Diamond-Cut Life

How To Be Rich In What Matters

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14 Ways To Add Value To Any Situation, Part II

July 27th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

Diamond-Cut Life is about how to be rich in the things that matter, like health, financial solvencydynamic relationships, and peaceful coexistence. Last week I named my first seven ways to add value to any situation. This post completes the two-part series, and draws from my background in counseling psychology (I have an M.S. in that field).

Set a boundary. A boundary clarifies to others what’s off limits, i.e. what you won’t accept. Accepting things that we shouldn’t, like abusiveness or dishonesty, often seems easier in the moment than assertively drawing a line. But when we passively accept the unacceptable, we create boatloads of dysfunction and suffering over time.

Sometimes people respond right away to a boundary that we verbally set. But sometimes, as every parent in the world knows, boundaries only work if there are consequences for breaking them.

In the course of our ten-year marriage, my husband Thor and I have each reached points where we stated we could not continue in the relationship without a positive change from the other. (He was suffering from my angry outbursts,  and I was suffering from his criticisms of me). We got help, both individually and together, from counseling and a course in nonviolent communication, and we resolved the problems. We’re both clear that boundary-setting improved our marriage.

Boundaries add value by creating respectful behavior in our households and workplaces. Respectful behavior makes us richer in what matters. Note: with rare exceptions, set boundaries in person or via phone, not via email. I made the email mistake last year. I won’t do that again.

Create order. Remember that creative people need order, too. Research says that people who have cluttered desks spend 7 ½ hours per week looking for  items. That doesn’t begin to count the time wasted looking for unfiled emails, or at home looking for misplaced possessions. Taking time out to create order adds value, no matter what we do for a living. It’s an example of slowing down to go faster. If you or someone close to you has unusual trouble with possessions and creating order, see tips on hoarding, and ten ways to help a hoarder.

Make your work-breaks physical, rather than electronic.  Most of our lives suffer from way too much screen time, and not nearly enough physical time. Physical activity makes our heads clearer and our hearts calmer. Take a walk, climb the stairs, do sit-ups or push-ups. I’m a failure at push-ups, myself, but I can do the plank pose for 70 seconds! See how to cure sitting disease.

Name the elephant in the room. Doing this without blaming or criticizing others is one of the fastest ways to add value. Is a meeting based on an incorrect assumption? State the correct information, and invite the room to incorporate that into its thinking. Are you or others clearly unprepared for the situation you are in? State your concern, and suggest some preparations that will create the desired outcome. Is too much money being spent (a common elephant in the room)? Add value by asking for clarification of the budget, or the plan for repayment.

Last summer solstice I climbed Mt. McLoughlin with three other people. I’d trained diligently for it, but still found myself gasping for air at high altitude, and climbing much more slowly than the others. I felt embarrassed, because I’m usually faster. I finally said to my hiking partners, “I’m feeling self-conscious because I’m slowing the group down.” It broke the tension. Karen made a joke, Colleen said she was enjoying looking at the scenery, and John said encouragingly, “Breathe more!” If I hadn’t named the elephant of my slowness, tension would have just increased. And tension can lead to impaired judgment — not what you want on a climb.

When in doubt, say something that’s true. That’s a quote from my novel Revelle.

Do a completion.  That report you never revised . . . not calling when you said you would . . . . the question you left unanswered . . . not doing the dishes when it was totally your turn. Loose ends left dangling deplete our relationships and our careers. They lead people to not trust us, and they lower our trust in ourselves. Completing things adds value. The difficult completions also remind us to stop over-committing. See the next item.

Own up to a commitment you cannot keep. Sometimes completions aren’t possible. The item you promised to replace is no longer being made. The phone call was to be a continuation of a relationship that you now know is wrong for you. The report’s information is so out of date as to make you look like an idiot.

Some commitments need to be renegotiated, as in changing the deadline. Others need to be cancelled, in which case we need to apologize (a value-add covered in Part I.).  Embrace the fact you cannot keep a commitment, and tell the person you cannot. I did this recently. Soooo much better than avoiding the situation. Accept the embarrassment. It will quickly fade.

Be a giver. Giving adds value. Giving what is most needed in a given situation adds the most value. Our attention and our interest, for example, are often the most valuable things we can give others on a daily basis.

