Successful campaign: Amtrak to offer vegan meals on the dining car!

Santa Barbara train station at dusk

Well, we did it!! Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Tom Hall, Amtrak’s VP of Customer Service, and Gary Gunderson, head of their Food and Beverage Services department. Mr. Hall had received helpful letters from a number of you, and was willing to commit to adding vegan menu options to all dining cars in their next menu-change cycle. Their Culinary Advisory Team meets once a year, in October, and develops the two menus for the next year: one spring/summer menu and one fall/winter menu, and this coming October they will be sure to add vegan options for next year.

Here is an excerpt from the follow-up email I received from Mr. Hall after our phone call:

“As I outlined, our immediate plans to improve our vegan offerings are to introduce the Vegan Burger on our Long Distance Dining Menus in our next menu change. This has been a successful item in our lounge/café service and should transition well to the dining car. In addition our spring/summer dining car menu change will include an Entrée Salad that will allow the meat and cheese to be ordered separately which in turn will make the base salad vegan compliant and a much heartier portion than our current side salad. We will continue to search out new options for our dinner service offering. As I committed, we will be tasking several of our Amtrak Culinary Advisory Team (ACAT) members with developing vegan dinner options at our upcoming fall ideation session. Any new items designed in the course of that event will be introduced with our spring/summer 2016 dining car menu. As we discussed it would be extremely helpful if you were to forward me some of your suggested items which I will pass on to the culinary team. We will certainly be looking at how we can leverage the vegan offerings as “Healthy Options” as you suggested, the Healthy Option category that we currently offer has been favorably received and fairly successful.”

So, if any of you have further ideas for menu items that would be easy to prepare and store in their small kitchen spaces on board the trains, please feel free to contact me (maren@dreamintochange.com) and I will pass them along. A couple of logistical things to keep in mind, if you do want to make such suggestions:

*Items should not need to be fried, because each car has only one surface for frying, and they want to be respectful by not potentially “contaminating” vegan food items by cooking them on the same surface with meat.

*Anything that would appeal equally to non-vegans and vegans alike would be great; in the past, the vegan options they tried were not ordered enough to avoid spoilage. Potential for spoilage must be kept to a minimum in order for these new menu options to succeed.

Thanks again to all of you who followed this campaign, signed the petition, shared it via social media, and/or wrote personal letters to Amtrak staff offering encouragement and support. We approached this campaign in a persistent, positive, respectful, and collaborative way, and I am absolutely thrilled about this outcome. And, I’m already dreaming up some trips to take on the train next year!

Posted in Animal rights, Nonviolent Communication, Sustainable Transportation, Travel, Veganism | Tagged , , | 53 Comments

Amtrak petition update

My lunch and dinner on board

My lunch and dinner on board

Santa Barbara train station at dusk

Santa Barbara train station at dusk

Well, I had hoped for a quick and easy victory. To gather 15,000 signatures from around the nation and the world, to present them to Amtrak’s CEO, and to be told, “Yes! We have heard you, and we will commit to carrying vegan meals on board all long-distance Amtrak trains, no later than the end of 2015.”

It would have been so awesome!

That’s not how things have unfolded thus far. But the campaign continues, and I’m seeking your help.

First, a campaign status update:

On February 12th, my Change.org petition hit 15,000 signatures. I was ecstatic at the response, and at that milestone I decided it was time to “present” the signatures to Amtrak’s CEO, Joseph Boardman. On February 16th, I sent him the following email:

Dear Mr. Boardman,

I love to ride the train!  I have taken short trips in the NW corridor on the Cascades, and I’ve also taken three long-distance journeys in the past 15 years, one on the Empire Builder and two on the Coast Starlight.  I appreciate rail travel for many reasons, and I would love to see Amtrak thrive into the future.

I’m writing to you today with a request.  Perhaps, by now, you have seen the petition I started on Change.org, about three weeks ago: www.change.org/p/joseph-boardman-offer-vegan-meals-on-the-standard-dining-car-menu  Since then, more than 15,000 people have signed, from all across the USA.  (Even some international Amtrak riders have signed.)

We would all like to see vegan meals (strict vegetarian: no animal products) offered on the standard dining-car menu of all Amtrak trains.  We appreciate the vegan offerings in the lounge car (notably the packaged vegan burger) but the dining car is an important part of long-distance train travel, and many of us have had trouble trying to order our meals 72 hours in advance.  If you could offer a vegan entrée option on the standard menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you would help many vegans—and others with dairy allergies or other dietary restrictions—to enjoy and choose rail travel that much more.  Further, as many of the petition’s hundreds of comments show, many non-vegans would like to have this option available as well. (I’m pasting below a few of the comments; you can view them all on the Change.org site.)

