Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
We have lived in times of self-
But what about connections outside our family? Do you know your mailman? Your child's teacher? Your neighbor? All the people you come in contact with on a daily basis. Do you know them? Or, do you go about your day wrapped up in your own little world; not giving them a second thought, asking how they are, or worrying about their problems? And why should you? Their problems are just that - their problem. Except that we all live together on this planet and if it is a problem for them, it is a problem for all of us. The narrow mindedness of self is what has gotten us into our current mess. We would do anything to protect our family. Outside of that it is every man for himself.
What if we extended our definition of family to our community? If you thought of your neighbor as a family member would you treat them differently? Would you visit, offer assistance, look out for them? The same goes for the checker at the grocery store. Would you get impatient and irritated when the line was not moving as fast as you thought it should be? Or, would you strike up a friendly conversation with others waiting in line? "Hey, Bob. I walked past your house the other day and saw a nice patch of sweet corn you have growing. I have some good looking watermelon that would compliment it. You and Susie should come over some time. We could grill your corn and slurp our watermelon!" What about the one "weird guy" wandering around that every town has? If you thought of him as family would you stop and acknowledge him? Ask him how he is or if he needed anything? The cranky old lady with fifty cats? Perhaps you could stop by and offer some extra catnip growing in your flower bed that her cats might appreciate. Often these people are just looking for personal contact. Someone to take the time to show that they care.
This holiday season when you are gathering with your family do not forget to spend time with your other family. Make a point to have personal contact, build connections, grow your family. People bond together in times of crisis to overcome incredible odds. That time is now. Our planet is in peril, our economy in turmoil, and our very existence is at stake. Extend you family to your community, your state, your country and beyond. If the whole world becomes one big family we will start looking out for each other and for it.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Happy Thanksgiving to all in the US and my heart and hope to all of those affected in Mumbai. I'm writing this the night before Turkey Day because I won't be on my computer tomorrow. Which, as it turns out, is kind of a shame.
Apparently, there's one documented way to gain happiness in this nasty and brutish world. How? Not by hitting up the Black Friday sales, as it turns out. It's to write letters of gratitude to those you love. Could this idea in and of itself make me any happier? (I'm, ah, pretty fond of correspondence.) A researcher gave college kids an assignment to write a letter of appreciation every two weeks. Those who participated? Increased their happiness according to several indicators, one of which may be an improved immune system.
"The most powerful thing in our lives is our social network," notes the study's author. So whether you reach out via Twitter or an old-fashioned lace-doily-handmade-card, let some people you love know how grateful you are for their support. Feel free to do so in person today, but the study underscored the benefit of expressive writing, so you've also got to dust off the ol' quill.
I'd like to send a personal request to the research community: could you also quantify the benefit of cooking for those you love? I'm off to devour my homemade cranberry chutney on my brother's bird, with a big slab of my mom's pumpkin pie. I'd wager that no matter what anyone's actually eating, the act of cooking and sharing communal meals has got to make our spirits light.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I've been thinking a great deal about the changing meaning of sustainability. Behaviors that used to seem weird or "hippie" now seem like wise financial moves. In this world of economic chaos, people are planting their own vegetable gardens and canning their extra produce, hopping on public transportation to commute to work, repairing equipment they might have simply replaced last year, and reducing the amount of purchasing they are doing as the holiday season approaches.
As Green Bean said in her post yesterday, "We are no longer hooked on shopping." Buy Nothing Day no longer seems so counter-cultural. Most of us just don't have that money burning holes through our pockets right now.
Many of us are new to a life of frugality. We don't yet have a fully satisfactory alternative in mind to the old American dream of acquisition. I've heard a remarkable number of people muttering about the "sad" or "empty" season of giving we are about to face. Many people are feeling lost, or unfairly punished, or guilty.
However, as many in the environmental movement and the peak energy movement have been saying for some time, a life of austerity can be very full indeed. We needn't feel deprived. As New American Dream says, now is the time for More Fun, Less Stuff.
* * *
My son and I spent this chilly afternoon watching reruns of The Waltons. A large three-generational family living in Depression-era Appalachia, the group members learn many lessons about the importance of community. It is this sense of connection, of gratitude for love rather than the quest for stuff, that makes the Waltons wealthy beyond measure.
Here is a way to celebrate Buy Nothing Day that can make you feel as rich as the Waltons: participate in NPR's National Day of Listening. The rules are simple: set aside one hour to sit down with a loved one--an elderly parent, a neighbor, a favorite teacher, a young child, or whomever--and record a meaningful conversation. As the founders say, "This holiday season, ask the people around you about their lives.... By listening to their stories, you will be telling them that they matter and they won’t ever be forgotten. It may be the most meaningful time you spend this year." Each year's addition will add to the gift you are building.
