Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Begin It Now

Until one is committed there is hesitancy,

the chance to draw back,

always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation.

There is one elementary truth,

the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans;

That the moment one definitely commits oneself,

then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred.

A whole stream of events issue from the decision,

raising one’s favor, all manner of unforeseen incidents, and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you do, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Begin it now.

(or not)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reuse It Or Lose It

From the bean of Green Bean.
The three Rs are the creed of every environmentalist. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Before I "went green" a couple years ago, I had no idea that the three Rs were listed in order of importance. I generally ignored the first one. Reduce, schmoose. Bypassed the second one. And put all my energies into the third - Recycle.

Oh, I was a good little recycler. Every scrap of paper that journeyed through my home ended up in the blue recycle bin. Each piece of plastic that boasted a three arrow logo was placed in a brimming can marked "glass, plastic and cans." I figured out months back that our current system of recycling isn't the answer. Moreover, the economic crises has changed everything. The recycling industry has gone belly up and with it all those piles of thoughtfully separated bottles, cans and paper.

That means that I need to focus my energies on the first and second Rs. I'll write later this month about reducing. But this post, as if the title didn't give it away, is all about the middle, oft-overlooked R. Reuse.

If you are anything like me, you are about to embark on a post-holiday, welcome the New Year, pre-spring cleaning purge. My key to surviving it without a bulging garbage can is to be organized. If you give everything a place, you are more likely to reuse instead of lose it.

Every Christmas, for years and years, I've carefully stored the ribbon and gift wrap from presents we've received. The ribbons are neatly wound and tucked into my ribbon box. I recently read that 38,000 miles of ribbon (enough to tie the world in a bow) is thrown out every year. That's a good reason to start a ribbon box. Tissue paper, gift bags and wrapping paper are folded into Christmas gift box I received as a young adult. I haven't purchased wrapping material in over five years and yet dole out beautifully wrapped presents whenever the occasion calls for it.

Birthday and school parties yield all kinds of plasticrap. Whenever I come across a renegade plastic toy fitting the goodie bag description, I toss it into a ziplock bag that lives atop our armoire. A small plastic tub resides next to that bag and that's where the beads and marbles that roam our home go. Every six months or so, I take a bag full of toys to the dentist to add to their "treasure bin." I separate the beads and donate them to my son's school and put the marbles back with the marble maze.

I keep a reused plastic yogurt container - from before I learned to make my own yogurt - under the sink as a repository for wine corks. These I recycle (there's even a drop off at Whole Foods for them now) though corks can also be reused for craft projects.

In the garage, I keep a wine box and tuck our empty wine bottles in there. Once we've saved a couple dozen, I list them on Freecycle or the free section of Craigslist for art projects and home brewing reuse. Packing boxes and packing material are in a heap in the corner of the garage and we Freecycle them whenever the pile grows unmanageable. A "Goodwill" bag also hides out in the garage for clothes we've outgrown, books we've tired of, and other odds and ends we cannot use. I'll make a Freecycle or charity specific sweep of those items from time to time and, whatever's left, makes its way to the local thrift store.

I store my reusable shopping bags, produce bags as well as empty strawberry baskets and egg cartons in a desk drawer or on my car's passenger seat to ensure I've got them handy when I visit the farmers' market.

A mending pile lurks in the dark depths of my closet and I do, from time to time, venture back there to see what wonder I can work with a needle and thread. It's not much but it usually does the trick and keeps clothes from the rag basket, which is conveniently located above the washer.

One of the last stops before the recycle bin or landfill is the "Project Supplies" box. My kids know this box well for it holds all manner of treasures as well as glue and paint. Random bits of plastic packaging, broken pencil sharpeners, busted toys, googly eyes and pipe cleaners pried off of art projects, broken crayon bits, marker caps, they all end up here. The Bean Boys workshop. A couple times a week, my kids delve into the box, add glue and emerge with something completely unique and reused. Indeed, the Project Supplies come in particularly handy on holidays and have yielded the necessary ingredients for a homemade Halloween costume and a memorable Valentine.

As I pack away the holiday decorations, haul out the recycling, and greet the New Year with a little cleaning binge, I'm getting organized and putting everything in its place. That way, I can focus on reusing it, so that our planet doesn't lose it.

Have a Happy and Organized New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Hey Ladies and Germs! I hope you're all enjoying a wonderful holiday with family and friends - I know I am! My step-daughter and her boyfriend were here for a week and now my mom is in town for a short visit. So I'm totally blowing off the blogging and throwing up (ewwwww) a recycled post from Going Green. Hope you like it.

Have a safe and fun New Year!

The Burbs

#175 - Stickin' It to the Pan

I've had this change on my list for a while, but I just finally got around to doing the research on non-stick teflon and I've got one thing to say: Holy Toxicity, Batman!

According to several online resources - including the Environmental Working Group, CorpWatch, the EPA and (here's the kicker) DuPont - the use of non-stick pans has the potential to release toxic fumes, including chemicals that are likely carcinogenic. Not good.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a synthetic chemical that was recently found by the EPA to be a "likely human carcinogen". PFOA is used as a processing aid in the manufacturing process for non-stick pans and is also released as toxic fumes when these pans are heated to temperatures exceeding 660 F.

Here's some groovy scientific info I found: PFOA is a stable, synthetic chemical, which, when produced, lasts 50-60 years. PFOA is both water and oil resistant. It is found in dolphins, trout, polar bears, humans and many other species throughout the world - from the Arctic to the South Pacific. PFOA can cross the placenta, which is why it is even found in the bloodstreams of newborn infants. Some adverse effects of PFOA found in laboratory animals studies include hepatotoxicity, carcinogenicity, immunotoxicity, hormone imbalance and developmental toxicity.

The most interesting (and easiest to read) information I found came from an article called "Toxic Teflon", published by the Environmental Working Group, who also released another Teflon article just last week entitled "Chemical Used In Non-Stick Cookware Continues to Prove Its Toxicity".

I could go on and on about the oodles and oodles of information I found, but I think a brief synopsis of the findings might be more helpful: PFOA = Bad.

DuPont's argument (you knew they'd have one, didn't you?) is that the PFOA is not released unless the pan reaches a temperature of around 660F degrees. DuPont stated that this is well-above the scorch point of butter and most cooking oils, so we needn't worry about the toxic fumes since no one would ever scorch butter.

Riiiigggghhhhhht. I don't know about you, but I don't use a fancy egg timer or thermometer to tell me when my food is cooked. I use a smoke detector. That, my friend, is how you know dinner is done.

Not to mention that PFOA is used during the manufacturing process and so, by purchasing new Teflon products, we are encouraging the production of more PFOA. Wonder where that all ends up. Hmmmm..... Well, I doubt the previously mentioned dolphins, trout and polar bears are cooking with Teflon so you draw your own conclusions.

