Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Promise


I tip toe out the front door, easing it closed behind me. My husband and the boys are still in bed, unbelievably. It is early morning. The sun sifts through the leaves of our White Pearmain apple tree. The pink and orange clouds branch across the horizon as sea gulls head back to the coast.

Finches scatter from the morning glories wound around our porch post when I step into the yard. The street is quiet. Across the sidewalk, on our planting strip, a Potimarron pumpkin vine wiggles and twines with a lemon cucumber vine, slithering past the blueberry bush. I stop to pick a blueberry - small, round and firm. It bursts with summer in my mouth and I close my eyes for a minute to absorb the silence. Against the house, a robin pecks the soil, fishing for breakfast underneath the coral passion flower vine. He thankfully keeps out of the window boxes teeming with lettuce leaves and thyme.

I walk around the side of the house, opening the gate quietly so as not to wake the neighbors whose house sits tightly near the fence. Ahh, the bareroot cane berries that I tucked into the soil last year are weighted with fruit now. Blackberries, olallieberries, raspberries. I'll bring the boys out to pick some this afternoon and maybe we'll make the triple berry pie they craved all winter.

I duck under the clothesline that strings along side the house. The bath towels and tee shirts hang limply on the line. I forgot to bring them in last night but it will be warm enough this morning to dry these. I might even get a second load on the line before noon.

Just beyond the clothesline is our backyard. Titan sunflowers and last year's hollyhocks loom over the fence. Scarlet runner beans - the result of tortoiseshell seeds my boys stuffed into the ground in April - wend up the trellis and wink at bees humming amongst the sunberries. Here, the tomato bushes are gaining ground, jostling the bush beans - tie-dyed Dragon's Tongue and yin and yang Calypso - where we planted them too close. A green breasted humming bird darts by, dipping into the fawning Mexican Sage.

Behind me, a squirrel chatters. That little bugger! He's in the raised beds again, digging up the lunar white and yellowstone carrots we planted in February. I run toward him, waving at the bird feeder. Help yourself! But he scampers away with the bed's fine, moist soil pillowing out behind him. At least he did not bother the strawberry spinach or our sweet English peas which look exactly as they did in the photo the boys cut from last winter's seed catalog.

Next to the beds is the patch where we cleared out potatoes to plant baby rice popcorn. It is not doing so well. I debated planting corn but the kids had their hearts set on it. Hmm, not an ear in sight. Not enough space? Too cold? I'll have to hop online to investigate or maybe my friend down the street knows what to do.

Back toward the house, a brigade of sparrows paw the freshly mown clippings on what's left of the lawn and then dart into the trees and bushes. Here is where we built the 8 foot high teepee for the boys in early spring. The seeds planted at the base have sprouted into an unwieldy green mass clambering over the bamboo poles with wilted white flowers (they bloom at night) drooping inward. I see the beginnings of a gourd in one of the female flowers and will have to call the boys out to see. Just wait until it develops into a full fledged, scaled, wrinkly dinosaur gourd!

I hear a tap on the sliding glass door and turning, trip over a burgeoning pumpkin - Amish Pie Squash - that I swear was not there yesterday. Gesh! These things grow overnight. In the window, I see the smiling face of my oldest.

Time for peace in the garden is over. I'd invite him out but instead trudge up the stairs. You see, the summer's sun may be sinking into our little suburban patch outside but, inside, it is not yet February and, here, we have only seed packets bursting with promise.



Gourd photo from Seed Savers Exchange.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Are You My Mother?


The Care and Feeding of New Consumers

The urge to buy is hard to resist. Who hasn't gazed longingly at a glossy photo of the newest sports car or kitchen appliance? Who hasn't snatched up an impulse buy - candy, mints, gum - when paying at the cashier? Even as an environmentally aware consumer, we yearn for a Prius or, better still, a Tesla. We ogle the solar panels on our neighbor's newly remodeled house. We leer at the cute new Whole Foods reusable bags, wishing we could replace our drab "Green Bags" with something newer and shinier. We are good consumers doing what we were raised to do.

Even to me, though, saying we were "raised" or, worse, "programmed" to be consumers is a bit conspiracist. Really, this isn't science fiction. This isn't the Matrix. We weren't "programmed" to do anything. Were we?

The best way to answer that question is to look at kids today. Are they spoon-fed advertisements? Are they lured into believing material objects are the key to popularity, friends, success? Are they morphing into consumers while still in diapers?

According to the book Consuming Kids: the Hostile Takeover of Childhood, the answer is an unequivocal "yes." Marketers have found that babies start requesting specific brands as soon as they can speak. They have, in effect, been imprinted with brand loyalty before they can walk or talk. It starts out sweet and simple. Maybe it's Elmo. Whenever you go out - to the market, the toy store, the clothing store - your baby sees and asks for Elmo. Suddenly, you own oodles of Elmo DVDs, your baby sleeps on an Elmo crib sheet, cuddles a stuffed Elmo, bathes with a squeaky Elmo in Elmo bubble bath, gets an Elmo bandage for boo-boos, brushes with Elmo toothpaste, poops in an Elmo diaper, eats Elmo fruit snacks, and plays with battery operated plastic Elmo toys. Still, it's only Elmo, right? And, really, who can dislike Elmo? He's so chipper, sweet and, well, red.

As kids grow older, though, they move down a continuum that is less and less innocuous. They graduate from Thomas the Tank Engine to Pokemon to WWE Smackdown! or from Dora to the Disney Princesses to Bratz. As they age, the urge to buy also becomes greater and greater and the figures they admire "sponsor" more and more stuff. Moreover, the goods our children are enticed to buy limit creativity and encourage sex, violence and overeating. (Read the book for more information on those not so positive characteristics). The only winners here are the corporations which have succeeded in raising a bumper crop of capricious consumers.

What can a parent do in a world where characters and brands are everywhere? Sure, you can turn off the TV and we do, mostly. Still, kids don't live in a bubble. They go to school and learn about characters and brands and products there - and not just from other kids. Budget cuts have opened school doors to corporations which now advertise at schools in the form of the Scholastic Book Club, Campbell Soup points, General Mills box tops, Pepsi vending machines, and so on. Even if you homeschool your kids and don't own a TV, there is the check stand at the market, the display at the drug store. Marketing is everywhere. It seems impossible to ignore.

Consuming Kids offers a host of suggestions. My first would be to read the book if you are at all concerned about the next generation's consumption habits. The book suggests the following:

Educate your children about marketing - alert them when something is a
commercial versus part of a television program.

Connect with your children in ways that don't involve advertising.

Limit TV, video games and Internet and don't take children to mega-stores like
Toys R Us.

If we do all this, maybe our kids won't turn into the mega-consumers they are otherwise destined to become. Maybe their imaginations won't be stifled and their pocketbooks plundered. Maybe they won't be imprinted after all. Maybe my youngest won't turn to his Thomas the Tank Engine train one morning and ask "Are You My Mother?"


Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Tipping Point

The Environment or Your Life?

It's the dead of winter - drippy January days darkened by much needed rain storms. The dirt in the yard has turned to soup. Inside for days, the kids take turns dive bombing off the couch or climbing bookcases. Meals consist of broccoli and citrus. It's winter all around but more importantly, it's school shopping season.