I applaud your efforts to reach out to a new, younger demographic by increasing your Facebook and Instagram presence, offering the Amtrak residency, and other initiatives.  Updating your menu to appeal to this demographic would give you another great opportunity for positive media coverage and increased ridership.

I request that you make this update to the menu no later than the end of 2015.  (Of course, sooner would be better!)

I hope to hear back from you within the next few days, and I look forward to sharing your response with everyone who has signed on to this request.

Thank you for your time!  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Maren Souders 

Portland, Oregon

A few selected comments:

Shawn Gould, Santa Cruz, CA:  “I don’t want train travel to become extinct. It needs to stay current. Offering vegan options is one way to show the public you care about their needs and train travel belongs in the 21st Century.”

Amy Shields, Birmingham, AL:  “I often travel with vegan and vegetarian friends and family members, and I know how frustrating it can be to try to get a decent meal away from home. People who choose not to eat meat or other animal products for any reason – health, religion, ethics, etc. – would greatly benefit from expanded menu options.”

Joyce Fineout, Fairview, OR:  “We, love, Love, LOVE the train! But we also love the benefits that a vegan diet brings to ourselves and to animals! Please, help us balance our love of train-travel AND our compassionate lifestyle! Make vegan meals a regular part of the travel experience of all of us! Thank you!”

Amber Kerr, Mountain View, CA:  “Vegan meals aren’t just for vegans. They can also be beneficial for people who have other dietary restrictions (such as keeping kosher or halal; lactose intolerance; or food allergies). They also can, and should, be a part of every American’s diet at least sometimes – vegan meals are often healthier and better for the environment. And they certainly do not need to be more expensive or less appealing than the other meals on the menu. Adding vegan meal options makes good business sense as well as being a matter of fairness and accessibility. I am a frequent Amtrak rider (on the Capital Corridor line to Sacramento), and I often order a meal during my three-hour trip from San Jose. I would certainly order a vegan meal if one was available.” 

On February 19th, I received the following response from Amtrak’s VP of Customer Service, Thomas Hall:

Dear Ms. Souders:

Thank you for your email correspondence to Mr. Joseph H. Boardman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak.  Mr. Boardman has asked me to respond on behalf of the Corporation.

As the Vice President of Customer Service, my department is responsible for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage program, and I appreciate you contacting us regarding the availability of vegan meals on our trains.  We have been hard at work on our special meal programs.  I’m sure that you will be interested to know that we do currently offer vegan compliant meals on our long distance diners and Acela Express First Class services.  We have, in the past, offered vegan meal options on our regular menu without a special request (as we do with vegetarian meals).  Unfortunately, the customer response was quite low and resulted in excessive spoilage which drove our expenses unacceptably high.  In an effort to control expenses, we have included the vegan options in our special request program and they are readily available with the normal 72 hour advance notification.  Passengers can make a vegan meal request at the time of booking by calling our reservation number, 800-USA-RAIL (800-872-7245), which is available 24 hours/7 days per week. 

As information, our current vegan offerings include the following options: 

Dining Car

Breakfast- (Advance notice not required)

  • Continental Breakfast

o   Cereal w/soy milk

o   Fresh fruit

o   Grits (prepared with water only)

o   Steel Cut Oatmeal served with soy milk or raisins.

 Lunch and Dinner-

  • Garden Salad (Advance notice not required)

o   When served with Light Italian or Balsamic Vinaigrette dressings

  • Garden Vegetable Bean Chili

o   This vegan chili combines tomatoes, pinto beans, white beans, onion, carrots, corn, red & green bell peppers, lima beans, zucchini, garlic, scallions, and a blend of spices.  Served with Orzo pasta.

  • Spicy Udon Noodles w/ Coconut Curry Vegetables

o   This vegan Asian style pasta uses wheat flour noodles with vegetables (baby corn, snap peas, roasted red pepper strips, broccoli, garlic, and scallions) in a Thai style red chili coconut curry sauce with toasted sesame oil.