Sample conversations can be heard at the above site and they might inspire you. If you want some more help getting started, download the free quide. You might even choose to upload your interview and share it on their website. We'd certainly love to hear about it hear, too.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I intended to post today about Buy Nothing Day, an annual event which occurs on "Black Friday". Participants protest the consumerism of Christmas by buying nothing on Buy Nothing Day.
I planned to urge you to participate by "not participating" on November 28. But that kind of a post is so last year.
We are a different society than we were in 2007. The era of conspicuous consumption has slammed to a close. Gone are the days of shop 'til you drop. Frugality is the new bling.
In part, we have the flailing economy to thank for our turn around. But there is more. The election proved that we are a society awakening - gradually, yes, but awakening none the less. We are just beginning to understand the impact of our actions - on our deteriorating environment, on our over-indulged children, on our strained bank account. As a comment on No Impact Man's blog brought home: "People are consuming less and eating local. Conspicuous consumption is suddenly passe. Gardens and home canning are back. SUVs are done for. Oversized homes in the hinterlands were the first ones that stopped selling. People are changing, perhaps not with the sort of 'Mea culpa, you were right and I was wrong!' sentiment that some would like to hear, but people are surely changing."
As changed people, we now longer covet the newest fashion accessory. No longer shiver with anticipation at a Christmas tree surrounded with gifts. We are no longer hooked on shopping.
Now, the craving to economize is front and center.
How many of you get a secret thrill from turning nearly sour milk into yogurt and getting another couple meals out of it? From cooking almost rotten strawberries into a syrup for yogurt pancakes?
From darning a sock for the fifth time or ignoring holes sprouting in your child's shoes for just one more month?
From scoring a really nice pair of jeans at the local thrift store for $3 or borrowing garden tools from a neighbor?
From doling out holiday sweets a bit at a time so that they are truly enjoyed and not just devoured?
From unraveling an old sweater and using the yarn to knit for holiday gifts?
From finding happiness in the people with whom we spend our holidays and not what we spend?
Embrace this new era and celebrate it on November 28th by consuming less and living more.
Losing My Desire
Stop Shopping Recycled
It's Better to Borrow
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a new enviro-book authored by Julie Gabriel, entitled The Green Beauty Guide. The book is touted as an "essential resource to organic and natural skin care, hair care, makeup and fragrances" and boy, does it deliver.
Julie has done tons of research on the toxicity of women's beauty products and has managed to summarize the information into one very thick, handy reference manual. I read the 350+ pages like a novel and learned a lot of information. However, I think I will find its real value as I refer back to it whenever I'm searching for (or helping my friends find) less toxic beauty products.
The book is laid out very intuitively. Julie begins by discussing the nature of skin and offers a little biology lesson on how this very large organ works. Don't worry though - it's not the heady stuff of biology 101, it's simplified explanations with descriptive analogies. It makes you truly understand how what we put on our skin becomes part of our own bodies.
She then goes on to discuss some of the more toxic and most commonly-found chemicals that are in many of our beauty products. She discusses the specific toxicology of each item and references various studies that have shown the damaging affects of these supposedly benign ingredients.
And just when you're starting to lose hope that you'll ever be able to use any beauty products again, she throws you a lifeline. She teaches you how to read ingredient labels, what to look for and, more importantly - what to avoid. Not just an alphabetical listing, she gives you the knowledge you need to decode the often incomprehensible labels on drugstore beauty products. She then goes through and defines various industry terms such as organic, bio-dynamic, hypoallergenic, cruelty-free, non GMO, fair trade, and natural.
My favorite part of the book is the DIY beauty section. Julie shares with us many secrets about how we can create our own, personalized, 100% natural skin care products - right in our own kitchens. Turns out it's a lot less expensive than buying the fancy green products currently on the market. And it can be a lot of fun too. I've already experimented with a few recipes and am excited to learn that tea tree oil is apparently just what the doctor ordered for my recent outbreaks. Hallelujah, Julie!
The remaining chapters in the book target specific beauty products including cleansers, toners, facials, moisturizers, sun protection, body care, hair care, baby care, makeup, fragrances and finally a beauty detox program. Each chapter discusses the correct use of the product (never knew I was supposed to double-cleanse each night, did you?), what to look for in a good product, some recommended products if you're looking to buy off-the-shelf and some cool recipes if you're thinking about whipping up your own solution.
Julie also includes an extensive list of recommended resources as well as a list of 100 toxic cosmetic ingredients you don't want in your beauty products (and why). It's kind of like having the EWG's Cosmetic Safety Database right in the palm of your hand - and it's portable enough to take to the drugstore with you!
