Monday, April 25, 2016

What in the world is plarn?

Don’t worry, you’re not the first person to have no idea what “plarn” is! But truth be told, it is a rapidly growing trend-slash-hobby that uses repurposed plastic bags to create beautiful and functional items. Now, I dont mean useless fluffy stuff that just takes up space on a shelf, but truly useful items that are pleasing to the eye as well. A short list would include:

  • Tote bags, carry-alls, and purses
  • Floor mats and rugs
  • Baskets of all sizes and shapes
  • Hats! Great for keeping rain and sun off of one’s head!
  • Sleeping mats for camping or other outdoor use
  • Seat covers to dress up patio furniture

Of course, every ceative individual could come up with their own ideas, these are just a few! But how in the world does it work, and why would anyone go to the trouble?
Consider this fact: In the United States alone, there are aproximately 100 billion plastic shopping bags used every year. You read that right, every year. While recycling them seems like a good idea, the sad reality is that most of those bags end up in our landfills with all the other garbage. What’s the big deal about that, you ask? 
First, it takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce that many plastic bags, another ridiculously scary number, but it’s true. And as if that is not bad enough, it will take at least 1,000 years for those plastic bags to degrade. That’s a really long time, and every year the bags just continue to pile up. Sounds pretty icky, right?
And if that isn't startling enough, consider the impact those plastic bags have on the critters who inhabit the planet. Our oceans and waterways also accumulate plastic bags which can be literally lethal to wildlife.       What can be done?
Well, one obvious answer is to stop producing such a huge amount of non-biodegradable material in the first place. That’s a given. Beyond that, we must consider the material that has already been produced and is right here…waiting. What do we do with it?
This is where “plarn” arrives on the scene! Rather than pile it all up in landfills, these plastic shopping bags can easily be turned into a material quite similar to yarn made from cotton, nylon, wool, or any other textile, except that it is plastic. Obviously, there are limits on what sort of items one would want to make from plastic, but as we can see from the short list above there are many items that work perfectly well. And while even those items will eventually themselves break down and need to be discarded, the point is to try to use that material in some positive way while it is still here.

Consider these handsome   baskets, made entirely from plarn!

The process of producing plarn varies because there are several varieties of finished product ranging from very thick strands made from entire bags, down to very fine threads made of narrow strips of plastic bags spun on a spindle that can be used for very detailed projects. For example, a mat used for sleeping on while camping would be made from intact bags so that the finished product is thick and cushioned, while a small purse might be made from much finer material so that a finer, detailed product is the result.

Curious as to how this all works? Stay tuned, because we are developing a step-by-step tutorial that will be ready soon! Meanwhile, start saving those plastic bags and get ready to create something beautifully useful with them!
Thanks for reading... Lorrie

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Who knew tying a bow would be difficult?

Well, here we are two days after Christmas Day, still alive and kicking through all the holiday hubbub. The fact that I have not posted here for two full weeks is some indication of how far behind I feel in many ways! My plan was to post once or twice a week, which was perhaps a bit too ambitious for my current energy level during a holiday season, but better late than never, right? Ok. So, here is what has been going on here during weeks five and six post-stroke.

First, let me say that the organization has been an amazing lifeline to me. Through talking with others who have experienced strokes of various kinds and with every level of outcome, I have been greatly encouraged. Some days are just harder than others and being able to chat with folks who have similar experiences makes me feel like less of a weirdo and reaffirms that I am getting better all the time.

One of my amazing discoveries these last two weeks has been how many things I have always done on "auto-pilot", but now must re-learn from scratch. For example, I decided that wearing my running shoes would probably provide more support to my left foot and help me  to avoid  turning that ankle. Stability, or rather the lack thereof, in my left foot and ankle is an issue because I can't feel anything there yet. That numbness would make it very easy for me to injure myself without realizing it. Well, what I had not considered until I was right there putting on my shoes was that I couldn't remember how to tie a bow! I could tie a knot just fine, but the bow completely eluded me. Fortunately a dear friend was here t the time and walked me through it several times unail I do it myself...until the next time I tried, and had already forgotten again. Enter: Youtube! A quick search brought me to a video of a Mom teaching children to tie their shoes. Yay! So back to kindergarten I went and tied my shoes about twenty times u til I was sure I had it this time. No dice. Round three found me on the edge of the bed with my for propped on the seat of my walker and that Youtube video playing right next to me. Voila! You would have thought I had won the lottery by the way I whooped and hollered! My Mom reminded me to celebrate every victory, no matter how small...though I considered being able to put on my own shoes to be kind of a big deal. (Thanks, Mom!)

Another victory came in the form of a large spring-clip barrette for my hair. This might seem miniscule, but if you have ever tried to put long hair in a ponytail with one hand refusing to cooperate with twisting a run berband, you now what I'm talking about! I briefly considered just having it cut short, but that seemed a bit drastic. Ever fear, barrettes are here! I can get all my hair pulled into it and clip it with my right hand! No more hair hanging in my face anymore. Another small/huge victory! Fingernail clippers are a whole different story that I won't even go into for fear of stressing myself out just thinking about it and causing myself another stroke.

