Friday, May 30, 2008

Be a Bookworm: Reading Round Up


This is it. The end of May. The end of the first month of book reading bookworms. Although some of you are continuing on with the bookworm challenge through June, I promised a Reading Roundup at the end of this month and here it is.

During May, I chomped through Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle by David Wann. I've posted about this book here and here. Although it was neither earth shattering nor eye opening, the book has impacted my life and my way of thinking more than I can calculate. It has buoyed my burgeoning feeling that, while all is not right with the world, all is right with this new way of living. David Wann focuses not on the negative, but on the positive - what we get instead of what we give up, why we embrace hope instead of fear, how we build community. If you feel afraid for the future, unhappy to be "cutting back", anxious that you or others are not doing enough, this is the book for you.

I'm also working through Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. I am on the fence, in many ways, with this book. While some of the authors' ideas are risky, many of them might be invaluable in retooling the environmental movement from a "special interest" into a tour de force. I'll post a review on this book as soon as I'm done reading.

Those are my thoughts, in a nutshell, on my books.

What about you? What did you read? How did it impact you? Would you recommend it and why?

Please check out my sidebar for Bookworms' Book Reviews and the comments to this post and this one to learn about books other participants have read during the challenge.

Thank you for participating. It has been a fun and fulfilling. If you want to continue inching along, please join me through the month of June while I'm Still a Bookworm.



Thursday, May 29, 2008

As Good As It Gets


"Oh, this is going to be go-od!" My husband laughs as he rearranges the letters on his tray. Slowly, he adds his letters to the T already on the board, spelling out T-R-I-U-M-P-H. "That's triple so, um, 42 points," he announces and scribbles his score on the back of the envelope we're using to keep score.

I frown and look back at my tray. "You are going down!" I bluff. Let's see. I've got three A's, a D, a couple Os, and an I. I scan the board, looking for places where I can form some sort of recognizable or at least arguable English word. First, I look for places where I have the opportunity to triple, or at least, double my score. Barring that, I'll try to triple or double a letter. It'd have to be the D. That's the only one I have that's worth anything.

A few months ago, I picked up an old game of SCRABBLE at the local thrift store. Ironically, despite my predilection for the written word, I'd never played. In the midst of reruns and American Idol, my husband and I turned off the television and played a game. An hour and a half later, after talking, trying to beat each other with made up words and mock threats, we tallied up the score, cleared away our letters and realized it was 11pm. The next night, as soon as the boys went to sleep, our eyes met. Scrabble?

We've debated pulling the plug on the boob tube, canceling cable, cutting back on TV many times. The idea of giving up television, though, never seemed to work. I realized, as I scrambled my pathetic assortment of letters, that we haven't watched much of anything in the last few weeks. We're so busy connecting, making words from a random mix of letters, that we've not even thought about the black screen lurking in the living room.

To me, this is exactly what the simple living or APLS movement is about. It is not about cutting back, giving up, living less, making sacrifices. That is a no win way of thinking. Instead, we need to focus on what we gain.

By playing a game instead of blanking out in front of the television, we develop a connection, exercise our brains, laugh, and embrace healthy competition. Getting on my bike instead of into the car lets me enjoy the outdoors, the wind in my face, the sound of birds and wheels whirring and the benefit of a workout without the gym. Making homemade jam, rather than turning to store bought, gives me an hour of solitude, of meditation and the ability to taste memories months after they were made. Shopping the farmers' market brings friends, fresh food and an appreciation of the seasons and line drying my clothes is a yoga-inspired communion with nature.

To go back to that other way of living - where things are done for me, where things are "convenient" and entertainment is cord-fed - that would be a sacrifice. I look down at my letters one last time and smile. I'd found an errant G on the board and line up my Os and D next to it. G-O-O-D. My husband may beat me at this game every time but, in all honesty, this is as good as it gets.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Come June, I'll Still Be a Bookworm


The month of May and, with it, the Be a Bookworm Challenge draws to a close. Hosting my first challenge has been a delight. I've encountered dozens of new and enjoyable blogs, learned of new books, edited my own "to-read" list based on all the reviews flowing in, devoured Simple Prosperity, and slogged through half of Break Through. What a month!

If I am sad to see this challenge end, it seems that I am not alone. Several participants have suggested continuing the challenge. Another month of sharing book reviews, checking out other people's reads, exploring new blogs and reading my next book, Deep Economy? I'd love it!

So, here, we go again.

If you missed the challenge the first time around, here are the rules: I challenge you to read a single, ecologically relevant book during the month of
May
June. Post a comment if you'd like to participate so that I can add you to my sidebar. Once you have selected your book, post another comment. I'll keep a running tab of books being read. At the end of the month, I will post a Reading Roundup soliciting your comments on the book you read, whether you'd recommend it and what you learned. If you would like, post a book review about your book. It is not necessary but many participants ended up doing that and it has been extremely helpful. You can find Bookworms' Book Reviews on the sidebar. Check out my book recommendations here and green ways to get your hands on a book here.

If you'd like to continue to Be a Bookworm through June, drop me a comment here and I'll keep you on the sidebar past the end of May. If the book you'll be reading is not yet on my sidebar under Bookworms' Books, please let me know so I can add it.

If you've had your fill, I completely understand. I very much appreciate your participation. I hope that you enjoyed the challenge and that you got something useful out of it. Please check back at the month's end for a Reading Round Up, where I hope you'll share thoughts on your book and check out other people's take aways.

Regardless of whether you stay on through June, please shoot me an email or leave me a comment if and when you post a review. The book reviews being posting are absolutely invaluable - a true treasure for anyone deciding what to read next. If you've not yet noticed, I have posted links to all Be a Bookworm book reviews of which I am aware on my sidebar. If I've missed your review, please let me know.

For bookworming this June, you can add this new button - if you like. Same photo but without the May date. If you'd want to keep your old one up, by all means, feel free. The code for the new one, should you want it, is below:


<a href="http://greenbeandreams.blogspot.com/2008/05/come-june-ill-still-be-bookworm.html"><img src= "http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_dguKzLoD1Os/SDza8FwpwaI/AAAAAAAAAyA/mU1b8BuyXG0/s320/stillworm6.jpg"/></a>

* Photo courtesy of Peter Hellebrand.

The Buck Stops Here


My hands moved slowly over the ruby orbs, smooth and firm. I plucked one from the pile and turned it over in my hand. The sign pronounced them "sweet" and priced them at $4 a pound.

"Are these organic?" I asked, looking up at a farmer I hadn't seen at the market before. These were the only cherries I'd spotted today.

