Archive for December, 2010

December 23, 2010

On Biking

As many of you may know, Max and I both love bicycling, and we tend to bike everywhere whether or not we also have a motor vehicle.  A while back I wrote a poem about being a female cyclist in LA for a gender caucus at the Technicolor Tree Tribe co-op:

Biking in Los Angeles is

running the gauntlet

being sliced on all sides

becoming the prey

surrounded by predators.

Even the ones who don’t


or whistle

or taunt.

They stare,

as if to say with their eyes

“I could rape you.

I might even want to.

But I’m a good guy.

So I won’t.”

So I am spared again,

because of their restraint

and not because of my own


See, in LA I feel like I’m the only female cyclist in the entire city, completely alone, completely vulnerable.  Not only am I vulnerable to cars and trucks and buses and motorcycles KILLING ME, but I’m also vulnerable to constant taunts and cat calls and barks (from men, forget the dogs) and men who yell that something’s wrong with my bike just to try to get me to stop so they can harass me more, not to mention the occasional packed car that gets as close as they can behind me and then slams on their horn as they whizz by, inches from my handlebars, screaming out their windows about what a bitch I am.  Apparently, people hate female cyclists in LA.

IN CONTRAST, however, I have biked down streets in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley where the bike lanes are so wide and so ubiquitous, and the drivers so respectful and/or aware, that I find myself thinking about things other than my own violent death.  I have not heard a single cat call since we started our journey, though I suppose this might be partially due to Max always biking with me.  But most important, most noticeable, most GRATIFYING is that, lo and behold, I am not the only female cyclist on the road!  Not even in the dead of night!  Not even on the unlit streets far from the university campuses, far from the shopping centers, far from any place where you might find another female cyclist in LA.

So my message for those of you who live in LA and who might fall toward the feminine side of the spectrum: Get on your bike and get on the street!  Get some mace or whatever if you feel you need it, please don’t give in to the temptation to listen to your earbuds while biking so you can pretend to ignore the cat calling, cuz that’s dangerous, and take over those streets!  Other people will see you and their minds will change.  They’ll either think, “She looks like she could kick my ass, so I won’t yell at her,” or “If she can do it, so can I!”


Addendum:  It is now mid-April and I have been yelled at only once while biking.  We were biking in Seattle when a guy, who was with a group of guys, yelled “Show us your tits!” at me as I went past.  In 4 months of biking, one incident ain’t bad, coming from LA.  My standards are definitely changing.

December 20, 2010

Greenwave, Palo Alto

Greenwave is an awesome little c0-housing community in Palo Alto.  They let us park the bus in their yard for several nights and invited us back to their Christmas party a couple nights ago.  They are about 12 people, spanning the generations from one year old to 60-something.  There are four houses and one trailer, gardens of both veggies and flowers, fruit trees, a compost system, and a very welcoming, very chilled out vibe.

For those who are new to the technicalities of  “Intentional Communities,” co-housing is a specific type of community.  You can check out the Cohousing Association of the United States’ website ( for official specifics, but generally cohousing communities are communities where each person or family group has their own personal building/space, but there is also a common space for cooking and eating meals together and having community events.  Decisions are made through consensus of all the community members, and there is no hierarchical structure or explicit leadership.

The Greenwave community includes 3 “owners” who have owned the land for many years, and others who pay rent, but decisions are made through consensus during all-community meetings.  We attended one of these meetings, and as usual it was an interesting way to observe the interactions between the members and feel the tone of the community as a whole.  They didn’t raise their hands and there wasn’t a laundry list of agenda items, but there was a moderator/note-taker and a lot of laughter.  Everyone seemed to know each other really well.  I couldn’t help but feel like we had walked into a family in the truest sense of the word.  Members of intentional communities often use the word “family” to describe their community — the TTT certainly feels like my family, even though I don’t live at the LA house anymore.  But there was something even more family-like about Greenwave, and after experiencing this for a while I realized why: it was multi-generational.  At the TTT I felt like we were all siblings, chosen siblings in a chosen family, which is an awesome and beautiful feeling.  But it’s something different altogether when you have a chosen family of grandparents, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, children and grandchildren.  I didn’t sense any hierarchy based on age, only a richness in experience that a multi-generational group of people could create.