I have a future kindergartner on my hands and find myself in the midst of determining where to send him next year. First, there is the public v. private debate and then the "how far away are we willing to travel" debate. As we live in an outstanding school district and are not willing to travel that far (for reasons including but not limited to environmental impact), we've had our field narrowed down for us to two choices. Our home school and an alternative school in the district. Our home school is one block away, attended by neighborhood children, and well thought of. My son would likely do fine there, though not necessarily thrive. The alternative school would require a drive, albeit a short one, but provides an environment geared toward my son's particular learning style. There, he would likely flourish.

What is an ecologically minded parent to do? Do we go to a decent school in walking distance or a wonderful school in driving distance? Should I even weigh the environment in determining which school would be best for my child? Or do I even weigh my child's particular needs when I could easily lessen our impact? If I were truly green, I'd homeschool but, honestly, I don't think I have it in me. So that leaves me with a decision to make - a determination of what my tipping point is. What weighs more for me in this particular instance?

Tipping point decisions are those in which your personal life and your environmental interests clash. They are all around us and tend to be the big ones.

Do we accept that perfect job even though it will require a commute? If so, we can try to ameliorate our impact by taking public transportation or buying a Prius. Is that enough? Should we just have taken a job closer to home but less beneficial to our career or happiness?

Do we buy the house in former open space because it is all we can afford or what we always dreamed of and then try to offset our impact by becoming involved in the homeowner's association and teaching environmentally friendly practices for home management? Is that enough? For the environment? For our conscience? Or maybe it is more than enough? Or do we stay in our cramped city quarters with little land for planting?

Do we visit far-away family for the holidays because, heck, they are family and it is the holidays? Or do we satisfy ourselves with friends close to home and a phone call to those separated by air miles? If we do visit, do we fly, take the train, drive, buy carbon offsets?

What are we really willing to give up to save the planet? What is our personal tipping point?

For me and for this decision, I'd have to put my child first. There will be other decisions where family takes the back seat to the environment but this isn't one of them.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Super Size Your Soil


I'm participating in Elements in Time's Growing Challenge and planning on planting a super-sized vegetable garden this year. When cooking up a good garden, one of the most important ingredients is dirt. No matter how good your soil is, it can always be improved. If your soil is as poor as mine - clay, rocky, filled with random plastic toys from families past - it needs to be regenerated.

When we ripped up the lawn on our sidewalk strip last fall, we decided that to rebuild the soil. Ironically, citing poor soil quality despite years of adding Miracle Gro, the uber gardeners two doors down also ripped up their planting strip the same weekend. Our neighbors replaced their strip with sandstone and gazanias and watched, with great interest, as we replaced ours with lasagna.

I am referring to lasagna gardening, of course. It is also known as sheet mulching or composting in place. The idea is to smother the weeds and rebuild your soil without herbicides or tilling. Click here to get a step-by-step on how to sheet mulch from One Straw Revolution or here to see how Wendy from Wisdom of the Moon did it. We topped off our sheet mulch with a cover crop, a.k.a. green fertilizer.

Of course, nothing is perfect. PG&E came along a couple months later and spooned up a big scoop of our sheet mulched soil and cover crop. They did save and replace it best they could and, since, it is re-growing fine and they let the boys play on their bulldozer, I've forgiven them.





Our front strip is simmering along nicely now, hovering with insects and the occasional bird. Last week, when planting a bare root apple tree in the middle of the mulch, we were astounded to see soft, sandy soil swimming with worms where only clay and plastic had been months before.
Will my super-sized soil lead to super-sized vegetables? Only time, and the Growing Challenge, will tell.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Outsourcing


"Outsourcing involves the transfer of the management and/or day-to-day execution of an entire business function to an external service provider."



I picked up a local parenting magazine last week, enticed by the announcement on the cover that "It's Easy Being Green." The article on going green was useful and nice to see in a mainstream magazine. On it's last stop before the recycle bin, I flipped through the magazine and came across a snippet about how to have your babysitter teach your children to bake cookies because you are too busy.

Really? Are we, as a generation of parents, too busy to set aside a half an hour every few weeks to bake cookies or pancakes or something simple with our children. As a whole, we already outsource most domestic duties. Gardeners care for our yards and housecleaners for our homes. We trade in cooking for take out or pre-packaged meals. Many children spend more time at day care than home and a fair share are cared for by sitters when they get home from day care.

Isn't baking with our children the last true bastion of parenthood? Some of my fondest memories as a little girl are baking with my mom - rolling out cookie dough on the antique Hoosier or nibbling hot granola out of the oven or licking the beaters after we whipped up buttercream frosting. Shouldn't teaching our children to pour in the flour or stir in the chocolate chips be sacred?

If not, it may be time to re-think our lives. What is it that is keeping us this busy?

A friend opines that when people say they "are too busy", what they are busy doing is watching TV. She has a point. The television and it's cousins, the computer, Blackberry, and iPod, take much of our attention off of living, in general, and our children, in particular. Might we, as a generation, turn off Grey's Anatomy and spend that hour including our children as we cook dinner or bake cupcakes for their school party?

Electronics, alone, though are not responsible for our current predicament. Even if we all gave up our cell phones and laptops, we would still be too busy - and it wouldn't be because we were gardening or cooking dinner. No. I believe shopping is to blame for our inability to teach our children to bake a basic batch of cookies. We are too busy buying, but, even more, we are too busy working so we can buy. And if we're not working or buying, we're thinking about buying. We're watching, reading or listening to commericals to feed the urge to buy. We're surfing the Internet, trying to figure out what to buy, where to buy and when to buy. We live to buy.

If we stopped spending, made do and only purchased what we needed - really really needed - how different would our lives be? How much less hectic? We might be able to work less or stop working entirely. We might be able to start mowing our own lawns again and planting our own gardens. We might find the time to visit the library, to repair the broken blender, to take the worn out shoes to the cobbler, to mend the ripped pants. We might shop at the farmer's markets rather than Whole Foods. We might even start cooking again and, then, we just might find the time to teach our children to cook.

If we stopped spending, we could stop outsourcing and then, what would our lives and, more importantly, our children's lives be like?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Church of Climate Change



Do you remember when everything clicked? When you suddenly realized how your actions impact our environment and how living more lightly could help the Earth, its creatures, your health, your conscience, your family? Are you a different person after the CFL light bulb went off than you were before?

Many of us are. The changes start out subtle and innocuous. We began carrying a canvas bag when grocery shopping or we swap out a couple incandescents for CFL bulbs. In the weeks and months that follow, we spend hours plugged into the Internet, gleaning information, and then fly into action, making change after change. Soon, we are different - unrecognizable to the people who knew us before.

We eat differently. We shop differently. We socialize differently. We read different books and wear different clothes. We prepare for apocalyptic scenarios like Climate Change, Peak Oil and economic collapse and talk about "simple living" or "self sufficiency." We take up knitting or canning. We plan elaborate "victory gardens" and dream of owning chickens. Voracious shoppers become anti-consumers and take up the Compact. Fast food eaters scour farmer's markets for locally grown, organic produce. Some of us trade in boon companions like the Desperate Housewives and Jack Bauer for new friends like Crunchy Chicken and No Impact Man. For those who knew us before but, for whom the light bulb has not yet gone off, it may seem as if we've joined a cult.

