Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Diamonds* Are a Girl's Best Friend

From the bean of Green Bean.

I'd noticed the store years ago. I always notice these kinds of stores. The neat, trim window front. The simple but blinding display. I remember gazing through that window longingly, craning my neck to look at price tags, before my husband and I got engaged.

The small leather boxes twinkle with memories, shiny and solid. The thick black velvet cradles a necklace of golden stones, a bracelet of blue and red and even a tiara. Green stones blinking, seed pearls tiny and imperfect, set out for the world to see.

I can count on one hand the pieces of nice jewelry that I own. Well, actually, half a hand. I'm not that into jewelry really. In fact, I never so much as look at it . . . unless, well, unless it's old.

There is something about estate jewelry. In this world of sameness, estate jewelry is one of a kind. Truly unique. Most often it is hand crafted. It holds a story. Memories. History. Who knows who owned it before? Whose great grandmother? Some marchioness in a distant land? Like all good second hand goods, it also comes cheaper than new and doesn't serve up a big ole carat of guilt.

Few things come with as much eco-baggage as new jewelry.

I had long heard of the trouble with diamonds. I watch Blood Diamond. The entire continent of Africa has been torn asunder, children have been turned into soldiers, women raped, villages destroyed as various factions fight over diamonds.

I had no idea, however, that the eco-issues with jewelry don't stop at diamonds. According to Big Green Purse, gold mining is equally problematic. "Toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury, which leach gold out of rock, pollute drinking water supplies, contaminate farmland, and threaten the health of workers and communities. One gold ring generates 20 tons of mine waste." Read more about the impact of gold mining at No Dirty Gold.

Which brings me back to the window in front of me. Patina. That's the name of the store. It connotes a beauty that comes only with natural aging. I twist the engagement ring on my finger. A vintage piece that my husband bought at an antique store. I love my ring. I've never seen another like it. It holds my history as well as the history of some other woman from some other time. The impact of its creation are long past. The small diamond still gleams in the sunlight. Yes, I love this ring.

But, if I were to ever need another piece of jewelry, a pretty necklace, for instance, I'd know where to look. After all, diamonds - certain diamonds - are a girl's best friend.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sweet HFCS-free Summer Treat

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Who does not love a frozen, sweet treat to cool you down on a hot summer day? But, do you know what makes that treat sweet? Odds are it is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

According to Wikipedia: High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) - called isoglucose in Europe and glucose-fructose in Canada - comprises any group of corn syrups that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert its glucose into fructose and has then been mixed with pure corn syrup (100% glucose) to produce a desired sweetness.

So what is big deal with this stuff? Does it cause obesity? Maybe. Diabetes? Again, maybe. Are we consuming way more of it then we realize? Most likely. Do my hot dogs really need HFCS? Absolutely not. And neither do my summer treats.

In the latest issue of Mother Earth News I ran across a recipe for a simple granita using a summer fruit I currently have a bounty of: strawberries.

Strawberry Ice

1 cup hot water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 cups sliced strawberries

Mix hot water, sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Blend 3 cups strawberries in processor or blender until smooth. Add sugar syrup and blend until combined. Pour mixture into 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Freeze for about 25 minutes or until icy around edges. Using fork, pull icy portions into middle of pan. Repeat this step every 20 minutes until all liquid is frozen into flaky, loose crystals. Cover and freeze. When ready to serve, use fork again to scrape crystals into bowls and garnish with berries. Serves about 6.

The ingredients:

I did not have fresh lemons, but the bottled juice worked just fine.

The pan:

I am not so good at following recipes. I am pretty sure that was way more than 3 cups sliced strawberries. I never measured. Never sliced them either. Anyway, a bigger pan was in order. I poured the mixture into a jelly roll pan thinking it would freeze faster.

The freezer:

Not a whole lot I can say about that. Yes, that is a bag of pizza rolls in the back right corner. Even super-heroes have vices.

The first 25 minutes:

It was hard to keep from eating it at this point. What? It was sticking to the fork and I had to get it off.

Sometime later:

Just keep scraping. After a while it seems like a work out, but well worth the effort.

The reward:

Sorry, I ate it all before remembering to take a picture. I could not help myself, it was just that good. You will have to use the picture at the beginning of the post borrowed from the web as reference.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Superheroes' Secrets

From the bean of Green Bean.