"They are not organic but we do not spray pesticides." She smiled back.

My free hand lingered over the mound of cherries. Close enough, I decided. Pulling out a netted produce bag, I filled it to the top. I would make cherry jam, tonight. Cherry season is not long but eating cherry jam in January . . . true luxury. My treasure weighed in at $13. I paid the farmer, eased the cherries into a canvas bag and waved goodbye.

Next stop was Kashiwase Organic Farm. Last week was their first week back at the market and the owner, Steve, had welcomed me with a hug. I had admired their peaches and apriums on the way in. Swinging past the peach table, my heart stopped. A handwritten sign announced
"Organic Cherries $7/lb" and perched over a wooden crate filled with the little red fruit. Suddenly, the canvas bag cradling my cherries felt heavy. My shoulder strained under its weight. I no longer wanted my cherries. I wanted those cherries.

I know. Right now, you're doing the math. You're wondering if there is a typo. Why would she want to pay $3 more per pound of cherries? The $4 ones don't even have pesticides.

The reason I'm willing to pay more, in terms of dollars, is because the $4 cherries actually cost quite a bit more than the advertised price. Not in terms of money but in terms of life, of unseen costs borne by unseen people and unseen creatures, in terms of our soil, air and water, our own health. In terms of my children's future.

As David Wann noted in Simple Prosperity, "the supermarket costs of mainstream food don’t reflect the hidden costs ultimately paid by taxpayers, including billions of dollars in federal agricultural subsidies, water contamination, loss of bees, soil erosion, and so on. If you add environmental and social costs to a conventionally grown head of lettuce, for example, its price would be twice as high.” (199) Even taking pesticides out of the equation, "since the 1980s, the vitamin and mineral content in beans has fallen by 60 percent, in potatoes by 70 percent, and in apples by 80 percent. These decreases have occurred in produce from conventional farms that don’t replenish their soil with cover crops, compost, and organic wastes." (99-100). Non-organic farms use nitrogen based fertilizers. Nitrogen is as dangerous to the environment as carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming, smog, haze, acid rain and depletion of the ozone layer. Moreover, the devastating dead zones along our coasts and, in particular along the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico, can be traced directly to use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Viewed in that light, the $7 cherries, grown in an ancient orchard lovingly and organically managed by Steve and his family, were downright cheap.

Hidden costs extend beyond organic produce. I'm sure I raised a few eyebrows last week when I blithely plopped down $65 for a pair of recycled tire flip flops. How can I justify spending that amount of money on a skimpy pair of shoes?

Easy. Those shoes didn't truly cost $65. First, subtract the $5 donation that Simple Shoes made to Stop Global Warming when I purchased a pair from its Stop Global Warming line. Next, my shoes are made with recycled tires. Had they not been diverted from the waste stream, those tires would first have taken up landfill space and then likely would have been incinerated to make space in the landfill, thereby releasing more pollution into the atmosphere. That's a good sized deduction from the quoted cost.

Now, compare the true cost of a replacement pair of flip flops. The type I would have purchased in the past cost between $10 and $15 a pair. As I would need two to four pairs to last as long as my Simple shoes will last, double or quadruple that price and we're looking at between $20 and $60 for replacement shoes. Add in the natural resources mined to create new materials for the shoes and their packaging, the pollution stemming from the toxic glue and materials used, the health and ecosystem damage from pesticides sprayed on non-organic cotton, and landfill space for the replacements which never last through a single season and that price increases significantly. I would also weigh the impact on the lives of underpaid laborers and shipping costs but, as Simple Shoes also manufactures its shoes in China, I'll call that a draw. Taking into account all the unseen costs, my Simple flips are looking like a good deal indeed.

It's true that a more sustainable option may cost more money. I'll pay the $7 for a pound of cherries or the $65 for a single pair of flip flops, though. I'm doing something more important than buying fruit and shoes. I'm investing in our collective future. For me, the buck stops here.



Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trimming My Waste Line


I've slimmed down quite a bit in the last 12 months. Well, not me so much. You don't think you lose weight by eating oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, do you? But my trash and recycling bins are positively svelte. We have bi-monthly curbside pick up for recyclables but only take it out monthly. My family of four throws off so little trash that it would take us a month or more to fill our 32 gallon garbage can.

Trimming trash has been one of the easiest ecologically-minded change we've made. In many cases, it's just a matter of putting an item previously thought of as "trash" or "recycling" into a different bin or bag. Here are the more obvious ones:
  • compost
  • use reusable containers for food, juice and water
  • make our own yogurt, jam, bread, butter and such
  • buy milk and cream in reusable glass bottles
  • use towels instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper
  • buy in bulk using reusable Ziploc bags or netted produce bags
  • use a Diva Cup
  • buy the biggest size available
  • plant from seed when possible and, when planting from plastic nursery pot (which, in my area, are not recyclable), take them to a local nursery for reuse; our nurseries will use 1 gallon and up size but schools will use the smaller ones
  • reuse all plastic bags (e.g., for mulch, dry cleaning - tie a knot in the bottom) to line kitchen garbage can
  • buy products with little or no packaging (e.g., shampoo bar soap, farmers' market bar soap, this dental floss)
  • use the Preserve toothbrush and return it for recycling
  • buy 7th Generation toilet paper from Amazon and avoid the plastic (thanks Fake Plastic Fish!) - bonus, the kids will play for days in the big cardboard box it comes in
  • use every last drop of a product
  • reuse wrapping paper, ribbons, rubber bands, glass jars
  • cancel magazine subscriptions
  • get off junk mail lists by calling or emailing every company that sends us an item of junk mail
  • use back side of paper for printing, kids' drawings
  • save items for reuse in school craft projects
  • keep plastic or other utensils in a plastic bag in your purse/backpack/car and use them on the rare occasions you go out for ice cream, frozen yogurt, fast food, etc.
  • bring our own reusable container for restaurant leftovers or, if as I often forget, wrap it in a napkin or ask for a piece of aluminum foil
  • donate to thrift stores
  • repair items - especially when hole or break is small
  • reuse fabric items that are beyond repair for rags - now you don't need the paper towels!
  • try to freecycle (or list as free on Craigslist) anything before tossing it; we had 4 freecyclers wanting our broken refrigerator even though we disclosed the problems
  • buy less stuff
Here are a few of the less-obvious ones that I've picked up over the last year:

1) Crappy Plastic Toys: You know the ones - your kid brings them home from a pinata or in a goodie bag, maybe they were handed out at Halloween. I periodically gather the unbroken ones from various crevices in my home and put them all in a bag. Once the bag is full, we take it to my sons' dentist office where the toys are added to their treasure box. The dentist doesn't have to buy new toys as often, the toys we have don't end up as landfill fodder and, best yet, they are out of my house.