 Café Car

  • Vegan Burger
  • Roasted Red Pepper Hummus w/ Pretzel Crisps
  • Fruit and Nut Trail Mix

We continually strive to improve our Food and Beverage program and we know this amenity is important to our customers, especially on our long distance service. We are also under enormous pressure from our stakeholders to eliminate the losses associated with food and beverage and must do everything that we can to keep expenses under control.  We constantly re-evaluate our programs and will continue to search for alternatives that might allow us to provide vegan choices as regularly available menu items in the future.  Customer feedback is very important to us when making decisions regarding the service we offer, and please be assured we have taken your comments and those who signed the petition under serious consideration.  Every decision we make is implemented wholly with the purpose of ensuring the financial excellence Amtrak requires to deliver intercity transportation into the future with superior safety, customer service, and efficiency.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to send us your comments and we appreciate your support of Amtrak service. 

Sincerely,

Thomas Hall

Vice President Customer Service

I appreciated his acknowledgment of the petition—and was interested and concerned to read that they had experimented with on-board vegan options in the past—but I was not satisfied with the lack of acknowledgment of the current difficulty in ordering ahead, nor with the lack of a commitment to making a change within the timeline of this calendar year.  So, on February 23rd, I replied with the following:

Dear Mr. Hall,

Thank you so much for your prompt and detailed reply to my email.  I know you are very busy, and I appreciate the time and consideration you took to reply.

I can certainly appreciate the various pressures–financial and logistical, and probably others–under which Amtrak operates, particularly in regards to food service.  I am very willing–and excited–to do everything I can to help reach a win-win situation for both vegans (and others with dietary restrictions) and Amtrak’s bottom line and smooth operating procedures.

I was not aware that you had tried offering vegan meals on the standard dining car menu in the past.  I’m very surprised to learn that the demand was lower than it apparently is for the current non-vegan vegetarian items on the menu.  I wonder if perhaps the particular offerings were not as popular as alternative vegan offerings might have been… and also whether enough time has elapsed since that trial period that a significantly higher percentage of travelers might now be interested.  (The popularity of the Change.org petition, as well as my anecdotal personal experiences and discussions with others, suggest to me that it’s likely that would be the case.)

My problem–and that of a number of others who commented on the petition–with the 72-hour request protocol is twofold: 1) It is inconvenient, because sometimes people plan trips less than 72 hours ahead, and even when they do, they may not remember, or realize, that they need to make a special meal request in order to have vegan options in the dining car.  At this point in the restaurant industry, many diners expect that vegan options will be available without making special arrangements, so they may not think to do so.  2) In my own most recent experience–and that of several others I have spoken with–I did make the appropriate request at least 72 hours in advance, but the meals were not on board when I arrived.  (In my particular case, this was apparently because of some sort of logistical problem with that train or its tracks, such that the train had not made the planned commissary stop.  However, I received no notification of this, so I was quite disappointed to discover, upon arriving in the dining car for my first of three meals, that I would need to order side salads and baked potatoes in lieu of the chili and pasta I had anticipated.)

I would love to continue this discussion, either by email or (preferably) by phone, so that we can generate some win-win possibilities for action.  I am more than happy to do any legwork I can; I am well connected to many vegan communities, and would be happy to research food-service options or seek out others who might be willing to offer cost-effective, or even pro-bono, consulting to Amtrak in order to update the menu offerings. I really want to reach an outcome that will work for everyone!

Thank you for your consideration.  If you are willing to talk by phone at some point, please let me know your availability, or feel free to simply call me at [my personal phone number]. 

~Maren

It is now March 8th. I have not received a reply.

I am not giving up on this campaign, because I care deeply about animal rights, and I believe that vegan options should be readily available on all Amtrak trains.

However, I can also empathize with the plight of Amtrak as an institution, and the position of Mr. Hall as an employee. They are both under tremendous pressures, both to simply keep Amtrak alive (ever since its inception in 1971, there have been continual Congressional efforts to defund it out of existence) and to run it in a fiscally responsible and logistically smooth way.

I am quite certain there is a way to meet all of our needs here.

I am turning to one of my favorite tools—Nonviolent Communication (NVC)—as I brainstorm the next step in this effort. One of the foundational NVC principles is that we all have common human needs, and that in any conflict or challenging situation, it is possible to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs, if we all pay close attention to what those needs are.