And so, in the name of saving the planet and my own lungs, I hereby say goodbye to my jumbo non-stick frying pan and my non-stick omelet pan. Sianara to my professional style wok. Au revoir to my griddle and so long to the waffle maker I pilfered from my sister's kitchen last year. *sniff* I shall miss you all.

NOT! I have my awesome, seasoned cast-iron skillets -- the ORIGINAL non-stick pan whose only side-effect would be anemia relief. And those babies work like a charm!

Now for all of you PFOA experts (and even you novices) I found a lot more information than I bargained for while researching Teflon pans. I found PFOA is found in many everyday items that we have in our homes. Honestly, I've simply run out of time to write it all up. I'll post more on this topic later. But if you just can't wait, a google search of "environmental hazards PFOA" will yield many more results than you would hope for.

Savings: Release of toxic chemicals into our waterways and our bodies.

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

This could be a difficult change if you didn't get a couple cast-iron skillets for Christmas like I did. But, I gotta tell ya, I picked up a nice 8" cast iron skillet at Goodwill last week for $5. Check your local thrift shop, garage sale, craigslist and freecycle for skillets before you buy new. Odds are you can get a nice set of pans on the cheap. And since these puppies are damn near indestructible, they should serve you for years and years and years to come. Oh, BTW, if you find a nasty-ass, rusty old cast-iron skillet at a garage sale, buy it! You can easily clean it, season it and use it!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wanted: More Green Moms

From the bean of Green Bean.

It was the balloon that caught me eye.

We were walking to look at Christmas lights but a single balloon on an unlit house bobbed in the wind and pulled my thoughts with it. I glanced at the house. I knew it well. It was just around the corner from my own home. I'd often passed it in the days when my son's school was close enough to walk to.

At this time of year, the house usually boasted a single strand of LED lights - and that only to conform to the over-the-top holiday displays of the neighborhood. The front yard was lawnless and had been as long as I could remember. The porch light was rarely lit. Solar panels were slathered across the roof and environmental messages across the Priuses' (yes, plural) bumpers.

I'd met the couple that lived there once - at a City Council meeting to support residential pick up of organics. They were cute, vegan, and childless. Everything a dream green couple should be.

But the balloon swaying against the cold dark sky negated that last trait. "It's a Boy!" it proclaimed proudly.

There is always much discussion about population control in environmental circles. About the impact of bringing another American - complete with his or her gargantuan footprint - into the world. About how true environmentalists don't procreate.

I have to admit that, despite having my own, I have often wondered how green it is to have children. I've seen first hand the impact. The diapers. The sippy cups. The clothes. The plastic toys. The gasoline sucked up en route to various after school activities. Sure, you can shrink that footprint but you cannot cut it completely. Giving birth to any Westerner is rough on the planet.

But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it.

Because the world needs more green moms (and dads). The world needs an army of parents demanding organic and locally grown food, handmade toys that kids will play with, clothes made from reclaimed fabric and non-toxic body care products. The world needs people will darn tiny socks, volunteer in classrooms and lead recycling drives. People who will advocate for sustainable school lunches, lead a generation toward greener goodie bags and create a culture predicated on conscience not consumption.

We all benefit from the hyperdrive that a parent has. The desperate desire to combat climate change, the tireless typing of letters to senators, and the hope-filled march toward a more sustainable existence. Most of which is triggered by a mere glance at your child.

That doesn't mean that every tree-hugging one of us should have a baby. Far from it. But it does mean that having one does not make you less of an environmentalist. It just makes you more of a mom.

And the world needs more green moms.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wave Goodbye to Dishwasher Detergent.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

After making the decision to lead a more sustainable life, I gave up my beloved Electrasol tabs and started the search for an eco-friendly dishwasher detergent. The first one I tried was 7th Generation Free & Clear Automatic Dishwasher Powder. I hated it. It did not get my dishes clean and left them in a cloudy haze. So I moved on to BioKleen Automatic Dish Powder. I actually like this stuff. It has a pleasant smell and does a pretty good job of cleaning the dishes. There was some residue left after the final rinse, but I was willing to live with it. Then one day I ran out. It is not available locally. I had been ordering it online from or Amazon. Being unprepared, I picked up a bottle of Earth Friendly Products Wave Auto Dishwasher Gel at my local grocery store.

I LOVE it! No residue, clean dishes, available locally - yes! Phosphate free, chlorine free, caustic free - Yes! Plant based and totally biodegradable - YES! Yes! Yes! Yes! Packaged in plastic - yes. What? Packaged in plastic - Oh, man. It was damn near perfect. They even have a rinse agent I like, also packaged in plastic. Shucks.

All this plastic is wreaking havoc on our planet and on ourselves. Something must be done. Scores of people have decided to cut plastic from their lives. I, too, have committed to reducing the amount of plastic my family consumes. So it is with a teary eye that I must bid adieu to my new found favorite. It was fun while it lasted.

So now what? I know, I know. 7th Generation dishwasher powder comes in a cardboard box. See above. I hate it. As much as I want it to, it just does not work for me. Surprisingly, the answer lies just on the other side of the wall of my dishwasher, in the washing machine. Huh?

Borax and Baking Soda.

Just mix equal parts borax and baking soda.
Add 2 tablespoons per load.

Adjust the quantity or baking soda ratio for hard water. I have also read recipes using washing soda instead of baking soda. I store mine in a glass pickle jar under the sink. No more plastic. I have been using this combination for several weeks now with no complaints. My dishes are clean, in fact I think they are cleaner now then when I was using actual dishwasher detergent, and there is no residue left behind. Once my rinse agent runs out I will switch to white vinegar to be truly plastic free.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 Quiet as a Mouse

A Purloined Letter from the Green Raven

'Twas the night before Christmas...

and in the hotel kitchenette, my partner David was cleaning out the coffee maker. After removing the (disposable) filter full of used grounds, he looked around and said, "Hey--where's the compost bucket?"

* * *

My family of 3 drove our little car to coastal South Carolina to visit my parents and brother and other relatives for the holidays. We're staying in a hotel with a lovely ocean view, lamenting the carbon fiesta that our vacation has already become.

When we are at home in the little hippie enclave of Takoma Park, I often feel that our "living out loud" gets drowned out by the din of our neighbors living their own inspiring lives. While we each have our unique areas of green expertise to share, all of us are more or less on the same path toward sustainability. But when we leave our little bubble of lefty activism, we are not always joined by a chorus of other greenies.

Here at my parents' home, my own life is getting a lot quieter. Living la vida fuerte is starting to get more complicated. I keep thinking about Green Bean's post. Am I guilty of leaving my cape behind in the phone booth right at the moment when these super-powers may be most needed? Am I asking my family to hide its green light under a bushel?

