Saturday, May 30, 2009

Heart blessings

Sometimes something so beautiful comes along that it stirs the heart--deep, pure, blessed. This is one of those moments.

Julian Smith won third place in the 2009 Britain's Got Talent competition today (The winning performance is not yet posted on YouTube; this is the audition that got him to the semi-finals.) I hope and pray we all have many more opportunities to hear this amazing musician.

In the world of Ordinary, children are encouraged to develop their talents and share them with society. There, like Rose's partner Cheyenne, a musician such as Julian would spend the majority of his time making music, just as Rose gardens, Janine cooks and Noah documents and catalogs village life.

The world will be far richer when each of us can devote our best time to our best talent, don't you think? Whose hearts are you blessing with your gifts today?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Alice Waters

Ordinary Heroes Award Badge

She's been called revolutionary.

She made a name for herself doing what she loved--cooking delicious, gorgeous food.

She introduced picked-same-day, locally grown fruits and vegetables in her dishes, because they taste best and have the most vibrant color, and started a fresh new cuisine that changed the way millions of us eat.

She used her earned fame to help launch a movement for slow food.

She takes a lot of flack for being outspoken as the link referenced here shows, but she led the campaign for an organic garden on the White House lawn, and First Lady Michelle Obama dug one.

She's been teaching children how to garden and cook since 1996, beginning with The Edible Schoolyard. Now she's lobbying the White House and Congress to plant an edible garden at every public school in the land. More, she's lobbying to get organic, locally grown, healthy food into free breakfast and lunch programs at every school.

You're gonna pay. You're either gonna pay up-front, or you're gonna pay out back. Do you know that one in two kids is gonna have diabetes? Let us subsidize real food instead of fast food. Let's feed every single child in school breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, for free, and feed them real food.

As quoted by Eat Me Daily

Sparks flew at the Connecticut Forum's Food for Thought program May 14, where Alice Waters appeared with celebrity foodies Anthony Bourdain and Duff Goldman. Bourdain made a good point that people who cannot afford to pay seven dollars plus for a gallon of milk are unlikely to care where their milk comes from, so long as they can afford to give their children milk at all. Alice got that, and her response was equally provocative and, more importantly, a marvelous solution to a big chunk of the problem. Chef Duff Goldman made a keen point as well. It's all captured in this video. Take a look.

CAUTION: Two of the chefs speaking on this panel use profanity. Do not watch if four letter words offend you.

Who do you think is right?

Waters may be equally well-known for her political activism as for the delicious meals served up at her Berkeley Restaurant, Chez Panisse, which is almost as much a Bay Area tourist attraction as the Golden Gate bridge. (Among a slew of salivating visitors, @nguyenthuyviet tweeted on May 27 that she was planning "chez panisse reservations, renting bikes at gg park, a's vs o's tailgating, & ghost hunting" on an upcoming trip to the Bay Area.) But there's another aspect to Waters' work that is of vital importance to our collective future.

Sustainability has been a hallmark at Chez Panisse from the beginning. So important is this aspect, the restaurant posts their Commitment to Sustainability. Here's part of it.

We seek farmers who know their seeds and soil, ranchers who care about the food their livestock eats, winemakers who know what their grapes have known, fish merchants who are concerned about the health of the seas. To them we add kitchen and wait staff who care about the material of their work, knowing they will enjoy and take pride in the technical expertise they add to it. We reaffirm our commitment to all this, knowing that it is central to both the deepest and the most joyous of human activities: generosity, companionship, nourishment, growth.

For doing what she loves, for building on what she loves, for using her best talents and skills to help others, and for creating positive change through action, persuasion and deed, the Ordinary Heroes award is kindly offered to Chef Alice Waters with deep gratitude for deepening the vision and widening the path to the Village of Ordinary.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saving ourselves, saving the planet

Thirsty? A recent Harvard study indicates that when we quench our thirst with bottled water, we increase the bisphenol A (BPA) in our bodies two-thirds as fast as when we drink from a reusable stainless steel bottle. Taking care of the environment is so often linked with taking care of ourselves, don't you think? It's the Ordinary thing to do.

With gratitude to @MBHolistic for her/his 5/22 Tweet that highlighted the U.S. News and World Report article linked here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Marion Nestle

Ordinary Heroes Award BadgeIf The Personal is Political,* there is little more personal than the food we eat. Yet Americans entrust our food supply almost entirely to big (really big) business. Wholesome, bucolic images of rosy-cheeked farmers jauntily pitching hay while black and white cows graze amiably in green pastures blaze from our television screens, magazines, newspapers and yes, on our blogs and web pages, but the truth about the food we eat is seldom close to these pastoral images.

