Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolution: Regenerate in 2008

How's that for a snappy slogan? No, I'm not going to re-grow a body part or something but, hey, at least it rhymes.

I was inspired by a recent post at Casaubon's Book. In the post, Sharon suggested using the words "regenerative/degenerative" instead of the over-used and now somewhat meaningless "sustainable/unsustainable". For some reason - maybe it's my positive new outlook - "regenerative" just fits as we head into 2008. Not harming the environment is not enough. We need to change attitudes and do something affirmatively good for ourselves and our world. This can be exciting, invigorating and downright, well, regenerative. Here are ways I plan to "regenerate in 2008":

  1. Garden more. We've used so much of agricultural land and animal habitat for homes, lawns, streets, sidewalks, stores and so on that there is not much open space left. With mass extinctions and a dwindling world food supply, we need to re-create what has been lost. That is where you and I - the average Joe on the street - come in. As cool as green roofs are, I don't see one in my future any time soon. Instead, I'll turn to my small suburban yard. I'll eek away at the lawn and replace it with more permaculture. I'll grow more of my own food and create my own backyard habitat for local wildlife.
  2. Build community. I've posted several times about the importance of building a support network within your own neighborhood and city. In that regard, I will continue my efforts to get the Green Book Club off the ground. We've only met one time so far but have 15 interested and interesting women signed up to read and discuss environmentally relevant books. The book club is currently focused on the local eating books (e.g., Plenty, Omnivore's Dilemma and likely Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is next) but may move into sustainable, I mean regenerative gardening books in the spring.
  3. Re-connect with natural places. Getting out in nature not only regenerates our "plugged in" children. It is equally rejuvenating for us adults who spend too much time parked in front of the TV or a computer. I plan to get my family out for regular hikes instead of weekend jaunts to an amusement park or the zoo. Our "big trip" this year will be to some undisturbed wild place - Bryce and Zion or Yellowstone.
  4. Re-generate my self. Again, I'm not talking about re-growing body parts. I plan to cut the fat, literally. I'm joining Crunchy Chicken's Project NOWASTE challenge/support group and plan to lose 8-10 pounds attributable to too much "organic" junk food. I will work on eating more local produce and less sugar and chocolate - no more how organically grown or fairly traded. Too much is too much and is not good for my health, my jeans, my confidence or the environment.

Whew. I feel tired, ummm, I mean, exhilarated just thinking about all this regeneration. As we greet the New Year, we might all wonder how we can regenerate in 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Resolution: Set Trends in 2008

I believe in green living, but even more so, I believe in influencing others to adopt a lighter lifestyle. One person can only do so much. Multiply that number and we can do a lot. For most of us, though, the changes that must be made are overwhelming and the fear of not succeeding are paralyzing. To truly set a green trend, we need sunnier approach. George Marshall at Climate Change Denial developed a postive outlook on conservation which recently made the rounds on the 90% Reduction group and No Impact Man's blog. Marshall proposed the following:

"A lighter lifestyle is the smart, cool, intelligent and healthy way to live. Don’t be tied to outdated and dangerous 20th century ways of living. Live light because it will make you feel complete and free.

When you choose to live light you are setting the pace for the 21st century. You will see the people all around you trying to catch up. And when they do we can all work together to build a world that is cleaner, fairer and happier and that you will be proud to leave to your children.

If we were all to adopt the attitude described above, what would life be like?

I'd chat up other moms at the local park and our conversation would go something like this. "Omigod! I saw her walking out of the grocery store carrying a plastic bag!" "No way! Those things are, like, so 2005." We'd gossip about the latest book Bill McKibben wrote instead which celebrity was recently booked for a DUI. Getting together with the girls would mean browsing the racks of a local thrift store or taking knitting lessons together rather than hitting the mall.

At the school lunch table, kids would be teased for opening lunch boxes containing plastic ziplocks bags or, gasp, a Lunchable. Mr. Green Bean would have no place to park his bike and would be forced to bring it into his office. A visitor to my home would compliment me on the crunchiness of my towels, observing "you must line dry", or ask where to compost her lunch scraps. Far away vacations would be replaced by exploration of local wonders and front lawns would be replaced with edible landscaping.
Such a life sounds pretty good, doesn't it? A born trend setter I am not but I hope to set a few trends this year and share with others the freedom of living lighter.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Re-Thinking Christmas: So Long, Santa?

Can little children experience the magic of Christmas without the fat man? Should we say sainara to Santa? I don't know.

This year, we mesmerized our children with stories of a chubby old elf squeezing down the chimney and soaring through the night sky led by a magical red-nosed reindeer. We left homemade cookies out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. We pointed out Mars in the sky and suggested it might be Rudolph's red nose. We read the Night Before Christmas and were awoken with a soft smile from our three year old and the sweet question "Has Santa come yet?"

Even as we did all that, though, I felt a little bit strange - as if I was lying to my children. When my five year old turned curious eyes to me and asked in a wonderous voice "Is Santa real?", I hesitated before answering him. After the kids went to bed, my sister shared that Rudolph was invented by Macy's to sell more consumer goods at Christmas time. It was actually Montgomery Ward's but her point was the same. Bill McKibben's Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas details how the current commercial holiday we know developed. Much of what we know about Santa and his bag full of toys was molded by marketers looking to sell more stuff. How magical is that?

Christmas should be a time to create memories filled with things we did and not things we got. I want my children to remember decorating Christmas cookies with their grandmother, playing with cousins, singing Christmas carols around a Bouche de Noel cake, going on a nature walk and leaving a gift for nature. Store-bought gifts should be secondary.

Is Santa contrary to everything I am trying to teach my boys? Can I encourage simple living with St. Nick hanging over my shoulder? If so, it may be time to kick Kriss Kringle out from under our Christmas tree.

Re-Thinking Christmas: Less Is More

Less is definitely more for gifts. This year, fewer gifts for the kids and virtually none for the adults made for a much more enjoyable and less guilty Christmas morning. The children were just as happy opening a handful of gifts and actually stopped to play with the items they received. Yes, less is more for gifts and we'll do that again next year.

But less is more for other things too. Food for one. We don't need dozens of different kinds of Christmas cookies. A few make the holiday quite merry - and maybe not as fattening. Less work in the kitchen - especially with a houseful of little ones - is definitely a good thing and something we could have done without this year. We had two distinct experiences this Christmas: one on Christmas Eve where everything was made ahead with a Yule Log purchased from a local bakery and one on Christmas Day with the traditional homemade meal made during the day in one small kitchen. By far, the first was the most relaxing and enjoyable. Many thanks to my brother-in-law, who did most of the cooking on Christmas Day and made a wonderful, ecological effort with a heritage turkey (that was delicious - I'm told, I'm a vegetarian) and other local side dishes. However, I'm going to disagree with Sharon at Casaubon's Book here, and say that, during busy holiday times, it is probably better for all involved to eat food made ahead or purchased from a local store. This may mean eating a less traditional meal and enjoying something that is easier to prepare ahead - like lasagna, enchiladas, or chili. The holidays are about time with family and to truly simplify is to cut the fat of cooking as well as gifts. So, at least until the kids are much older, less is more for holiday meals.

Finally, and this may surprise you, less is more when it comes to time with extended family. I love my family. I mean I really really love my family but, every year, Christmas ends with a big blow out fight between certain members. This year was no exception. The most enjoyable Christmas memories I have as an adult are times when the family got together for a short period - a dinner, a single day and night - and the cauldron did not have time to bubble over. In the future, I'll savor the time I get with my family by limiting it and leaving when the holidays are still joyful.