2) Shipping Boxes and Packing Material: Whenever we get anything shipped to us, I put the box and shipping material in the garage. Once they reach a certain number, or I'm tired of stepping over them, I list them on freecycle or Craigslist. Typically, they are taken within a couple of days by someone who is moving or an Ebayer.

3) Strawberry Baskets, Egg Cartons: I always save my strawberry baskets, the cardboard flats they come in, egg cartons and similar containers and return them to the farmer I got them from at the farmers' market. The last time I brought in my strawberry baskets and cardboard flats, the farmer gushed what a big difference it makes, financially, for them to be able to reuse all of these items and knocked a buck off of my price.

4) Empty Wine Bottles: I must thank a reader for this for this tip. We save our wine bottles and, once we reach 2 dozen or more, list them on freecycle or Craigslist for projects or home brewing. It takes a bit longer to unload these but you bypass the recycling center and the energy expended transporting and recycling bottles. Don't forget to recycle your wine corks here.

Take my word for it. It's a lot less painful than giving up oatmeal chocolate chip cookies?

UPDATE: Make sure to read the comments for more great ideas!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jammin


It's late. Except for the soft hum of the refrigerator, the house is silent. Everyone else, even our grey tabby sprawled across the sofa, is asleep. I stand under the single CFL light above the range. My hand moves methodically, carving quickly disappearing circles in the molten mass of fruit and sugar. My brain meanders from the newsletter I need to write to the Laura Ingalls Wilder book I read last time I made jam and then to the pumpkin seedlings stretching across our sidewalk strip. Finally, it is blissfully blank, taking in only the hypnotic dance of strawberries roiling over a hot stove.

I dip in an ice cold spoon. The jam has set - a royal red gel. Cradling the hot jars with a towel, I slowly ladle in the sugared mixture. Occasionally, scarlet dribbles skip over the edge and down the jar. Once they are full and the lids on, I tuck the jars into the big black canning pot where they bubble merrily for ten minutes.

Sitting at the kitchen table, the house empty and smelling of sugar and summer, I lick the remaining jam off of my wooden spoon, carefully scraping the edges of the nearly empty saucepan. 12:30 is too late to be up, let alone eating jam. As I listen to the jars jostling each other and think of the day to come, though, it seems the right thing to be doing.

After they've had their bath, I pull the jars out, one by one, and inspect them. They glow deep red like polished jewels. I am not quite ready to go to bed, to let go of the stillness and silence of strawberries, sugar and a boiling pot. I sit back down at the table and stare into the dark night. Branches scratch across the window in a May gust. The ancient gleam of the moon seeps in past the shades. One by one, the lid on each jar pops reassuringly, promising May sunshine in January. Once the last pop echoes through the kitchen, I reluctantly fill the saucepan with water and turn off the stove light.

Unlike pickles or chutney, homemade jam can be enjoyed the next morning when boys wake up too early. When chores and worries encroach. When the peace of making jam is but a memory, I can still savor it, slathered across my toast.

Friday, May 23, 2008

One Loco Summer


Even in the upper reaches of the Global North, summer is on its way. Gradually, the land is warmer. Birds gather grass and straw, building nests, raising young. Butterflies flutter over the burgeoning wild flowers and bees dart determinedly from flower to flower. Farmers are nursing their peas, coaxing along their strawberries, pulling out their market tents and packing their crates.

You don't plan on spending your summer on tired tomatoes shipped in from my great state, do you? Are you up for one crazy summer of local eating?

The One Local Summer Challenge kicks off June 1 and lasts through August 31, when the days darken and the kids head back to school. The challenge is to eat one all local meal (salt, pepper, and such excluded) once a week all summer long and write about it on your blog. Recaps are posted each Monday for geographical areas.

I'm a newbie to One Local Summer but hungrily competed in the winter version, Dark Days Challenge, a few months ago. There is no better way to push yourself out of an eating rut, to find new sources of local foods, to make blogger buds with locavores in your area, and to become a full fledged chef, than to participate in a local eating challenge.

You have until this Sunday, May 25th to sign up. What are you waiting for? Go loco this summer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Swimming Upstream


"A fish!" I screamed to my boys who were playing in a small creek near the ocean. "We have to save it." Yanking off my socks and shoes, I burst across the water toward a sandbar where a two foot long fish flapped, scattering water along the shore. I reached for the fish and quickly pulled back. Raised as a city girl and a vegetarian, I've never touched one in my life. Finally, I eased my hands around the suddenly still trout. It flipped up, out of my hands and back into the ankle deep water. I nudged it toward a slightly deeper portion of the stream bed and it took off swimming in the opposite direction. Damn! I chased after it and caught up when it slowed and rolled over on its side.

More bravely, this time, I reached for the fish and grabbed it, lifting it out of the water and bolting upstream, to deeper waters. It lurched forward but I held on. Wriggling and fighting, the fish finally pitched into knee deep water and then again swam downstream and up onto a sandbar. By the time I caught up to it, it had lolled over on its side and seemed to gasp for air. It stilled for the last time.

Later, I learned that, when a fish is out of water for any length of time, you are supposed to glide it through the water, to get water moving through the gills and prevent the fish from drowning. I also discovered that the creek is drying out; it no longer touches the ocean this time of year. Swimming downstream was certain loss.

That afternoon, however, as I watched the life seep out of the trout, I could do nothing but return to my boys, staring on the beach, and tell them that mommy had failed. The fish was dead.

Reading my Be a Bookworm book, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, it hit me how my inability to save the fish was much like our inability, as a people, to lower the United States' carbon emissions, to reverse the melting of the Arctic or preserve the Amazon rain forest. It's not that our fight is not just, our hearts not true, our dedication not unwavering. But we lack know how. We are swimming upstream without a map. We have not learned from our mistakes.

The second chapter of Break Through covers deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which is tied to global warming. As a teen, I clearly remember efforts to halt that deforestation and earnestly gave gifts of "an acre of rain forest" to family members at Christmas time. While the battle has been waged for decades, it has met with little success. "Today, approximately 20 percent of the forest is gone, and the equivalent of eleven football fields of Amazon rain forest is being destroyed ever minute, the fastest rate of forest destruction anywhere." (Break Through, 54). What we have been doing for the last twenty to thirty years to "save the lungs of the world" has failed.

Mary Pickford famously wrote that "this thing we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down." I cannot see how we can give up when it comes to saving a stranded fish or a burning forest.

