Archives for posts with tag: Volunteering

Add Your Voice–

A.V. Walters–

The deadline for comments to the FCC regarding net neutrality is July 15. The head of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, has indicated that he’ll give more weight to those comments that are unique and personal. This is not a “click” opportunity. For those of us who feel that net neutrality is critical to free speech–now is the time to add your voice. (Do it while we still can!) You can email your comments to Docket Number:14-28 Protecting an Open Internet at the FCC (OpenInternet@fcc.gov) Or you can call at 888-225-5322. You don’t need to write a lengthy tome, but we all need to express the importance of Net Neutrality. If we hand the keys of the internet over to the corporate interests that would like to make it a toll road, we can kiss our free speech goodbye. This is way more important than cute cat videos. Write and tell them why a free and open internet is important to you. Here’s my two bits:

 

There is an inner kernel to the internet–maybe it’s the core of what’s wonderful about it. It isn’t photo swapping on facebook. It isn’t shopping on Amazon, or downloading movies. These are pedestrian and commercial uses. The important stuff is the inner core, the “small d” democratic use–like what I’m doing right now.

Over the past few decades, there has been unprecedented consolidation in the media. Maybe even because of the internet, newspapers have failed or merged. Increasingly, we are left with fewer and fewer real voices. If one’s position isn’t that championed by major media (who are increasingly co-opted by corporate interests) there are few forums for free speech. The internet is that free speech forum. Keeping it neutral guarantees that there will continue to be an avenue of opposition and dissent. In this country we cherish our freedoms. Unfortunately, too few of us actually exercise them. Those who do become the fulcrum of democracy. Given an opportunity to be heard, they are our collective conscience and are often the inspiration for the rest of us to wake up and act. Without that speech opportunity, we are lost. Without it, there will be no true marketplace of ideas, there will only be those voices that have corporate or government support. We cannot let the ideas that drive the nation be reduced to the occasional tweet. In a world where our politicians and process are for sale to the highest bidder, we need to preserve citizen speech.

Net neutrality guarantees us an outlet of democratic access. If the internet is a toll road, if there are prepaid “fast lanes,” the rest will fall to disrepair. The internet lets us meet, online, to discuss the issues that are central to our today. Net neutrality ensures that those voices can be found, and heard. Out there, in the din of corporate and commercial messages, is the real soul of our nation–the blogger who protests government or corporate tyranny–the witness whose photo goes viral and forces us all to look in the mirror at oppression–the artist whose work isn’t pretty but graphically makes us look in our hearts to see whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution. True free speech isn’t pretty or popular. It’s not likely to garner corporate sponsorship or the internet fast lane.

Even more worrisome is that, in the hands of a corporate fast lane, there is no incentive to protect true speech. Their interests are to sell, to entertain, to market. Despite frightening recent court rulings that corporations have rights, we all know that the driving force in the world of business is money. There is no business interest in the small conscientious voices among us. Indeed, the voices we most have to protect frequently challenge government or corporate authority. Ideas like equality and fairness do not have price tags associated with them, yet they are the most valuable currency this country has. That’s why we need net neutrality.

We all learned this as children. Basic fairness and etiquette don’t give the advantage to the dollar. Net neutrality is a simple proposition, and one that’s difficult to argue against–first come, first served.

Gypsies and Win-Win

A.V. Walters

Cozy kitchen

Cozy kitchen

I have a sister who moves all the time. She’s not an economic refugee; she has a comfortable life. It’s just that she and her husband seem to have itchy feet. They buy a house, fix it up, and then, when even a faint whiff of opportunity calls them elsewhere, they are gone like the wind and the process starts anew. I used to say that her middle name was “never-in-ink,” based on the damage that her peripatetic ways did to my address book. At one point she had three homes (and an orchard with a pole barn) in three different countries! We joke that some people go on vacation and send postcards—my sister buys real estate. Her defense? Well, they needed somewhere to park. The process has slowed some, maybe it’s age. More likely, the real estate juggling has diminished because they bought a big boat that now takes them from place to place, to satisfy some of that wanderlust.

