A Journey to Massachusetts

Destination: Concord

Reason: To visit Emerson & Thoreau

My personal journal excerpts are in bold only to create a recognizable difference between them and others quotes.

September 9th, 2018 Concord, MA  10:08 am chilly ~ Flew into Boston yesterday. Went straight to Plymouth.


Salem, MA

Walked around the Cape and found Plymouth Rock. It was windy and chilly. The bay was filled with little boats and sail boats They sat out in the water which made us wonder if the tide retreats far enough for the owner to walk to them or if they need another boat to get to their own.


Plymouth Rock

Got to Concord around 6:30pm. Went to dinner on the Monument Square, Colonial Inn which was built in 1716.

There are actually three diners inside, one a tavern. I had wanted to eat in the tavern, but it was too crowded that night  due to live music being performed. Worked out even better eating in the room we chose.


Day One:

Boston to Plymouth to Concord

Quick facts:

The Mayflower had around 130 passengers when it left England in September of 1620. By the end of the Pilgrims first winter only 53 living passengers remained.

Over five million Indigenous People lived in what would become conterminous United States of America in the 1500’s. Only 600,000 remained by the 1800’s, a reduction of 90%. [1]


National Day of Mourning Plaque- Honored on US Thanksgiving since 1970


Massasoit Sachem or Ousamequin- 1581-1661, leader of the Wampanoags

2:04 pm- Walked to Orchard House. It was around a mile I think. Hawthorne lived behind them at “Wayside House”. I didn’t go and just took pictures of Emerson’s house on my way back to Monument Square.


Emerson House

I certainly did feel that my belief that I “had to come here” was confirmed while I was in the Alcott home. As if I truly have been connected to their ideals, their philosophy. As if I was born with these thoughts and through their writings I was able to connect to that thread. I am not meant to write to entertain, but to hopefully inspire.

Day Two:

Concord: Orchard House & Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Quick Facts:

Orchard House was built late 1600’s to 1700. The Alcott’s lived in the home from 1858-1877. Louisa May Alcott wrote “Little Women” in 1868. The book we know here in the United States was originally written in two parts. “Little Women” gained such popularity, Alcott was inundated with fan mail and demands from her publisher to write a second book to answer the question on the minds of all her readers, who did Meg, Jo, and Amy marry? There also existed a great expectation that Jo would marry Laurie, the well to do young man who lived next door to the March family. Louisa found joy in having Jo marry a poor German immigrant, Laurie she gave to the youngest sister Amy. Louisa’s father Bronson Alcott was a founder of Transcendentalism and brought to Concord by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was a great philosopher and teacher and credited with such education reforms as recess and discussion as a form of education for children. The family financially struggled severely until the publications of his daughter.


Orchard House, Alcott home

Nothing is impossible to a determined woman” ~ Louisa May Alcott


Concord School of Philosophy 1879-1888, founded by Bronson Alcott at Orchard House

“A true teacher defends his students against his own personal influences” ~Amos Bronson Alcott

DSC_0064Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Concord was dedicated in 1855 with a speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson himself. The cemetery design focuses on a deep connection to nature with native plants and trees instead of modern landscaping found in many cemeteries. This was a Transcendental philosophical objective, not so much for the dead but for the living.  The following is an excerpt of Emerson’s speech at the Cemetery consecration on September 25th 1855-

“ I suppose all of us will readily admit the value of parks and cultivated grounds to the pleasure and education of the people, but I have heard it said here that we would gladly spend for a park for the living, but not for a cemetery; a garden for the living, a home of thought and friendship. Certainly the living need it more than the dead; indeed, to speak precisely, it is given to the dead for the reaction of benefit on the living. But it the direct regard to the living be thought expedient, that is also in your power. This ground is happily so divided by Nature as to admit of this relation between the Past and the Present.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


Louisa Alcott grave covered in pens, pencils, and personal notes. Pretty sure there are a few G2-07’s in there.