Marion Nestle (pronounced Ness-ul) has been working to pluck the wool from our collective eyes since 1976. Food is political, she says, and if we are to protect our own health and the health of future generations, we need to get this and vote with our dollars every time we push a cart through the aisles of our local supermarket.

Her three books, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health,Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorismand What to Eatare more than enough to win her the Ordinary Hero award, but it's something she did last week that brought her to focus today.

She had been nominated to the Smart Choices board of directors. Smart Choices is going to put a zippy little green check mark on the packages of food that meet its criteria for healthy, wholesome food. They'll also tell us how many calories are in a serving of that food and how many servings are in the package. Sounds cool, huh? This might seem a prestigious and appropriate post for a woman whose entire adult life has been in the service of working to assure our food supply is safe and as healthy as possible.

Marion Nestle declined the nomination. She declined the nomination because Smart Choices "is a food industry-initiated plan to put a check mark--a stamp of approval--on processed food products that meet certain nutritional criteria," criteria that, upon scrutiny, she felt, did not provide the reassurance promised in that little green check mark.

The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products.

U.S. News and World in interview with
Marion Nestle and David Ludwig

To understand better why Marion Nestle doesn't trust that green check mark, check out 10 Things the Food Industry Doesn't Want You to Know, including item 2: "The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products."

Dr. Nestle places the blame for America's obesity epidemic squarely on the shoulders of Wall Street and its demand that corporations show ever increasing quarterly returns. She makes a fair and lively case for it in this video titled Food Politics filmed at the Alworth Center for Peace and Justice. Dr. Nestle doesn't take the podium until around four minutes in, and the visual is fairly monotonous, so I recommend that you grab a cuppa and a biscuit and sit down with a jigsaw puzzle or your favorite mindless computer game while you listen. She's definitely worth your time and I guarantee you'll come away with something interesting for the water cooler tomorrow.

For a lifetime of watching out for the quality and safety of our food, for standing up to the corporate giants again and again and again, and for teaching us how to find safe, healthy food (see How to Find Green Fish, How to Buy Organic Milk, How to Buy Green Produce), and in doing so, helping us all get a little closer to the world of the Village of Ordinary, the Ordinary Heroes award is kindly offered to Marion Nestle.

Learn more about Marion Nestle on her web site and keep up to date on the latest at the intersection of food and politics on her blog.

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Thanks to Tweep @AmiraElgan for introducing me to Marion Nestle through her May 12 tweet "HERO ALERT: Nutrition professor tells why she declined nutrition society's nomination to head a prestigious program."

*With a bow and a nod to Carol Hanisch, Shulie Firestone, Anne Koedt and Kathie Sarachild.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hold your own

Sometimes there's no easy alternative, but even if you don't care about the BPA levels leaching into your bottled drinking water, you'll enjoy this video by a hip kid on why you just might want to switch to your own reusable bottle.

His name is Gavin Erskine and he's my idea of an Ordinary kid.

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My thanks to Oakleigh, where I first spotted this video, and to The Soft Landing. for their article on BPA in water bottles.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Here's what happened

I'm on the bus at 5:59 p.m. when my phone gongs. I jump, as I do every night, startled by the sound, forgetting momentarily: It's time to stand for peace. We're less than a minute from the next stop, so I wait and get off the bus. It happens to be one of San Francisco's busiest intersections.

There's no good place to stand where my back can be against a wall, so I face the traffic. I feel vulnerable. I like a wall against my back. Cars, bicycles, people! So much rush-rush. It's Friday night, and we're all in a hurry to get to wherever.

Rush-rush. I forget the wind whipping my hair into my eyes, nostrils, across my mouth. I, the crowd-phobe, am happy in the midst of all this bustle. I feel the Buddha smile on my face. Before I know it, the gong sounds on my phone, signaling my five minutes is up. Have I learned anything new tonight? No matter. It is a gorgeous evening, and I am going to walk home.

Three blocks later, waiting to cross another of San Francisco's ultra-busy intersections, I see this sign: Learn Peace. Four or five people are holding signs: Embrace Peace. Make Peace. Peace not war. I'm suddenly in the Sixties again. No wait! That's me! I stand for peace! These people are standing for peace. I ask the guy holding the sign if I can take a picture of it. Sure! Would he mind if I joined them for a bit? Sure! There's more signs over there if you'd like one.