So, at least for me, less is almost always more when it comes to Christmas.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Re-Thinking Christmas: Become One With Nature

This is the first of a series of posts I plan to write on re-thinking the way we celebrate the winter holidays. Each year, certain things about Christmas are wonderful, warm and magical and certain things, well, fail miserably.

As someone interested in living lightly on this Earth, I very much appreciate nature. Nature's calming effects are well documented but, if you doubt them, go out into the wild, without the rushing sound of cars and voices, look into the distance and breathe. Your blood pressure will plummet - I guarantee it.

Unstructured time in nature is especially critical for our children. Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, demonstrates the importance of unplugging our kids and getting them back into the wild. Being in nature calms and exhilarates simultaneously. It builds self esteem, encourages creativity and establishes a connection with our planet that also will encourage this next generation to preserve wild places. Further, in this time of disorders (ADD, ADHD, autism, and so on), nature is an all purpose tonic. It is, quite simply, regenerative - my theme for the upcoming New Year.

This Christmas Eve day, we (three families with six kids aged 5 to 8 mos) went on a two hour hike into a beautiful Northern California manzanita forest. The kids burned off excess energy and explored the leaves, berries and noises of the woods. The adults recharged and enjoyed the peace and cold brisk air. When we returned to the house, we gave a symbolic gift back to nature. Each child hung a birdseed egg in the nearly bare fruit trees outside my parents' home.

Getting out to watch birds, look for bugs or berries, hike, or simply wander in undisturbed nature is something every family should do - especially during a high stress time like the holidays. Starting this year, my family's new Christmas traditions will including becoming one with nature.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What Matters Most

Here I on sit on Christmas night. Most of my family is asleep - sick with some nasty bug that only six kids aged 5 and under can spread in less than three days. The few healthy family members (sick people walking! we're all doomed, I'm sure) are watching Christmas Vacation in the other room. I think I'll go join them in a second.

Our Christmas was wonderful but long, exciting but tiring, filled with the joy of new traditions and the drain of old ones. Tonight is a good time for me to reflect on what matters to me. Having a perfect meal on Christmas does not matter. Neither does keeping the place tidy, or decorating Christmas cookies in a way that would make Martha Stewart jealous. Singing impromptu carols around the Yule Log cake on a dark Christmas Eve lit only by candles does. What matters most during the holidays, for me, is creating magic for my children in terms of memories and traditions, not gifts. Sharing those with extended family is an added bonus, all the sweeter because we cannot do it every year.

Whatever matters most to you, I hope you enjoyed it this holiday.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dear John . . .

Have you been naughty or nice this year? Have you been direct and to the point or have you beat around the bush? Have you done one of the toughest things one interested in reducing holiday consumption can do? Have you had "the talk" with family and friends?

There are several ways of talking to your family and friends about dropping out of the holiday shopping madness. The most obvious way is straight-forward and courageous.

The Dear John letter or the phone call that lays it all on the table. George Orwell once wrote: During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. I wish I could say that I took this approach this year. I didn't. My sister and brother-in-law, however, did (with his family - a collection of people who already care to different degrees about the environment). Here's the email they sent:

Dear Family,

The recent oil spill [in San Francisco Bay] and the release of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 7-year study have us thinking about our carbon emission lifestyle. Also, did you know that between Thanksgiving and New Years Americans throw away 25% more trash than the rest of the year? We want [our children] and their children to grow up and be able to see the wonders of the California environment that we have all enjoyed. We are trying to reduce our carbon emission consumption and contributions to the land fill, including during this Holiday season.

Could you please buy the [children] toys that are not made out of plastic or are poorly made? You could also give them things that will not fill up the landfill such as tickets to an event that you would take them to or a voucher for an afternoon together. If we are doing stockings for the adults, please give us consumables (paper pads, edibles, etc.) or green items (locally made, organic, sustainable, handmade and/or products made from recycled material, etc.).

We see this as an opportunity to be creative and responsible, yet keep the good ole' Christmas spirit burning bright.

Happy Holidays!

Way to go, sis! She reports that the email was well received and that everyone agreed it was the right thing to do.
Unlike my brave sister - who was also not brave enough to send it to my family ;-) - I didn't get up the guts to write a Dear John letter like this. Instead, I laid ground work early on. I discussed how important it is for children to have a few quality toys that encourage imagination. I wailed over how many material goods children have these days, how many of them are not played with and end up in the landfill and I played up the fear of "toxic toys". I worked up the courage to cite a few frightening statistics: Did you know that for every truckload of new product that goes to market, 32 truckloads go to the landfills? I asked for more tradition and fun and less stuff.
In addition, I persuaded my family to do away with an adult gift exchange (we used to draw names) and to limit gift giving to a white elephant (give an item you already have in your home). My reason: we are all so busy and all have more stuff than we need. I was less successful in implementing a limit on the number of kids' gifts from extended family - though, within our immediate family, we are limiting stockings and gifts. As far as my husband's family, all I worked up the nerve to do was to praise experiences over goods, to ask for quality items and to ensure that the few gifts we give are consumable.
Do I feel that, in terms of gifts, my family and extended family are going to a "greener" Christmas than seasons past? Yes, absolutely. I think we've made a lot of progress and hope to keep whittling away at the number of items exchanged as the years go by. Was my sister and brother-in-law's more direct approach more immediately effective? Probably. Maybe next year, I'll work up the courage to tell the truth about consumption. For now, I'll be happy with the Christmas we'll have. It will be one spent with dear family and will generate happy memories and traditions for years to come.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Important than Homemade Happiness . . .

Letting go of ego and letting your kids do it themselves. It teaches self-confidence, creates memories, and is plain old fashioned fun. No electronics needed. :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Homemade Happiness

When I think back on all the holidays and birthdays I enjoyed as a child, I don't remember much specifically. I remember an Emergency doctor's kit I received from my uncle, a doctor, that he handmade out of an old box, spray painted black with red tape for the medical cross, and filled with doctors' surplus (e.g., scrubs, an old stethoscope, etc). I also treasured the carved beaver that my dad made for me when I was collecting beaver items - after seeing them up close and personal on a road trip through Yellowstone.

My sister remembers most the Little House on the Prairie dollhouse that my father hand-crafted and then gave to our cousins for Christmas. We were given a bigger dollhouse which was supposed to be better because it was bigger but, really, my sister wanted the one Dad had made.

Birthday cakes also came and went and I don't remember any of them without a photo. I will never forget, however, the Cookie Monster cake my mother made for my younger sister. I remember my mom getting the pan, making sure the frosting was the right blue and, then, all the blue tongues after eating that delightful cake.

This year, I have not got my act together in time to hand-make my children any Christmas gifts. Nor have I been able to convince Mr. Green Bean to take up whittling although it sounds like a fine hobby to me. I did, however, bake my music-loving son three birthday cakes for his two celebrations of a December birthday. I hope that he will remember these as he grows older.

Second-Hand Success Story

I've always touted the benefits of buying used rather than new. Before I was as environmentally aware, I spent a couple of years as an antique dealer and loved the thought of "recycling" all the treasures I found. The price of used goods is almost always less and the quality often more. Even better, buying second-hand means that no new resources were used to make your product and the energy used to transport it is typically minimal as used goods (except for Ebay) tend to stay local.

When a friend furnished most of her home with used goods - rescued from the dumpster, found free on the curb or freecycle, or purchased off of Craigslist, I was impressed with how wonderful everything looked and how inexpensive it was - both in terms of money and environmental impact. We decided there was no reason buy new furniture again.