So, I pulled out my handy-dandy set of Grok feelings & needs cards, and wrote down all the needs I could think of, for four parties:

  • Myself
  • Vegans in general (as well as vegan supporters and other plant-based dieters)
  • Amtrak as an institution
  • Mr. Hall individually

I noticed that there were three needs that seemed to be shared by all four parties:

*Consideration

*Ease

*Help & support

Other needs for Amtrak and/or Mr. Hall:

Balance, appreciation, acknowledgment, to have one’s intentions seen, structure, security, understanding, respect, to be heard, and—perhaps most importantly—efficiency.

Other needs for vegans and/or me personally:

Integrity, equality, health, hope, inclusion, respect, to be heard, dependability, compassion & empathy, contribution, meaning & purpose.

So! My question—for myself, and to all of you—is, How do we proceed, recognizing all those needs?

I have considered a few strategies:

*Seeking more petition signatures

*Personally sending more emails, or making phone calls, myself

*Encouraging petition supporters to contact Amtrak reps directly (hallt@amtrak.com, joseph.boardman@amtrak.com; needless to say, please be respectful and polite if you choose to contact them this way)

*Seeking media attention, either in vegan publications and/or mainstream media

*Seeking out people, committed to the cause, who could offer direct logistical help to Amtrak employees and decision makers in implementing these new meal plans.

I think all of these could be useful strategies (particularly the last three) and I am in the process of determining which might be the most effective—and efficient—uses of my time and energy. I am open to input as I move forward; I wish for this to be a community effort.

So I ask you, dear reader: What strategies would you prioritize? And/or, is there some way you are personally willing to get involved? Do you know someone I should contact?

Let’s get this done!!

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Mourning and Celebrating Marshall Rosenberg

220px-MarshallRosenberg1990Yesterday, I was saddened to learn of the death of someone I have admired and respected tremendously. Marshall Rosenberg lost his battle with prostate cancer on February 7th, at age 80. I feel confident in saying that his loss is felt around the globe.

Marshall created a process he called Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in the 1960s. Over the next several decades, he spread the word about it by writing books, recording audio and video tutorials, and giving his humorous and transformative interactive lecture in person on multiple worldwide tours.

He also used the process of NVC directly, for self-growth and conflict resolution. He worked in prisons, facilitating dialogues between willing victims and offenders. He facilitated conflict resolutions in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians. He worked with members of warring tribes in Nigeria, again facilitating healing dialogues. He worked with “high-risk” high school students in the USA.

The number of lives he touched, and hearts and minds he inspired, is truly countless.

I was introduced to his work in April of 2002, here in Portland, Oregon. The nation was reeling from the events of 9/11. I was perusing the local alternative weekly paper, and my eye caught a small ad containing the quote, “Every judgment is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” That sentiment both jarred me and resonated to my core. I knew I had to attend the lecture it advertised.

My friend Michelle and I went to the lecture, and we both walked out with our minds transformed. Neither of us has ever been the same. We quickly read his seminal book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and then we began to co-host a weekly practice group based on the book. When that practice group came to an end, Michelle and I decided to carry the principles of NVC forward in our personal relationship explicitly, by meeting regularly in a format where one of us would talk about the ups and downs of our week, while the other would listen empathically. These get-togethers were tangibly richer than other “hang-out” times I had with other friends. We each felt truly heard, and our friendship deepened. More than ten years hence, we still meet regularly—now by Skype, since we are separated by distance—and we follow the same format. Our friendship has remained deep and rich.

Later, my commitment to NVC principles led me to start up my Happy to Listen practice, embark on an East Coast Empathy Tour, and volunteer in a maximum-security prison, helping to teach NVC skills to violent offenders.  All of these have been among the most meaningful activities I have undertaken in my life thus far.

If you are unfamiliar with NVC, I humbly encourage you to read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (almost certainly available at your local library, but also worth purchasing as a reference and/or to share with friends) or to take a look at some of Marshall’s videos or peruse the offerings at the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Thank you, Marshall, for the gifts you have shared with us all. Please know that your work will continue, through all of us you have inspired.

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My interview on The Sprocket Podcast

The Sprocket PodcastThis past Tuesday, I was honored and delighted to be interviewed by Brock Dittus and Aaron Flores of The Sprocket Podcast.  This podcast has been running for the past four years, and the current hosts interview a variety of people who do various things that exemplify their tagline of “Simplifying the Good Life.”  In my case, we discussed my East Coast Empathy Tour, my perspective on being a “professional listener,” my recent (and ongoing) petition to Amtrak to offer vegan meal options onboard, and various local sustainable-transportation history and miscellany.  Take a listen here!