Henry David Thoreau grave

Emerson grave

Ralph Waldo Emerson grave

Hawthorne grave

Nathaniel Hawthorne grave

Day Three: Walden Pond

It was a slightly steep walk down from the road into the woods. Such beautiful woods. We could see the pond as we declined though turned to the right to follow the path to the cabin site. DSC_0091We saw a chipmunk with an acorn jammed into her mouth, she scampered away from us down a hill toward the pond. The woods are somewhat dense, so the trees are tall to compete for light. Rocks everywhere. Oaks, pines, and birch. I replayed as much of Thoreau’s observations as we went on. So excited to see “his” woods- they had little reason to change. DSC_0095The only effects of time on this place was people. The cars that pollute and kill the woodland creatures- the visitors who didn’t understand the virtue of mutual respect for the land- the hundreds plus years of being industrially revolutionized that brought about a climate change intended for at least a thousand years from now.

DSC_0083We were soon cresting a ridge. I clung to Dan’s arm just as I had in going to see the grave stones on Author’s Ridge. Had it been for any other reason I would have turned around. But this, this was a calling to be here. My journey required it.

The homes, the graves, even the reproduced cabin all created a complex of emotions within me.

I felt overwhelmed, at times connected to those who names covered plaques and stone- still I remained stable.


“In such a day in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror, set round with stones as precious to my eye as if fewer or rarer” Walden, Henry David Thoreau

The cabin site however proved to be the moment of the deepest connection. Simply pillars and chains. 10’ x 15’ with signs with explanations. This was the moment my face became covered with tears, my chest sunk as it filled with air and I rejoiced that I had made it to this place. DSC_0080Bronson Alcott’s memorial of stones proved the most beautiful means of honoring one of our fore fathers of free thought.

Personal notes left on rock covered the mass. Notes to a man that some to this day still render a kind of prophet.

Day Four:

Minute Man National Park and The Olde Manse

Quick Facts:

[2]April 18th, 1775- Two riders were sent to warn the impending arrival of the British. William Dawes and Paul Revere. Revere never actually shouted “The British Are Coming”, as this was in-fact a truly discreet operation. A third rider, Samuel Prescott reached Concord- the following battle was won by the Americans and continued all the way back to Boston.

The Olde Manse was built by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather Reverend William Emerson in 1770.

Ralph lived in the home and wrote “Nature” in his writing room on the second floor.


Olde Manse garden, grown to this day- planted first by Thoreau as a wedding gift to Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne.

Nathaniel Hawthorne rented the home after marrying his wife Sophia Peabody. Nathaniel used the same writing room as Emerson and wrote Mosses from an Old Manse and my personal favorite Rappaccini’s Daughter (among others), while living there. He and Sophia’s first daughter was born during their time in the home.


Day Five:

Salem, MA- The House of Seven Gables and Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace

Quick Facts:

The House of Seven Gables was built by shipping merchant John Turner in 1668. Hawthorne wrote the book, The House of Seven Gables in 1851.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth home was moved in 1958 to become the House of Seven Gables new neighbor after a church inherited the home and intended to bulldoze it to make a parking lot.


I met Louisa May Alcott when I was 7 years old when I read “Little Women”, I met Emerson and Thoreau when I was 15. It was absolutely worth the wait to visit them. Then again, timing is everything and everything….does…happen for a reason. “Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason“~Ralph Waldo Emerson

[1] https://nativestudy.wordpress.com/

[2] https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/battles-of-lexington-and-concord


Audrey L  Elder

Living Life Outside the Box



A Ticket For Sneezing?

It was a warm sunny summer day

I can’t remember why

But we were driving

Driving through the countryside

In her avocado green muscle car

My long blonde hair pulled back

Behind a thick headband

Of flowered cotton thread

What if I sneezed? She asked

What if I sneezed so hard the car swerved?

Would I get a ticket?

We laughed as the lush greenery of the

Countryside passed us by

It was there.

Even in Illinois. Even in Cook County.

Places filled with fields of corn, trees and wildlife.


I couldn’t sleep.  I guess it was the coffee.

The radio played classic rock A to Z.

I called,

At C.

Clearance Clearwater Revival.

They played it.  And I cleaned. I organized

Everything.  I felt so good, and yet concerned

That I wasn’t sleeping.  I cooked.

Eggs, toast, bacon.  I woke her up to eat.

Coffee, more coffee.

And I crashed, by eight.


The afternoon sun sank into our skin as if we were drinking water.