Greenwave’s food expenses are calculated carefully through a system they call the “kitty” (we never found out why it’s called that).  Common food can be anything except processed foods (and the meeting we attended involved a discussion of whether or not take-and-bake pizza counted as processed), and once people buy common food they can “put it on the food kitty,” which means listing it as common expenses which are tallied at the end of the month.  Everyone keeps track of how many common meals they eat per month, and at the end of the month everyone’s expenses are calculated in relation to the number of meals they ate, and they pay each other so that it ends up even.

Three of Greenwave’s members I spoke to had come from very religious  backgrounds, and had left their respective traditions for a more progressive atheist world view.  As a result, Greenwave tends to be anti-ideology, and they don’t have any official statement of beliefs or values.  Their profile says, “While we have a middle-class life, our ecological conviction is reflected in the attempt to minimize resource-use per person.”  Ecological/environmental awareness and trying to live frugally seem to be the unifying concepts of many intentional communities I’ve seen and read about.

Greenwave was incredibly welcoming to us, and the Christmas party they invited us to was like nothing I’d ever attended.  There was an absurd amount of food, caroling, a cellist playing for fun as background music, formal dancing, and a White Elephant gift exchange which involved such gifts as tire chains, a box of composting worms, and bottles of aphrodisiac perfume.  All in all, Greenwave was a wonderful place to visit, and we’re very thankful for everyone’s warmth, generosity, and laundry machines!


December 20, 2010

Struggle Mountain, Los Altos(ish)

We had spent about a week in Palo Alto and we  were having a bit of difficulty finding places where we felt it was OK to park the bus overnight. It wasn’t so much that we couldn’t find parking spots, as much as we were worried that people might call the police when they saw a big black bus parked on their street. It turns out that it’s illegal to sleep in a vehicle in most cities, and David from Magic had been very explicit that even though there was tons of room to park in their neighborhood, their neighbors would be quick to call the cops. So we had spent the night in a hospital parking lot where we had to wake up at 6am to move and then slept in a city park parking lot for a few hours. It was fairly stressful and we were ready to get out of the city.

So it was a beautiful sight driving up page mill road out of palo alto into the mountains and seeing the scenery change and knowing the city was receding behind us. We were met at Struggle Mountain by Mark who directed us to a lower parking lot that we pretty much had to ourselves and after negotiating the drive and filtering some oil that had so nicely been donated to us at Greenwave, we found ourselves inside Mark’s home. The first thing that Rachel and I noticed immediately upon entering was this really striking fireplace:

Mark had an incredibly warm and cozy home with beautiful tile and rustic appliances. We sat down that afternoon in his kitchen right after arriving and talked for  several hours. We shared food (a real blessing of all the dumpstering we’ve done is that we always have really good food to share) and stories and it was incredibly welcoming.

Mark had been around Struggle Mountain since the early 70’s and had been living there since 1983(?) so he knew a lot about the place and its history. Something that Rachel and I have both realized is that we have few older adults in our life that we really connect with and share values with outside of our families. Its always really special and a lot of fun to meet people of other generations who we can share stories with and feel at home with the way that we were able to with Mark. He had come to the area in the early 70’s and lived and built structures at “The Land”, an 800 acre piece of land just up the road from Struggle Mountain. At the time, the owner of the property was a rich individual with leftish leanings who had bought the land with the idea of preserving it from development. He got in contact with Joan Baez and David Harris and allowed them to use it for their Institute for the Study of Non-Violence in exchange for some caretaker duties. This is how The Land started and Mark told us that eventually there were about 50 people living there in the Winter and maybe 250 in the summer.  They built quite a few small structures (20-30?) with the one guideline that they be sort of hidden from the road, and set up a consensus based community.

It sounded like a really beautiful thing and Mark described to us what it was like to live there and how he drove up with his bus full of draft resisters and spent time up there. However, the story of The Land concludes sort of sadly as they seemed to gain too much publicity and too much attention, especially from the authorities. The owner of the property also ended up having some money issues and needed to sell it to the Open Space department, on the condition that all of the hippies were kicked out. In October of 1977, the sheriffs department evicted all of the people living there and in December, they bulldozed all of the buildings. The people living on the land were prevented from collecting anything from funds which were set up for people evicted from land that was acquired by public agencies. Here’s a picture of the group right before being evicted:

A number of the people who had lived at The Land formed a “corporation” named Struggle Mountain, and as a group, they bought a 10 acre property down the road and several of them have lived there ever since.