Just before Christmas I actually finished the crocheted bedspread I had been working
on for over a year. This is actually a miracle of sorts not only because I go at the pace of a snail on queludes, but because I realized suddenly that I couldn't remember what the stitch symbols meant even if my life depended on it! Ugh. So I read the worded pattern over and over while I looked at the portion I had already done until I figured out how to proceed. What usually would have taken me one day to finish instead took me two weeks...but it's done!

Most people tell me they can't tell by my speech that anything happened to me, and I am so grateful for that. I notice the difference because I have to think so much when I'm speaking, to make sure what I'm saying makes sense. Now and then a completely incorrect word jumps out of my mouth before I can catch it, such as saying "Have a great evening" when I MEANT to say, "Have a good morning", etc. Or just losing a word or phrase THAT gets frustrating. I changed my passwords on every computer-related account I have and kept a list of them because I couldn't remember any of the old ones. I even scrambled my own email address, though I have used that same address for over six years! I have become the Queen Of Cheat Sheets, and my kingdom is ruled by reminders to  heck my reminders bout the reminders that tell me what I am supposed to be doing at any given time.

One reminder recently kept me on track to wrap Christmas gifts! Forget the fancy
shmancy bows and such, I was doing well to get some paper onto them and a name tag so each goes to the correct recipient. Scott was immensely helpful, making sure all the paper, tape, scissors, etc were in easy reach and reminding me to stop when I started to appear tired. Honestly, I don't know what I would do without him. Not just for physically helping me with things I really can't do yet, but reassuring me when I feel frustrated. It is hard some times to separate the facts of reality from my emotions. I know that I am not a stupid person, but when I have trouble tying my shoes, re-capping  the toothpaste, or pouring water into a glass it is easy to feel like the first prize winner of the Dunce Award.

Meanwhile, I have finished one adult coloring page and Scott gave me a new set of coloring postcards in garden themes! Not just for the kiddos anymore, I have discovered the amazing hobby of coloring in books designed for adults. Some are far too detailed and definitely beyond my coordination just yet, but it is very good for relieving stress and helping me to see a project through to completion. The post cards also fit perfectly with my desire to send frequent handwritten notes to loved ones!

Now if anyone is interested in the techie stuff, I am seeing improvement in my left arm and hand. Coordination has improved and it only curls up tight when I get really tired. I have a great deal more strength than I did six weeks ago, though I still avoid holding anything in my left hand that would be a problem if dropped. My leg is coming along a bit slower but there is improvement there, too. I have an ankle brace that holds my foot close to a 90 degree angle so my toes don't drag when I walk. This makes it much less tiring to get around and saves my ankle and knee from possible injury. My energy level is still below the basement. I am told this is normal, as it takes six months just for the brain to heal and inflammation to subside. Hence, naps have been commonplace and I often sleep twelve hours a day or more. Headaches are also a constant norm, but if I pay attention and rest when I need to they don't always become severe. My vision is still a major adjustment. Lack of depth perception is always disconcerting and results in my bumping into things quite easily as I learn to judge distances. I can read for short periods of time without triggering a new headache, so I save up "eyeball energy" when I want to read before bed.

If I seem to have moved to Hermitville USA, you are at least partly correct. Loud noises, lots of movement, crowds, fluorescent lights, multiple people talking at once, are all a recipe for an anxiety meltdown for me. The healthy human brain can only process a certain amount of input at any one injured human brain can process far less, so sensory overload sets in quite quickly. No one should feel slighted or as if I am uninterested if I decline an invitation of any sort, as I am just trying to engage in activities that work for me and avoid those that don't. Hanging out with a friend for a while might be just fine for me, while visiting with a group where there is also music in the background and lots of moving around might send me right into a tailspin. One thing I have learned is that things that are overwhelming today might be okay next week, so I take it slow and give my brain time and space to heal.

That's about it in a nutshell! If we happen to meet, my shoes might be untied, I still can't get my earrings back in, and I may have forgotten exactly why we were meeting in the first place! But in the words of my brother Sonny, I am a Perencevic...and "Perencevics don't break, we bounce!". Some days feel like treading water and barely keeping my chin above the waves, while other days are more positive. Seems like the ebb and flow of the tides, controlled by a very fickle moon.

I appreciate your comments and emails, so please feel free to say hello before you go! And always remember:

                  "The sky is NOT the limit...there are footprints                                                on the moon."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Really, I'm not trying to be the Grinch!

Well, here we are again. I have been very blessed to have joined a support group through, and am learning a ton from other's experiences and wisdom. Like most things, learning from someone who has actually experienced something is far more helpful in some ways than random theoretical knowledge.

A few people close to me have asked about not only "how I'm feeling", but also about particular things that are helpful or botnersome, if there are things I want to do but need help with, and even why the heck I sometimes suddenly just "hit the wall" and fall asleep. Hopefully this entry will answer some of those questions.