Indeed, in many ways, the green movement - or any social movement - bears certain hallmarks of a religion. In addition to the lifestyle and personality changes, we divide people into"believers" and those who are "willfully ignorant." One of the movement's best known leaders, Al Gore, has been labeled a "prophet in his own time" and has a devout following. There is also the talk of converting or "influencing" others. I, myself, feel a bit missionary-ish when I write about inspiring change in others or spreading "greeness".

Is global warming really a religion? Nah. It's an unfortunate fact. Are my lifestyle changes extreme or fanatical? I don't think so. They just fit. Living lighter feels more healthy, honest and honorable. I'm happier this way - even if there were no such thing as global warming or Peak Oil.

But how about you? Are you a believer? Can I influence you to make just a few changes? Recruit you to spread the word?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dark Days Call for Comfort Food


I'm chomping through the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge and, to be honest, for a town mouse like me living in Northern California, it is not much of a challenge to eat local in the winter. I have several year round farmer's markets within easy driving distance and a garden that still spits out broccoli, lemons, oranges, greens, lettuce, and the occasional under-ripe baby carrot. Life is good.

The challenge is still a challenge, though, because, left to my own devices, we would dine on local super salads every night. You can really only post about salad in so many different ways. Therefore, to prevent burnout - my own and that of you lovely folks reading this, Dark Days forces me to unearth new recipes, use different ingredients and cook up other equally delicious, seasonal meals.

This week, we nibbled on local carrots - chubby little Oxhearts and the brilliant Cosmic purples - with my famous, or at least very tasty, Indian cilantro chutney (local cilantro, backyard lemon, vinegar, sugar, local garlic, bulk peanuts, local chiles).


We also indulged in homemade, gluten free corn bread baked from mostly local ingredients: local corn ground at a local mill, local milk, local eggs, local honey as well as non local rice flour, home ground buckwheat, salt, baking soda and xanthan gum. Smothered with local honey and local butter, corn bread will warm you on the darkest days.

Finally, we enjoyed dinosaur kale and potatoes, simmered in local, homemade broth with a splash of the ubiquitous (at least in my house) non-local Thai chili sauce. Hey, a girl likes a little kick to her greens.



Gotta go. Leftovers are lookin' to comfort me on this cold, dark day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Town Mouse, Country Mouse


I live in the maze of houses, cars, shops and office space that clog the San Francisco Peninsula. My house perches on a snug 6000 square foot lot, crunched in between similar sized lots, where sidewalks bustle with children on bicycles, parents on cell phones and members of the older generation with brooms. I can walk to our downtown and to my child's school. I have several year round farmers' markets within a 7 mile radius. My soil is dry, rugged and rocky - littered with one armed Rescue Heroes and discolored bouncy balls. I grow a handful of vegetables in my backyard and some cover crop on my sidewalk planting strip. My boys chafe at the lot boundaries and immature street trees, not suitable for climbing. I am a town mouse.

My parents live in the "country". Their older home overlooks "ag land". Their soil is fine and soft, rippling with silent worms and pecked by dozens of robins. Their neighbors call out greetings and share backyard produce. Down the street, a small farm sells fresh speckled eggs and organic vegetables for self pay. "Please leave money in the egg tin," a chalk written sign instructs. A mile in the other direction, an ancient mill harnesses a stream to grind local corn and wheat. Rotting winter squash, heritage olive trees and dormant grape vines stand sentinel along the quiet roads. Giant fig trees loom in my parents' yard, begging for a little boy to perch on them. Grassy vacant lots are spotted in between the homes and farm land. Walks ramble with the boys trotting eagerly ahead like puppies. I want to be a country mouse.

I am not alone, I think, in my desire to put down roots in the country. Not many of us can swing it, though, and, even if we could, there is not enough "country" for everyone. Besides, we cannot simply abandon suburbia. If we hope to effect change, it will have to begin where the people are and not where the wheat is. How, then, does a town mouse fulfill its country dreams?

We can follow the example of folks like those at Path to Freedom, who decided not to wait for their country acreage and converted their minuscule city lot into a thriving micro farm brimming with ducks, chickens and goats. Or we can look to One Straw Revolution to learn about "backyard farming" in the 'burbs.

As for me, I am trying to regenerate my sad suburban soil with cover crops and compost. Each season, I plant more fruits and vegetables on my little plot, slowly creeping into the front yard. I put trees in the ground that will one day be strong enough to support climbing boys. I'm building a community here. I am living my country dreams amongst the green lawns and whistling sprinklers of suburbia. You see, I am a town mouse . . . for now.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I Am Mommy, Hear Me Roar!


Cheesy title, huh? But what parent hasn't felt that sentiment? What wouldn't we do to protect our children?

During my recent Green Book Club meeting, the issue of over-parenting came up. I have recognized that tendency in myself but, according to another club member, the current generation of parents - my generation - has been termed "umbrella parents" or "helicopter parents" because we hover over our children so. We do not allow them to make the slightest mistake because we want to save them the pain. We oversee their friends, their every activity, their classroom time and their "down time". We protect them more than any other generation in history.

Who can blame us? Even though we don't often act on it, what parent has not thought or felt the following: My kid gets bullied at school, I decide to have class wide meeting to discuss. You, as a teacher, hurt my child's feelings? I will take you down. The coach won't play my son during soccer? We'll see about that! I will protect my children at all costs from all things . . . unless it requires me to drive less, to stop my weekly shopping trips to Target, to wear last year's fashions, or to skip the Thai take out and its Styrofoam and plastic tubs. That would simply be too much.

Sharon at Casaubon's Book recently made the case for parents to bear the brunt of battling climate change, Peak Oil, and depletion so that we can give our children a world they can inhabit. How can we, the umbrella parents, reconcile over-protecting our children on one hand and handing them a world, broken and heaving, on the other? Why is that so much harder than ensuring that our child has a good teacher at a good school and plays with nice kids? How can we not motivate ourselves to cut back on plastic after learning about the Texas- sized garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific? How can we not cut back on driving when we realize that the Arctic will be ice free likely within the next decade? Is this the world we want to leave to our little ones? The stakes are so much higher than hurt feelings or a skinned knee.

As parents, we have so much power. Our numbers are huge, our motivation even bigger. We can elect the next president, we can force our politicians to do a better job, we can lead by example, we are a market force to make corporations shake. We just need to stand up and speak out.

Will we leave our children a crippled, diseased planet? Not if we can help it. We are mommies, hear us roar!

Friday, January 18, 2008

I'm Entitled to Change My Mind

I've been chewing over Chile's challenge for the last week now and have changed, to a certain degree, the way I approach reduction, re-use and recycling. Here's my wrap up.

1. REDUCTION: DO IT THE OLD FASHIONED WAY

Make Your Own
No matter how much we re-use or recycle, if we're truly going to make a dent in our garbage, we need to reduce. Inspired by both the Re-Think It Challenge and Fake Plastic Fish's post about plastic recycling, I decided to reduce the amount of plastic I go through - recyclable or not. The biggest culprits in my recycle bin are plastic food and drink containers. I'm still working my way through the milk but as for the food and juice, the best way to deal with it is to make you own. I've done this for jam and pasta sauce - why not the spicy cilantro chutney I load up on from my friendly purveyor of Indian delights at the farmer's market. Using my increasingly flexible cooking skills, I used farmer's market ingredients to whip up a damn good chutney - packed, of course, in re-used glass jars. Viola!



