Monday, October 13, 2008

A Green Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a mom decided to live a greener life. In doing so, she decided to chronicle her adventures, her triumphs and failures, her thoughts and hopes.

She grew quite a bit - or shrank, depending on how you look at it. She learned a lot. Shared a lot. Made new friends. Became part of a community. And she wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Then, one day, she woke up and realized that she was doing quite a bit of writing but maybe not as much doing as she used to, as she'd like to. She was too busy typing to research funding for solar panels for her son's school. The garden withered and died and, still, she crouched in front the lit screen and pecked. The scarf she meant to knit lay listless in a dark closet corner. Books piled like mountains. Ideas went on in her head like CFL lightbulbs - a community back to school clothing swap, a green movie night for the whole town, an expanded edible garden for her son's school, a green team for the school district - but burned out before she had time to get to them.

But she loved her keyboard, she thought. It enabled her to shout her opinions and ideas from the mountain top - or about mountain tops. She cherished her cables. They connected her to friends across the globe. She adored her mouse and monitor. They had forged the path to self knowledge and self expression.

She couldn't leave them behind.

And it turned out she didn't have to. Because there were others out there just like her. She liked to write about building community. And now they would build one in a blog.

She decided to join with Burbanmom of Going Green, MamaBird of Surely You Nest and Hannah at The Purloined Letter in a new team blog. Starting on October 20th, she will leave behind Dreams of Green Beans and embark on a new adventure. One with good friends. Regular writing. And a life full of doing.

Please join me at our new blog, the Green Phone Booth, next Monday, October 20th. I'll blog for one more week, here at Green Bean Dreams, tie up some loose ends, and then I'll don my green cape permanently at the Green Phone Booth. Dial in now. We're excited to open the phone lines.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Survival of the Fittest

"It's the only one like this out there." A mottled hand reached over the fence, holding out a glowing yellow orb.

"I can't take that, Bob. It's your only one," I responded.

"Oh, it's an ugly one, alright," he continued, misunderstanding me. "But it'll taste good."

I looked into his blue eyes, through the chain link, and smiled. "Really? Bob? It's your only one. I'm sure it's delicious but really?"

He nodded, his ninety year old eyes crinkling under the battered sun hat. "There's none other like it out there." He gestured behind him, to the well tended vegetable patch at the back of his yard. It brimmed with eggplants, sprawling squash and watermelon vines, and stretching tomato plants.

I took his single, beautiful heirloom tomato in both hands and thanked him. He waved it away and began talking of his days at the farm bureau back in the 1930s. The conversation drifted to various watering techniques and then his favorite fruit trees. When we parted, I cradled Bob's gift in my hands.

There is something special in giving to your neighbors, sharing your bounty. But there is something spectacular, truly humbling in giving not your worst, not your leftovers or extras, but your best. Your only. That afternoon, my parents' elderly neighbor picked the very best from his yard. The only large tomato. And gave it to me - a neighbor's daughter he hardly knew.

I cradled his tomato. Rested it on the counter in my parents' kitchen and then hauled it home to my own kitchen, where it sat atop my fruit bowl, proudly, patiently, reminding me.

This has been a rough couple of weeks. The stock market plummeted. Nest eggs disappeared. Jobs were cut. Budgets were slashed. The bitter division over two Presidential candidates, two schools of political thought, persisted.

Yesterday, at the farmers' market, people frowned. The early autumn sun reached down and faint breezes buffeted. Still, someone barked at another for stepping in front of her. Another customer tossed Sapphira's cauliflower on the table after hearing its price. Horns honked. Elbows nudged.

It was not our finest hour. It has not been our finest year. Or decade.

But as I left Sapphira's stall, she placed her two biggest Sugar Pie pumpkins in my basket. "Please take them," she nodded. "I saved them for you. Your boys will love some pumpkin pie." She waved away my money and told me she'd see me next week.

Toting home my gift, I thought of Sapphira's saved pumpkins, Bob's best tomato.

In this month of lost savings and political division, I learned about what we truly need to survive. The very best of each other. The very best of ourselves.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A is for . . .

Affluent? For some folks.

All? For other folks.

I'm talking about the APLS group. You know . . . Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. A for Affluent has been the topic of much debate and even the monthly carnival for September.

For many folks, Affluent reminds them of their place in the world, their ability and responsibility to make positive changes. For others, though, it is jarring and exclusive. More than one person has noted that they would join the group but for the Affluent.
In the September carnival, Melinda at One Green Generation suggested changing Affluent Persons Living Sustainably to All Persons Living Sustainably.

We invited feedback in the comments and in a poll. While most comments strongly supported retaining Affluent, most votes in the poll supported switching to All People Living Sustainably. Once again, we were divided. As Julie Artz so eloquently argued in the comments, though, America is already divided. We must work toward unification, get rid of lines and classifications that pull us apart.
So that's what we'd like to do - find something that works for everyone, build a group everyone can belong to, work together for a better planet. Here is how we hope to do that:
We challenge you to come up with a new "A" for the APLS acronym.

One that is less controversial than Affluent but that holds more meaning than All. You can change all of the APLS words if need be.

Please submit your ideas here for new meaning behind APLS in the comments here (comment on the submissions too if one strikes your fancy). We'll then narrow down the choices, vote and, as a group, choose our favorite. Whomever submits the winning term will have $50 donated to a charity of their choice by yours truly . . . and the satisfaction of bringing people together.

So have at it. I know there are some gifted folks out there capable of making virtually anything into an acronym.

Contest closes Saturday at midnight. Look for a poll for voting next week.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bottles of Wine Make Good Neighbors

A bottle of wine and puffed clouds strewn across a pink sky. And a trio of boys scootering up and down the sidewalk in bare feet.

A couple of weeks ago, on one of the last carefree days of summer, I joined my neighbor on her front porch. Our boys - dirty and happy yet not quite tired from their last day of summer camp - buzzed up and down the sidewalk, swinging up occasionally to run into one of our backyards or to collapse on my neighbor's lawn to catch their breath.

