Monday, June 30, 2008

Quick Berry, Quack Berry

It is one thing to write about a social green movement. It is quite another, though, to invite eight women into your home to make blackberry jam.

The latter is like reading the book Jamberry to your kids. You pick it up at the library because the bear is cute or you like berries or your little guy likes the colors. You take it home and read it to your kids because you are a good mom. You start reading and, suddenly, you are sucked in. It has nothing to do with how important it is to read to your children or that you are spending "quality time" together. It has everything to do with the rollicking adventure that is the book. The rhythm of the words as they flow over your tongue, the antics of the bear and boy buried neck-high in various berries, the illustrations of waffle flowers and skating elephants. Pretty soon, you find yourself chirpping the words to yourself, to your husband across the dinner table, with a grin plastered across your face. Reading Jamberry feels great.

And so does making jam with friends. It has nothing to do with "being green." Every woman who came cared passionately about the state of the environment. There was some discussion about living lighter, tips traded on pinching back herbs or comparing tomato plants, ideas for planting fruit trees and biking to town. There was a lot more though. We talked about schools, husbands, balancing work and family, activities to do with our kids - all between spoonfuls of blackberry jam. We took turns washing jars, stirring, crushing berries and made something everyone on this planet is looking for: a connection. We'll savor that every time we open a jar of Book Club Blackberry Jam.

Buried in berries,
What a jam jamboree.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Everyone's Doing It!

Really. Don't you want to be like Melinda? I do. That girl makes some killer meals.

Along with everyone else, we copied Melinda and made her delicious yogurt pancakes. For the pancakes, I used homemade yogurt from local raw milk, organic fair trade sugar, organic fair trade vanilla, locally milled flour, local organic pastured eggs, salt and baking soda. We topped it off with farmers' market strawberries, blueberries and blackberries - the latter leftover from my book club jam making fest (details to come) cooked down with a dash of non-local maple syrup.

Can you guess how happy my kids were to be served these for dinner?

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I've written quite a bit about living a more simple life. I revel in the farmers' market, its seasonal surprises, the friends whom I see only once a week, the just picked berries that disappear on the ride home. I embrace the solitude of line drying clothes, methodically bending and clipping while birds sing in the trees and my cat wends around my feet. Peace can be located on my front steps as bees burrow in the borage and yellow and orange butterflies chase each other amongst the poppies, cosmos and Queen Anne's lace. All of those things center me, make my life feel real and meaningful. Even when I am tired or too busy, I, like Eco 'Burban Mom, cannot let them go. Living any other way feels out of sync.

I've also posted often about building community and a social green movement. Sometimes, that means gathering physically, either with new found friends or rediscovering greener interests with old ones. Just this week, I attended a class on chicken keeping with a long time friend and struck up new friendships at events hosted by my son's new school. Tonight, I will host a jam making session for my book club and, tomorrow, visit a nursery with a close friend. Building community is also virtual. I became friends with Arduous while setting up A Crunchy Tribute and then bonded with Katrina, Donna and Shannon while collaborating on The Blogging Bookworm. I got to know many of you through email exchanges on the Forage for Borage giveaway. Even virtual relationships, though, can become physical - as when I met Arduous and CindyW for brunch. Through my burgeoning relationships - both in blog land and in real life - I've gained perspective, found support and a sense of belonging.

On several occasions, I've urged bloggers to become political, get active and be heard. Putting my money (or time) where my mouth was, I joined my city's green task force. I'm writing their newsletter (due this weekend!) and brainstorming about growing the group through social and volunteer events. Volunteering for the greater green brings a sense of fulfillment, of accomplishment.

And, last on this list but most importantly, I am a mother to my two boys. Indeed, they are the reason I feel so strongly about living lighter, developing a network, using our voices, building critical mass. It is for my boys that I haul grey water, write letters, mend torn clothes, and turn the lights off. As summer edges in, school will be out, vacations, the park and the backyard wading pool beckon. Time with them, watching clouds shift overhead, trying new popsicle flavors, reading books, is fodder for a lifetime of memories.

Each segment of my life is happily blooming, stretching and growing like pumpkin seedlings warmed by the hot July sun. Yet, the stems crowd each other, the roots compete for water. There are too many seedlings planted in the same hill growing at the same rate. Pruning needs to be done and guiding too. Perhaps a seedling can be transplanted to another hill, where nothing yet grows. Perhaps, if shaded, some of the plants will not grow quite so fast.

As I sit before this computer with farmers' market produce and dirty dishes sprawled across the counters behind me and only one short hour before the boys are home from their last week of school, I realize that, like the pumpkin mound, I have too much going on. Too much growing at once.

