Friday, October 31, 2008

Blinded by the light.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

It started as a faint signal off in the distance, a blip I barely noticed. If I squinted real hard I could kind of make out something... I think it is green? Curious, I wondered what it was and started to ask questions. Have you heard anything about that green thing? Do you see it, too? Answers led to more questions and I began to concentrate on it. By now a beam of green had come into focus. Always there, in plain sight, I decided to follow it. No, I was drawn to it. The further I went, the stronger it got. It seemed to be honing in on me. Everywhere I went, there it was! What if someone sees me like this? What will the neighbors think? What about my family? I could not escape it. There was no where to hide. Wait! What's that?! A phone booth. I can hide in there. By now green surrounds me, it is blinding. What am I to do? I can't hide in here forever. I take a deep breath, put my ego aside and step out the door. It is time to embrace it.


I emerged unscathed surrounded by a green aurora, a superhero to some. I am a mere mortal who one day saw the light. It was so blindingly obvious I do not know how I never noticed it before. Now it is my guide. It shows me the way. Like the sun rising to the dawn of a new day, so too, does the green shine on. A glimmer of hope illuminating a brave new world.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Birth Control: Voting Green

Olive S. Oyl here! C'mon, all that talk about makin' first moves? I had to do my duty...

There's no doubt that access to safe, effective contraception is a green issue. I won't get into population control (leaving that to Arduous!) or greener sex toys (thanks, Crunchy!). But did you know that most voters (even pro-life voters) support access to birth control, even as legislators running for office try to have your health insurance leave your pills out in the cold? I bet every woman reading this has had to pocket uncovered birth control expenses, from (hormone-altering) pills to (copper) IUDs. Yet cost is the least of our worries. Check out this eye-opening article at the Huffington Post from yesterday:
"Polls taken by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association found that even 80% of self-described "pro-life" voters support access to contraception. Opposition to contraception is the mark of extremism. Yet, to appease their fundamentalist "pro-life" base that vehemently opposes contraception, many elected officials Members of Congress have voted against access to contraception.

And so in 2008 pro-choice candidates have begun to paint those who oppose contraception as extremists. This election cycle marks the first time since the legalization of contraception that access to birth control has become a campaign issue. In tight races, the issue may prove decisive." (Cristina Page gives a lowdown in this post about the House, Senate, and gubernatorial races in which birth control's become a major issue).

Virginia, Colorado, Washington State, New Hampshire -- check out her list of battleground states and then visit Birth Control Watch to become a 2 minute activist (among other things, you can join the Parade poll about whether teaching our kids abstinence-only sex ed should continue and join NARAL in asking pharmacists to stock Plan B). As you head to the voting booth this fall, educate yourself about reproductive health issues (many thanks to Cynthia Samuels for her tireless effort to galvanize bloggers on this issue). More is at stake than the cost of safe sex - in some states, whether or not a fertilized egg should have legal rights - in others, whether or not a woman has a right to get her prescription for birth control filled by a pharmacist.

In my view, the debate should be beyond access to safe birth control and on to developing better birth control...we can send a man to the moon but don't have infallible ways to prevent STDs, pregnancy, and create world peace without mood-and-water-altering hormones? Let's all vote next week in ways that will shift the debate back where it belongs: to the common ground shared by the 80% of us who want women to have access to birth control.

Makin' the First Move

Olive S. Oyl here.

So, there is a whole spectrum of green out there, and just as most Americans think of themselves as being middle class, I think of our household as being somewhere right smack in the middle of greenitude. Not a total neophyte, but certainly not off-the-grid. We live in a city, and we're no homesteaders. That's why I thought I would share -- for the many of you who are just plain normal like me and the rest of the country -- my favorite "first moves" from the last couple weeks. I know you have these moments, too!

First up: I have to say, I have been trying to move over to line drying our clothes for a couple months now, but have space constraints (outside won't work cause we have trees front and back and lots of bird poop). But when I finally scraped together enough drying racks to do an entire load? The light bulb that went off for me as I looked at my cloth rags drying was pretty bright (for an energy-conserving move). Sheesh, does it feel nice to be using less energy to clean my floors?! I think that's a forever move. Crunchy towels and undies may be negotiable, but line dried rags? Here to stay. That's just silly.

Second: Reusing Ziploc-type bags. I haven't bought plastic sealed bags in over a year now, and I still have some left! This is mostly because I started washing and reusing the bags that other stuff comes in, like our ginormous bags of frozen blueberries, and our bags o' grated cheese. I think I speak for all of us when I point out that this first move is momentous. Every bag you wash and reuse? Wherever you got it? Cuts your plastic bag consumption by 50%. Shazaam! Feel that in your pocketbook, too.

Finally: Creating recycling and compost stations upstairs. My friend Susannah suggested I do so, and it's funny how satisfying it is every time I clean out my hairbrush and put the hair in my green bin (green for compost, purple for recycling). Toenail clippings, too! I have a friend from grad school who was doing this in his vegan Berkeley group house 10 years ago, so it feels extra-nice to be finally following in his footsteps.

How 'bout you? Makin' any moves? Feeling good about any first steps?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Finding Other Women in Capes

A Purloined Letter from the Green Raven:

As we approach Election Day, I've been thinking a lot about real superheros from our political history. One name which keeps resonating with me during these times of economic crisis is Eleanor Roosevelt. This month, she would have celebrated her 124th birthday.