RESTORATION
Doesn't that sound fancy? I'm not talking about an old house - though you could do that too. Just repair what's broken. The challenge motivated me to tackle the stack of items crying out for repair. I fixed three pairs of sunglasses that needed a new screw, mended three socks and two pair of pants. We need to get out of the mind set that a pair of pants with a hole or sunglasses without a screw are trash. They are just a project.


MAKE DO
I broke a decorative glass jar used to store cotton swabs. The jar has been cracked forever and I guess it had finally had enough. Rather than tear out to Target for a new, better jar, I simply made do with a less attractive but equally functional jar.


2. RE-USE: REORGANIZE

I'm not opposed to re-use of materials but I don't relish the image of me as an old lady smothered by millions of #5 yogurt containers I've saved for years. For me, it only makes sense to keep containers you can use readily. Now that I am making more of our own food, I've found many a re-use for glass jars and the occasional plastic tub.

While re-using plastic containers is new to me, I've been re-using ribbon, wrapping material and buttons for years. I keep a ribbon box, button jar and wrapping box in the closet and any material that comes into the house that falls into one of those categories finds a home in the appropriate container until needed. I recently read that 38,000 miles of ribbon (enough to tie the world in a bow) is thrown out every year. That's a good reason to start a ribbon box. So is the fact that you can save money and still have beautifully wrapped presents every year. ;-)



3. RECYCLE: THE END OF THE LINE

I have a couple medium sized cardboard boxes in the garage to be recycled - too small to become houses or cars for the kids and too big to freecycle as shipping boxes. Other than that, here's all of my recycling for an entire week. Pretty good, eh? I've definitely learned to re-think stuff this week. Thanks Chile!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Going Clubbin'


C'mon people now
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together


I love the Internet. It has provided me with eye opening information, fueled my passion, spurred me on when things seemed too hard, given me an outlet for my hopes and fears, and connected me with "my tribe" - other folks who also care about the environment and living lightly. The Internet is my friend.

I can't share a bottle of local wine with the Internet though. As wonderful as message boards, yahoo groups and blogs are, the conversations are, in a fashion, cramped by the miles of cables that connect us, the fact that we couldn't recognize each other in an empty room, and that few of us even reside in the same state.

To really get conversation flowing and to create a physical support system, we must meet face to face. To inspire real change, we need to do more than eat local and shop local. We need to connect local and not just over the super highway. We need to build a community within our own community.

I speak from experience. Last night, I attended the second meeting of our fledgling Green Book Club, a group of local mothers who meet once a month to discuss ecologically relevant books. This time, we discussed The Omnivore's Dilemma, a blow your mind book about what we eat. I had only met two of the other seven members once before but the conversation quickly flowed. We started talking about the book and then related it to our concerns about our own food sources, shared information on local growers, laughed over the desire by some to have chickens, confessed our first efforts at preserving food, offered to share fruit from our own backyards, bemoaned our generation's tendency to be "umbrella parents", and talked about the benefits of letting our children make mistakes. We built a community.

It was a wonderful thing to look in the faces of other women who live a stone's throw from my house and realize that I am not alone. There are members of my tribe, here, within my own community: other people who care about the same stuff I do, muddle through the same quandaries. I truly enjoyed those two hours and look forward to the next meeting.

I didn't just stumble upon this community however. Normally, I am not the type of person who joins clubs much less starts them. I do love to read though, and I gobble up green books on a weekly basis. Might there be other moms out there with similar interests? Wouldn't it be more fun, educational, insightful, meaningful to discuss those books with them rather than with myself? Starting the club has not required much effort though it did require follow through on my part. I started it with a few simple emails to some local moms groups.

Each of us who cruise the Internet daily can look for ways to build connections in our own community. If the organizations aren't there, we can start them. No one else will. We can start book clubs, edible gardening clubs, neighborhood swaps, carpool groups, habitat restoration organizations, groups that work toward making our own cities greener. The list is as endless as our interests and goals.

Sometimes, we'd all prefer to stay in our own dimly lit, cold homes, typing furiously away on the computer than to venture out into the dark unknown. It's worth it though and it is the only way we'll ever really make a difference. So, get on it! Go clubbin'.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Judgment Day



This morning's click around my favorite blogs revealed an over-riding theme - the environment as a moral high ground.

Over at Organic Picks, CindyW wavered on speaking out about the environment in two distinct social situations. One involved a charity e-waste clean up event and the other entailed a baby shower, a new mom and a Hummer. In both cases, Cindy thought twice before voicing ecological concerns because, in part, she didn't want to appear judgmental.

Car(bon) Free in California also references the morality involved in making the right choice by the environment and noted, when choice is taken away, people adjust but that it becomes "morally boring".

Finally, brave Melinda, at Elements in Time, confessed that, while she is one of the greenest beans I know, she does not use re-usable canvas bags or bring her own coffee mug and still drinks bottled water (gasp, gasp, and double gasp!). In all likelihood, she hesitated before making those admissions - wondering if she might be judged.

By whom, you ask? The righteous environmentalist. Are you familiar with him or her? I am, unfortunately. Sometimes, I have even glimpsed her in my mirror - when she grumbles about the neighbor who drives a Prius but hardly recycles or turns up her nose up at the friend who carries re-usable totes but just bought a SUV. It's called being judgmental and it is not pretty or productive.

Being judgmental is one of my least attractive traits and one I've worked on for most of my adult life. I've learned much from my more patient husband who says that folks with a heavy carbon emission lifestyle are "not educated" on the issue. He's probably right.

My tendency to judge others for not being "green" enough, however, took a dive a few weeks ago. It was a Friday morning. I was waiting at a stop light en route to a doctor's appointment when I noticed a few people biking - to work, to class, I don't know. The reason these bikers stood out to me was that they were biking in midst of Northern California's biggest storm in six years. Rain pelted down or, rather, sideways. Wind tore branches off of trees. My wipers worked over time and I could barely make out the road ahead. So here I sat, in the dry luxury of my cozy car with the heat off - doing my part for the planet, ya know - and it hit me. I live in a glass house. These folks biking in weather later compared to that of a hurricane, dude, these people were hard core. (Or just didn't have the money for a car and really needed to get somewhere.)

I've since learned that people like I used to be (see, I've turned over a new leaf here!) are called Lamers. Huh? "Lamers are anyone that slings mud at someone for not doing enough'." (Look here for more on the "lamer" concept.) Beating up on each other won't halt global warming and may actually stop some people in their tracks. If they can never do enough, then why try? Further, there will always, always be someone greener than you.

What is important is to make a change and make an effort. Living lightly doesn't happen over night. "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." Wait a minute. "A single step!" See, I told you, walking! Not driving a SUV or even a Prius, people! Walking!! Now that's truly green. ;-)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Grow My Own? I'm Diggin' It!


