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Family of 5 weathers economy with 7 housemates

Lisa Respers France, CNN
Chris and Georgia Frankel have no idea what it must be like to live alone as a married couple. They started out their life together staying with relatives and later friends.

Those early years proved to be good training because their house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, now has 12 people calling it home.

In addition to their three daughters, ages 3, 6 and 17, the couple shares their space with five adults and two teens.

The family started taking in people before the economy soured, and now they say they are weathering the downturn better than some, in part because of their unconventional living arrangement.

In the Frankel household, everyone has pulled together to make the way a little bit easier for them all.

… “This is how people used to live, looking out for and taking care of one another,” said Loda, who cooks and helps with the care of the children as a way to contribute to the household.

iReporter Austin Chu posted a clip of the Frankels to share the story of a family he says “embodies what we all need to embody.” Inspiration in Albuquerque

Austin and his brother Brian are traveling the United States filming a documentary they have titled “The Recess Ends,” about the country’s current economic plight.

Austin Chu said the Frankels are an example of America at its best.

“Imagine if every family was like the Frankel family,” Chu said. “In times of real trouble, these are the values we need to hang on to.”
(19 February 2009)

Can I Lose My Car Without Losing My Home?

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
… I have always viewed the car as the price I have to pay to live in the country – and at times, I’ve wondered if it was too high a price.

We’ve done everything we can to minimize our use of the internal combustion engine. First, there’s the Riot for Austerity, that limits our gas consumption inherently. We have to weigh “is it worth it to take this trip, to do this activity” each time we do it. We’ve also tried hard to resist two car status – for a while, when a neighbor was also an at-home, our two families shared three cars – we bartered for use of their car one day a week. Our kids carpooled with theirs for many activities. And for the last year or so, we’ve had one small car for the household – challenging with three kids in booster or car seats, but doable. The sheer unpleasantness of being crammed into the middle bench seat, my knees against the radio, mean that we’re not much tempted to take the car on long extraneous journeys. Given that I find travel in cars inherently unpleasant, slightly upping the ante is no great hardship.

It isn’t always easy – we barter for the use of a truck occasionally with a friend to haul hay. Stock ups at the grocery store are limited by what we can cram in around our feet as well as in the trunk, and when it was time to take the chickens to the butcher, unpapering the back seat was a less than totally pleasant task. Everyone says “you need a truck.” But we don’t want one.

And it has its pleasures – cuddling in together in winter, and we amuse ourselves with the site of the stunned gas station attendant who glanced into the car window and saw three vigorously waving little boys in car seats, my husband, pretending to be blase, and a goat curled up on the front seat and looking at him curiously.

Still, the holy grail lurks in front of us. Could we ever give up the car entirely? The thing about the party game of “how low can you go” is that you can’t stop wondering if there’s another step down.
(18 February 2009)

Neighbors Helping Neighbors—to Break Into Vacant Houses

Madeleine Baran, Twin Cities Daily Planet (Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minnesota)
Poverty rights activists broke into at least a dozen vacant Minneapolis buildings this week and helped homeless families move in.

“This is the modern underground railroad,” said Cheri Honkala, National Organizer for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, the group organizing the “takeovers.”

This week’s actions are part of a growing national movement to illegally open up thousands of vacant, foreclosed homes to provide housing for the growing number of homeless people. Over 3,000 Minneapolis homes went into foreclosure in 2008. Advocates estimate that over 7,000 Minnesotans are homeless. Most Twin Cities’ homeless shelters have been filled to capacity for months.

On a recent afternoon, organizers planned their next takeover while eating cabbage, rice, sausage, and corn bread prepared by Rosemary, a 59-year-old African American woman facing eviction from her home.
(18 February 2009)
Also at Common Dreams.

Treating the Blues Could Save the Planet

Colin Beavan, WorldChanging
I suffer, at times, from anxiety and depression. Not the worst kind of anxiety and depression. I’m talking about the kind that takes the edge off the gratitude I should be feeling for a good life — a life with kind people in it, a nice place to live, and a career of writing and environmental activism that I really enjoy.

… My problem is that I’ve been working my tail off night and day for a couple of years now. I ran the No Impact experiment in which my little family tried to live as environmentally as possible. I write a daily blog ( I just finished a book (which comes out next September also under the title No Impact Man). My collaboration in the making of the No Impact Man documentary just wrapped up. It’s added up to a lot of work. You know, like working nights. Working weekends. Working like a dog. Working like, well, an American.

Now, we already know that the United States economy wreaks havoc on our environmental well-being, contributing some 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But it turns out that working in that same economy may also wreak havoc on our emotional well-being. Working like an American, some research implies, may be — literally — depressing.

… What I’ve found over the years, is that I can manage my predisposition to the blues if I rest enough and if I take care of myself. I’ve found that if I take time to meditate, exercise, sleep sufficiently and joke around with friends, then my tendency to over-think and get down about life actually can transform into an asset: with space, digested worry can become some kind of worthwhile introspection.

Lately, though, I haven’t taken the time to decompress — I go back to work after putting my little girl to bed — and my worry has nibbled at my life quality. This leads me to thinking about the connection between my recent, more-stressful-than-usual way of life and my anxiety and, in turn, Americans’ long working hours, the associated planetary resource use of our economy, and the fact that nearly 10 percent of Americans suffer from some sort of depressive disorder, according to the World Health Organization.

I asked a psychiatrist friend if the fact that the United States sports the world’s highest rate of depression (not to mention, by the way, obsessive-compulsive or panic disorders, which together affect another 18 percent of Americans) is related to problems with our individual brain chemistries or problems with our way of life. My friend said that individual brains — like mine, for example — may have a biological tendency towards anxiety and depression. But this tendency can be triggered by the stresses a culture foists on its members.

… Our economy and our culture doesn’t cater to lifestyle choice. Here in the United States, our policies are not about making sure we can take care of ourselves in any other way than financially. In some ways, I wonder if that puts us in the ludicrous position of having to take a pill — like Prozac — in order to tolerate the way we live.

… Maybe that we should, as individuals and as a culture, consider working less if we want to be happier. Yeah, but how does this relate to our economy’s use of planetary resources and saving the planet, as I’ve implied?

… We tend to think of using fewer resources for the sake of the environment as some sort of belt tightening, a sort of deprivation. But what if using fewer resources meant needing less money, meant having to work less hard, meant less depression and anxiety? What does such a possibility tell us about how we should live our lives? What does that tell us about the possibility that living environmentally might be better for us as well as for the planet?
(18 February 2009)