Lending in the new economy

My title conveys my dream, or at least my hope. I was chatting with my husband last week about a TED talk I had watched that really inspired me. Jessica Jackley, the co-founder of KIVA, was speaking about love being the motivator behind micro lending and giving. There are tons of women (a cause close to my heart) all around the world who are on the verge of starting a small business to provide for their children’s education (which comes at a cost in most countries), put food on the table and restore dignity as they stand on their own two feet. All they need is some help to get them started. For a small amount, maybe $25, you can  loan someone money to buy a stove, for example,  to cook meals to sell at the open market. KIVA also has a payback rate of 95%. It’s pretty amazing.

Jessica Jackley is also spearheading a new project called Profounder which allows individuals to create a profile so the community can invest into small scale entrepreneurship . I LOVE THIS! The description is great: “….to ensure all entrepreneurs have access to the resources they need through the engagement of robust, supportive communities”. Robust, supportive communities! I am so intrigued by the idea of social networks providing space for small businesses to launch. I have a few friends who also started a non profit, Give Anonymously, where you can….well, give anonymously to people in need. In just over a year this organization has already seen over a million dollars pass through to people in need (I hope I have my facts correct on that number-I’m pretty sure though).

This is my hope in our new economy: We would see more empowerment for people to create wealth and quality of life through the means of  individuals. I think this is a part of the dream of God; empowerment through community and the potential for wealth to bring people into the good life. By the good life I mean having the means to not only live pay check to pay check (or no pay check in a lot of countries) but to enjoy rest and refreshment alongside working hard. There’s a heaviness that comes with poverty and it’s very dehumanizing to be utterly poor. People are forced to make desperate decisions in abject poverty.  I love the fact that ordinary people have used social networks as a platform to bridge some of the gaps between the haves and have nots. And the system is very dignifying because loans are paid back by the individual through means of relationship.

I think about some of the business ideas I have had over the years and how much I would gain from the process of community lending. I wrote a post a while ago about bartering in the new economy and I still would love to see this happen more. Just yesterday a friend asked for help in upholstering her chairs in exchange for child care. YES! I can help with that and she can give back as well. Everyone wins. Another aspect that I really like about community lending is that it takes power away from these huge monopoly-banks and puts it back in the hands of regular people, your neighbors. These corporations have far too much power and control over the wealth of the poor and middle class (which is dwindling at an alarming rate). Community lending is sort of our act of civil disobedience (sort of-I mean, going through a bank is not law or anything). It just feels like a provoking act of defiance to bypass ‘the man’ and go to the village for help.

I would love to hear your thoughts on lending, giving and bartering and how they relate to where our economy is heading. There is risk involved in lending or even giving to people. “What if I don’t have enough for myself if I give?” Yep! What if? I’m one of the most frugal people I know so I have these fears all the time. Yet I think there is something great on the horizon as these social networks are creating opportunities to help and empower more people. I hope more of us get involved to create a momentum that gains strength as we give. Do consider getting on board with any of these lending or giving communities and be a part of something great! Here’s to building hope in a new economy!

Simple produce bags

Recently a friend asked what she can use instead of those plastic produce bags that we get at the grocery store. I am actually surprised I never even thought about the alternative before but her question made me realize how simple it is to make an alternative, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into.

Instead of going out and getting earth friendly fabric just cut up a shirt or some sort of light weight material that you don’t use anymore and snip away. Make a rectangle, sew by hand or machine up the sides and maybe hem the top, or don’t even bother sewing. Just cut something that looks like a handkerchief and put your veggies inside of it like you would a bunch of rocks, fold up the sides and cinch with a rubber band or string.

These are what I made today. They can be washed and reused and they weigh as much as the plastic bag. I have a ton of left over fabric that I keep using for loads of projects so this was perfect. Just wash any brand new fabric to get any chemicals out. New fabric has a TON of chemicals. You don’t have to bother going out and buying earth friendly produce bags that are way over priced. Save your tuppence for asparagus!

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Downsize Me!

Yesterday I had a strange thought while considering all of the work that still needs to be done in order to sell our house. We’re planning the big move back to Washington state in the fall and there are so many questions as to where we’ll live. I have always found it fascinating when families sell everything they own to move into something small like a yurt, a ‘tiny house’ or…..a mobile trailer. These Airstreams are amazing because they are timeless classics. They are to campers what the Kitchen Aid is to electric mixers; time tested classics! Sweet, slick and affordable if you buy a vintage. People have gutted these bad boys and revamped them into sweet looking studio apartment-like dwellings.