Almost in tandem, our husbands returned home from work. One emerged with a bottle of local wine. The other with a couple of glasses. Eventually, the sun tucked between the two story homes across the street, taking the last vestiges of daylight with it.

Finally, we dragged the boys in and to bed after darkness fell. After the wine was gone. Dinner cold. A set of Thomas trains richer. With good friends next door.

Getting to know your neighbors doesn't have to be difficult. It doesn't have to be formal. Or even planned. So often, I have thought that it would be hard to meet neighbors. That I would need some sort of event to draw us closer, to pull people from the television sets. So often, others have expressed the same feelings. People are nice, but not in their own neighborhoods, they lament. Or they haven't gotten to know anyone where they live and it's been 4 years. For me too!

But I find that just being out front is often enough to get a connection going. My front yard garden, my exuberant boys, a runaway cat - those are all things that break the ice. That, and a bottle of wine and a pink sunset.

So grab a bottle and out there. Be a good neighbor.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Green Mom Carnival: The Commercialization of the Holidays

'Tis the season! Or at least that's what I've always announced, with a thrill, when I flipped the calendar to October.

I love the holidays. The pumpkins and magic of Halloween. The gathering of friends and celebration of the harvest at Thanksgiving. The joy of giving, the way your heart swells when singing carols. All of those things are wonderful, filled with meaning beyond measure.

Some how, though, some of that meaning, that magic gets trampled ever year. By the sound of stampeding feet, cash registers ringing. This month, Green Moms across the blogosphere take on the commercialization of the holidays, offer suggestions for coping and for re-capturing the true joy of the holiday season. This is the October edition of the Green Moms Carnival.

Kellie, from Greenhab, loves the holidays. Like crazy loves them! But on her own terms. Do you want to love the holidays like Kellie? I do! And thankfully, she's got 31 wonderful things to do in October to get us started. I'm bookmarking this list!

"Put Your Blinders Baby", warns The Mindful Momma, because here comes the retail parade. She discusses how commercialization is seeped into most of our holidays and offers some suggestions for celebrating simpler, greener and more memorable holidays.

Teaching our children not to fall prey to commercials is the topic over at The Conscious Consumer. Here, Erin explores various tools for making our children more aware of marketing and more appreciative of commercial-free life.

Halloween leaves one "hollow" over at Green Talk. After greeting the ghost of Halloween past, Green Talk help us regain the magic for Halloween present - complete with ideas for finding meaning, joy and reducing the marketing mentality.

The Green Parent is dreaming green this holiday season. No longer will the big box stores dictate how she celebrates, she vows! She will embrace the joy of the holidays and celebrate it her way. Are you a dreamer?

Over at Kneedly Knits, Viv explores two very different types of gifts - one bogged down in consumerism and one fraught with meaning. She implores us to teach our children the true of meaning of gift, which, in and of itself, is the greatest gift of all.

What is a green Halloween anyway, wonders Maya at The Gamble Life. Find how what she concludes and she sets about trying to achieve it. Some great ideas - and memories - here.

Best of Mother Earth
poses the timeless question: To Consume Or Not To Consume? She recounts visits to a traditional pumpkin patch - complete with hand pressed apple cider and homemade doughnuts - and how and why those visits came to an abrupt end.

Are you a green witch? Love Halloween and want to share the scary magic with your kids? So does Green & Clean Mom and she sets out several helpful suggestions on how to keep Halloween going but get it going green.

Greenstyle Mom is turning the tables this Halloween with reverse trick or treating. Instead of receiving candy, her children will give candy - and information about fair trade chocolate - on their trick or treat trail. Great idea!

Have children changed that much in a generation? If not, than why have our holidays, wonders the Green Moms Carnival founder, Lynn over at Organic Mania. She has the answer to that question and advice on how to get back to the way we were.

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent
is helping a friend plan a Halloween party. Can she come up with some party ideas that are memorable and green? Oh yeah!

Fake Plastic Fish wonders about Fake Plastic Holidays. Beth questions the very core of holidays these days. She wonders how we can get back the joy and honor we once enjoyed, how we can leave everything that is fake and plastic behind us.

Nature Moms Blog
has a comprehensive list of eco-friendly Halloween supplies and ideas - from what to hand out to trick or treaters to what to wear and how to decorate. Lisa From

Retro Housewife Goes Green
also offers up a great list of green alternatives to your usual Halloween customs - costumes, trick or treating and decorating are all covered. Finally, yours truly set up Three Tricks to Greener Treats - three simple ways to green your Halloween.

At The Green Routine, a green dad traces the origins of a commercial Christmas way back to a Coca Cola bottle. He then offers advice on how to teach our children to value Christmas decor and how to beat marketers at their own game.

At In Women We Trust, Mary gives us a peek in to another family's life: one which raised six kids frugally and thoughtfully. Instead of piles of presents, this family turns the holidays into a time for mountains of memories.

La Marguerite encourages us to move outside our own homes this holiday season . . . and into the mall. Could green moms disrupt the holiday shopping season with some subversive green dropping?

MamaBird at Surely You Nest shares her to-do list for the upcoming holidays. And it is a good one, loaded with ideas for taming the "giving-and-getting beast" and creating the memories and traditions that make the holidays special.

Arduous loves the holidays, but, like most of us, doesn't want participate in rampant commercialism just because it is a ritual. Instead, she shows how we can create our own rituals and inject joy, meaning and connection back into the season.

Big Green Purse is taking a somewhat different approach to the holidays. In their constant quest to use the marketplace to change corporate behavior, they've launched a "Can I Get It In 'Green'?" campaign, starting with the unofficial holiday season Halloween kicks off.

Holidays made by hand is one of the themes over at Tiny Choices. While it may seem commercial to start thinking about Christmas now, if you plan on making any gifts, now is the time to start. Explore Tiny Choice's list and links for other truly green holiday gifts.

What do you remember from holidays past? Was it the stuff? The Smart Mama is betting your answer is "no" even as she debates what to give her children for Christmas and how to fit green into your celebrations.