Raised in a wealthy family, Eleanor was educated first at home and then at an English finishing school run by an outspoken feminist of the day. Although she always thought of herself as plain or even ugly, Eleanor learned while still a young teenager that "no matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and loyalty are stamped upon her face, all will be attracted to her." And indeed, when she at age 17 met Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he was immediately smitten with her and invited her on an early date: lunch with his uncle--President Theodore Roosevelt--at the White House.

Eleanor then took Franklin to a place that was important to her. She had been working as a social worker in the slums of the East Side in New York. The sheltered young man was profoundly affected with the vision of poverty that Eleanor showed him as they walked through the tenements. His understanding of the world profoundly changed at that moment, and Eleanor continued to make him think in new ways throughout their relationship.

The marriage of Eleanor and Franklin was complicated--at first by a domineering mother-in-law, then by an illness and disability that required Eleanor to act (as FDR's doctor said) like "a rare wife" who carried a "heavy burden most bravely," and finally by romantic affairs and intense relationships had by both Eleanor and Franklin.

Historians often point out that exactly the things that made their marriage imperfect and unconventional made Eleanor into a more independent and outspoken individual, despite her innately introverted nature.

She learned to speak publicly in order to represent her husband, but she also spoke her own mind--even when her beliefs conflicted with those of her husband. Led by ethical commitments she did not always share with her husband, Eleanor was much more outspoken about labor rights, about the government's responsibility to respond to poverty, about civil rights for African Americans. She saw her role as that of mediator between the forces of government bureaucracy and the real lives of Americans suffering through the Great Depression. She also helped start the WWII Victory Garden movement. In the years after Roosevelt's presidency, she became increasingly vocal about women's issues, disability discrimination, and global human rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a product of her world and it would be easy to look back disparagingly at a few of her more dated beliefs and actions. Remembering what the limits of her time and place were, however, allows us to see her as the transformative figure she really was. She led the American government to talk about people who previously had been all but invisible to politicians.

A crucial expression of her power can be seen in her ability to transform Franklin himself. Late in life after he died, Eleanor reflected that her husband "might have been happier with a wife who was completely uncritical. That I was never able to be, and he had to find it in some other people. Nevertheless, I think I sometimes acted as a spur, even though the spurring was not always wanted or welcome."

Although it created tensions--tensions so intense that they forced both of them to find solace in other people--Eleanor's fine intellect and her fierce heart allowed her husband to see a much broader world, a much more inclusive country, than he could imagine alone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Feeling Sheeepish

The Green Phone Booth would like to welcome our newest blogger, Rebecca of Greeen Sheeep. Some of you may be familiar with her blog and others may have met her in the APLS basket. We're know you're gonna like her, as well as her new superhero identity - EnviRambo Sheeep.

Rebecca is a 32 year old, evil Step-Mom to her hubby's 14 year old son and 12 year old daughter. She has no biological kids of her own yet, but is trying - despite some fertility issues. In fact, it was while researching infertility causes that she learned about the plethora of toxins found in everyday items like shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning products. In her own words, "Yadda, yadda, yadda one year later here I am - chem-free, crazy (according to my family), and still trying".

Please help me in welcoming Rebecca to our little corner of the blogosphere! She will be blogging regularly here at the Green Phone Booth and will be shorn in the spring so get in your wool orders early!

Grace Under Pressure

From the bean of Green Bean.

It happens every three months or so. I dig in my feet. I get greedy. I cling to the past and resist change.

It occurs most often on a Saturday. I find myself staggering through the market stalls, eyeballing produce and interrogating farmers. "How many more weeks for grapes?" "Is this the last week for watermelons?" "When does strawberry season end?" "Will it really last that long? Last week you said only two more weeks?"

And then I load up.

You'd think a locavore would have a bit more grace. Let the seasons slip through her fingers like grains of sand. Flow like a wind buffeted tree through the endless rotation of fruits and vegetables.

Not this locavore.

The most recent incident occured last weekend. Wheeling my cart past the cheese vendor, I spotted them. Watermelons. Why just last week, Raoul had sadly confided in me that there would be no more watermelon. They were gone until next summer.

"We got one more week's worth," he shrugged when I glared accusingly at him. "I'll take four," I announced, pulling the broccoli, pomegranates, and apples out of my cart to make room for four tight little melons.

After gorging myself on Raoul's fuchsia colored melons for three months, I will admit it. I am sick of watermelon. But who can resist one last hurrah? One last sweet pink bite before nine melon-less months?

Not I.

Or my kids. When I placed a plate of hot pink wedges on the dinner table last night, they turned up their noses. "I don't like watermelon," complained my oldest. My 4 year old promptly echoed his big brother. "That's fine," I replied picking up a wedge. "It's the last of the season any way." You would not know children could move so fast but, within minutes, that last watermelon really was history.

After eighteen months of eating locally, I realize that being a locavore does not instill grace or acceptance. It does, however, teach wonder and appreciation.

It is like so many of the changes I've made in my journey toward a simpler life. Eating watermelon only three months out of the year renders it a special treat. A boundless joy.

Having fewer things makes those we do have more meaningful. We enjoy them more. We take better care of them. We fix and repair. We invent and circumvent.

Having less toys gifts my children imagination and creativity. Boxes become rocket ships. Shoes are submarines. And the lego set we purchased from a school friend is a priceless treasure.