I have much to write about but little time right now in which to write. To me, this blog is a matter of not just expression, but self-creation and self-knowledge. It is not something I will let go of. But, please bear with me over the next few weeks as I regain my balance, rearrange activities, ask for help. There will be times here and there where I don't post for a couple days. That doesn't mean I'm gone. I'm embracing equilibrium. I will be around both here and at The Blogging Bookworm every day. I will also be back two or three times a week with the answer to "Are You Chicken?", delving into "The Rugged Environmentalist", enumerating concrete ways to build a social green network, "Energizing Ears", my weekly One Local Summer posts, and much more.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gaining Ground

Over the last few weeks, I've done a lot of talking (okay, writing). I've argued that the environmental movement must provide opportunities for those interested to establish non-political connections with one another, feel that they belong to something larger than themselves. I've posited that environmental organizations must open the door for people to get invested. It's time to put my money where my mouth is.

After listening to me wax passionately about this topic for the better part of an hour (oops!), my city's Green Task Force is now looking to move in this direction. Among other things, we would like to set up social opportunities for our growing list of members to get to know one another, establish relationships, and enjoy themselves.

I would love to get your input - no matter where you live or whether you have any type of green group in your vicinity. If you had an environmental group in your area and wanted to get involved, what type of event would you be interested in? For background, my group is a city group so it includes all city citizens - all ages, all genders, some parents, some not, etc.

I've listed several of the options our task force kicked around. Please vote for all options that appeal to you. If you have any other suggestions, please leave your thoughts or ideas in the comments. I have a feeling many of you are better party planners than I!

Thank you so much for your thoughts!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cutie Clafouti

Two weekends ago, I braved the farmers' market, again, with my spirited and lively boys. We ate our way through strawberries and blackberries, negotiated with the blueberry farmer over his plastic clamshells while he shoveled "samples" into my boys' mouths, found the pastured eggs sold out already, nibbled through pluots and necatrines and engaged in a little flute playing with a zuchinni - to mommy's surprise. I was buying lemon cucumbers, corn and heirloom tomatoes at the time. Guess who got to buy some zuchinni. And, after my five year old created his own "samples", some rainier cherries that were neither ripe nor organic.

Those cherries sat neglected in our fridge. No one really wanted to pucker up with their sour juices. Finally, I decided they were either dinner or compost. Wielding my handy cherry pitter (no guilt here, this thing is essential!), I tamed those little orbs and then followed this recipe to make cherry clafouti. I added the pitted cherries to local pastured eggs, raw organic and local cream, organic fair trade sugar, organic fair trade vanilla, zest from a backyard lemon, locally milled flour and non-local salt. End result, a cutie clafouti.

That night, we dined like the locally eating cuties we are on local organic corn, local organic peas, a locally baked baguette, local organic goat's milk brie (holy goat! that stuff is good), and local organic green beans. A simple meal, perhaps, but all the better to save room for one local clafouti.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Coming Clean

I open the refrigerator door. Inside, a returnable glass milk bottle peers back at me, inching toward sourness. The clock above the stove reads 12:05. I've got 25 minutes, I think, before I pick my son up from school.

I yank out the milk bottle and locate the double boiler. Its scorched interior reminds me to fill the base with water this time. Dumping in the milk, I gingerly rest the candy thermometer on the side of the pan and turn on the stove. I add a 1/4 cup of dried milk, organic and locally processed. Stirring the dried milk in, I hop on the computer and wait for the milk to reach the right temperature. When it does, I remove the top pan of the double boiler and dunk it in a mixing bowl full of ice water. The thermometer again signals the correct temperature and I stir in yogurt from last week. The clock announces 12:27. I've got three minutes to spare, I think, as I pour the yogurt and milk mixture into a behemoth of plastic and Styrofoam - my Yogotherm - and tuck into a corner of the kitchen. Five hours later, I'll return to silky yogurt. I may stir in some strawberries or honey or maybe some overripe raspberries cooked down with a bit of sugar. Without a doubt, the yogurt will be gone in a few days. It will taste far better than any store bought yogurt and will be made with all organic locally produced ingredients. It will be wonderful.

You're still thinking about the Yogotherm, though, aren't you? You're thinking that you, or someone you know, or all of those bloggers whip up yogurt daily with a towel, a rubber band and a piece of bubble gum. What's Green Bean's deal? It's so easy and here she has to go out and buy some hunk of plastic and Styrofoam.

Yup. That's right. I did. New, too, I might add, because you can't find these suckers used. After weeks of making yogurt that never set, that was part whey and part . . . other stuff but all yukky, I caved. I decided it was either (a) give up yogurt, (b) buy local organic yogurt in plastic recyclable containers weekly, (c) buy five hundred of the petite St. Benoit's yogurts packaged in a reusable container, or (d) Yogotherm it. In truth, I'd never really do (a) or (c) so the only real option was (b). I justified it to myself that the environmental impact of producing the Yogotherm would be far less, over time, than a lifetime's supply of #5 yogurt cartons. So far, I haven't had a batch of yogurt not come out with the Yogotherm. Maybe it was worth it.

As much as I love my Yogotherm, though, the truth is that I didn't want all of you to know about it. To realize that I couldn't do it. That I had to resort to plastic and purchased convenience instead of MacGyvering it like everyone else. As much as I enjoyed my homemade yogurt week in and week out, I hoped no one would ever know that I was not self sufficient enough to do it the "right" way.