Healthy Child Healthy World announces Extreme Makeover: Holiday Edition. Instead of following along with the usual, overly commercial and stressful traditions, create some new ones and recover the true meaning of the holidays.

Want to join in the Green Mom fun? Green moms, green dads, green aunts and uncles and "earth mothers and fathers" (those who don't have children but care about the planet) are welcome to participate in the Carnival. Karen at Best of Mother Earth is hosting in November. The topic is, appropriately, gratitude and favorite green things (top three please). Posts are due on October 27 and the carnival will go live on November 3rd. Please submit them to greenmomscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Three Tricks to Greener Treats

1) Costume Slostume: Remember when you were a kid and you trotted your one of a kind costume up and down your street? Maybe your mom spent weeks making a costume that looked exactly like a chicken. Or maybe you pieced it together yourself - out of your dress up box, your grandmother's closet, and some aluminum foil. The handmade costumes of our youth were not only more eco-friendly than the current rows of polyester Sponge Bob and Power Ranger costumes. They were more meaningful, too.

If handmade costumes don't ring your doorbell, though, you can still go green by reusing a costume (This very well may be my son's third year as Thomas the Train.), swapping one on the mothers' club board or with friends, or scouting out local thrift stores.

2) Green the Halls: Decorating for Halloween can be truly sustainable. Fall leaves gathered from sidewalks can grace tables. Colorful pumpkins, locally grown and hauled home from the farmers market, are transformed into pies, soups and muffins once autumn's holidays are memories. After several years of preschool, I'm stocked for life with Halloween art. Construction paper Frankensteins lounge over the mantel. Ghosts made from small footprints peer out the windows, accompanied by their friends, tissue paper candy corn and thumbprint pumpkin patches. Even the centerpiece of Halloween - the Jack O Lantern himself - is Mr. Eco. He's locally grown, stuffed with a clean burning, farmers' market beeswax candle and the result of some true quality time in both a field alongside the coast and on the kitchen floor with a sharp knife. In the end, all of Halloween's decorations end up in our stomachs, the compost bin or the art box.

3) The Not So Sweet Treats: Here's where Halloween gets a bit tricky for me. I have yet to find something truly "eco" to give the little goblins and ghosts who bang down my door on All Hallow's Eve. Last year, I blithely passed out candy bars only to later learn about the dark side of chocolate. Most chocolate is grown in the rainforest. It's ever-increasing demand has resulted in massive deforestation, dramatic pesticide use, and child labor. Fortunately, those bitter side effects can be ameliorated simply by choosing fair trade and organic varieties. Whole Foods carries some brands, as well as organic lollipops, and other varieties of fair or ethically traded chocolate can be found here and here. Organic raisins, fruit leather or similar healthy snacks that could subsequently be packed in a lunch are also great alternatives. If you want to skip sweets entirely, other treat options include handing out coins, pencils, soy crayons, stickers, tattoos, or others item that will not become landfill fodder.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Some Like It Hot

That afternoon, we all had interesting things to share - thoughts, policy arguments, political movements, ideas to change the world and jelly. Jelly? I almost hate to call it jelly - to reduce the sensation, the assault on the taste buds, the cacophony of flavors that we savored to mere "jelly." But that is it was.

After much licking of fingers and pleading, Jenn from Live Green, Wear Black offered to post her recipe for that "jelly" - a symphony of plums and peppers - on her blog.

I had never thought to add heat to my sweet - to drop a front yard jalapeno into a frothy pot of strawberries and sugar. To simmer habaneros and plums. To mix and match. But when Jenn handed me a baguette slathered with her courageous jelly, she gave me that light bulb of an idea. That permission to can outside the box.

This month, as my front yard hot peppers sprinted to a deep, rich red and as I toted home a bag full of a friend's homegrown jalapenos, I've been dabbling in a spicy new world.

Not only have I made Jenn's delicious jelly (make it hotter than you think it should be), but I stirred up some delicious red pepper jam and strawberry pepper jam. I shared Jenn's recipe with a friend who made it and was then inspired to also make blackberry basil jam - which I'm still waiting to taste (ahem).

They say variety is the spice of life.

They also say some like it hot.

I'll admit it. I sure do!


Strawberry Jalapeno Jam

3 3/4 cups of crushed strawberries
1 cup of finely chopped jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup of bottled lemon juice
7 cups of sugar
1 package of pectin powder

Wash, hull and crush strawberries, one layer at a time measuring 3 3/4 cups. Place in a deep saucepan. Add lemon juice and pectin. Stir to combine thoroughly. Bring to a boil and add the sugar. Stir well to dissolve. Bring back up to a boil and boil hard for one minutes.

Remove from heat and ladle into hot sterilized jars, apply lid and bands and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Remove from canner and allow to cool and set for 24 hours

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to the Future

Last year, I took a deep breath and ripped up my grassy sidewalk strip. Cover crop and a toad over-wintered there. Squash, beans, peppers, squirrels, and sunflowers summered there. And connections with neighbors, passersby, friends of friends, blossomed there.

Then I ditched the grass on half of the remaining lawn - devoting the patch to a butterfly garden, with a few peas, tomatoes and cucumbers tucked in for good measure. I was rewarded with more varieties of butterflies than I'd ever seen, bees galore, and even some lustful ladybugs. I was also rewarded with some admiring looks from joggers, thankful finches de-seeding my cosmos, and two little boys who can identify every type of flower out there.

This fall, the rest of my front lawn will go. According to Diane MacEachern of The Big Green Purse, "[w]ith some forty million acres of America carpeted in grass, turf is our largest irrigated crop . . . A staggering 60 percent of water consumed on the West Coast and 30 percent on the East Coast goes to watering lawns." (248). That doesn't even take into account the impact from gas powered mowing and blowing machines or pesticides and fertilizers used to maintain lawns. I've forsworn those but still put a half hearted effort into semi-watering and maintaining the last strip of monoculture left in my front yard.