So I spent a good part of the day researching what it might be like to pack up the family and live on the road with three children. Before you have images of kids running around wild with unkept hair, no pants and koolaid stains around their mouths who answer to names like Bubba and Candy, remember that downsizing is a huge trend right now and a lot of families are realizing they don’t need 5000 sq ft to be happy. In fact it takes a lot of your hard earned money to heat and cool a huge home. A lot of families are also realizing they want to live closer to big or small cities and not always out in the suburbs where you have to drive miles and miles just to get to the grocery store.

I have to admit that the idea of a sweet and upgraded trailer seemed very appealing to me, to the point where I was actually considering what it would mean to move us all into a trailer full time. I was seeing myself homeschooling my kids at our little table in the day time, getting outside most of the afternoon and starting a small little potted garden outside the front step. Then the reality of a rainy Washington day, stuck inside a small trailer with three kids and no where for them to run and jump hit me. A lot of families who pack up their offspring end up parking in sunny states and maybe there is a reason why. Then I wondered what we would take and what we would leave if we did this. Where would my sewing machine go? Could we ever have anyone over for dinner? Dinner???? Could I bring all of my cooking stuff? My Kitchen Aid? Would I own more than two pairs of shoes? So in the end I decided that we would likely live in a small house someday and just invest into some good camping gear.

I’m still dreaming of downsizing. We live in a small 1100 sq ft home and in a lot of ways it’s pretty small (no closet space) but in other ways we have a lot of unused space. We could totally do with less. When we have more room we often collect more stuff. Then we purge the ‘stuff’ only to give it away and then we inevitably collect more. It happens gradually but it creeps up on your subtly and slowly, like a sebaceous cyst. Well, if you ever considered hitting the open road or just parking your home somewhere pleasant for a spell, do chronicle your journey. I’m amazed that there are entire communities who join forums, hold yearly gatherings and blog about their downsized life. I find it fascinating and enticing. Maybe when the kids are grown Matt and I will sell all of our collected mementos and hit the open road. Either that or we’ll be one of those old couples who sit in lawn chairs all day and fluctuate between watering something in a garden and taking a nap….. maybe not!

Avoiding our car whenever possible

We are a one car family but as our family grows we are discussing the inevitable….the mini van! Oh how I wish American vans were more like Euro vans! Small, gas efficient, small tires and engines, fold up seats and a small sounding horn that goes, “meep, meep”. But I digress. Even though we are likely to move onto a mini van we’ll still only be a one car family. We have been given three cars since we got married. We had a Delta 88 and we sold it to a guy named Chill. It was hilarious to hear my husband on the phone speaking in his proper English accent saying, “Oh hello. Is this Chill?” Another car we gave to some friends after we were given our third car. All of them have been old faithfuls just in case you were wondering if we were given Toyota Hybrids at each giving. People also loan us cars when they go out of town so Matt is often able to use another car for a week or two to drive to the other side of town for work. It’s worked out really well for us. Those little blessings have been super helpful for us but in all honesty we have functioned very well as a one car family.

Matt started to take the bus to work two years ago taking advantage of the alone time during the commute. It’s also been like watching a good movie seeing all sorts of people that ride the bus. I find it fascinating that riding the bus in the states is considered a poor man’s mean of transportation but in other countries it’s often the main mode of transport, either that or some sort of tram. A lot of countries have a great rail system that will take you all over the city and rich and poor take the bus or tram rather than owning a car. Here in the US if you take the bus it’s likely because you can’t afford a car, that’s the assumption anyway. I have met some unsavory characters in my years riding the bus but I’m sure there are just as many crazies who are driving to work in their car. I’m excited however that it seems public transport is making a comeback.

When I use to live south of Seattle I would cringe when I had to drive on I-5 (our main interstate). The carpool lane is often unused, gridlock is a reality that will cause severe road rage and there is ALWAYS construction going on because they are ALWAYS making the freeway bigger. People want to be left alone as they listen to their own music and drink their own latte. It’s what we’re use to. I’m always impressed when I see the occasional car full of business men, not speaking to one another, reading their papers in a single car. Way to go! Carpooling!

Last year we took our kids on their first family bus ride downtown to play at the children’s museum and they LOVED it. It was sort of a family adventure and my son thought it was the most amazing thing in the world to be in a huge bus with other people. I can’t say it’s something we do as a family all the time (my husband takes them out on the bus more) but it definitely opened up a new world of family transport for me. I look for ways in which we don’t have to use our car. I actually don’t like using my car at all. It’s a necessary evil when picking up groceries and living in a state where winter graces us in the single digits for six months out of the year. In the summer we try to bike or walk as much as possible and it helps that we live next to a bike path and many other conveniences. My husband and I trade car days depending on the week’s events. It’s challenged our thinking about taking the bus and how economical, safe and relaxing it can be. It does take a bit longer but….oh well.

It’s a lot safer than it use to be, you don’t have to worry about parking and it’s a great way to intentionally slow your life down. I’m thinking this spring allow more opportunity to explore the city and give the kids an adventure. It’s not always convenient or possible for everybody but if you have the means I highly recommend it. Plus, your kids will love it!