A few months later, we decided to make more use out of our small house and to put a desk in our unused living room so that my husband would have a place to study - instead of in front of the TV. Think of the savings in electricity! ;-) We stalked the local furniture section on Craigslist for months but found only one suitable desk, which we missed out on it by a few hours. We don't have a local consignment center and our thrift shops tend to only stock smaller furniture items. Finally, desperate for a more conducive studying environment, Mr. Green Bean hit Office Depot and found a nice desk/hutch set. We just didn't feel right about buying something that big new, though, and decided to keep looking at used furniture.

Yesterday, we found this beauty for a song from a local homeowner who was changing her office into a music room. It was difficult to get home and I may have lost the use of one of my hands unloading this solid oak puppy but, yet again, it was better to wait and find the right item second hand than to rush out to a big box store for something new. There is no guilt, a big cost savings and the enjoyment of a now more usable place in our home.
By the way, the lamp and picture are also second hand! Didn't notice that 'til I loaded the photo. The lamp is from a garage sale and matches our wall sconces (which we bought new when we moved in) and the picture was an antique passed down from my parents.

Yet another second-hand success story!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Strange Bedfellows

Hot on the heels of my post about global warming-induced marital discord, I have a confession to make: I have invited someone new into my bed and my husband isn't even jealous. No, in fact he wants to share!

It's not what you think. I'm talking about my cozy, new plush hot water bottle. You see, our house is cold. And by cold, I mean REALLY cold. We're participating in Crunchy Chicken's Freeze Your Buns Challenge and keep our thermostat at 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night. That may not sound bad but, as in all brilliant designs (note sarcasm), our thermostat is located in the absolute warmest part of the house and our heater vents are located as far as possible from the usable living space in each room. (I recently closed vents in less used rooms which, according to Burbanmom, helps with heat distribution.) The result is a house that hovers at 55 degrees during the day and God knows what at night.

Mostly, we suffer through it. Mr. Green Bean wanders around the house in a robe with a cup of hot water. I wear my parka or, on warmer days, a downy vest. We double-bag the kids for bed time. Everyone sleeps in at least two layers.

We do Riot 4 Austerity so we're trying to keep electricity usage down. This means looking for non-electric solutions for staying warm (e.g., the electric blanket is out). Crunchy touted the cherry pit bed warmer which sounded a bit, um, bumpy to me. I found directions for making a bed warmer with rice on the Web but, when the rice we bought in bulk hatched little friends, I threw that idea - and the rice - in the compost bin. My good friend raves about cuddling her hot water bottle (inherited from her now deceased mother - a great example of keeping products in use!) and it sounded like the least strange bedfellow.

We invested in two, plush covered hot water bottles and, boy oh boy, have they heated up the old marital bed. Meow!

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Meaningful Material

I have bought more than my fair share of junk in the last twenty years. I have perused Target's neatly arrayed shelves on far too many occasions. This Christmas season, I vowed, would be different. And it has been. To date, I've bought a total of four new, non-consumable items: a shirt, an ornament, a book and a CD. It has not been enough, however, to stop shopping. As It Must Be the Vapors recently made clear, there is also the environmental impact of storing all of our stuff to consider. Therefore, I also needed to get rid of the junk I've accumulated - to pare down to what really mattered.

I culled through my boxes and boxes of Christmas decor and was, quite simply, overwhelmed. All said, I ended up freecycling 10+ grocery-sized bags full of Hallmark ornaments, stuffed penguins, plastic trees, plush Santas, incandescent lights, and resin snowmen.

Why did I stop? Why didn't I just ditch all the kitsch and have a quiet, peaceful Christmas enjoying nature's gifts? I have little kids for one so quiet and peaceful are not an option. ;-) More importantly, I believe material items have a place in our celebrations and traditions. We need to ensure, however, that the goods we retain or purchase have true meaning and value attached to them. After that giant purge of Christmas crap, I was left (mostly) with the stuff that really mattered. Most of it is either homemade or passed down.

This year, the place of honor on top of the tree was granted to this star, which my oldest made two years ago. It's predecessor - a cheap red metal star (made in China, bought at Target) - found new life (but undoubtedly no actual meaning) through freecycle. Our new star is homey, not at all trendy and means a heck of a lot to us - particularly the little boy who is proud to have his art project on the top of the family tree.

Decorations made by a family member or friend really do mean more. They carry a story and memories within them. Several years ago, I caught the crafter's bug and sewed stockings and a tree skirt for our family. When I unpacked those items this holiday, I fondly remembered the hours I spent creating them. I talked to my boys about why I picked which theme and what they meant to me. I also hastily replaced the decoration on one boy's stocking per his request. It meant so much more than saying, "Oh yeah, I ordered these off of Pottery Barn Kids last year. Aren't they fab?" or throwing the stocking out because it no longer fit my child's interests.

The best homemade items, however, are ones that have been cherished for years. They carry meaning both from the maker and from the years they have been treasured. My grandmother made me this lighted tree in the 1970's. She made one for each of her grandchildren. I've enjoyed this tree every Christmas since it was given to me and I remember, as a child, falling asleep as its festive lights warmed my bedroom. This year my crafty grandmother is 97 and won't be making anything but this tree is a physical reminder of the days she spent creating beauty for her family.

Even store-bought goods can be infused with meaning though. Five years ago, my parents surprised each of their children with a box full of favorite ornaments and music boxes (all store-bought) from our childhood Christmases. I've shared these with my boys and their eyes light up such as mine must have thirty years ago. More recently, a dear friend gave us a beautiful wooden train music box which - though new and store bought - will likely have a place in my home until I pass it along to my youngest when he's grown.

This holiday season and into the New Year - traditionally a time for renewal - I think it's important to assess our relationship to the stuff that inhabits our lives, to sift through it and decide what is really worth the price of keeping.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Terminate Those Emissions!

I was all set to talk about homemade holidays but I was inspired to post about the UN climate change conference in Bali after reading Burbanmom's thoughts on the matter. If you haven't been following news from the conference, the good ol' United States is obstructing any sort of worldwide pact by refusing to agree to mandatory emissions cuts. It has gotten to the point that our own former vice president, Al Gore, is urging the rest of the world to ignore the United States and proceed with an almost-world wide agreement to reduce global warming emissions.

The Bush administration's unwillingness to make real changes in terms of emissions cuts has forced a second wave of Americans to take to the skies, their videophones and their computers to let the world know that many of us are committed to real change and that, in 2009, that change will come. One of those Americans is the governor of my own state, Arnold Schwarzenegger. (I am proud to be a Californian!) He will be addressing the assembled dignitaries by video-link and assuring them that a number of the states are ready to take action without the federal government. We can only hope that he'll show up to the conference like this and force the Bush administration to come to terms with the rest of the world.

In the meantime, if you would like to let the world know that George Bush does not represent you on climate change, sign this.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Farewell, Sweet Pomegranate

A visit to my local farmer's market today confirmed my deepest fears. Pomegranate season is over. Yes, yes, I know. Pomegranates are just starting to appear in all of our local supermarkets and we always have a pomegranate salad for Christmas so those pesky farmers must be wrong. Right? Well, I suppose it is pomegranate season somewhere but, unfortunately for me and my granola, not here in Northern California.

This is the first year that I am truly "eating with the seasons". To me, that means eating what is in season within a 100-200 mile radius. I am trying to buy all of my produce at the farmer's market and if it's not there, I make do with something that is. Fortunately, I did preserve some of summer's fruits - dried some strawberries, froze a few baskets full of blueberries, made golden raspberry jam. The citrus fruits are here and I do love so love the oranges, the mandarins, the car cars.