But no more. I'm going back to the future. Back to the Victory Garden.

And the future is more delicious and bountiful than we imagined.

In a time of dwindling oil supplies and changing climates, of disappearing biodiversity and vanishing bees, it stands out like a beacon of hope, the bailout to industrial agriculture's harrowing debt and the cure for this month's salmonella outbreak.

Here are photos of an edible garden I've been admiring.

No one said that a front yard veggie patch needs to look like a farm. It doesn't need to look like a typical suburban yard either. It can be different. It can be amazing. And it can speak louder to friends, neighbors and one's community than rallies, petitions or showings of The Inconvenient Truth. It can inspire and educate. It can connect and regenerate.
This month's APLS carnival topic is educating others. I can think of no better way to educate others than to do it in your front yard. Grab a shovel and start spreading the word.


Friday, September 26, 2008

In a Pickle

Weeks after I sacrificed three pounds of cucumbers to relish - the best relish I've ever relished, by the way - I found myself in a pickle. A delightful pickle that began with a visit to the farmers' market and my friend, Sapphira's stall. Working together she and I loaded my netted produce bag to hit precisely four pounds. The exact amount required called for by the Ball canning guide.
Hours later, I substituted dill seed for dill head, added a bit of sugar on a whim (last year's dills were VERY dill) and poured my favorite cleaning compound (vinegar) over nine jars of hopeful pickles. Boiling and bubbling and freeing air bubbles, I lined my garage shelves with future delights.

How will they taste? I'll let you know next spring. When local cucumbers are just a memory.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hope Is A Thing With Greens

Yesterday, I wrote about how our food system is broken. And it is! Food safety scares emerge every other month. High fructose corn syrup has slipped into our whole grain bread, our tomato soup. Animal cruelty brutal enough to make even the jaded cringe occurs every day within our polluting factory farms.

And, yet, today I write about hope. Yes. We are grown ups now. Yes. We must open our eyes, look at our problems as they are and make the decision to fix them. And, yet, strength and will alone are not enough. As David Wann noted in Simple Prosperity, "we are wasting our time if we expel hope from our everyday lives, because without it, we can’t win."

Emily Dickenson once wrote that "hope is a thing with feathers."

I disagree.

I think hope is a thing with greens, gently tucked into a CSA box or graciously displayed on a farmers' market table.

Hope is blackberry jam made and canned with friends, who have all since made their own jam in their own homes.

Hope is a pantry filled with jars of dried tomatoes and blueberries.

Hope is looking at the last piece of my front lawn and knowing that, next year, I will be watering tomatoes instead of grass.

Hope is the family of ladybugs that multiplied in last winter's cover crop and the black squirrels who scale the remaining sunflowers.

Hope is the cattle rancher on the slopes of Napa County who donated 600 acres to a land trust, who raises her cattle in the pasture with only native grasses as food, who welcomes snakes and owls as pest control.

Hope is reversing the trend toward destruction of biodiversity (90% in the last 50 years - 70% due to farming and ranching) by buying from farms that grow diverse crops, eschew chemicals, and adopt methods that embrace the ecosystem.

Hope is the massive surge in new farms near urban areas.

Hope is Proposition 2 on the California ballot this November. (Vote a resounding YES!).

Hope is knowing that we could sequester up to 40% of current carbon emissions just by converting the world to an organic instead of industrial agricultural system.

Hope is the fact that farmer's markets - where food is grown locally, often by small operations and often without pesticides or inhumane treatment - are the fastest growing segment of the food industry.

And hope is the fact that, even though our food system is broken, we are fixing it. Forkful by forkful, dollar by dollar, we are building a new food system. One that is fair and humane. One that relies on biodiversity, not chemicals. One that can lay the foundation for all of the other changes we must make, for all of the other systems we must repair, for the road we - as grown ups - have ahead of us.

Hope is a thing with greens. And of hope, I have plenty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Hardest Decisions

This post is dedicated to my cat, Gryff. I lost him yesterday. On an orange towel. In a vet's office as tears streamed down my face and a tissue appeared in front of my eyes. (I still can't write this without crying.)

I adopted Gryff 15 years ago - a month before I started graduate school in Los Angeles. He has been my best friend, traveled with me from LA to a tiny, dark apartment in San Francisco, and then down the Peninsula. He put up with one husband, one very large dog (who has since gone) and two overly-loving and energetic boys.

A month ago, Gryff developed a severe upper respiratory infection and blood tests revealed more serious underlying health problems. Over the past month, he's had good days and bad days - increasingly more of the latter. Yesterday, I made the decision to let him go. To help end his pain, his suffering, to not prolong it with well-intended pokes and prods.

My mother told me that she wished she could come with me. My father asked if anyone could accompany me. My sister offered me a telephonic hug and wished she was there. My husband said that he wished he could have gone with me.

But this was something I needed to do alone. This was the hardest decision and it was mine.

I remember reading that "Jack", the bulldog in the Little House stories, had a much longer life in the books than in real life. Laura Ingalls Wilder chose the timing of his death in her stories because it signalled an end to her childhood and the beginning of adulthood.

That is how I feel about Gryff passing. Leaving Gryff was, in effect, leaving behind my young adult years. The freedom. The ability to put off truly hard decisions. To not look truth too closely in the face.

And so this post is about Gryff. And how I will miss him. How my backyard already seems empty and lifeless despite fluttering butterflies and chirping birds. How I won't find him lounging in the shade under the tomato plants. How I won't have a furry little body at my feet as I type.

This post, though, is also about me. And about you. About how we are grown ups now. About how our country and our planet are sick. How the hardest decisions are ahead. There will be tears, financial struggles, illness, and all the things that a changing climate, a loss of biodiversity and a dwindling energy supply will bring. We have the strength inside of us, though, and the will to make those decisions. We need not put off the inevitable any longer. Need not dodge it for a few more years or pass it down to the next generation.

We have the strength, the fortitude to examine issues and see the truth - not what we want to see or what the media wants us to see or what a political party wants us to see.