The heat is cranked up to 72 degrees. My brother brought rBGH milk and non-organic, unfairly-traded black tea home from the corporate convenience store--and brought it home in double-thick plastic bags. We're eating cage-raised eggs for breakfast. My mother throws glass bottles in the garbage. We're using gasoline like there is no tomorrow, speeding up and down the coast in multiple large cars.

We haven't completely abandonned our values. Everyone on our gift list is getting handknitted items to keep them warm. We give out our grown-up non-religious version of Christmas stockings: baskets of homegrown and home canned jams and pickles, local rice and grits, and handknitted dishcloths. We are using no wrapping paper, just reusable silk scarves. These are ways of living out loud--albeit very quietly.


We as a nation have a long way to travel to meet the goal of sustainability. Being with family--including folks we love very much who do not necessarily agree or even take kindly to our ideas--reminds me that the most imporant part of this journey is not arriving in a particular location but figuring out how to travel with our companions. Living out loud in our own homes can be noisy some times. When we are with others, we sometimes need to be more subtle.

With my family, I am often aware that while I may be the "greenest" in the family, I am not the only activist. I respect the fact that my loved ones have other concerns and that they work for necessary progressive change in arenas other than the environment. Their commitment to justice inspires me daily.

I keep hoping that I'll be able to find a more comfortable balance between living up to our green values and living up to our family values. For me, being in someone else's home means I sometimes choose to dampen my zeal to avoid insulting people. I want to inspire and support people on their journeys. I want to raise new questions. But I don't want to raise hackles and cause defensiveness.

The goal of this trip is not about creating a more sustainable world at this moment. It is about building a more sustainable family who can work together respectfully as we move into the changing future.

Happy holidays to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Second-Hand Santa

From the bean of Green Bean.

After reading the dictates of the new sustainable Santa, I'd like to say that we are fastidiously following each directive. I'd like to say that my children's handmade stockings (that at least is true) will hold only handmade toys, crafted from reclaimed fabric, vintage buttons and reforested wood (okay, we gave the wood trains last year).

But I can't.

I really want to save handmade toys. Really, I do. But my children have reached an age when a handmade toy, beautiful and thoughtfully crafted, won't quite cut the mustard. They yearn for the dreaded plasticrap.

Aren't the holidays a time where at least wish or two can be granted, though?

They can with the help of Second-Hand Santa.

With his help, there will be a transformer in my son's stocking. A hand-me-down one passed on to us when my best friend and her family moved out of the country last month. So while it is plasticrap, it is exactly what he wanted and has a carbon footprint of, approximately, zero.

There will also be a giant, oft-reused fabric bag full of used Legos under the tree. The Legos came from a friend, who rounded them up from another friend, to thank me for driving her son to school once a week. Once opened, the new-to-us Legos will be added to the bin of other hand-me-down Legos that a former food coop member gave us a few months back. Sound like a lot of Legos? Like a lot of plasticrap? Yes. But, as every six year old boy knows, you can not have too many Legos. And really, are Legos that bad? Are the hours of creative building really wrong? What if, in a few years, we pass them on to yet another family who gives their child a gift from Second-Hand Santa?

As my good friend, Arduous, and I discussed last week, the beauty of second hand is that there is no first hand guilt. Owning second hand items even comes with a bit of pride because those items found a home with you instead of the landfill. Moreover, Second-Hand Santa saved so much money going used, that he can afford to give a budding artist things like 100% recycled paper and watercolor pencils made from reforested wood to go along with the plasticrap.

And that is something to celebrate.

Happy holidays from the bean pod.

Milk and Cookies

From the bean of Green Bean.
December is cookie month, or so my scale tells me as after devouring several batches from recipes featured at Farmers' Daughters' Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap.

But what are cookies without milk?

Today is the deadline to submit comments for a proposed USDA regulation on livestock grazing. For the most part, the proposed regulation is great. But it needs some major tweaking or it will drive some small, organic dairies out of business.

Indeed, it would likely bankrupt my favorite local dairy, Straus Creamery. A dairy that treats its cows humanely, has been organic for eons, offers its milk in reusable bottles, uses a methane digester and is just about everything warm and fuzzy that you could want in a glass of milk. Heck, they embarked on the sustainability path in the 1960's!

Straus won't be the only dairy negatively affected. This is a national regulation and will impact farms across the country. In particular, West Coast and Northeast dairy farms will be heavily impacted and many livestock farmers, nation-wide, might abandon the organic life because of this regulation or go out of business.

Read more here and please, please take a moment from your busy holiday season to think about the milk you enjoy with your cookies. Please leave a comment by following the links here (at the bottom of the page) or here. THE DEADLINE IS TODAY.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town

Gifts of Knowledge from Burbanmom

Holy reindeer! Only three jolly days left till Christmas. Are you ready? I am. The lights are up (see photo), I have all my shopping done, the gifts are wrapped, and I've only eaten about half of the candy meant for the stockings. Since I have no need to hit the mall for last minute gifts, I can sit back and enjoy myself.

So what am I doing with this extra time? I'm surfing the 'net, of course. And I'm glad I am too, because it was on the magic interwebbies that I learned this: In an effort to promote an eco-friendly holiday season, Santa Clause has made some big changes. It's true. Here's what I've learned....

While Mr. Clause has always made an effort to reduce his personal carbon footprint by foregoing traditional air travel, he has decided to up the ante this year. To raise awareness about the effects of blatant consumerism on our fragile environment, Mr. Clause has instituted several changes for 2008:

Santa will be reducing the number of gifts given to each child. Instead of the normal seven presents, each child will receive one "gotta have it" gift, one book and a stocking filled with small, durable toys and candy. Fewer gifts, less resources. It's really that simple.

No plasticrap, lead coated, child-made presents from China will be in Santa's bag so don't bother asking for a Transformer or Bratz Doll Convertible. In addition to the environmental benefits, this will also help reduce the demand for child labor in undeveloped countries.

Santa will no longer be wrapping presents. This single change should reduce paper consumption by 400 tons and will reduce the need for scotch tape by 6,000 rolls. Instead, Santa will take the time to assemble his gifts and will leave them under the tree. Santa will remove all packaging and return it to the North Pole recycling facility.

And lastly, coal will no longer be given to naughty children. The effects of underground coal mining or worse - mountaintop removal - are far too damaging to the environment. Instead, naughty children will recieve petrified reindeer shit.

Gotta love a green Santa, don't ya?

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Mindful Night.

- Burbanmom

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holly Jolly Christmas

From the bean of Green Bean

One of my favorite Christmas memories is baking cookies with my mother. I cannot believe how patient she must have been with three of us but every December, she'd flour up the old Hoosier and we'd spend a day or two rolling out cookie dough, scattering flour everywhere and madly pressing her single set of cookie cutters into the dough.