IMG_1828

Posted in Interviews, Sustainable Transportation, Travel, Veganism | Leave a comment

Taking positive action for something I believe in

My lunch and dinner on board

My lunch and dinner on board

Yesterday I wrote about my trip to San Diego, and how much I love taking the train. I do indeed love it, and I loved the trip. (And I’m having a great time here in California so far!)

One thing that bothered me, though, was the lack of vegan options in the Amtrak Coast Starlight’s dining car. (You may recall that I have had this problem before.) Amtrak doesn’t offer vegan meals on the standard, fixed menu in their dining car. They do, theoretically, offer them by special order, as long as you place the order at least 72 hours in advance of your travel date. (This is because the meals are not prepared on the train; they are prepared and packaged elsewhere, and placed on the train at scheduled commissary stops in large cities.) This time, I planned ahead to do so, and the woman who took my reservation over the phone assured me that I would receive either pasta or chili for each of my three scheduled meals. (Including breakfast, though I thought those two were rather unconventional choices for a morning meal.)

When I arrived in the dining car for my first meal at dinner, though, the attendant once again told me they had no record of my request, and no vegan meals on board. I ended up eating side salads and baked potatoes for the remainder of the trip.

I was disappointed and frustrated, but I wanted to take that energy and turn it into something positive rather than simply stewing in it. So, I decided to start a petition on Change.org:

https://www.change.org/p/amtrak-offer-vegan-meals-on-the-standard-dining-car-menu

Here is the text of the petition:

More and more Americans are choosing a vegan lifestyle, for ethical, environmental, and/or health reasons.  Amtrak can better welcome this growing segment of society onboard, making vegan meals easy for passengers and staff alike, by changing their on-board menu.

As it stands now, long-distance train passengers must pre-order vegan meals 72 hours in advance, so that the train staff can pick up the pre-made meals at scheduled commissary stops in large cities.  On both of the two long train trips I have taken in the past two years, however, the meals I ordered never made it onto the trains, so I ended up eating side salads and baked potatoes for several days.

The dining car menus currently do include vegetarian options (such as scrambled eggs for breakfast, a veggie burger for lunch, and six-cheese lasagna for dinner). However, all these meatless options still contain animal ingredients, such as eggs or dairy.  I am requesting that Amtrak change its fixed menus on all trains that include dining cars, so that at least one all-vegan entree option is available onboard at each meal.

I would love for you to sign it, and/or share it with friends via Facebook or email, if this is something you support.

I’m also curious, though, to hear if any of you have found a way to turn a frustration or stumbling block into an empowering opportunity for activism. If so, please share your story in the comments!

Posted in Animal rights, Travel, Veganism | Leave a comment

Waking up to palm trees

Santa Barbara train station at dusk

Santa Barbara train station at dusk

This winter I’ve been battling a mild depression. (You, too? Seems like it’s been going around.) Somehow in the fall, my mojo started to falter. I think it all started in late September, when my partner experienced some serious setbacks in his efforts toward self-growth and serving his community. I did my best to support him through circumstances outside of his control, but I was disheartened to witness the way things unfolded and seemed to compound over time.

Meanwhile, I was struggling in my own practice. I hit a slump, where new clients were few and far between, and my energy dragged when I thought about taking the actions I would need to turn things around.

My social life slowed down, too. I had been so overwhelmed with social commitments in the summer and early fall that I told myself I needed to slow down, and take more alone time. But when I did that, it also contributed to a feeling of loneliness. I wanted more connection, more nurturing touch, more of the emotional and mental synergy that comes from connecting with others.

And, since I live in Portland, the weather got colder and rainier with each passing week. And darker. (And darker. And darker.)

A typical NW winter scene

A typical NW winter scene

I found myself struggling to enjoy the life I’ve worked so hard to craft. Each day I would hope things would get easier, or that my spark would return. Each day, those things did not happen. (Instead, I fell into a rut of junk food and zoning out on computer time.)

I know that I am not alone in this. I know that our culture (and climate, for many of us) tends to isolate and depress us. Even (perhaps especially) those of us who are idealists, who want to make each day of our lives meaningful, for ourselves, for our communities, and for the world at large. When we have lofty goals and high ideals, it can be all the more depressing when a day goes by without any “breakthroughs” or exciting progress toward the world we are all working to create. And when a week, or a month, goes by and those things remain scarce, it can become very disheartening.