We stuck around Struggle Mountain for a few days. Mark took us on a beautiful walk around the area where we were able to see where The Land used to be and we could actually see across the mountains to the ocean. We ate dinner with the whole community and met most of the rest of the members. There are 10 adults and three generations living there aging from a few months old to people in maybe their late 60s. People work as online book seller, bee keeper, stained glass artist, restaurant workers, activist photojournalist, etc. Dinner was really fun and we were able to share delicious food, fun stories, and community knowledge. Everyone was really nice and funny and we sat around and talked into the night.

We left a few days later after showing everyone the bus. It was sad to go knowing we’d be returning to various cities and that we’d be leaving all these beautiful people we’d met. I suppose I can hope that we will have an opportunity to visit again and share more pesto.


For more info about The Land and Struggle Mountain and the history and culture, here is a nice website with a lot of info. A lot of people at Struggle Mountain maintain/contribute to it:

Also, here’s a link to Mark’s website where he sells books. Here’s a description: “I have a general used stock with special interests in left-wing politics (particularly anarchism), earth-based goddess religion, and satyagraha (nonviolence).”

December 20, 2010

Oakland Love

We spent a night on a dirty little street next to the 580 freeway in Oakland.  We were there to see a couple friends from LA, Tony and Desi, at their friend Nicole’s house (all of us have spent time with the TTT, so it felt pretty reunion-ish).  Nicole lives in an awesome little house with several roommates — there were tons of green plants everywhere, and beautifully disturbing art on the walls (some of my favorites were an upside-down American flag, the red and white stripes separated by barbed wire, and a brightly colored painting the top half of which showed a group of tipis on a serene open plain and the bottom half of which featured a covered wagon leaving a trail of blood through a background of neurotic blue arrows pointing in every direction… I stared a long time at both).  They were hosting a party that night, the focus of which was an amazing program of poetry/spoken word performance, something I’ve never really gotten into but have always been intrigued by.  It was incredible.

Before the party got rolling Tony and Nicole walked to a nearby worker-owned cooperative bakery, thinking positive thoughts of 3 free pizzas.  When they got there they asked if there were any pizzas that couldn’t be sold, and minutes later 3 half-baked cheesy veggie pizzas were handed to them, free of charge.  Max and I contributed some of our many dumpstered tomatoes and bell pepppers as additional toppings, and carrot cake for dessert.

We went to bed pretty late that night, but we were awoken suddenly by persistent knocking on Ollie’s windows.  I’ve come to expect this sound while sleeping, and though it’s irritating to be woken up at night, I’m no longer afraid of it.  We will either be asked to leave or told that we can stay, and neither is all that bad.  This drizzly night in Oakland I opened the folding front door and found a group of 4 or 5 guys peering into the bus.  They said that this was their neighborhood, and they were just wondering who we were.  We’d carefully parked in front of an open lot, so as not to be right in front of someone’s house, but we were still pretty conspicuous.  The guys weren’t being aggressive (as rude as it might have been to wake us up in the middle of the night), and gave me fist pumps like it was nothing strange to be greeting your new neighbors on the front step of their housebus.  They asked to come in, but I refused them — it WAS the middle of the night, and Max was in bed, awake and listening to the conversation.

The guys welcomed us to their neighborhood and left.  I’ve come to think of this event, the meeting of people who wake us up in the middle of the night by banging on our windows and doors, as an exercise in disarmament.  It doesn’t matter if the person is a police officer or a guy patrolling his hood.  They see a big black bus and they think there might be trouble.  So they decide to investigate, and when a small woman in rainbow socks and a jester’s hat greets them at the door with a smile and eyes that aren’t unnaturally dilated they think, Ok, maybe this isn’t trouble after all.  It seems to go that way every time.

We spent the rest of the night in peace, and the next day biked/Barted into San Francisco.  The Bart broke down while we were on it, and we had to get off at the wrong stop and wait for an indefinite period of time for another train, but eventually one came and we completed our trip and met up with our old friend from the Beginning of the TTT, Wave.  We got back to Oakland after dark, and were surprised to find two boxes outside Ollie’s front door.  They contained food: a bunch of celery, two bags of apples, two bags of onions, cans of beans and veggies, two loaves of bread, a bag of bread crumbs, oranges.  And two bags of something that could either be chunks of chocolate or dog food, hard to tell.  No note, no sign of who they could be from.  I can only assume they were connected to the guys we met the previous night, either that or someone random who saw the bus and figured someone was living on it, but the first option seems likelier somehow.  It was a beautiful act of selflessness, and it was definitely more food than we could eat.  We divided it up and gave half to Nicole for her and her housemates.  “That’s the community showing love,” she said.  “That’s real.”  We hadn’t thought of our stay in Oakland as a community visit, but clearly there’s much community to see and experience that isn’t listed on