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Eating right from the source

Food has been a huge issue with me for decades now.  Having children will also put a new spin on food conscientiousness. The city I live in can be very proactive in the local food movement and after we bought a house five years ago I decided to start a garden. This was more for practical reasons than from the ‘eating local’ perspective. I saw having a lawn without growing food as being a huge waste of space for me personally, plus we were so very poor and paying for organic produce was just breaking us.  So I researched and worked VERY hard to make our garden happen. I now grow several varieties of veggies and even some fruit.  The more I became involved with the food we ate the more fascinating food became to me. My husband and I have read a lot of books on the food system and seen quite a few movies dedicated to exposing the wickedness of huge agribusiness. So… more thinking about food.

For years our family has eaten meat but I’ve been very lean (no pun intended) on how much meat we eat mainly because I shudder to think of where it comes from, how it was raised and then the procedure of getting it onto my table. So black beans have been our family staple for a few years now. Then last summer I decided that I wanted to go straight to the source of where our food comes from and buy directly from them. We live in a great farming state so there are a lot of local family run farms to choose from, tons of CSA programs and a farmer’s market located somewhere all over the city each day of the week. We also have one of the nation’s best and biggest weekly farmer’s market. Whoop-Whoop!

Seeing animals roam free, being cared for and, the biggest thing for me, allowed to be healthy was a huge deciding factor for me in buying meat from our local farmers. We now try to buy farm-to-table as much as possible. We even found an amazing farm that sold raw milk, cheeses, butter, beef, pork, eggs…. Since we aren’t going to invest into buying a city cow to grace in our 30 sq ft yard anytime soon we buy from a local farm. I have to say that I understand the vegetarian decision that is based on health and humane reasons. Feed lots are generally despicable, unhealthy, and completely profit driven.  For years we were almost a vegetarian family for those reasons.

After we’ve visited the farms I was pretty certain the I found a sustainable, healthy and humane option for our family. I firmly believe in supporting local farms! It’s great for the economy, for the environment and grass fed, pastured roaming animals are so much healthier.  And while I totally understand someone’s decision to still remain vegetarian, even in the light of this particular argument, my conscience is clean about how I feed my family.

We also eat as seasonally as we can but I’m still visiting the grocery store to purchase my wheat flour to make my bread and I even buy the occasional avocado in February to make guacamole. Baby steps! But we do most of our veggies out of the garden and now about 80% of our meat is from the farm. We were even getting our milk from the farm until “the man” came and busted them for selling raw. We live in The Dairy State but you can’t buy or sell raw milk. Go figure!

If you are interested in eating more locally and sustainably here are just a few places to start:

Join a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) This is a great site to find a local harvest in your area

Buy straight from the farm (A great way to get to know where your food comes from and develop relationships in the community….you may even be able to barter)

Plant a garden (Even if you only have a small bit of space try some tomatoes or just greens. Start small and get hooked on organic produce-power to the people!!!)

Shop at a co-op and buy local and seasonal (This is my least favorite option because they tend to be pricey and a bit elitist. Hey, I’m being honest. But if you can’t do any of the above this place can help you out)

Pick your own (berries and other produce) in the summer and then freeze what you get to enjoy all winter.

Finally, if you can’t do any of the above mentioned, find your nearest wild bull, wrestle it to the ground with your bare hands, kill it and eat its heart raw! Repeat as necessary! (sorry, no link for that one)

Here’s to the whole of life! Food, health, community, family, faith and love!

Berry picking with the kids

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Bartering in the new economy

In this new global economy (mainly the collapse of it- and I believe for many around the world this collapse isn’t ‘new’ to them) something profound is taking shape that gives people like me the opportunity to continue to participate in acquiring wealth and obtaining the services I need in exchange for what I can offer. Remember Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? “THIS is Barter-town!”

The fear of ‘not having’ doesn’t need to be oppressive and immobilizing. It can cause a loss of momentum but it can also lead to more creative innovations around the world and in our communities. There are many who are starting organizations that give to others (check out Give Anonymously) through contributions people have made. Kiva is another organization that I am profoundly impressed with. Along with a sense of despair there is simultaneously a growing sense of hope and taking dominion over our new reality.

For a few years now I’ve pondered the issue of bartering as a system for finding resources or supplies that I need (our family has been ‘un-wealthy’ for quite some time-haha).  For example when I need a babysitter for a few hours I often don’t have the $20 or so to give to a high school student (or even a university student) but I feel that they have done me a huge service and their time is worth something. So I usually offer to bake them a few loaves of fresh, artisan bread and give some homemade jam. This can retail around the $15-$20 mark. It’s something I’m good at and something that most people would love to receive. My husband offers help with people’s computer issues and he usually does it for free but I know he could trade someone for his services.