The authors of Break Through promise that we can save the Amazon but, only if we change our approach, shift our paradigm from protection of nature to protection of people. Brazil shoulders a monstrous debt and spiraling inflation. Drug traffickers rule its streets and it boasts a murder rate found only in war zones. One in five of its citizens go to bed hungry every night. Faced with these issues, it is no wonder the Brazilian government has not made preserving the Amazon a priority. To save the rain forest, the authors argue, we must look beyond it's canopied borders to the people who inhabit that land. We must first help them before we can expect them to turn their eyes toward saving their national treasure.

As to my lost fish, only minutes after the first died, two more trout headed downstream, to the end of water. One banked itself on a beach and died before I could reach it. The other, we chased upstream and into deeper waters. We learned from our mistakes. We had fallen down but we got back up. That final fish, we saved.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Million Blogger March


Viva la revolution! We have done it! We are officially a movement in the mainstream press. Blogging, reading and commenting, spreading the word, living consciously, embracing a lighter lifestyle, we should be proud. The world now knows we exist and hopefully more will leap onto our ever crowded but lower emitting bandwagon.

Now is not the time, however, to rest on our keyboards. A revolution cannot be lead only by shopping at the farmers' market or hanging our laundry up to dry in our backyards. Certainly, we must continue to do those things but we must also do more. In 2000, Michael Moore congratulated the country: "Way to go! In 1996, you helped set the all-time American record for lowest turnout ever at a presidential election. And during the 2000 primaries, nearly eighty percent staged a sit-in on their living room couches." In Simple Prosperity, David Wann likewise notes that we are out of practice in being in citizens.
Out of practice, though, doesn't mean out of possibility. I speak from experience when I write that it is like a riding a bike. You climb on and hope for the best. Each time, it is easier, smoother, more comfortable. I tend to be a hermit but, in the last year, I've started a green book club, set up a buying club for local meat and dairy products, spoken at a city council meeting, and, most recently, agreed to write a monthly newsletter for my city's green task force. These things are far out of my comfort zone but they are out of my house and into the community. Each step felt more natural than the last.

I am not urging you to march on Washington . . . yet. But I am asking you to get out from behind the computer, from behind your bread makers, solar cookers and battery chargers, out of your gardens and off your bikes, and be heard and seen. Look for green groups to join or start one. Investigate who and what is on the ballot and vote in every puny election. If a corporation does something that seems wrong, write them a letter, start a petition, knock on their door. If they do something right, cheer them on. When there is a need across the planet and you find yourself in a position to help, jump in. Spread the word amongst school and community listservs. Write letters to the editor, call the governor, or participate in a rally.

Blogging and individual changes will get us far but a million bloggers marching into their communities, into politics, into corporate America . . . that could get us all the way.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Simply Simple


Let me start out by saying that I am not one of those people who believe that we can buy our way out of the global warming, biodiversity declining mess that we now find ourselves in. I believe that the "green consumer" truly is an oxymoron. We need to buy less, repair what we have, do without. There are times, though, that a girl can't do without. When she has tried to repair and failed. She has looked for used to no avail. In those instances, the green companies springing up all around us can offer a more sustainable solution.

Every spring, as the sun warms the earth, the seeds sprout stretching away from the soil and the thermometer flirts with the 90 degree mark, I invest (and I use that term loosely) in a couple pairs of sandals (I also use that term loosely because they are really flip flops, something to slip on as I race out the door in a perpetual state of lateness). In the past, I would pick up my sandals from Old Navy or maybe Target. Dropping a ten note per pair seemed like a good deal to me. Invariably, as autumn rustled in with brown leaves and cloudy nights, my "investment" would be tattered, the shiny beads long lost, the soles worn to nothing, the straps breaking. I have yet to have a pair last me for more than one season.

This spring, the sun warmed the earth, the seeds sprouted, and the thermometer hit 90. I had tried, in vain, to repair the one pair of flip flops I had left. The sole had separated, the fabric torn. I finally admitted defeat and, for weeks, scoured the local thrift stores. I came up with a pair of leather sandals but nothing truly comfortable or casual. I had hit a milestone. I had no choice but to buy my first new article of clothing in approximately a year.

Looking online, I came across Simple Shoes. As a true cynic, I immediately suspected green washing when I read their Shoes for a Happy Planet tag line. A number of their shoes, however, are made with materials like recycled tires, water based glue and hemp. The website boasted that shoes would be shipped in a biodegradable bag and that the company would donate $5 to StopGlobalWarming.org for the flip flops I was considering. Still, I'm out of practice in buying. I have completely lost that desire. So I waited and made do without flip flops. Finally, a heat wave rolled over California. I took the plunge and ordered my Stop Global Warming Toepeekas for a whopping $65. That's about six times the amount I normally spend but I'm hoping these will last quite a bit longer.

A week later, they arrived at my doorstep. I opened the box tentatively, remembering that I forgot to include a note with my purchase for no plastic packaging. I had relied on the company's representations about itself and its green goals.

What the heck? A giant gob of plastic greeted my eyes.


Closer inspection revealed, however, that it was biodegradable, corn starch polymer. The bag promised "dig it . . . bury it . . . buh bye". Hmm. A label indicated that the company believes such bags are better for the environment than boxes. While I'm not corn's biggest fan, it certainly is smaller than a box and, assuming it biodegrades in a reasonable amount of time, a pretty good way to go.



Overall, the entire contents of the box were as minimal as I've ever seen for a pair of shoes and downright sustainable. No plastic. Everything biodegradable. I guess I could have lived without the SIMPLE hanger - printed on 100% post consumer recycled paper with soy ink and made to double as a Do Not Disturb door hanger. After my experience of death by plastic from LUSH or my battles with Amazon's over sized boxes and over-plastic wrapped products, I am delighted to report that Simple Shoes appears to be exactly what it purports to be: "a nice little shoe company".


Gotta run out the door now in my uber-comfortable, high quality, recycled tire Stop Global Warming flip flops - the first pair of flip flops I've owned that will last me for seasons to come.

*I have no connection with this company, have never corresponded with it and get absolutely nothing for sharing my experiences with its shoes. I am just happy to find something that would make Beth at Fake Plastic Fish happy and abide by my no-plastic pledge in Crunchy Chicken's Extreme Eco ThrowDown.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Tangled Web


A few months back, Crunchy Chicken launched a non-profit called Goods 4 Girls, which provides African teens with reusable menstrual pads to enable them to stay in school. I guess that's super nice of her. I'm sure those girls will be happy with their Lunapads or whatever. There is supposed to be some impact on the environment, something to do with burning disposable pads, which was the alternative provided by certain companies, and, as us greenies know, disposable everything is bad.