But still, as every season ends, I feel a bit sad, a bit nostalgic for fruits and vegetables past. I know they'll all be back next year. Maybe it is because this is still new to me or maybe because we're facing the darker days of winter, which is just a few short days away. In the meantime, I'll make some pumpkin soup with sides of fresh broccoli and roasted potatoes for dinner. That should take my mind off of my lost pomegranates.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Will Climate Change Heat Up Marital Strife?

Let me start out by saying that Mr. Green Bean is a pretty green guy and very tolerant. I mean VERY tolerant. He eats our local, seasonal meals with less and less fresh fruit and has only asked once, with some trepidation, can we really keep eating locally when winter comes? He dutifully puts the bucket in the shower to catch water while it's warming, brings his own waste free lunch to work, and wears his robe around the house because our heat is turned down. He has buoyed my green spirits when the blue in our LED lights left me feeling less than festive, wholeheartedly supported my efforts to limit the number of material goods the kids get for Christmas and spent an entire weekend working on my lasagna gardening. Hey, he even gave me a thumbs up when I told him I'd worn the same jeans 5-6 days in a row. What a catch, right?

Here's the real catch, though. I have noticed the number of disagreements Mr. Green Bean and I have escalating as our family has gone greener and greener. Even though I really do enjoy most of the changes we've made, the truth is some of them - line drying clothes, using a push mower instead of gardeners and their gas powered machines, preparing a meal with fresh local food instead of takeout - just take longer. They leave us a bit more strapped for time.

Also, am I the only one who sometimes worries about my kids' future with climate change, peak oil and such? I feel under pressure to do as much as possible as soon as possible and that sometimes leaves me a little bit less, um, patient than I should be.

And then there are the philisophical differences. Mr. Green Bean is one green bean but, truth be told, he's a different shade of green than me. I'm all about conserving, cutting back, hunkering down. He's all about green tech, marketplace changes, appealing to the masses. I want to live in the country and work toward self-sufficiency on a farm. He, on the other hand, wants to start a company specializing in technology that will help people cut their emissions while maintaining their comforts. We've had a number of debates on this subject and always end them agreeing to disagree.

I don't think I'm the only one. Some bloggers write that their spouses tease them for being so "green." One friend's conservative husband rolls his eyes when she starts up the global warming train. I remember a heated discussion on the Riot For Austerity group where someone posted about her non-supportive (in the ecological sense) spouse and another poster stated she could never be married to someone who did not have the same environmental commitment.

So will climate change lead to more marital discord? Quite possibly. As the planet warms and resources become more scarce, everyone will feel more pressured and tempers will certainly flare. Or maybe natural disasters will bring us closer together.

Just remember that marital strife doesn't affect just the parties to the marriage. Yes, there are the kids to consider but I'm talking about the environment! CindyC over at Organic Picks reminded me this morning that divorce - and the resulting maintenance of separate residences - negatively impacts our planet. I guess us true greens have no choice but to keep things happy on the home front. ;-)

Monday, December 10, 2007

And The Wise Men Brought Three Gifts

And so will I. Let's face it, my kids will get oodles of stuff from family - too much stuff really - so there's no reason Mom and Dad (aka Santa) need to give more than three. This doesn't include the stockings.

The book Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference by Susan V. Vogt is a pretty good skim. It might be a worthwhile read if you have older kids. It's section on Christmas, though, is definitely worth a read. In it, Ms. Vogt advocates giving children three gifts: one "heart's desire", one "to grow on" and one article of clothing. Depending on which stage the kids are at, those three categories may merge. My close friend, Catherine, has always stuck with the three present rule: one indoor toy, one outdoor toy and one "to grow on" (e.g., art supplies, book).

So three seems to be the magic number. If it was good enough for baby Jesus, well, you get the picture.

My boys will be getting three gifts each this year:

Big Bean:
heart's desire - a keyboard
one to grow on - Peter and the Wolf book and CD
one article of clothing - a cozy sweater

Little Bean:
heart's desire - train the goes 'round the Christmas tree
one to grow on - a book about vehicles
one article of clothing - a fleece Thomas sweatshirt

So this Christmas, we'll open a few well-thought out gifts and spend the rest of the day enjoying each other instead of opening gifts for hours and dragging piles of once-used wrapping paper out to the trash.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

One Man's Trash . . .

I'm no Freegan but I strongly believe in dumpster diving. Unfortunately, we live in a throw away society where it seems easier for folks to chuck something in the garbage than to donate it to a charity, freecycle it or sell it. Some people have speculated that, if Peak Oil and Climate Change result in an economic collapse, we will be able to meet many of our material needs by simply digging through landfills for treasures from the past. Judging from the little lovelies I've rescued from local trashcans and dumpsters, they may be right.

This mail holder was retrieved from a dumpster in my neighborhood.

We found this truck sticking out of a trash can and got to it before the garbage man. My little one loves it and a parent at a local park once asked me where we got it. It's a desirable size because it is SO big - that is a full sized baseball next to it.

This vintage nightstand was found in a garbage heap with piles of cardboard boxes and broken toys in front of a newly vacated house - apparently waiting for a trash pick up. It now has a new life as a pseudo-dresser in a guest room closet.

My kids adore this Fisher Price ride on car which I pulled out of a dumpster near my little one's school. That dumpster was filled to the brim with all kinds of items in excellent condition (e.g., two pink girls' bicycles, a new aquarium with the price tag still on it) that could have easily been donated or given away or, for goodness sake, left on the front lawn with a free sign attached. I would have freed the other items from the dumpster if only I were a bit taller and stronger. The only thing I could reach was the car which was perched on top of the heap.

These are just a few of the treasures I've unearthed over the last few months. Others include a brand new plastic shopping cart and doll crib now enjoying a new home at one of my son's preschool, like new jeans donated to a local thrift shop, and a boy's bicycle and a wooden bookcase given away on freecycle.

On trash day, keep your eyes on those garbage cans as you drive, bike or walk down the street. You never know what you might find. One man's trash is another man's treasure (or at least mine).

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I'll Have a Blue, Blue, Blue Christmas

Ahhh, nothing says Christmas like the blue glow of the single strand of LED lights decorating our home this year. Beyond the LED strand, our only other holiday-specific electricity use this year is the energy guzzling lights plastering our fake tree. Okay, this does not sound green but, in all fairness, I bought the tree before I went "green" and nothing is greener than using what you already have. Just ask Burbanmom. In addition, we're only turning the tree lights on for a couple of hours a few nights a week.

A non-electric Christmas can still be pretty merry.

Instead of lights, I decorated our mantel with little icicles cut from paper. Pretty festive, no? We're using the stockings I made a few years back from felt, yarn and buttons. Bet you didn't know I was so crafty! My oldest son's stocking is not pictured because he was horrified that it featured a car rather than a musical instrument - who knew! I'm busily remedying that problem with leftover felt and thread.

As to the rest of the mantel, I've collected these snowmen for years, adding a new one every year. This year, in a nod to the compact, I'm not adding to my collection.

The advent calendar is also leftover from my spend-happy days. This year, however, we are foregoing the cheap plastic toys that once filled it. Every day, my boys will open a door to receive a note from mom and dad promising an extra book at bedtime or a special holiday outing, a coin (real or chocolate), a car from a Thomas Christmas train that we've had for several years, or stickers leftover from Christmases past.