Inspired by the chartreuse green spirals of Romanesco broccoli twirling in my raised beds, the baby carrots and beets probing the soil, the winter greens waving cheerily over the bed's edge, and the lemon and orange trees heavy with fruit, I'm savoring the successes of my late summer gardening and planning this spring's planting.

There is no better time to think about growing your own. First, give in to the seed catalogs beckoning with their magical heirloom offerings and order your seeds. Next, delight in the fact that, by not only eating local but eating uber local (e.g., your yard, window boxes or balcony), you are doing the right thing by the planet and your wallet. Third, luxuriate in the best tasting produce on the planet. Lastly, for you competitive types, kick *ss in two fun challenges related to growing a victory garden.



Path to Freedom is challenging all comers to eat one meal a week of homegrown produce - a.k.a. The 100 Foot Diet. Start slowly with a few herbs or whatever you have in the yard and then, in spring, plant some more so that, by summer, you're reveling in homegrown deliciousness.

Then mosey on over to Elements in Time for The Growing Challenge. Can you grow one more fruit or vegetable than you did last year and grow it from seed? If you've never grown anything before, this will be easy. ;-) If you are a seasoned gardener, try something new and a bit daunting.



I'm diggin' it!

I've ordered my seeds and will be planting, for the first time ever, pole beans, pumpkins, gourds and baby rice popcorn. The kids chose the latter two and eagerly rifle through the seed packets daily, longing for spring.

I also just polished off my first official (almost) 100 foot diet dinner. A "super salad" (can you folks tell I like salad?) brimming with backyard lettuce and broccoli, local carrots (the munchkins munched the two baby carrots we unearthed within minutes of wiping the dirt off), home-dried local tomatoes, home roasted pumpkin seeds, local cheese, and roasted local root vegetables. We also enjoyed a bean dip made with local dried beans, homegrown thyme, back yard lemon and more local carrots. Dessert consisted of mandarins from a generous neighbor. Dynamite!




So, I ask this, can you dig it?













Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kids Turn Crap Into Crafts And Much More

The "Art" of Re-Using






I'm just two days into Chile Chews Rethink-It Challenge and I've had an epiphany. While the little rascals generate a lot of waste, children are invaluable in their ability to take complete and utter trash, literally and figuratively, and have fun turning it into something meaningful or, at least, memorable.


Broken chopstick? A la kids, it is a stir stick for the stepping stone kit they got for Christmas. Heck, that kit also made me wish I had saved my son's broken ceramic piggy bank and all other pottery shattered in the last year.


Empty frozen pizza box (yeah, you caught me)? Turn it inside out and it's an extra large piece of cardboard begging for some drawing.


Got the bug to draw some more? The long butcher block type paper that comes in some shipping boxes is the cure. Better yet, you can use it as a fire starter when the kids are done (and not looking). In fact, I save almost any kind of paper used for packaging because it is usually much larger than normal and can become a cool map, or "deerskin" or what have you.


Bean bag chair too flat? No problem, just re-use the cover to corral the stuffed animals your little one collects.


Too much art work? Doh! Here's where you get some real insight into my parenting. Ask yourself: how much of your child's art work do you want to keep? Both my kids go to preschool where they prolifically fashion seasonal bits of art (some meaningful, some not) and then come home and create some more. I save the most precious and send some to grandmothers and great grandmothers around the state. As for the rest, it gets disassembled into its various parts and re-used, recycled or tossed as appropriate. The googly eyes, plastic buttons, fake gemstones and pipe cleaners go into the "craft bin" in my sons' closet to await the next masterpiece. What's left is recycled, if it can be, and if it cannot, alas, to the dump it goes.


Yogurt container? Perfect paint holder. Old toothbrush? Here's your next paintbrush.


The list could go on and on forever but, to be honest, a pack rat I am not. I'm only a fan of keeping stuff for re-use if it can be easily organized (meaning it is fairly small - think googly eyes), will actually be used and will be used this century. I don't have much interest in a garage full of empty bulk sized yogurt containers and toothbrushes. The beauty, though, is this is where the schools come in.


That's right! If you have kids and they go to school, you can foist off a ton of items for re-use on their teachers and thereby ease your environmentalist's conscience. (Of course, it is better to reduce than to re-use but you get the drift).


Wine corks become reindeer or branches for fall trees.


Strawberry baskets are Easter baskets (though I prefer to return these to the farmer's market).


Egg cartons convert into seed starters, bell shaped Christmas ornaments, tulips, caterpillars etc.


Oatmeal and coffee bins transform into drums.

Toilet paper rolls are binoculars, paper towel rolls are telescopes and wrapping paper rolls are swashbuckling swords.


Paper bags are used for returning school work to the rightful family.


Plastic bags house dirty diapers.


Plastic wipes boxes store crayons, markers and such.


Pie tins turn into paint trays.


Holey socks? Yup, they'll even take those or other too well-worn clothes or shoes and use them as "school clothes" for when a child needs a change of clothes that the parents haven't provided. I know because my youngest came home in "school socks" filled with holes after a certain incident last week. Wish I'd know that the week before when I tossed a pair of child's threadbare socks.


Plastic lid from a wipes container? Now this I'd never seen before until a particularly ingenious teacher used them to create "secret doors."







This list is just the tip of the quickly melting iceberg but I will say that Chile's Challenge got me re-thinking. Some of this we were already doing but now, whenever I go to put something in the can, I'll look at it more closely and wonder "what can the kids do with this?".

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Environmentalist's Dilemma: The Making of a Food-Related Decision


Excuse the reference to Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals but that book is partially responsible for my current quandary. I also attribute a portion of my plight to those darn fake plastic fish, a handful of environmentally relevant books and a cantankerous blog. Before reading all of the above, I was blissfully ignorant as I pushed my cart through Whole Foods toting my "green bags". I didn't stay that way though and here's why:

I like to read . . . a lot. I've read more green books and blogs than I care to count. I'm hungry for ways to live more lightly but, the more information I gather, the more I find myself faced with heavier decisions about the smallest aspects of daily living.
For instance, after reading Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I embraced eating locally. Shipping food around the world is not good for the food or the planet. The food becomes tasteless and the planet polluted. A trip to the farmer's market taught me that it is no hardship to eat within my own foodshed. In fact, take a peek at my side-bar poll and you'll find that most people, who have tried eating locally, love it.
Next, I gobbled up Omnivore's Dilemma, and realized the importance of how food is produced. Industrial food - be it conventional or organic - takes a tougher toll on the earth than that produced on small organic family farms. Animals raised in an industrial setting invariably endure unhealthy, miserable but short lives. Moreover, just because an organization calls itself a "small family farm" doesn't mean it is - especially if they are selling at a major grocery chain. I always bought my local, organic, free range eggs from Judy's Family Farms (at Whole Foods) and was charmed by the description of rolling hills, red chicken coops and idyllic little hens. Click here to learn the truth behind that fairy tale. Having my eyes opened by Omnivore's Dilemma meant I now had to weigh methods of food production as well as food miles.
Then along came Beth in her Fake Plastic Fish Tank and that difficult one, the Arduous Blog, to reveal the trash on recycling "recyclable plastic." It has the right number on the back, you put it in your recycling bin and feel all good that you've done your part to save the Earth but what happens next will surprise you. Click here to learn how plastic is recycled (mixed plastic can only be recycled one time) and here to see where it is recycled (betcha can't guess).
So, how does the ecologically conscious, well informed consumer shop for food? Very slowly. Right now I find myself practically paralyzed over what kind of milk to buy. Do I go for milk in the reusable glass bottle from the local organic dairy which markets itself as a "small family farm" but probably isn't? Or the smallish local family farm that sells it's organic, pastured raw milk in mountains of plastic through a small co-op? Is there just too much information out there? Are there real benefits to educating ourselves or is it just too overwhelming? Too many factors to consider in just living?