To look at our food system and see not just cheap, plentiful food but pigs that are raped and beaten, downed cows that are kicked in the face, or a dead zone that spreads from our country like a cancer.

To look at our educational system and see teachers who are underpaid, children without physical education or recess, schools that are crumbling.

To look at our energy usage and see that mountaintop removal is ugly and deadly and wrong. That drilling for more oil to temporarily alleviate (10 years from now) the price of gas is prolonging the inevitable.

To look at our planet and realize that we have reached the tipping point. That the Arctic ice will not come back. That the polar bears - whom Sarah Palin does not considered "threatened" - are so hungry they have taken to eating each other. That we cannot bury out heads in the quickly melting ice any longer.

To look at our homes and know that we have too much, that we are lucky, that we do not need that gadget, this year's shoes or that toy for our child. To know when enough is enough.

So, I will take a moment of silence for my dear departed friend. And in that moment, I will also thank him - not just for being a friend, for being with me through anything and everything, but for signaling my adulthood.

I am now all grown up and must make the hardest decisions.

Monday, September 22, 2008

V Is for Victory . . . and Veggies Scraps

My watch read 6:52. Eight more minutes and no sight of my friends yet. I waited outside the front doors. Inside, men in suits and ties swarmed, shuffling paper and toting reusable water bottles.

"You made it!" Another green task force member stopped to thank me for coming. She introduced me to her husband and then they filed inside.


Finally, I caught sight of two green book club members walking from the parking lot. One smiled and waved. The butterflies in my stomach stilled. I raised my hand in return.

We shuffled through the doors together. "Are you speaking?" I asked my friend. She glanced around the room and then up a the city emblem on the wall. "Yes," she responded, straightening her shoulders. "I will." We both filled our names and agenda items on a slip of paper and approached the platform. The clerk took our slips and thanked us.

As we turned back to find a seat, I scanned the room. Not recognizing anyone new, we slipped in behind the task force member and her husband.


"It is 7 p.m. and the meeting will begin," the clerk announced. "Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance." I stood hesitantly, feeling like a grade schooler as I laid my right hand over a quickly beating heart.

The door opened and a friend tiptoed in - too late to sign up to speak. She didn't see us and took the first available seat.

The meeting began. Minutes were read. The fire chief stood to speak. "Next agenda item". The police chief approached the podium. Out of the corner of my eye, another friend entered - this time from the left. She grabbed the seat closest to the door. Swiveling, she peered back into the audience until our eyes met. She smiled and waved.

"Agenda item number 7," the mayor announced. A city official launched into an explanation about greenhouse gases and our city's share. Leaning forward, I watched his charts and graphs sift through the projector. We could cut there but perhaps that or that area was beyond the city's control and so it went. Finally, the mayor thanked him for his time and his report. Council members peppered the official with questions and then suddenly it was our turn.

Agenda item number 8. Pick up of residential food scraps for composting. My friend and I shifted in our seats. In front of me, my fellow task force member gathered her stack of petitions. To my left, another friend lifted her chin.

We were ready.

The city manager explained the proposal - weekly pick up of "organics" (food scraps, pizza boxes, soiled food containers, paper towels) for $2 a month. The paper slip I'd handed to the city clerk an hour early appeared in the mayor's hand and he was calling my name and the name of a friend and of the task force member. We rose and lined up behind each other.

I was first to the podium, heart pounding, pushing a smile out as I greeted the council members. This proposal will divert a great amount of waste from the landfill. I told them what they already knew. It is very popular with city residents, I promised. It turns waste into a resource - compost. It helps us live a greener life. It sets our city up as a green leader, I coaxed.

And then I was done.

Returning to my seat, I watched proudly as my cohorts took their turn before the council. Spoke their piece.

The council members buzzed back and forth amongst themselves. One strongly supported the measure. Another thought it was unnecessary. A third was on the fence, he stated, staring out into the audience. He studied the faces of those of us who had stood before him minutes earlier. Finally, the mayor spoke. He believed the city needed to approve the proposal. It is the right time. We must do this to make our city more sustainable.

Then the vote came down. Two in favor. One opposed. The remaining council member - he who had straddled that "fence" - scanned the audience one last time. I felt his eyes on my face. I saw him look to my friend next to me, to friends dotted throughout the room, all nodding their heads vigorously. "Yes."

Yes! It was through. Passed. Approved.

Applause is not permitted at city council meetings but I will admit that a few of us - as our eyes met across the room - put our hands together. More so, we silently pumped fists. Grinned. And flashed V for victory . . . and for veggie scraps.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time for Tithing

Last spring, a couple of newspapers coined the acronym YAWNs - young and wealthy but normal - to describe people who live below their means, who consider their environmental impact in lifestyle decisions, who care about their neighbors, who donate to charity and who embrace experiences over things. Objecting to the boring nickname, Arduous created contest and asked people to weigh in with alternative acronyms.

My husband came up with APLS - Affluent Persons Living Sustainably - and won the prize ($50 donated to a charity of his choice) when most of the commenters voted for his entry. Within hours of announcing the acronym and unveiling the Green Apple design, I found myself having to defend A for Affluent.

In all honesty, I had never thought about affluence. The benefits and privileges I had enjoyed never crossed my mind and played no role in my "greener" lifestyle. What happened beyond our country's borders? Or my place in the world? I didn't think about it much.

Suddenly, in standing behind APLS, I found myself thinking about affluence alot. About the fact that I am globally and decidedly rich. The fact that that wealth - consisting, in part, of the schools I've attended, the library I frequent, the paved roads I drive, the roof over my head, the Internet connection I use - confers a responsibility to use affluence for good.

After all that thinking, I re-adopted an old habit - one that had I followed as a college student when my income consisted of loans and humanities coffee bar tips. I started tithing again.

Tithing is a practice of donating a portion of your income weekly or monthly. It is often encountered in the form of donations to a Christian church though I have always done it in a secular setting. I first encountered the idea years ago in a book about creating positive energy in one's life. The book argued that we should not hold on too tightly to money, things or time and that, instead, we should share our abundance. Great things happen when we let go, when we give of ourselves or our paychecks.