Now, anyone who knows me personally understands that I am usually the Queen of Multitasking. If I am watching a movie, I am also crocheting or catching up on emails. I very often have music playing while I am cleaning or cooking, and having laundry running through while baking bread is very common. Or it WAS common, anyway! One definite change my stroke has brought to me is that of singular thinking...multitasking is OUT.

Let's say for example, I am crocheting. I have crocheted most of my life and have written scores of original patterns. I can usually  figure out a stitch pattern just by looking closely at a finished piece. Nowadays, I have a two-pronged battle: my weak and uncoordinated left hand, and my thought process. While my hand will cooperate if I work slowly and take frequent breaks, my brain struggles with remembering patterns, counting stitches, and generally keeping the entire piece pattern in mind. Add to that any extra noise or distraction and I lose count and have
to pull a section out and do it again. Finding a mistake in the middle and figuring out a way around it is just not going to happen! So, while crocheting is a treasured activity to me and is now excellent therapy for my left hand as well as my eye/hand coordination, it can also be a source of great frustration as I learn patience to do something I used to do easily without thought.

About that "eye/hand coordination"...
I have a thermal coffee mug with a screw-on lid, perfect for avoiding spills as I carry my cup in the basket of my walker. Here's the catch: I have to stop and think about which way to turn the lid to screw it on. Duh, right? "Righty tighty, lefty loosey"! Yeah, well sometimes left and right directions, especially in a circular motion get lost somewhere and it takes a minute to get that lid on. In the meantime, avoiding spills of a hot liquid is obviously important, especially since my left hand is entirely numb so I would not know immediately if I had burned myself.

But forget about the coffee mug. What about other things that engage eye/hand coordination that we rarely give a second thought? Here is a short list of things that used to be a no-brainer but that now require real effort:

Plugging in a cell phone charger...
Filling a teapot without spilling water all over...
Pouring sugar onto a spoon to put into a cup of coffee...
Capping and uncapping anything with a screw-on lid (remember the coffee mug?)...
Reaching for things that are on the floor without losing balance and falling over...
Typing (Yes, this one is a killer for me)...
Tying a shoelace, or basically tying anything into a bow...
Using a handheld pencil sharpener...
Cutting anything with a sharp knife (same caution as with hot water)...
Peeling an orange (who knew this required thought??)...
Buckling a bra (not happening at all)...
Navigating a stairway...
Reading regular sized type...

There are undoubtedly more things that could go on this list, but you get the idea.

Those are some of the ordinary day-to-day challenges, so let's move on to another inevitable event: shopping! (Shudder) Doesn't everyone want to get out of the house when they have been cooped up for a while? Of course! Especially this time of year, it can be a lot of fun being out and about, seeing the sights, and  running errands. At least it always was before. Nowadays there are a few challenges I had not foreseen but am learning to compensate for.

First off, the concept of "sensory overload". We are literally bombarded with sights, sounds, smells, different surfaces for walking on, temperature fluctuations, and various versions of hubbub. Usually these are taken in stride, processed as our brain perceives them and either given attention if necessary or ignored as we pass by. But what happens when the brain cannot easily filter all that stimuli can be a pretty intense experience, and not in a fun way!

Consider the average grocery market. Even during a non-holiday season, they are busy places...during the holidays they become a constant assault on the senses. Ordinarily, I would perceive all this commotion as just a "really busy store" but now it can lead to headaches, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and an all-out desire to bolt for the door if I could only walk or run without assistance. For now, I limit my excursions to such places because the exhaustion that follows is too high a price to pay for a frivolous trip out. When I DO go out, sunglasses and earplugs are my friends! Dimming the lights and reducing the noise helps a lot, and I try to avoid getting stuck in crowds. Too much bustling and general movement around me is overwhelming, so staying to the periphery is also helpful.

Speaking of periphery, let's discuss vision for a minute. I experienced an ischemic stroke in the right side of my brain, so the left side of my body is affected. My vision is affected toward the left side of my visual field. This means that I lost the left-most portion of my vision...the far outside in my left eye, and the far inside in my right eye. Neither of these are horrific losses except that I already had a peripheral vision loss in my right eye unrelated to the stroke, so the vision in that eye is now reduced to one very small area in the center. Imagine looking down a long, dark corridor to a small open doorway in the middle.

While adjusting to the vision reducton is a little challenging, almost more troublesome is the utter lack of depth perception. Our understanding of our presence in a given space is based on the relation of other objects around us inside that space. So, sitting in a room that also contains a sofa, a chair, a television, a bookcase, and a coffee table, we perceive the entire room and our place in it based on the relation of all of those objects. Even the size of the room is hinted at by the size of the objects in it and how close they are to each other. Now imagine that your perception of those sizes and distances is warped. You cannot determine if the couch is near or far away, therefore it's size means nothing (Usually the further away an object is, the smaller it appears). The coffee mug on the table might be only a few feet or actually several feet away, and misjudging that distance could result in knocking the mug over and burning oneself with hot liquid. Now add a few more people to the room. People usually move eventually, so you could have three moving people in a room full of objects. And they might be talking, adding the distraction of sound to the equation. Got that? Ok, take it one step further and imagine that room being an entire commercial store full of vastly more items, sounds, lights, and moving objects...and you can't tell how near or far any of them are in relation to you, or exactly where the sounds you hear are coming from.