Rick and I are not like that. We are homebodies, gardeners and people of roots. So it’s surprising that in the past eight months we’ve moved three times—with another planned before the end of the year.

We did love our little honeymoon cottage in Empire, but it was, after all, a “vacation” rental and that means that we had to move on once the “season” started, or pay the steep hotel-like rates that tourists pay. In a vacation area, the season runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Some people extend a little beyond that, for a second-wind season that we call “color.” So, we packed up and moved again.

The problem with living somewhere this beautiful is that, if you’re not a grower (cherries, apples or wine grapes), the most lucrative business for locals is the tourism industry. The county is chockablock with cottages, B&Bs and little hideaway granny units that are rented to tourists by the day, or week. It’s almost impossible to find a longer term rental because everyone is cashing in on the vacation market. Rick and I are building, this summer, and we needed a place to stay—somewhere near the building site—until it’s ready to occupy. We’re getting a late start because of the heavy winter and delays in permitting. That put us smack-dab in the middle of the vacation season—no reasonably priced housing. We checked with our soon-to-be neighbors (two of whom have vacation rentals) but they needed the tourist rates. We considered buying a trailer, or even a heavy duty tent—though that’s a tough transition with cats. Then we stumbled on what looked like a win-win.

 

An old-fashioned look.

An old-fashioned look.

Back in Petaluma, each year in April, we volunteered for an organization, Rebuilding Together, that helps to renovate homes for elderly or low income owners. Often the services are critical to letting them stay in, and maintain, their homes. It’s a great organization—and it was where we met, Rick a volunteer builder and me—volunteer grunt labor. This year, April came and we noted that it was the first time in a long while that we weren’t on a Rebuilding crew.

In preparation for our impending relocation to Cedar, I went around introducing myself to all the neighbors. Some of them I’d known for years. I bought this property over two decades ago, and so I was that absentee owner from California. I thought we should re-connect in more of a, “Hi, we’re moving in,” kind of way. At each stop there were the usual discussions—“we’ll be building, yes, my husband is a builder… no, it’s not a summer/vacation home, we’ll be living here….” One neighbor in particular took interest—“Does he do work on the side?” Apparently some years ago she considered renovating her walk-out basement into a rental. She hired some fly-by-night-guy and it went badly from there. After a considerable investment (and some bad blood) she fired the guy and the job sat, unfinished—in fact, it had barely been started. Though I’d only just knocked on her door, technically I’d been her neighbor for years. Maybe that’s why she felt so comfortable telling me her life story and all her woes, though it seems to be a common thread in my life. People tell me stuff.

It didn’t take long before I thought—hmmmm, she needs renovation work, we need a place to stay… I connected the dots. I suggested it to Rick, before I approached the neighbor. It would be a big undertaking—not to be entered into lightly. Oddly enough, it was an alternative to our usual, April volunteer gig. This was a win-win—there was something in it for us, and it could work for her, too. When we approached the neighbor, she was intrigued, but wary. It took her weeks to decide (and we even had to interview with her priest!)

So that’s where we’ve been for the past month, or so. We’ve been building a little apartment. We were running on a short time frame—after all we had to be out of Empire by June 1. And, as usual, it was on a shoe-string budget. Another project brought to you by Craigslist. We pulled many 10 hour (and a few 15 hour) days until we reached the point of “habitable.” We still have trim-work (baseboards and window trim, etc) to do, but we moved into this little pied-à-terre the first of June. It’s just across the road from our building site. As soon as our permit is approved (which is taking longer than we thought) we’ll be building, yet again, only this time (for the first time) for us.

Still work to do, but a comfortable way-station to home.

Still work to do, but a comfortable way-station to home.

We’re not like my sister. We’re not gypsies. We’re itinerant builders, looking for a spot to call home.

Of course, there is next April…

 

 

 

 

Hope the wind doesn't blow!

Hope the wind doesn’t blow!