Last week, I wrote about letting go of our standards as they apply to, say, clothes with holes or stains, a showerless day, a garden that hosts aphids as well as ladybugs. It's time to relax those standards as they apply to myself. I need to let go of the expectation for perfection, for total "greendom," whatever that is. Yes, occasionally, it may be too hot and I'll take the car instead of bike. I may be too overwhelmed with the crap accumulating in my garage and I'll recycle wine bottles just this week. If we're leaving on vacation tomorrow morning and I have two loads of laundry, I guess one of them - or both - will just have to go in the dryer. And, yes, I'll make my yogurt in that gigantic plastic, Styrofoam thingie and just enjoy it that it works every single time.

As much as I live a lighter life to lessen my environmental impact, I also do it because I enjoy it. Farmers' markets provide friends and fresher food. Biking - in the right weather - is peaceful yet exhilarating. Line drying clothes gives me time to myself, with just birds and butterflies for company. If I expect perfection of myself, where is the pleasure. If there is no pleasure, then there is no gain.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Tie that Binds

All around me, voices droned, people talking. The breeze flirted in from open windows. Waiters hurried from table to kitchen, hauling plates, coffee carafes but no syrup. I sat at a table with two other women whom I'd never met. Strangers in one way. I'd never seen their faces, heard their voices, or learned about their families. On the other hand, these women were old friends. We had shared a vision, a dream, the ups and downs of living a lighter life. We'd had many conversations - through blog posts, comments and emails. In this way, I knew these women better than friends in my hometown.

These were not women, though, that I would meet at my son's school, at the local coffee house, or at the park down the street. These were the kinds of friends that you can make only through cables and cords.

CindyW lives somewhat locally and is also a mom. Theoretically, I might meet her through a mutual friend or we might stumble across each other at the beach. It is possible that we would have crossed paths without the blog world. We would not, however, have traveled together - as we do now.

Arduous is another story. She is a former actress, lives in a glamorous bustling place far south of me. I have eight years and two children on her. We are from different backgrounds and different experiences leading very different lives. She is not someone I would have known absent the blogosphere.

It is an interesting place, this swirling world of blogs and web sites. Here, we can connect with people who truly care about the same things as we do. We make friends, establish relationships and support each other in difficult times. It is not all puppies and borage, though.

Later that day, I logged into the computer and cruised around my favorite blogs. I popped by Chile's place. She was feeling hot and cynical. Her post, which she called a rant, attempted to explain why she tends toward pessimism while others (Arduous and I) write only of hope. Chile often focuses on Peak Oil, the end of the world as we know it - things that are both dark and scary. Chile's voice is much different than mine.

Thank God!

I am not sure how valuable the blogosphere would be if we all echoed one another's sentiments. Certainly, it feels good to have affirmation, to connect with others who think the same and learn, together, how to live a greener life. It is impossible, however, to truly grow without dissonance. Our burgeoning green movement would crumble and fail if we all thought the same, looked the same, believed the same, did not challenge one another's theories and assumptions.

Since I started engaging with others on the blogosphere, I have encountered people from every region of the country and, even, the world. I've met evangelicals, Buddhists and everything in between. The friendships I've made here have crossed every generational, gender and ethnic line there is. Because of it, I am a more open person, more thoughtful, more sure in my beliefs and, also, in the possibility that I am wrong. I have grown here when I thought I was done growing. I have changed what I thought I could not change. I have learned to laugh at myself and to take nothing personally.

Arduous pointed out, over brunch, that as different as we all are and as much as we can learn from each other, we are all working toward the same goal. She is right. We are all connected by one thing - our desire to help this planet. My friend, Joyce - whom I'll likely never meet, who has smashed stereotypes and spoken up for those who cannot - calls this the meeting of the minds. To me, it is the tie that binds . . . and thrives.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Forage for Borage

Sitting on the front porch, the air rustles with the soft thrum of bees busy with their work. Stretching tall and hairy, blue borage flowers shimmer as bees dance from bloom to bloom. Later, when my son comes home from school, he will pluck some of those flowers off - eat them by the handful and swear they taste like cucumber. And they do.

Borage is said to attract bees from miles away. Having planted borage for the first time this year, that statement appears to be accurate. While the rest of my yard is only occasionally dotted with a honey bee or furred black bumble bee, the sprawling borage, seated in the middle of our butterfly garden, hovers and hums from morning til evening.

Borage is particularly useful for interplanting with fruits and vegetables. Pollination skyrockets and it is said to render the produce tastier as well. It is, fortunately, notoriously easy to grow from seed but does like full sun and room to roam - my two biggest plants take up about two square feet each. Experienced gardeners swear that you only need to plant borage once as it happily reseeds itself year after year. I look forward to such volunteers next year.