We stood staring at the fields.  Her long brown hair held in two tight braids

Capable of sustaining the wind.

Why don’t we get jobs at a farm? I asked

Why don’t we make our own? She replied

We sat

At the roadside

By the avocado green boat


Our own garden.

We’ll go to Colorado.

We’ll grow our own food.

Raise sheep.

We’ll go to town and buy donuts for anyone who will help us.

We’ll raise our children there.  They’ll have brown hair and yellow hair, and love each other as their own brothers and sisters.

Yeah, we’ll go to Colorado.

After we get jobs at a farm

And after next year, when we graduate

And, well, we weren’t sure about college

And, we still wondered,

If you could get a ticket

For sneezing

Audrey L Elder

Living Life Outside the Box


The Awakening Part II 40 years later, PBB – The Michigan Poisoning That Made Everything Personal

The caller ID simply showed a long-distance number with the words “Atlanta GA” below.  I fumbled to answer the long-awaited call from the PBB Registry at Emory University.  I explained that no, I hadn’t called because of the recent media on the PBB poisoning of Michigan; I never knew it had even happened- it found me.

My daughter teaches a Grassroots Environmental class at her University and, being a super cool kid, sends me her class homework assignments.  So of course, being a super cool mom, I do my homework.  Attached to the email was the weekly reading assignment: a portion of a pdf of Wendell Berry’s 1977 “The Unsettling of America,” a view on modern agriculture and its safety and sustainability.  Near the very end, as I continued to read, my heart stopped as I read of the “PBB Poisoning of Michigan” that resulted in thousands of animals being sent to mass graves and people being potentially poisoned, though, to what extent, was unknown.  I immediately grabbed my phone to call my dad. I remembered hearing about how he and my mother tried to protest the burial of poisoned cows near our hometown when I was little girl. As the phone rang, I googled; by the time I left the “Hey dad, call me when you get a chance” message I had five open tabs waiting to be read. By the time he called me back I had Joyce Egginton’s book “The Poisoning of Michigan” ordered, awaiting a shipping notification.


Mio PBB burial protest 1978- Photographer Art Pietscher

Dad confirmed that I had remembered him and mom protesting poisoned cattle being buried near our hometown. They wanted the cows incinerated and were told the technology was there, but the funds weren’t. He explained the pit was one of our favorite places to go apple and berry picking in the summer and mushroom picking in the spring.  “It was a place called Mount Tom near Mio”, my grandmother recalled when I called her the next morning- she remembered a neighbor was arrested in the protests.

PBB (polybrominated biphenyl) is a fire retardant that was manufactured in St. Louis, Michigan in the early 1970’s.  The same plant that made PBB also made magnesium oxide, which was being added to Michigan Farm Bureau feed for cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. The two products look similar, and because they were both packaged in stenciled brown paper bags at the time, dozens of fifty pound bags of PBB were accidently added to animal feed in 1973, and it truly was an accident.  It wasn’t long after this that farmers began to notice health problems with their animals, specifically cattle—problems like stillborn calves, cows losing their healthy hides, and hooves growing elongated and curved upward.  It took almost a year of frustrating and difficult research by a dairy farmer (who also happened to be a chemical engineer) by the name of Rick Halbert before anyone realized the animals were eating contaminated feed.  By that time, not only had thousands of animals been contaminated, but so had Michigan’s meat, dairy, and eggs.  As those products were sold within the same state, the residents, whether living on farms or in cities, were unknowingly consuming PBB.

The immediate known tragedy was that of the farmers who initially blamed themselves (and in many cases were blamed by the very organizations they relied on for help) for their animals’ poor health. Not knowing what they were dealing with, many had buried or consumed the animals as they died on their own farms. Later, quarantines were established for animals with a level at or higher than one part per million (which was the lowest level the Michigan Department of Agriculture was capable of detecting).  Being quarantined meant the farmer would have his animals put down, buried with others in a separate location (the first being in Kalkaska), and have the opportunity to be compensated for the loss.  The numbers of the first quarantine wave were 30,000 cattle and 1,500,000 chickens (affecting over 500 farms).  Many farmers who had sick and/or dying cattle didn’t get the one part per million test results and were forced to handle putting their own animals down and burying them themselves. They couldn’t wait for the bureaucratic process of decreasing the quarantine level and couldn’t live with themselves by selling contaminated products to unknowing recipients.  Something I learned about dairy farmers that I didn’t know before researching this subject is that happy cows really do make better milk.  These farmers truly loved their animals, as many of them were generational farmers who had bred these perfect milk providers that became representative of their own families’ significance. Killing their cattle was like putting down a member of their own family.  Without being given an official quarantine, that also meant they might never get compensated for their lost cattle and/or might not be able to financially hang on long enough to try.