December 20, 2010

Dumpster Score #6: Palo Alto

Trader Joe’s: 9 Satsuma oranges, 1 bag salty pretzels, 1 box whole wheat Pringles, 7 limes, 2 containers Hearty Minestrone Soup, 1 bag chicken gyoza, 1 container Manicotti with wild mushroom marinara sauce (so good!!), 4 yellow bell peppers, 2 red bell peppers, 1 carton eggs, 1 jar peanut butter, 2 organic strawberry lemonades, 1 box sugar plumb tomatoes, 1 chicken salad, 1 cranberry Gorgonzola salad, 2 cheese wedges, 3 bags cranberries, 1 jar pesto, 1 bag rutabaga parsnips turnips, 5 containers pumpkin cream cheese, 1 box apple grape juice, 1 whole carrot cake!

House of Bagels: 1 large black garbage bag full of nothing but bagels!  (too many to count, ~15 varieties)

December 18, 2010

Magic, Palo Alto

Magic is different than any of the other communities we’ve visited in that they have a central philosophy, which their original members invented, around which they base their communal lives: valuescience.  Valuescience is basically the use of science (mainly psychology and sociology) to determine values, and to help make decisions concerning the community.  A quote from their website:

“Ideas about value—about what we want and how to get it—are future-oriented. They rest upon prediction. Science, the sole demonstrated means for making predictions better than we can make by chance, is how we more accurately discern and more fully realize value.” ~ David Schrom

David Schrom is a professor at Stanford who helped found Magic in the early 1970s.  From what we observed during our short visit to this community, he and a couple of his partners currently form an “inner circle” of leaders, people who have lived at Magic for a long time and who make decisions for the community.  This was another difference between Magic and the other intentional communities we’ve visited: Magic is hierarchical and does not use consensus-based decision making.  The folks in the inner circle organize chores, cooking (there are house dinners every night), and cleaning.  Magic does not hold regular all-community meetings, using dinner as a time for the whole group to discuss issues that concern or interest them.  Conflict resolution starts with a meeting of the people who are in conflict, and if this does not resolve the problem, one of the leaders is asked to moderate.

I had a feeling even before arriving at Magic that they were used to guests (there was a note on the front door saying that if you had made an appointment you should just enter quietly without knocking), and that they would expect specific questions about their community and about valuescience.  I was curious about how valuescience is applied to every day life at Magic, and though I asked about this I’m still pretty unclear.  You probably have to live there for a while to fully understand it.  What I gathered is that when there is a decision that needs to be made that concerns the whole community, one of the leaders makes a poll asking the members their opinions, gathers data in a scientific manner, and then bases their conclusion-decision on the outcome of the poll.

Three children live at Magic, and they seem to lead extremely rich, physically healthy lives.  They attend a public school that allows them very flexible attendance, but it seems that they do most of their learning organically at home, through talking with and simply being around so many intelligent and diversely educated adults.  Magic doesn’t have a specific policy about acceptable or unacceptable foods, but they try to eat healthily and thus avoid too much meat, refined sugars, and processed foods.  They have established a relationship with a local farmers market and a health food store to pick up unsellable food before it is thrown away.  The farmers gladly give them all their extra produce, since they’d rather it be used than wasted, so Magic has a steady supply of free food.  As you can imagine, Max and I were quite impressed with this advanced form of dumpstering.

We only spent one evening with Magic, eating a delicious vegetarian meal made by one of the housemates.  There are about 17 people in this community, and it seemed as if most of them attended the dinner, but we ended up talking mostly with a couple of the leaders who had lived at Magic for quite a while.  I wish I had been able to talk more with some of the other members, to see how they felt about their community, especially its hierarchical structure.  David, the professor (I’ve heard him referred to as the “guru” of Magic, though I don’t know if he would accept this title) told us that egalitarianism/non-hierarchy is a good way to start a community, but after many years you realize that it is more efficient and effective to have a leadership based on intelligence and competence.