This week, I will be giving away free borage seeds - come one come all, or at least all those living in the U.S. (I'm not up for international shipping right now). If you have a sunny spot in your yard and would like to welcome bees and other wild pollinators, please email your contact information to greenbeandreams(at)gmail(dot)com for free borage seeds. I'll send them out within a week.

Let's make it a little easier for those bees to forage for borage.

Borage Giveaway is Officially Over. I'm fresh out of seeds. The rest of you have permission to let your clover grow for the bees. :)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Can You Lend a Hand?

A week ago, responding to a comment on my "environmental church" post, I argued that the environmental movement needs to change its focus, emphasize the positive, and skip the negative. I wrote: "People just don't care. Scaring them hasn't worked. They either don't believe it, assume it will be fixed without their aid or, as Break Through and Michelle Verges suggest, feel scared and therefore less likely to make political changes." I later admitted that my statement was, in fact, a misstatement.

I do believe that people care. While I do not think the majority of the population would rank global warming ahead of most other issues, progress is being made. I see more and more bikers on the road (though certainly some are motivated by gas prices). My neighbor fired her gardener and purchased a push mower. A close friend switched to reusable containers for lunch and snack, leaving Ziplocks in the dust. One of my sisters just adopted chickens and the other is ditching bottled water.

All this progress, however, is occurring primarily on the lifestyle front. The environment is still a wall flower when it comes to politics. The media rarely questions presidential candidates about global warming and voters' top issues remain the economy and the war. How, then, can we channel the urge to lighten our personal footstep into footsteps toward Capitol Hill? Why is it that people storm the farmers' market but don't show up to city council meetings?

In "Building Our Church," I opined that green groups need to focus on making what meetings they have more uplifting and less frightening. They need to set up engagements to get folks engaged, switch from petitions to potlucks and thereby build a community of members who are connected with one another. All of those things do need to be done. But there is more. Environmental organizations also need to learn to ask for help, to open up meaningful opportunities for volunteership and allow members to become invested in the movement.

A year ago, when I first "woke up" and realized that I couldn't wish global warming away, I eagerly signed up with a local green group. Their web site promised social gatherings and opportunities for involvement. As the months went by, I awaited their response or an invitation to take action, to get out of my house and connect with like-minded people in a battle to save the world. Aside from requests to sign a petition and donate money, the invitation never came.

I stopped waiting and starting taking action where I could: in my own home. I switched to full loads in cold water, canvas bags and CFL bulbs, a bike, the farmers' market. I shrunk my energy use to about 30% of the average Americans'. Even so, I, and virtually every eco-blogger out there, acknowledged that, as meaningful and rewarding as my lifestyle changes were, they would not be enough. Saving the planet requires something more.

It requires community action.

So I tried, in my fumbling manner, to create a green community where none previously existed. I wanted to connect with those who thought similarly. If the green group I signed up with months back wouldn't offer connections, then dammit, I would make my own. I reached out to the virtual community through this blog. I set up a book club focusing on green books. I got to know the green moms group several cities over - if only by email and Yahoo groups. I hosted a buying club. Little by little, I got to know other people who also cared about the planet. I attended meetings, shared laughter and local wine and became part of a community. I became invested. I did what the green group would not.

Or so I thought.

Then, overwhelmed with commitments, I let an ecological website's request for detailed information about the green book club languish in my in box. I sent a couple of apologetic emails, laden with excuses but no real information. Finally, it hit me. I did not have the capacity to respond to this request. I was too busy. I had overcommitted myself in too many different ways (all involving "the green movement" or lifestyle changes). I debated pulling the plug on the project and, then, decided to seek help. I sent an email to my book club, asking if any one could gather the requested information. A regular attendee of the meetings immediately, and joyfully, responded. She would be happy to handle it. She was looking forward to getting more involved.

Buoyed by my success and still drowning under commitments, I next sent an email to my buying club members. I could no longer host. Could anyone else? I hoped for one response. I got eight. Those eight then set up a system where each volunteer hosts in increments before turning the responsibilities and coolers over to the next host. The new hosts were happy to share the load, to take action in procuring locally grown, sustainably produced food. All will benefit, too, from getting to know other members while coordinating hosting duties, and likely will feel satisfied that they making a difference.

Because I asked for help, shared opportunities for involvement, I offered these people a chance for fulfillment, connection with others, a sense of purpose, and a spur to take further action. I let these people become invested, not just in the buying or book club, but in the green movement as a whole. Due to their investment, they will likely look for or create other opportunities for involvement, more actively promote their green lifestyle and be more willing to speak up for their beliefs.

If we, who found groups, attend meetings and live active green lives, do not ask for help, do not provide interested others with real and fulfilling opportunities for investment, we are the ones who are missing the opportunity. The "masses" we have been waiting for are here. They are clamoring to be let in, to be given a map and told how to make a difference. If we only open the door and ask them to lend a hand.