Maybe ignorance was bliss but it's no way to make a decision. I'll muddle through this environmental dilemma one way or another and keep on reading. In my book, there's no such thing as too much information. Isn't that how we ended up here to begin with?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

There Be Dark Days Ahead . . .

and behind us too. We are in the middle of winter but there is still some damned fine food to be had.



I'm a newcomer to the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge which has been extended through March. According to the rules, I need to serve one 90% local meal once a week during the leaner days of winter. Since I just came back from a regenerating jaunt to the farmer's market, this week's local meal was a breeze.

Despite the dreary drippy-ness of a Northern California winter, the produce is brighter and cheerier. Maybe eating fruit the color of the sun - mandarins, blood oranges, cara caras, tangerines, and lemons - offsets the glumness that set in after days of rain. Maybe the jewel-toned beets, potatoes and carrots and the vibrant pink of a watermelon radish hold despair at bay. Whatever it is, a seasonal winter meal is a thing of beauty.


Tonight, we popped open a bottle of wine (made with organic grapes) from a local winery. We enjoyed a psychedelically colored salad of lettuce, tomatoes (truly the last of the season), carrots, watermelon radish, broccoli, kohlrabi, crumbled cheese, and roasted pumpkin seeds dressed with Big Paw's Cherry balsamic vinegar. 100% local and organic.






Home-grown mustard greens simmered in home-made vegetable broth (from saved vegetable scraps) and store bought Thai chili sauce (spicy!) accompanied the salad. I love these because a whole mess of mustard greens count as 0 weight watchers points and I'm busying trying to not overeat while saving the environment. 90% local and organic. Hey, this dish would qualify as 100 foot diet food (see sidebar)! Now that's local.


I also roasted some brilliantly hued root vegetables - golden beets, purple potatoes, bright orange sweet potatoes, Yukon Golds, and yellow fingerlings - tossed in Olivas de Oro olive oil, non-local salt and pepper. Here they are before they went into the oven. They come out looking less colorful but so flavorful that I eat them cold, out of the fridge, for snack. 90% local and organic.



It would, of course, be too much for the kids to actually eat all this too. I can coax the smaller one into eating the potatoes and sometimes the salad but the mustard greens, no way! So they ate carrots sticks, apple slices and burritos with farmer's market cheese, dried cranberry beans and a corn tortilla. Only the tortilla was not local. 75% local and pesticide free.
I capped off the meal with non-local (but fair trade and organic!) hot chocolate with local milk. Hey, dark days but cold nights.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Built For the Road Ahead

With Peak Oil and Climate Change looming on the horizon, the road ahead will be far different than the one behind. Or, it may be very much like the one behind - many decades behind. There is no doubt it will be different.



I recently plowed through David Sandalow's Freedom from Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States' Oil Addiction, which details what some of those differences may be. Despite its consideration of biofuels (seen in environmental circles as major bust), the book is a persuasive read because it aims to convince everyone - left and right wing - that America needs to cap the tank. Indeed, the book sets forth six reasons for transitioning off gasoline and only one relates to the environment. As No Impact Man recently wrote "[s]ometimes you have to bring issues home to people in the way that gets them the most." The goal, ultimately, is to get off gas - the reasons people decide to ditch oil doesn't matter. How we do it, though, is a bit of a muddy road and the book mostly pushes technological advances, tax rebates and such. This is a job for government and we can only hope the next President pays attention.

Freedom from Oil maps how the government weans us off oil. Unfortunately, our government is slow to agree and even slower to act. We need to push our officials to make these difficult decisions but we are not without power while we wait. Finding alternative modes of transportation is my personal Achilles heel (and scored second in last week's side-bar poll regarding major changes in 2008). Here are a few things that have worked for me. Now I just need to do them more consistently:

Become an Efficiency Expert: Think your week or the next few days out in advance and group errands together by location. Do you really have to drive all the way to Target (fraught with its own issues) or can you pick up what you need at the local drug store? Re-examine your family schedules. I dropped gymnastics for my son to save on gas and we were both happier with more down time.

Raise Your Right Foot: A few months back, there was some discussion on the 90 Percent Reduction group about an old slogan: "If you want to save gas, raise your right foot." The slogan was aimed at stopping speeding but one Riot member thought it referred to walking. That thought stuck with me. Walking requires no capital investment, has no emissions, burns calories, is healthy and can be very relaxing. Some of my favorite "date nights" with Mr. Green Bean consist of walking downtown to dinner and a frozen yogurt. Think about the places you could walk to, raise your right foot and go.

Slim Your Critical Mass, Move Your *ss: Bicycle to work, errands, school, a friend's house, wherever. The capital investment is minimal - especially if you score a sweet secondhand ride like I did and the health benefits are huge. Of course, you have to have some confidence to ride a bike and that is what I'm lacking. I weeble, I wobble and I eventually get to where I'm going. It is relaxing though and I vow this year to gain some competence on the bike and bomb around town a bit more.

Take the Freedom Train: Or bus, or subway, or whatever mass transit is available. Freedom from what? The obligation to do something. When someone else is steering, you get to relax, sit back, read a book, listen to music, knit, do crosswords, clean out your wallet, snooze, whatever. Plus, it is often cheaper to take mass transit than to maintain and gas up a car.
Here's my challenge to you and to myself. Pick one transportation-related change and try it once a month. We may find we enjoy it so much that we are doing weekly or even daily. We may find that we really are built for the road ahead.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

10 Step Progam for Buying Less Stuff

Most who voted in my sidebar poll regarding biggest personal changes in '08 voted for reduction in consumer goods. Not surprisng. We are realizing more and more the impact our consumer culture on the environment. The gals at Organic Picks, Melinda at Elements In Time, Crunchy Chicken, and Caroline at Be The Change have all resolved to buy less stuff in 2008. Chile Chews just launched a new challenge which includes reducing the amount of consumer goods we buy.

After much reading and substantial efforts in reducing the junk I buy during 2007, here is Green Bean's Official (ha ha) 10 Step Program for Buying Less Stuff:

10. Get Inspired: Set aside 20 minutes to watch The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and de-program the need to consume. Next time you feel the urge to buy new shoes because "fat heels" are in this year, remember where all of our stuff comes from and where it goes. Then check out Simply Green Living and No Impact Man for ideas on how to put The Story of Stuff into practice.



9. Maintain, Maintain, Maintain: Take care of the stuff you already have. If I empty the vacuum filter when it actually needs it or take the car in for its regular tune up, it might run better. In turn, I'll be more satisfied and less tempted to replace it. If I put my tools away before it rains, they won't rust and I won't need new ones. Dusting the coils on the refrigerator saves energy and extends the life of the fridge.



