Deborah Frieze is an author, entrepreneur and social activist. As former co-president of The Berkana Institute, Deborah joined Berkana to support pioneering leaders who were walking out of organizations and systems that were failing to contribute to the common good—and walking on to build resilient communities. These leaders are the subject of her book, Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now, co-authored with Margaret Wheatley. Walk Out Walk On has received the 2011 Terry McAdam Book Award and a 2012 Nautilus Silver Book Award for Social Change.
Deborah is co-founder and managing partner of the Boston Impact Initiative, which partners with businesses and organizations throughout our city to create systemic shifts in opportunities for urban communities. She is also founder of the Old Oak Dojo.
Sometimes breakthroughs happen because, well, you really didn’t know what you were getting yourself into. I suppose that’s one way of understanding the grueling process that my architects and I endured to have the Old Oak Dojo become one of the first 11* buildings in the world to be Living Building Challenge certified. (Eleven? I had hoped the Dojo would be in the Top 10, but it appears that LBC certified the final three all at once. Then again, maybe it’s even more magical to say, “Ours goes to 11.” Note: reference reserved for people over 40.)
The LBC is a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today. It is comprised of seven performance categories called Petals (Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty) which are subdivided into twenty Imperatives.
So it’s time to celebrate! We’ll show off our salvaged materials, rainwater harvesting, indoor compost toilet, urban permaculture gardens and more at our 4th Annual Summer Celebration on Saturday, July 23, from 4 to 7 PM. RSVP on Facebook.
I can’t quite put my finger on why, but this year’s annual Planting Party and Skill Share was by far the best in the Dojo’s history. Maybe it’s because after a week of forecasted rain, the sky stayed clear. Or maybe it’s because a dozen kids ran around digging, planting, watering and tasting. There was rope-swinging, bee-feeding, stomp-rocketing, dog-tackling and movie-making. Somehow, after a few hours of hanging with friends and meeting neighbors, four big raised beds got filled up with flowers and food.
It’s feeling more and more like a village here every day.
I’m new to gardening. I’ve only got three seasons under my belt, which I suppose makes me kind of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about trying pretty much anything. So when my green-thumbed friendNoah McKenna suggested I try growing the African Horned Cucumber, I said, “Sure, why not?”
This thing–also known as the “blowfish fruit” is terrifying. Really. First of all, it grew into a vine so big and thick that it made an entire raised bed disappear under a trellis of jungle. For weeks, no blossoms appeared on this magnificent vine. And then finally, a handful of green-and-yellow striped grenades appeared with spikes so sharp and sturdy that I’d wager one would kill you if dropped on your head from a second story window.
They say this melon-like fruit tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini. I tasted it, and my conclusion is: Who wants to eat a melon that tastes like a zucchini?
What gift we received last night! Two young musicians, Noaa Rienecker and Yousif Yaseen, treated us to an extraordinary musical journey. Yousif, a guitarist, Oud player, composer and vocalist from Kuwait, opened the evening with occasional accompaniment from a friend on the sax, alternating songs in English and Arabic. He was followed by Noaa, a guitarist, singer and composer (and Old Oak Dojo movement instructor) from the Bay Area. Noaa brought along a cadre of friends–bass, sax, trumpet and another vocalist–to accompany him on classic covers and innovative compositions.
The Dojo was packed to the hilt to see these two Berkelee students play. We are so grateful to Noaa and Yousif for sharing their talents with us.
We, the people of the Old Oak Dojo, love snow. Really we do. But even we can feel overwhelmed at times by snowdrifts big and round enough for us to wonder if we’d parked our cars on the patio.
In January 2005, Boston recorded its snowiest month on record at 43.3 inches. This February crushed all historical records with a whopping 64.8 inches of snow! Things have gotten so crazy around here, our mayor has even had to warn Bostonians not to jump out of windows and off of rooftops into these beckoning piles of snow.
(We confess: Aaron did just that only a few weeks ago. He said it was a blast. Don’t tell the mayor.)
This is the solstice,
the still point of the sun,
its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath,
the door of a vanished house left ajar…
– Margaret Atwood
The old oaks at the Dojo revealed their magic once again this Solstice weekend. They stood as sentinels over our fire ceremony as we gathered to release old habits and beliefs into the longest night. We witnessed one another let go of that which has been holding us back, and then we called in the practices and behaviors we wished to cultivate.
Blessings at this time of new beginnings as we all turn back toward the light.
It wasn’t just any old Halloween party at the Old Oak Dojo. We did it up Urban Nutcracker-style by partnering with the Tony Williams Dance Center. The children’s cast of the holiday show showed up in full Halloween regalia, entertaining the rest of us with song, dance and games. Their performances were rivaled only by the smooth vibe of the Doo-Wop Singers.
Last night, GaBrilla Ballard and I were in the Dojo around 7 pm preparing the space for her concert. Aaron had just finished sweeping the patio and was around the corner putting something away in the basement. We’d just decided to host the concert indoors, since despite clear skies, there was a threat of severe thunderstorms. That’s when the wind started whirling and the sky went dark. Then… Crack! The sky crashed with an ear-splitting sound and a bolt of lightning struck the middle of the patio, leaving this blackened scar as a remembrance.
The Dojo is nestled beneath four mammoth oak trees, one of lightning’s favorite targets. The Old Oak must have said to Lightning, “No thanks. Not today.” And so Lightning obliged and blessed our center instead. In many ancestral traditions, the site of a lightning strike becomes sacred space, a place of honor and reverence.
I used to spend a lot of time in Zimbabwe, where I hung out at a place called Kufunda Village. One of the things I loved most about my time there was watching kids of all ages roam around in big packs. They spent the whole day together, inventing one game after another, amusing themselves while their parents worked, cooked and cleaned up. Sometimes an adult had to step in, but it didn’t matter whose parent it was. No one was sitting at home stuck to the screen or pouting in the yard because they weren’t.
For a moment yesterday, the Old Oak Dojo turned into that scene. We had about 15 kids here, and after the first hour or so of wondering what they’d do without access to computers, ipads or smartphones, they eventually began to play, swinging on the climbing rope, draping themselves over the scaffolding, stomping on rockets and making mounds of mud and dirt.
I came home from California after midnight on Monday and woke up to find several tents dotting the backyard. The Warrior Writers had arrived on Sunday evening for their weeklong retreat at the Old Oak Dojo, and by the time I was up, they were already assembled at the long picnic tables for a writing workshop. Throughout the week, about 30 veterans gathered to explore writing as a healing practice.
At the end of the week, they hosted an Open Mic at the Dojo to share their poetry, prose and stories. Several of the veterans read from their new book, the fourth anthology of their writings (pictured above). The evening was tender, funny, moving and loving. I can’t wait to welcome them back next year.