I pick up a sign that says simply, Peace, and join the others on the corner. I lift the sign and smile to see that the other side says Teach. Back and forth, I wag my sign. Teach. Peace. Teach. Peace.

Drivers honk and give us the thumbs up. One waves the two-fingered peace sign through the sun roof of his Beamer. More people show up, grab signs. Kat introduces herself. She's carrying a clipboard. She and Dave, the guy with the Learn Peace sign, wanted to do something, so they started this vigil. Every third Friday of the month, they stand on this corner from 6-8 p.m. Other people show up. Some of them sign up for an e-mail reminder. No pressure. That's what the clip board is for, if I'm interested. Folks come and stand for as long as they're comfortable. That woman over there is another Kate. She knows lots of people in lots of organizations working for peace. That woman, Susan, on the bicycle, is pretty new. She just started showing up.

Kat, Dave, Kate, Susan and another guy whose name I didn't get are all fiftyish-sixtyish, like me. There are a couple of young people sitting against a tree, holding signs.

Susan introduces herself to me. We exchange a few pleasantries, then silence. I remember my stand the other night--that I don't know my neighbors, that I need to work again at overcoming my shyness. I'm not very good at making conversation, I tell Susan. I realize I should ask you something like, where do you work. That's all it takes. She's not that interested in telling me about her work, but she is excited about taking small actions like this one. She's been to a few others. What's most on her mind is the East Bay event a couple of weeks ago where she heard Alice Walker. She's my favorite author, she says. So. Imagine that. I now know another person who loves Alice Walker's writings as much as I do.

More people come and take up signs. Susan takes off on her bike. I give gratitude for every driver who encourages us with their horns and shouts for peace. I give gratitude for each of the people here, coming out to stand, not part of any organization, just standing for peace. Wait! Dolores introduces herself, hands me a brochure. She's part of Iraq Moratorium. I've never heard of them, but I'll look them up online this weekend, I tell her. She has gorgeous white hair. I love older people with a sense of purpose and commitment, who haven't given up despite all we've seen, don't you?

My stomach growls. My feet hurt. I take Kat at her word. People come and go during the two hours as meets their needs. I trek home, leaving behind about twice as many people standing for peace as were there when I first spotted them.

That's what happened on my sixth night of standing for peace. I feel like the Village of Ordinary is all around me. What do you think?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Seth Godin

Ordinary Heroes Award badge
They call him a marketing guru. Sit with his bio for two minutes, and you'll see why. He markets himself pretty well, don't you think? But that's not why he's an Ordinary Hero.

This is why.

For challenging us to be leaders, for teaching us how to lead, for giving us tools with which to lead, and for showing us that we are already part of a tribe, Seth Godin is this week's Ordinary Hero. Thank you, Seth.

In the next 24 hours, create a movement. Something that matters. Start. Do it. We need it.

Seth Godin

Get out there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Can five minutes a day make a difference in your life?

Today marks the fourth day in a row I've dropped everything at 6:00 p.m. to stand for peace, and I can answer that with a big, fat "Yes!" If you want peace in your life, I recommend it. Oh, pshaw, you may say, it's only five minutes. That's right! It's only five minutes What have you got to lose?

Here's what happened.

Looking out the windowThis is the view outside the window where I stood yesterday and Monday. I was visiting my daughter and her family. I spend quite a bit of time there, helping to care for their little one. The image doesn't show the shimmering glow on the swaying trees, the constant traffic buzzing and whirring, or the people hurrying by on foot fighting the wind one direction, pushed along by it the other. Nor can you see the fellow cleaning the second-story windows inside and out that brown house across the street. I don't know his name.

PG&E sign with purple flowersThough I spend a good deal of time in this neighborhood, I don't know the neighbors. Many do not return my greeting when I meet them on the street. One guy hollered at me for taking pictures of his pretty flowers one day. Yes, these flowers. I love their fresh beauty and vibrant color against the falling-down PG&E sign and trapped litter. I feel such gratitude for the hearts and hands that plant and tend tiny gardens in the midst of so much hardscape.

Standing in this window for five minutes, taking in one breath after another and asking myself for peace, asking Spirit to help me make peace in the world, I am aware, more keenly than ever, of the difference between my life and the vision of the Village of Ordinary. If I am to create peace through community, somehow I need to overcome my shyness and find a way to meet the people with whom I share space, whether it is here on this street, or at home on my own, where I stood tonight.

Peacemaking requires respect for all parties, including ourselves.