It's Called an Ecosystem

A few days ago, I lauded laziness as a cure to too-hard environmentalism and laziness is something I embrace whole-heartedly in my garden. I do get outside to squish slugs and deadhead every so often. Mostly, though, I avoid the heaving lifting by letting the mini ecosystem - one created by lack of chemical and interplanting flowers and edibles - take care of itself.

Instead of examining leaves for nibbles and rust, I prefer to perch on my porch steps and, overlook the butterfly garden. From there, I can watch the bees forage in the borage and orange and white butterflies sail across the cosmos, lavender and sage. The reward for my laziness is nowhere more evident, however, than in the scene I happened upon today: two lustful ladybugs surrounded by aphids. It turns out that nature, when left alone, really does take care of itself.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

One Local Graduation

I recently wrote that life is simpler and greener when we relax our expectations, when we ignore nibbled leaves and not-too-stained clothes, when we enjoy a simple meal as much as an elaborate meal. In keeping with that, my One Local Summer meal this week is superbly simple.

My 5 year old graduated from preschool on Wednesday - complete with a ceremony, cap and gown, and potluck dinner to celebrate. My assignment for the potluck was tea sandwiches, specifically, egg salad, cream cheese and cucumber and PB&J.

The egg salad - which ended up being pretty delicious - included hard boiled local pastured eggs, homemade yogurt from local buying club milk, homemade pickles from farmers' market cucumbers, a squeeze of organic mustard from a local company, and organic mayo.

Because I couldn't find local cream cheese, I opted for local organic cucumbers and farmers' market cheddar cheese sandwiches. I used organic peanut butter from a local company and homemade jam, made from farmers' market strawberries, for the PB&J. I slathered all of the above on some toasted bread from a local, independent bakery, and trimmed off the crusts, which, of course we ate. No wasting food in the Green Bean household.

There you have it. One local graduation for one very proud preschooler.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Calling All Bookworms

We're nearly half way through June, our second month of Bookworming.

I finished Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility in the beginning of the month. As I wrote earlier, the book, in some ways, reads more like a series of articles than a cohesive book. It leaps from destroying the Amazon, to debunking the environmental justice movement, to promoting the creation of a green movement reminiscent of Evangelical churches. While I strongly agreed with certain chapters and doubted others, overall the book was powerful and positive. I closed the cover clamoring for investments in renewable energy, accepting that we must adjust rather than revel in nostalgia, and shifting strategies for my local green groups. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone frustrated by lack of environmental political progress over the past few decades. It will inspire and instruct you.

Because I was reluctant to let go of the optimistic afterglow of my last two books, Break Through and Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, I ditched plans to read Deep Economy, The Long Emergency and, based on a bookworm's review, Farewell My Subaru. I now find myself immersed in Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash - a book that is, amazingly, entertaining and educational as it delves into our refuse. I'll report back on junk in the garage man's trunk later this month.

How are all of you bookworms doing? Loving or loathing your books? Please share your thoughts here. If you've posted a review and I haven't linked to it yet (see my sidebar), please leave me a comment so I can get all the reviews in one place. Happy reading.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Letting Go

Bending down, I examine my sunflower seedlings. Each day, they are bigger, standing on tiptoes, searching for sun. The Romano beans are also perking up, stretching toward the windmill where they can then roam freely. I stand up and come face to face with my butterfly bush - the beauty of my back yard last year as it reached over 6 feet tall, spiked with royal purple flowers. It's quite big this year but doesn't boast a single blossom. Bending forward, I see that the most of the leaves are gnarled, curled inward. Prying apart a blackened leaf, a white worm wiggles out. As I jump back (I'm not all that great with wiggly white worms), it drops to the ground and scoots out of sight. Aha! A pest, I think, and begin pulling apart leaves and squishing the worms inside.

After dispatching five or so worms, I wonder if hand-picking them is the best way to go. Might these pests be like aphids, which magically disappear after a few weeks if I just turn a blind eye? I resolve to cruise the Internet later to learn up on what is butchering my beloved buddleia. With the kitchen clean and the kids asleep, I log on. Jumping from page to page, I come up empty. Then suddenly it hits me. It's a butterfly bush. Butterflies come from little wiggly things but they are called caterpillars, not worms. I change the search to "caterpillars" and hit the jackpot. My "infested" bush is actually home to skippers, the leaves wrapped to hold their cocoons. I swallowed a wave of guilt at having sent a few of those caterpillars to their final resting place this afternoon.

The next day, while studying the disfigured leaves on my plant, I realize that one of the easiest steps to living lightly is not more work, but less. It's loosening our grip on perfection and accepting a nibbled leaf for what it is - home and food to another creature.

Sometimes, a green life means more work. Growing your own food or shopping at the farmers' market is not as easy as picking it up at the local big box store. Line drying takes more time than using a dryer. I've always felt that these time consuming chores have their own rewards - better tasting food, time to think, peace. Still, how do we find the time to meditate over a bubbling pot of jam or ride a bike to town instead of drive?
We let go.

Clothes don't need to be spotless. I can wear them without washing a couple more times and save time, energy and water.

