envious in a very good and thankful way.
As we said our good byes, she gave me plenty of homework and people and protests to look up and she also recommended I watch a film by a fellow activist friend of hers, Mark Dixon, called “YERT”.
This interview took place a few months ago and much has changed since - but the spirit of it all remains the same. Dianne and her family was recently spending some time in Canada as I've been settling in to my new home in Austin, Texas with mine.
Well the summer months are here and Texas is just a bug haven. So I'm testing out some tried and true methods of keeping the bugs away without relying on chemicals. It's one o'clock in the afternoon and I'm sitting in my backyard with my dogs under the giant oak tree keeping cool in the shade. Some black flies came around to see what I was up to so I lit up some sage and the smoke is keeping them away so I can get a little writing and reading done peacefully.
Now coming from the cooler temps in the north we didn't have such extremes - especially in the suburbs where there's an overwhelming amount of pest management. I always questioned how much of that was environmentally friendly. Austin being a very progressive southern city, I plan to look into what this town does to manage it's peskier critters - but for now, I'm going to manage my backyard, me and my pets.
So what's hopping in the South, you might ask. Well, last night my son and I wrastled up a medium sized wolf spider as the sun went down and it's hunting instinct began to kick in. It was just hanging' by some boxes on the floor not really doing anything when I threw a mason jar over the top of it and after careful examination of the little beast, we just tossed it outside in the yard. Now secretly I am hoping that the ones I haven't caught are doing their job in my walls hunting other creatures I might not really want in the house since we do have a lot of large ants, flies, mosquitos and cockroaches ... Yes, cockroaches. That was the adventure of the night prior - a criminal we didn't manage to catch with the mason jar.
Now typically, it's easy to make a human home unappealing for bugs and arachnids - just keep it clean. Usually if you find one in the house, if it's been kept, it's accidental and they don't really want to be there either. And, yes, wolf spider bites can cause necrosis of the skin, but usually only the bigger ones have the ability to break skin.
The main exception is flies, fleas and mosquitoes. They don't care if your house is clean or dirty or open or closed - they will get right up on you. Let me go through my eco friendly, home grown methods one by one.
Flies: Black flies are the worst - nothing will spoil a BBQ or a relaxing day in the yard like black flies and citronella just doesn't work with this pest.
Fleas: Cloves, Eucalyptus, Peppermint and Tea Tree! Now before living in Texas with dogs I lived in Louisiana with dogs - and a little bit of Illinois in between. I was very proud of the fact that the whole time we lived in New Orleans we were flea and cockroach free. I highly attribute this to my regular usage of eucalyptus oil around the house.
Mosquitoes: Mosquitos love me. The more I dislike them the more they love me. So I load up on the essential oils! There is nothing worse than being itchy all the time, but I don't like chemicals so I will try just about every DEET FREE natural bug spray around and I will also encourage all the bug eating lizards and birds around - even more reason not to use chemicals! So don't use poison - it's just not a good idea. Here are some better, all natural and chemical free options:
Around here we have a lot of wildlife and I want to keep them safe just as much as I want to keep me bug free. It's just that simple.
Shop for essential oils
Or Want an essential oil not listed? Drop a line.
I am in NOLA - Metairie in fact - as I write this. I had a counseling appointment over an hour ago and now I am at the Boulevard American Bistro sipping on a Sazerac. This week, I attended the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network (GOMAMN). What a breath of fresh air. Just before this meeting, I was experiencing some negative effects with how I was allowing my mind to control me with all things work related. The shift in perspective to an environment that fully supported me was much needed. It allowed me to get a couple of nights of sleep that did not result in awaking at 3 in the morning with a negative thought (because, one is all it took) that would cause my stomach much discomfort and have my head circling in the negative conversation (typically) for the rest of the day. I remember when I wasn’t so caught up in things like this – 2012 was a good year – I was freer.
I’ve recognized something that should be so obvious just today and that is: My mind is controlling me and not the other way around. Well… practice being present right? But for some reason I’m choosing the pain… I’m guessing it has to do with giving up an identity that I have bought into and without it there is much fear for who/what I am without that identity? I’ve read this many times but sometimes it just hits you differently when you revisit a concept and you manage to move forward in a way that you hadn’t before. My counselor taught me a nifty trick to pull you into the present today. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – First, you put your eyes on 5 different things; Second, you touch 4 different things; Third, you listen for 3 different sounds; Fourth, you smell 2 things; Fifth, you taste 1 thing. As an artist, this is an appealing way to get into the present… another way to explore and I love to explore so it is a good fit.