Our neighborhood bustles in the evening. Rush, rush, rush. People chat at the neighborhood coffee shop. I hear laughter. A couple of dogs greet each other with barks and friendly nips. What I am most aware of, though, is the pain in my body, a direct result of the abuse I've given it today. Where will I find the strength to continue to dream and build Ordinary if I do not care for my body properly? All too typically, I snacked on leftover Mother's Day goodies instead of eating balanced meals, failed to drink enough fluids, and sat for far too many hours at the computer without exercise. At my age, joints, muscles and innards tend to respond to neglect with aches and sometimes screaming pain. How can I hope to make peace in the world if I treat myself with such disrespect? Peacemaking requires respect for all parties, including ourselves.

The first rules of waging peace: Respect yourself. Set boundaries and honor them. Take care of yourself that you retain strength and stamina for the long haul.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Five minutes

There's no time like the present to begin a new habit, so yeah, though I stood for peace earlier today, I set my phone to tone a bell one minute before six each evening. When it went off, I was surprised, momentarily forgetting what it was about. My sweetheart and I were watching a video. It's about a man who has endured grave injustice. All the people in his life are affected one way and another. The acting is very good.

Standing in my bedroom, I tried to be present with the golden evening sunlight illuminating houses on the hill. My left shoulder was painful with tension, my hands in loose fists. My brain felt tight against my skull, and I was full of the pained and strained faces of the video, their suffering so visible. My heart hurt, but not with the delicious feeling of the morning sky. It really hurt this time. I felt squeezed.

This is what I do for entertainment and relaxation--watch a fictional story of a terrible miscarriage of justice. Judging by the state of my body, this is not healthy R&R. For most of the five minutes, I had to focus on my breathing, as in the Ten Minute Meditation, just to reach a state of peace. The time was short, but I feel calmer now. Pain in shoulder gone. I'm forgoing the rest of the video.

I stood for peace--II

Mother's Day bouquetToday is the second Mother's Day I stood for peace on a San Francisco hill, looking across a sunny expanse of grass and city scape to a nearly cloudless sky so blue it made my heart hurt. You know that feeling? Goodness.

The chain link fence surrounding the park reminded me of all the prisoners locked behind fences and doors around the world. It would be easy to collapse in hopelessness at the thought of the heavy hands and sadistic hearts that brutalize children, women and anyone who has something someone else wants, or whose beliefs differ from those of the person with the whip.

What came back to me, again and again as the wind brought fresh air to my lungs and cooled my face, was the image of Sharon Mehdi's grandmothers standing silently all day long, saying not a word, moving not an inch. (How did those menopausal bladders hold up all those hours?) Thousands of women and men joining them all over the world. Children everywhere, of every age putting down their rifles, their bayonets, their bazookas and, perhaps, their bomb-laden backpacks and saying no to violence.

Yes we can. Yes we can stop the violence. Oh sure, you're thinking five minutes on a windy hill all by myself once a year does nothing, right? Yup, standing last year, I wondered the same thing. But it's still true: Peace begins at home.

Be kind signThroughout the year, whenever I have responded with anger to a situation--and there have been many times--I remembered my tiny five-minute Mother's Day stand for peace. I remembered how hopeless I felt at the rage, power and greed that human beings indulge in the service of harming others. I knew that if I expected those people somehow to make peace in their hearts and lives, I first must make it in mine in this moment at this time. Could it be as simple as exchanging a momentary irritation for kindness?

Have I succeeded? Not immediately, not every time. Making peace is a work in progress. Right now, I am in a state of discord with a family member. Each day, I spend too much energy working through negative feelings, seeking compassion and understanding. Yet I remain judgmental, resisting. Repeatedly, I must sit with my feelings, acknowledge them, process the difference between my responses and my intent to make peace. I am old enough to know that I am not alone in experiencing this. Perhaps you experience this. Millions of us across the globe want to make peace in our families, our work places, and the world at large.

So as I stood on that hill today, I knew that I do not want to be standing alone next year. On Mother's Day 2010, I want some of you who dream of peace standing there with me. Oh, and I want so much more. I want to stand in a park filled with people--hundreds, perhaps thousands of people standing silently for peace for five minutes. No speeches, no bands, no placards, no hoopla. Just people walking one by one, in twos and threes, whole families, to their neighborhood parks and standing silently for five minutes of peace, mingling afterward to share their feelings about standing in community with this one common goal: Making peace.