Somewhere along the way, we, as a society, got lost. We thought that having it all would lead to happiness. Truth is, having it all only erodes the value of having. It leaves you with less. Less satisfaction. Less understanding. Less meaning. And less joy.

Clearing that empty plate I realize the plate is not empty at all. It is full of memories. Of pleasure. And the kind of appreciation that comes in knowing that we truly savored those last bites of summer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

APLS November Blog Carnival

New Topic Announced!

Check it out, everybody! I get to host the November APLS Blog Carnival! Here's the lowdown:

Fall is in the air and our thoughts are turning to the wonderful holiday season ahead. And, for most of us, that means a lot of shopping to be done!

Whether you're buying the perfect ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast or searching for stocking stuffers from the big red man, you will undoubtedly be faced with the decision of whether to buy local products or ones shipped from afar. Do you feel buying locally plays a large role in healing our environment? Are you a true locavore or do you make exceptions for certain items? What obstacles to buying locally do you face? Do you have any tips for others looking to buy locally? Or are there other factors, such as cost or limited selection that force you to buy items made in other parts of the world?

To participate in November's Buying Local Carnival, please submit your posts to aplscarnival (at) gmail (dot) com by November 10. The carnival will be published at The Green Phone Booth on November 15. As always, thanks for participating!

Is It Cold In Here Or Am I Just Happy To See You?

brain drippings from Burbanmom...

Brrrrrrrrr! The weather has finally turned fall-ish here in Virginia and the temperatures are dropping as fast as the leaves. This week I went through the house and prepared for winter by readjusting my vents, changing the furnace filter and locating my draft dodgers.

What? You don't know about draft dodgers? They're those long, snake-like pillows that old folks and environmental types plop in front of their doors to keep the cold air from blowing in under the bottom plate.

They're super-easy to make and cheap too. Cheap and easy? Hmmmm, sounds like someone I am.

If you don't already have a dodger, I did a basic tutorial last year that will help you whip one up. And I think that between the chilly forecast and the fact that I did not yet have a post written, now would be the perfect time to share it!

Crafty Erin's Homemade Draft Dodger

1. Go to fabric store and purchase a quarter yard of whatever obnoxious fabric you like. I opted for something fuzzy, since scientific studies have shown that fuzzy = warm and warm stops cold. Also, rock beats scissors.

2. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise and inside out, so it looks like a long snake with his skin on the inside.

3. Stitch up one of the short ends and the long side.

4. Carry it over to your door and figure out how much to cut off the end to make it the right length, because God forbid you actually measure your door. Leave it a little long, though, cuz you're bound to screw something up before it's over.

5. Turn your snake rightside out and fill it with beans or rice or whatever makes you happy - but doesn't attract rats. Because this snake will not eat rats. I opted for Great Northern Beans because they're from the north and, ipso facto, are used to the cold. Also? They're great. Says so right on the package.

6. Sew up the open end.

7. Toss in front of drafty door. Reposition as necessary. Don't let the kids beat each other with it - unless they can do it quietly and the loser will be willing to lay down in front of the door to stop future drafts.

8. If you want the dodger to remain attached to the door when you leave, simply add a strip of sticky-backed velcro to both the door and the dodger. Also makes a good place to stick those kids during time-outs.

Easy-peasy, beans and fleece-y!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Pie That Community Baked

From the bean of Green Bean.

If you think that a year of making connections, of writing and exploring yield nothing, I invite you to take a bite of my pie.

My second place pie for my son's school's pie contest. First place in the pumpkin pie category. Helllllllo! Can I get a little applause, here?

It was made with the finest ingredients. Local cream from an organic dairy with a methane digester. Fair trade organic sugar bought in bulk to avoid the plastic packaging. Pastured eggs delivered to a friend through her CSA that she kindly drops off at my home every week. And two sugar pie pumpkins that were a gift from Sapphira, my best farmers' market friend.

I followed the recipe of a generous friend. One whom I've never met. One who lives on the other side of the continent and leads a much different life than I, dwelling on an century old farm as opposed to the clogged outskirts of San Francisco. One who dedicates her life to teaching high schoolers to appreciate nature and step lightly on our planet. One who read a post I wrote about being drowned in squash and reached out, via email, with a treasured pie recipe.

I baked it in a glass pie plate that I purchased at a neighbor's garage sale for a quarter.

En route to school, my youngest, who helped bake the pie, sobbed "I hope we win the contest." My oldest only hoped for a piece of the pie.

I placed my pie on the auditorium stage, sandwiched by two dozen other homemade pies. At a Chili Cookoff. A "barn raising" designed to raise money for my son's cash strapped school.

That night over two hundred and fifty people gathered to donate money, make connections, and enjoy a bowl of chili or a slice of my pie. A pie that community baked.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Simple School Party

Olive S. Oyl here.

Not a moment too soon to plan the Halloween party for the kiddo's kindergarten classroom. I emailed all the parents and asked for ideas for a sugar-free, plastic-junk-free celebration. We're still in the working stages, but a bunch of parents corralled me this morning as we walked our kids in the door of the school to talk beverages (vanilla soymilk, kefir, or apple cider anyone?). One parent let me know she has some tattoos and stickers; a few others let me know they can supervise. We reminded each other that we've got a class set of reusable plates and cups. Sounds like we are close to set! And we may even honor what another mother asked: Please let it be simple and be something I can do ahead of time.