I thought of writing a blog post, here, to share my struggle and to let anyone reading know that if you’re going through this, you are not alone. And that we all struggle, and we can all get through it. (And, that if you’re going through this and want to talk to a practitioner who can listen and “get it,” without trying to fix the problem or put a Pollyanna-ish life-coach spin on the situation, that I am, as always, Happy to Listen. :-) )

But even that seemed a bit too much of a downer for a blog post on a site called Dream Into Change. I wanted to offer some glimmer of hope. But I needed to find it for myself, first.

I had hoped, this winter, to spend a few days in San Diego, which I have done each winter for the past three years. I had intended for it to become an annual tradition, and even to increase to twice per winter or more at some point. I love that hit of sunshine and warmth—and the magic that is Balboa Park—in the middle of the darkness that blankets my otherwise beloved Portland during the cold months.

Fountain in Balboa Park

Fountain in Balboa Park

But this year I was feeling short on money, which only added to my depression. I didn’t think I could justify the trip. And, for that matter, my energy was so low it was even hard to get excited about the prospect of it.

One day, about a week ago, though, I read something online about San Diego, and I felt a pang of wistfulness. I missed that place! Maybe I could just do a web search for flights, and see what it might cost. Couldn’t hurt to look, right?

One thing I am discovering about myself is that once I get the idea of a trip into my head, it is very hard to walk away from it. When I search online and find options that are too expensive and/or inconvenient for me, rather than giving up, I am spurred to think more creatively, to see if there might be a way I could make it work.

In this situation, I discovered that the inexpensive direct flight I had become accustomed to taking had been discontinued. I thought about taking the train, since I vastly prefer it to flying anyway, but dismissed the idea because I didn’t have much time to take for the trip, and the round-trip cost would be prohibitive.

But San Diego had gotten under my skin. I was not willing to give up, once I had decided I wanted to go. I kept looking. I finally realized that I could use some of my carefully saved Amtrak mileage points to take a first-class ride—sleeper compartment and all—down south, and then catch a one-way flight back for only $100. Yes. This would work!! I searched Airbnb, and found an affordable house in the exact area I like to stay, just north of my cherished park. Everything was coming together! Within a couple of days, I had booked the whole trip.

And as I type, I’m sitting in the Amtrak Coast Starlight Sightseer Lounge car, just south of San Jose, looking out the spacious windows at sunshine and Spanish-style architecture. When I awoke this morning, I peered out the window of my berth and saw palm trees.

And I am thrilled to report that my mood has improved about 100%. I look forward to enjoying three days in San Diego, catching up with friends, hitting my favorite vegan restaurants, enjoying some contemplation in the beautiful cactus garden, and taking a break from the bleak. Getting my mojo back!

Me on the train

Me on the train

I would love to hear from any of you, if you have favorite spots to visit, or a spur-of-the-moment trip that lifted your mood, or another “trick” besides travel that snapped you out of a funk… or even just a shared lament if you’re finding yourself in a dark place at the moment.

Posted in Animal rights, Life coaching for a better world, Sustainable Transportation, Travel, Uncategorized, Veganism | Leave a comment

Portland workshop: Effective communication skills for vegans & vegetarians

Vegetarian-Thanxgiving-dinnerThe fall and winter holiday season is upon us.

Vegan/vegetarian advocacy (or even simple social “defense”) can be challenging throughout the year. But when turkey and ham dinners with family, friends, or coworkers start happening, it can be especially stressful and frustrating.

Whether you expect to be dodging snide remarks or jokes from relatives around the turkey, or you’d like to talk persuasively about veg*anism to your co-celebrants to encourage others to give it a try, this workshop can help. We’ll be talking about using NonViolent Communication (NVC)* tools to build connection, rather than divisiveness, when talking about these charged topics.

We won’t be talking about fact-based, point-by-point rebuttals to anti-veg*n statements, since there are plenty of online resources for that. We’ll be talking instead about how to get in touch with our own feelings and needs around animal rights, environmental concerns, and/or health, and conveying them–if and when we choose to–in a way that is more likely to encourage openness in our listeners, rather than argument or defensiveness. The goal of the workshop is to increase the potential effectiveness of our persuasive conversations, while also decreasing our risk for the anger, bitterness, depression, and burnout that sometimes go along with living by a certain set of beliefs that many of our loved ones may not share.

The venue is small, so attendance will be capped at six participants.  There are two events: November 22 and December 13.