And so, I committed in college to donate a percentage of my income. I believe it was only one percent but that one percent made a difference. Back then, I donated mostly to environmental organizations. This summer, I've re-embraced the commitment, this time, to donate regularly to organizations that are somehow greater than myself, such as Goods 4 Girls and Central Asia Institute, to my child's school, to political campaigns and to others who seem to need the money more than I. It doesn't matter, really, where the money goes so long as it is to a place that I believe in.

It is not much money. But it will do much good. Whatever side we come out on in the APLS Affluence debate, I think we can all spare a small percentage of our income, a couple dollars a month or, if not money, a few hours of our time. It is time to embrace our abundance by letting it go. It is time for tithing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Forgotten Forest

It's name is Lost Mountain. It sits in the middle of the rainforest of North America - home to the most diverse ecosystem on the continent. Eighty different species of trees loom among its slopes and streams. Endangered squirrels fly among those branches and threatened songbirds flit between the leaves.

But that is the past.

Lost Mountain has been lost.

Or more aptly "removed". Explosives blew off the summit. Bulldozers scraped away the bush and hardwood, pushing them into a burning pyre rather than taking the time to timber them. Fertile topsoil was scraped away. Lost Creek, which once meandered through the forest at an idler's pace, is covered under sixty feet of rock and dirt. All life is extinguished.

And then, the coal is removed and transformed into electricity. For us. For our laptops and lightbulbs. To power our refrigerators and television sets. Mountaintop coal at least partly powers every home and business in America (unless the inhabitant specifically pays for renewable energy).

In Lost Mountain, Erik Reece documents the devastation of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet for something that we all use - electricity. The journey is a haunting one, beautifully written, heartbreakingly told. Of all the books I've read in the past year, this one was the easiest and the most difficult. It was easy in that I could not put it down. It was difficult in that there is a part of me who really doesn't want to know. Who doesn't want to think about my impact - even now. But the walls must come down. We must see and know what happens as a result of the power we use, the food we eat. Without awareness, there can be no change.

Lost Mountain shreds those walls, yanks us through the death and pollution with a gentle but firm hand, and shakes us as certainly as cracked foundations of the homes and buildings abutting the mining sites. It has been the subject of multiple reviews at The Blogging Bookworm. Every one of them rated it 5 out of 5 stars. I give it the same rating and recommend it for the same crowd that Katrina did: "for everyone who has ever turned on a light."

While you are waiting for your copy of Lost Mountain to arrive from the library - because this really really really is a must read - watch this video:

Come back next week for more on mountaintop removal, what you can do about it and how you can turn a mountain of electricity use into a molehill.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The APLS Blog Carnival - Affluence

Welcome to the second edition of the APLS monthly carnival. APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Simply and the topic for this month was the ever-controversial A for Affluent. What did every one think? Is it a controversial term? One people feel uncomfortable with? One people view locally or globally? One they embrace for the power it brings? I noticed these and several other recurring themes in the thoughtful posts that flooded the APLS gmail account this month.

Read on and see what fellow APLS think of affluence:

In her typically eloquent fashion, Abbie, The Farmer's Daughter, comes to terms with her affluence. She looks at wealth globally, rather than locally. But she also looks at the real wealth in her life - the stuff "that cannot be expressed in dollars and cents."

Over at Chocolate Crayons & More, Donna admits that she still doesn't like the word "affluence" but acknowledges that, globally, it fits our country. She urges us to think of the big impact a relatively small amount can have outside our borders and quotes the apostle Paul who believed there should equality in wealth.

At Green Arizona, Alana views affluence globally and her possessions in terms of needs versus wants. When we break it down that way, she notes, we can see where our priorities truly are and then maybe we can make decisions differently.

Melissa, a Golden State APLS blogging at Better Living, thoughtfully argues that we need to view affluence globally to "heal the problems faced by our world today." She examines the definition of affluence argues that our reluctance to own up to our own affluence, in a manner, diminishes the hard truth of poverty.

At Simple.Green.Organic.Happy, Robin is concerned that the term might make others thing you have to be wealthy to be green and then beautifully details all the richness in her life despite a shrinking paycheck.

Bobbi, also a Lower Midwest APLS, at The Greene Onion also delves into the multiple meanings of "affluent." She realizes that, while affluent typically connotes material wealth, the term relates another kind of wealth - one far more meaningful. And Bobbi sees that alternate wealth spreading across this country.

Over at The Good Life, Mel, another Great Lakes APLS, enumerates all the ways in which she is affluent - in terms of material wealth and "real" wealth (health, happiness). There's a reason her blog is called The Good Life. Mel makes us all thankful for all that we have.

All this Affluence is the topic over at BobbleHead Owl Suburban Homestead where Mist muses on her own affluence - despite the fact that many of the frugal acts she makes are a necessity. Still, she argues, she has the choice of staying home with her children or going to work and that is as affluent as it comes.

At Car(bon)free in California, Charles views affluence using powerful metaphors of cars and televisions - material objects so prevalent in our society that they are "practically a birthright." Through the "eyes" of televisions and cars, we realize how relative wealth is.

As proof that there can be some agreement in this deeply divided nation, The Moral Collapse of America documents 15 Things That Are Wrong with America. Number 10 hits on America's global greed and Number 14 considers America's destruction of the environment.

In Affluence vs. Effluence, Will from The Green Couple, admits that he dislikes the term affluence. Really, Will? ;-) He correctly points out that living sustainably has nothing to do with material wealth.

Lori, our Lower Midwest APLS regional coordinator, from Life in Webster Groves becomes more comfortable with the term at hand by defining affluence. In examining the different meanings of "affluent", she finds one that fits. One that acknowledges that "we’re flowing toward a common goal."

