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The Sweet Pursuit
Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive

How to Live without Regrets

No Regrets artIf you died today, what would be your paramount regret? Would you lament the fact that you never got the front porch painted; that you didn’t try that hot new restaurant; that there was one more project at work you wanted to wrap up?

Palliative caretaker Bronnie Ware spent years attending to hospice patients during the final weeks of their lives. In those achingly heavy days, she heard first-hand their regrets over missed opportunities, botched relationships, and squandered joys. Realizing what these end-of-life wishes could teach the rest of us, Ware collected the top five regrets of the dying for her blog Inspiration and Chai and republished them online with the AARP. The affecting list follows: 

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.  

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.  

It’s easy to inch dangerously close to these common regrets in our own lives. Workaholic family members should know that every one of Ware’s male patients regretted putting their job above their children and partners. Skip the late-night conference call! Too-busy young parents should beware of letting golden friendships grow cold. (“Everyone misses their friends when they are dying,” Ware says.) Have a drink with an old pal! And all of us should remember the most common regret: not being true to oneself. Unleash all those beautiful quirks and aspirations!

The U.S. edition of Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing will be released this month. Gratefully, she hints it has a happy ending, noting that each of the people she cared for came to terms with their regrets and even made major life changes to remedy them.

“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” she writes. “I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal.” It’s not too soon for the rest of us to make changes, either—good health or not. Don’t wait.

Source: AARP 

Image by April Johnson, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.


Kombucha: A Microbrew for What Ails You

Kombucha on iceThere’s something new on tap, though it’s been around for two thousand years. Kombucha, a fizzy, fermented tea drink purported to have healing properties, is steadily rising in mainstream popularity, finding success with commercial kombucha brewers, home brewers, and bartenders alike.

Made by fermenting tea and sugar with a culture of bacteria and yeast, kombucha is effervescent and potent, its deep, almost musty flavor lightened by a rush of friendly little bubbles. First-time drinkers soon become kombucha groupies.

Once associated with only the dippiest of hippies, kombucha and other fermented foods have earned the respect of the health-conscious community. Kombucha is thought to detoxify the body, improving digestive and immune systems, and Psychology Today reported that fermented foods may even be the next Prozac, easing stress and depression.

Although such positive claims lack solid scientific proof, kombucha devotees stand behind it as a miracle cure. Jeff Weaber, founder of Vermont kombucha brewery Aqua Vitea with his wife, Katina Martin (a naturopathic physician), shared this anecdote in an email: “During an in-store demo, a person returned after 15 minuets of trying our ginger kombucha for the first time to report that a stomachache she had been dealing with for three days was now gone.”

Aqua Vitea is spreading the kombucha love. The brewery bottles single-serving containers, “but more of it travels in the kegs to stores, where it’s sold fresh on tap—a niche Aqua Vitea pioneered,” writes Sylvia Fagin in Vermont’s Local Banquet. “Empty bottles and growlers are sold near the taps for customers to fill and refill, saving money and resources.”

Other kombucha microbreweries around the country are thriving, as well. In addition to its tasty finished product, craft brewer Kombucha Brooklyn sells 100-200 kombucha homebrew kits a month and curates an online Brewers Forum where devotees can swap stories and recipes. “One of our main goals for having the forum was to connect ’buch brewers and to have them share their successes and failures,” says founder Eric Childs.

Now kombucha is hitting the bar scene. Sumathi Reddy, reporting for the Wall Street Journal, sees alcoholic kombucha drinks gaining trend status in the New York metro area. Get a jasmine margarita made with kombucha at Taproom No. 307 in Manhattan, a “beer bucha” (50 percent kombucha, 50 percent light beer) at Urban Rustic in Brooklyn, or try a new high-alcohol version of kombucha called “Mava Roka” at Queens Kickshaw in Astoria.

Beware of too much of a good thing, though (even if it’s nonalcoholic), or you'll risk stomach pain, headaches, or other symptoms as your body adjusts to the detoxification process. Weaber warns, “After making kombucha for eight years, I started getting the sense that it’s powerful stuff, and you should probably be drinking only about four ounces of kombucha a day. But, being gluttonous Americans, everybody’s drinking 16–32 ounces of kombucha a day.” In other words, get out the shot glass, not the pint.

Sources: Psychology Today, Vermont’s Local Banquet, Wall Street Journal 

Image by Eric Bryan, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.


The Triumph of the Co-Op Bookshop

Bookshop stacksA town without bookstores is like a town without churches or bars. Minus the hymnals and happy-hour specials, the best bookshops are vital community centers where patrons can gather, share ideas, and have grand revelations or quiet discoveries. When Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, New York, began to fail, it tapped into the strength of its community with an inspired idea: cooperative ownership.

Last spring, rather than shuttering its doors, Buffalo Street Books sold shares of the independent shop to 600-plus local “co-owners,” raising more than $250,000, reports Christina Palassio in This Magazine. Less than a year later, the co-op bookstore is thriving.

