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.


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