Giving material resources, including money, is a key way to add value. Hear me out. Never before in U.S. history have so many people been so poor or financially marginal, and never before has there been so much extreme wealth in the hands of a few. While we badly need a national/political solution to this, I believe in never waiting for leaders, but rather, acting like leaders, ourselves. If you’re hanging out on the internet reading this you’re probably like me: not marginal, and not a one-percenter, either.  That means we have the capacity to give.

My husband Thor and I give 5% of our annual gross income (before taxes)  to organizations like Mercy Corps, which create economic development in the wake of disasters. That’s up from 4% last year, and I want us to keep increasing what we give every year. We also do volunteer work that brings us face to face with people who are dollar-poor. Contrary to my first tip on the importance of setting boundaries, the boundaries between rich and poor in our culture are things that need to be broken down.

See yourself as a person who likes to give.  Be a giver at every opportunity, in one way or another. Ask someone you trust to help you become a better giver. Giving blesses the recipient and blesses you. Blessings are the ultimate value-add.

Which of these techniques have worked for you, or not worked for you, in adding value? What do you most like to do that adds value? What value-adds do you most appreciate from others?


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Fourteen Ways To Add Value To Any Situation, Part I

July 20th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

Whenever we add value to a situation, we become richer in what matters. And so do those around us. Adding value means adding little crystals of integrity, connectedness, productivity, vitality and sustainability. 

Do the hard thing you’ve been avoiding. The tough conversation about why your project isn’t succeeding . . .  responding to that troubling feedback . . .  figuring out how much debt you have, and how you’re going to repay it. Here are tips for doing hard things.

Do hard tasks first thing in the day, before distractions can derail you. Many hard things get done in increments. So you add value in this moment by doing the first increment, i.e. setting up a meeting for that tough conversation, or setting up a spreadsheet in which to total up your debt-load. Tomorrow you add value by taking the next step. Best practice is to set aside a whole morning or afternoon to do the hard thing, if that’s what it will take. Generally the harder the thing, the more value we add by engaging with it.

Conserve valuable resources. If dollars are currently scarce in your workplace or household, add value by conserving dollars. If time is the scarcest commodity, add value by eliminating unnecessary steps or becoming more efficient.

Keep in mind that clean water, fossil fuels and protein foods, while abundant in most parts of the first world, are typically scarce, valuable resources in the developing world. Let’s each act like a citizen of the planet, beyond being an employee in a workplace. See the first two sections of this page for ways to conserve valuable resources.

Use wiser words, rather than more words. Last year I finally figured out how to get my husband to change. Hint: it wasn’t by voicing more of my opinions to him. But then, I am an extrovert who expresses herself easily. The mainstream communication style wasn’t designed for introverts, despite introverts being a significant portion of the population. Here is how to relate better to introverts. Communicating more skillfully adds value to any situation.

Pause before responding if there is tension in the air or a lot at stake. The pause adds the value. Knee-jerk reactions make troubled situations worse. Those too-fast blurts will bleach value out of situations like dribbled Clorox burning pale spots into your best black pants.

Sometimes the pause that adds value is the seven seconds in which you regain your temper. Or the pause could last seven weeks, during which you gain a lot more information, and you finally figure out whether yes or no is the right answer to that big question.

Find a technique to create the crucial pause. My husband and I ring The Bell whenever we start to get into an argument. Either one of us can ring it, and once it’s rung, we both stay quiet and take deep breaths for as long as the sound stays in the air. The anger, and the fight, generally dissolve as a result of the pause. Pausing before responding will add value in any tense situation.

Prepare for what you’d rather not think about, like natural disaster. Preparing for disaster and hardship arguably adds more value to a situation than anything else on this list. But it’s long-term value, not immediate value. That’s what makes it harder for most of us — we get hooked on the short term. Here are tips on preparing for a power outage, just for one example. Are your computer files being backed up every night? 

Apologize.  Saying we’re sorry or that we were wrong is like doing a chiropractic adjustment to a situation. Things click back into alignment. Trust and energy start flowing again. Work can move forward. Value has been added.