I was musing about that last request as I pondered the complicated Halloween-and-fall ideas I've been ogling online: why is it that once I remove sugar and marketing from the equation, I feel compelled to start making the leaning tower of Pisa out of non-GMO, organic, whole-grain breadsticks? I'm guessing it may be a few things: wanting to get the same gleam of excitement from the kids that they'd get from a sugar rush; loving the special celebratory nature of things that by their very pain-in-the-assedness mean you're only going to do them once a year; and/or just being that kind of person.

It's kind of funny, because if you asked me to your party, I really would appreciate the simplicity of a fresh baked piece of bread with some homemade apple butter on it (hey, maybe we're onto something here!). I'd appreciate it if you played pin-the-nose-on-the-pumpkin. Or even pin-the-tail-on-the-black-cat. I'd like the black construction paper spider hats my first-grade-teacher mom suggested (one strip around the head, then staple shorter/thinner leg strips to the headband + decorate). I'd clap along (ok, I'd even sing a few rounds) to Five Little Pumpkins.

Excellent! Who knew it was as easy as pretending to be a guest at your party to take the high maintenance out of my party planning. I guess I'm sharing this since you may have the same gut instinct that I did: that it's not easy or simple to be healthy and green. And yet, it really is. Not that I don't want to make tie-dye pumpkin shirts, it's just that I have to figure out how to make natural color-fast orange dye first! I so totally have to make these caramel apples one night soon. You know I'm all over those savory leaf pies...and CBoy's going to lurve his Halloween muffin tin lunch. But for the party? I'm going to let simplicity be my guide.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Locavore Fairy Godmothers

--Dispatched by Olive S. Oyl

So...I'm not saying I don't belong in the Green Phone Booth, 'cause, well, we all belong here, baby. But the wind really gets beneath my wings when I am meeting other people, women mostly, who are up and making things happen in their neighborhoods. People of action who aren't just saying, "Sheesh, supporting local farmers should be easier." Not that I would be just sitting there, picking at my buttocks, thinking and not acting like that. People who are putting their money where their mouth is. What follows is a version of a love letter an article I wrote for our local paper about a couple women in our 'hood who started a CSA drop just for daydreamers like me. It might be a nice blueprint for action if you've been hankering for some local produce but your city's not quite organized yet (names have been changed to protect the innocent).

“We were not daunted,” says MD (Meditative Diner), after hearing a farmer present her with a “list of potential problems” she and her partner, LSB (what? she's not illicit - she's all about Less Scarfing Badness), might face in trying to organize a group of their DC neighbors around the idea of local delivery of seasonal produce. Known as community supported agriculture, or CSAs, farm shares have gained popularity in the wake of locavore bestsellers The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Yet until last February, our particular community was shut out of this vehicle for tasty, activist farm fare (the closest existing drops were in far-off neighborhoods).

Locavore Fairy Godmothers MD and LSB sent out an appeal to the community via the our local listserv after a presentation to our citizen’s association netted, as they put it, a couple of nibbles, but not enough bites to get the CSA off the ground: “We are two of your neighbors who decided last fall to purchase shares in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) As you may know, when you join a CSA, you pay a local farm an upfront fee to have freshly picked fruits and vegetables delivered to your neighborhood on a weekly basis. We were looking forward to supporting sustainable farming while enjoying the convenience, health benefits, and tastiness a CSA offers. Much to our dismay, we recently learned the Virginia farm we chose does not deliver to DC! The farm told us they might be willing to make an exception if we could gather a group of neighborhood CSA members. Would you be interested in joining us to form a CSA cluster?”

The response to MD and LSB’s offer was overwhelming. Says MD, “We were hoping to get 10 or 12 members, so we posted and got so many responses.” LSB comments, “We hadn’t secured a farm yet, and the day we posted, the Washington Post came out with a list of all the CSAs in the area.” The two women worried that the farmers in the area would be inundated with requests for farm shares. Would the hopes of the neighbors who’d come together in search of community as well as local peaches be dashed?

LSB worked as a community liaison to determine what folks wanted the most out of their farm shares (fresh fruit and lots of it won out over organic produce). MD contacted farms: “Most of the time, I got to talk to the actual farmers, who were very down home.” With a large group coalescing, the two still had no farm and no space.

“If it weren’t for a local church,” says LSB, “I don’t know how this would have happened.” Searching for space in the neighborhood, it wasn’t until they spoke to someone at St. 'Local’s' that everything fell into place. “It was just the easiest thing,” says MD. “They’ve been incredible.” St. Local’s provides air conditioned space (think no wilting) that is accessible during the day for the farm’s delivery (critical since the organizers both work full time), storage for empty bins during the week, and meeting space for the CSA members. In addition, St. Local’s helped the CSA establish a relationship with its men's shelter, so LSB and MD knew food wouldn’t be going to waste.

The CSA “runs itself” say the duo. Volunteers staff the food pickups. “What we really wanted,” says LSB, “is for it to have a community vibe. We used to go just camp out. It’s been such a good way to meet people.”

MD and LSB grow animated when they tell the tale of a CSA member who’s been learning about vegetables and changing the way she eats due to participation in our CSA. Says MD to LSB, “She was really into your kale recipe.” LSB responds excitedly, “Yeah, and her daughter gave her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on tape. She told me, ‘I really feel like everything is coalescing around the local food issue.’”