Bartering is catching on as more people feel the pinch on their wallets and I’m convinced that it’s a sustainable way to circulate wealth, create a sense of community and strengthen relationships. Hand shakes are coming back as a form of contract (taking someone at their word) and people in neighborhoods are beginning to share common goods like lawn mowers or snow blowers to cut down on buying more than everyone needs.

I recently had a conversation with a friend in India over Facebook because she wrote how frustrating it was that money was needed to get a lot of things done. She was referring to buying property and while there are still things that only money can buy I threw out the challenge to her to look at wealth as ‘resources’ and not paper money.  Money use to be cows, chickens and land, not paper and coins! Mainly one needs to barter services in exchange for other services and you need to start small. We should also ‘pay’ someone the proper amount for what they have given to us. Two hours of their services=two hours of your services. My friend in India has really impressed and inspired me in that it was only a few days ago that I mentioned it and already she is trying out her bartering feet, so to speak. She is going to try trading a girl her admin services in exchange for mentoring the young girl. I love it! It’s something both of them want and need. Win/win!

For those experiencing more of a financial crunch and even those working for a ‘non paying’ organization (my family worked in a non-profit, Christian organization for years and always felt we needed more money) bartering has HUGE benefits! I’m learning about the art of bartering myself but I think there are a few tips:

1. Start small and just…. start! Try something. If you need towels throw out an update on Facebook (or church) saying, “Need kitchen towels and will trade something for them. What do you need?” Also, look around for things you have that are nice but you could easily give away. Make someone an offer.

2. Enjoy the process (don’t get too discouraged if your efforts aren’t met). At some point they will be. There is a real opportunity for this to create more community and relationship so keep it in perspective, it’s not just you who’s getting something you want.

3. Be fair with what you offer. Bartering can be borrowing as well. Borrow someone’s boat for the weekend in exchange for cleaning their house (unless it’s a total dump, then run…. don’t walk…. run far, far away from them and never borrow their boat!)

4. Think about what you can do even if you’re one of those Eeyore types that thinks you ‘can’t do anything’. Can you type fast? Cut hair? Sew? Bake? Fix cars? Work on computers? Clean? Garden? Write? Organize? Do you brew your own? Roast your own? Love to watch children? I know a friend who is trading a portion of her rent in exchange for watching a family’s baby during the day.

5. Barter ‘things’ as well as ‘services’. “I’ll trade someone a working hair straightener for my old 80’s hair crimper”

6. Be fearlessly generous!

Do you have any tips on bartering? Leave a comment.

Enjoy life in the new economy.

Why I line dry….even in the winter

Not only am I a bit anal about water usage (after going to many nations where water is a precious resource and some people only have about a toilet flush worth of water a day to do everything-cook, wash, bathe…) but I am also very aware of energy usage in general. When my garden begins to grow I actually keep a bucket outside of my back door and fill it daily with gray water and water my veggies with it. I almost never used the hose on any of my 9 squash plants this past summer. I watered the rest of the veggies though.

I line dry all summer and absolutely love it. It doesn’t give that Spring fresh smell that commercials make you believe it would. Outdoor drying actually leaves clothes a bit crunchy and smelling like nothing at all. It does take a bit of time to do it but I’m convinced it’s worth it. Our energy bill is much less than it could be but I also like the idea of standing out in the sun and wind, getting fresh air and not having to rely on so many appliances to help my life.

All that to say a few years ago I decide to ‘line dry’ through the winter as well. I was always sad when the cold weather came and ruined my outdoor clothing adventure. So I bought two fold up, according style wood rack-dyers and set them up in my basement. I rarely use my dryer anymore. I think the challenge for me came when we were in my husband’s hometown in Switzerland and our well to do relatives were ‘line drying’ indoors and said that most Swiss people own a dryer but rarely use it. Growing up as an American I was under the impression that only poor people hung clothes up to dry. That’s what we had to do growing up whenever our dryer broke. Who does it out of choice?

I have to say that I absolutely love hanging clothes and the main reason is that it makes me feel powerful and self sufficent, not being reliant on machines to do everything for me. Now, we likely won’t be building an indoor fire to cook all of our food in a big, black cauldron over an open hearth but these small steps really bring a lot of life into our home.

Someone once said that most Americans are getting less and less active as they rely more and more on machines (mainly cars) and you could greatly improve your quality of life by just making life a little harder. Interesting paradox but I get the sentiment behind the statement. Just work a little harden doing things that are now easy for us and you usually appreciate things more, you get a bit more exercise and maybe even breathe easier as you get outdoors more. This is also why we try to cycle 6 months out of the year with the kids in tow to get the sun on our skin and the exhaust fumes out of the air.

Happy Drying!