What makes Buffalo Street Books’ co-op model successful? “The owners and employees of Buffalo Street Books do so much to make the store more than just a store; they’ve turned BSB into a community within a community,” says Chloe Wilson in The Ithaca Independent:

The store holds lectures, writer’s workshops, and reading groups on a regular basis. The store reaches out to Cornell and IC professors and works with them to supply books for their classes. The store encourages burgeoning writers and invites them to share their work. People who go to Buffalo Street Books aren’t just customers or employees, they’re members of BSB’s community.

In an industry already complicated by declining brick-and-mortar sales, answering to hundreds of shareholders has potential to add another layer of difficulty. “The messiness of running a co-op may not appeal to many beleaguered bookstore owners,” Palassio writes in This Magazine. “But with the rise in community-supported projects like [CSAs] and websites like Kickstarter and Unbound…the line between investor and customer is blurring.”

Keeping hometown bookstores alive makes the complications worthwhile. As novelist Ann Patchett told the New York Times after opening Parnassus Books in Nashville’s book desert last November, “I have no interest in retail; I have no interest in opening a bookstore. But I also have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore.” Like Buffalo Street Books, Parnassus Books utilizes the support of the community. Its Founder Rewards Program offers perks and discounts in exchange for member dues that range from $75 to $5,000.

In case you missed it, watch Patchett deftly explain the value of independent bookstores on The Colbert Report below. And don’t forget to support your local bookshop. The bars and churches are busy enough, aren’t they?



Sources: This Magazine (article not available online), The Ithaca Independent, New York Times 

Image by Quinn Dombrowski, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.



The Incredible Edible Forest

Apple tree 

You’ve heard of farm to table. Coming soon: park to table. This spring, in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, seven acres of underused land will be transformed into the nation’s largest urban “food forest”—a community park planted with a cornucopia of produce that visitors are encouraged to harvest and eat, for free.

According to Crosscut reporter Robert Mellinger, the Beacon Food Forest will be “an urban oasis of public food” offering a variety of edibles: apples and blueberries, herbs and vegetables, chestnuts and walnuts, persimmons and Asian pears.

The sprawling project, while ambitious, draws strength from volunteer groups like Friends of the Beacon Food Forest and from simply letting nature take its course. Built around the concept of permaculture, it will be a perennial, self-sustaining landscape, much like a woodland ecosystem in the wild. Companion plants included for natural soil-enhancement and pest-control will help lower the amount of maintenance needed.

“The idea of planting perennials as part of a self-sustaining, holistic system is old hat to many accomplished gardeners,” writes Claire Thompson for Grist, and groups like San Francisco’s Guerrilla Grafters have already dazzled us with novel ways to promote urban agriculture. “But,” continues Thompson, “creating a system on public land that combines the concepts of urban farms, orchards, and natural forest, and depending on collaborative community effort to keep it going, represents uncharted territory for the now-flourishing urban-farming movement.”

In addition to contributing to your family picnic, the bounteous Beacon Food Forest will feature traditional amenities like playing fields, community gardens, a kids’ area, and public gathering spaces. Check out the full site plan below:

Beacon Food Forest plan 

Sources: Crosscut, Grist 

Image by Liz West, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.  

Little Phone Booth Libraries

Payphone library 1 

“There are 13,659 payphones on NYC sidewalks, even though there are over 17 million cell phones,” reads a poster designed by New York architect John Locke. Seeing an opportunity for creative reuse and community building, Designboom writes, Locke is turning obsolete phone booths into mini libraries.

Passersby are encouraged to take a book or leave a book from the improvised bibliothecas, which are reminiscent of the Little Free Libraries born in Wisconsin or the Phoneboox found in the UK. Locke hopes the tiny metro libraries, part of his Department of Urban Betterment project, will encourage an increased sense of local camaraderie, he says via email: “More people in the neighborhood sharing, talking, and just having a heightened awareness and sense of engagement with their surroundings.”

So far, two phone booths have been converted, and Locke dreams of them taking over the city. “I want these to be cheap, fast, and easily reproducible. Ubiquity is the goal. The only costs are minimal—the price of lumber and time on a CNC cutting machine. After that, the shelves slot together and slide right into the booths with no hardware or fasteners required.”

The little phone booth libraries marry whimsy and practicality in every way. Nestled between used copies of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Middlesex, the existing payphone remains fully functional—just in case one of those 17 million cell phones runs out of juice.

Payphone library 2 

Payphone library plans 

Payphone library 3

Source: Designboom 

Images courtesy of John Locke. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.




Homeless Goats in the City


As urban homesteading continues its rise, city backyards are booming with agrarian dreams: chickens peck near privacy fences, milk-producing goats bleat greetings to overflying airplanes, and tomato and pea plants stretch toward the smoggy sun. But coupled with these well-intentioned back-to-the-earth efforts is a dark side, says E Magazine’s Jodi Helmer, as the farm animals we bring to the city get short shrift.

“For many urban agrarians, chickens and goats are the perfect addition to a backyard farm,” Helmer writes, “but when the novelty of having a chirping chick wears off or adorable kids turn into grownup goats that eat the landscaping, the animals are often surrendered to rescue groups or abandoned.”