My plants don't need to be perfect. I can ignore a few gnarled leaves and give the bees and butterflies the space they need. The insects usually work it out on their own, anyway. It's called an ecosystem.

Our lawn can be a bit browner and we can save some water and the effort to maintain it.

The kids can skip a bath tonight, and tomorrow night. Really, the world won't end. I'll save 30 minutes and 25 gallons of water.

Lowering the bar, relaxing our standards, and letting go of some of our expectations goes a long way toward a greener life. A lighter footstep isn't all about working more. A fair amount is about working less. All of it, though, is about living more.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

One Wasteless Popsicle

It's hot here. I mean really hot. In a moment of weakness, I let the kids play with water last month and the resulting Riot water number? Not so good! So to beat the heat without wasting a bunch of water or turning to air conditioning, we've embraced popsicles.

It is no secret that the best way to avoid all the packaging, corn syrup, and weird additives is to make popsicles yourself. Like many mothers, I've poured watered down juice into a plastic popsicle mold, and, hours later, pulled out frozen, healthy and cheap treats for the kids.

What makes this post worthy, though, is something I discovered a few months back but didn't put into practice until today. In reading The Tightwad Gazette, Chile's bible, I came across the author's suggestion to put a splash of water into a nearly empty jam jar, swish it around and use the jam-water mixture for popsicles. (She also recommended making popsicles from almost done yogurt and overripe fruit. Puree the latter first). Now that I make all of our own jam, I'm much less willing to waste any of it just because it is stuck in the crevices of a jar. So I swished, filled, froze and licked.

How does an apple butter and water popsicle taste? Pretty darn good.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Building Our Church

I recently finished the book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. As I sit down to write a review on it, I realize that there is one chapter that is so significant to the green movement it cannot be shuffled into a review of the entire book. It might be lost tucked amongst descriptions of Amazonian deforestation, the environmental justice movement, and Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s attempts to block a wind turbine project. That chapter demands its own post.
In Belonging and Fulfillment, Nordhaus and Shellenberger explore the rise of the Evangelical church and delve into its success and political dominance. It is no secret that people today feel less happy and more isolated than they did twenty or thirty years ago. Research repeatedly demonstrates, however, that the key to happiness and the cure to loneliness is connection with others. Being part of a meaningful community enriches one's life, imbues one with esteem and a feeling of belonging. Evangelical churches offer those very things to their members. People join and participate because they build relationships through their meetings, gain a sense of peace and meaning, fill a spiritual void, and belong to a larger community. The primary purpose of gatherings of the religious right is not politics, protests, or petitions. Those are mere byproducts. Rather, the primary purpose is connection, community and consummation. Because people have those needs met through their involvement with Evangelical churches, they attend meetings, regularly donate a percentage of their income and bring friends and family into the church to share the joy.
"While Evangelical Christianity is an individual and community experience, environmentalism is mostly an individual one." (203). Environmentally aware people vote in line with their green values, make individual changes to reduce their personal carbon footprint, read books, and occasionally donate money to green organizations - all primarily individual pursuits. Nordhaus and Shellenberg posit that "few among even the serious environmentalists ever actually do anything to manifest their environmentalist identities or to recruit others to join them." (Id.) Indeed, "[t]o the extent that environmentalists have meetings at all, they are more depressing than inspiring, focused more on stopping development than creating a beloved community. Drive across town to the local mega-church service and you'll likely find an energetic and vibrant righteousness that doesn't get to the dull work of door knocking and phone banking until well after the faithful have sung songs and felt the warming love of Jesus in their hearts." (Id.)
Since I was a teen, environmental progress has been painfully slow. Two steps forward, two steps back. The movement has finally gained steam in the last few years, but even now, global warming is overshadowed by other political issues. Even Democrats and Independents rank global warming 13th out of the top 19 issue facing voters today. (107) Calls to action - whether it be to stop aerial pesticide spraying or to petition a city to take action on climate change - are often met with silence. People voice their frustration over high emission vehicles and melting ice caps but fail to follow through, to attend the meeting, write the letter, enlist others.
We cannot continue as we have. Recruiting based solely on scare tactics is too slow a way to grow. The green movement instead must liken itself to the Evangelical churches that Break Through explores. We must create a Church of Climate Change, a way to promote the environmental agenda in a less frightening manner and a means to offer parishioners solace and friendship, laughter and support, community.
To my mind, the Church of Climate Change is not a place or a thing but a shift in strategy, a migration from the negative to the positive, and a movement toward gatherings based on fulfillment instead of fear. If you pay attention, you will see the beginnings of the Church of Climate Change here in the blogosphere. The nuttiness of Crunchy Chicken and the community she creates through her challenges come to mind. The blog world's support for one another, as demonstrated by A Crunchy Tribute, is another example.
The environmental church extends beyond keyboards and cables, though. It can be found at my green book club, where once a month, local wine flows freely, women share laughter and advice and talk about a good book. It is further evident in that book club's decision to expand its membership by doing something different, something purely for pleasure. This summer, we will skip one environmentally relevant book and substitute a jam making session instead. We will also join another green moms group to indulge in a safe makeup makeover. The RSVPs for the latter event are more than double our usual response - evidence that people want to connect but without the angst and anxiety with which so many environmental meetings are fraught.
The Church of Climate Change is alive and well at Green Moms Coastside, where events focus not on inconvenient truths but on holiday crafting with recycled materials, tours of organic farms, fruit picking, and bread baking demonstrations. Even movie nights in that group veer toward more light hearted but educational flicks like King Corn and Garbage Revolution. Grassroots green groups can increase turnout at meetings by hosting events that bring people together simply for the sake of being together and not the sake for political action, which can come later, after the faithful have felt the warming love of making strawberry jam together.
It is time for us, as a movement, to change focus. To reach out instead of in. To think potlucks instead of protests, movie nights instead of marches, fulfillment instead of fear. To become a political force and make the sweeping changes necessitated by climate change, peak oil and the hunger crisis, we first need to invest in one another, to build a foundation, friendships, and belonging. While I believe that individual lifestyle changes are essential, saving the world is not something we can do alone. We need community. We need each other. We need to build our church.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