But I’m here to write to you about the bird project I am most passionate and excited about: the annual Red Knot - Calidris canutus banding expedition. How can I start there without writing about what led up to this? As you know, I started off my bird research studying the Wilson’s Plover – Charadrius wilsonia. This species has a lot of attitude… but also can be skulky and sneaky too when it needs to be. My first year of work was difficult because I had so much to learn. The conditions were hot… very HOT and I had to walk great distances to cover my study sites. I cried that first year every once in awhile… I was unsure about how well I was doing. If I didn’t find a nest or see chicks I felt like a failure but at the time, I didn’t exactly have enough experience to know what to look for. The following year there was a shift. I was able to handle the heat better (I suppose I acclimated to it) and I began to build up experience that served in the research I was doing. By the third year of work I had developed a relationship with my project… both in observing this species as well as the site it inhabited.
By the end of 2012, I had just finished the end of the season studying Wilson’s Plover in southeast Louisiana. While conducting an end of the year survey, my boss was discussing with another person how BTNEP was about to start working on a Piping Plover project – would she be interested? In that moment, she wasn’t sure – maybe she would be going to graduate school – but I took that opportunity – that moment and let it be known that I WAS AVAILABLE!!! That’s how my full time employment with BTNEP started. I had the task of working on the Piping Plover surveys in the wintertime every two weeks while this site was “under construction”.
Here’s a good link that provides information about the construction: http://coastal.la.gov/project/caminada-headland-beach-and-dune-restoration/
And another: https://www.boem.gov/BOEM-GOMR-MMP-Caminada-Headland-briefing/
Last link is a little more in depth but puts things in perspective in terms of the full coast and other projects occurring.
In January of 2014, a researcher from Corpus Christi, Texas contacted me. David Newstead was interested in Red knots in the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM). By April of that same year I organized the 1st Annual Red Knot Louisiana Banding Expedition. This will be our 4th year and I still get so excited to have the honor of bringing together so many avian biologists together on our coast to conduct research on this species. The Red knot is an amazing bird… it makes one of the longest yearly migrations from Tierra del Fuego in South America where it winters to the Arctic where it breeds. Louisiana is lucky to serve as a stop over site as they make there way from once location to the other (more so in the spring) – we are currently trying to capture what the wintering population is in Louisiana.
More info about this amazing species is here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red_Knot/lifehistory
Red knots banded in Louisiana have mostly been resighted in Louisiana (resights are possible because we attach an alphanumeric flag to the bird to create an individual I.D. for tracking it.) But we’ve also had observations submitted for these Louisiana banded birds in Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Ontario – Canada, Saskatchewan – Canada, Peru and Chili! This year we are planning on putting geolocator devices on some of the birds – these tracking devices are able to capture light level data (sunrise/sunset) that helps with deciphering the general location of a species in terms of latitude and longitude – it will allow us to learn where these birds breed as well as where they winter. However, to get this data, we will be required to recapture the birds since the information/data is stored on the device. We also plan on attaching nanotags – these are temporary and are glued to the bird’s scapular region but will fall off when the bird molts in the fall. In the interim, we are able to capture points where the bird has been as long as there is a radio tower set up to capture the radio signal. Each nanotag has its own individual signature “ping” so we will know it by individual. This will help provide important information in terms of connectivity.
We are just a few weeks away from the 4th Annual Louisiana Red Knot banding expedition! I’m super excited and am trying to invent a cocktail inspired by this birds’ travels… the banding effort is intense… we work hard but we play hard too!
I have the Ginkgo, LTD. website up as I am typing. The soothing background music isn't usually something that I go for. Today, the nature sounds and gentle instruments are just what I need. They also very much remind me of Stefanie's personality as I know her in the yoga room.
Stefanie Maloney is a yogi, mom and landscape contractor for residential landscaping in the suburbs. Her landscaping company is called Ginkgo, LTD.
“Back in the mid to late ‘70s I grew up what was a rural town, Morris, Illinois. My dad purchased 8 acres and an old farm house,” Stefanie recalls. “He felt like he needed to do something with the land, maybe farming it. We didn’t even have a rototiller at the time. Dad was kind of person that if he could get 100 cheaper than a dozen, he’d buy the 100. So, we started with 500 tomato plants, 500 pepper plants, a few rows of corn. Come harvest time, we literally had wheel barrow loads of vegetables every day.”
That was around 1978 when Stefanie was in about 6th grade. A much different 6th grade experience than your average Chicagoland pre teen in the 2000’s. It is no wonder that today Stefanie would be such a nature lover since not only was the nursery right in her back yard, she was also right across the street from the state park.