Still with me? I will add just one more thing, and that is the complete inability to
leave the scene alone. So now you are overwhelmed, need to find a quiet space without bright lights, and unfortunately you might not be physically able to leave on your own without assistance. That feeling of being somewhat helpless in an overwhelming g situation, unless you truly enjoy a lifestyle of being molly-coddled (definitely NOT me!), can be an exhausting trial. Bear in mind, that helpless feeling pervades many ordinary daily activities which definitely leads to times of emotional slumps, discouragement, and sadness for me. Everyone else I have asked about this have shared similar emotional difficulties at various points in their recovery. One new friend shared with me that she had a particularly hard day recently and a family member rather flippantly suggested she go soak in a hot bath and "chill out". She said she almost cried as she thought about the effort it would take to even get into the bath, as well as the fact that she would still need help getting out of the tub at the end. She was already exhausted and adding more fatigue seemed simply intolerable. Sometimes even the soothing comforts we remember enjoying in the recent past can be more work than solace.

Speaking of exhaustion, I will wrap up with the subject of fatigue. We have all experienced the awesome feeling of tiredness resulting from hard work, perhaps studying for long hours as a student, or the deep fatigue following childbirth or a serious illness.  Stroke, like any brain injury, carries what for me has been a feeling of fatigue unlike any I have ever known. As the brain itself has been injured, it makes sense that fatigue will occur as cells are rejuvenated, inflammation subsides, and nerves begin to connect and function again. As we talked about the sensory stimulation constantly occurring, there is also fatigue associated with that overstimulation. Add to that the extra physical effort required for tasks such as walking, sitting/standing, and generally moving about during the course of a day, and you have a recipe for one extremely draining daily experience. Throw in daily physical therapy exercises and the mental fatigue of figuring out new ways to do all the thingsthat need to be done, and the proverbial "wall" looms large just waiting to be slammed into. The fact that it makes sense that this fatigue is normal does not make it any less troublesome to deal with every day.

Why am I sharing all of this? Quite simply, things we don't understand tend to be either frightening, irritating, or some combination of the two. If you are a stroke survivor, you could add many of your own thoughts to mine here and you understand the challenges I describe. If you have a loved one recovering from a stroke, you have probably been irritated as a chicken with fleas by things that "shouldn't be a big deal" or even by the moodiness that so easily befalls your loved one as they navigate these waters. It is extremely difficult on both sides.

Imagine receiving a great big
model ship kit as a gift. What fun it will be to put it together! Until someone dumps all the tiny pieces out into a big pile on the floor, hands you the glue, then walks away...taking with them the picture of what the ship is supposed to look like as well as the directions for assembling it! You shake your head and stare at the pile in utter confusion. This is what recovering from a stroke can feel like at times. If your loved one is a stroke survivor, remember that YOU still have access to that finished picture and the directions for assembling that ship...your loved one does not. They are not trying to be difficult or unkind, they may very well be overwhelmed with the immensity of the task before them. None of us can tell anyone else "how to do this stroke recovery thing" from EITHER side. But a little understanding goes a long way...I am not trying to be the Grinch, really!

As I mentioned above, I am so blessed to have great support from family, friends, and a wonderful stroke support organization. I am grateful to all of you who are following this journey with me, and I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions, either here on this entry or send me a private email.

Onward and upward,

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Friday, December 4, 2015

Lorrie's stroke recovery journal

As the title of this page suggests, I experienced a stroke on November 8, 2015. Recovering use of my now-numb and extremely weak left arm and leg will likely be a long process, but I am already on my way with daily physical therapy exercises, guided imagery meditation sessions, and a whole new perspective on giving myself permission to not push myself beyond my current limits. My speech and swallowing are only mildly affected, for which I am grateful.

I have been blessed in countless ways by the loving attention of family and friends from the very beginning! From the gal pal who brought me from the hospital to stay at her home for five days until I could handle being alone at my own house part of the time, to my Mom who came bearing an amazing walker and the much-needed power of a mother's presence...from the daily and constant support of my Beloved Scott who lets me vent my bouts of frustration, to the dear friend who brought me coloring materials and sat nearby while I napped so I wouldn't be alone my first day back at home...the list could go on and on.

This journal will be a work in progress. I want to remember not only the clinical details and medical issues, but also the ups and downs and learning curves that have already begun to teach me so much. I want to be thankful, but also I suspect that not every entry here will be enjoyable to read. I want to wring out the irritation and pain of this whole situation, the worry and uncertainty, and extract whatever wisdom may come of it all. I actually have very little idea how to go about that, so I hope you will bear with me as I figure it out along the way.