We've come along way from the last administration. There's a major climate change bill making its way through the Congress. There's an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn and a White House. There are green jobs flourishing and, it's all good . . . mostly. I mean, if you overlook the fact that Obama's hired some folks from GMO villain, Monsanto, to work in his admin (via Eat. Drink. Better.). If you overlook that, then its all good.

What? You don't think it's all good? You think we've got a ways to go? If so, you've got a few options.

First, it is not too late to declare your independence from the industrial food chain this July 4th. Check out Food Independence Day to see whether your state's first family is on board, to brag about your kid growing food or to sign the petition to support a local food system. And if you live on the West Coast? What up?? We're getting our berries kicked by the other coast.

Still in the fighting spirit, check out Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade and join the food revolution.

The revolution, though, is not all about forks. It's also about pitchforks. Growing our own. And Kale for Sale suggests we figure out how and why to do that by reading Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.

Need a bit more inspiration to pick up the trowel? Check out the beauty of farming seasonally in a Year of Harvests at Skippy's Garden and start growing.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

To Crazy and Back Again

The Adventures of a Rehabilitated Eco-Nut

Please welcome back from retirement, my first blogger love, Burbanmom. She always made me laugh. She frequently made me think. And she sometimes made me cry. The Booth is beyond excited to have Burbs stick her big toe back into the blogging world with today's guest post. - Green Bean

So... where were we? Oh yea, I was hanging up my keyboard in favor of "real-world" interaction. And I must admit, it's going just swimmingly.

I am BEYOND excited to be back in school - I already have two classes under my belt and I'm starting another class next week... The kiddos are out of school for the summer and we are having more fun than a bucket full of iguanas... Hubby and I actually had a grown-up get-away last month - the first in almost two years (ok, it did end in him in the hospital with kidney stones, but other than that little incident, it was a really nice time)... And the Environmental Committee is up and running and doing all sorts of good stuff.

All things told, this "real-world" is a nice place to live. Real nice. I'm surprised it took me so long to get back to it.

What am I talking about? I'm talking about the 18 month hiatus I took from my real-life to be a raging lunatic eco-nazi. During that year and a half, I made myself absolutely nuts - tracking every drop of water, tallying kilowatts, measuring garbage, counting "2 pees and a poo". Seriously. What sane person counts 2 pees and a poo?!? That is just not normal. To top it all off, I was spending hours upon hours blogging about my insane pursuit of environmental perfection - instead of spending quality time with my husband and kids.

So what are you saying 'Burbs? Are you saying that we shouldn't try to save the planet? Are you, at this very moment, packing up a case of bottled water and driving a Hummer up to Antarctica to hunt baby seals?

Don't be ridiculous. Baby seal hunting season doesn't open till November.

What I'm saying is that I was driving myself (and my family) nuts trying to single-handedly save the planet. I pushed all of our collective wants and needs aside in an attempt to help the environment. And do you know what I got in return? Satisfaction? well, yeah, sure... but mostly I got stressed out and frazzled. And you don't want to see this OCD, addictive, Type A personality, wreck of a work-at-home mom when she's stressed out and frazzled.

But I do want to make this clear: I'm not bashing eco-nuts. I was one. In fact, a lot of folks would say I am one. After all, I still compost. That's weird, right? I still bring my own bags. I still conserve water and electricity and gas and I still shun disposable, single-use beverages. I even went and got myself a Diva Cup. Let's face it, compared the Joneses, I'm a living life on the enviro-fringe. So why, then, am I declaring myself sane if I'm still doing many of the same things I did when I was downright certifiable?

Attitude. It's all in the attitude, my friends.

During my uber-eco phase, hubby would go in to brush his teeth and the sound of the water pouring down the drain as he brushed was like the screeching sound of a bad set of acrylics on a chalkboard. "When. Will. He. Shut. It. OFF?!?!?!?" But now? I don't even hear it.

A year ago, if the bagger at the grocery store put my ice cream in a plastic bag before placing it in my canvas bag, I would jump on him. "No plastic bags, please!!" Not only that, but I would stew over it all day and bitch about it to anyone who would listen. Now, I just accept it and move on. Hey, he was just trying to be nice and you know what, I can use that bag when I'm walking the dog.