Next up for the strawberry-jam and pickle-making duo? Trying to start up a local farmer’s market. They’ve entered into discussions with Fresh Farm (the vendors at our city's fancypants, Metro-accessible, hipster Sunday farmer’s market) and St. Local’s is enthusiastic about the idea of hosting in their parking lot. Says MD, “They really seem to relish their role as a community center.” One might say the same about MD and LSB. They really seem to relish their role as community builders."

True story, folks! I'm indebted to my neighbors for making it so easy to support a local farm all season. If you don't have a CSA delivery close by, take a note from their efforts and start one up by chatting with a local farmer -- and your neighbors -- today.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Living in Booths

Ring, ring.

"Hi. Green Raven here," I say, trying out my superhero name for the first time in the Green Phone Booth.

"Hi! This is Laura Ingallstein from Little House in the Shtetl. I've got your assignment for the week."

* * *

This mission requires me to transform my green superhero cape into an apron. It also requires the Green Phone Booth to become a sukkah. Luckily, this is not a difficult prestidigitation since the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is also called the Festival of Booths.

Ma Ingallstein Preparing the Evening Meal in the Family's Green Booth
(Who would have thought that Jews have been pioneers for millenia?)

* * *

Sukkot is my favorite holiday. For seven to nine days (depending on one's practice), Jews eat and sometimes sleep in a little open hut we build in our backyards. The roof must be made with natural materials such as leaves and branches, and openings must be left in the ceiling so we can see the stars and the light of the moon.

Religiously, Sukkot is a time of remembering when the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness without a permanent home after being freed from slavery. The famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides proposed that we build sukkahs every fall so we will always be reminded of times of misfortune (of being homeless) during our times of good fortune.

Sukkot is also a celebration of the "ingathering" (ie, the harvest) after a season of hard work in the fields. A holiday with roots which predate Judaism, Sukkot is a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving when we celebrate the reaping of the fruits of the season and our ability to share it with our friends and families.

Although the spiritual meanings of Sukkot mean a lot to many Jews, others of us who reject the religious mandates still find deep symbolism in its celebration. It is hard to miss that the times of misfortune are exactly the moments when we can most appreciate our riches. We relax around the table in our sukkah with all our loved ones seated around us and celebrate how much we have to sustain us: not only our full pantries but our full hearts.

* * *

No time seems more appropriate to me to enjoy my own contemporary family's labor in the field. Our own personal "field" is a tiny urban backyard garden which only produces enough to supplement our diet. But tonight, we've made dinner exclusively from what we grew ourselves.

We recently harvested Tiger Eye beans (which we allowed to dry on the vine)...

...and Mandan Bride corn:

My 9yo son and I had a blast today removing the kernels from the corncobs...

...and cranking them through our little grain mill to make cornmeal.

We then made traditional southern-style cornbread in a cast iron skillet.

Homegrown delicato squash (so sweet!) and a mix of greens including turnip and mustard rounded out our meal.

On the side we served pickles canned from our homegrown lemon cucumbers:

The meal--this final dinner of Sukkot--ended with cups of steaming tea made from spearmint, lemon verbena, and stevia, all of which we grew ourselves over the summer and dried.

There is something profound about living so simply yet so well. We built our little shelter with our own hands (and a power drill), we ourselves planted the seeds and watered the garden that fed us tonight, and we sang songs with our voices alone. All of this plain homemade evening was glorious. How fortunate we are!

* * *

I'm beginning to understand why Laura Ingallstein called me. It is becoming clear what the lessons of the hoe, the apron, and the sukkah are: gratitude for simple things, yes--but also the responsibility to work for tikkun olam (the healing of the world), and, perhaps most importantly, the awareness that we on this planet are all one family.

Sukkot connects us to the world: both the land which feeds us, and the friends who share that nourishment with us in our sukkahs. We sit in our fragile booths, shivering in the chilly evening breeze and hoping it won't rain--yet we rejoice in the abundance of our harvest.

Times may be hard, and they may become harder--but we have enough to celebrate; we have each other.

At the end of our evenings, we carry the china and the candles back into our warm houses and say goodnight to our friends.

But Sukkot is also the moment when we are called to think of--no, to empathize with--those people who have to live all their days exposed to the elements just as we are this week in our festival booths. This year--when so many people have been kicked out of their homes to live in their cars, crash on a friend's couch, or sleep on the streets--this lesson is more important than ever.

Regardless of our religious or cultural practices, Harvest Time is a moment when we must remember how many people--in this country and around the world--do not ever experience abundance. Instead, struggling people are going hungry every night, shivering as the winter approaches, in their own fragile cardboard booths.

Let us reach out our hands.

This is the Green Phone Booth's contribution to the Green Moms Carnival for November. Check in at Best of Mother Earth on November 3rd to see what Green Moms are saying about gratitude and three green things.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The water was hot, the shower steamy. I rubbed the shampoo bar across my hair and scrubbed it into frothy bubbles. I sniffed. The air was a bit pungent so I repeated and rinsed again.

Drying off, I gave wide berth to the reeking green cape and stinking spandex littering the bathroom floor. It had been an fetid day in the phone booth.

Why is it that The Bulk gets a phone call to sit on clean, quiet Home Owners Association committee while my call is to rake rotting compost around an edible garden at my son's school?

The truth, though, was that I didn't mind working in the garden, accompanied by six other caped individuals. I quite liked what we shared: the political jokes, the dream for a school garden that would feed our children snack daily, ideas for greening the school's cleaning supplies, information about how our children were doing or who had a crush on whom. In fact, I'm not sure that my garden work day was heroic at all.