With a lack of funding, lack of scientific knowledge, the length of legal processes, combined with political reaction, the quarantine levels were not decreased to 0.3 parts per million until November 4, 1974.  Finally, once lower levels for quarantines were added, the state began looking for new burial sites for the additional thousands of contaminated cows, chickens, pigs. This was the reasoning the new site was chosen near my own hometown in 1977. In 1978 the massive pit lined in clay was far from welcomed.


Mio PBB burial protest 1978 roadside- Photographer Art Pietscher

People protested, even hanging effigies of Michigan’s Governor Millikin, all without result (audio is a little rough, though this video shows reminiscences of the Mio protests).   It really wasn’t until the levels of PBB were lowered for determining quarantine that people in Michigan understood that PBB had been in their food and that it could cause human health problems.

Many of the farmers who had worked directly with the feed and ate their own products had already been dealing with strange illnesses. By the time information was released on the human effects of PBB, people all over the state began reporting health concerns—people who had consumed milk, eggs, and beef purchased at the grocery store, many in large cities.  The September 1978 Lancet Report showed 98% of all human breast milk tested in the Lower Peninsula was contaminated by PBB and that 4 out of 5 women who had consumed Michigan products and not from quarantined farms showed PBB in their milk. PBB concentrates in breast milk in both cattle and humans. A June 1976 public hearing to potentially reduce the level to .1ppm had no results; however, a bill to reduce levels to .02ppm for testing of animals before being allowed to be sold for meat passed in October of 1977.  The final resting site for the remaining refrigerated carcasses was chosen in Nevada in 1980.

Because test results commonly varied, because of unknown levels of cross contamination from returned feed with equipment that mixed new feed and contaminated soil in farms of quarantined herds, because of unknown levels of cross contamination of naphthalene (which is dangerous at parts per trillion and considered responsible for the cattle illnesses not caused by PBB) that was found in some feed and animals, the full, true extent of how many people and animals were affected will never be known.  PBB and DDT were disposed of in the Pine River (warning, video contains graphic images) and in and around the St. Louis, Michigan chemical plant, both superfund sites. Per the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force “some health researchers believe the residents of the region have higher than expected levels of certain cancers, birth defects, and learning disabilities.” Because of factors known and unknown, the environmental affects and secondary means of exposure may never be discovered.  It is believed that nearly nine million Michiganders were exposed to PBB from direct contact or contaminated food. Emory University reports the most recent tests (2012-2015) show 60% of Michiganders tested have PBB levels above the United States 95th percentile.  The number of people with PBB toxicity due to environmental factors, placenta exposure, contaminated breast milk and possible genetic effects from contaminated fathers will also likely never be known.  When wildlife was tested throughout the state, PBB was found in deer, bears, birds, and raccoons- just to name a few.  A 2012 Detroit Free Press article reported that The St. Louis sites were preparing for a 374 million dollar superfund cleanup, while the Kalkaska site is monitored every five years, and the Mio site is checked every other year.  I can’t imagine it’s possible to have the ability to determine to what extent these sites are truly contained.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear a kind and objectively honest voice on the other line of that Atlanta, Georgia call. I explained that I am healthy, that I was born in Germany, was not breast fed due to immunizations my mother was given, and lactose-intolerant, so upon our return to Michigan in 1975, I ate no milk products.

However, my mother suffered from un-diagnosable muscle spasms from 1983 to 1993.  My sister has a slew of strange, unexplainable medical conditions, and my brother died suddenly at the age of 13 in 1997 from what is believed to be a rare autoimmune disorder called Behcet’s Syndrome.


The Emrick kids- 1986

Both of my siblings were breast fed, and I wonder, could my niece and nephew be carrying PBB in their bodies as well?