Still, as nice a gal as Crunchy is, couldn't she have picked something with more environmental punch? At least something closer to home? Keeping teens in Africa in school . . . it just seems we might put our efforts to more efficient use.

As it turns out, Crunchy knew what she was doing.

According to my recent read, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, keeping girls in school longer in undeveloped countries directly impacts fertility rates. Because they are in school, they are less likely to get married at a younger age and begin child-rearing. Further, education empowers women to speak up more and negotiate with their spouses about, among other things, family size. This, in turn, will decrease overpopulation in undeveloped countries, alleviate the food crisis in coming years, prevent resource exhaustion and alleviate political instability (e.g., terrorists and genocide).

Common Wealth made clear to me, this planet is smaller than we realize. All life - from the smallest bees to teens in Africa - is interconnected. Scientists repeatedly point out how one species' extinction affects the entire ecosystem that species once inhabited, throwing nature's tightrope balance off. We humans are not exempt. We are, not only linked with millions of non-human species, but we are tied to each other - even when we are half a world a way. Instability in the Middle East clearly impacts us in the form of terrorist attacks. Deforestation in the Amazon speeds up climate change. As humans, as Americans we find ourselves perched on the spider web that is the Earth. When one thread breaks, the stability of the whole is in jeopardy.

What a tangled web we weave and what sense it makes after all to help those we cannot see.



Thursday, May 15, 2008

Finding Our Work


"You are always working so hard out here."

A familiar voice jolts me. I look up from seedlings and weeds, a trowel clutched in one hand and mud smeared across my legs. A neighbor smiles at me as she walks her yellow lab by my yard.

I suppose to the untrained eye, I do appear to be "working". Dirt has taken up permanent residence under my fingernails and stains the cracks and cuts in my hands. Wood chips, yanked Santa Barbara daisies (I have way too many of those) and tomato cages litter my front lawn. I grin back and wipe my hands on my shorts. Sweat dribbles down my forehead, soaks between my shoulder blades. "I'm getting there," I answer, gesturing to the flowered expanse humming with bees.

Watching my neighbor meander up the street, sipping her iced coffee, I think, this is not work. I know what work is and this ain't it. For nearly a decade, I occupied a chilled office overlooking a pinch of the Golden Gate Bridge. I spent my days pecking away at a keyboard, writing somebody else's dreams. Neither heat wave nor cold spell affected my wardrobe. Lunch was gathered from the food courts choking the San Francisco bay and eaten in front of the computer or at a meeting.

That may not sound like work. Certainly, my muscles never strained. I never wiped sweat from my hairline, dabbed sunscreen too late on reddened shoulders, or massaged beeswax lotion over cracked fingers. It was not work for the body . . . but for the spirit and for the soul.

We are not meant to live our entire lives inside, watching the trees and the ocean through a glass window. We should not be removed from the seasons, unable to pinpoint when spring's cool afternoons give way to summer's heavy heat, relying only on the 11 o'clock news to know how to dress our children for school. From the cubicles, offices and corridors, we cannot smell the thick perfume of orange blossoms, cradle a wriggling earthworm in wonder before settling it back into the soil, or hear the dizzying drone of bees at work. We cannot pluck snap peas from their flowered vines, sample a barely red strawberry, or dig for new potatoes.

Beany recently commented that she purchased $19.50 worth of fresh produce from a farmer her own age. She reflected that she makes roughly the same amount for an hour's worth of desk work and felt, in a way, that he had worked much harder for that same $19.50. While I agree with her that farmers should be paid more, I would argue that that farmer had worked less hard than she, if he had worked at all.

Undoubtedly, the farmer was up before dawn, watching the sunrise, feeling its warmth finger across the land, smelling the earth on the produce he had picked as he drove to market. Day in and day out, he buries his hands in the dirt, eases out weeds, gently guides cucumber and squash vines. He wages war against snails and slugs, gophers and aphids - seamlessly switching strategies to outsmart the elements and coax a harvest from the land. As that farmer goes to bed, however, he has sun and wind soaked into his bones. He has been intimate with the earth, the soil, the slowly shifting seasons. His body is tired, beyond exhausted. I know, though, that his spirit must sing, alighting on wings over our brightly lit offices, grey cubbies, and stark elevators before settling into five acres of freedom.

That is not work. It is heaven.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Apple of the World's Eye


Do you spend less money than you make?

Do you consciously buy fewer products and, of those products you buy, do you look for used ones or ones that will last longer?

Do you treasure experiences over things?

Do you donate to charity? Time, money or goods?

Do you eat local food? Make your own bread, yogurt, or even your own dinner?

Do you garden? Bike? Hang your clothes out to dry? Compost?

Do you think about your own impact on the environment and what you can do to help our planet?

Do you care about what happens to your neighbor? Your children's classmates? The people manufacturing your children's toys in China?

Do you live a fuller, more meaningful life?

The London Telegraph and the San Francisco Chronicle has dubbed such people the YAWNs (Young and Wealthy but Normal). True to her nickname, however, Arduous considered YAWNs too dull a nickname for us eco-movers and shakers. She challenged those of us inhabiting the blogosphere to come up with a better acronym and guess who won? My own Mr. Green Bean for his proposal of APLS (Apples) - Affluent People Living Sustainably. (If you balk at the affluent part of the acronym, visit this site, thanks to Arduous, to see how your paycheck stacks up to the rest of the world.)

Don't let the mainstream media label us YAWNs, insinuate that our movement is tedious or humdrum. Instead, announce your APLS-dom to the world. Let folks know that more APLS per day will keep climate change at bay. Grab this totally not boring APLS sidebar button for your blog or site and shout out that you are the apple of the world's eye.



<img src= "http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_dguKzLoD1Os/SCtohmuQFRI/
AAAAAAAAAsw/d2w0tlCOCa4/s320/APLS6.jpg"/></a>

UPDATE: I messed up the button. It should have said PERSONS instead of PEOPLE. A corrected version and code have been posted. If you have the original version posted, sorry about that.

* Green Apple photo from Sufi Nawaz.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bee the Change


I'm sitting on my front porch steps. On my right, a sheet of greenish-brown stretches out to the sidewalk and my neighbor's driveway. Far beneath its under-watered depths, worms move silently, plumbing the thick brown soil. Up top, however, a few clover and dandelions mingle with blades of grass. Nothing wings, hums or flits over its empty expanse.