December 16, 2010

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs

If you’ve been following our Dumpster Scores you might have noticed that we had a lot of eggs (like a LOT of eggs) and had recently acquired a bag of sweet potatoes.  We had a delicious potluck dinner with our hosts last night and discovered this excellent recipe.

(In case you’re wondering, when I’m saving food from being tossed in a landfill I’m not particularly vegan, since I’m not contributing to the production of the animal products but instead am preventing them from being wasted.  I’m still vegan when I buy food, but I really haven’t bought food in a long time!   -Rachel)

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs


2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice (about 2 2/3 cups or 13 ounces)
1 1/3 cups minced yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
Coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced parsley or cilantro


1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and onions and cook about 5 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Reduce heat, add garlic and jalapeno pepper, and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and pepper.
3. Make 4 evenly spaced, slight depressions in the hash and break an egg into each one. Place pan in the oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked. Remove, season eggs with remaining salt and pepper, and garnish with parsley. Serves 4.

Recipe by Margaret Fox, “Morning Food,” March 11, 2007

December 16, 2010

The Questions

About a week ago I jotted the following questions down in my journal, intending to ask them of each community we visited.  We’ve been on the road for 18 days now, and we’ve visited 8 communities, staying at some for several nights and just dropping by others.  Each community treats our visit a little differently.  Some expect probing questions, and would probably be disappointed if we didn’t have any.  Others are more casual, and much of our learning about their culture comes from simply hanging out and observing, instead of actually asking direct questions.  I’ve decided that I don’t want to be a reporter, notebook in one hand and camera in the other.  I don’t want to make our hosts nervous or suspicious, and I want our learning to come from being incorporated into the community (even if just for a few hours) instead of being like scientists researching some exotic species.  In my observations I’m not trying to be completely objective.  I have some idea of what kind of community I would want to live in, and this definitely colors how I see and understand things.  At this point I am not going through this list, asking questions in order and taking notes.  Instead, I’ve memorized the questions and if one or another seems appropriate given the natural conversation, I’ll ask it.  If not, I won’t.  They’re serving as an outline, reminders of the kinds of things I’m interested in knowing, but if they would seem inappropriate or invasive, I don’t ask them.  So far this way of doing things has worked well.

  1. What is the intention in your intentional community?
  2. What is the most enjoyable/satisfying aspect of living here?
  3. What is the most difficult?
  4. What is your decision-making process?
  5. How do you take care of chores/cooking?  Do you feel like this system works well?
  6. How do you recruit/select new members?  What are you looking for?
  7. How do you resolve conflicts?  What are your most common conflicts about?
  8. Does your community explicitly welcome people of color, people who live outside traditional gender norms, and members of other socially and politically oppressed groups?
  9. Do you consider your community “safe space”?  If so, how do you define “safe space”?
  10. Why did you choose to live here?


December 15, 2010

Dumpster Score #5: Palo Alto

Sorry it’s been a while guys.  We have a lot to post about, but we haven’t had internet.  Stay tuned!

Trader Joe’s: 1 bag diced raw sweet potatoes, 23 Satsuma oranges, 5 4-oz containers basil (= a ton of pesto!), 1 pumpkin pie, 1 box cherry tomatoes, 18 bananas, 1 loaf Super Grain and Seed bread, 4 Mini Triple Chocolate Bundt Cakes, 1 carton eggs

December 11, 2010

Dumpster Score #4: Palo Alto

Trader Joe’s: 1 large (32 oz) plain goat yogurt, 1 cilantro jalapeño hummus, 1 brie cheese wedge, 3 rye tortilla Reuben wraps, 3 pears, 2 bananas, 2 cartons eggs, 1 container Hollandaise sauce (think: deviled eggs!), 3 boxes gingerbread mix, 1 jar mustard, 1 box sugar plumb tomatoes, 2 packaged chicken salads, 1 goat cheese walnut red bell pepper salad, 1 mozzarella tomato salad, 1 cucumber, 1 bag candied ginger, 1 jar apple sauce, 1 bag wheat pizza dough, 2 mangoes, 1 box tofu springrolls, 1 cantaloupe

We also excavated a couple packages of raw crabs.  Like, big red crabs looking like they should be crawling around on the bottom of the ocean and probably costing a million dollars to buy.  IN THE DUMPSTER.  Max wanted to take them just for the novelty, but then realized he had no idea how to cook them, and Rachel certainly wasn’t going to eat them.  So we left them.  We hope someone who knows about cooking crabs checks out that dumpster sometime soon…