Last year, people waiting at preschool with their motors running on beautiful 70 degree days would make me feel all stabby. Now, I just smile and wave at them as I sit outside enjoying the weather. Sometimes they join me. Sometimes they don't. Their choice, not mine.

Their choice. Not mine.

One more time for lots of added emphasis:

Their choice. Not mine.

I can't change others and it's not my job to try to do so. People will do what they do. They will make their own decisions and I have very little control over the choices they make. But that doesn't really matter. Know why? Because I'm happy with my choices.

Very happy.

Happy to be enjoying time with my family and not lecturing them about the corn-syrup laden snacks they're eating. Happy to be back in school and not worrying about whether I can find a used copy of the required textbook. Happy to be hanging out with friends and not twitching when they don't bring reusable mugs (or don't even own one - GASP!).

Happy to be living lightly - but not obsessively so.

I'm just happy to be happy again. Because feeling happy beats feeling stabby any day of the week.

So my advice? Do what you can to help the environment. But don't make yourself crazy. Enjoy the journey and be happy. Because if you're not happy, life is just a very depressing series of counting pees and poos.


- Burbs

Sustainable Soda

From the bean of Green Bean.

On my recent cookbook binge, I came across a recipe for homemade soda. I shook my head and kept shuffling through the pages. I wasn't much of a soda drinker really. First off, I don't do corn syrup which cinches it for most sodas. Second, who really needs all those extra empty calories. I'll save mine for a nice piece of berry cobbler, thank you very much.

As I moved past the drink section into appetizers, I kept thinking about the homemade soda though. Truth be told, I had recently indulged in an agave soda at a local sustainable eatery. It had been, well, delicious.

Perhaps a homemade soda might not be so ridiculous, I mused, flipping the pages of the entrees. It was a cherry soda after all and, well, it is cherry season. Indeed, it could be lovely. A few borage flowers from my garden floating amongst the ice. Some bing cherries from the farmers' market bobbing to the surface. Yes, lovely indeed.

I smiled, bookmarking the dessert section, and hurried back to my soda recipe. I scanned it carefully:

Cherry-Vanilla Cream Soda
from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose

2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split length-wise
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup cherry juice
1 quart soda water (e.g., club soda)

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water and the sugar. Add the vanilla bean. Boil over medium heat for 2 minutes or until the mixture has reduced to a thin syrup.

Remove the vanilla bean. Rinse in hot water. Set aside to air-dry and reserve for another use.

Allow the syrup to cool. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts and the cherry juice.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the syrup over ice cubes in a tall glass and fill with club soda. Stir to combine.

Not too hard. I had most of the ingredients but would have to pick up some cherry juice.

A couple nights later, in a dimly lit kitchen, I stirred together my concoction. Sweet, I noted, as I spooned it into some glass jars. It keeps for a week in the fridge.

That weekend, I served it at a barbecue. Memorable. Original. Unique. Not Coke or Pepsi. I received many compliments but none so sweet as my bite into the last cherry, soaked in cherry-vanilla cream goodness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Buy Local . . . Or At Least I Want To

From the bean of Green Bean.

Like a good little green girl, I checked out a dozen local foods cookbooks from the library a month or so ago. I poured over them, noting recipes, ogling photos, debating whether any of them warranted a purchase.

I finally settled on one. A beautiful and thoughtful cookbook, peppered with old fashioned recipes and tales of long forgotten generations. Then the decision making began.

Do I buy this new or look for it used?

It's fairly easy to find a specific used book these days. Not only does Amazon have a "Used Books" section but Abe's Books is a web site that is entirely dedicated to connecting used books buyers with their books of choice.

Normally, I'm all about second hand. By indulging in used goods, I'm forgoing the guilt that goes with the resources a "first hand" product sucks up. When it comes to books, however, I've been bitten by the Big Box Swindle bug. After swimming through that eye-opening book, I've made an even more concerted effort to support independent bookstores. They are owned by people in our neighborhoods, people who support our schools and city government. Even more, though, independent bookstores shape our culture. They enable new, undiscovered authors to find readers and are responsible for many of the big breaks these authors have enjoyed.

Decision made.

I checked out IndieBound.com, a superb online resource that lets you support your independent bookseller yet comes with all the convenience and selection of Amazon.com. As well as inflated shipping fees . . .

$8.00 to ship one book!?!

Never mind. I logged off. I'll simply pick the book up at an independent bookstore.