On my left, the world teems and buzzes in a sea of white, red and purple. Chubby black bumble bees jostle honey bees and petite leaf cutter bees for a sip of lavender. The occasional wasp dips in and a grasshopper or two zip out. Long legged spiders scurry under the leaves and dainty white butterflies dance over feathered flowers.

When the sun awoke, in March, eagerly stretching spring into our Northern California winter, we yanked the grass from one side of our walk and replaced it with a butterfly garden. I attempted to create the shape of a butterfly with flowers and seeds. The plants grew faster than anticipated, though; borage groping across the stepping stone path, scarlet sage reaching out on to the sidewalk, and snap peas, with their soft lavender flowers, twining among the valerian and poppies. What once resembled a floral butterfly now hovers between the driveway and the stone path as a mass of life and flowers, insects and leaves. It has attracted more bees than anything and that turns out to be a pretty good thing.

Last week, while walking the boys to school, I spotted an abandoned copy of the San Francisco Chronicle, loafing in someone's recycle bin. (Yes, that is one of the many advantages to walking or biking instead of driving). What caught my attention was a headline about the decline of bees. Domesticated honeybee populations have declined by 36 percent over the last winter, which was already down significantly from the year before. Wild honeybees and other pollinators are likewise considered endangered though the extent of their decline has not yet been tracked.

Albert Einstein reportedly posited that, "[i]f the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left." It is not as dire as that but, one third of our food crops and three quarters of our flowers require pollination to reproduce. A world without flowers, apples, pumpkins or asparagus seems grim indeed. Fortunately, though, we can do something about it and that action can be very sweet indeed.

1) Go organic: Experts believe that one of the possible causes for bee colony collapse are the new pesticides, which are safer for humans and mammals but "intentionally disrupt insect neurology, causing memory loss and navigation failure". Even if that were not the case, bees are highly susceptible to any pesticides so it is best to not only buy organic at the market but also to avoid using any pesticides at home. Avoiding pesticides in your own garden gives bees, as well as natural predators like ladybugs and preying mantis, the ability to survive, take out your bad bugs and pollinate your cherry tree.

2) Grow for the Bees: With suburban sprawl comes lawns, roads and shops - not much of a bee habitat. Put some bee attracting plants - sunflowers, borage, blueberries, echinacea, thyme, jasmine, cosmos, and so on - in your yard. Better yet, use these plants to replace all or part of your lawn, which is a wasteland as far as bees and other pollinators are concerned. When choosing plants, bear in mind that too much of a good thing is that, too much. Diversify. Plant lots of different species so things are blooming spring through fall. Let an area of your yard go wild, build a bee house, and, once your vegetables bolt, let the flowers bloom. Ignore the clover and dandelions in your lawn. Bees adore them - and I've managed to not water my back "lawn" which, is mostly clover, since our last rain in March. Check out this guide to growing a bee garden.

3) Eat Honey: Here's where I call upon you to sacrifice. Support your local beekeeper by eating their honey (I often substitute it for 1/3 to 1/2 of sugar when baking), applying their sumptuous beeswax lotion to your skin and lighting your house with their soft smelling, delightfully old fashioned beeswax candles. Not only do these products qualify as "local foods", they are also a renewable resource, have a tiny carbon footprint and ensure that beekeeping remains viable. When buying their products, though, make sure you ask your beekeeper if he or she uses antibiotics or chemical treatments to maintain his or her hives.

4) Bee Heard: Write your local representative to ask him or her to support funding for honey bee research. It can be something simple and straightforward, like this:

Dear Lawmaker,

I write to express my concern over the unprecedented decline in the world honeybee population - both domesticated and wild. After suffering severe drops over the last several years, the population declined by 36% again this past winter. To date, the causes for this decline remain unknown. As I am sure you are aware, one third of our food crops - that is $21 billion worth of U.S. seeds and crops - depends upon pollination to reproduce. In the midst of an international food crisis, we can hardly afford to lose additional sources of food. Besides, what is life without avocados and blueberries?

I urge you to support funding for research into the decline of our natural pollinators. In addition, until we know the reason for the unprecedented drop in bee populations, I ask that you move to reinstate laws against importation of non-native bees from outside the country as well as transporting bees across state lines. Finally, please act to protect virgin prairie in Montana and the Dakotas which offer essential pollinator habitat and will further impact the decline of bees if plowed under for farm land.

Thank you for your consideration and action regarding the national honeybee demise. This issue is extremely important to me, and, I believe that upon reflection, it will be just as important to you.

Sincerely,

[Your Name and Address]

5) Put Your Money Where Your Honey Is: Join Haagen-Dazs, Burt's Bees and others, and donate to help fund honeybee research or look into keeping bees yourself. It is apparently a very relaxing hobby.

6) Watch the Trailer for The New Movie, Vanishing of the Bees.

As I watch a jumbo bumble bee burrow into one of the foxglove trumpets and hear its hum vibrate from within, I think how worth it is to protect these humble insects, how sweet it is to be loved by bees.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Losing My Desire


It wasn't long ago that I couldn't drive past a Target without being consumed with lust. I yearned for the shiny red shopping cart, for the seasonal decor and knock off clothing. Every item tossed into the cart promised a better life, closer friends, a thinner physique, a happier home. A spree through Nordstrom's or Old Navy would make me hipper, cooler, slimmer, a better friend. Toys R Us offered hours of entertainment for the kids, a break for me, and and the latest and greatest plastic from Fisher Price.

After watching the Story of Stuff and The 11th Hour, it dawned on me that buying things wasn't so great for the planet. For every truck load of goods shipped to market, thirty two head to the landfill. Only 1% of the stuff we buy is still in use six months later. With those statistics in mind, I stopped shopping cold turkey. But it was like an addict stops. I still had the desire. I still craved the red and white picnic blanket, hungered for new Crocs for the kids, and pined for a brightly colored summer dish set. I still believed that things could make me happy. Because it wasn't good for me in the larger sense, though, I abstained.

Time passed and I stopped thinking about Target, about Bed Bath & Beyond, about Toys R Us. I was so busy chatting at the farmers' market, planting a garden, growing beans, peas and carrots from seed to plate, biking to town, discussing books with my book club, and making yogurt, that I didn't have time to buy things much less dream about buying things. Instead, I discovered hobbies, learned new skills, developed new friends, got outside and soaked up dirt and sunshine. I stopped listening to the marketplace telling me who I was and listened to myself. I found where my home lies and my place in it.

My oldest - aka Evil Knievel - is ready for a new scooter. He's beyond ready, having long outgrown the babyish one that he uses to perform jumps and wheelies along our sidewalk. I've yet to be to find a scooter in decent condition on Craigslist, though. The T-Ball set also broke and the little guy isn't up for pitched hits yet. My wallet bursts with Toys R Us gift certificates leftover from my reward card days. The closest Toys R Us is a short five minute drive from one son's school.