*Disclaimer: I am not a certified NVC instructor. However, I have been involved in studying, using, and facilitating the learning of NVC for the past twelve years, in a variety of online and in-person capacities.

Posted in Animal rights, Life coaching for a better world, Nonviolent Communication, Uncategorized, Veganism, Workshops | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reconnecting to my Portland roots

MAX to GreshamLately I have been feeling disconnected. Disconnected from myself, disconnected from my community… and, without realizing it, I think also disconnected from my adopted home.

I was a newcomer here in Portland in 1990. Since then, we have been awash in more and more newcomers every year. I welcome them all. However, I sense that over time, our city’s institutional memory has been growing weaker. People may come here because they have heard the buzz, or they are seeking a young, fun, and creative culture. When they arrive, they may not know how things were around here even as recently as the turn of the millennium (pre-“Portlandia”) much less back into the 1980s, 1970s, or earlier.

I’ve been reading Willamette Week’s 40th anniversary issue these past few days, and I’m finding it very poignant at this point in my life. Their anniversary issue each year is always the same week as my birthday, which makes it a nice touchstone for me. And, since I just turned 42 this past week, their age is similar to my own. I’ve read their “alternative weekly” religiously since I arrived here (though it gets thinner each year, as print journalism shifts).

What struck me about this 40th-year special edition was the sense of connection and rootedness it rekindled in me for the hometown I eagerly adopted 24 years ago. Something about this place—its climate, its culture, its populace—stood out to me when I was thinking about where to go to college. I intuited that it would be a good fit for me, and I was right.

When I got here, I wanted to learn about local history, culture, and politics. I immersed myself in those things right away. In 1990, Barbara Roberts was poised to become Oregon’s first female governor. I wished I could vote for her, but my 18th birthday fell two days after the election. Still, I volunteered for several progressive ballot measures—and against several regressive ones—during that campaign season. My home state of Virginia did not have the initiative process, so it was all new to me. I loved it!

Barbara Roberts

Reading WW’s retrospective helped me to remember some of the culture I stepped into when I arrived. The MAX light-rail line to Gresham had just opened four years earlier.  (Now we have a light-rail network throughout the region.) Bud Clark was still the goofy and avant-garde mayor. Lloyd Marbet was working to shut down the nearby Trojan nuclear plant.  (I remember the “Leaking Trojans… Cause Accidents” T-shirts.) The city was still reeling from the racially motivated killing of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw. Gus Van Sant was artistically documenting the grit and seediness that still permeated the place, with films like “Drugstore Cowboy” and “My Own Private Idaho.”

Trojan nuclear plant

In the early to mid-1990s, I experienced firsthand many of the events covered in the story. I remember when the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, for example, successfully campaigned for bike racks on city buses. I remember when US Senator Bob Packwood’s sordid history of sexual harassment became public, disgracing him and ending his political career. I remember when former Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt, whose progressive policies and strong leadership had cast a long, hopeful shadow across the local culture, similarly fell from grace when his sexually abusive relationship with a teenager, from many years prior, surfaced.

bus-bike-loading

I remember when the City Nightclub—the first all-ages gay dance club in town—was forced to close. My bisexual first boyfriend had regaled me with tales of his experiences there during its heyday, so I had felt some small personal connection to it.

I remember when the Pearl District—which had housed that nightclub—changed from a mostly deserted warehouse area to a bustling example of urban renewal (for better or worse).

I remember when Stumptown Coffee quietly opened on SE Division Street.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

And I remember many more things.

Over the years, I have noticed that many of my closest friends—and almost all of my long-term romantic partners—have been Portland natives. They are a rare breed—growing rarer every day—and I think my invisible pull toward them reflects something about my resonance with this place, its culture, and its history. I love all the new energy from all the other newcomers since me… and at the same time, I really appreciate the opportunity this Willamette Week retrospective has afforded me to reminisce, reconnect, and soak in the gratitude for some of the events and people who have shaped this unique city.

I welcome feedback, from Portlanders old and new, as well as people from other places around the world. How has your connection to your own sense of place changed—or stayed the same—over time?

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The gifts of giving

This is a follow-up to my last post, regarding my intention to give away 365 things this year, one every day.  I’m almost two months into it, and I wanted to share how the experience has been so far.

In a word: wonderful.

There have been more benefits than I had initially expected.  My main goal was to lighten my load, physically and psychically.  That has been happening, and I love it.  But there have been other benefits, too.