I apologized yesterday to my colleague Larissa, in front of Ivan, another colleague. “I’m sorry I was snarky to you in our meeting. I will do better in future!”  I said.  Larisa accepted my apology, and ended up apologizing for her own part of the problem. But even if she hadn’t, I added value by owning that I can and should behave better than I had. Apologizing in front of Ivan added more accountability. Holding ourselves accountable is another way to add value.

Ask: “What do you need from me that you’re not getting?”  Then listen closely. Listen patiently, because people may need time to figure out what they need from you.

The person’s answer, if they are being honest, will tell us exactly how we can add value to the situation or relationship. They might need us to stop interrupting them so much. Maybe they need help with a project we’d imagined was easy. Prepare to be surprised by what people need from you. I suspect that most people who’ve been successful in their careers and in their marriages have been learning about and steadily addressing the needs of those around them.

This question is especially effective with bosses, customers/clients and those who report to us, and with our spouses or partners. But asking this question of an adolescent child might not work, since they hope to need nothing from their parents, especially not boundaries, when boundaries are exactly what they need.

So! How to set healthy boundaries is the first thing I’ll address in Part II next Sunday of Fourteen Ways To Add Value To Any Situation.

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Best Wedding Practices, Or, I’ve Gained A Sister!

July 13th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

Jen Zhou, my beloved new sister, with my brother Jeff Wiley.

Jen Zhou, my beloved new sister, with my brother Jeff Wiley.

My sense of feeling rich in what matters hit a new height last night when I gained a new sister, the vivacious and loving Jen Zhou. My brother Jeff was wise enough to marry her. I’ve also gained a niece and nephew, Michelle and Allen. I’m elated!

Here are just a few “best wedding practices” if our goal is to be rich in what matters, gleaned from Jeff and Jen’s wedding and elsewhere.

Keep your focus on relationships and community and [Read more →]

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Bathing In A Bowl Of Water

July 6th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

Did you know you can bathe in a bowl of water?

A key way to be rich in what matters is to do something you love for a living. Most of us know that intuitively.

Something less widely known is that living simply greatly expands our choice of livelihood. Think about it. More income flexibility means greater job flexibility.

Many people do work they dislike to finance fancy cars, large houses, etc. Sometimes, the more they  dislike their work, the more they compensate themselves for it with costly lifestyles, toys and hobbies. This can be a vicious circle.

A diamond-cut life circumvents that circle with a wider array of choices and skills.

For five years of my youth I lived in a narrow, one-room loft (I’m counting my 30’s as part of my youth). I was a self-employed artist, and [Read more →]

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Happy Fourth! Getting Past Independence-Worship

June 29th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

Happy Fourth of July! Those of us in the U.S. have a three-day weekend coming up — how shall we celebrate our nation’s birthday? Ideas below, but first a couple of thoughts on independence.

Why not celebrate the interdependence of all nations on the Fourth?

Given that the U.S. is now 238 years old, I think we are old enough to move past the glorification of independence. Teenagers, also known as adolescents,  are obsessed with independence — including me back when I was a teenager. Heaven only knows how my parents put up with me.

It’s a normal stage of development, for both people and nations. The downside of independence-worship is that it’s self-centered. The focus of independence is all on self, with no awareness of how you impact others. Hence the epic suffering of parents of teenagers.

On the international level, hence the epic suffering induced by climate change, which is driven by fossil-fueled overconsumption.   We in the U.S. are 4% of the world’s population, consuming 25% of its resources. 

Teenagers who grow up move on from independence, which focuses on self, to interdependence, which focuses on all concerned,  without neglecting the self. I’d love to see our nation move from the developmental stage of independence on to interdependence. If we understood we are interdependent, we’d address climate change by consuming less and controlling our emissions. 

We can all be leaders via our choices. Here are ideas for celebrating the 4th of July weekend, based on the idea of interdepence, i.e. we all impact each other and the world with everything we do.

Earth Flag by Anke Hartmanns of Germany

1. Embrace the outdoors, letting go of TV and electronic entertainment. Summer weather is too precious to be sitting indoors. Get outdoors, instead: walk and bike, throw Frisbees and softballs around, run through sprinklers; take nature hikes; play volleyball, soccer or croquet. Besides, no TV constitutes a great diet.