Of course, I don't have an independent bookstore in my town. Or the town on either side of me. Or the town on either side of them.

No worries. There is an independent bookstore in my parents' hometown. The next time I paid my parents a visit, I trekked over to the tidy local bookstore, only to find that they don't carry the book that I was looking for.

A weekend getaway to a small coastal town offered another independent bookstore. It's windows boasted organic, seasonal cookbooks, tomes by Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle. This would be the place!

Only it wasn't. That store didn't carry my book either.

Another week passed and an errand took me three towns away to an enormous, independent bookseller. One featured in Big Box Swindle. With great pride, I stepped through the automatic doors. The store was beautiful. Clean. Well stocked. Signs promoting local authors were neatly positioned at the aisle's ends. Certainly, this bookstore would have my well sought after cookbook.

I searched the Cooking section. Quite a selection. Baking. Vegetarian. Ethnic. Seasonal. Hundreds of books. Except the one I was looking for. The one I'd located on that store's site, through IndieBound.com.

I waited in line and asked the cashier. After checking his computer, he apologized. The book was out of stock. He'd happily order it for me and it would arrive in 2-4 days. Well, that would suffice if I lived nearby but I didn't foresee any errand bringing me back down here anytime soon and, as green as it is to buy local, is it just as green to drive out of the way to buy local?

A peek at Amazon put the book at $10.50 under what independent booksellers sell it for plus Amazon offered free shipping. Does supporting local mean that we pay a $18.50 surcharge per $32 cookbook? That we pound the pavement on a number of different storefronts, in search of an item already at our fingertips for a substantial savings? Is that the price of free enterprise? Of keeping new authors writing, our neighbors in business, our communities intact, and our conscience's clean?

I guess it is but I thought buying local would be a simpler choice.

* NOTE: I did end up ordering my book and a copy for my mom through IndieBound.com. Because my order was over $50, the bookstore offered free shipping.

Monday, June 22, 2009

In all energy-fairness.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the 20th Anniversary Energy Fair of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (mrea).  Touted as the world's largest and longest running renewable energy fair, Custer, Wisconsin drew over 22,000 attendees last year.  This year featured 200 workshops, 270 exhibits, speakers, music, food and beautiful weather.  Wisconsin weather has been less than ideal lately.  In my neck of the woods anyway it has done nothing but rain.  Rain, rain, rain.  A two and half hour bus trip North however revealed sunny skies and warm breezes.  Ideal conditions for an energy fair that generates 100% of its electricity on site through wind and solar.

I sat in on several workshops: root cellaring, herbs for everyday, year-round gardening, and seed saving.  That is about half of the ones circled on my schedule that I wanted to attend.  I would have liked to done more, but ran out of time.  I did not get to see any of the demonstrations.  There were building straw bale, cordwood, and whole tree homes and a demo on solar hot-water heaters on my list.  Next year I would like to go for two days.  

I wandered through the Clean Energy Car Show and noticed an abundance of Volkswagens being converted one way or another.  Along with a collection of oddities.

In between the car show and workshops I made my way through the four exhibit halls and past hundreds of vendors showcasing everything from gardening books and compost bins to photovoltaic and wind turbines.

Along the way I picked up books on food preservation, vermicompost, permaculture, and seed saving.  Also snagged myself a set of bamboo To-Go Ware, a Wrap-N-Mat, a set of BYO bags produce bags, and a hand-made hat.  I signed up for a subscription to Mother Earth News magazine and the Herb Companion while at their booth.  I even spotted Jenn Savedge's (the green parent) book The Green Teen at New Society Publishers' booth.

Upon exiting one of the exhibit halls I was greeted by the smell of fresh-baked bread.  I was not anywhere near the food court, but my nose knows the heavenly aroma of warm bread.  Sure enough it was at my feet, baking away in a solar oven.

The sight and smell of fresh bread made me hungry, so I decided to make my way to the food court.  Standing in line for a lemonade I wondered how I was going to bypass the plastic cup? Much to my surprise the cup and all other food service was compostable.  Everything used in the food court had to be compostable: the cups, plates, silverware, straws - everything.  The waste collection areas were divided into recycle, compost, trash.