For one thing, it has been a pleasure to see how happy people have been to receive these items.  One of the first things I gifted was an essential oil diffusing candle set.  (I had always thought it was a lovely thing to have, but after two years I still hadn’t used it, so it was clear to me that someone else should be enjoying it instead.)  After the recipient came to pick it up, within a few hours he posted on Facebook to all his friends that he was having a lovely relaxing evening with therapeutic scented oils in his new diffuser.  What a pleasure to know that someone’s life had been enhanced by this transaction, at the same time that my life was being simplified.

Another gift was a vegan book about health, and a friend of mine claimed it and came to pick it up at my workplace.  When she did, she met my vegan coworker, and the two of them started chatting about food and health and being vegan in Portland.  Spontaneous community building!

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Another surprising benefit involved my own receiving.  It wasn’t my intention to receive anything in return for any of these items (after all, the whole point was to reduce my possessions) but a few cool things have come my way nonetheless, and they have been fun surprises.  When I gave away a green velvet tunic, the recipient said he wouldn’t be home when I dropped it off at his house, but I could leave it on the porch. He invited me to bring along a container to fill with grapes from the arbor at his house.  I did, and they were delicious.

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On that occasion, I also used the gifting opportunity to go for a beautiful bike ride to his house, which was about 25 minutes away from mine by bicycle.  I enjoyed the warm sunshine and fall foliage.  When gifting other items, I’ve taken more bike rides, traveling to sometimes unfamiliar parts of town, and appreciating new-to-me bicycle infrastructure and beautiful views, including a rainbow on a cloud over the river near sunset.  In some cases, I have stopped at restaurants or gone to parks in parts of town I don’t generally visit, because dropping off these items (by bike or car) has taken me out of my way.  What a gift!  On the other hand, I have also met close-by neighbors I never knew I had.

Meanwhile, one of my hopes had been to metaphorically “clear space” for my businesses (Dream Into Change and Happy to Listen) to grow with new clients.  I was pleasantly surprised when two new clients contacted me within six days of my beginning this gifting venture.  Coincidence?  I don’t know, but I’m happy to receive it as a part of the whole intention.

I’ve got ten more months to go (assuming I can continue to find that many more things to give!)  I look forward to more magical unfoldings as the year progresses.

How about my readers?  Have any of you ever undertaken such a project?  If so, what benefits – expected or unexpected – did you find?

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Giving away 365 things

I have too much stuff.

It’s a common lament in today’s First World, but lately I am feeling more and more palpably the weight of my possessions and clutter.  They eat into my space.  Not just my physical space (I’m typing this on my laptop in the one clear spot on my kitchen table, surrounded by stacks of paper) but my mental and psychic space.

About a year and a half ago, as many readers know, I set an intention to begin living in a warm climate – specifically, the beautiful city of San Diego – between December and March of each year.  I would do this by quitting my “day job” of ten years, and transitioning to full-time work in my Happy to Listen empathetic listening practice and/or this Dream Into Change coaching practice.  This coming December was to be the beginning of that new way of life.

It’s not going to happen this year.  I still have only a few clients, not nearly enough to transition away from my full-time day job. There are many reasons for this, but I’m starting to think that my attachment to my stuff may be a part of it.

When I began visioning this new way of life, I pictured myself living nimbly.  I would own few possessions.  I would rent out my condo here in Portland, and rent a room in San Diego, and travel lightly (possibly by train and/or bike) between the two cities.  When I think about that now, it is hard to imagine myself moving so nimbly and lightly.

When I feel myself overwhelmed by physical objects in my space, somehow it seems to shrink my time, as well.  I find myself escaping the chaos into the Internet, and before you know it, hours have gone by, and I need to sleep.  I haven’t used that time to see clients.  I haven’t used it to do the behind-the-scenes work necessary to build up a thriving practice, either.

So I think it’s time for me to clear out this clutter.  I am going to set a new intention to move to San Diego next winter, in December of 2014.  That gives me about 15 months to get things going.  And my first step will be to give away at least one possession per day for the next year.  365 possessions.  They may be large or small – mostly small, since that’s mostly what I have – but I will give away one per day, on average.  (I’ll probably take time off for vacations and maybe weekends, but when I do, I’ll give away more things on other days.)  My plan is to post these items on local free websites and/or Facebook pages, and anything that is not spoken for I will take to a thrift store or put in a free box.

Yes.  This feels good.  Let the lightening begin!

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