2. Have people over. Don’t be perfectionistic about what this looks like. People need our interest and our warmth, not our shiny surfaces. See top ten tips for hosting people. The single biggest predictor of happiness is the quality of our relationships with others. The fourth of July weekend is a good time to build our relationships.

3. Read a good book, and talk about it with others. The founding fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution read a lot of good books. Let’s emulate them. Use the library if needed: your taxpayer dollars at work. Two of my favorite reads are Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer and Eric Brende’s Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. These books show people living rich, joyful lives of interdependence.

4. Go to church. The beauty of worship, to me, is in getting past details of dogma and simply being part of something much greater than ourselves, a Creation guided by love. Another great thing about church is that people of all ages come together, from inf inter-generational community it fosters. If you’re on the political left, don’t reject religion just because the political right has made it appear conservative. Take a look at my Confession: I Love Church.

5. Make your own food instead of buying pre-packaged food. Sure, it takes more time, but that’s what three-day weekends give us a rich supply of. Apple pies are American, so bake one. If you are pie-crust-challenged like me, make a fruit cobbler (sweetly forgiving by nature).

6. Better yet, grow your own food: get out in the garden. It’s highly patriotic to nurture the land we’re living on, and to not just depend on corporate agriculture to feed us. As I write, our blueberries need to be picked again, and if you were to show up at my front door, I would have blueberries from our bushes to share with you. If I’m not home, feel free to pick some for yourself. Remember that working in the front garden makes us available for some great chats with neighbors.

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Gasping For Air

June 22nd, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

DSCN2206

Atop Mt. McLoughlin on summer solstice, with Colleen Kaleda (on right). Human accordion on left.

Being out there in wild nature is a prime way to be rich in what matters. And in my view, the longer the daylight, the better, which is why I love summer solstice.

My friend Colleen and I celebrated the solstice yesterday by climbing Mt. McLoughlin, the highest peak in Southern Oregon. This was a lungs-heaving, gasping-for-oxygen experience for me, in contrast to when we climbed Mt. St. Helens in 2012, or South Sister last year.

New life-lesson: your experience can change, even if the external circumstances haven’t changed. The altitude was no higher than in my prior climbs, and the amount I trained was no less. But my body responded dramatically differently to thin air than it did before.

I had to stop again and again to rest and gulp air before climbing some more. Interrupting my breathing for two seconds to drink water or blow my nose made my lungs heave harder than ever. I felt like a crawling accordion that was being played to a breathlessly fast song that I could not hear.

DSCN2201All of that was on the ascent. Half of a  climb, of course, is the descent. On the descent I fortunately dropped my accordion identity and became a normally breathing human being again. Karen and John Poole, the very experienced and gracious people hiking with us, told me that how people respond to altitude can change from day to day, depending on dehydration, stress and other unpredictable factors.

I hadn’t known that. There are hundreds of things about interacting with nature that I have yet to learn. I won’t learn all of them in this lifetime, but continuing to stay connected to nature will keep on making me richer in what matters.

If I emulate the Pooles and help other people at every opportunity, I will become richer still.

photos courtesy of Karen Poole

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Breaking The Trance

June 15th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

Being rich in what matters means thinking for ourselves rather than swallowing the Koolaid of the consumption culture. 

I’ve often seen a glazed, vacant look on people’s faces as they shop in malls,  watch TV, surf the internet, operate the slot machines in casinos, etc. They look as if they’re in a trance, and not a particularly happy trance.

The Koolaid trance is driven by a set of  cultural notions. Sometimes I even buy into some of these notions. Then I wake back up from the trance with a little start. Here are some of the consumption-Koolaid-driven notions I’ve identified. Feel free to name others in a comment.

The notion that who we are can be accurately expressed by the brands we buy.

The notion that whatever new electronic gadget hits the stores will necessarily make our lives better.

The notion that we don’t have time to be helpful to each other, make real food or [name a worthwhile activity] — despite all of us having 168 hours in every week. (Here’s how we can have more time.)

The notion that we can and should become wealthy without working.

The notion that being steadily entertained during non-working hours is a need, rather than a want. (Consider the joyful, low-cost art of self-entertaining.)