I do know this for certain: Humans are wrapped around ego. The dictionary defines "ego" as: "the 'I' or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and 
distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought. The part 
of the psychic  apparatus that experiences and reactsto the outside world and thus 
mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and 
physical environment."

Everything about ourselves, all the qualities that make up our personalities and preferences, the intrinsic details that fashion our being and make each of us different from everyone else, we cling to that identity, protect it, keep it safe. In the early evening of November 7, my ego took a hit. As I sit here writing this, my leg seems detached from me and will not hold me up. My hand can type slowly until it spasms and I must stop. I am exhausted all the time, but have difficulty sleeping at night. I can't quite get my left arm and hand to cooperate enough to put my hair into a ponytail...yet. But even so, I know there are other people in the world who fight daily battles far more severe than mine and knowing that gives me perspective. My battles are real, no doubt about it, but every day the world keeps on turning and life presses onward regardless of me.

Maybe these are lessons more humans need to learn: the balance between our seeming insignificance in a world inhabited by billions of people, and the inestimable value of just one single human being. It is a fine line that divides self-centeredness and self-awareness, between wallowing in self-pity when difficulties come and allowing oneself time and space to rest and heal. They are definitely lessons I am learning.

I hope you will follow my journey of recovery as I discover the many facets of stroking my ego. (A play on words, I couldn't resist. Well, I could have. I just didn't! Sometimes all you can do is laugh.)

Thanks for reading,

"The sky is NOT the limit...there are footprints on the moon."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

This is what "community" looks the Community GATE!

The Community GATE
              Neighbors helping neighbors...
                    A Give And Take Experience...
                     What do all of these things have in common?

In times past, pioneers understood very well what it meant to know your neighbors and take care of one another. On a wintry midwest plain, "community" could mean the difference between survival and defeat. But the world is changing. It is not quite such a safe place anymore. We seem to have forgotten in many ways just what it means to truly live in a supportive relationship with those in our community. 
But this is the 21st days are over, right? Everyone works for themselves, pays their own bills, buys their own stuff...right? People don't have to lean on neighbors, trust in their community when tough times come, connect with others just to include people in the area social circle...right? These are modern times...surely we have reached a point of personal independence wherein we don't need to rely on our fellow man nor feel obligated to lend a hand to someone else. Surely we can just move in solitude through life and allow others to do the same..."ships passing in the night", so to speak.

Surely we can do that...
Or not.
Consider the difference...

Consider a community of individuals whom no one really knows, recognized by address but not by name, known by the car they drive down the street at various intervals...lots of people in a geographic area, but not connected in any personal way.

Now consider a community of individuals who know their neighbors on the same block, whose faces and names are known and who are called friends, whose children are looked out for by observant neighbors who care about their safety. Consider that neighborhood when a winter storm knocks out the power and people rally to make sure everyone on the block is warm and has a meal ready. 

Consider the difference.

The Community GATE is not just a free recycling site. This is not an organization promoting thrift stores and yard sales (though neither are "bad" in any way, and we do encourage thriftiness in every form!). This is an entirely different experience in social interaction wherein people willingly pay heed to the needs and requests of fellow members and meet those needs out of their own abundance.

Oh yeah, abundance. About that. In our society, "abundance" can mean many things but for my purpose here I will focus on the definition that states "having enough of a necessary item to meet a need or desire". In other words, if I have even just one egg in my refrigerator and my neighbor needs just one egg, then I have an abundance of eggs...I can bless my neighbor with the egg they need, and I too am blessed by the energy of generosity. When we realize that "abundance" does not consist in having a ton of excessive possessions or finances but simply means that we have what is needed for ourselves and/or for someone else, we rise above the separation of the haves and the have-nots. It is no longer a situation of someone who has a lot giving to someone who does not have is a matter of one person sharing what they have, whether in tangible items, personal assistance, time and friendship, or help finding services in an unfamiliar area...and allowing someone else the opportunity to do the same. 

There is also the issue of something that is unneeded by one person being a treasure to someone else. Such items are not necessarily garbage...and they just might be a perfectly timed blessing to someone who can use them! Recently, this became evident during our first free giveaway event here in Burien, WA....

One member who helped to host the event mentioned a television cabinet she wanted to get rid of. Another member seemed interested, and as it turns out the exchange was confirmed! So one member cleared some needed space in her home, and another member has a piece of furniture she really enjoys.

THAT is community.

At the same time, a close relative of a member was undergoing a very serious illness and treatment requiring numerous hospital visits. Neither the member nor their relative own a vehicle, so another Community GATE member offered to drive them to each appointment clear across town.

THAT is community.

You see, it is not all about the stuff. Yes, we give things away. A LOT of things, actually! Yes, we can ask for stuff that we want or need, and we do receive many of those things! But the amazing thing is not the sheer amount of stuff that we keep out of landfills, or the nifty trinkets we bring home. The truly amazing thing is seeing people who might have lived in the same area for years but never met, connecting....seeing people literally digging through closets and attics for items they are able to gift to someone else, simply for the thrill of meeting a need...seeing people stepping into their neighborhoods on a mission of giving. The funny thing is, receiving is a natural outcome when so many seek to simply give! It happens as surely as a bean plant producing green beans!