Even though the most memorable baking experiences involved dough and cutters, the most memorable cookies we made were bright green wreaths concocted of marshmallows, corn flakes and red hot candies. They were the star of every cookie plate and quickly devoured with only green tongues to prove that their existence.

I've continued to make the holly wreaths into my adult-hood and I gathered the ingredients this December to share the tradition with my children. As he stirred the sugared mass of marshmallows and butter, my oldest mused "I remember this" and so he does. I believe we made them last year and possibly the year before.

Be warned, there is nothing green about these cookies but the color. I did my best and used organic corn flakes bought in bulk - and hence without the packaging. We substituted Skittles and mini M&Ms for the red hot candies. Both of those were bought in bulk for the gingerbread house project we did at my son's birthday party earlier this month. If I hadn't had them, I would have purchased some fair trade, organic Sunspire M&M knock offs.

As my second contribution to the Farmer Daughter's Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap, here is my mother's recipe for Holly Wreaths:

1/2 cup butter
30 large marshmallows
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon green food coloring
3 1/2 cups corn flakes
Red cinnamon candies (or other red candies)

In a large saucepan, melt butter and marshmallows over low hear, stirring constantly (that's where the kids' help comes in handy). Add vanilla and food coloring and stir until blended. Fold in corn flakes. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto waxed paper; shape into 2 inch wreaths. Decorate each with candies. Do not freeze.

These can be very sticky. I don't use shortening or grease - just wash my hands frequently. If your hands are damp, the corn flakes won't stick as much as they are fashioned into wreaths. Once the cookies have sat for an hour or two, they become less sticky.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let's Keep Handmade In Business

Save Handmade Toys

JessTrev's thinking about independent crafters and one-of-a-kind treasures today...

Many of you may have heard about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). It was written to stem the tide of recalls we've had over ridonculous toy safety issues like lead and phthalates, tiny chokable name it, we've seen it in the last few years. So, first up, thanks a bunch, Congress! I appreciate that you don't want our kids nibbling on toxins. Seriously! I could not be more heartened by your attention to this pressing matter. The thing is, one of the unintended consequences of this bill could be to put small, independent craftspeople -- those who handmake items like toys, soap, clothing, textiles, and jewelry -- out of business. Tough economic climate for that ice bath, lawmakers.

I really do love the independent crafters. Don't we all? I mean, even if it weren't for the fact that most mass toy companies source and manufacure their products in places that have horrible trade records and little regard for child health, you have to give it up for the beauty and originality of handmade stuff.

I'm not a gift guide writer, but I will tell you that my toddler sleeps with a monny (monster) and a leech in his crib, courtesy of the Crafty Bastards sale here in DC last fall. His sister has some pretty smokin' shirts, and our friends' babies like to gnaw on beautiful wooden keys instead of lead-tainted brass realia. My favorite teacher gift is none other than a set of button flowers, and could there be a better way to welcome a child to the world than with a personalized birdie banner? I could go on, but I think you get my drift: a lot of the decorative touches in our lives could go missing if this bill's not altered.

That's why it's good news that you can register your opinon. Head over to and vote to have their article on the CPSIA sent on over to Obama so he takes notice of the undesirable consequences to this bill. Also check out the posts by ZRecs (phone #s), CoolMomPicks (great roundup of links) and The Smart Mama (as usual, excellent detail + background...with a plug for her XRF testing biz) to brief yourself on the issue, and join the Handmade Toy Alliance on Facebook.

I have to go on record saying I am nervous about altering the bill. I appreciate what one Etsy artist said: “I'd be more than happy to have each of my toys tested, if it wasn't so cost prohibitive. It is the COST involved in testing that will shut us down, it isn't that anyone refuses to have their work tested." That's important to me. I don't want a watered-down bill with loopholes some manufacturer of plastic dolls is going to be able to leap through. At all. What I want is a cost-effective way for responsible crafters to show their safety measures. Heck, I know lots of Etsy businesses use non-toxic materials. But any eco-conscious person who's walked into a craft store is pretty clear on the fact that there are plenty of homemade items that won't be shaped from "sustainably harvested woods, non-toxic paints and beeswax." Not to mention those items being upcycled (again, good in theory) or not used for their intended purpose. So, what do I want? I want our legislators to earn their generous health packages. Figure out a way (XRF guns, in the hands of properly trained testers, seem to already be an option; testing materials rather than finished product, another) for small crafters to certify their use of safe materials, and keep the big boys (those who have truly been stocking our shelves with phthalates and lead) on the straight and narrow.

Hey, the Consumer Product Safety Commish is requesting comments, so do your knicker-knitting neighbor a favor and check out ZRecs' recs about stating your opinion on the matter. Tell our gov'ment we want both safe toys and a thriving industry made up partially of an underground mom economy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Season of Giving

A Purloined Letter from the Green Raven:

A day or two ago, I heard someone on the radio talk about volunteering to hand out sacks of groceries at a food bank, only to have the food run out long before the needy people did. The volunteer was profoundly moved when she faced the next person in line and had to tell her she would have to go home empty-handed. There was no more food for her to take home to her family.

Charities have been struggling during the economic crisis as more and more people need their services.

Interestingly, at the same time that so many people are suffering, many people are giving more than ever before. A recent AP story, for instance, reported that in Seattle, Boeing Co. employees tripled their cash donations this year to Northwest Harvest, operator of Washington's largest food bank. Every week, Northwest Harvest spokeswoman Claire Acey says, companies call to say their employees have decided to skip their holiday party and buy food for the hungry instead. And the charities receiving increased donations are not all focussed on alleviating poverty. Even the American Heart Association says donations are up this year.

Helping the poor and hungry in your own communities may be as simple as donating something from your cart every time you go to the grocery store. Fat Guy on a Little Bike has put out the call nationally. C Meir talks about ways to do it easily if you live in the Washington, DC area (as I do).

Many people are "giving the gift of giving" this holiday season. Perhaps your mother (the teacher) would love a donation made in her honor to the local library, many of which have recently had their budgets decimated. Perhaps your uncle would appreciate a gift to hospice in memory of his wife. Maybe your fiber-obsessed grandmother or granddaughter would love a sheep from Heifer (to be donated to a community in the developing world rather than to be kept on Granny's urban patio). Perhaps your brother would just go nuts for egg-laying chickens (to be donated to struggling families in rural Appalachia).

Think of a few ways you can enjoy spending time with loved ones and new friends, helping both struggling individuals and the whole community. Donate some time serving meals at a soup kitchen. Take dinner and some holiday cheer to elderly or ill neighbors who can't get out. Celebrate our connection with those around us.

This beautiful post has other joyful giving ideas to inspire you to action.