The notion that climate change is happening to other people, not to us, if it is happening at all.

The notion that what happens to people in the “bleeds-it-leads” evening news has any probability at all of happening to us.

Related to that – the notion we should live in fear and not walk anywhere or let our children walk anywhere.

The notion that we ought to look like the people in movies and magazines, i.e. way younger  and thinner than we are. (Are you familiar with the very best diet? Or how I dealt with the heart-stopping trauma of a kid calling me a grandma?)

The notion that we need vehicles 22 times our body weight to transport us from place to place. (Did you know that 40% of trips made in the U.S. are two miles or less?)

The notion that we are human doings, rather than human beings.
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Next Saturday — summer solstice — I plan to climb and summit Mt. McLoughlin, the highest peak in Southern Oregon, with my friend Colleen. That’s if  enough snow has melted and the weather gods are smiling on us. Here are the life-lessons I’ve gotten from my past two mountain climbs . . . funny, but they seem to apply to doing any hard thing.


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How To Make Happy Purchases, Part II of II

June 8th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

I write this blog because I love life and human beings, but reject the hyper-materialism of mainstream culture. It hurts our finances — we spend billions annually on credit-card interest and storing our excess stuff. And it hurts our relationships, our planet and our climate.

While we do need “stuff” in order to live, the joy and juiciness of life — being rich in what matters — doesn’t stem from our possessions. It stems from our relationships, our integrity, our health and physicality, doing work we believe in, our connection to nature, community and the God of our understanding.

Just for the record, a big body of research on human happiness supports those principles.

All that said, I struggle with excess stuff, just like almost everyone in our culture. While my husband Thor and I have only one car between us, we have never been able to put that car into our two-car garage. Too much stuff in it. I pay a smart lady named Kari Myers to periodically help me get organized, cull stuff for Goodwill, etc. I highly recommend her.

Last week in Part I of How To Make Happy Purchases we looked at how our needs are always the drivers of our purchases.  We buy things because we need to be fed, entertained, clothed, sheltered, to go places, to express our identity, etc. The more aware we are of our needs, the better the choices we can make.

This week, I’m suggesting that before we go out and buy new things, let’s consider the whole range of ways that our needs can get met. Below are some strategies to meet our needs in a variety of situations.

Borrowa good strategy for items we rarely use, especially high-cost ones. In the years I owned a small pickup truck, I let friends borrow it when they were moving so they didn’t have to rent one (I often borrowed their car for the day they used my truck, so my transportation needs also got met). Probably all of us have had both good and not-good experiences with lending and borrowing. For me, the good has been far greater. Always return borrowed items in the promised time-frame, in the condition you found them — or be up-front that you expect this of the friend borrowing from you. Borrowing is . . .

  • good for high-cost items we use only occasionally, like power tools, camping equipment, lawn mowers, pickup trucks, etc.
  • good for one-time-use items, like DVD’s, books, Halloween costumes, prom dresses and other fancy clothes

Buy useda good strategy when we need

  • long-lived, costly items like beds, bicycles, furniture, wedding rings, etc.
  • items that are easy to find used. For example, Goodwill stores  are full of towels, T shirts, jeans, plates, mugs, curtains and costume jewelry. But I have never found a couch or camping tent I would care to own in a Goodwill
  • when we don’t necessarily need high quality. In cars, good to know the background, i.e. a single owner that took good care of it.
  • when our timeline is flexible (it can take time to find the desired item used, rather than new).

Barter – exchanging goods or services for other goods or services. Bartering is a good strategy . . .

  • when we have a number of nearby people interested in bartering
  • when trust levels are fairly high (i.e. that a promised service or favor will indeed happen in the future)
  • when we have skills that others need (cooking, carpentry, haircuts and gardening are some commonly needed services)
  • when our timeline is flexible (it can take time to put a good barter together)

Rent –  a good strategy for high-end items we need rarely and can’t easily borrow. Examples are party equipment, power tools, tuxedos, a truck for moving or for hauling yard debris or large items to the dump. 

Buy new. This strategy makes sense . . . 