As I finish writing up this little blurb about this community I love, I cannot help but think of the things the Community GATE has done specifically for ME. I founded the Community GATE just a short time ago with the help of a few friends and loved ones who shared a vision: we wanted a community where people could offer and receive tangible items, but also share personal advice, local referrals, support one another's business and artistic endeavors, and truly share in each other's lives. We value acceptance, perseverance, frugal abundance, generous giving, positive outlooks, and honest interaction. Here, we find all of those things and more as we meet new people and open ourselves to build relationships that last.

In recent years, "gifting economies", "sharing economies", and "community integration" have all become buzzwords charged with various emotions. The Community GATE is none of those, yet ALL of those! We do not limit ourselves to one method of blessing those around us and we receive countless blessings in various forms in return. In so doing, we open a door for people of every variety to engage, to build, to develop stronger neighborhoods and communities by developing stronger relationships within them.

We hope you will stop by and say hello...
the GATE is always open! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Be like a cracked pot

This article is shared with permission, written by Judith Liberman

Ten years ago, when I moved to Turkey after spending most of my life in France and the US, I was moved to see how alive gift culture was in this country. For me to explain what I saw then, I like to use the following story:

"There once was a water bearer who every day to earn a living carried water from the distant river into the town where he lived. To do so, he owned two ceramic pots, which he hung at both ends of a pole he balanced over his shoulders . While one of the pots was bright red, smooth and perfectly waterproof, the other was old, discolored and a bit cracked, in fact it dripped water on the way. Each day the pot became a little more porous, and dripped a little more, till came a time it was only able to retain half of its content by the time they'd reach the town. This caused the pot great shame, and so finally, unable to contain its embarrassment, the pot addressed the water bearer: "Master, please break me! throw me! dispose of me! I can't stand this misery any longer, I'm unable to hold water, and every day my imperfections cause you to work twice as hard, you can replace me and get a more efficient pot, this way you'll earn more working less...please put of out of this misery".

"Oh replied the water bearer, is that what you think of yourself? Then please, let me show you something on the way back from the river tomorrow."

And the next day, after filling both pots, and hanging one on the right and the cracked one on the left side of his pole as he always did, the water bearer pointed to the right side of the path and asked: "tell me, what you see", the pot replied "I see dirt, I see stones, and dust" hearing this the water bearer pointed to the left side of the road and asked: "what do you see on that side?" "Oh there I see grass, weeds and wild flowers" "Yes, replied the water bearer, this is the beauty you have created by dripping a bit of your water by the side of the path everyday, you quenched the thirst of the soil, you gave birth to the sleeping seeds, and nourished the blooms, and every week, from this side of the path, I pick a few flowers, bring them to my wife to let her know this beauty reminds me of the beauty she brings to my life...and that's why there is so much laughter in my house. Yes cracked pot, you may not be efficient, but by randomly sharing your water with the soil you feed this land we all live on".

Of course, when I moved to Turkey there were not water bearers, but to my European eyes, there were many "cracked pots", people were dripping time and money all the time, not trying to retain it, freely dripping away and feeding their environment and society. When one would get on the bus without a bus card there was always someone willing to punch their own cards refusing to take money in exchange for the service, time was spent for emergencies and illnesses, but also to celebrate, chat, know each other, weave connections, be there for each other, together. Street corners had plastic chairs where neighbors would come eat sunflower seeds and drink tea, and when someone needed blood donations for an operation I would witness within neighborhoods the workings of a well oiled support system which could organically orchestrate what hierarchal systems can only dream to achieve efficiently.

Coming from a culture that measured and split the hours, minutes and seconds always trying to squeeze in as much as possible, seeing if an extra yoga class could not be squeezed after work and before a meeting, the utter generosity with which people offered their time and resources was a pleasant if at times challenging cultural shock.

This culture of "cracked pots" where accounting was loose enough to allow random acts of generosity and scheduling was made to be dropped as soon as a need was expressed, was a school of behavior, which at times made me stretch my limits by presenting me with a mirror where I saw how conservative I'd been trained to be with the time and money I leaked out to society. I understood that the gift required flexibility, being willing to devote time to the activity of neighboring, which ran contrary to any time efficiency and reliability of commitment that I was used to.

Connections were key, but any connection worked, no matter how distant, one just needed to know about the connection, a man who owned a shop in the building where worked the son of another man who served tea at the university where my friend's mother taught once helped me, because we were "connected", I then understood that while in the west the idea that we are all connected by 6 degree of separation is just a quaint little concept, in the east, it was the principle on which the society functioned and exchanged gifts. Not a this-for-that exchange, but a constant offering knowing that each gift made the wide network stronger and more abundant.