Animal rescue centers like Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary near Salem, Oregon; the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York; and Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minnesota—who has experienced a 780 percent increase in rescue requests over the last five years—do their best to care for animals turned out by their owners, but resources are scarce. “Most urban shelters were not designed to house livestock,” Stephen Zawistowski, executive vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tells Helmer, leaving them vulnerable to euthanasia.   

Urban goat ownership will likely increase as cities like Minneapolis aim to overturn ordinances banning goats within city limits, joining towns including Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

Think it would be fun to have a goat in your very own backyard? Before buying, check out rent-a-goat services like City Grazing, profiled in the video below. Even better, call a local shelter to find out if a rescue goat could make your metropolitan farmstead its home.


Sources: E Magazine (subscription required), Exploratorium 

Image by Martin Cathrae, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.


How (and Why) to Donate Your Brain to Science

Brain embroidery 

By studying the human brain—not via an MRI or CT scan, but through the hands-on examination of a brain extracted from a recently deceased body—medical researchers can make stunning headway in discovering treatments or cures for diseases like autism, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. In theory, most people want to help advance this research; in reality, the idea of donating your brain to science is knottier.

Olivia Solon, writing for Wired.co.uk, explains the importance of brain donation but also recognizes its complexities: “The researchers trying to develop treatments for these devastating diseases are unable to carry out their studies at the rate they might like to because of a lack of donated brain tissue. This is partly due to a lack of awareness, but partly due to squeamishness and a belief that brain tissue is somehow more special or sacred than other organs. That strange gelatinous mass is inextricably linked to our personalities and, for some faiths, the soul.”

Many brain banks sympathize with the existential questions that surround brain donation, specifically whether it is compatible with one’s religious beliefs. The Autism Research Foundation offers snapshots of different faiths’ philosophies about postmortem brain tissue donation in an effort to make potential donors’ decisions easier:

Buddhism: The Buddhists believe that the decision to donate organs and tissue is a matter of conscience. While there is no written resolution on the issue, Reverend Gyomay Masao, president and founder of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, says “We honor those people who donate their bodies and organs to the advancement of medical science and to saving lives.”

Catholicism: The Catholic Church has long supported organ and tissue donation. The consent to donate is seen as an act of charity, fraternal love, and self sacrifice. On the other hand, organ and tissue donation is not considered to be an obligation. For this reason, the free and informed consent of the donor of donor’s family is imperative....

Hinduism: Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating their organs according to the Hindu Temple Society of North America. This act is an individual decision.

Judaism: Judaism teaches that all humans are created in the image of God and that every dignity must be extended to the human body in death as in life. Consequently, Jewish law sanctions the performance of autopsies only in certain, very limited circumstances…. A more liberal precedent, followed by many of today’s Jewish leaders, was set during the last century by Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger.... He ruled that an autopsy may be performed if the deceased had willed his or her body for that purpose while still alive. In fact, once of the major provisions of the Israeli legislature’s Anatomy and Physiology Act contends that if a person specifies in writing that his or her body should be used for science, it is permissible to donate that body for medical instruction and research.

Islamic Society: The Moslem Religious Council initially rejected organ donation by followers of Islam in 1983, but has since reversed its position provided that donors consent in writing in advance.

Protestantism: While no one can speak for Protestant Christianity, because of the diversity of traditions and the lack of a single teaching authority, most denominations both endorse and encourage organ and tissue donations. At the same time they stress respect for the individual conscience and a person’s right to make decisions regarding his or her own body.

If you’re able to get over the spiritual ramifications (and the ick factor) of brain donation but think your average, standard-issue brain isn’t of use, researchers want you to know that brains do not need to be diseased to be scientifically useful. In fact, healthy brains are vital for medical research, and they are in short supply. In the UK Brain Bank’s Parkinson’s study, for example, currently only 117 of the 1,110 brains are normal specimens, Solon says.

Beyond studying what can go wrong in the brain, healthy brains enable scientists to see what can go right. In the SuperAging study conducted at Northwestern University, the cognitively sharp participants—all of whom are over the age of 80 and have maintained superior memory and IQ—are asked to contemplate brain donation, reports Kara Spak in the Chicago Sun-Times. “They commit to brain donation so at the time of death we can see if [their brains are] resistant to age-related pathology,” says assistant research professor Emily Rogalski.

For individuals who want to donate their brains for medical research, special steps must be taken. Even if you’re an organ donor, your brain will not be utilized for research that could potentially affect thousands of lives; only transplantable organs, tissue, and blood are covered by checking the “organ donor” box on your driver’s license application.

Ready to consider donating your brain for the greater good? Visit the International Brain Banking Network, the Harvard Brain Bank, the Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Stanford Center for Narcolepsy, the New York Brain Bank, or other online resources to get started with questionnaires and consent forms. I just took the first step to donate my unremarkable brain (I’ll never know if they reject it), and I encourage you to do the same.

Sources: Wired.co.uk, Chicago Sun-Times 

Image by Spec-ta-cles, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.




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