Giving makes us feel good, and that joy often motivates me. And often I think about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or repair of the world. The idea is not identical to traditional notions of charity. Instead, tikkun olam is a combination of charity and justice. We give not because we are good but because we are human. We give because it is our responsibility. And now is the time to reflect on our role in the repair of the world--and to act.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And The Winner Is . . .

From the bean of Green Bean.

Sources say that the President Elect is set to name the next Secretary of Agriculture and it will most decidedly not be Michael Pollan. Nor anyone on the petition that Michael Pollan and his Slow Food buddies circulated. Rather, Mr. Obama will be naming Monsanto friend, Tom Vilsack, for Secretary of Agriculture.

If there is one thing that we learned from Mr. Obama's election, though, it is how to organize. How to harness the power of the Internet, blogs, Facebook, Twitter to make connections, spread the word, and be heard. Mr. Vilsack may be our next head farmer but he'll be an aware one. He'll get an earful about organic farming, non-GMO policies, regional food chains, reduced subsidies for commodity crops and much much more. He'll get suggestions on who to appoint for various USDA positions. He'll get petitions, like this one (please consider signing it).

And, maybe, just maybe a sustainable agriculture will still be born.

Related posts: You Are What You Eat

Living Out Loud

From the bean of Green Bean.

"You don't have any room in your backyard?"

It's a question I've heard more times than I can count. It usually comes from someone passing my front yard vegetable garden. But I've also heard: "I really enjoyed your sunflowers this year," "I should plant some pumpkins next year," and (this is my favorite) "you'd make a great farmer's wife."

The truth is that I do have room in my backyard. Plenty. Sure, I get a bit more sun in the front but that is only part of the reason I'm digging up potatoes and plopping in pepper plants next to the sidewalk and along the road.

The primary reason is that I'm living out loud. Vaunting my values by planting a vegetable garden like a billboard in my front yard. Preaching by patching my kids' pants. Waxing poetic by wrapping homemade gifts in leftover art paper. A clean bowl set out for fruit scraps is my soap box. A bicycle is my bull horn. I don't say a word about what I'm doing - unless asked. I simply set about living according to my principles.

Just last year, I self consciously shushed my son when he talked to his teacher about line drying clothes or boasted about a thrift store find. I hid my head when I biked out of my neighborhood and I never told a soul about my blog. At the time, my husband chided me for feeling like an eco-freak. He opined that I was at the vanguard of the green movement, a movement toward a simpler more honest existence, and that was why no one else was yet doing the same things as me. It was catching on, though, he promised.

Either he was right or the longer you live in harmony with your values, the less you care what others think. I no longer hide my efforts to live lightly. Instead, I look for opportunities to do them in public - in my front yard, on my knee, at a school picnic. And the more I do it, the more green connections I make. The more people ask what are good first steps for going green (here are some great ones), where to get a composter, what to plant this season, how to pack a no waste lunch, or whether I want to brainstorm ideas for green fundraising for the school.

I'm done hiding. I'm done preaching. Now, I'm just living.

It just so happens that the living I'm doing is out loud.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Little Gingerbread Men

From the bean of Green Bean.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved cookies, especially Christmas cookies. Every year, when December 1st rolled around, she rolled up her sleeves and rolled out her cookie dough. She would bake and bake and bake. Sugar cookies. Fudge. Chocolate surprise cookies. All delicious. She would carefully tint icing, drizzle it just so, adorn it with the exact right number of sprinkles. All beautiful.

She worked in a tall tall building in a foggy city by a bay. Every year, she would arrange her treasures on reusable holiday plates. Every plate got a big frosted cookie - a gingerbread man or tree cut with a vintage cookie cutter - a green holly wreath, some pieces of peppermint fudge, a handful of peanut butter cookies adorned with chocolate kisses, a couple snowballs. She would wrap the plates with tissue paper packed away from last year and a ribbon pulled from her ribbon box.

If you knew her, worked in her building, rode the train with her, joined her for coffee or lunch, you were likely the recipient of a thoughtfully prepared, beautifully arranged, perfect Christmas cookie plate.

And then she had kids. The cookies weren't quite so plentiful. Nor were they perfectly cut. The frosting was not as neatly spread. In fact, the cookie plates plain disappeared in a mad scramble of chubby hands and floured faces. The handful of cookies that were made, though, were cut with love, decorated with memories, and savored.

As part of Abbie's month-long Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap, here is the recipe for one of her favorites: Gingerbread Men.

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

1 large egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat butter on high until creamy, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and continue beating until light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in molasses and egg. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Gradually work flour mixture into creamed mixture to form a soft dough. Scrape dough into airtight plastic container and cover. Refrigerate until firm enough to roll out, about 4 hours. Roll out to approximately 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface and use cookie cutters to cut. Cook in preheated oven, set at 350, for 8 minutes.

Use royal icing or buttercream frosting to decorate.

From Edible Christmas by Irene Chalmers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

From the bean of Green Bean.

I clicked on it. The title was too enticing. Secret Santas in 3 states spread cheer, $100 bills. And then, I started bawling. I am a sucker for those types of stories. Stories where people find something beautiful and generous inside themselves.

I wondered who those Secret Santas were, where they came from. I wondered how they, unlike millions of others, were able to step out of the gimme culture and, instead, seek the high of giving. And I wondered where we can find more givers.

This month's APLS Carnival gave me the answer.

They are right under our noses. Literally. Or crawling under our desks while we type. Slipping into our beds early, waaaayyyy too early, in the morning. Playing hide and seek in our closets. Digging through our pantries and refrigerators. Safely buckled in in the back seat.

Those givers are the next generation, our future, our most precious resource, our kids. If we choose.

Because there is only one sure fire way to raise a generation of givers - of people who care for one another, for animals, for the planet - and that is to make them from scratch.

And there is no better time for baking than the holidays. That is why I gobbled up library book after library book last Christmas looking to transform a tradition of gifts received and stockings stuffed into one of beauty, of meaning, of giving. I found plenty of ideas: Read your children books where generosity is a theme. Give them experiences instead of just stuff. Let them see adults helping others. Institute 12 Days of Meaningful Gifts (e.g., let someone cut in line, don't nag the children for a day, rake your neighbor's lawn).

This Christmas, my husband and I continued our efforts to raise the next generation of Secret Santas in these few ways:

My boys' Advent calendar is mostly stocked with promises for movie nights and picnics in front of the fire. After my six year old's eyes welled up with tears at the thought of Santa not providing people in Africa with all the toys and food they could want, we added something else to the Advent calender: the opportunity to be Santa's helpers. We watched video clips on the Heifer International site, talked about how our lives, homes, clothes, holidays were different than the people in those videos and what our gift of a chicken, a goat or some bees might mean to those people. Both boys were delighted to help Santa and select an animal for a family in an undeveloped country. In fact, they are so excited that my four year old dragged out the "airplane" he and Daddy had built from wood scraps and said he would deliver his chicken himself - if only I would give him a map to Africa.