There was not a whole lot in the trash.  Even the food scraps were being composted.   Meat, bones, and all - I had ribs for lunch.   The was no bottled water allowed for sale.  Instead they had free drinking stations set up where you could get a sip or refill your water bottle.  In the beer tent you had to purchase a glass made of glass to drink from.   

There was a charging station for cell phones, laptops, etc that was completely solar powered. In fact the entire fair is run on renewable energy.  There are several wind turbines and solar panels on the grounds.  The port-a-potties had waterless washing stations with no paper towels.   It was very well done.

What I did not see was trash, plastic, plastic bags, or excessive waste.  It is nice to know that over 20,000 people can congregate in one area and still keep it clean.  Why are more festivals not like this?  I realize that the people attending this fair were eco-conscious, sporting stainless steel water bottles and carrying their own bags, but the practices used were not difficult to execute.  If put out there for all to see, one might stop and think about their choices.  Two receptacles stand before me, one labeled trash and one recycle with a sign clarifying: plastic, glass, aluminum...  I am holding a super-sized plastic cup, which one do I choose?  If there is only one bin the choice is already made for me.

Speaking of putting it out there for all to see, this t-shirt at one of the booths says it all.

If you are looking for something to do next June, come to Custer, Wisconsin, when the population swells from 2,000 to 20,000 and check out the 21st Anniversary Energy Fair.  You will be among friends no matter where you are from.  Don't forget to bring your bags!

Friday, June 19, 2009

I'll drink to that with... a cup full of summer!

We liked Truffula Mama so much the last time she dropped a few seeds over here to report on greening potlucks, that we've asked her to become a regular guest poster. She's back again today to share another tale from the green trenches.

First, a little background:

My childhood experience of herbs and spices was that these came in small glass jars or McCormick tins (remember those?). It was a revelation when, while visiting an aunt, she sent me out to her garden with a pair of scissors, and the request to snip a few chives to jazz up our dinner. Herbs from the garden? And they were ok to eat?!

Of course, the chives were not only ok, but very yummy. Since then, I've embraced fresh parsley (I confess: I can't walk past those plants without snagging a leaf to savor), basil (makes lovely tea; who knew?!) blue balsam mint (divine!), lemon balm, sage, and more. As I've gotten more adventurous, I've nibbled on nasturtium (lovely in toasted cheese sandwiches), and made cookies with lemon verbena (yes, there were little green bits in these treats, and... they were oh so perfect).

In short, I'm sold on the concept of edible landscaping. And, having experienced its culinary blessings, I've stuck a toes into the realm of the medicinal, which... leads us to...

Today's post:

My elderberry shrub is in bloom. Full bloom. Georgeous bloom. The tiny white flowers will give way to almost equally tiny berries. Said berries are supposed to be full of healthy goodness, including helping you fight the flu. That sounded good to me. So, last year, I gathered a batch, boiled them, and turned them into a syrup, just in case illness struck.

Unfortunately, handwashing was not enough to keep the winter beasties away, and I had to dip into my syrup stash. My immune system was boosted by more than my DIY concoction: with each dose I dispensed for myself, I thought back to that warm mid-summer day on which I had visited with my shrub, gathered its fruit while basking in the sun's warmth, picked out the gazillion stems (a labor of love!), and created the syrup. My heart smiled at the memory represented on my spoon.

This is relevant is because my garden has taught me to courageously expand my boundaries, stepping out a little further with each growing season. About those elder flowers... this year (this week, in fact) I'm drying some for tea. Sure, I could buy them, packaged up (probably in plastic!) and ready to go. It wouldn't be the same, though, as I'd be missing that healing element of knowing that my garden yielded this gift of health.

Really, this is all a sort of insurance. I'm hoping that my throat won't scratch, and fever and its aches will remain at bay. But, if the germs insist on invading, I've got ingredients for a homegrown tea -- a cup of summer -- waiting in the wings to help my body (and spirits!) recover.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cooking the Books

From the bean of Green Bean.

As you may have noticed from all of my DIY baking projects lately, I've got a bagel in my bonnet. Part was inspiration from a new friend who leads a mysterious double life as a baker, churning out beautiful and tasty treats. Part was the season. With school winding down, volunteer projects are also, thankfully, on the wan and leave me with of breathing, I mean, baking space. But the biggest part, perhaps, was a trip down library lane.

Instead of forking over a hundred dollars on a dozen new cookbooks, I reserved a number of copies from the local library. As they've rolled in, I've perused. I've sighed over photos. I've squinted over ingredients. I've dabbled.