Sunflowerchilde, a Golden State APLS blogging at The Natural Life, examines the difference between needs and wants and eloquently argues for a new definition of wealth or affluence - one based not on things but on qualities.
Non-blogging APLS Blog reader, Tom Gilfoye submits these insightful thoughts on affluence: "I see affluence as the balance between what you have and what you want. There are two ways to become affluent: making more than you spend, or spending less than you make. These are very different ways of living. The first has a goal of consumption; the second has a goal of frugality."
Beth, a Golden State APLS at Fake Plastic Fish, also investigates the etymology of the word and discovers that, in Latin, "affluent" means "to flow toward." She beautifully argues that we need to sustain the flow in terms of material affluence, time affluence and "simply being".

Our Great Lakes APLS coordinator leaps aboard her eco-flying saucer over at Eco Burban. She acknowledges that it is truly alien to consider oneself affluent in our culture - especially when one chooses to live beneath their means.
photo: ****b/c**** on Flickr

Affluence allows us to make choices, argues Julie Artz, one of the two Colorado APLS organizers. Her post at Chez Artz highlights the difference between those of us with choices and those without persuasively brings home just what an impact such choices could make.
Mama sees things a bit differently at Mama Goes Green. With our affluence comes a duty to make choices that have a positive impact on the world around us, think about our impact on others before taking action and to speak out for those with less power than we.

New to the carnival this month, The Wounded Chef wonders about affluence. She realizes that affluence means living within one's means. It also means that when one is ultimately able, one uses that money in environmentally and socially responsible ways.

Going Green Mama, a Great Lakes APLS, gets the carnival going by asking How Are You Paving Our Path? Are you being proactive? Taking responsibility for your actions and working for a better future? Her thoughtful queries brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.

A is for Affluence over at crstn85 and that signifies that we are privileged and able to make wise choices. Those choices can include not spending money at all which, Tina notes, is the true dichotomy that is living sustainably in an affluent society.

At Surely You Nest, MamaBird acknowledges her affluence . . . and is thankful for it. She notes that it is this wealth that allows her to make choices in line with her beliefs.

Another Great Lakes APLS, Greeen Sheeep wonders why our society is so "sheepish" about wealth - and owning up to the word "affluent" - when we spend our collective time and effort trying to amass possessions to show off that wealth. She offers her cure for that sheepishness and it is a generous one.

From a window above the train tracks in India, Arduous ponders affluence in global terms. Having been raised in an affluent society, she has been privy to countless opportunities and been given the ability to dream. It is time we extend the same beyond our borders, to the children of the world.

Bobbi, the Golden State APLS organizer, has an affluent epiphany at To Live Local. She is truly grateful for what she has and what she can do with it. Bobbi ends this post with a zinger.

At Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings, Jenn, a Lower Midwest APLS, concludes that her affluence, as an American, has come at a cost to the rest of the planet. Because of the sacrifices made by others, she feels particularly responsible for using that affluence in a mindful manner.

Over at VWXYNot?, Cath readily acknowledges our affluence and argues that it is a tool for change. She argues that we must use the gift of wealth to make smarter choices and to raise our voices to ask for more such choices.

We all are affluent, "dude", protests Burbanmom, at Going Green. Instead of wasting that affluence on stuff we don't need, we should use it instead to influence environmental change - through smarter purchasing decisions, activism and charity.

Here at Green Bean Dreams, I argue that we must accept our affluence - and the responsibilities that come with it. We, as the rich of the Earth, have the moral duty to bring awareness, fight injustice, make environmentally aware purchases and shift the paradigm of this planet. And that duty begins by acceptance.

Finally, a blogger whom I respect tremendously, Melinda at One Green Generation (formerly Elements in Time), discusses her issues with affluence. She believes that, as a society we have been defining ourselves in terms of wealth for far too long and that use of the term "affluent" is divisive and exclusive. Melinda "wishes with all her heart" that the group would change its acronym from Affluent Persons Living Sustainably to All People Living Sustainably and has kindly created two gorgeous new logos for the group - one for each acronym. Please check out this post and the exchange of ideas in the comments as well as the comments to this post.

What do you think? After a month of dwelling on "affluence", is it a term that you think the group should keep? Does it define us as a society? Do we need to accept how much we truly have before we can make real change in this world? Or does it alienate others and prevent the group from growing?

Hungry for more APLS? We've added some new regional groups this past month and now have APLS connecting in the Great Lakes, the Lower Midwest, Golden State (California) and Colorado. If you would like to organize a APLS group in your region, shoot us an email at aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com. There are also Facebook groups - where the discussion continues - for the APLS group overall and the Colordado APLS.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crying Wolf

I write plenty about politics on this blog. I have urged you to speak out on the planned evisceration of the Endangered Species Act by President Bush. I've posted on a number of political environmental and foreign policy issues. For months, I've worn my allegiance on my sidebar. But I've never written about a particular candidate.

In part, that is because, I've learned a lot for people with different view points when it comes to tackling environmental issues. I've made blogger friends with people with very diverse backgrounds and, as a result, I believe that I've become more open, more informed and hopefully more understanding.

I've never written about a particular candidate for fear of alienating those from whom I could learn, with whom I could forge relationships and work toward a common goal. I've read time and time again how the left (that would be me) doesn't understand the red states. Those of us on the left don't get the culture, the values or the morality. And so I wanted to learn. I wanted to understand. I know that most of us ultimately care about the same things.

Yesterday, I read that many women support Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin because she "shares their values." On the same day, I saw this disturbing new video regarding Sarah Palin's values. I must warn you that it is tough to watch but I think it must be seen.

Yes, it is a government sanctioned hunt. One she sanctioned and broadened with unprecedented speed and violence. One in which private citizens may participate for a price. One that systematically eliminates the alpha males leaving the younger males, who are the ones that enter neighborhoods. One that removes the predators from the top of the ecosystem - something which scientists agree over and over again destroys ecosystems. One that even targets newborn wolf pups.