Taking Leave(s)

A.V. Walters–

Six years on the farm cured me of a common American delusion—the need to clean up after nature. In rural living, nature is just too big to consider tidying up after her. Sure, if you make a mess (like after cutting firewood) you could clean it up, you could even mow, if you wanted or needed to. And, weeding in the garden makes good sense. But beyond that, I figure that nature is pretty much on her own.

When we left Two Rock, we gave away the lawnmowers. I don’t think I’m likely to live anywhere where I’ll need one, again. However, at our little, Empire rental, there is the issue of the leaves.

Our neighbors are positively obsessive about lawn care and leaf removal. I acknowledge that if you have a lawn, it’s better for the grass to remove the leaves. However, our garden implements are in storage—deep in storage. I’m not digging way to the back of the unit to find a rake so that I can collect the leaves at a rental. Besides, Empire is very windy. I note that there are often leaves there one day that are gone the next. (Sometimes, even in the direction of our obsessive neighbors.) In the old days, when I lived in the city, I used to enjoy raking leaves. But then there was the problem of what you’d do with them. If the city has a decent recycling program, it makes sense. But it makes no sense to gather them, only to pay to have them put in a landfill somewhere where they’ll never breakdown naturally.

I visited my brother this weekend. He has not raked at all this season. He lives on a tree-covered city lot, in a village with a great many trees. When we arrived, the leaves were deep in his front yard—in some places, a foot deep. Like many suburban folks, he secretly believes that the wind patterns deposit all the nearby leaves in his yard. He supports this theory by the fact that the leaves lay in deep drifts over his lawn, even as his neighbors lawns are relatively leaf free. And, he notes that some of the leaves in his yard are oak leaves, and he has no oak tree. Of course, those same neighbors, whose yards are clear, have been diligently blowing and/or raking those leaves into neat piles and removing them, regularly, for a couple of months. Still, my brother clings tightly to his leaf-conspiracy theory.

He lives in a community, where, if you deliver your leaves to the edge of the street (there are no curbs) the village will regularly send around a big, leaf-sucking rig to spirit away one’s unwanted autumn harvest. These leaves are then composted, so suburban homeowner’s can maintain their tidy lawns and feel positively righteous. If one doesn’t rake and remove, there’s always the possibility that the Village could cite you, or worse. I decided that I could help out by raking his leaves.

Waiting for Pick-Up

Waiting for Pick-Up

It went well at first. It was actually fun, wading shin deep and using my rake (and my body) as a plow. Soon, though, it became clear that I was going to run out of street-edge on which to deposit the autumn harvest. (And he has a corner lot!) The neighbors have tidy, minimalist leaf piles. The more I raked, the crazier my pile got. I began to marshall the leaves to the edge of the yard. A simple pile wasn’t going to do it, more like a line. Then, a wall. As I worked, the wall got taller, and deeper. I wasn’t sure what the rules were—just how thick could my wall get and still be leaf-suckable?

I started getting comments from neighbors as they walked by: “I sure hope you’re getting paid for that!” (I’m not.) “That looks like a lot of work!” (Yup.) “What are you gonna do with all them leaves?” (I dunno.) Some kids came by waving and laughing at the height of my leaf pile. One almost launched herself into it but I caught her eye, and brandished my rake, “You do, and you’ll have to rake it back up!” She giggled and ran off.

By the time I finished, I’d built a veritable fortress with my leaf-wall. It was three to four feet high, and at least as deep, running some 160 feet on two sides. I don’t know if it will work for the leaf-sucker, but I’m not really concerned. I don’t live here.

I was going to bury this car, but my nephew came out and caught me.

I was going to bury this car, but my nephew came out and caught me.