And now I'm back with a round up on my recent cookbook adventures.

Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley first caught my eye. It is the quintessential locavore/seasonal cookbook. It is for the kitchen gardener and the urban hen-farmer. It's pages are sleek and riddled with extra large glossy photos. I really wanted to love this cookbook. I really did. But, I just don't.

Maybe it is personal taste but none of the recipes (with the exception of a few baked goods in the back), appeal to me. I will photocopy the pizza dough recipe - which rocked - and sigh over the lemon scone recipe one more time but back to the library this book will go. Grade: C.

Recipes from America's Small Farms by Joanne Lamb Hayes is a lovely little book. It's heavy on content and light on photos - meaning none. The recipes are not crazily inventive but they are seasonal, would flex my cooking muscles just enough and have got me yearning. Hellllo, the Church Potluck Rhubarb Cake? Calling my name, much? And just so you don't think that I'm only about desserts, I'm so going to try the Golden Beet Risotto and Broccoli Flan. Okay, the flan sounds dessert-ish. All the better, though! It is broccoli after all. Grade: B.

I thought that popular Fresh From the Farmers' Market by Janet Fletcher would be as wonderful as Recipes from America's Small Farms - but better because its photogenic food. It is extremely well organized and contains a thoughtful section on each ingredient available from the farmers' market. The photos are artistic and beautiful. Unfortunately, though, Fresh From the Farmers' Market is light on recipes. Very light. I marked a couple pages - persimmon ice cream for one because I never know what to do with all the fruit from my parents' and in-laws' trees - but this book is definitely going back to the 'brary. Grade: C.

Food to Live By by Myra Goodman is quite a tome. I'm not sure when I last saw so many tantalizing recipes, accompanied by small and relatively uninteresting photos, packed into one book. The author is affiliated with organic packaged lettuce giant, Earthbound Farm, of The Omnivore's Dilemma (e.g., big industrial organic) fame. Indeed, the book is even subtitled: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook. That does give me a bit of pause. Not that it's bad. Not that I won't sample dozens of these recipes. Not that I won't renew the book as many times as I'm allowed. But it does give me pause. Grade: B.

Ironically, of all the books I checked out, the one I fell in love with is the least connected to the Eat Local movement. Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose is a beautiful, hearty cookbook. The focus is more on old fashioned food than on following a locavore's rules or shopping strictly seasonally. My photographer friend gave a thumbs up on the colorful, regional photos. The author adds a note or two to the recipes - infusing them with a sense of place, of history, of family. I've already tried several of the recipes and day dreamed about others. The Banana Bread was divine.

My biggest takeaway though: I am going to own this cookbook. Of all the ones I've skimmed during my month-long book binge, for me, Screen Doors, is the only one worth buying. I'm buying a copy for my mom too, who was hooked by the photos of Banana Pudding. Who can blame her?!? The library can keep this copy. I need my own. Grade: A.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Greener Getaways

From the bean of Green Bean.

It was Sunday. The birds chirped. A cow lowed in the distance. Dishes clattered in the kitchen downstairs and, if I strained my ears, I could hear the quiet cluck of chickens.

I glanced at my watch. 7:40. Still another fifty minutes until breakfast. I rolled over and closed my eyes, thinking to go back to sleep.

I could not remember the last time I had slept this late. We were going home today. Back to the constant chatter of children. The busy schedules. The din of the television or the drone of passing cars. Far away from a cow perched on a green green hill. Or a kayak drifting over scores of jelly fish. Or a mountain trail leading past wildflowers to the open ocean.

My in-laws were watching the boys. Our first weekend without them since my oldest wiggled into the world and transformed our lives. Our first weekend and it was almost over.

When the idea of a weekend away first came up, we had shifted through various scenarios. In years past, vacations involved airplanes and islands. Chain hotels and room service. Relaxing, yes. Expensive, indeed. Memorable, on rare occasions. Eco-friendly, hardly.

This getaway would be different. We were different. We were looking for different things.


We live in the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area. A place surrounded by short drives to the coast in almost any direction. Redwoods soar just thirty minutes away, over a few hills and around a windy road. Sea otters and seals float an hour to the south. To the east and north, lies farm land. State and national parks border us on all sides and offer succor from the noise and increased blood pressure that comes with living in an urban center. (If you live in California or have visited California state parks, ask the Governator to keep our parks open here!)