I read last fall that planting cover crops - fava beans, bell beans, peas, vetch (whatever that is) and such - enriches your soil naturally. As I planned to dramatically expand my veggie growing possibilities, I dove in. We ripped up our sidewalk strip and planted a cover crop mixture, which bloomed beautiful and lush in the spring and housed a toad all winter long. In my back yard, I planted a passel of fava beans, which strode determinedly through muddy, clay soil and reached for the watery winter sun through January and February. As the weather warms and the buds pop out, however, you are supposed to cut your cover crop back to the ground - when about 50% of the flowers are in bloom. That means that all that growing won't yield any beans or peas and just a smattering of delicate purple, white and black blossoms.

I dutifully trimmed back my front yard cover crop and gradually replaced it with squash and beans. Ever the rebel, though, I let the fava beans in my back yard go, sprawling across strawberries and penstemon. I haven't been the most successful of vegetable gardeners and, darn it, I wanted some sort of reward. I got it this month when I went to check on the potatoes' progress. Behind the stretching potato plants, fuzzy green pods stood erect like little . . . well, little soldiers, pointing out from the fava bean bushes.

We harvested our bean pods, gently twisting them off and tossing them into my thrift store find - a basket built for backyard harvests. This week, we've enjoyed both fava bean crostini with locally baked baguettes and local wine and mashed, homegrown Yukon golds (oh yeah, baby! my first potatoes ever) and fava beans, sauteed in their pods in local olive oil and salt.

With local eating this easy, my One Local Summer will be one Favapalooza.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Crunchy Tribute

Last week, Crunchy Chicken unexpectedly hung up the keyboard, citing personal stresses and blogger burn out among other reasons. She popped back up the next day, with a new post, but that is beside the point . . . or maybe that is the point.

This blogosphere is a community. It may seem strange to read that, given that we've never seen each other, couldn't recognize one another in an empty room and seem connected only by cords and cables. We are connected by something more, though. The desire to build a better world for ourselves, our children, our families. The drive to create change and to push ourselves beyond our own comfort zones. The yearning for a place to feel at home.

By posting again, after her farewell message, Crunchy showed that she was at home in the blog community she helped build, felt safe enough to change her mind but also to reclaim time for herself.

It is no secret that I admire Crunchy, not in the scary stalker way (I promise! really!), or even in the "she's the most popular girl in the blogosphere" way. Rather, to me, she is a role model. Someone who proves that anything is possible. Someone who erases the self-doubt and the "what can one person do" questions littering our eco-consciousness.

Crunchy has inspired a fair amount of change in the blog world over the last year. She's convinced hundreds of people to turn down their heat, switch to a Diva cup, and stop shopping. She's amused me with "movie" posters of Beth (Fake Plastic Fish) and Chile as Bond girls, titillated me with eco-hotties and made me cry with her strength in the face of her husband's battle with cancer. She's impressed me with her creation and management of a foundation that provides African teens with reusable menstrual products. More than anything, though, Crunchy has made me believe in myself, in my vision and abilities, made me believe that I, as one person, can do almost anything.

As much as I believe in myself, though, I've also learned that, while one person can accomplish miracles alone, they shouldn't have to. That is what community is for - to support each other's dreams, shoulder some of the burden when possible and share the joy. In celebration and acknowledgement of Crunchy Chicken, the blog world is launching A Crunchy Tribute today. We hope to raise $5,000 in cash and reusable pad donations for Crunchy Chicken's foundation, Goods 4 Girls, and thereby support our very own superhero as she endeavors to single-handedly curb over-population, keep African girls in school and rid the world of disposable menstrual products. Crunchy, here's to you!