This is a great book. It may not be the enthralling page-turner you want to take with you on your next cruise, but it's definitely a book you'll want to take with you to Walgreens. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is sick of buying beauty products, only to get them home and find out it's all full of toxic crap. The $16.95 you'll pay for the book will more than pay for itself with the time and money you save searching for truly safe alternatives to Suave and Revlon.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Still, I have hid my green desires. No one I have face to face contact with knows that I blog. No one outside these four walls knows that I compost, use a diva cup, shave with a safety razor, wear my clothes more than once before laundering, keep my heat at 55 in the winter, do not flush until someone else comes home, reserve urine for the garden, and a myriad of other things. I have kept all semblance of sustainability locked up inside me; confined within my home; hidden like some shameful secret.
For what? Fear of ridicule? Prying eyes? Judgment? Am I more concerned with saving face than making the world a better place for my children? And what about my children? What am I teaching them? It is okay to stand up for your beliefs, just do not let anyone know it. How is that standing up for anything? Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man wrote a post, In praise of making a spectacle of living green, that made me stop and think. Rethink.
"Now, I'm not trying to blow my own horn. I'm simply saying that making sustainable lifestyle changes that publicly breach social norms in ways people appreciate may have much more value than the resources that they're saving."Get over yourself and get out there. You are who you are and there is nothing wrong with that. People will judge and label no matter what you do, so you might as well be doing what you want to. Having that said, I took a step towards exposing myself and attended Green Drinks.
Green Drinks is a monthly, informal networking event for environmental professionals and anyone interested in “green” things. You meet over drinks and have casual conversations with a diverse group of like minded people. People have been meeting monthly in 426 cities worldwide! My group has been meeting for two years. Two years! If I had just let my guard down I could have been learning from these folks, putting me leaps and bounds beyond where I am now. There are 11 groups meeting in Wisconsin alone. Imagine that(!), the Midwest, not thought of as progressive like the Coasts has this movement going on right under my nose. Odds are there is a group near you. If not, do not despair, you can start one. Email edwin [at] greendrinks [dot] org if you want some tips on how to set up Green Drinks in your city. You can also participate on Facebook.
What a fun way to learn, connect, and grow!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Last year I learned how important the farm bill was to the way this nation approaches the way we eat. Recently, I've been moved by various requests to have an organic vegetable garden on the White House Lawn. And in her post yesterday, Green Bean shows us how important it is to work for a reasonable Secretary of Agriculture. We need to make food a national issue, not just a personal one.
But the way this nation thinks about food and the way we eat is at some level private. And it is easy to get overwhelmed and start believing that our personal choices make very little difference. Our personal decisions will not solve all the world's problems. We are going to need the large-scale governmental decisions--symbolic as well as real--to truly make a more sustainable society.
The decisions we make in our personal lives may give us our strongest voice in the public world.
As Sharon Astyk points out, buying in to the idea that "private acts don't 'count' in the public sphere" takes away what may be our mightiest tool for change. She continues, "In isolation, buying local doesn't make much of a differnence." But when we join together, in our local communities and online, with neighbors and gardeners and farmers, we begin to create a new and better world. At a time of national crisis such as the one we are in now, the personal is political--and the political is deeply personal, as well.
* * *
So let us commit to making some private decisions, and let us make them in ways that connect us with our communities. As we approach Thanksgiving, this season of gratitude for our nation's abundance, I am hoping you will all join me in sharing a local Thanksgiving feast. Here is a chance to make a personal decision that will directly affect our real-life local communities--and to make that decision in a way which also makes a public stand in the online world.
The best part is that this act will serve us spiritually as well, making us aware that we provide our gratitude not only to our families and friends and to God-or-Whatever-You-Believe--but also to the farmers who provide us with that abundance, and also to the seeds and soil and rain and the sunshine that made it grow.
Crunchy Chicken has issued an official challenge. As she says, "It's not too late to start thinking about your Thanksgiving meal and how to make it as sustainable as possible. The most effective thing to do is to focus on providing foods that are in season, local and organic."
Consumers Union and the Eat Well Guide have teamed up to help you find what you need for your local meal. Puget Sound Fresh is encouraging people to go local this Thanksgiving, as is Seattle Tilth. The Daily Green is talking about it, as is New York magazine. Even Emeril is getting into the act, featuring recipes and farms from the Mid-Atlantic.
So, if you plan to have a turkey as your centerpiece, now is the time to see what your options are. Can you find a local, heritage, free-range, or organic turkey? Or even just a bird in a locally-owned store if you don't have access to something local at this point? Think about what your family traditions are as well as what is available at this season in your area (or what you've put up previously)--then figure out a menu.