If you look it without the green colored glasses, it was a purely selfish act. An investment - one that I expect will pay out far more valuable dividends than you find on Wall Street.

I was making an investment in my community.

If the Dow Jones continues to tantrum, gasoline supplies dwindle, the ballot measure to provide schools funds fails, community is where the value will be, from whence repayment will come.
And that repayment comes when you least expect it and most need it.

Last week, I suddenly lost the preschool placement for my youngest. Every preschool around has wait lists a year long. An email to my oldest's school listserv yielded dozens of leads and one open spot - bypassing the wait list - at my preschool of choice.

Most of those people don't know me. But they know, by virtue of my son's placement at the school (a parent participation charter school), that I am willing to don a cape daily to help the community. Maybe I worked with their son on math or taught their daughter cooking. Maybe I gave their neighbor's son a ride to school when his mom had surgery or I worked alongside their friend, scrubbing cubbies the day before school started.

I've made all those investments. And they've made similar ones. We've worked together to create an economy that depends not on dollars and cents but on effort and support.

Scrubbing, shoveling compost, teaching first graders yoga poses, or volunteering for lice check duty. We are part of a community. One that will pull together and keep our children learning even if, God forbid, that ballot measure doesn't pass. One that will plant an edible garden to feed our children, that will provide parent volunteers to cut afterschool care costs. One that will organize carpools and walking school buses to reduce emissions.

As I gingerly retrieve my malodorous costume, I remember what they say about payback. They are wrong, though.

Payback is beautiful.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Flight Risk

On a dark, cool night in late October, four women huddle under the glare of a streetlight, waiting for a call that may never come....

"So, uh, I thought we were all going to wear our costumes." I say, feeling more than a little moronic in my homemade Superhero costume, complete with mask, cape and hooker boots.

"Well, you're the only one blogging tonight so it seemed kind of silly for all of us to get dressed up." Green Bean offers.

Green Raven weighs in, "Plus, I still haven't taken that sewing class yet and a knitted cape just doesn't fly well. Too many holes"

Olive S. Oyl just snickers a bit as I readjust the control-top, spandex underwear I've donned over my red unitard. Despite the three layers of fabric covering my butt, I feel a bit of a chill. Perhaps it is the wind whistling through my Bedazzled wonder-bra or maybe it's the excitement of the unknown.

Suddenly the phone rings. We all jump a bit and then just stare blankly at one another. It isn't until Olive S. Oyl says "You gettin' that or what?" that I realize they're all waiting for me to pick up the call. I leap into the phone booth and grab the receiver. Pulling it to my ear, I take a deep breath and say hello.

A voice on the other end says "Is this the Green Phone Booth?"

To which I respond in my best superhero voice, "Um. Yeah." as I make the Oh-my-God-it's-not-a-wrong-number, open-mouthed look of surprise at my blogmates. I get a group thumbs up from them and return my attention to our mystery caller.

"This is the Home Owner's Association. We recently adopted a committee charter to create an
Environmental Committee as recommended by the Long Range Planning Committee."

"That's a lot of committees" I say.

"Yes, ahem, well, this new Environmental Committee will serve as an information resource to residents and the Board, assist with planning of educational events, work on the implementation of the our subdivision's "Go Green" initiative and seek out grants and funding for the community."

To which I say "Sounds great!" because, well, it does.

The voice continues, "The committee will consist of seven (7) members who are HOA members appointed for a one (1) year term at the discretion of the Board of Directors."

"So what's all this got to do with me? And why do you speak like a legal document that has been cut and pasted from an online HOA newsletter?" I ask.

"Shut up and listen, Superfreak. The committee is required to meet at least once every other month until such time as a plan of action is adopted by the Board of Directors. The committee shall submit a plan to the Board detailing specific proposals for implementation of the "Go Green" program, education for residents, and grant writing and funding of community-based initiatives. The plan shall be submitted to the Board by July 2009 for review and approval prior to implementation."


"Is that everything?" I ask.

"Yes" the voice says.

::More Silence::

"Okey-Dokey, then! Well, good luck with all that and let us know how it works out!"

"But WAIT! Don't you know why I called you?" he asks.

"To tell me about your association's sub-committee's new committee?" I guess.

"I called you because I need YOU on this committee."


::Blink blink::

"Ohhhhh." I say as I let the idea sink in. Bi-Monthly meetings. Proposals. Grants. Time commitments. Talking to the board. Talking to residents. Talking to people. Real live people. In person. Talking. To. People.

My stomach sinks. "Look, I appreciate what you're doing here and I think it's great. I really, really do. It's just that, well, I have two little kids at home and I don't really have time to...." I start to trail off as I realize that I am, in fact, the lamest Superhero since Arm-Fall-Off Boy. "I'm sorry" I say and I hang my head in shame, silently place the receiver back on its hook and walk back out to face my comrades.

"So?!?!?" They all shout in unison.

"They want me to join an Environmental Committee." I confess.

Green Bean actually squeals with delight and Green Raven offers a "woot woot woot". It only takes a moment though before they register my attitude and realize this is not the superhero assignment I'd hoped for. I had assumed someone would need help setting up a compost pile or crafting up a draft dodger. I had never imagined I would be asked for a year-long commitment. Jiminy crickets, I don't commit that long to a frickin hair color, much less to a committee of strangers!