Come join the party over at A Crunchy Tribute, support Crunchy Chicken and demonstrate that we are doing more than "blogging". We are building a community.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sacrificing with the Seasons

I spend a fair amount of time writing about the upside of simple living: how I get great exercise on my bike, quiet time at my clothesline and find peace working in the garden. But there is a darker side to the lighter lifestyle, and it has to do with our food.

Eating locally means eating with the seasons. That means that apples are not in season year round. Neither are grapes. Truthfully. Even here in Northern California, fruit actually has a season.

Before I decided to reduce my food miles and eat within a 100-200 mile radius, my family's meals were simple. Our fruit consisted of bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries and, occasionally, a mango or blueberries. We ate those fruits day in and day out and never needed to wonder about winter, spring or fall. Vegetables were equally consistent - potatoes, corn, broccoli, bagged salad, and, every now and then, something leafy and green. Life was uncomplicated, "simple." A year later, our kitchen is decidedly more complex.

My peas no longer come out of a white plastic freezer bag, flavorless, cold and, once thawed, squishy. Now they are eaten straight out of the pod. The little green jacket unzipped to expose six or seven pearl sized peas, lined up like clothes in a closet, waiting to be nibbled.

Supermarket blackberries and raspberries no longer languish in the back of the refrigerator, growing yellower by the day. In fact, they don't usually make it the fridge at all. In a year of eating locally, we've yet to have them survive a day in the Green Bean household.

In my previous life, I thought persimmon was a color of paint, warm and rich, autumnal - perfect for the dining room. Who knew it is not only a fall fruit but one that, when peeled, frozen and covered with just a tad of cream, tastes like "ice cream" without the calories?

Last night was another discovery. We sit at the edge of spring, poised over the warm earth days of summer. Apples and kiwis are decidedly gone. The boys devoured every last berry in the house. All that was left were the scarlet stems lurking in the refrigerator's vegetable drawer. Resembling chard stems but thicker and stockier, like celery, my friend and farmer, Sapphira, talked me into these last week. Rhubarb.

My dad mentioned his grandmother making rhubarb pie when he was young. I chalked it up to the Depression Era, a time when hungry people put vegetable stalks in a crust and called it dessert. A march through my collection of cookbooks, though, revealed that people actually eat rhubarb, even today. I opted for the Rustic Rhubarb Scone Cake from my elegant San Francisco Ferry Plaza's Farmers' Market Cookbook. If any cookbook could transform stems into something delectable, it was this one.

After chopping up the red stalks, I stirred in organic, fair trade sugar and zest from the last orange loitering on our backyard tree. Mixing locally milled flour, sugar, and homemade butter into a crumbly dough, I lined in along the bottom of a pie tin. I then slipped the red, sugary mass on top and covered it with the rest of the dough. An hour later, my vegetable stalk cake emerged from the oven - luscious, beautiful and tasting like spring.

Perhaps eating seasonally isn't such a sacrifice after all. Eating apples and grapes only during their own season opens up room on the plate for new fruits and vegetables, ones forgotten in our mad rush toward standardized food. Perhaps that lost produce is the reward for people like us who venture out to farmers' markets on a foggy morning, who pick up something unidentifiable and ask a farmer what to do with it, who think outside the big box store.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Let There Be Light

Our second bathroom is a dark little place. It boasts no windows for the sun to peer through and rests far from the lit gleam of bedrooms and the family room. No doubt gnomes and trolls lurk in its unlit corners, or at least that's what the kids must think when they tear into the bathroom, turning on every light in a 30 foot radius.

Over Memorial Day weekend, my ever handy husband took it upon himself to install a tubular skylight. We'd watched an episode of Living with Ed where Ed Begley, Jr. had a few installed in his house. I remember reading that the Dervaes wanted one as well. That puts us in the "in" crowd, no?

Installing the solar tube took my husband the good part of a Sunday. I'm sure he could give more detailed instructions of what he did but, from my vantage point, he read the reportedly simple directions, crawled in and out of the attic a number of times, scaled the roof half a dozen times, cut some holes in the roof, some holes in the bathroom ceiling, slide the tube and cover in, and got a whole heck of a lot of dust all over the bathroom.

The tubular skylight kit cost about $179. Add in $99 because allegedly Home Depot does not rent jigsaws (Note to Self: Do Not Send Husband to Home Depot Alone). What do you end up with?
Me running into the bathroom all week thinking the kids left the light on.
Will we save a ton of dough? A bunch of electricity? Will it balance out the environmental impact of new material used to create the skylight? I don't know. We don't use the light in that bathroom a ton. It is, however, one of the few fixtures for which I could never find a CFL bulb so it still sports an incandescent bulb. Further, the boys were always leaving that light on. In the entire week since my husband installed the skylight, we've turned the bathroom light on twice - both times late at night. Now, the bathroom is perpetually lit up by the sun and stays that way until 8pm or so. The light peeks out into the hallway as well so we are not turning that light on as much either.
All in all, it seems like a bright little solution for a dark room.


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