Personally, I'm going to miss cranberries, which we have not been able to source locally so far. I think a fig chutney should keep me pretty happy, though. Another change I'm going to make, I think, is to move from wheat-bread stuffing to cornbread stuffing, since we grew corn in our little backyard this year. Perhaps we'll mash those few little potatoes we harvested. Our garden just might produce enough greens, and at the farmer's market we can acquire those absolutely essential Brussels sprouts, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and apples. Our turkey will come from an Amish farmer from whom we regularly procure our milk and cheese.
Just planning a meal with local sources will make you grateful for the gift of your community.
Tell us about your Thanksgiving plans!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
This month’s topic is “Buying Local”, a timely subject considering the holiday season is upon us. Many of us will be sourcing out foods for our gatherings and gifts for friends and family in the next few weeks. How do we determine when to purchase locally? Let’s see what a bunch of folks a lot smarter than I had to say about it.
Donna at Chocolate Crayons and More tells how a former Walmart enthusiast has turned her back on the megastore in an attempt to avoid the hidden costs and social injustices associated with buying from the big chains.
Robbie at Going Green Mama discusses how our uncertain economy brings opportunity for all of us to invest in our neighbors.
Heather at Simple-Green-Frugal is talking about the food aspect of buying local and reminds us that local foods don’t just taste better, they are better – more nutritious and generally less damaging to the earth. And while it can be difficult to commit to a 100% local diet, she reminds us to be mindful of our choices.
Jena at Married to the Farm leaves the philosophical arguments to others and gives us nine easy steps that can help anyone interested in shopping locally to get started.
Mon at Holistic Mama questions whether buying locally is the 'be all - end all' answer to our economic and environmental food problem. As she argues “it's not just about the planet's welfare, it's about the welfare of every single individual on it.” Ruchi at Arduous Blog sets up a similar argument on her blog stating that we need to think global and act local but that, in today’s world economy, “it’s all local.”
Brandi at Organic Needle sews up a holiday quilt of green, kinda green, and not-even-close-to-green holiday gifts. And she threatens Santa Clause too. Elves take note.
Alline at Ecovillage Musings talks about the local shopkeepers that make life a little easier (and a bit nicer) for those who patronize their stores.
Erin at The Conscious Shopper gives us a glimpse at her personal philosophy behind eating local: Conscious Eating. It is a simple and succinct set of ideals that can be used as a litmus test to gauge the mindfulness of food purchases.
Abbie at The Farmer’s Daughter delves into the “Real vs. Fake” Christmas tree issue and offers some great insight from a former family tree farmer.
Tina at crstn85 laments the fact that she is living in a town where the megastores have already taken over and there are very few options left for shopping local. Green Bean at Green Phone Booth also grieves the loss of local mom and pop shops in her post “Monoculture”.
Sara at Your Green Review argues that local food is not necessarily any more environmentally friendly than the 1,500 mile pineapple you’re shunning. She reminds us that making eco-friendly food choices involves more than just tracking transportation miles.
Viv at Kneedly Knots does a better job of summing herself up than I could. “Buy local whenever possible... balance the books at all levels....and don't use credit inappropriately” Sensible advice, Viv.
Michelle at Leaving Excess, a self-proclaimed neophyte when it comes to buying local, is struggling to get on a CSA list and is just starting to navigate the waters of locavorism. Let’s give her some encouragement!
Daphne at Daphne’s Dandelions, a crafter in the Boston area, tells us what life is like from the other side of the local, hand-made economy.
Karen at Goose Juice puts her money where her mouth is and continues to buy local, much to her father’s chagrin.
Devin at Quince Urban Homestead discusses how “buying local” can range from a 100-mile radius during Minnesota’s warm summer month to a continent-wide dragnet during the bleak winter.
Beth at Fake Plastic Fish compares “local” with “community” and argues that they are not as synonymous as one might think.
Green Raven at Green Phone Booth goes radical by honoring the tradition of shopping locally. As she so eloquently states “Being radical in this way is about valuing our connections rather than valuing convenience. It is about staking our lives on what is real and immediate and lasting rather than on what is illusory and transitory. Rather than allowing ourselves to submit to the corporate powers that be, investing in our communities allows us to recognize the radical possibilities of tradition.”
Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to participate in this month’s APLS carnival at the Green Phone Booth. I had a great time reading all of your posts and really appreciated all the different points of view that were expressed.
I hope you’ll join us again next month when Robbie at Going Green Mama will be covering the topic “Children are our most valuable natural resource”. Be sure to check the APLS blog for updates!