Maybe Too Much of a Good Thing

A.V. Walters

We all want our food to be safe. We all think that one of the roles of government is to ensure a safe food supply. And they are trying. (Take that any way you like.) There’s regulation pending that would make it hard for organic and small farmers to sell produce. You see, growing food isn’t a spotless operation. It’s done in dirt. Major producers can afford the equipment (and use the chemicals) that give you that pristine, scrubbed, (and not nearly as fresh) produce. Small farmers and roadside stands can’t. It’s as simple as that. Note that most of the outbreaks of food borne disease aren’t coming from small sustainable producers–they’re coming from Big Ag. We need to amend the proposed regulations to provide exemptions for sustainable producers. What looks like a good thing actually favors Big Ag over traditional farming. For more information or to make a comment supporting change to the proposed rules, click on the link. http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12303

A job worth doing…

A.V. Walters

It’s ringing in my ears—I’m alternating between, “A job worth doing, is worth doing well,” and then there’s, “Lipstick on a pig.”

It’s always a challenge—matching the effort you put out with the task at hand. Arguably, one ought do their best, right? But what if the task is not that critical? What if “good enough” actually is?

We all know people who are so angst ridden about perfection that they can’t get anything done. Perfectionism can be a curse, one that often prevents some people from getting anything started in the first place. Anything! And, we all know the scourge of slap-dash. Personally, I hate undertaking something that comes on the heels of slap-dash, because it means you need to undo before you can get it moving in the right direction. Finding one’s way between the two extremes, and doing so in a way that’s appropriate to the task, is a lifelong balancing act.

My current project is refinishing an old oak bathroom vanity. It never was a “joy to behold,” just a serviceable, oak vanity, sold at home improvement stores all over the country when “golden oak” was the remodeling flavor du jour. Rick’s helping, too and I think he’s as torn as I am about it. It’s been stored in a barn for a decade or two, so the old finish is almost falling off. It’s a situation where the bad news is the good news. This finish is so bad that it’s easy to remove. We’ve just spent the day sanding. So I ask you—do we take it to perfection?

The vanity will be used in the home of a charming, senior couple who live happily on a fixed income. There’s nothing extra in their budget for big maintenance projects—they’re perfect candidates for the non-profit “fix-it” organization, Rebuilding Together, for which we volunteer. The vanity was an after-thought and is beyond the scope of the original project. So now, we’re scrounging and doing it as cheaply as we can. I searched Craigslist for a couple of weeks—unable to find a replacement cabinet in the size we needed and for what we wanted to spend. It has to be that size or we’ll have to redo the floor, too. Sigh. Anyway, after weeks of looking I finally found this vanity—not on Craigslist, but right under our noses, in one of Elmer’s barns! It was a hundred yards from us the whole time. It’s the perfect size and even matches the existing accessories and trim. Who knew?

I talked Elmer into donating it to the cause, and now we have to refinish it. We’ve sanded off what was left of the old finish and removed the water stains. Now we have to put the new finish on it. Just a coat of varnish?  Really, to do it right, we should first put on a coat of “golden oak” stain. Not only is that an extra step but, by staining it first, we risk revealing any problems in our sanding and bad areas in the neglected and abused wood. How far do you go to make something (that wasn’t wonderful in the first place) look as good as new?

Of course, we’ll stain it. I hate to say it, but we’re going to put in more time than the original manufacturer did making the damn thing.

But then, there was that moment, when it was clear we should replace the vanity. The wife looked anxious, she didn’t want to be any trouble, after all. Then she reached up to the seventies-vintage mirror/medicine cabinet (which has the ubiquitous “golden oak” finish) and said almost wistfully, “Maybe one that could match this?”

It’s no longer the style—that color. But the fact that it would be truly appreciated makes all the difference. So, we’ll stain and seal it, over the next few days. Then we can go back, install it, and finish the rest of the job.

Just needs the top.

Just needs the top.