Emory University is still actively pursuing monitoring and research on PBB levels and the long term generational effects of the toxin.  Where it is true that the University research is far from well-funded, they aren’t giving up.  Between grants and fundraising, these scientists have been able to continue monitoring those already in the program and also add people to the program as the funds become available.  Their research goes beyond known effects and monitoring of PBB, to genetic research and working towards possible treatment. The Michigan PBB Research Registry website has several pages of information on how to sign up for testing as well as recognized possible effects from PBB, such as thyroid disorders and reproductive disorders.

To tell the entire story of the PBB poisoning is impossible in the confines of a blog post. The information in this blog is almost entirely from Joyce Egginton’s “The Poisoning of Michigan,” and I recommend anyone reading this post to read her book.  Statistics and information found outside of the book are hyperlinked within the text.

It’s important to understand as much as we possibly can about how this tragedy has affected our health and the health of our ecosystem.  It’s important to learn from events like this and stop being complacent in how our system works. We could spend the rest of our lives being angry, blaming those who could have- should have done more, or we can spend the rest of our lives demanding this system is changed.  Michigan’s story is one of mass contamination; however, our world is TOXIC. In tiny little levels, in our drinking cups, our clothing, our food, our water and our air.  We have accepted constant low-level exposure and ingestion of carcinogenic man-made chemicals because, if it’s on a shelf for purchase, it must be safe, right? Many of the chemicals we blindly use every day are banned in other countries.  In our country, the toxicity of a chemical is based on the science of the manufacturer of that chemical, that’s it. No third party anything.  As I tap these letters out on my computer, six of the world’s largest makers of these chemicals are merging into what they are hoping to be three politically unstoppable giants. Though it may feel fruitless to try, the next generation will want to know if we did.  Protecting an economy based on corporate profits won’t do any good if we have destroyed our planet and ourselves in the process of gaining those profits.

Look forward to upcoming blogs that will discuss where those everyday chemicals are and how you can avoid them, and even possibly make some positive changes for your own health and the environment.

Audrey L Elder

Thinking Outside the Box

Mio protest photos used with permission from photographer Art Pietscher and can be seen on the MonroeTalksForum online

Blog post edited and reviewed by David W. Jackson and Kaitlyn Myer




The Awakening Part I

bee-spillThe bed shook as 13 million bees danced in my dreams. I recalled the video of my husband in his beekeeping veil and jacket, his shoes and pants sealed with silver Duct tape he had found in his truck, covered in terrified, angry honey bees.  I could see that video playing in my mind as if I were there, watching him carry hives from the overturned semi truck on the side of a major North Kansas City Interstate to the flatbed truck that would hopefully find them safely back on their way. Overturned, upended, I could hear the incessant buzzing of each pollinator.  I could hear…I could hear him exclaim, “Earthquake! Earthquake!”  But I wasn’t at the interstate; I was in my bed and it was moving.  We have tornadoes—sometimes— but an earthquake? “Get up- get outside, our house wasn’t built for this,” he told me. I followed his concern as he ran into the living room to call our daughter down from her room.  As we stood on the deck confused, maybe overwhelmed by so many thoughts in so few days, the only thing I could think of was that none of this should have ever happened.  And truly, none of it should have.

The shaking stopped.  We didn’t know if New Madrid had made a debut return of the 7.5 quake that shook the Midwest in 1811 (so intensely that urban legend still remains that the Missouri River ran backwards). The second, less apocalyptic suspect, quickly proved to be the case- another Oklahoma oil industry induced quake, just so big that we felt it.  You see, earthquakes used to be incredibly rare in Oklahoma; in fact, historically, the state had seen at the most two or less 3.0+ quakes per year.  Between 2009 and today, earthquakes have increased in Oklahoma by 87% (907 3.0+ in 2015).  There I stood on my deck, attempting to absorb my flooding thoughts that all centralized to one simply common theme.  We as humans have attacked our planet to the point that I have no choice but to truly embrace the disastrous consequences.   It’s that feeling you have when you’ve found out someone has died.  It lingers within you for days.  It’s difficult to concentrate, to focus on anything.  You simply go through the motions of daily life only pausing every so often to consider your own mortality, or in this case the mortality of everything that exists.