Friday, November 14, 2008
A year ago I started on this journey to live a more eco-friendly, simple, sustainable way of life. For the longest time I felt alone. My family did not understand the changes I was making, my friends were not doing it, and there was no one I could talk to without being ridiculed. I felt like I was screaming at the top of my lungs with no one listening. Maybe some of you have had or are having similar experiences?
Like Mavis, who first learned about the horrific treatment of Afghan women felt as though a hand was shoving her out of her chair, forcing her to stand up; I knew in my heart what I was doing was right for me, so I pressed on. Many months later while delving into plastic leaching toxins into our food I discovered Fake Plastic Fish. Finally, I heard another voice. I am sure many of you feel like you are talking to yourselves. Just keep talking! Beth has campaigned against plastic for quite some time now. By continuing to make her voice heard, others have joined her cause, becoming a collective voice communicating towards the same goal.
Erin Brockovich, a twice divorced single mother of three, while organizing papers in a pro bono real estate case, found medical records in the file that caught her eye. After getting permission from one of the firm's principals, Ed Masry, began to research the matter. Her investigation eventually established that the health of countless people who lived in and around Hinkley, California, in the 1960's, 70's and 80's had been severely compromised by exposure to toxic Chromium 6. The Chromium 6 had leaked into the groundwater from the nearby Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Compressor Station. In 1996, as a result of the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind, spearheaded by Erin and Ed Masry, the giant utility paid the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.
stick-to-it-ive-ness n. Informal - Unwavering pertinacity; perseverance.
After a day of work in December of 1955 Rosa Parks paid her fare and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "colored" section. As the bus traveled along its route the white-only seats began to fill up. At the third stop several more white passengers boarded with no reserved seats remaining. Following standard practice the bus driver noted that the front of the bus was filled with two or three white men still standing, and thus moved the "colored" section sign behind Parks and demanded that four black people give up their seats in the middle section so that the white passengers could sit. Refusing to give up her seat, Parks was arrested and found guilty of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. The day of Parks' trial the Women's Political Council distributed 35,000 leaflets asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott lasted 381 days until the law requiring segregation on public buses was lifted.
"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a social activist and leading figure of the early women's movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized woman's rights and woman's suffrage movements in the United States. Stanton's declaration proclaimed that men and women are created equal. She proposed, among other things, a then-controversial resolution demanding voting rights for women. In May of 1869 Stanton joined by Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman's Suffrage Association(NWSA), which Stanton served as its president for 21 years. While always recognized as movement leaders, Stanton and Anthony's voices were soon joined by others who began assuming leadership positions within the movement. The American Woman's Suffrage Association(AWSA) was founded the following November by Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe. In 1890 the organizations merged, creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association(NAWSA) with Stanton as its first president. On January 18, 1892, together with Anthony, Stone, and Isabella Beecher Hooker — Stanton addressed the issue of suffrage before the United States House Committee on the Judiciary. She spoke of the central value of the individual, noting that value was not based on gender. As with the Declaration of Sentiments she had penned some 45 years earlier, Stanton's statement expressed not only the need for women's voting rights in particular, but the need for a revamped understanding of women's position in society and even of women in general:
"The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings. The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear — is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself [...]."
So if you are rambling on to complete silence or receiving defiant replies just keep talking.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The following is excerpted from a piece I wrote in our neighborhood newsletter about a woman who consciously decided to use her resources to pave the way for more mainstream, affordable solar options for others. One thing I found fascinating about talking to this environmental pioneer was that it was clear her work as a professional organizer and her individual thrift (which might not be readily apparent in the following interview) have been paramount in making her dreams come true. I know from speaking to her over the years that she's extremely careful in budgeting and in setting up financial and household systems to help her to make her goals a reality. It's fascinating to realize how powerful it can be to simply use your existing resources wisely. As my neighbor strode across her post-dinner household, instantly located and flipped a binder open to a section on energy sourcing (I caught a brief glimpse of every household appliance manual), I realized once again how useful it can be to simply be organized. This woman carefully tracks her decisions. She'd conducted her project, start to finish, with the idea that not only could she clean up her own energy, but that she'd be prepared to share her experience with her neighbors. What an inspiration.
PT’s been on a mission since 2006 to install solar panels on her Washington, D.C., rowhouse. “We do a lot to reduce our energy consumption. But I kept thinking about my air conditioning – and I wanted to be able to keep cool using clean energy.” So, the intrepid professional organizer tackled the daunting task of sourcing and installing alternative energy sources for her home. PT readily agreed to speak to the local Gazette about her “two-year relationship” with her renewable energy provider in order to help spread the word about the feasibility of going solar in her neighborhood.