8. Repair what you have: Fixing items seems to be a lost art. Indeed, it often costs more to repair an item than to buy a new one. Sometimes, even replacing a battery is more expensive than the item itself and the product, dead battery and all, finds its way into the landfill. I remember loving a hole in my pants as a girl because it meant that mom would sew some uber-cool rainbow or unicorn patch over it. I recently went looking for a patch for my son's pants and faced a very bleak selection. When was the last time you visited the cobbler (the what?) to get your shoes re-soled? How often a year do you take your dull knives and scissors in to be sharpened? Beth at Fake Plastic Fish recently wrote a great post about fixing instead of tossing. Melanie at Bean Sprouts similarly repaired an item that now runs good as new.



7. Make Do: Next time you break something - even something cheap and plastic and easily replaced by a quick jaunt down Target's aisles - follow Burbanmom's example and make do. Suck it up! Use your laundry basket with the broken handle, ignore the fact that the 3 button on your phone has to be pushed five times before it actually dials, consider your worn sofa "shabby chic" and paint your kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them.



6. Wear It Out: Ignore trends and wear the clothes you have (hey, those 1980's shoulder pads still make your waist look thinner), use the chunky old cell phone, haul around your hefty laptop, drive the older model car, don't get a newer, cooler recliner. The list goes on but we hardly ever wear anything out these days. We tire of it or it seems old and dowdy so we replace it with something shiny and new. Even if we replace things more slowly - a new cell phone every two or three years instead of every one - that is still reducing and means fewer trips to the landfill.



5. Love Thy Neighbor: And borrow from them crazy. Do I really need my own pitch fork for turning compost once a month (yes, I know I should do it more)? Can my neighbor borrow my ladder so they don't need to buy one? The blogger at My Journey to a Simple Life recently shared how her neighborhood works together to save money and reduce consumption by lending. Neighbors don't have what you need? Hit the library, rent tools from Home Depot, or sign up with neighborrow, a nifty site pairing lenders and borrowers in certain cities.



4. Second Chance Love Story: There is nothing sweeter than scoring some second hand stuff for a song. Stalk thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, Freecycle, Ebay, dumpsters. Because we live in a throw-away society, there is virtually no need that cannot be met with used goods. Check out Lighter Footstep on the benefits of used stuff.



3. Do Without: Rachel at The Compact opined that not everyone needs a personal espresso maker (gasp!) but can instead walk to the local coffee shop to have their needs met. A Mickey Mouse waffle maker for only $20 online? Maybe I can just make Mickey - or better yet, people shaped - pancakes and the kids will survive. Instead of buying a Kill-A-Watt, I can unplug whatever it is and save even more overall energy.



2. In It For the Long Haul: When you do buy something new, consider long term needs and long term quality. Purchase something that will last; that you can pass down to your children and grandchildren. Check out Casaubon's Book for more thoughts on thinking longevity.



And, the number one way to stop buying stuff . . .



1. Don't Go Target: Or the mall, or WalMart, or whatever store or website flips your switch and turns you into a consumptive zombie. Stop shopping! When you have to buy something, avoid the big box stores with their shiny displays. My personal consumer spending plummeted when I started buying staples at the local drugstore instead of Target. Why? Well, the goods I bought closer to home were a tad more expensive but I wasn't lured into buying all that other gewgaws that Target hawks.

Monday, January 7, 2008

You Can Never Go Back

It's a dark January morning. Grey clouds hang in the distance but, as I drive to the farmer's market, I only need to use the wipers a few times. I pull into the parking lot surprised I can park so close. Then I notice how small the smattering of market umbrellas is. Summer is gone and, with it, the crowds eager to sample it's riches of heirloom tomatoes, juicy strawberries, bright yellow corn and plump melons.

I don't mind. The market closed for two weeks over the holidays and I'm starving - not literally. After depleting our stock of onions, potatoes and fresh pumpkin puree and picking our garden clean, I gave in and bought some "local" and semi-local produce from Whole Foods. It just wasn't the same. The flavor and experience were bland.

I hop out of the car as a mom in a Prius pulls in next to me. She unloads her little boy, wiping his long hair out of his eyes, and then pulls out her canvas tote. It starts to drizzle but neither she nor I have an umbrella. We are undaunted and both walk toward the blue, white and red umbrellas and then part paths.

I spot Happy Boys Farm and stop to admire their organic salad lettuce. They still have Little Gems, I note, and hungrily pack my eco produce bag full. While there, I grab several handfuls of baby carrots - the real ones, not the machine-cut carrots stuffed into damp plastic bags and trucked to the big box stores. Even though my husband hates them, I also load up on a rainbow of beets: ruby red, albino white, golden orange and candy cane striped. The vendor (I don't think he works the farm) has a beard, tattoos and nose ring. He adds up my produce - weighing it and tallying the amount in his head as the scale sways in a sudden gust. I debate over the heirloom radishes but decide to hold out for watermelon ones another farmer carries. I hope she's here.

The storm moves closer and rain picks up, drumming against the umbrellas. I stop to admire some dried cranberry beans from a beach-side farm but decide I have enough. Ahhh, I spot mandarins. My littlest has been craving these so much that I don't even care they are not organic. The college kid manning the stall takes a ten second break from his cell phone call to assure me that his dad's farm doesn't use sprays. Okay, how many can I fit in my netted bag?

I round the corner and spot my favorite farmer. I never remember her name - something lyrical and Italian - but I know her well. She happily greets me and we chat about her oldest daughter home from college for Christmas. I buy more lettuce, purple potatoes and Yukon Golds, broccoli, watermelon radishes, and a handful of carrots in soft, autumn hues: gold, purple, yellow and orange. These make the best carrot sticks. She insists that I take some kohlrabi for free and stuffs it in my tote. Her farm is organic but a few months from certification. They practice sustainable farming techniques like cover crops and attracting beneficial insects and she brings unique old fashioned vegetables to the market. I tell her I'll see her next week and she gushes about how grateful she is that I came out in this weather. I mean to say "No! Thank YOU for growing this amazing produce, hauling it up here at 6am and then freezing your butt off for the next four hours in exchange for a few hundred dollars." Instead, I say "of course" and move on.

The wind starts to howl and lifts the market umbrellas off of their metal feet. Rain beats down but I don't want to leave without stopping at Lone Oak Ranch. Auntie M (that's what she calls herself on the labels of her homemade jam) is talking with another woman who grumbles that some of the oranges are wet. I could care less - it's called rain, lady! - and stuff my bag with organic blood oranges, Cara Cara's and more mandarins (how can I resist). I also buy some of Auntie M's pomegranate juice.

My canvas bags heavy with winter's sparse but delicate offerings, I trudge toward the car. I stop one last time to buy more broccoli for soup and cilantro from another organic farmer. He asks, somewhat forlornly, if that is all. There aren't many customers today and he's driven 60 or 70 miles in the rain to get here. I pick a few more carrots and decide, really, we can't eat any more than that, no matter how much I'd like to support him and every other farmer here.