  • when we’ll need and use it for a long time
  • when it’s so rare we’d never find it used (in my case, size 9 narrow-width shoes)
  • when we need it right now (actually, we usually just want things right now — it’s good to be honest about that :)

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How To Make Good Purchases — Part I of II

June 1st, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

My new dress: bike-worthy! Work-worthy! No ironing! It meets all my needs.

When we buy a new item – whether a skirt, a couch or a car – we have a lot of choices, sometimes an overwhelming number of them.

We think that our choices are along the lines of price, style, color, size, accessories and so forth.But happy purchases don’t ride on the details of the objects we are buying.

Happy purchases ride on our understanding of our needs, and how we intend to meet those needs.

Today’s post is the first of a two-part series on how to ensure happy purchases. Incidentally, to find out which Diamond-Cut Life subscriber won my giveaway of a signed hardback copy of “David And Goliath”, see here.

What’s our need that’s driving our purchase?  Warmth? Entertainment?  Higher social status? Transportation? To feel attractive? To feed ourselves? To overcome Sitting Disease?

The more aware we are of our needs, the happier we will be with the purchases we make.

Yesterday I set out to buy a dress to wear to the Green Empowerment event here in Portland. I needed something I could stay cool in all summer.  Some of you will empathize that I wanted something a bit like my favorite halter dress that I lost on a bike ride last month. It needed to be bike-worthy, since bicycling is much of my summer transportation. The new dress should be work-worthy, if I add a sweater, and not be needy, itself, of irritating things like ironing. And like any woman, I needed to feel pretty in the dress.

Lots of needs, I admit. I only had 1 1/4 hours to shop once I got to the store, but I kept my focus on what I needed, and I found my dress. It’s wash and wear rayon, halter-ish and is bike-worthy with leggings. A cardigan sweater will make it fine for work. I may not buy another dress for years. That makes me very happy.

The bigger the purchase, the more crucial it is to be clear on our needs. In 2008, Thor and I decided to buy a new car, to replace our Nissan Sentra that was well into its teens.

Since we care about sustainability, we needed high miles per gallon. Since we’re not mechanically gifted (I verge on being a car abuser), we needed low maintenance. Since we’re  thrifty and we live below our means, we wanted a reasonably low price.

What did we not need from our new car?  We didn’t need it to be big. We didn’t need it to haul a boat or a trailer, so we only needed four cylinders. We didn’t need it to entertain or thrill us by going fast. We didn’t need our car to enhance our social status.

Naming our non-needs made our choice easier, by shortening the way-too-long list of cars that are out there.

Since we’re a one-car household, my husband and I needed our new car to meet both of our car needs — but not all of our transportation needs. Which leads to Part 2, which I’ll post next Sunday.

Here is the car we chose, after much research. It has worked out pretty well for the six years we’ve had it. We’ll probably keep it for ten years total, until 2018. Every month we put aside money for our car’s eventual replacement. We extend its life by using it sparingly — we bike and carpool to work, for example.

Valuable, little-known information: a car sitting in the driveway (because you are using transportation options) can be a secret watchdog that leads robbers to bypass your house, because they think you are home. And are you aware of the ways in which a car is like a condom, i.e. why public transit is such a pleasurable choice?

Wow, I got kind of carried away there. You can tell I work in transportation. OK: the main takeaway of Part I is that when we get crystal-clear on our needs, we make good, happy purchases. 

In Part II next Sunday I’ll post on how to find the best strategy to meet our needs (sometimes it’s a purchase, but sometimes it’s not). To receive that post and my weekly posts in general, subscribe here. 

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The Joy of Eating Locally

May 25th, 2014 by Alison · diamond-cut life

The U.S. has more than 8,000 farmers markets in which growers sell directly to customers.

Arguably, nothing makes us richer in what matters than eating well, in good company. And eating locally makes us and our community richer on multiple levels. So, “The Joy of Eating Locally” is the topic of Thor’s and my next Potluck Supper & Salon here in Southeast Portland on Sunday, June 1st at 4 p.m. If you’d like to come, let me know.

Salal berries, kind of a fibrous blueberry. Lots of these in my front yard; once a Native American staple here in the Pacific Northwest.

Eating locally pours our food dollars into our local economies, rather than into the coffers of multinational corporations. We are [Read more →]

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