We also continued our tradition of giving to the birds and small animals during the Christmas season. We are fortunate enough to have generous friends - a neighbor who gave me a box of birdseed she couldn't use, a friend at the farmers' market who insisted I take some Indian corn. One December afternoon, we sat around the kitchen table and slathered the corn with peanut butter, rolled it in bird seed, and then tied the husks to some backyard trees. The boys talked, with great anticipation, as to what type of animal would come? Would it be a blue jay to discover the ears first? Or perhaps that cute little black squirrel born in my neighbor's tree last spring? Would our gift of corn and seeds help some small creature make it through the winter?

Of course, giving can be taught year round but the holidays offer a special opportunity to highlight the importance and the joy that comes from reaching out instead of in.

So, with all this talk of giving, are children truly our most precious resource? Will what we teach them make a difference?

Children are the hopes and fears for every one of us - parent or no. They are, quite literally, our future. They could make up an army of peace corps volunteers as climate change barrels down on those regions stricken by poverty and war. They could join arms and hold off bulldozers destined for a new coal plant or a wildlife sanctuary. They could shift the American paradigm away from iPhones and Xboxes to microloans and food pantries. They could create a new tradition of sustainable agriculture as aging farmers - median age is over 60 - retire. They could, and if Mr. Obama has his way, will offer invaluable service to the citizens of this country, of this planet.

Is it worth it to go out of our way to instill a bit of generosity in the small heart of a preschooler? To teach the importance of community to a iPoded teenager? To help a tween learn to knit or inspire a older child to head up a recycling program at his school?

I can't imagine a greater gift than to teach our next generation the gift of giving.

This is the Booth's second submission (read the first one here) for the APLS Carnival. If you would like to participate, send your submission to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by Sunday, December 14. The carnival is live at Going Green Mama on December 15.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Holiday bleatings from EnviRambo.

As all the Christmas decorations lay before me I see the bells that hung on my Grandmother's stairs, the ceramic teddy bears she made that adorned her tree, the handmade fabric mice that scattered the fireplace mantle, the kissing ball none of kids wanted to be caught under, and the nativity we all gathered around. All the memories of Christmases past flooded my mind. I have always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with my Father's family; my Father's whole family. My Grandparents had six children (as many farmers did then), who went on to have multiple children of their own, who now also have children and even some of those children have begun having children. The entire family, five generations, get together every year to celebrate Christmas. Needless to say it's a full house!

The feast was magnificent! Christmas goose and duck, which later when playing outside we made the horrific discovery of where they came from by stumbling across their heads(!); Grandma's sinful potatoes made with a pound of butter and heavy cream, she was always trying to fatten us up; fresh vegetables from the garden that summer; salads, sides and sweet potatoes; meatballs and those slimy little fish all us kids steered clear of; and then, the things all us kids loved, cookies: Oh the cookies! rosettes, no-bake chocolate oatmeal, fudge, sugar cookies, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin -- excuse me while I have a moment. Oh, I almost forgot about the pie with homemade whipping cream!

Forty plus people was too much to all sit at one table, so the men usually congregated in the front room with the television, the women sat in the formal living room near the fireplace, and us kids had our own spot in the greenhouse where we could feed our veggies to the dog and eat all the cookies we wanted without getting caught. We all ate off real plates, with real silverware and drank from glass glasses. There was no dishwasher in the house. All those dirty dishes had to be washed by hand at the end of the night.

After dinner the women chatted over hot apple cider while the men emptied the change from their pockets and started up a round of poker. We kids always ended up in a wrestling match over a game of spoons in the greenhouse. After a couple of knocks on the head, black eyes and bloody noses it was time to nag the parents into letting us open the presents. Everyone bought for everyone. There were a lot of presents. And, a lot of wrapping paper! Although for some reason Grandma always wrapped all her gifts in tissue paper, still does. Put forty people in one room with a bunch of kids hopped up on sugar cookies and loads of wadded up wrapping paper laying around and something is bound to happen. So goes the tradition of the wrapping paper fight. It starts with a single anonymous ball streaming through the air. Followed by another and another. Within minutes it's a virtual wrapping paper blizzard! Not even grandmothers are safe from being whacked up side the head with a paper ball.

Once the hailstorm ends, all the paper and ribbons are gathered up and tossed into the fireplace to burn. All the children gather round to stare in wonder at the rainbow of color given off by the burning paper. This has been a cherished childhood memory of mine. But after a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Present a year ago, when I decided to live a more sustainable life, this memory comes with regret.

When the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared to Scrooge he revealed two children within his robe. A boy whom he called Ignorance and a girl called Want. The spirit warns Scrooge, "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

If only I had known then what I know now. If only. The wrapping paper fight continues today, minus the burning -- thank heavens. As I think of Christmases Yet to Come, I hope to start a new tradition. One without wrapping paper. I generally wrap gifts in whatever I have on hand: newspaper, coloring book pages, children's art, brown kraft paper, last year's holiday cards. But that does not mean I can avoid my husband buying the stuff. This is our last year with wrapping paper of any kind. I have scribed it on the "forbidden list". Once it's gone, it's gone! When you stop to think about it, as with all disposables, it seems silly to buy something, use it once, and throw it away!

Americans are paper gluttons. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 30 percent of the world’s paper. Paper and cardboard make up over 40% of the solid waste buried in North American landfills.

And as much waste as Americans produce the rest of the year, it only gets worse during the holidays. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans throw away more than a million tons of additional garbage. Care to think about how many of those hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage are holiday wrapping paper?

The manufacture of wrapping paper requires energy. That energy most likely comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. And the raw material for paper is wood. Millions of trees are cut down just to make the holiday wrapping paper that looks good on your presents but that quickly gets ripped off and thrown away.

By wrapping six gifts with found materials, you will reduce CO2 emissions by two pounds and save a few bucks, too!

Give the people on your list their gift in a reusable shopping bag this year, hint hint. I also love the tip of using a CFL instead of a bow. Love shiny packages under your tree? Wrap with recycled aluminum foil. Use last year's holiday cards as this year's gift tags. While you are at it, skip the tape. It is made from petroleum. Use string or fabric strips instead, like this. Want more inspiration? Check out GAIAM life's Top 10 Green Gift Wrap Ideas. And if you cannot bear the thought of giving up all those pretty paper wrapped presents think of using sustainable wrapping, like these beauties from Paper mojo.

As the world becomes more sensitive to sustainability I hope that a visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come does not bring with it all gloom and doom.