Raw Milk Diaries

I recently joined a raw milk co-op - a group of 9 moms who met through the local mother's club online forum (community building in yet another form). We will be getting raw milk starting next Friday and perhaps every Friday thereafter from Organic Pastures Dairy, a fairly local dairy with pasture-fed cows.

I'm pretty sure that raw milk has less of an impact on the environment than pasteurized milk if, for no other reason, than it does not go through the emissions-producing process of pasteurization. But there's more. Raw milk contains live bacteria and enzymes which are beneficial for your intestinal tract. Ingesting these bacteria and enzymes naturally, from the source, instead of from store-bought probiotics is healthier and provides one with a more diverse population of beneficial bacteria than any available probiotic. In addition, as it has less steps in its production, raw milk is better for the environment than store-bought probiotics. Drinking raw milk helps people with asthma, allergies and immune disorders. Buying from a local dairy with pasture-fed cows is also obviously greener than the pollution spewing mega-dairy farms.

So while I'm thrilled to be part of this little co-op, the news isn't all good. The California legislature passed a law which will ban the sale of raw milk in California starting January 1, 2008. This little coop could end up being pretty short lived if we can't get the law reversed. As I've written before, it is important to speak up. I'll write our governor and local representatives, email other moms I know and generally get the word out. Other raw milk drinkers will be doing the same thing. If you feel strongly on the topic, please let our governor and legislature know.

I'll keep my fingers crossed - you'd be surprised what a little vocal opposition can do!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Not Quite Polyface Eggs

My Green Book Club is currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. For those of you who haven't read the book, you should. It is an eye-opening journey into how America eats. In the book, Pollan investigates four different kinds of meals: (1)industrial, (2) big organic (e.g., Whole Foods), (3) small organic (e.g., farmer's market, pasture raised meat, dairy and eggs) and (4) personal (self-grown, hunting and gathering).

For the third type of meal, Pollan visits a small organic farm, Polyface, a "pasture-based, beyond organic local market farm." "Polyface eggs" receive many accolades throughout the chapter with the author, chefs and the farmer's brother raving that the eggs have "muscle tone", the yolks possessed "unusual integrity", separating the yolks from the whites was a cinch, and that the yolks "stand up" on their own.

I've never had Polyface eggs and, though I'd love to have some chickens, that just doesn't appear to be in the cards for me right now. Instead, I've been satisfying myself with eggs sold at Whole Foods but laid at a local egg farm. A fellow mom visited the egg farm and reported that the chickens roam free, eat bugs, fresh grass and organic feed and are humanely raised. I never noticed a difference in the eggs taste or appearance but figured that at least the animals had real free range.

A few weekends ago, I visited family in Napa Valley. We stopped at a road side farm, Long Meadow Ranch Rutherford Gardens, advertising local, organic produce and grass-fed beef. The kids were delighted to run around the farm - checking out hens and roosters (not pasture-fed but looking quite happy in an extra extra large coop feasting on fall's leftover pumpkins), bee hives, fruit trees, vegetables and strawberries and some highland bulls. We were also able to procure the last dozen of eggs available this week - and it was only 10am! Apparently, the eggs sell out quickly.

Later, I made scrambled eggs with my not quite-Polyface eggs and could not believe the bright yellow color or creamy texture. My mom remarked that these were like the eggs she ate as a child. Later, while making a cake, I used the last of the Long Meadow Ranch eggs and some of the local Whole Foods eggs. Guess which ones were purchased right off the farm:

The difference is striking, even in a photo. The Whole Foods egg yolks break apart almost immediately and are a light yellow color. The farm fresh eggs had bright orange yolks that really did have "muscle tone." I'm sold!

What's the difference? Is it freshness - I'm sure that's at least part of it. Any ideas?

In the mean time, my not quite Polyface eggs are golden! Now if I can only convince Mr. Green Bean that we need some chickens here on the homestead. ;-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Give 12 Days of Meaningful Gifts

Looking for inspiration in toning down our holidays this year, I recently read Elaine St. James' Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Make Your Holidays Happier, Healthier and More Fun. Some of her 100 ideas were right on and others less so. For me, Ms. St. James' variation on the 12 Days of Christmas was a good one. It emphasizes community building and creating a true holiday spirit rather than consumerism and I've decided to try to give it a go this Christmas season.

The 12 Days of Meaningful Gifts goes something like this:

On the first day of Christmas, give up a grudge and try to reconcile with someone. (I know just who I'm going to call on this day!)

On the second day, brighten someone's life. Bring a co-worker coffee (reusable mugs, please), help out an elderly person, share some homemade goodies)

On the third day, help a neighbor. Bring in their trash cans, rake their yard, offer to watch their kids while they run an errand, or ask if you can pick up something for them at the grocery store.

On the fourth day, take the day off from nagging your children and spouse. This one will be a tough one for me! :)

On the fifth day, give the gift of goodwill and let someone cut in line in front of you, let someone over in traffic, etc.

On the sixth day, give your spare change to a homeless person or the Salvation Army outside of your grocery store.

On the seventh day, set aside five minutes and give blessings to the less fortunate.

On the eighth day, deliver necessities to an elderly shut in from "Santa."

On the ninth day, send an email or drop a note to someone who did something nice for you.

On the tenth day, smile at everyone you meet all day long.

On the eleventh day, volunteer somewhere - collect toys for Toys For Tots, serve lunch at an elder care center, go caroling.

On the twelfth day, pray for greener planet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Oh, Stuff It!

What is Santa leaving in your kids' stocking this year? It better not be a lump of coal - think of all those carbon emissions!

In years past, I've stuffed and overstuffed my fair share of stockings. With all the stuffing I did, I'm not sure why anyone even bothered with the "big gifts" under the Christmas tree. I'm aiming at a more environmentally friendly stuffing this year.

I've been reading my kids The Night Before Christmas over and over this year and was struck by the illustrations of the "traditional" Christmas stocking. According to this very scientific study, the old fashioned stocking included one piece of fruit, a couple of nuts, a candy cane, a piece of chocolate or other candy, a wrapped present and a small toy. That sounds perfectly generous to me and I've decided to go with tradition.

This Christmas, my kids will enjoy an apple or orange, a single candy cane, a piece of fair trade chocolate, a small wrapped item (I lucked out and found a place mat featuring each bean's particular interest - trains and instruments - at the local thrift store) and one small toy (a wooden train handed down from a neighbor - yeah, community building! - and, our as yet, only new, non-consumable gift purchase, a new ornament that resembles big bean's favorite instrument).

And that . . . that . . . that's all folks!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Stranger in a Strange Land

My name is Green Bean and I'm a shopaholic.

I never owned a "Born to Shop" bumper sticker but the slogan would have been an apt description of my former self. I've always been a passionate advocate for animals and the environment but it wasn't until this year that I made the connection between my consumption habits and my ecological footprint. Duh! Once the connection was made, I stopped cold in my tracks. I've made a 180 degree turn around such that my family probably thinks I've joined a cult. Have I? Is Global Warming really a cult? I guess if you ask some of the right wingers, but I digress.

Today, necessity forced me into a Target store. Wow! Have you folks been recently? I literally felt like an alien wandering some foreign planet.

I used to frequent Target weekly and, yes, shop recreationally. Having pulled away from that for the last six months and immersed myself in the land of second hand shops, green blogs and global warming books, I really thought the world had changed. Nope. If Target is anything to judge, the world is filled with middle aged women dolled up with heels, skinny jeans, chunky sunglasses and striped hair talking on their cell phones and loading up their shiny red carts with holiday clothes, nicknacks, fake Christmas trees, boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments, sheets, and, oh, the bag of cat litter they came in for.

