Composting 2018

Living in a rural area outside Santa Fe, we are masters of our own waste, free of pesky rules concerning style and content of compost facilities. Our “facility” is about the size of a small bedroom or a large closet, contained within four walls of straw bales, stacked two bales high. It is divided into two cells, one where the fresh offerings go, and the other where the compost is left for the final conversion to soil. I know there are those with other systems, plastic barrels that you roll on the ground to activate whatever the composting agents are, and plastic bins that sit in a frame and you turn with a crank. They adhere to strict rules about what goes into the bin – only fresh vegetables. — but the result can be disappointing, smelly and slimy.

Not our compost, which is currently covered in snow. But this shows construction.

We, on the other hand, are equal opportunity composters. There is nothing in the animal or vegetable kingdom that is not welcome. Our compost bucket takes all vegetable matter (the older the better), as well as chicken carcasses, fish bones, paper towels, egg cartons, stale crackers, sour milk, old wine, and leftovers whose identity is masked by a thick layer of blue, green or gray fuzz. Egg shells and coffee grounds are treasured.   (more…)

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Lotus Blossoms and Racism

My field of conflict resolution seems to have exploded lately with workshops to help people deal with racism and bias. Believing that this is a critically important focus these days, and wanting to answer the call, a Hispanic colleague and I have facilitated several workshops for agencies, nonprofits and others. We help attendees (usually a mixed group of White and People of Color) tell their stories — stories that reveal the power and dynamics of historical trauma, unintentional bias, institutional racism, and more. Hopefully, these sessions are enlightening, provocative, and lead to more awareness of how to deal with each other in these volatile, divisive times. But the real learning comes from our own experience and a willingness to examine what lies within us.

And so, here is a story…

Washington DC was gorgeous. Late July, not too hot, clear skies, slight breeze. My work ended a day early and I was in the mood for a little nature after all those buildings and monuments.  I heard the lotus blossoms were in full bloom at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and grabbed a cab from my downtown hotel. The driver had apparently never taken anyone there before, but I showed him the address on my phone and we took off, through downtown, brief stretches on highways, in and out of neighborhoods. I saw the signs fly by – Kenilworth Avenue, Anacostia, Baltimore, etc. – and luxuriated in the cocoon of the cab, not needing to know anything of where I was. (more…)

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Thank You, Nicky

We lost a special friend this fall. Nicky Garoffalo was 64 years old and lived in Utrera, Spain, south of Sevilla, with his sister Maria and her husband Pepe. Nicky had Downs Syndrome and lived a full and rich life, touching many lives and leaving us all the better for knowing him. If you know others with Downs Syndrome, this will probably have special meaning for you; if not, I hope that it will open your eyes to what you are missing!

Nicky was born in Albuquerque, which is where my husband Roberto met him. They became fast friends and hung out together, two guys in their 20s, cruising Albuquerque in whatever pickup Roberto had at the time. One of the bonuses for me when I met Roberto was gaining Nicky’s friendship, too.

There were challenges, of course, for Nicky and his family. Albuquerque was not able (or willing?) to provide meaningful support for them. Nicky was robbed at a bus stop, taken advantage of by some drug dealers, and had no real way to contribute to society. Widowed, his mother moved to Spain, believing that the culture and society were better equipped to accept and support her and her son. She was right. It was a great move for Nicky. (more…)

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Eyes on the Pies

Seton Village Pie Bake 1981 “Eyes on the Pies”

Back in 1980 we had a gigantic apricot crop in Seton Village. We were all trying to give them away to our neighbors who already had too many. One aggressive neighbor, standing in our patio trying to give me a bag of apricots, declared that he would make an apricot pie and that it would be the best pie in the village. Hackles raised, I challenged him. I had my own apricots, far better than his, and I was no mean baker. We would have all the villagers judge, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would win. He was just as sure. This was the birth of a tradition, the Seton Village Pie Bake, held annually during the summer months. We just held our 38th, but more about that later.

I put flyers in all the village mailboxes (about 20) announcing the contest, and inviting any neighbors who wanted to compete to bring a pie. My rival and I were not worried. Other pies would only highlight the superiority of ours. The day came and villagers arrived on our “plaza,” the small open space on which our houses face. There were several pies, and once they were finished off we voted with secret ballots for the best one. (more…)

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Bringing Down Barriers

students waiting for bus in structure to protect them from wolves

The reintroduction in 1998 of the Mexican Gray Wolf in New Mexico and Arizona has been controversial to say the least. There are those who praise the federal action and are rooting for the endangered species to make a full recovery. And there are those who see the wolf as a predator, threatening their livestock and rural way of life. The fear has driven some to put their children in special wolf-proof cages to wait for the school bus at the more remote stops.