The rain beats against my face as I cross the parking lot. I suck in the cold January air and thank my lucky stars that I have a year-round farmer's market. It makes the dark days of winter so much more palatable because once you eat local, you can never go back.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Regenerative Birthday



I recently celebrated a birthday. I only write about it to try and eek out a few more birthday wishes. ;-) And, also, to share how supportive family can be of ecological values, what wonderful no-waste gifts can be given and how a birthday can be celebrated in style with very little cost to the environment.
My first gift consisted of my in-laws entertaining the kids so that I could enjoy a night out with my husband.
My gift from my husband was a carefully thought out, environmentally-conscious romantic evening. He was already in the city for a conference and arranged for me to take the commuter train up. As an aside, I have not taken that train in years but it is a great way to go: no traffic, no worries about driving in the rain and some quiet time for reading one of the many books on my to-be-returned-to-the-library-before-more-fines-accrue list.
Upon arrival in the city, we drove (okay, not carbon neutral) to Union Square. We shared a relaxing, meditative couples massage and then walked to dinner at Millennium, a delicious, vegan eatery that specializes in organic local ingredients that are sustainably grown.
That special time away regenerated my body and spirit as well as my relationship with my husband. I returned home feeling rejuvenated and not a day over 29. ;-) I can't wait to enjoy the gift from my parents - a coupon for another night away with Mr. Green Bean.
A perfect, regenerative birthday.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Lazy Mom's Guide to Parenting

Or Child Rearing in the 21st Century

Today's life is full of conveniences of which our ancestors never dreamed. The time it previously took to do daily tasks - gardening, procuring and preparing food, cleaning the house - has been cut in half and then again. Convenience, however, comes with its costs. It spews greenhouse gases into the environment, gobbles up natural resources, and generates waste.

Us ecologically-minded folks have turned to alternative ways to get things done. We hang our laundry out to dry instead of stuffing it in the dryer. We shop at the farmer's market and grow our own produce instead of hitting the local big box supermarket. We cook dinner from scratch rather than order take-out.

We push mow our own lawn instead of having the gardener "mow and blow" it. All of these things are wonderfully old-fashioned. They force us to slow down. They re-connect us with the food we eat, the land and ourselves. They also take a heck of alot of time.

This infringes upon our spare time which is frequently devoted to "quality time" with the children - playing board games together, reading them books, hiding with them in make-believe castles. Oh yes, I still do all that but not quite as much because, you see, I'm cooking dinner.

I can pop a frozen pizza in the oven and spend some real 1:1 time with my children while it heats up. I do that from time to time. More often than not, though, I'm scrambling to turn fresh, local ingredients into a meal all four of us will eat all the while tamping down the guilt of ignoring my children. It's a similar scenario while I'm hanging laundry, or working in the garden, or mowing the front lawn, or doing any number of my other newly acquired tasks. If I can't persuade the boys to help with whatever chore I'm doing, I'm "ignoring them."

Last night, I stayed up late roasting pumpkin seeds and making vegetable broth. This morning, I realized, as I was herding the kids out the door, that I forgot to pack my eldest's lunch. I confessed the fact to him and felt like a complete slacker mom. My first priority, I told myself, should be the children - their direct needs and not the more indirect needs of turning a mountain of pumpkin seeds and a heap of frozen vegetable scraps into something edible.

Did my eldest bemoan his mother's inadequacies? Did he pout that I had forgotten him? No. He leaped up and said, excitedly, "I can make my lunch!" With my oversight, he packed himself a delicious, healthy and no-waste lunch. As I watched him happily choose his lunch selections from the fridge and pantry, it dawned on me that all this "quality time" may not be the best thing for our kids. Maybe we over-parenting our kids.

These days, children do not make the slightest decision without our input or encouragement. They cannot play anywhere but under our watchful eyes. We shuttle them from activity to activity. We hustle to fulfill their every need and desire - or risk be considered "neglectful". Giving our kids some space, leaving them to their own devices (within reason) while we get back to the tasks of daily life isn't such a bad thing after all. Finding ways to meet their own needs and make their own decisions instills confidences, fosters intuition and teaches creative thinking. Plus, it gives me time to finish planting the cane berries.

What was the end result of my five year old packing his own lunch, he came home full - of pride.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Necessity is the Mother of Cooking

What do you get when you combine local, seasonal meals with an effort to reduce waste? Necessity. Or, more specifically, pumpkin Swiss Chard lasagna.

Surrounded by summer's bounty, you can throw together a tasty home-cooked, local meal with minimal effort. These are the dark days of winter though and require some real exertion.

I spent the last two days baking and pureeing winter squash like a madwoman because I over-bought the big beauties in the fall and they are ready to be "processed" or composted now. Guess what we're having for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next month? Yup, pumpkin in some form or other. Determined to move beyond pumpkin muffins, pancakes, bread and pie, I scoured the Internet for recipes and came across the idea for pumpkin lasagna. That appealed to the waste warrior in me as I've got a fridge full of ricotta and alfredo sauce left over from Christmas eve that is about expire. I also planted far too much Swiss Chard in my garden this year - too much because I don't like chard. Don't ask why I planted it. Just know I won't do it again. :) Put that and three different recipes for lasagna together and you've got a darned good dinner.

What's so special about my menu? Two things.

First, I used ingredients that otherwise would be thrown out. Over 40% of our country's crops are lost or thrown away, according to Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. That's a whole mess of food and doesn't include the unidentified mush at the back of our fridge that we toss out weekly. I recently overcame the habit of buying loads of what looked good at the market and then chucking most of it when it rotted before we remembered to eat it. At our last Green Book Club meeting, the group talked about how investing in food might make us less willing to waste it. The fact that I grew the Swiss Chard and pureed all that squash did, indeed, incite me to use it. So did yesterday's completion of a garbage challenge. So did my increased general awareness that waste is not a good thing - for anyone or anything.

Second, as Sharon at Casaubon's Book, recently opined, we need to become a nation of cooks. We must learn to be flexible in the kitchen - to use the ingredients available, be willing to make substitutions willy nilly, and to create a dish unique to the season and locale rather than a carbon copy. It takes real investment and a little bit of bravery to put together a home-made meal drawn from local, seasonal ingredients. Most "seasonal" recipes aren't seasonal and invariably include short-cuts of processed food. This leaves us in uncharted territory. For my lasagna, I followed no single recipe but combined several and made a leap of faith that the meal would be edible. To be fair, my dish also included a processed ingredient: store bought sauce. Because it was left-over and about to go bad, I'll give myself an exemption. ;-)

Necessity, or at least the desires to avoid waste and eat local, will lead to some inventive cooking. Gotta run. I have the mother of all pumpkin seed piles waiting to be roasted. Necessity calls.

What a Wail


This is a quick plug for a book I recently read. Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals is stirring and informative. It chronicles the 2006 Antarctic campaign by Sea Shepherd, a grass roots organization that goes head to head with whalers to stop illegal whale hunting. If you enjoy a green read but need a break from books written by scientists filled with numbers and predictions, this is the book for you. It reads like fiction though, unfortunately for the sake of the marine mammals, it isn't. You'll learn fascinating facts about what our oceans used to be like, the magical creatures that still inhabit them, the current sad state of the seas and what kind of folks are willing to risk their lives to fight mass extinction. Curl up with this book on a cold winter night and get inspired.

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