There is a brief moment of silence. And then Olive S. Oyl quietly starts to sing "Look at what's happened to me, I can't believe it myself. Suddenly I'm up on top of the world, It should've been somebody else."

Green Bean, Green Raven and I join in for the chorus "Believe it or not, I'm walking on air. I never thought I could feel so free. Flying away on a wing and a prayer. Who could it be? Believe it or not it's just me."

By the end of the song we're belting it out with total disregard for the barking dogs and houselights flickering on in the neighborhood. I'm laughing so hard that tears are streaming out of my mask, my cheeks hurt and I'm thankful for the extra layers of fabric on my ass. These women have convinced me. I can be a superhero.

"Alright you crazy, tone-deaf eco-nuts, I'm on it!" High fives all around and I'm ready to fly off on my new assignment.

"Before you go, Burbs?" Green Raven says.


"Your cape's stuck in your underpants."

To Be Continued......

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lowdown on Toxins in Toys

Jennifer Taggert aka The Smart Mama really has the keys to my heart. The not-lead-contaminated keys, that is. Yesterday, she put her $40,000 XRF analyzer to work after the BlogHerDC conference and checked out the safety of not only my keys, but my kids' toys. OrganicMania joined in the fun, bringing an arsenal of her kids' favorite playthings, and we sat back to watch the master at work. I'm eternally grateful. Here was my takeaway:

After years of testing toys for everything from lead to chromium to arsenic, the Smart Mama has absorbed (heh heh) a bunch of handy tips. I am going to go ahead and pass them along, since there are only four XRF analyzers in the hands of people like her in the U.S. testing toys for individuals, and, as she pointed out, her XRF lease is triple her car payment. Just in case, like all of us (Min Sook Lee, FoodieTots, Green and Clean Mom, Big Green Purse, and The Green Parent) watching her test, you wanted one of your very own but don't really want the budget equivalent of McCain's fleet of cars.

Say NO to the beads unless they are clear! Fake pearls often have lead-based paint on them - it's how they get that shimmer (and some of my daughter's proved her theory). Similarly, Mardi Gras beads are often tainted with lead. Clear glass beads like my mom saved from my '70s childhood? Usually test out okay (ours did). But solid-colored plastic beads in a headpiece tested 518 parts per million of arsenic (our limit in the U.S. is 160 ppm and in the E.U. it's 60 ppm). Hmmm. Jennifer said that unless our kids were still mouthing (have I mentioned that I have a 2 year old?!) the Egyptian arsenic headgear was probably ok to keep. I am thinking I should create an installation piece at a local playground that has pressure-treated wood, in an homage to the toxins of American childhood. Speaking of which, I should probably bring a little fleet of animals to this exhibit, cause it's important to...

Spring for the spendy little animals! Tiny plastic dinosaurs and critters are often tainted with cadmium, apparently. So, it's worth knowing that the cheapo ones (like the ones in the tubes you get for virtually every birthday you've ever thrown for your kid?) are bad news. But the Schleich figurines, which we love (cause who didn't love the Smurfs?) are safe! Woo hoo. She also notes that Safari Limited has PVC/phthalate-free plastics. With phthalates and other endocrine disruptors, what you're trying to avoid is getting them in kids' mouths because the chemicals are water- (and saliva-) soluble.

Speaking of mouthing, even if they're not devouring them, keep your kids away from lead-painted toys. You may be thinking that a lead-painted item is safe if it's not mouthed. That's what a friend of mine said this morning when I called to give her a quick heads-up that -- for some odd reason -- camoflauge paint is often contaminated with lead, in Jennifer's experience. Friction makes lead paint dust, which is dangerous - so no smash derbies with camo helicopters and off-brand cars. She says she has never found anything wrong with Matchbox cars but that the cheap knock-offs almost always have toxins. Sigh. More of getting what we pay for?

Don't let your kids play with your keys! Really! So, this one I feel really stupid about. Not only did I let both of our kids play with (and by play with, I mean chew and mouthe repeatedly) my keys, I followed the advice you also may have seen in parenting magazines to make your kid an extra SET of keys for their personal use. Jennifer tested one of my brass keys (note: brass keys are more likely to be contaminated) and it tested at 129,000 parts per million lead. That's enough to cause significant risk, she says. Lead in keys rubs off with use, so not only should you not let your kids play with them, you need to be concerned about what is rattling around with your keys at the bottom of your purse. Like, say, a pacifier.

Go for clear shades. My daughter's cheezy yet glamorous pink sunglasses? Would have been fine except for the 67 parts per million of lead in the rhinestones. I need to find her some unadorned eyewear.

Don't assume that country of origin is an accurate predictor of safety (or toxins). This one is from me -- we had jewel stickers (like bindi dots?) from India with glittery rhinestones and fake plastic food from a friend in Japan that tested out a-ok. My ability to judge which toys would be safe or not was worthless. Like the home test-kits for lead, which may not be able to indicate high lead levels.

Take your toxic toys to your city's household hazardous waste site. Most of our toys were ok, but we had a little ring and a fake-pearl head ornament that were off the charts for lead (she wouldn't even tell me the ring figures, but the pearl headwear was 1,600 ppm). Jennifer says she takes toxic items to her city dump, where the waste workers try to reject her innocuous looking toys. She insists, telling them the tale of her XRF analyzer and her testing.