“There were just endless woods all around us,” she said. “It was really hard work, a lot of physical labor, but I can really appreciate it all now.”
The vegetable stand expanded and they had to supplement it with other farmers’ crops. That wasn’t quite enough for dad so he said they should bring in and sell bedding plants and hanging baskets, petunias and geraniums. That wasn’t enough, he said, so you know maybe sell trees and shrubs and then work in their yards as installers. All that happened just within a few years. By the time Stefanie was in eighth grade they had hired a newly graduated landscape architect from the University of Illinois.
“I was in 8th or 9th grade,” she recalls, “and I was her shadow because she just had all the answers about all the plants and everything we needed to do. We would often draw designs. When I was 15, I entered a contest in Seneca where I needed to draw a scale drawing and that is how it all started.”
She says the most challenging part was working for her dad who died unexpectedly two and a half years ago. He was very demanding at the time, where she believes she takes the opposite approach today. She calls herself “maybe too relaxed”. Her father was 70 years old and “in the prime of his life” she says. He had gotten to the point where he had slowed down ten years ago and bought a log cabin on ten acres in Northwest Kentucky where her mom is from. The first year he moved there, he called her and was so excited. He had a semi load of plants coming - he was going to do it again.
“He couldn’t help himself,” she smiled.
About 22 years ago Stefanie moved into the Burr Ridge area where she commuted back to family business every day. Eventually, she became acquainted with families around where she lived. They started asking if she could do this or that and then it started to snowball. Just like it was with her dad. First it was just a matter of design, but soon after the requests for installations began.
As a landscape contractor, she went through a certificate program opting not to go through the 5 year degree program which she felt would have been a waste for residential contracting. In a two year certificate program students can choose landscape, green house or turf studies. They learn surveying, hardscaping, CAD, installing and water features. The practical experience was really the education and an in depth knowledge of the plants, she emphasized also noting that commercial work is a whole different level and worth the five year degree.
Her brother still owns the family property where she grew up. There is no more residential or retail work just because of the shift in the economy. He still does this type of work but for municipalities.
“Walmart moves in or Home depot so you have to reinvent yourself,” she said. “There’s just too much competition.”
Ginkgo is her favorite tree. She calls it the shark of shade trees as there are no known illness that will kill a Ginkgo. Sometimes they live to be hundreds of years old. They have a male and female counterpart. In growing up she noticed there coincidently seemed to be big mature female trees around catholic churches. Another thing that draws her to Ginkgoes are the venation which is very unique. The delicate fan shape of the leaves have even been found in fossils. The leaves turn gold and when the season changes, the leaves just drop overnight creating this golden blanket on the ground.
If you’re starting to think about your garden, lawn or trees, she says fall is the best time to plant. Start to gauge when summer starts to go into fall in September or October. It is the most active phase of growth for roots. The activity above the roots starts to slow down, but roots are growing like crazy sometimes even into January until it freezes. Spring is second best, she says, because of rain. However, if you plant in spring the plant now has to push out new growth and grow roots at the same time which can be stressful.
Now that spring is just around the corner, her busy season will begin to pick up again. If you have any questions for Stefanie, give her a call (630-514-3631) or send her an email. She does offer free consultations where she can make an assessment and will offer honest feedback. You can visit her website at www.ginkgoltd.com .
I met Samuel Petit (the third) at a training week in Treasure Beach, Jamaica where he was photographer as well as acroyogi. If you look him up you might find the things wizards, artists, faeries and woodsman speak of. He is a medicine man, circus monkey, yogi, organic gardener, herbalist, butterfly gardener, photographer, dancer, singer, actor, martial artist, builder and, now, he is a land owner. You see, recently Sam purchased a few acres that abuts acres upon acres of vacant land where he is creating a sanctuary called, “The Land”.
The motto of The Land is just “Do Right”. Freedom reigns as long as everyone is kind, generous and helpful to one another, which, he says, is not very difficult because he is surrounded by people who really care about others and work hard to take care of themselves. He believe like is attracting like in this situation and finds himself surrounded by people with similar views and desires. He doesn’t drink and has a variety of challenging exercises he practices regularly. His aim here is to create a community and he has invited people to share this vision of having a microvillage of artists and healers where “people don't have to struggle”.
When I caught up with Sam today he had finished a days work with friends and collaborators creating some new garden beds for the property. Currently, there is a chicken coop and seven houses on the property as well as electric lines that are all underground. His goal is to create at least three more tiny houses and expand the acreage for organic development. The houses that are on the property were created by a Hendrick’s college professor on a grant to test for earthquakes during fracking and are old shelters that have nine foot deep bunkers underneath.