Initially inspired by a good friend who installed solar panels (whose husband is in the solar industry), PT signed on to work with a local company called Standard Solar. She said the application process for a DC grant couldn’t have been easier: “The Standard Solar guys came up with the proposal. They helped us write the grant.” She then added a letter to the boilerplate that outlined her desire to serve as a blueprint for others to follow. PT felt strongly that, since “we could afford it…we could be a model for others in the neighborhood.”
PT's family submitted their application for a DC grant early in 2007. By May of that year, she attended an event at the DC Department of the Environment to publicly honor the recipients.
PT’s roof now has nine solar panels, each roughly the size of a door. She estimates that half of their household power will be generated by their panels when they are up and running. She notes that they were “limited by space” from going totally off-grid. When asked why she wanted solar panels badly enough to devote years of her life and thousands of dollars to the project, she says that going solar is: ”all within my vision of what I want my house to do. My house is already green because it’s so small. I choose to line dry all of my clothes and I use blackout lining curtains on my windows. But we wanted to be pioneers…. I had this dream of making energy in a clean way.”
PT says that the DC Department of the Environment grants are a huge incentive for folks willing to go (partially) off the grid. “There’s no way we would have done this without DC’s grant. It would have been twenty five thousand dollars – ridiculous!” With DC grant money, however, the tab for the household’s nine solar panels will come in well under $10,000. PT’s husband, RB, points out the obvious math: even with DC grant and tax credits, the project would take fifteen years to save them money on their electricity bills. PT felt strongly, though, that being pioneers in adopting solar would help pave the way for more sustainable energy options for the larger community. “The thing that’s exciting is that things have changed even since we started,” she says. PT says she’s heard there is a solar co-op that’s formed in Mt. Pleasant. They’re applying for a group grant from DC and will buy in bulk, using the economies of scale to make the process more economical and eco-friendly (for instance, if they need a crane, they’ll all use it at one time).
PT’s longstanding dream “to be part of the movement of renewable energy” is about to come to fruition. In January of 2009, her household will flip a switch and half of their electricity will come from sunshine instead of our local energy company.
Once the panels are live, in January, PT and Standard Solar plan to present a slide show and info session for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at the local elementary school. PT's kids are pretty excited about the project at their house. The ultimate litmus test? They shared their Halloween candy with the Standard Solar workers.
According to PT, there’s a new tax code coming in 2009 that will make the process even more affordable, and she highly recommends Standard Solar. “I had heard that alternative energy people can be flaky.” But, she says, when she has had questions, the company’s been responsive, and when working on installation, the SS crew “was incredibly respectful.” Thanks to the initial investments of early adopters like PT, the rest of us in the mainstream can more easily start to talk about using solar to generate electricity.
Next up for the green pioneers? The family’s thinking about a tankless water heater, radiant heat, a whole house fan, an expanded container garden, and an outdoor line for clothes drying. Oh, and next summer, when it’s sweltering outside? I will smile when I walk by PT’s place knowing she’ll be having her cake and eating it too: keeping cool using the power of the sun.
Contact Standard Solar at info at standardsolar dot com or the DC Dept. of the Environment at 202/535-2600.
Without further ado, the assorted members of the Green Phone Booth would like to present our award (it's a pass-on-the-love kind of thing) to Jennifer Taggart at The Smart Mama. Aside from testing Jess' toys for toxins with her xrf gun and being generally witty and inspired, Jennifer uses her science and lawyering backgrounds to pass on unparalleled info about easily avoidable health hazards. Her long term dream is to provide that information to low income women so they, too, can have the liberty to keep their children safe and healthy. Sounds like a shero to me!
Check out The Smart Mama's lowdown on avoiding vinyl aka PVC, her guide to avoiding bisphenol-A BPA in infant formula, and minimizing the risk from arsenic in pressure-treated wood structures like decks.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
During the summer of 2005, I became a radical.
Actually, that is not quite true. I had already been what I thought was a radical for a long time. I was born with a pink diaper, was the loud-mouthed lone liberal in my high school class, was active in national political protests in college, helped lead a pacifist response to the first Gulf war a few years later, painted Code Pink banners, upheld the right wing (ironically) of a giant peace dove in several parades, etc. I used to believe that being a radical meant marching for causes I believed in.
As an American historian, I also believed that I could practice my radicalism through teaching about the history of injustice in this country and the many awesome fights for equality that have occurred in our history. I wrote about disability discrimination, about racial violence, about institutionalization. While this academic fight seemed tame and subdued compared to raucous protest in the streets, it was nevertheless an authentic expression of this tame-and-subdued girl's own radicalism.
When David and I decided to have a child together, we both were politicized in a new way: an intensely personal and traditional way. The experience of raising a child made me more aware of the importance of taking one's ethics deeply into one's day-to-day life choices. I had a home birth, breastfed my son for three and a half years, and chose to unschool/homeschool him.