Bees, earthquakes, America’s Indigenous People being attacked for protecting our planet in North Dakota, and all in the same week realizing my own blood may be thickened like gravy with PBB, a chemical used as a flame retardant.

The Bees-

They were being transported from South Dakota to Florida for contracted commercial pollination.  Imagine the thought, commercializing everything down to the honey bee.  Our current affair of agriculture has become one of dependence on human involvement just to survive another year, to provide another crop.  So essentially, some Florida crop, dependent upon pollination to provide food that gets shipped hundreds of miles away to show up in your grocery store when that food would either be out of season or impossibly local, is probably not going to be pollinated this year.  Even more so, the practice of tricking bees into pollination serves only us, the consumers of the eventual “product.”  At this point in the year, the only hope for any of the hives that swarmed away from the Interstate is to be captured by a local beekeeper and placed in a furnished apartment.  It’s too late in the year for a swarm to establish itself well enough to survive winter at this point.

Only days before, Naled, the chemical used here in the United States to respond to the Zika virus (although banned in the EU and decided against by Puerto Rico because the chemical has been shown to cause birth defects), was blanket-sprayed in North Carolina during the day, instantly killing millions of honey bees.  We don’t even know what other innocent bystanders were annihilated along with them.  The Carolinas are a favored spot for Monarch butterflies this time of year as they make their way south of the border.

I recalled that moment in Washington D.C., March 2015; I was feeling emotionally drained and found a deep sunlit window sill to rest my exhausted soul in the long empty hallway between congressional appointments.  I couldn’t hold back the tears of frustration; I could hear the words screaming in my ears, “Missourians are accustomed to a standard of living that we plan to keep intact.”  That was the response to a begging plea for a sustainable plan, a sustainable planet.  Of course, the Congresswoman didn’t meet with us Missouri Sierra Club constituents; the opposition doesn’t.  Her Legislative Assistant agreed to visit, although armed and ready for battle the minute we walked through the door.

I wonder now  if anyone on The Hill even cares or notices the brutality against tribal leaders in North Dakota who are willing to give all for their children’s children (although I have met several elected officials truly dedicated to our future existence- though most will tell you it’s tough out there right now to get anything done).  I wonder if anyone cares that we are daily destroying our planet’s balance, our ecosystem, our future, for the sake of immediate profit.  I wondered if anyone remembered, or even knew, that my home state of Michigan was poisoned while I grew in my mother’s womb and that our love affair with this domination culture was just beginning to show its casualties.

I looked out from my deck, breathing in everything beautiful available.  The tomatoes are still growing, the cucumbers about to create a second late summer batch.  Goldenrod and wild sunflowers are in bloom amid the breezy fading prairie.  The honey bee is wrapping up her hive for the winter- she knows everything that I do, yet she has a duty to her species…as do we all.


The Awakening Part II- 40 years later, PBB – The Michigan Poisoning That Made Everything Personal

Audrey L Elder




Pin to Which Board, Hope or Fear?

Hope or Fear.jpg

I suppose it only makes sense that, living in a social cyber world, Pinterest would help you make friends.  I considered it strange that I received an email stating that my new best friend was waiting for me via the link below.  I’ve gotten those emails before that say, “Hey, guess what, there’s a board with a bunch of historical stuff just like your board ‘historic preservation’,” or “Since you liked ‘make a shelf out of a pallet’ you’ll really like ‘build a house out of beer cans.’”

I don’t get on the site very often; usually it’s on that rare occasion that I can’t sleep.  For some reason, looking at squares and rectangles filled with recipes I’ll never make and craft projects I’ll never start overwhelm me.  Then I fall asleep.

Having a love/hate relationship with technology, I went with the love side and clicked the link.  Technology has one true bright side: the ability to communicate with people outside of your own center of influence.  A worldwide conversation about a positive, loving, meaningful future for all of earth’s inhabitants is growing.  I like that.

So, back to my supposed Pinterest buddy.  Well okay, she had garden boards, chicken boards, canning boards, surviving nuclear fallout boards- wait, what???!!!!  Ahh, a doomsday prepper.  These were conspiracy-theory, fear-mongering, on-crack boards.  At the risk of the Google gods sending this info to Facebook so that the right side of my newsfeed would stream with ads for gas masks and zinc pills, I clicked one.  I had to know.  Where was she getting this information? Why?