I believe we are on the cusp of a great movement. If only we heed the warning of the Ghost of Christmas Present. "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy [Ignorance], for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." If only.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Organizing Myself (and not in that gauche community organizer way)

From the messy but happy home of JessTrev.

So, I've been offline more than not for the past week (and holy smokes, are you following the Tammany-Hall craziness in Illinois?! I cannot believe I missed the first 24 hours of that meltdown). Anyhoo, I've been engaging in this business some people must attend to nearly constantly, as far as I can tell, being a neophyte to it and all: organizing. What the heck does this have to do with being more green? Well, reuse and consumption reduction may just depend on knowing what all is in your little world. Second, it seems like everything I want to do (for environmental and health reasons) takes just a little bit more planning and time. I'm hoping that actually filing my paperwork and keeping on the Freecycle path will free me up to think about things that matter.

Like making homemade stock. Raking all my leaves and stashing some for my brown compost needs. Planting bulbs so spring will be riotous. Reading books about the human digestive system with my five year old. Getting our Christmas stuff out of the attic. Making a birthday banner for my little boy. Heading to sewing class. OK, and a little of the worky-work.

Part of my organizing frenzy included a trip to the library (bear with me) to return some (cough) well-loved and perhaps months-overdue books. Sigh. Anyways, my small but enthusiastic large-print reader (read: display dismantler) limited my reach on the way from the children's section to the checkout desk. Even with my orangutan arms, I couldn't manage to scavenge any adult reading past the cookbooks. Except...a Real Simple book! Exactly my kind of decompression. (I am kind of an organizing blog junkie. UnClutterer, DeClutter It! how I love you.)

SO, I thought I would note that quite a few of the Real Simple tips are so groovy and cost-effective and actually green. My total favorite that I implemented last week:

*To keep your soap from getting slimy and soupy, put a bunch of rocks (I chose tumbled ones from my great uncle that make me smile every time I seem them) into your soap dish.

Other random fave:

*Alternative to bleach for whitening a porcelain sink: hydrogen peroxide (1 cup, fill er up, let sit for an hour).

Now, if anyone could explain to me how to go paperless without spending hours in front of a scanner! Hope you're feeling calm and organized as we head toward the shortest day of the year. It's helping combat the dismay I'm feeling at five in the afternoon when my daylight slips away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Holiday Gift

Robbie, the APLS Carnival hostess with the mostess, has extended the deadline for the December APLS Carnival to this Sunday, December 14. The topic is "children are our most precious natural resource." So expound away and then send your post to Robbie at aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com. Then, hit Mama Going Green to read what APLS think about our planet's future - the kids - on Monday, December 15.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Food Democracy

From the bean of Green Bean.

When I popped by one of my favorite bloggers yesterday, I was delighted to read more on my current favorite subject/obsession: who will be our next Secretary of Agriculture. If you've received an email from me in the past month, you know - by virtue of my eco-post script - that I'm gunning for Michael Pollan for that particular Cabinet position. Well, maybe not him actually but the idea of what he represents.

Turns out Michael Pollan and his buddies Alice Waters, Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry (along with a list of who's who in the sustainable food movement) have beaten me to the punch. Go figure. These local food giants have put together a compelling petition urging President-Elect Obama to take a bold step toward developing an agricultural system that preserves rural lands, operates in harmony with nature and improves our collective health and well being.

Please read and sign the petition and be heard on this critical issue.

Practically Perfect

From the bean of Green Bean.

A few months ago, I searched the web, the Bay Area and the library for ideas for a green birthday party for my eldest. It's a mid December birthday and always hectic. He's at a new school and hasn't yet made friends. But that's okay.

I'll have a home birthday party, I decide. What is greener than avoiding the power surge of Pump It Up - though we fell prey two years running. Still, a home birthday party with a local puppeteer would be perfect.

We sifted through the list of kids in his class, dividing by gender, by grade (it's a mixed age class), by name, by whatever. We either ended up with too many or too few. Finally, my son announced that he'd forgo a party for a special activity with mom and dad (yeah! even greener) and I could just bring some homemade cupcakes to his class. Perfect.

A week later - a week closer to his birthday - and there is a major turn around. The party is back on. The guest list is small. Those with whom my son had some sort of connection. It will be a drop off party and, with the few number of kids, perfect. Too small to spend big dough on a puppeteer so we cancel him. I send out the evites (paperless and therefore totally eco). Perfect.

Except that the parents all want to come and, frankly, I like all of the parents so it's perfect. I'll just order out some pizza from a locally owned restaurant and serve my homemade birthday cake made with a borrowed mold and 90% local ingredients.

The day will be nice, for once in December, so I order an outdoor jumper to accommodate boy energy and, while a jumper does require electricity, it will be perfect. Or at least practically so.

In case it's too cold, I decide I'll set up some crafts. Or maybe just one. A milk carton gingerbread house made with organic (but premade) graham crackers, mostly organic and fair trade candy with a few not-so-healthy or eco but bought-in-bulk-so-no-plastic-bags candy. I don't usually use throw out milk cartons but pick some up at the store the week before. We'll use the milk in them to make yogurt and for cereal. Of course, none of the cartons carry organic or local milk but I buy the kind without hormones and it's practically perfect.

With less than a week to go, I wonder if I can get away with no goodie bags. Yes. I know, goodie bags are terrible. They are so not green. They are often stocked with landfill fodder. They are gobbled up by greedy, over-indulged children who shouldn't expect them because we never had them, did we?!? I really really wanted to do a gift exchange. But time and disorganization got the better of me. Plus, I wussed out. It's just a few kids, I tell myself. Can a goodie bag be practically perfect?

I fret about it. I email my sister, oh goddess of green birthday parties, about it. I tweet about it. A fellow phone boother emails her cousin about it. I gather more ideas. Homemade this. Handmade that. Project this.

My head hurts. I've got a play date and swim lessons today, cake baking tomorrow, and another birthday party to attend the day after that. I wonder when I'll have the chance to clean my bathrooms with vinegar and borax. I remind myself that I need to wash the cloth napkins and count out the reusable forks and cups. I picture the crusty compost bucket and decide to put a bowl out to collect food scraps instead. I discuss with my son why we've asked for no gifts from party goers, and then remember that I still need to pick something up for him. I wonder if I can find that special item second hand and check out Craigs List.

And so the goodie bags . . . well, I'm not sure those will be perfect.

Because I'm not sure there is such a thing as perfection.

Certainly not when it comes to living green. As much as I struggle to live green, as I compost and bike and shop the farmers' market, as I garden and write and line dry, sometimes something happens and it's not green. It's a take out dinner with disposable containers but it gets you through the day and helps keep a local independent restaurant in business. It's driving too far to see an old friend. It's a frozen pizza wrapped in plastic but it's organic and you reuse the box for an art project.

Sometimes, you just have to compromise.