For the past 20 years I have watched the conflict rage, the two sides digging in, littering the landscape with fear, insults, and righteous outrage. Always looking for the common ground, my mediator self has been pretty discouraged.

Mexican Gray Wolf

But there was one bright spot. Kevin Bixby, founder and executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, asked me to facilitate a workshop in Alpine, Arizona, near the border between the two states and epicenter of the wolf battle. As an environmentalist, he had a lot of nerve to even drive through Alpine, let alone convene a day-long workshop for local ranchers. I was fascinated. Why would any wolf-hating local give this guy the time of day? (more…)

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Miracles Happen

There are intractable conflicts rooted in history all over the country. Conflicts over flags, over statues, over celebrations, over naming of public places, over school curriculum, and on and on.  Sometimes it seems that only a miracle could resolve them. Well, I am proud to announce that a miracle has happened, right here in Santa Fe. But I must begin with the history, because as with many conflicts that’s where it all began.

In the late 1500’s Spanish conquistadors marched from what is now Mexico north in search of the famed cities of gold. Anyone they met along the way was astounded at the sight of these armored, spear-carrying, bearded strangers and sent them on. “Oh, the cities of gold? Yes, they are about 100 miles to the north.” Reaching as far north as what is now Colorado and as far east as what is now Nebraska, they finally gave up the search and settled along the Rio Grande, running north to south through what is now New Mexico.


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Red, White and Blue

My mother was born in 1914 and was raised in between the wars to love the American flag. She remembered fondly parades on the Fourth of July and other occasions where the flag was carried with loving pride. She was an activist in the 60s, and critical as she was of our government for the Vietnam War and for civil rights abuses, she hated to see the flag defiled. She always saw it as a beautiful symbol of our best intentions and held that affection for it through protests, marches and demonstrations.

From a generation younger, I missed out on that innocence. Burning the flag, your draft card, your bra – it all seemed fair game to me.  For me the flag came to represent a blind and heartless nationalism. In fact, like many of my kind, I chose not to display a flag on the Fourth of July, or any other time. It seemed to have been high jacked by “the other side,” or more accurately, I abandoned it and let them have it. 

faded glory on Roberto’s truck window

My husband, a Vietnam veteran, has hung onto the flag, refusing to let it become a pawn in the “us versus them” battle. He realized after a few months of combat, that he and the others were not there to defend democracy but to support an unpopular government.  Like so many in every war, he fought for his fellow Marines and to survive until his tour was up. Angry as he was at the US government for the lies it perpetrated to justify that war, he never gave up on the flag and wears a flag decal on the back window of his truck.


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The Girl at the Yard Sale

The great thing about yard sales is the element of surprise. Will you sell that top-of-the-line jig saw made in Switzerland, only used a couple of times, still in its fancy case? Will someone not be

able to resist that shawl in beautiful earth tones from Bali? What about the Japanese vase made out of a fat section of bamboo, so simple and elegant?We had a yardsale today and none of the above sold. No matter. It was a great day, and I’ll tell you why.

I was selling a dozen or so Easton Press books. They are the classics, leather bound with fancy gold (real gold, they say) lettering and designs on the covers, gold edged pages and elegant illustrations. I inherited them and although they are handsome on a bookshelf, they just didn’t look comfortable on our bookshelves. They needed another home where they would be loved.

Two sisters came along, shorts, pierced ears, cute purses and ball caps. The younger one saw the books. “Ohhhh. I love books!  These are so great! I just love them!” and she picked up one, petting the cover, fingering the gold embossing. She opened it lovingly, cooing over the print, the illustrations, and generally being a really enthusiastic teenager.

“Do you have Of Mice and Men?” She was almost afraid to ask. It was a long shot that it would be one of the dozen in the box. (more…)

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Feeding People


If you live in New Mexico, you have probably gone to at least one feast day at a nearby Pueblo. And if you have gone to one, you have probably gone to many more. They are wonderful events where the Pueblo and its people are blessed for the coming year, with traditional dancing, singing, and drumming. They are open to the public and although the sights and sounds are deeply satisfying, your Pueblo hosts will not let you leave with an empty stomach. They welcome strangers into their homes and seat them at a table heavy with bowls of red and green chile stew, beans, posole, potato salad, baskets of bread, plates of cakes, brownies…I can’t go on! My mouth is watering as I write. See my previous post for more on Pueblo dances

It is a really awesome thing, to be welcomed into a home and fed. There is a bond between you and your host(ess) and the others eating with you that is like none other. As a facilitator I have come to appreciate the role of food in resolving conflict. Sharing a meal, or even a snack, offers a chance to relax, be nourished, and build a relationship with that person who might look like an adversary on the other side of the negotiating table. It is also a leveler. Lawyers, scientists, community members, tribal leaders, elected officials, cooks and janitors are all equal at mealtime.