Some roles were key, the tea man (├žayc─▒) or the green grocer (bakal), for example, were catalysts of connections and neighboring, they'd know of everyone's needs, roles and gifts and could always put us in touch with just the neighbor we needed from the wider community, which in a crowded city meant knowing and orchestrating an insane amount of information and details about the life of everyone. When my cat needed an operation and after visiting a few clinics to realize that I could not afford what they asked for, it was my green grocer who got me in touch with a elderly man who lived a few streets away and worked part time as a janitor in a veterinarian clinic, and seeing how we were neighbors, his boss agreed to conduct the operation for the amount I could offer.

If I wrote all this in the past tense, it's because over the last decade I've seen the cracked pots whetherproof themselves. Reacting to modern calls for productivity, pushed by the capitalist economic boom and the busy-ness opportunities it offers, the cracked pots are being sealed in Turkey. Slowly and in subtle ways. Time and money, stopped dripping as freely as they used to, creating a parched land, not watered the way it used to be, wild flowers of hope have dried. The change was so slow that we did not notice it. Maybe one of the first thing I noticed was that people started accepting the money offered when they punched their bus cards for a stranger, and then it became more difficult to even find someone willing to punch their cards for you, creating a long embarrassed silence when someone asks.

Overall the changes created by the increased productivity on the traditional gift system were so subtle that if I listed the many small shifts that I noticed, they would all seem petty, isolated incidents.
But it added up to a change that could be felt by all, at least in the air of the big cities.
The more time was measured, split, managed and organized, they more it disappeared, the entire city of Istanbul started looking between the cushions of the couch to find some loose time that might have slipped there by accident. The more carefully it was allotted the more scarce time became. People could no longer find a minute to help their neighbors fix their sink, or to talk to the bakal or even to go to the bakal, they went to time efficient supermarkets where no one wasted their time telling them about some stranger's cat.

And then...Gezi happened!

We all went to parks, walked in the streets, drank tea breathed in some tear gas and debated together, everything else was put on hold.
When people ask me what Gezi was, I say that to me it was the neighbors of a big city who all gathered in a park, and broke their pots and poured the water contents on the trees.
For a few weeks, time came back to the city! 

All the scheduled events were put on hold to create time, space and financial resources to feed, protect even recreate neighborhoods in the city.

Yoga classes were taken to the parks, meetings were made to discuss what was happening in the moment not what had been set on the agenda. The world kept turning, we found that when our neighborhood were being watered (here read showered!) with extra time, resources and love, we all had enough, in fact we had so much that we could jump off the hamster wheel and sit in a chair on the corner of the street with our neighbors. 

We had enough to give, we emptied our closets of unused objects and shared them in parks, when we shopped for food we bought twice as much so as to feed the neighborhood and in the end of the month we found we'd received so much that we had spent less.

Beyond what it did to the allocation of time and resources, it created a shift in the air, once again we were walking in a sacred garden, and in each person we met on the street we saw a sacred gardener. Getting in and out of the subway people were more considerate, bumping into each other on the street would lead to smiles and heartfelt apologies, smiles spread from one face to another, we recognized each other in the faceless crowds we saw millions of neighbors, cracked pots watering the sacred community and making it greener with each "wasted" unaccounted drop.

Visit the Buy Nothing Project. We would love to meet you!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A gifting economy in real life

A gifting and sharing economy in real life

"Economy"...just say the word and a great number of people cringe. It's all about money, right? Buying and selling, investing to make more money, how to wisely spend or save money, strategies for earning more money, just money, money, money.

Yup. That about wraps it up. Our well-known "market economy" is just that: A way of doing business, a method of transaction wherein cash is exchanged for goods or services. Everything has a price, and an item or service is obtained by paying that price in cash to the entity offering the product or service. The result is that we spend our entire lives working to earn the cash necessary to purchase the things we need or want. Not a bad deal, really, because after all, isn't that the way it is supposed to be?

Is it? Let's look at that scenario for a moment. Some things really do have to be paid for with the almighty dollar. One's mortgage company will probably not accept three sides of beef as this month's payment, and utility companies are likely to frown upon an offer of freshly grown carrots. However, what about the things that CAN be obtained through simply giving to our neighbors as they/we have need? What if our neighbor was happy to receive a gently worn child's winter coat for their own child, free of charge? That frees up many almighty dollars that they can now use for something that requires cash. Or what if the single parent next door received as a gift a gallon of milk and a bag of fresh apples, again free of charge? Now her children will have a healthy snack and we all know how beneficial it is to a budget when one's children stay healthy!

But let's get away from things children need. Perhaps one has a gorgeous vegetable garden and a
bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. What a wonderful feeling it brings to gift out of the abundance of those tomatoes so that a neighbor can enjoy them! Perhaps that neighbor then offers to hold onto their compostable scraps to add to your garden next season...and the gifting circle goes around and around.