A year ago, I would have spent those gift certificates the week they arrived in the mail. I would have eagerly loaded the boys in a TRU shopping cart and scouted the aisles for pirate toys, a new knight or ogre for the Imaginext castle collection, yet another Lightening McQueen car. Did we have the green Ramone yet? Now, the gift cards languish in my wallet, slowly multiplying as the months tick by.

In Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, David Wann wrote that "when we change a few key priorities, many of our material wants will cease to be obsessions. It’s not just that we won’t need the next generation of gadgets and clothes; we truly won’t even want them." (5). My priorities have, indeed, changed. It's not that we don't need the scooter and T Ball set. It's that I truly don't want them. I can think of nothing I'd rather do less than swing by Toys R Us, or Target, or The Gap. When it comes down to it, I really have lost my desire.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Book It, Bookworms


We're a third of the way through the month and, with it, the Be a Bookworm Challenge. I just finished my first book, Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, and am breaking into the next on my list, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. I love the optimistic tone of both of these books. They signal a change in how we approach "saving the planet" - a demise of calls for sacrifice and a joyful immersion into a healthier, more honorable and honest way of being. David Wann wrote that "we are wasting our time if we expel hope from our everyday lives, because without it, we can’t win." (239). If we want to transition to a richer, more meaningful culture, unite the world in its battle against climate change, and unburden ourselves from the waste and inefficiency of our time, we cannot do it by clinging to dread and despair. Rather, we must be motivated by a vision for a better future . . . and believe that future to be attainable. These books are slowly transforming a frightened pessimist into a hope-wielding optimist because I do believe.

That's what I'm reading. What about you? Have you picked your book? Started reading it? Had any epiphanies, thoughts, disagreements with your book? If you haven't yet joined, it is not too late. Please leave a comment and I'll add you to my sidebar. If you haven't picked your book yet, check out the amazing and comprehensive sidebar list of Greening Our Beans. If you have picked your book and it is not on that list, please leave a comment so that I can add.

I hope your weekend is booked . . . with a good book.

A YAWN Is Born

Are you, YAWN, boring? Not me! Not any of the bloggers leading the charge toward a more meaningful life! And certainly not Arduous. If you read my last post, Go Forth and Prosper, and were not inspired by, YAWN, the humdrum acronym bestowed upon us non-consumeristic, super hip, zealously happy eco warriors, you are not alone. Arduous has offered a $50 bounty for a more appealing acronym. Yawn! Get going folks and give our green generation a divine designation. Her contest ends on Monday at 6 P.M. PDT.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Go Forth and Prosper


I shut the back cover of Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle and slid it into my library bag. It was an interesting read: more affirming than eye opening, more a map than a book. Throughout Simple Prosperity, David Wann directs us along a road toward a more meaningful life - one that we build instead of buy. He points out the pitfalls, jots down directions to the scenic back roads and promises a worthwhile destination - a well lived life.

Wann's path is neither unknown nor unmarked, however. What was once overgrown and erased by autumn's brown leaves and winter's snow is now well worn and easy to maneuver. Every day, I see more people biking to work or to errands. The thrift stores and farmers' markets bustle with new clientele. Lawns are left to die slowly as vegetable patches and native flower beds spring up. Indeed, so many people are moving toward a simpler, more honest existence - one based on meaning rather than material - that this generation has been newly labeled the YAWNs - young and wealthy (though many are not) but normal. The YAWNs live beneath their means, buying little, donating to charity, shopping local, making their own, doing without and living a fuller life. In describing this movement, Marilyn Ferguson metaphorically noted that “sometimes a people move en masse because scouts and travelers carry tales of a distant land that is fruitful and temperate.”

As I sat down to write this post, I realized that we are those scouts and travelers. I have encountered our tales as they've spread across the blogosphere - in posts and in comments.


After buying nothing new for nine months, Arduous brings stories of being blessed with less, of finding that true joy can be found only with people, places and experiences - not things.

Cindy at Organic Picks sends back notes of treasure discovered by getting out of the car and traveling a different way home.

And Jennifer offers the simple wealth of a full bird nest.

I too have traveled to that distant world. It is better there. The journey is peaceful, exhilarating and muscle-building all at once. The rewards are limitless. There is beauty in clothes hung out to dry and wonder at dirt caked hands that pick the season's first fava beans. There is abundance in the squirrel nest in the back tree and treasure in larva slowly morphing into ladybugs. The fruits are sweeter, the vegetables more bountiful.

The stories we travelers bring home are not myths. They are not tall tales based on fiction or daydreams. Rather, they are our experience of a more fulfilling life - one that lets our children find a lost marble and call it treasure, open the refrigerator and scream in delight that cherries are in season, revel in a picnic along a river.

If you are reading this post, chances are you too have been to that distant land. You have your own tales to tell of its riches and wonder. Please, share your stories and then go forth and prosper.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Go Granola


This month, I am participating in Blue Collar Crunch's Diet for Hunger challenge and am trying, among other things, to get the junk out of my junk food.

Making junk food at home gives me - not Kraft - control. I can avoid the ubiquitous corn syrup, Frankenstein additives and genetically modified "food". My cookies also have a smaller footprint because they include as many local ingredients as possible. Local butter is easy to find - or make if you have local cream. My health food store stocks locally milled flours and baking ingredients, like dry milk, baking powder, and yeast, and I often substitute local honey for a quarter to one half of the sugar called for in a recipe.

For more exotic ingredients, like spices, sugar and chocolate, I can still make a better choice than Hershey's. Child labor/slavery, pesticides and massive deforestation are the not-so-sweet side effects that can be ameliorated by choosing organic, fair trade chocolate and unrefined, organic, fair trade sugar helps avoid the bitter poverty and environmental destruction of sugar production. Fair trade and organic spices are also often available. Finally, buying in bulk reduces packaging waste. Natural and health food stores often carry organic, fair trade ingredients in their bulk section. I bring my own plastic zip lock bags for reuse over and over.

What can you do with all these delectable ingredients? Go granola, of course.


HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS:

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ (I substitute with whatever local flour I have on hand)
2 cups crispy rice cereal
1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons oil
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips or raisins

Oil a 9 by 13 inch pan. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well, using hands if necessary to ensure that all ingredients are evenly moist. Press mixture firmly into prepared pan. Bake 18-22 minutes in oven set to 325 degrees.