The funny thing for me was realizing that what I defined as radical parenting was exactly what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had done. What I began to realize is that contemporary culture had taken away experiences that had naturally belonged to women--often in the name of convenience and modernity. These moments which had previously belonged to real people (and to their friends and communities) were now too often controlled by corporate medicine. It seemed like a radical act just to remember our past and learn lessons from our grandmothers.
In 2005, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured the theme of Food Culture USA. Suddenly, it became clear to me that those traditional-radical decisions I made regarding parenting had their parallels in all aspects of my life. I had been assuming that those decisions were entirely private, but it now became clear to me that these radical traditions were my personal source of power in the public world.
I had long since absorbed from my hobby-farmer grandmother that dietary fiber is at the heart of moral fiber. Now at the booths on the National Mall, I was realizing how many other people had learned this same lesson and played out its truth way beyond where my own mind had taken me.
My young son and I went every day for two weeks to visit the simulated school garden at the heart of the festival. Imagine a world where students learn to appreciate where their food comes from, to participate in the growing of produce in organic fields which respect the planet, to eat a healthy diet they grew themselves in the cafeteria, to prepare nutritious meals for their current and future families, and to communicate with each other across cultures while at the same time valuing those cultural differences.
What really blew me away was how much this kind of project could cut the cord between corporate culture and our everyday lives. What the school could not grow itself, it could purchase from local sustainable farmers. Instead of ordering a Sysco truck full of foods processed at massive packing plants after being produced on factory farms...
... a school system (or even a university) could send some of its dollars to supporting the community itself instead.
And then it occurred to me that the same thing was true for my own food dollars. Since those summer days in 2005, my family has made a more active commitment to growing a bit of our own food, to patronizing the farmers' markets in the area, to looking for CSAs and other farm-direct food options, and to searching out local products in our food co-op and in chain grocery stores.
And then it occurred to me that the same thing was possible for my non-food dollars, too. I'm no expert at all of this and am reminded daily in blogs and newsletters how much is possible.
As Sharon Astyk writes in her amazing Depletion and Abundance, it is time for us to step up to completely transform the economy. If we March on Washington during the day but stop at McDonald's or Red Lobster, at Walmart or J. Crew--pretty much any chain--we are "simultaneously undermining every principle we said we had."
Instead of relying on the tradition of being our brothers' and sisters' keepers, we have allowed relationships of production to occur out of our view, behind curtains that hide the realities of injustice. If we buy a shirt at a discount chain, we don't see if workers are abused or mistreated. We only see the inexpensive price. If we make our purchases locally, we must confront the entire price of each acquisition. How thrifty is it really if our products are made by workers who are not paid properly, who are not given adequate health care, who are treated with cruelty? If we saw these relationships explicitly, in our own community, would we give our dollars to those employers?
It is by letting go of these corporations--and truly valuing the links between real people--that we support both the official community economy of locally-owned businesses and the "under-the-table economy" (as Astyk names it) of peer interactions. Imagine canning pickles with your neighbor's homegrown cucumbers, then sharing the jars. Imagine babysitting the children down the street in exchange for hand-knit scarves made by their parents. Cut the grass of the elderly neighbor down the street, just because she needs the help. And know that when you are there for your community when they are in need, they will be much more likely to be there for you if you ever need help.
Being radical in this way is about valuing our connections rather than valuing convenience. It is about staking our lives on what is real and immediate and lasting rather than on what is illusory and transitory. Rather than allowing ourselves to submit to the corporate powers that be, investing in our communities allows us to recognize the radical possibilities of tradition.
It isn't always easy to make these kinds of change. Living la vida local requires us to rethink how we do things and to recreate new ways to interact as a community. Sometimes, you might be shocked to find how many of your needs can be met within the community. At other times, the resources might not yet be there when we need them. But through our actions, together we will start building what is not only sustainable in its own right, but something that can sustain us as people, body and soul.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
At 11:01 p.m. on November 4, 2008, people broke out into celebration. Stopping their cars on expressways. Amassing in front of the White House. Shouting out of suburban windows.
Some people quietly turned off their television sets and went to bed. With fear in their hearts. With worry in their stomachs.
I was one of those celebrating in the street. My candidate, Barack Obama, had been elected President of the United States. But I know how those other people felt. The people who voted for the other guy. I've been there before. Two elections in a row.
We've all been there at some point.
And even as we embrace President Elect Obama and revel in his "landslide" victory, let us remember that, while he did the popular vote by a decent margin, a little less than half of America voted the other way.
We are still a country divided.