An underground bunker sale site, of course.  It was filled with dozens of articles on how humanity is going to destroy itself with biological, electromagnet, and nuclear war and how we can protect ourselves from the impending fallout.  Could any of these things really happen?  Um, yeah, we’ve known that for seventy-five years.  However, none of the above has even once been my motivation to create those matching gardening and chicken boards.  The concept of looking out for number one is straight out of the egocentric way of thinking that got us in this mess in the first place.  My motivation is based on more of an “ecocentric” concept: as more and more people become less dependent on earth’s natural resources, the entire planet will benefit.  Maybe we can slow down the effects of climate change and have less reason for war and more reason for tolerance.  Maybe instead of putting a bunker under the ground in my backyard, I can be part of a movement to prevent the next man-made catastrophe.

I recently started a new community-focused group on the very subject.  The idea being there are small, simple little things we can all do to become better stewards of the earth.  Recycling, reusing, sourcing local food and living meaningful lives.  In fact, that’s what I named it: Meaningful Living.  It’s a beautiful journey to find true happiness. That journey doesn’t begin in a shopping mall and doesn’t have to end in a concrete room below the surface of the soil.

“If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced that it will be by ordinary people…people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear”

Joanna Macy

And yes, I pinned that quote.

Audrey L Elder

Living Life Outside of the Box







The Consumerism Season

Shopping CartsOctober 7th.  As in fifty-one days before Thanksgiving or roughly, seven weeks, nearly two monthsEighty days before Christmas, roughly, over eleven weeks, nearly three months.

Why the countdowns?  A certain news headline grabbed me as I went through my morning routine of checking the local news and weather (on my phone of course).  “First Black Friday Ad Out,” it read.  I recalled the after-Thanksgiving dinner tradition of so many years ago.  All the men crowded around the television as it yelled scores and yards, and the men yelled back.  All the women gathered at the newspaper-covered kitchen table with notebooks and pens, making lists of all the items we would purchase in the pre-dawn hours of the next day and planning for where we would get coffee to keep ourselves awake, who would run for what and how many.  Towels, candles, pajamas, power tools and home décor—essentially a ton of crap no one needed, that we would sacrifice sleep for, on top of fighting for parking spots and spaces in long lines.  And all of this just for the sake of have a living room filled with pretty wrapped boxes awaiting the half an hour long moment they would be opened and we would all mentally crash.

My daughter sent my husband and me a report today on the “Culture of Consumerism”.  It’s true.  Shopping is a legitimate hobby and really is as much a part of our culture as the food we eat.   It is ingrained in us from the moment we are born.  I represent the first generation that grew up not knowing life without a television or a telephone. My children are the first generation born growing up not knowing life without internet or cell phones.  And now, we are entering a third generation incapable of going a single day without being bombarded with marketing and advertising by companies that spend more money finding out how to get us to psychologically respond to their marketing than they spend researching and developing the product itself.

Shopping is also at the center of our economy and sadly the top topic for today’s political debates… while the future of the planet is considered an “opinion.”   So as we skip through October and Halloween (Americans are estimated to spend around 6.9 billion dollars on Halloween in 2015, according to the National Retail Federation) and replace the ghouls and spiders with turkeys and cornucopias, here’s a few things to think about before buying in to the frenzy of a 4:00 am shopping spree-

In 1939 Thanksgiving was officially moved to the third Thursday in November in hopes that a longer Christmas shopping season would aid in Depression-era economic recovery.  Previous to 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

In 1941, Thanksgiving was moved once again to its current place on the calendar, the fourth Thursday of November, taking into account the years that November has five Thursdays.

According to Gallup, the average American will spend an average of $781 on Christmas in 2015, up 4% from 2014.

The average American credit card debt as of July 2015 is $15,863.00

And what’s the environmental and human impact of the things we buy?  If you haven’t seen “The Story of Stuff,” there’s no better time than now.  I keep a direct link for those few moments of weakness that tempt me into a big box store or shopping center.