Attempting to remain strong and not be sucked back into the buy-buy-buy lifestyle, I stuck to my very short list: sweatpants for my oldest who just finished a major growth spurt, thermos bottle, gum for husband. In the interests of full disclosure, a Christmas CD did some how sneak into my cart and into the green Whole Foods reusable tote the checkout gal reluctantly packed for me but, all in all, my brief visit into the land of temptation left me mostly unscathed - just feeling like a stranger in a strange land.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No One Said You Can't Have Style

Check out my new wheels! Now I can get around town carbon free (I've been walking but this is much quicker!) and look cute as I do it. My son's entire preschool class came out to see my new bike when we biked to his school today - that's some good green PR too. :)

Best yet, my husband bought this puppy used off of Cragislist so no carbon emissions were generated on our behalf in making the bike or bringing it to our golden state. I think it is very important to create a market for used goods so people don't huck their stuff in the trash and its a great way to get some cool stuff for really cheap.

And yes, that is my lovely sheet mulch and cover crops in the back ground. Everything is coming along nicely and teeming with life - unlike the lawn on the other side. But that is the subject of another project and another post.
Gotta go burn, um, rubber, I think it is.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bottoms Up!

We are lucky enough to live a hop skip and a jump (well, we still have to drive the car but not that far) from Napa Valley and spent the latter part of Thanksgiving weekend there. For the most part, we enjoyed the beautiful views, took some very peaceful nature walks, and the kids rode their bikes and scooters. And, I'm happy to report that, other than food, we succeed in buying nothing on Buy Nothing Day.

On Saturday, however, we visited a few of the local organic wineries. The vineyards, themselves, are beautiful this time of year with the last vestiges of fall hanging on. The birds and bees flit from vine to vine and the colorful mustard cover crops planted in between. The solar panels atop the restored barns glint in the sunlight.

Did you know that many vintners have adopted sustainable, organic practices in the last ten years? 18% of California's certified organic vineyards are found here in Napa Valley and that percentage is increasing every year. Some advertise it right on the bottle like Parducci, which my husband picked up at Trader Joes. It is apparently very difficult, however, to have wine itself certified organic because the USDA prohibits added sulfites and many vintners claim you can't produce a good bottle of wine without adding sulfur dioxide in the fermenting process.

That said, you can find many a delicious bottle of wine produced from organic grapes and grown from a vineyard that uses sustainable or biodynamnic practices. As you can't rely on the bottle for determining what is "green wine", it pays to do a bit of research first. The following are some well known, delicious Napa wines which also happen to be organic and from sustainable vineyards: Charles Krug, Grgich Hills, Mason Cellars, and Rubicon Estates.
But if Napa isn't the only place wine is produced. There are wineries tucked all over the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Check out some wines produced locally to you - use it as an excuse. Someone has to taste all these to find the best bottle for the holidays. ;-)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday - Or Buy Nothing Day

As an alternative to Black Friday - a frenzied day of shopping like crazy, hitting the malls at 5am looking for bargains and buying stuff for their relatives who "have everything" - Adbusters has offered Buy Nothing Day. For the next 24 hours, opt out of the insane cycles of consumption that are driving our planet to the brink and SPEND NOTHING!
After that, think about cutting back this entire holiday season. Here are some easy ways:
1) Consumables: Look for consumables as gifts this holiday season - local wine, fair trade coffee or chocolate, local soaps, homemade jam or scarves, gift certificates for insects for the little ones (guess what my butterfly loving niece is getting).
2) Tradition: Put an orange or apple in your kids stocking along with whatever other gifts might be in there.

3) Buy Used: Don't forget to persue craigslist for bigger items (a new-to-you bike or musical instrument?) and buy used. Another obvious place for used gifts is the local thrift store. Ours is an adventure and I've found many a cool item - including a very cool wooden train set for the little one. For the more refined, check out the local antique mart or even vintage items on Ebay. These are the ultimate in re-use.
4) Re-Gift: For the grown ups, instead of exchanging gifts cut back to picking names or better yet do a white elephant exchange where every gift is a re-gift.
5) Forgotten Gifts: Scour the back of your closets for gifts you bought in the past but forgot. I found two pairs of jammies that I bought the kids last year on clearance and a game that I never got around to giving to my oldest.
6) Service-Related Gifts: Even better than giving a material gift is to a give the gift of time - yours or someone else's. You can give a gift certificate for an eco-friendly massage or yoga classes or music classes or cooking lessons or something similar. Or you can give the gift of yourself and offer a voucher for babysitting services, a home cooked meal, a cleaned house and so on. For kids, experience-based gifts are wonderful. This Christmas, my mother-in-law is taking my oldest to a symphony for his main gift. Take a child to the ballet, the nutcracker, the zoo, on a nature walk, to a football game, on a train ride, to get ice cream - whatever sparks their interest. These sort of gifts have very limited impact on the environment but are likely to have a deep impact on the receipent - children will remember and cherish the special time they had more than some plastic toy that gets broken or becomes boring and is tossed in the trash or the Goodwill pile in February.
A couple of the blogs I frequent have posted recently on the same subject. Check out Organic Pick's How Long Can We Shop Like There Is No Tomorrow? for some hair-raising statistics that will make you think twice. Also, Charles over at Car(bon) Free in California has suggested looking at Christmas gifts in a different way - think about what gifts you remember and ask people the same to get an idea of what types of gifts are really important. Personally, the gifts I remember were homemade and not purchased at the local mall.
If you're looking for more ways to change the focus of your holidays from spending money to tradition, family and fun, check out Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben.
Happy Buy Nothing Day, everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving! A Vegetarian Alternative

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. What are you thankful for today?

We're heading over to my mother in law's later today - a short 7 mile drive. I'm thankful that she's doing most of the cooking. ;-) And that she is a big local food shopper.

I'm responsible for bringing the pumpkin pie (local pumpkin puree, local raw milk, local eggs), Candy Roaster soup (local candy roaster squash, local vegetable broth made from veggie scraps before they hit the compost bin, local milk) and a vegetarian entree. I am a lifelong vegetarian so I always offer to bring a veggie alternative to turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My absolute favorite entree to bring, and one that is always very well received, is Peanut Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Collard Greens from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook . It is perfect for the fall and winter holidays as it is hearty, filling and seasonal. The recipe is below. This Thanksgiving, I'm using all local produce for this.


2 teaspoons oil (I use olive oil as it's local)

1 large onion, chopped

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated (I usually substitute a dash of dried ginger)

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup loosely packed minced cilantro

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped

1 Tablespoon cumin

2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds

2 teaspoons coriander

1 teaspoon ground tumeric

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped

1 pound Yukon Gold or similar potatoes, peeled and chopped (I substitute 1 lb sweet potatoes)

1/4 cup coconut milk (I used 1/2 cup low fat coconut milk)

2 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter (I use 4 Tablespoons)

1 pound collard greens, steemed and coarsely chopped (I never pre-steam)

2 cups beans (I will sometimes substitute fried tofu)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the onion, ginger, garlic, and cilantro. Reduce heat to medium and saute, stirring often until onion is soft and translucent - about 7 minutes. Add the bell pepper and spices. Stir to blend. Stir in tomatoes, sweet potato and potatoes. Cover and let simmer over medium-low until the potatoes have cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Combine coconut milk and peanut butter and stir until smooth. Add them to the skillet along with the collards and beans/tofu. Cook until the collards turn bright green, about 4 minutes. Cover and let the curry sit for 20 minutes before serving. Serve over rice or with bread.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The American President

No, not the real candidates running for President and busily-side stepping climage change questions. I'm talking about the movie with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening in which Douglas stars as a widowed American president and Bening as an environmental lobbyist who fall in love. Didn't you just love this movie!

Last night, my husband was watching The American President on television (a point of contention) while I was cleaning up the kitchen. For those of you who haven't seen the movie or don't remember it, Douglas and Bening fall in love and the bill that she is lobbying to bring through Congress becomes an issue. At the very end, the President shoves politics aside and decides to do the right thing. (Note: this never ever ever happens in real life but occurs quite frequently on the screen.) The President decides to send Bening's environmental bill (a 20% mandatory emissions cut) to Congress and touts it as the most aggressive piece of legislation to deal with global warming to date. Pause! Quickly, Mr. Green Bean clicks the info button on tivo. When was this movie made?


That's right folks, twelve years ago. Okay, I know that climate change has been an issue for much longer than that but my point is that global warming has been enough at the forefront of our collective consciousness that it was the ultimate "do the right thing" for the hero in a popular romantic comedy over a decade ago. Yet, here we stand today - at the 11th Hour still waiting for emissions cuts to be made, for more public transportation systems to be put in place or improved, for cars with better gas mileage. The leaders have clearly let us down. Unlike in the movies, they can't set politics aside to do the right thing. But we must. The planet is leaving us no choice.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Speaking Up!

Inspired by a post on one of my favorite blogs, Going Green, I thought I'd speak up on speaking up too. Most of us Americans just flow through life these days, never bothering to pipe up if something goes wrong or doesn't seem right. We just mindlessly move on. Well not any more.

A few months ago, I wrote a letter and made a couple of phone calls to some California state congressmen and women about a particular bill that was likely to be passed. I plugged the letter out in a few minutes and faxed it over and the three or four phone calls I made took less than a minute each. I was part of a small grass roots organization doing the same thing. Guess what! The committee did not pass the bill citing the 93 individuals who opposed it. That's it! 93 individuals in a state with the population of almost 38 million and we could stop (or theoretically start) a law! That is a lot of power that should not go unused.

From now on, whether it be a corporation or a govermental agency, if I see something I don't think is right, I speak up. I send them an email (this may not be as effective as a written letter or phone call but is SO easy and far more effective than doing nothing), make a phone call or fax a short letter. Last week, Amazon sent me a new cordless phone battery - a tiny thing that could fit in a small padded envelope - in a giant cardboard box. Guess who got an email from little 'ole me? The makers of Kill-A-Watt also got a to-the-point email regarding their overuse of plastic in their packaging.

Let's not roll over and let laziness and a bunch of big corporations spin the world into a burning inferno. Speak up! You'd be surprised how loud your voice can be.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Seasonal Kitchen

I buy all of our produce locally (at the farmer's market) which forces one to eat seasonally. A friend visited recently and commented on the beautiful fall "display" in my kitchen.

I was thinking, um, we actually eat all this - from the pumpkins and seeds, to the end of fall's tomatoes to the persmissons I'm hoping ripen soon. Oh, that long thing on the top that looks like a banana squash is actually a Candy Roaster and makes the absolute best soup ever. I bought it from a delightful woman named Jill who no longer comes to our farmer's market. :( At least I loaded up when I last saw her and thank goodness that pumpkins and other winter squash last for months when stored properly (which means I need to move my "display" into a cool, dark spot where the squash are not touching each other).

Happy fall!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

(Mostly) Local Lunches - Waste Free Too!

I get so many comments on my kids' school lunches that I thought I'd post about it. One teacher said my eldest's meals were the healthiest she'd see in her 7 years of teaching. Nice. :) One parent called my youngest's lunch "interesting." Hmmmm. I was surprised by the first comment but not by the second. I don't consider my kids' meals out of this world healthy but they sure are a far cry from the colorful bags of goldfish, "fruit" snacks and other processed corn that litters most childrens' lunch boxes.

They are usually mostly local and almost always waste free. I tend to pack leftovers from dinner, fresh food from the local farmer's market or our backyard garden and the occasional non-local cookie (yup! I'm guilty).

Below is the lunch my big guy is getting tomorrow. Cauliflowers (his request!), candy roaster soup (local farmers: candy roaster winter squash, white beans, onion and olive oil, homemade vegetable stock from veggie scraps, non-local spices and salt and sugar, milk from nearly local dairy, thyme from our backyard - best soup I've eaten in a long long time!), strawberries (local farmer - yup, strawberries in November), nuts (pistachios and almonds are local and cashews are bulk) and honey stick (local beekeeper).

Below is my little one's lunch for tomorrow. It has a local egg (hardboiled with a turkey drawn on it), same local strawberries, local English peas (farmer's market), local cheese (farmer's market - really yummy!), non local cookies, small rice cakes (local company but don't know about rice) and local persimmon (farmer's market). Also bonus in that his lunch box is a hand-me-down from a friends' son and we've been using it for 2 years now - even though it has the previous owner's name written all over it.

Here is the drawer I previously used from plastic wrap, plastic zip locks and aluminum foil. Now it is the station for my kids' (and hubby's) no waste lunch. It is just as easy as using all the disposable stuff and so much better for the planet. :)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Building Community

One of the most important things you can do to fight global warming (or to survive it) is to build community. Befriending your neigbors and others in your community you allows you to pool resources and save energy - I'll pick up produce at the farmer's market for you, you can borrow our push lawn mower, I can watch your kid so you don't need to have a sitter drive over. It also makes you feel safer because someone is keeping an eye on you, your family and your home in case anything unfortunate were to happen and it just generally feels right to be on friendly terms with everyone you live near. Don't we all get a little lonely sometime? Doesn't it feel better to have a nice conversation with someone than to sit huddled in our homes in front of the TV?

I have not always been the friendliest of neighbors but I have sworn to make changed. In the last six months, I have focused on establishing relationships with my neighbors. My kids have become good friends with the little boy next door. His parents watched our children so that we could "green" our front planting strip. I brought his family some extra pumpkin soup and some homemade carmel apples. I've started hauling in my other next door neighbor's trash cans on trash day if I get there first. Guess what? If he gets there first, he now brings in my trash can (we're down to 1/2 can a week!). I can't tell you how great it feels to trundle in with a car load full of kids and farmer's market finds only to discover that I don't have to put away my garbage and recycling bins. I've also made an effort to get to know the elderly woman across the street. She is 87 and lives alone. In my pre-green days, I was "too busy" to make time for a lonely old woman. That is just plain wrong. I certainly hope that someone makes time for my grandmothers where they live and for me if I am lucky enough to live that long. Slowing down and realizing the importance of community has me reaching out to her, bringing her homemade strawberry jam and chatting with her about her children and my garden.

Another, equally important reason to build community is to inspire change. While I think individual action is very important in dealing with climate change, one person can really only do so much. When we expose others to recent news about global warming, share the changes we have made and how they make us feel, we increase our impact. Because I enjoyed reading books about the environment and wanted to get to know other moms in the area, I recently started a "Green Book Club". Last week, we had our first discussion - about Plenty: One Man, One Woman and A Raucous Year of Eating Locally. The book club had a lively discussion regarding the book itself, local resources and even sustainable gardening. I think we all learned some new and valuable information about changes we can make. Plus, I met some great women whom I look forward to running into at the farmer's market or our local park.

So get inspired to build community and spread "greenness" in whatever way feels right to you. I feel much happier establishing connections with my neighbors and some other local moms.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Eating Seasonally - Different but Delish

Okay, I just had to post this photo because I was feeling positively Path-to-Freedom-esque this morning when I could find no other fruit to put on my homemade granola but a lonely pomegranate. At PTF, they are always showing their "100 foot diet" photos and I swear there are pomegranate seeds in virtually every photo. It was my inspiration. :)

I must say that pomegranate seeds sprinkled on cereal are very different, very seasonal (berries are a thing of the season-past and bananas ain't local) and pretty darn good. Definitely something I'll repeat.

As for the homemade granola, it is my mom's recipe. I remember being a kid, waiting for the granola to come out of the oven. It was so so good and warm and just a little bit crumbly. Anyway, here's the recipe. I play with it depending on what I have on hand - and to accomodate my children's gluten free diet.


1 cup raw cashews or raw pumpkin seeds*

9 cups rolled oats**

2 cups soy flour

1 cup whole wheat or rice flour

3/4 cup honey

1/2 cup oil mixed with 1 cup boiling water

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend liquid ingredients then mix with dry ingredients. Crumble and bake on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then 200 degrees - stirring every 15 minutes until golden brown.

* I love nuts in this so I usually add more. Plus, with cooking seasonally, I've got pumpkin seeds coming out of my ears so I happily put them to use here in my most recent batch.

** Most oats have cross contamination issues with gluten but you can now purchase certified Gluten Free Oats online. Miss Roben's is my favorite place to order online - and they've recently switched to more environmentally friendly packaging in response, at least in part, to my request.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Back to Boo-sics

Earlier this month, we took our children to a local pumpkin patch to pick out their Halloween pumpkins. Boy, have pumpkin patches changed since we were kids. There were three or four bouncy houses, two train rides, a haunted house, three pony ride, a hay ride (ok, they had this when I was a kid) and, oh, pumpkins. We walked into the "farm" and I told the boys to pick out a pumpkin. They ran to the pumpkins all excited, quickly grabbed one - yelling "this is the one" and then sprinted in opposite directions: one to the bouncy houses and one to the train ride. What?!?

Growing up, going to the pumpkin patch was a big treat. It was all about picking the perfect pumpkin for your very own jack-o-lantern. Not so these days. Even pumpkin patches set up in parking lots of inflatable slides and bouncy houses. The pumpkins are an afterthought.

That day at the farm, we let the kids play and enjoy the rides. We did not get a pumpkin though. Instead, this morning, we trundled out to the car and drove to a quiet field where they actually grow the pumpkins right there. It was exactly the experience I was looking for. No rides - though they unfortunately did have a bouncy house. We just said no to the bouncy house and told the kids we're here for pumpkins. They also had a very small petting zoo - all the better for me to persuade hubby to get some chickens! ;-)

Anyway, my oldest (Mr. Active) ran and ran and ran through the giant field searching for his "perfect pumpkin" - an extra large one. My little one picked up little pumpkins, one after the other, trying to load them all into the wheelbarrow. It was so like Halloween when I was a girl and I was so happy to share that special experience with my children - without all the excesses that rob our children of life's simple pleasures. You have to seek out these experiences - they are harder and harder to come by without some effort.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Greening the Holidays

I've long been guilty of going all out, full tilt insane during the holidays. I used to love the lights, the gifts, the consumer craziness of it all. Becoming more ecologically aware, however, has made me more aware of the resources we are wasting in doing this. It has also put me in touch with my "simple" side - as in simple living. I realize that what I remember about holidays is often fun with family, events, things that happened or that we did. It is very rarely anything material. For instance, I cannot for the life of me remember most of the gifts I gave last year for Christmas or any of the gifts I received.

I haven't yet figured out how I'll approach the lights and decorations for Christmas this year. It used to break my heart to think of a lack of Christmas lights twinkling around our little abode at night or getting rid of the giant inflatable decorations which are all the rage now. Halloween has been somewhat of a sustainable success though and that gives me hope for the rest of the holidays.

Halloween is upon us and I've made many a green change here. I've freecycled all electric decorations except for a plug in light to use as a night light for each of my kids. That may not sound like a big change, but trust me, it is! I got rid of most of the things piecemeal, thinking I'd only hang up some and then I just kept cutting back. I thought I'd miss my electric decor but in all honesty I haven't even thought about it. I reused our Halloween non-electric decorations from years past and put up the kids' art work and it looks plenty festive! Plus, the kids are so proud of their contributions. Maybe we'll be able to survive Christmas with no outdoor lights. Or maybe I'll swallow my compact-guilt and buy a couple new strands of LED lights.

I've had a few other green Halloween successes. My youngest is going to wear that same costume again this year that he wore last year. I tried to get the oldest to use a hand-me-down costume but no go. It just had to be C3PO and he even asked to earn it (we have a sticker reward system). Making one would have entailed quite a bit of environmental impact what with the mask and the gold fabric. Good luck finding a used C3PO costume! So new it was. I'm pretty pleased though as that was our only new expenditure.

As for candy, we live in "Mayberry" and get hundreds of trick-or-treaters. I figured the best thing I could come up this year was to buy a single big candy bar (I usually give a handful of smaller ones) to cut back on packaging. Maybe next year, I'll come up with some sustainably grown chocolate or better yet, some nickels and dimes (literally). For now, step right up and get your Hershey's bar and please, please, please, do NOT throw the wrapper on my new sheet mulch.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Some Big Changes This Week

This past week has seen a lot of changes over here at the Green Bean homestead.

We spent last weekend ripping out the water sucking lawn on our gigantic side walk strip (400 square feet) and replacing it with the lasagna sheet mulch recommended by Toby Hemenway in his home-scale permaculture book, Gaia's Garden. Basically, this is a method of alternating carbon and nitrogen so that your soil becomes more fertile on its on to avoid hauling in fertilizers in the future. You start by aerating the soil, covering it with slashed vegetation, then adding a thick layer of newspapers or cardboard. After that you add manure or grass clippings, then leaves (lots of fall leaves around here to be gathered for free) or hay, then compost (free from the city, made from people's collected yard waste) and finally a top dressing like wood chips. You water in between every layer. It doesn't look like much now but supposedly, in the spring, the soil will be great and then I'll plant my apple tree, some blueberry bushes and a few other plants. I may also do a cover crop to grow over the fall. At a minimum, we're saving water by not watering that strip for now.

Above is the work in progress. Below, is our finished product. Looks so so. All of our neighbors came out to see what we were doing so, at a minimum, it was a community building exercise. :) After we completed our project, I ran across an old post from one of my favorite blogs where the blogger also employed the sheet mulch method and swears by it. If it worked for them, I'm assuming it will for us. Keep your fingers crossed.

Our next big change, my dear hubby started biking to work. It took him a little over 30 minutes and he'll probably only be able to do it once a week but it's a big change for us. He also takes my youngest to preschool once a week which enables me to walk my oldest to school an additional day - that makes 4 out of 10 trips to school a week where we walk.

Also on the spouse front, my husband has started bringing his own lunch to work two to three times a week. I know this isn't new to a lot of folks but it is to us. He can't do it every day because he has lunch meetings some time. That said, I pack him a no waste lunch made of food purchased from our local farmer's market and he has a healthy, inexpensive meal that does not include the usual disposables inherent in a fast food lunch from the local cafeteria.

Finally, we fired our gardeners (though they were really super nice!) and their gas powered machines. We've started using our new push lawn mower this weekend.

I'm so happy that we continue to make progress.


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