During the campaign, Vice President Elect Joe Biden was heckled by McCain protesters. He urged those in the crowd to keep an open mind and heart where the protesters were concerned. We've got to reach out to them, he said. And indeed we do.
We have much to do in this country. Our economy is in shambles. Our planet in peril. Our educational system has been gutted. Terrorism and war and poverty and injustice rocks the globe. We have much to do and we cannot go it alone.
On election day, I listened to callers on NPR planning election-watching parties. Most callers acknowledged that they would be watching with like-minded friends and family. And why not? It is mighty uncomfortable to watch with those with whom you vehemently disagree. No politics or religion is often the rule at family gatherings for good reason.
Perhaps that is why Proposition 8 - the ban on gay marriage passed - in California. Those voting to ban gay marriage likely don't know any one gay. They likely don't know my brother-in-law, his husband and their beautiful daughter. They don't know that he and his partner have been together for a decade. That he devotes his life to teaching Spanish and English to middle schoolers. That he eats too much chocolate. And that his favorite place to visit is Disneyland. If they did, they might have voted differently - just like this gentleman.
It is not just those on the political right that need to open their eyes, expand their social circles. We on the left are just as guilty.
I assumed all Evangelical Christians were the same - and not in a good way - until I met some intrepid eco-Evangelical bloggers here in cyber-space. My assumptions were wrong. My judgments, small-minded. Turns out, they are people too. Very nice ones, I might add, who care about the environment, about poverty, about justice, about their families.
If we don't get to know one another, how can we expect to change things? If we don't talk to people who believe differently, how we can work together? How can we deal with climate change, the energy crises? How can we rebuild the economy or our food system?
The road home is a long one. I plan to grab a few non-like-minded friends for company. There will be plenty of time to talk and, on the way, we might find we're not so divided after all.
Monday, November 10, 2008
November's been an interesting month so far, eh? All this excitement really makes the time fly! Thanksgiving's coming up faster than a rolling "O", and yet - if you're like me - you're thinking you've still got oodles of time to worry about Christmas presents. It's fun to self-delude, isn't it?
Of course, you don't have tons of time - you just feel that way because Thanksgiving is late this year. Like, really, really, super-duper late. In fact, by the time Turkey Day is over, you'll only have 27 days to git 'er done. Twenty-seven. Oy. Even Santa's elves are twitchin'.
Well never fear, once again Burbanmom's gotcha covered! I have discovered The Perfect Gift for folks of all ages. Well, almost all ages. Those moody teenagers are never happy with anything but cold, hard cash or iTunes. Which, is actually even easier than The Perfect Gift so just get them what they want so they can go back to sulking in their room.
But for everyone else on your list? The Perfect Gift is (drumroll, please)... A Museum Membership
Yes, I know, [Burbanmom = (√ DORK)*(Σ NERD, GEEK)+3]
Seriously, though, this really is a cool present, even for the not-so-nerdy ones. The Association of Science-Technology Centers has a magnificent Passport Program that includes over 290 participating science centers throughout the world that you can visit with one single membership.
And who doesn't love a science museum? Traveling exhibitions, lecture series, model train shows, iMax theatres, planetariums, interactive exhibits... so much good stuff to be found at the science museum and almost every major city has one.
Moms love them because it gives them something to do with the kids that doesn't involve messing up the house. Grandparents love them for the same reason. And kids love them because they don't get yelled at for messing up the house. Win-Win-Win.
And single ladies? They love them because the museum is a great place to meet smart guys. And dumb guys? They love them because it makes the ladies think they're smart.
I'm tellin' ya, this gift has got you covered!
And what makes the membership great is that it provides a whole year's worth of entertainment on just one teeny-tiny card. The recipient can go to the museum as often as they want and can visit the other participating science centers when they travel - all for free - simply wave your magic membership card at the ticket counter!
Ok, want to know what really makes this such a great gift? The price. If you've got lots folks to buy for, you can purchase premium level memberships for as low as $200* which will give you memberships for a dozen recipients! How can you go wrong? You're supporting a great cause, spending your money locally, providing an educational (but far from boring) gift and using minimal resources. Best of all? NO LEAD-COVERED PLASTICRAP!
So if you're looking for The Perfect Gift, look no further. Simply check this list for the museum nearest you and then hit their website for current membership info. Bada-bing, Bada-boom!
*Costs may vary depending on the museum where you purchase your membership. I was far too lazy to look up other museums and am hoping to high heaven that the Richmond museum's pricing is comparable to those near you. Most likely, I will be wrong. Because Burbanmom also = [price check FAIL].
Oh, and PS? If you're my husband, please note that we already have these passes, in which case you should get me The Perfect Gift II.