Nothing happens overnight and the concept that our culture has it wrong on this one won’t be an easy sell.  However, I have to say not only did we survive our last year’s consumer reduction Christmas, I’m looking forward to this year’s creativity.  I have to brag though that I am absolutely positive I got the best present of all.  My husband made me a rotating compost bin out of an old metal barrel.  We decorated a live tree which is now happily adorning the front yard, and we gave our kids cash.  Our poor college student daughter and our new-career son had no problem whatsoever with the decision.

I might also mention that paying bills in January was no different than paying them in June.

Audrey L Elder

Living Life Outside the Box

Why Our Grandparents Were Accidental Environmentalists

There is more irony in this than as my father used to say, “Carter has liver pills”.  I often wonder if perception is the true bane of being good stewards of the earth.  The behaviors and lifestyle changes of the greatest generation during the Great Depression applied today would put a swift and certain end to many of our biggest challenges.

They were asked to save, donate, scrap and ration.

Flickr FDR Library

During the Great Recession as of late, we were begged to spend, consume, spend and consume again.

They were Patriot, and somehow Americans making those same exact lifestyle changes today are considered extremist, tree huggers, hippies?

My paternal grandparents lived in Detroit when the Great Depression hit, quickly adapting to a life with no certain future or meal.  They ate lard sandwiches, slept upside down in the bed and reused EVERYTHING.  Budgets were like gravity, an unbreakable law.  There wasn’t much debt breaking consumerism going on in our grandparent’s day.  So let’s have some fun and break this down a bit:



A great example of this is (one of many) would be going to your closet and getting creative with your clothes or heading to the thrift shop and doing the same with someone else’s unwanted clothes.

The 1938 Book, Better Than Beauty, has an entire chapter dedicated to making do with the clothes you already own, stating- “It does take thought and effort. But the results more than justify them. Chic can easily be a triumph of mind over money”.  Even during my own childhood we wore our clothes until they weren’t fit to donate.  Before becoming rags, all buttons, trim and zippers were cut off and stored for future repairs.  I even had several outfits cut from my mother’s outdated clothes.  Basically nothing was thrown away, everything was fixed until it could be fixed no more.*

*A must mention, our grandparents went without until a wanted item of quality and durability could be afforded.


Husbands PJ's about to become dish cloths.

Husbands PJ’s about to become dish cloths.


We’re getting better at this to the point that adaptive reuse has become vogue and trendy (just get on Pinterest).  Adaptive reuse is taking something old, even a building, and fixing it up to serve a whole new purpose.  Such as an old Mid-Century space ship style gas station, turned into an ice cream or coffee shop. Or, maybe making bookshelves out of shipping pallets.  They skys the limit when creativity is in place.


The Great Depression gave new meaning to reuse.  Old nylons became lint catchers on the back of the dryer (which was only used during the winter) or made into rugs.  Salt, flour and sugar sacks became dish towels, pillow cases, diapers and clothes. Jars reused for water, dried beans, and juice.  Seeds saved from the garden for the next year.  As my mother-in-law put it, everything was used from the pig except the squeal.



The three R’s didn’t stop by any means with the Great Depression.  Here is a fantastic clip of how our Grandparents willingly and dedicatedly lived as the ultimate minimalist beyond the Depression and into WWII.  Rationing and Recycling in WWII- PBS


Twenty five years ago I lived outside of Chicago and experienced my first curbside recycling pickup.  Today, in rural Missouri, we still don’t have that service.  Instead our garage is filled with cans labeled glass, aluminum, paper, plastic.  Glass recycling just became available in the last year, plastics 3-7 just in the last few months.  We’re getting there, but it’s completely voluntary and with no incentive except stewardship.


Our grandparents desire to survive their doomed economy, their unwavering desire to see their country come through devastation and war, all motivated an unprecedented mass act of lifestyle changes not seen since.  Those same efforts, though they likely didn’t even realize, are also the same efforts that once again embraced, could save our planet for the next generations to come.  Not to mention this little fantastic byproduct of living within our means.  If we are reusing, we aren’t consuming. If we aren’t consuming, we aren’t spending.  If we aren’t spending, we might have more time to enjoy our families and hopefully…our healthy planet.


Audrey L Elder

Living Life Outside the Box