“I never thought anything good would come out of fracking, but he retired and sold the land,” says Petit. “All the old machinery is now in my garage.”
Sam is a tiny house builder for the family company Petite Homes, Inc. Back in September, Tiny House Hunters reached out to Petit to see if it might be feasible to film a segment in Arkansas, where Petit lives.
“Conway is one of the biggest cities in Arkansas and is only fifteen minutes away. So even though it is perfectly peaceful and silent out here on the property, no one will be missing out on anything,” Petit says. “I know so many artists and yogis, healers and some amazing cooks. I want to build a community where everything is in one place. It will be a training space, a shala (Sanskrit for ‘home’), a retreat, a healing place and a place for yoga therapy,” he says. “We’re going to teach yoga here, but not just body postures. I’m interested in learning the ways of shaman. We’re going to focus on exploring the higher consciousness through yoga.”
by Richard Lonski
These days I generally find peace in mountains. The rock and the sweat generated by climbing them. The movement up the rock, the exertion of muscles, the focus of the mind. It is all very centering for me.
When my mind is in the right place, it is my Zen. I am reminded that peace can be found anywhere in nature. Sometimes its best to just sit quietly and be present, to let the calming sounds of wind and water keep you company. This can remind you that you are part of something much bigger.
Furthermore, you can find those moments of absolute silence when the wind and water stop momentarily and you can feel your soul expand into the vastness left behind and become one with it all.
Photo and caption cred: Richard Lonski (c) 2017
Want to learn more about climbing in Missouri?
Mo' Beta can be found at (http://www.mo-beta.com/). The author Jeremy Collins partnered with the Kansas City Climbing Community and proceeds help bolt and anchor replacement in MO as well as development of new areas.
by Diana Piedra
Today was a sunny day in Chicagoland.
We are lucky to have a sunny day filled with such vibrancy in the middle of the Winter season. Of course, the elephant in the room is laughing in his peanuts which have been warmed by ozone depletion. I take a deep sigh into my coffee cup, the steam warming my face, and I begin to wonder how the water protectors in North Dakota are faring today. They have been standing in peace for months against a government takeover of treaty land for the construction of an oil pipeline that will twist its venomous way through the country and rivers for the sake of money and greed. The enemy that has promised to protect the people and the land with liberty and justice for all, clutches their riot gear as they stare into the faces of native elders who are clinging to all they know, all they have left.
I take in a deep breath of java filled joy. I stare out of the window and pray for the safety of our bravest demographics. Heroes that may seem unlikely but heroes nonetheless. Our Mexican American friends who mow our lawns, pick our berries, attend school with our children, pray to the same God, and have dreams of college and beyond. Dreams. My eyes close. Deep sigh.
I think of the refugees from the African Congo, Syria, and Somalia- their pictures have been posted and shared more times than I can count. Their blood soaked clothes, their emaciated bodies and longing eyes flash in my mind. Yet somehow desensitization has permeated the global consciousness and I wonder when we will feel again?
I wonder when our children, who have been polarized by propaganda and partisan poison, will start to remember that everyone loves hop scotch and hugs. And that skin color makes someone special and different and that is beautiful. Our beauty is in our differences and we all want the same thing, to be accepted, happy, and loved.
The sound of the squeaky school bus brakes interrupts my morning sit. The silence is now the sound of children laughing and talking. I rush to the window to see my daughter run up the black corrugated steps, her ponytail and pink coat disappear as the doors close.
"Hey! Where's my kiss?" I say aloud.
Heading back to the computer I am overcome with emotion. It's all so beautiful and so scary at the same time. I look at the list of contributors to the free Peace event I am hosting in our community in a month. We have representatives from the local homeless shelter, World Relief advocates who assist refugees, a congressional candidate with a platform of peace and a fresh young approach, and the local animal shelter. I realize these heroes aren't stopping anytime soon. They aren't even close to giving up and neither am I.
I have always been a very spiritual person. Even at a young age, anytime I would be in a house of worship or in a spiritual setting, I was moved in a very deep way (often brought to tears). I became interested in learning about different religions at a young age and naturally found my way to teaching yoga (at 20 years old). I had a heart felt desire to connect with Source and found yoga to be my moving prayer. Yoga has been stabilizing, empowering, and nurturing to me all of my adult life. It is the most important thing I do. Feel feee to join me at Abhyaasa yoga in downtown Naperville on Sundays to practice and congregate.