MY MOM'S HOMEMADE GRANOLA RECIPE:

1 cup raw cashews or other raw nuts
1/2 cup raw sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds
8 cups rolled oats
2 cups soy flour
1 cup whole wheat or rice flour
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup oil mixed with 1 1/2 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

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


CHOCOLATE PUDDING:

3 ounces baking chocolate
3 cups milk
1/4 cup tapioca or potato starch
1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup honey (2 Tablespoons each if chocolate is sweetened)
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cook 2 2/3 cups milk and chocolate, in saucepan, stirring until milk is scalded and chocolate is melted. Mix starch, sugar/honey, and salt into remaining milk and then add to scaled milk/chocolate mixture. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth.


OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES:

1 cup butter (room temp)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups quick cooked oats
1 1/2 cups flour
chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Cook on 350 for 13-15 minutes.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Pleasure Pain Principle



To my left, the river thrashes and twists around boulders. Water thunders past, faster than I can move. Wind tugs my hair, brushing it against my neck. In the sky, a single puffed cloud floats between two granite domes and is gone. Redwoods, reaching for the open blue, slide by.

In the distance, I hear a child crying and pedal harder. My bike lurches forward and I am once again enveloped in nature's quiet. I pump onward, passing a hiker, across a stone bridge where water mingles with sand, between mossy boulders until guilt gets the better of me. Slowing down, I let my husband, towing my two boys in a bike trailer, catch up to me. Who was crying? Who poked whom in the eye? Who stole whose apple?

Last fall, my husband bought me a beautiful, used beach cruiser - flashy red with white wall tires and a jaunty wicker basket. He talked longingly of a vacation where our family would bike together. Promising nothing, I took the bike. It was cute. He was crazy. If he thought I would ever get on a bike for fun, he was out of his mind. I would pedal a bit to help the planet but no more than that.

Somewhere along the road, though, I went from getting comfortable on a bicycle to getting gratified.

Last week, on a trip to Yosemite, my husband suggested we rent bikes and check out the valley. While selecting a snappy pink rental bike, I listened as he asked the bike vendor for outing recommendations. The loop toward the Swinging Bridge would only take us an hour and a half. Ha! Biting my tongue to keep from laughing, I swung onto the wide white seat to check the height. I struggled on 10 minute excursions to the bank or local market. An hour and a half was unfathomable.

The boys clambered into a trailer hitched to the back of my husband's bike and we were off. A bike can take you places your feet cannot - and much quicker. We sped through the forest, passing camp grounds, nestling into secluded picnic spots and wading pools. Three hours later, we reluctantly returned the bikes as darkness loomed over the park.

Early the next morning, we returned and, this time, kept our bikes for over five hours. On our last vacation day, we opted for hiking instead of biking. Our walk took us past the bike path on a couple of occasions and I watched as another park visitor cycled by on "my" pink bike. My legs itched. I longed for the feel of lips chapped by wind, the sound the air makes as I pump through a narrow, tree lined road. I wanted back on that bike.

I'm not sure where we get the idea that "going green" will be painful; that living lighter means living less. Admittedly, most of the changes I've made in the past year I adopted for ecological reasons. I still do many of them, however, solely because they bring a color and a richness to my life.

Riding the train up to the City - as Bay waters stream by, reading a good green book - has ruined me for car rides. The shiny, clean rows of Target pale in comparison to the dark adventure of a thrift store.

My mother suggested shopping at Whole Foods instead of the farmers' market when I complained that I was strapped for time. I was aghast. I could never leave my friends at "the market". I would miss our talks as much as I would miss spring's first peas, the bulky melons of summer, fall's flagrant pomegranates and pumpkins and the trusty fortitude of potatoes in winter. Besides, Whole Foods' aisles are neither wind swept in fall, nor sun-baked in the summer. I crave the experience as much as the food.

I shouldn't be surprised, I guess, that bicycling morphed from an environmental task into a yearned-for hobby. I may not be an exerciser by nature but it feels good to get out of the car, to travel on my own power, to savor the wind and sun on my face.

This morning, I loaded the boys into our hastily purchased used bike trailer and headed for town. Pedaling over the big hill, my thighs burned and my heart pumped. We all laughed at the sensation of flying as we sailed down the other side. I started out living in accordance with my principles. Suddenly, I find I'm living for pleasure.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Greener Pastures


Jutting granite swelled past me. Purple lupine, clutching to rocky cliffs, swept by. The sun scattered, dotting in through tall trees. I felt light headed, dizzied as much by the lack of air at 7,000 feet as by our decision to leave Sequoia National Forest after only one day. The towering sequoias, beckoning hiking trails and frolicking river were, for the most part, off limits. Dusted snowbanks closed most of the roads. Trees, felled by winter's storms, stretched across others.

As our car glided off the mountain and into fingered foothills, cattle grazed and a cow and her calf nibbled prairie grass, side by side. I thought of my hopes for a meaningful vacation - one that would reconnect my children with the wild outdoors and instill in them a love for nature and her unpredictable beauty. Out of the hills and passing acres of almond trees and dilapidated dairy farms, my husband pulled into a gas station. Our second full tank in two days. So much for an eco-friendly vacation. So much for this month's Riot numbers.

Last night, we sat in the dark cabin, perched on a cliff, and considered calling the vacation off, going home. It wouldn't be the worst thing. I missed my garden. Had my pumpkin seeds, tucked into compost mounds in the sidewalk strip, poked out of the earth yet? Would my son's Calypso beans survive the onslaught of slugs and snails without my application of slug soup? I also missed my farmers. Sapphira always set aside special treats for me - the earliest cucumbers, the last watermelon radishes. I had forgotten to tell her I would be gone. She would look for me and wonder.

A week's vacation is hard to come by though and we had decided to relocate. Studying a decade old map sprawled across the cabin's kitchen table, we settled on Yosemite. Neither of us had been there in years but it didn't look too far.


Four days later, in the car yet again, we head home. Yosemite's yawning domes and stone valley stretch out behind us. We made the right decision. We had the muddy faces, dirt caked fingernails and sore legs to prove it.

Not every vacation is a communion with nature. There will still be trips to Disneyland in our future, no doubt. As we slide past farms and pastures, back into suburbia, though, I remember the sandy inlet along the Merced river, where we picnicked for an afternoon. The boys explored the gurgling creek, mud-pie sand and rock tunnels. Caught in the churning current, floating branches were transformed into sea serpents and a downed tree into a rare and dangerous shark. Monstrous boulders were scaled and red winged black birds worshiped. I know that those trips to Disneyland, to places where nature does not take center stage will be fewer and fewer. Mother Nature simply has too much to offer.

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