It’s that time of year again…that time when we roll up our sleeves to volunteer as amateur builders (well, I’m an amateur, but Rick’s a pro) and spend a couple of weekends fixing up the homes of seniors and those on fixed incomes, so that they can remain comfortably in their homes. Rick and I are House Captains on a big project this year–so for the next week or so, there may be scant activity on the blog. Bear with us and our aching muscles. We have an entire yard to transform, two porches to rebuild, a bathroom to remodel. wiring to upgrade, a chicken coop to build, a garden to put in, fences all the way around….it will be transformative for all. But don’t worry, it’s not just us. This organization (Rebuilding Together) recruits a zillion volunteers for the ‘big day.’ Our project alone will probably have 40 volunteers who show up, work gloves in hand, ready to pitch in. (And we’ll need them.) On a large project like this, one day isn’t enough, so Saturday we met with 15 volunteers to set the fence posts. We cleaned up a lot and cut down some out-of-control trees (so there can be sunlight in the garden.) One of our volunteers yesterday was 83! (He’s worked on several of our projects and he works so hard he puts the kids to shame.)

This week is planning and logistics. Then, next Saturday our army of fresh-faced, muscle-flexing, angels will descend on the site and, by days end, our exhausted crew will go home with amazing images of before and after dancing in their heads. It’s incredible what you can achieve with good will, doughnuts and coffee! See you soon when things are under control and Rick and I can return to our own dreams of building a future.

Don’t worry about the emus–they’re thigh high now and spending their days munching away on the greens in my front yard.

Rebuilding
A.V. Walters

It’s become somewhat of a seasonal ritual. It started way back in school when we’d cripple ourselves training for track and field. Later, when that idiocy abated, my spring enthusiasm would takeover and I’d break out of my winter lethargy with a ten-hour day of heavy digging, in preparation for planting the garden. Of course, over the next few days, my body would pay for it. It’s always the same, and I never learn. But like I said, it’s a ritual.

Here in Two Rock, it stays cooler longer, so we have a late planting date, and the worst of the digging gets done by Elmer’s plow. (Granted, digging in the buckets later is still no cakewalk, but I’m always up for it.) So, I’ve managed to substitute my disabling, spring digging ritual with an equally disabling, spring volunteering ritual. And, like the Garden, it’s all well worth it.

Petaluma has a local chapter of Rebuilding Together—an organization that helps our low-income, elderly or disabled neighbors. We make repairs and improvements that helps make it possible for them to continue living in their own homes. It’s a great organization. There are two main workdays each year– in the spring the volunteers help individuals and in the fall, we plant trees around town or work on our public parks. I’ve been at it for five years now; it’s a ritual that has stepped in to fill the void left by track and field practice. Usually I’m put on a crew that works to tame out-of-control gardens. (Though, I’ve done everything from painting and laying floors to installing a garbage disposal.) It’s an all-day work-fest with a score or more of other volunteers per work site. We all work like crazy people, and at the end of the day a life and home are transformed. There’s enormous satisfaction in it. (A couple of days later, when I can bend over again to tie my shoes, I feel even better about it.)

You should see our volunteers. Our crew, this spring, included a guy in his eighties. He had his work gloves on and was manning a wheelbarrow, delivering mulch. There were a handful of septuagenarians, and then the rest of us, mostly in our forties and fifties. It’s incredible to see all these strangers (and some familiar faces from past Rebuilding days) come together and, without any kind of rehearsal and surprisingly, little direction, fall into a comfortable and steady work rhythm. We’re like bees—each busy and productive, compounded by the activities of the whole group. You can’t believe how much work can be accomplished with so many hands pulling together! If you would like to participate in that kind of community, I can highly recommend you contact your local Rebuilding Together chapter. Spring is a lovely time to help in a positive transformation.

So, now I’m broken in for the season. This weekend I can start digging in my buckets, getting ready for a late, but frost-free, planting. I can hardly wait. (We’ve even talked about adding a fourth garden plot!)Winter has faded and my neighbors on the farm are coming out of their homes, rubbing the winter out of their eyes like bears emerging from hibernation. And what’s on their minds? “Where are we going to put the tomatoes this year?” “Did you know the Seed Bank has organic vegetable starts?” We’ve managed to cultivate a crop of eager gardeners. It’s exciting.

My only question about all of this is, where are the young people? Clearly, we’re not reaching out to share and nurture the values that connect us to our community, the seasons, our bountiful gardens and, most of all, each other. Suggestions, anyone?