I want to stand in a park filled with people--hundreds, perhaps thousands of people standing silently for peace for five minutes.

Imagine millions of people, all over the earth, remembering all year long how it felt to stand for five minutes, breathing peace. Imagine them changing their lives at home, at work, at school, in committee, waiting in line, driving down the freeway. Imagine choosing peace instead of anger. Choosing common ground instead of discord. Choosing a smile instead of a finger. (You know what I mean.) Imagine how that daily consciousness might spread.

Signs to here and thereHow to get from here to there?

I will start. For the next year, I will stand for peace five minutes of every day. Wherever I am at 6:00 p.m. each evening, I will stand for peace. If I am with people, I will excuse myself, leave the room and stand for peace. If I am riding the bus, I will leave my seat (increasingly, as I age, I am lucky enough to have one), grab a pole and stand for peace. If I am caring for my granddaughter, I will do everything possible in that moment to stand for peace. If it is not possible, I will tell her about peace and why it is so important to devote that five minutes to peace. She may not understand, but I will share it all the same.

It's a little scary making this commitment. I've rarely been on time in my life. I've kept few rituals and never at the same time every single day for a whole year, so I'm asking for your support. I need your encouragement. As often as I can, I'll write a little blurb about the day's stand right here. I hope anyone reading this will post comments frequently. Your comments fuel me. Should you feel like taking a five minute stand for peace yourself now and then, I hope you'll tell me about it and how you felt about it. If you're a blogger or a Tweeter, I hope you'll start a conversation about standing for peace. On our tweets, we can use the hashtag #5minutes. Together, we can make a difference in the world, one moment of kindness, one smile, one prayer, and five minutes a time.

Will I see you in my neighborhood next year? Or read about you standing in yours?

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The images in this post were taken on the way to and from the park today. The signs, new in this children's garden, were serendipitously on point, don't you think?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Stand for peace on Mother's Day

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Women standing for peace. Tomorrow women all over the world will stand for peace for the third Mother's Day in a row.

Image courtesy

There is probably nothing any of us wish for our children more than peace. Sharon Mehdi's delightful tale,The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering bookcoverThe Great Silent Grandmother Gathering, inspires us on a visceral level. Somehow we get the power of this silent gesture. When we read the story, we feel it in our bodies. We know that standing silently, one by one, is enough.

Spare five minutes and stand for peace with your family and friend's at 1 PM tomorrow your local time. That's all it takes. This explains why.

Though a year old, the primal necessity of the message has not changed, don't you agree?

Five minutes of silence. Stand alone. Stand with your family and friends. Stand on the courthouse steps. Stand in your backyard. Bring a bell to mark the beginning of your stand and the end. Afterward, use your action as a springboard for discussion with your loved ones. How much do you want peace in the world? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Maybe what you'll ask for this Mother's Day is peace. That's the Ordinary thing to do.

Ordinary Hero: Sharon Mehdi

Ordinary Heroes Award
Image copyright 2009
L. Kathryn Grace
All rights reserved

She wrote a story for her granddaughter, not yet born, about two grandmothers who stood for peace. She shared the story with some friends. They shared the story with their friends. The story begins like this.

On a buffety, blustery early summer day, when the news was bad and the sky turned yellow, a strange thing happened in the town where I live.

The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering: A Story for Anyone Who Thinks She Can't Save the World

Tomorrow, as we did last year and as thousands did the year before, women from all over the world will do a strange thing. For five short minutes, we will stand silently in parks, in churches, on public streets, on courthouse steps and statehouse steps, on mountaintops, at the seashore, next to rivers and in our own gardens. Like the grandmothers in the story, we will stand for peace.

For visioning a world of peace; for visioning that two silent women, dressed in comfortable shoes and their Sunday best could stand unmoving with one thought in mind; for visioning that women all over the world would understand the silence and the standing and the vision and join them, each in their village, town, city; and for visioning that sons and daughters everywhere in the world, in response to their mothers and grandmothers and sisters and aunties and cousins standing silently for peace would drop their weapons and choose peace; for making the vision of the Village of Ordinary a little more real, the Ordinary Heroes Award is offered with deepest gratitude to Sharon Mehdi. (Updated 5/10 with link to Mehdi's web page.)

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Find out who is standing for peace in your area and join us.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

New do

If you're a regular reader, you can't help but notice the new face on the blog. I've been wanting to switch to three columns for a couple of years, and finally learned how to do it. I'll be tweaking off and on when I can grab a few minutes, so you may notice other changes along the way. What do you think so far?