"But isn't that just bartering?" No, it really isn't because bartering still entails trading something of value for something else of comparable value. A gifting economy does neither. Rather, when someone in the community has a need, someone else in that community who is able to meet that need does so with a gift. That's the point: it is a gift, freely given with no expectation of a return of any kind from the recipient.

At this point, many people reading this will smile and nod, then say something like, "If it could only be that simple", followed by a heavy sigh of resignation.

The thing is, it CAN be that simple. It IS that simple. It has always BEEN that simple. Human beings really can shake off the economic shackles that bind us to a system where we are enslaved to cash. Sure, cash is necessary for certain things...but not EVERYthing. Cash is helpful in some situations...but not ALL situations. Meeting a need or fulfilling a desire of someone in our community does not have to entail the overt spending of a single dime. We CAN rise above our market economy and begin to learn how to share our belongings, our provisions, and our very selves with those around us.

Some will say, "But everything is purchased at one time or another, so even a gift to someone was bought at some previous time".  This is indeed true. However, say my neighbor has want of a coffee table, and I happen to have one I am not using. At some point in time I had purchased that coffee table. But if my neighbor likes the table, doesn't it make more sense to just give him the table so that they need not go and spend money on one? Now he can use his cash for something else that can only be handled with actual money, he has a new coffee table, and I have one less item taking up space in my garage.

Maybe it is something smaller and less dramatic. Let's say a neighbor is out of milk and her two children are already in bed sleeping for the night. They will have cereal, but no milk for breakfast. Now, someone nearby happens to have stocked up on milk and they have an extra bottle in their fridge, so they take that bottle of milk over to their neighbor...voila! The youngsters have cereal and milk for breakfast, their Mom can be free of worry about her children being hungry, and the neighbor who brought the milk has the joy of having helped out. Who knew that a simple bottle of milk could do so much good for so many people?

This is a gifting and sharing economy in action. It is about seeing a need or a want and fulfilling it just because we can, not because we gain something from it. It is about being willing to be vulnerable enough for our neighbors to get to know us, and putting in the effort to get to know them, too. It is about recognizing that we are all a part of one enormous human family, and as such we can reach out and connect with each other in more meaningful ways than we ever thought possible.

The technological age has made the world a smaller place, with light-speed communication and jet travel linking us with far away places like never before. But technology has also isolated us from each other by making it possible for us to communicate without ever making actual contact. We might converse with a colleague or friend for months or even years without ever actually meeting face to face. We have forgotten the warm feeling of answering the door and welcoming in a neighbor who just stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar. Our forebears knew this close-knit sense of community, they embraced the connections between fellow pioneers because their survival depended upon knowing and supporting each other. Through winter storms and lean years, they helped each other raise barns, raise food, and raise children...always leaning on one another when things were rough. In our more modern era, we lean on other things instead of our neighbors. We all have jobs and we assume we can support ourselves with no help from anyone else. We are so busy we might not even realize that our neighbor is ill, or that our co-worker is struggling to make ends meet. If we do realize someone next to us is in need, we usually shrug it off and assume that either they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or some government agency will offer to help them. Never mind that we might have exactly what they need, and might not even miss it if we were to offer it to them.

We live in a bubble.

But human beings were never meant to be isolated this way. We are built for interaction, for caring about those around us. If we listen, we all have a voice inside of us that screams to be connected with other people...we yearn on a deep level for community.

Gifting and sharing economies build that kind of community. When we begin to give, whether large items or small, we soon realize that our view of possessions and of money shifts...we realize that we really can hold loosely to certain things and share with those around us so that our own abundance blesses more people than just ourselves. The beauty is that others will realize this too, and the giving and sharing takes on a whole new energy of its own! We suddenly see our own abundance in a new light and we want to give and give and give.

Imagine a whole community thinking this way. Imagine a community of people who looked out for each other, who were willing to meet a need when it arose, who simply gave small things out of their ability to do so. Imagine a community like that...

...and imagine that it is YOUR community.

"Bah! That will never happen!", some might say. Oh, but it IS happening...right now!

You have heard the phrase, "Put your money where your mouth is", meaning that if you really mean something you will be willing to back it up with cold hard cash. The Community GATE takes it a step further by suggesting it is not just money that is valuable, but our possessions, our expertise, our very selves. Every one of us has something to offer, from the richest to the most meagerly supplied. There is no differentiating between the haves and the have nots, as typical charity does. This is not a system of the materially wealthy handing out to the less well-to-do, but rather a system wherein everyone has something to offer, and all are respected the same as part of the community.

A gifting and sharing economy thrives because of this balance where no one is above anyone else. Everyone has something to offer, whether a material item, a skill or craft, or simply their own energy to lend a hand toward a task that needs done. In this way, the Community GATE envelops members from every walk of life, every race and creed, every economic station. It is a beautiful and very blessed family, to be sure.

Still not sure about all this generosity, giving, and kindness? Just come and meet us, and have a look for yourself. We would love to have you show up at our door to ask for a cup of sugar.

And just leave the gate open behind you....someone else might just follow you in! All are welcome, and we hope to meet you soon!