Thank goodness in February the U.S. will have the toughest standards in the world for lead in children's toys. I know you will join me in saying that your kids never play with anything not designated as a toy (like the Edgar Allen Poe figurine we chucked into our kids' toybox - chromium hair and all). So it's time we all took an eco-parenting staycation, right?

I really am glad that we're moving in the right direction, but I wish we all could get some peace of mind about the other chemicals used to manufacture our kids playthings. Not to mention the houseful of toys we've already got. I'd like to bring my little boy happiness through his bath toys, not man-boobs. And my little girl? I'd like for her not to have neurological issues because she loves to play dress-up. Many thanks to The Smart Mama for turning into a Super Toy Tester in front of my eyes! Eco superhero, indeed.

P.S. I know we are not supposed to be posting until next week. But some people just like to open their presents early, kwim?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Welcome to the Green Phone Booth

Sometimes, something happens. Something crops up. A problem. An issue. Something to be reckoned with. Or celebrated.

Sometimes, an average mom cannot just be an average mom. Sometimes, she needs a place to don her cape.

The Green Phone Booth is where that happens.

Below are the average moms who morph into superheroes in the Green Phone Booth. Dial in daily to read about our adventures.

The Purloined Letter

The Purloined Letter, aka Hannah, grew up in small-town North Carolina. On many weekends, her family drove through fertile farmland to coastal South Carolina where both of her grandmothers lived. These two women taught her the power of what we make ourselves. From one grandmother she learned to be completely obsessed with both knitting and organic vegetable gardening. Her other grandmother taught her about being a homebirthing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping parent. Both showed her the value of family connection--and especially how to maintain that connection through food. The lesson shows very well on her hips.

Hannah's parents are two born-and-bred white southerners who morphed into liberals during the Civil Rights Movement. They raised her to value equality and justice. They also showed her how that fight for justice can be carried out using a typewriter and an academic podium. Their models led her to a career as a professional historian and writer.

Now living in Takoma Park, MD, Hannah shares her green adventure with David (her partner of sixteen years) and their 9yo son. You'll be hearing a lot more about both of them in upcoming posts.

Hannah's love of the homemade, her belief in the possibility for peace, and her desire for justice combine with her deep-seated fears about climate change and peak energy to make her want to contribute to a better world. She believes that the crisis we are facing presents us with the opportunity to forge deeper connections with our families, friends, and communities. She is thrilled to join these other wonderful women in the Green Phone Booth.


MamaBird, aka Jess, grew up in the 70s west of Boston wishing she could swim in the algae-covered pond by her house (green slime? courtesy of runoff from the local golf course). Her parents, a former boxer who hand-dug dandelions rather than use lawn chemicals, and a California expat who grew her own basil and tomatoes so we could have fresh pesto on our beefsteaks (in an era of jell-o molds and bland macaroni salad), taught her that what we put into our bodies and our environment matters.

"The conversations I have with people online resonate with issues that matter to me: knowing the safety and health ramifications of the food we eat and the products we use (which so often is like an alter-conversation found nowhere on the packaging). Like most of the people in my life, I've long recycled and read labels. But having kids inspired me to try to step it up a notch, first and foremost with regard to toxins, health, and safety. My recent focus has been channeling my Depression-era grandmothers as I try to become a better steward of the earth."

MamaBird lives in a walkable neighborhood in Washington, DC., with her two kids, loving husband, and family dog. They all wish they could swim in the Potomac.

Green Bean

Green Bean, also known as Michelle, is a California native. As a child, she regularly tortured her family with complaints over weeding, gardening of any sort, or cooking. In her teen years, she further tormented them with gifts of reusable razors and acres of rain forest. As she grew, she made many forays into local supermarkets to plaster tuna cans with Dolphin Free stickers, wrote a number of letters to various sitting Presidents and longed to make a career of protecting the environment.

Somewhere along the way, life intervened. She lost her way . . . and a lot of sleep. Then, as her babies grew into young boys, she sought to educate them about the importance of caring for our planet. And realized that she had not been doing that important job for a number of years.

After spending weeks either glued to her keyboard or frantically gardening, composting or biking, she began chronicling her green endeavors in a blog and found the outlet she'd been looking for.

She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and two energetic sons. Here, she eats local thanks to a front yard garden (she now weeds with virtually no complaints) and year round farmers' markets. She advocates for green initiatives within her city and son's school and works to develop a social network with other green moms on the San Francisco Peninsula.


Burbanmom, AKA Erin, is a thirty-something seamstress, originally from East Bejeesus in Cow Country, New York but now residing in Suburbialand, Virginia. Always an avid recycler and good steward-of-the-earth, Erin turned pseudo-psycho environmentalist in June 2007, after reading about the Pacific Garbage Patch, the Citarum River and the albatross necropsy at Kure atoll.

She started her own eco-blog as a way to keep herself accountable to friends and family as she vowed to make one change every day towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Using this simple formula, she managed to reduce her electrical, water, gasoline consumption to between 12-17% of the average American and reduced her family's trash output to one bag per week. She has also become a "locavore", sourcing as much food as possible from within a 150-mile radius of her home.

Erin is excited to be a part of such a great team of superheroes at the Green Phone Booth and hopes the cape won't make her ass look big. She lives with her loving, albeit oft-perplexed, husband of ten years, Patrick, her two budding Planeteers Ethan (5) and Daphne (3) and Oreo, the 108 pound lap-dog.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin