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!


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