We settled on Point Reyes, a small seaside town to the north. Not too far north. Just far enough. Somewhere wonderful. Somewhere in our own backyard. Somewhere we'd visited only once, at a wedding, years and years ago.


If we had had with kids with us, we'd likely have opted for camping. A second hand tent. Kids carousing in the creek. Counting the stars at night. What's more eco and frugal?

Of course, we didn't have the kids and, while a bed of soft dirt and redwood fronds can be quite comfortable, we opted for something a little softer. A local bed and breakfast.

A B&B is the perfect way to support a independent small business. It's also a great way to enjoy a quiet night, a claw foot tub, gardens loved by someone else.

With some investigating, we found a bed & breakfast that was right up my eco-alley. A certified green business that served breakfast from eggs laid on the premises by a dozen happy hens. That stocked its bathrooms with organic cotton towels and Seventh Generation toilet paper and filled its fridge with organic soda and local produce. I daresay that its not the only B&B of its ilk. Indeed, a member of the Green Moms Carnival operates something similar in her neck of the woods.


Beyond the obvious, which, if you are a mom vacationing without your kids, is "nap", living lighter means adopting more habitable hobbies. I'm not Ms. Outdoors by a long shot. My bicycle is a beach cruiser, not road bike, and hikes usually mean a stroll to the store.

But in the interest of treading lighter, reconnecting with nature, and getting into some semblance of shape, we opted for more active activities. Ones with virtually no impact on the surrounding habitat.

A borrowed road bike took us down a pretty country lane. The only sound for miles around was the whirring of my tires and the rustle of birds in the brush.

A guided tour of Tomales Bay by kayak revealed a harbor seal, a handful of a moon jellyfish (the non-stinging kind - looks like a silicone breast implant), a sea-ful of Lion's Mane jellyfish (the stinging kind) and an inner peace I've never before experienced.

A hike past wildflowers and beaches revealed how our ancestors, the coastal Miwoks, lived. How every plant had a purpose. Wooden teepees rested on the shore, waiting for children to venture inside.

And a good library book held my attention far more than any television show would.

Easy. Relaxing. Simple hobbies. Ones that rely on brain or body power and not fossil fuel power. One that leave no footprint behind.


We were lucky enough to stumble into the heart of the eat local movement but I daresay that almost every getaway can involve some local food.

Independent restaurants. Roadside fruit stands. Small bakeries. Little delis. Eat what is in season where you are and experience a bit of what makes that place unique and unlike any other.

With an organic smoothie made from local produce in the cup holder and a lap full of locally grown cherries, we drove over the Golden Gate bridge, leaving behind dreams of dairy farms and lapping water, but taking with us memories of a greater, greener getaway.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Healthy Child, Healthy World

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I received this book some time ago and finally have the time to start reading it.  I am only three chapters in, but could not wait to write about it.  Healthy Child, Healthy World: Creating a cleaner, greener, safer home by Christopher Gavigan is a how-to of sorts geared towards parents wanting a healthy home environment.  I feel it is much more than that.  My children are older (15 and 13), so I am not a paranoid first-time-must-protect-my-child-from-everything parent, but I do want them to be safe.  Along with myself and anyone else who steps foot in my home.  This book is packed with invaluable information for anyone wanting to create a cleaner, greener, safer home - no matter what stage you are at on that journey.  

Each chapter is broken down into simple steps you can take to achieve your goal: from preparing for baby to what you put in and on your body through food, body care and clothing, all the way through the effects of having a pet, home improvement, and the grass you grow outside.  Along the way are anecdotes from parents and expert opinions from trusted officials.  The little sidebar statics grab me every time.  Like this one:  

Number of active ingredients in antibacterial products classified as pesticides. (Environmental Protection Agency, 2007)

Whoa.  Do I really want to be rubbing pesticides on my body, let alone my child's?

The Healthy Bytes are super simple suggestions that make me stop and say, "Now, why didn't I think of that?".  The book also offers DIY tips and recipes and resources on taking the next step.  Healthy Child, Healthy World is an easy educational read that will surely become a useful reference guide pulled off the shelf many times in my home.  Now if you will excuse me, I am looking forward to Chapter 4: Natural Body Care.


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