And so it is a major frustration for me that federal agencies with whom I often work are not allowed by law to buy food for anyone outside the agency. This has led to such absurd situations as federally sponsored community meetings held from 5:00 to 8:00 pm on a weeknight, where the attendees might have to drive an hour or more and then arrive to find not so much as a cookie and bottle of water waiting for them. This drives me crazy. If I am facilitating, I bring plentiful snacks myself – fruit, vegetables, crackers, cheese, trail mix, juice, coffee, and yes, cookies, lots of cookies. I am not about to try to facilitate an angry crowd that is also a hungry crowd.

Over the years I have worked with the Forest Service as they revise their forest plans. Here in Region 3 (New Mexico and Arizona) there have been dozens of community meetings, public forums, tribal summits on all kinds of topics. I have consulted on some projects and facilitated others, bringing snacks when needed. Forest staff and I have talked at length about building strong partnerships with other jurisdictions – local government, private landowners, other federal agencies and tribes – in order to maximize the impact of land improvements on Forest Service land. I have emphasized the importance of honesty, clarity, and a personal relationship based on mutual caring. They have been willing students, and have implemented the ideas as best they can, within the limits of the law.

Recently, Region 3 Forest Service staff invited me to a tribal summit in Albuquerque to offer my observations on their relationship with tribes.  Over thirty tribes were represented by about fifty leaders and staff. They sat politely and listened to a series of Forest Service presentations on a wide variety of subjects – wildfires, endangered species, forest thinning, pest management, recreation, and more. There was a question or two after each presentation. The atmosphere was a little formal, a bit restrained. Everyone is going through motions, I thought.

And then the Forest Service chief announced it was time for lunch. Tribal members gathered their things and prepared to leave the building, get in cars and drive to Wendy’s or McDonald’s or wherever. They knew from experience that the feds don’t feed people, by law. A fact of life. The reality of working with the federal government.

But when they turned around, what did they see? A line of Forest Service employees coming into the room with dishes, platters, bowls and baskets, heaped with food they had made themselves. There was a huge pan of enchiladas and one of lasagna, a bowl of red chile and one of spaghetti. A man had made spanakopita and stuffed grape leaves in honor of his homeland. A woman had fried chicken as her grandmother had taught her. Another brought a vegetable tofu stir fry, and another a turkey meatloaf. There were endless salads and desserts, all brought by Forest Service staff in a gesture of hospitality to tribal neighbors. They were saying, with this abundance of food, thank you for the hospitality you show us every year. But more importantly, they were saying we understand that a solid, trusting relationship includes sharing food, and not even our employer, the federal government, can stop us from making that happen.

The look of surprise on the tribal faces said it all. Jaws dropped.  They set down their briefcases and their jackets, and headed to the long tables in the back of the room, now heavy with lunch. The mood was light, the room filled with chatter, as people exchanged stories, often finding unexpected common ground. And when the paper plates and plastic ware were deposited in the trash cans, and the leftovers covered in aluminum foil and the Tupperware snapped back in place, everyone made their way back to the front of the room. The presentations continued, but I swear there was a palpable shift from the morning. There was an openness, a relaxation, a feeling of camaraderie between the podium and the audience. All that good food and the spirit with which it was offered had made the difference.

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Time To Listen

I’m pretty old. Like many of us, I’ve been talking a long time. These last few weeks I have realized that it is time to listen.

The older generation often looks on the upcoming generation with curiosity and a dash of terror. How could they be so – fill in the blank — foolish, immature, unfocused, superficial, and on and on. How can they possibly function with their noses (and brains) buried in some device, a device that we in my generation are proud just to be able to turn on and off? They will never learn to communicate, we despair. They will lose all ability to relate to another human being. Look at them, texting each other while sitting shoulder to shoulder on the bus!

I confess I’ve said all this myself, but no more. Since the Parkland shooting, I have closed my gaping jaw and listened to some of the most articulate, smart, committed voices I have heard in a long time. Strong, passionate voices. Fearless, young faces. They command the stage, the podium, the press conference. They demand that we listen. They are laser-focused and they mean it.


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