Sometimes, you can only have practically perfect. It is still living in accordance with your ideals but also with your sanity. It is remembering that one person can accomplish quite a bit but maybe not everything. It is giving a goodie bag filled with a single Lego set and deciding that that is fine. That the party was green enough. That the parents thought about composting, or using cloth napkins, or why you requested no gifts. That your son had a wonderful time and you created some wonderful memories and bonds with new school friends.

Sometimes, practically perfect is perfect enough.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Happy Little Post

A Burban-Infused Idea

So young Ethan and I are working on Christmas Crafts this week and I let some small expletive slip when one of my reindeer's google eyes slid down his clothespin face and landed on his felt tongue. Curious to know what prompted my outburst, Ethan glanced over at my handiwork and asks "What's the matter, Mommy?".

"Oh, nothing. It's just my reindeer eyeball fell off and now it's stuck to his tongue and I can't get it off and now this one is going to be a reject."

And my sweet little boy looked at me with a solemn countenance and said "Art is never wrong, Mommy." and then went back to his work. And it's a good thing he did, because if he had continued to look at me, he would have seen Mommy's teary google-eye sliding down her cheek onto her tongue. He's such a great kid, that one.

And it made me thankful for the wonderful preschool he attends that encourages him to be his best, to express himself, and to strive for pride in his work - rather than perfection. But it also reminded me of a different experience I had with art.

Back in high school, we were forced to take a creative arts class to fulfill our graduation requirements. Possessing neither a musical nor artistic bone in my body, I was pretty much fucked from the get-go. But, I figured it would be easier for me to fake it through art rather than band, since I may be tone-deaf, but I'm not blind.

So here I was, super-Mathlete stuck in an art class trying to draw flowers and whatnot. Eventually we graduated from pencils to paint and I thought I'd be golden from here on out. I mean, I was a faithful viewer of that painter guy on PBS - the white dude with the afro that painted "happy little clouds" and "happy little trees" all the time. You know the guy, right?

So I started my painting with a happy little stream and added lots of happy little trees and happy little clouds. I layered my paints, trying to emulate my happy little painter dude. I spent two weeks working on that damn painting and by the time I was done, my 8x11 masterpiece must have weighed about ten pounds with all the happy little layers of paint. It was the first artistic thing I had created that I actually liked, although, admittedly, there hadn't been many attempts.

So I'm showing my painting off to the folks at my art table, and most likely bullshitting a bit and talking about whatever party was coming up that weekend. Apparently, I was being a bit boisterous (I know, you're SHOCKED to learn that I'm loud-ish) because the art teacher was getting a bit testy, telling me to sit down and finish my work already. I held up my piece to show her how magnificent it was and doesn't she say - and I am not making this up - "That looks like shit."

Yeah, public education is great, ain't it? Now, while she didn't come right out and say my art was "wrong", I did get the impression that she didn't quite think it was "right" either. I was intuitive like that, even back then.

Well, I don't have to tell you that my inner happy-little-artist died right there on the spot. It's not like I ever would have been a career artist, but that bitch sucked any possible future joy out of it like a Dyson. And from that day forward, any art class homework assignments were completed by my good, and artistic friend, Heather. And I never had to hear another criticism of my artwork - because there was none that I had done.

What's my tragic life story got to do with the environment? It's this: whether it's a passion for art, a love of music or a concern for our environment, it is absolutely imperative that we give our children the encouragement they need to at least TRY. They need to be empowered so that they can find their own solutions, to create their own sonata or to paint their happy little clouds. And they need to do it their own way, which may not necessarily be your way, but it's not the wrong way either.

So the next time your three year old picks up some trash on the playground, don't freak out and scream "Ew! Gross! Put that down!!". I mean, come on, unless it's a dirty needle, I think they'll survive. Instead, help them find a trash can to put it in and tell them how good it is to clean up the playground so animals don't accidentally eat the litter and get sick.

Or if your teenager is complaining about all the soda cans that get tossed into the trash at school, help her find a solution and present it to the school board or PTA. It may take some time on your part, but your involvement will help give her the courage to make a change in her community. And that is huge.

So keep on making eco-changes in your life, but help your kids make their own changes too. It will boost their self-confidence and will help instill in them a sense of pride and a love for the environment. What a great gift to give your children.

And PS? The next time your friend gives you a Christmas tree ornament with a google eye on its tongue, smile and say "What a happy little reindeer!" and let it go at that.

This is my submission for December's APLS Carnival, Children Are Our Greatest Natural Resource, which is being hosted by Robbie at Going Green Mama. Check it out.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Banking on the environment.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Yesterday I ran across an interesting tidbit about Bank of America. Did you know they have a coal policy? A coal policy. Why in the world would a bank need a coal policy? As America's largest retail bank, Bank of America lends out a lot of money! A lot of money to profitable businesses, like energy companies, who get their power from coal. As any successful business, they realize opportunities for future growth and future profits. Let's just say Bank of America is seeing a whole new kind of green.

Some excerpts from their website:

Bank of America believes we can be both sustainable and profitable, and we want to play a role in helping to lead the way into this new, sustainable and profitable era.

The primary driver of our environmental commitment is the potential for profit and economic growth, and today those powerful motivators are manifested throughout our organization:

The changes necessary to achieve this goal require capital and resources, areas where Bank of America can play a productive - and profitable - role.

And, as a corporation, we are taking full advantage of the business opportunities created by "green" economic growth.
With their new commitment to "green" (being whichever definition you choose) Bank of America has zeroed in on coal. Specifically, the extraction of coal known as mountain top removal.

"Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies."

Bank of America is currently involved with eight of the U.S.’s top mountain top removal coal-mining operators, which collectively produce more than 250 million tons of coal each year.

Don't know what mountain top removal is? It's this:

According to Wikipedia, Mountaintop removal mining (MTR), often referred to inside the mining industry as mountaintop mining/valley fills (MTM/VF), is a form of surface mining that involves an extreme topographic change to the summit or summit ridge of a mountain. It is most closely associated with coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains, located in the eastern United States. The process involves using explosives to remove up to 1,000 vertical feet of overburden to gain access to underlying seams of coal. The resulting debris is often scraped into the adjacent drainage valleys in what is called a valley fill.

Think your not affected? Think again. Even if you do not live in the Eastern United States your power company may be buying coal that comes from the mines using mountain top removal.

You can read more about Bank of America's environmental initiatives here. Or, download their full coal policy; it is only one page long. Definitely go to iLoveMountains to learn more about mountain top removal and what you can do about it. You can also read Green Bean's post Forgotten Forest.

What ever people's motivation is for jumping on the green bandwagon, we are going to need all the help we can get. I certainly am all for saving/making a buck if it means making a step towards sustainability. So until that cart looks like a clown car I say climb aboard.


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