Under Ms. Palin's watch and with her permission, this year "the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game will exterminate 1,400 bears out of a population of 2,000 in an area west of Anchorage. The Alaskan Board of Game even approved the hunting of black bear mothers and cubs with the goal of killing 60 percent of the black bear population." Ms. Palin was also behind the lawsuit to block listing the polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

I know people hunt. When hunting is done for food, in a more humane and fair manner, such as on the ground, and in numbers that ecosystems can sustain, I can accept it. The aerial hunting of wolves and bears, chasing them to the point of exhaustion by airplanes over the snow, where there is nowhere to hide, the slaughter of wolf pups and black bear cubs . . .

This I cannot accept.

I likewise cannot accept that these are the values that the majority of American women embrace. That those who inhabit the "red states" approve of such brutality or consider this to be fair, much less morally correct. My time blogging has taught me that people all over this country care about the environment- regardless of location, skin color, income level, religion. I cannot accept that we will all look the other way on this one. That Ms. Palin's gender or views of other issues can some how negate this.

We must cry wolf.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Beginning of the End

September marches in. With it the Pacific morning fogs. Dew bussed squash. Sun parts the gray curtains by noon, diligently warming tomatoes and ripening peppers.

In our front, with winter in mind, a black squirrel clambers up my second tallest sunflower and it crashes to the ground. Tiiimmmbbeeerrr!!

The Cosmos that colored our front yard go to seed in a host of yellow finches. Orange butterflies swarm the ranging passionflower vine, scoping out the best place to lay eggs. Our lemon cucumber plants struggle to spit out a couple handful of golf ball sized veggies and the raccoons make off with the long awaited San Marzanos.

It is the beginning of the end. Of my summer garden. My sunflowers did better than I had hoped for - even when deer nibbled them down to the dirt last spring. The pumpkins never came but banana squash overtook the sidewalk strip, birthing thirty pound toddlers that lay in the weeds like sleeping children. The Hungarian pepper plant yielded far more than I had hoped for - causing several hours spent in front of the computer and then the stove.

The strawberries plod along, offering a handful of scarlet berries week in and out. Purple Peruvians and La Ratte fingerlings slowly tilt, hiding their treasure under mounds of compost. Ground cherries are a distant, and disappointing, memory.

Ruthlessly, I yank out the last of dilapidated and fruitless tomato plants, shell the dried Calypso beans and the bolted lettuce. I'm clearing space.

It feels like yesterday that I typed out my dreams for a summer garden. For bountiful tomatoes, burgeoning pumpkins, sprinting pole beans. Some of those dreams came to pass. Others? That is why they are called dreams.

But it is the promise, the hope, the excited uncertainty that has me poking pea seeds into the ground this September. Scattering carrot, radish and beet seeds in a thick blanket throughout the raised beds. Removing tired wildflowers from the butterfly garden to make way for cover crop - fava beans, vetch, bell beans and snap peas.

It is that promise that keeps me coming back, year after year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Building Community 101

Over a year ago, I decided that my lifestyle was not in harmony with my beliefs. I was dreaming of a smaller planet but living for a bigger one. I shopped recreationally. Fed my family frozen dinners wrapped in plastic. Used my dryer. Those things changed and my footprint slimmed down considerably over the last 18 months. My impact is now roughly 30% of the average American. Could I cut back more? Sure. It would be difficult at this point but I could do it. My family living at 10% of the average American's impact, though, would not solve our collective environmental woes. Climate change would still churn forward. Over 60 percent of Americans would still believe that drilling for oil will lower gas prices. WalMart would still sell cheap underwear imported from China.

And so my blog has gradually changed focus. I write less and less about personal changes. Do I still believe we should hang our laundry out to dry? Bike to work? Shop at the farmers' market? Absolutely! I write about those things from time to time. But I am increasingly focused on something else.

Reducing my impact is only half the solution. The other half lies in gathering numbers, gaining momentum, building community.

There are a million ways to do it. Sign up with a local green group. Join a church or, if you already belong, attend an event or volunteer to be on a committee. Put together an email list for the neighborhood. Plant a garden in your front yard. Set up a cocktail table in a cul de sac. Ask other parents at your child's school about carpooling. Ask a neighbor to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. The ways to build community are as simple and as limitless as can be.

But here's the catch.

Building community is hard. It will tug you out of your comfort zone. It will force you to interact with others - particularly, others whom you do not know well or at all. That is, after all, the point.

In many ways, it is easier to make your own yogurt, plant an edible garden, make jam in a silent kitchen. That is more comfortable for most of us and certainly for myself. I don't have to talk to anyone when I harvest lettuce or stir in the yogurt culture. I can sit in the quiet cocoon of my own home and reach out only through wires and cables. I don't have to look at anyone's face. Or struggle for something to say. Or wonder afterwards if what I said sounded stupid. If I talked too much or too little.

Building community is hard.

And we are out of practice. Over the last few decades, we've moved away from block parties, bunco games and bowling leagues to nursing homes, TiVo and closed shutters. But being out of practice doesn't mean out of possibility.

All it takes is one brave soul to attend a meeting for Habitat for Humanity, send out an email on a school or mothers' club listserv, offer to set up a CSA, or sit on his or her front porch and make conversation with neighbors and passersby.

That first step is the hardest. But here's the truth. The second and third step are hard too. Building community takes time and it can be draining. It also can be exhilarating. Meaningful. Satisfying. Warming. Rewarding. And so many other wonderful, magnificent things.

Connections do not need to center on the environment. In fact, you'll probably get a lot further if your intention is just to connect and not to convert. Bringing environmental enlightenment can come later and can come naturally. New found friends will eventually notice how you live, what you care about, what you work toward. Just by connecting with others locally, though, you'll lessen your and their impact on the environment. You may share a meal, lend a tool, carpool, pass down clothes and toys.

Are you that one brave soul? Can you take that first small step? Put an idea out there? I won't lie. It is hard. Initially, it will be scary. And uncomfortable. And sometimes disheartening. But the payoff is huge. The payoff is a community you can rely on, a cooler planet, a safer home, a more effective government. The other half of the solution. The payoff will allow us to adapt to our changing climate.

* Photo courtesy of


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