Sunday, December 20, 2009

Eating in the Snow: Dark Days Update

Here at Chez Raven, located inside the beltway of Washington DC, we were blessed with almost twenty inches of snow this weekend!

My family spent much of the weekend sitting on the couch watching the snow, enjoying fires in the fireplace, listening to books on tape, knitting, and drinking warm beverages.

*  *  *

We started the morning with migas (made with local eggs, cheese, onions, and salsa as well as home-grown parsley picked just before the snow--but non-local beans) and mimosas (made fresh with non-local clementines and champagne):

migas and mimosas

mimosas during snow

* * *

I spent most of the day knitting holiday presents in the warmth of our house while David and our son shoveled the driveway, made snow forts, and went sledding.

*  *  *

Our brisket dinner cooked all day in the crockpot. I added to the pot a few onions, some turnips, mushrooms, carrots, shredded cabbage, and dehydrated greens. Before serving, I shredded the meat and added it back to the liquid. We served the stew next to mashed potatoes.  Everything was local except the tomato paste I added to the sauce.  We enjoyed some local red wine along with our meal.

local dinner--during snow

* * *

Dessert during the snow was homemade eggnog with local milk, egg yolks from local organically raised free-range chickens (important if you're consuming raw eggs), and maple syrup from the farmer's market. The adults spiked with non-local bourbon.

egg nog

* * *

This time, we decided not to have our meals at the bistro table on our deck.  The lump on the left lower than the table is my chair!

bistro table in snow

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Making the Oil Last


image source: Jewish Review

Chanukah/Hanukkah is a beautiful holiday celebrating the universal hope for the return of the light as we approach the winter solstice.

It is also a time when Jews celebrate both the victory of the weak against the mighty, as well as the "miracle of the oil" when one day's worth of sacred olive oil in the eternal lamp stayed lit for eight days as the early Jews rededicated their temple after its desecration. This event was perhaps the world's first oil shock, and resource conservation is obviously the moral of the story. (Well, perhaps everyone doesn't read it that way.)

We are facing questions of oil again now. Again we ask ourselves: "How long will it last?" Peak Oil activists deal with this issue. And climate activists ask us to try to use less oil in order to save the planet. We have to recognize that this time, we should not expect a sequel to the Hanukkah miracle.

Thinking about the holiday from these perspectives can shake our ideas about long-celebrated traditions. Jews all over the world celebrate by eating foods cooked in oil, especially latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). As Culiblog says, "Now I don’t know why it took me so long to question the logic of this, but why do we celebrate this miracle of oil conservation by massively increasing oil consumption? Shouldn’t we be eating the opposite of oily foods? Shouldn’t Chanukkah be an oil fast, a holiday of raw and steamed vegetables and bike riding?"

my post is continued here

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Journey to Green, part 2

For my entire life, I have enjoyed gardening--especially growing herbs and vegetables. I'm sure I got the desire to grow my own food from Granny, and from my mother who carried on the tradition for many years. Growing up, I had cherry tomatoes growing outside my playhouse. In college, I kept a pot of mint on my windowsill for making tea. In grad school, a variety of herbs on a fire escape. And as soon as we bought a house, David and I began to plant vegetables in our back yard. There have been years when we've grown a lot and others when we've let the weeds get the better of the beds. I did not plant in order to be self-sufficient or for environmental reasons. I did it because it was a pleasure. As our son grew up, he got excited about what we were doing and enjoyed puttering around in the sunshine as we dug, planted, and weeded.

Every summer we spent days away from our garden at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And in 2005 when our son had just turned 6yo, one of the themes was American Food Culture. I was excited to learn more about the variety of food traditions and tastes from all the cultures that make up this diverse country.

What I really did not expect is how world-expanding this summer festival would be for me. Rather than only celebrating the abundance of cooking creativity around the country, the festival focused on SOLE food--that is, sustainable, organic, local, and ethical food.

Slow Food was there, articulating the connection between the pleasure of community and the politics of our food practices. I loved their message and it resonated with not only my hedonist side but my old-fashioned plain side. They also talked about the need to celebrate and protect our native foods to keep them from being eradicated. This was an entirely new message for me.

I also learned much more about how organic farming methods not only were good for our bodies but good for both the workers on organic farms and the land itself. I learned how "corporate organic" was an inferior choice to sustainably-raised organic (even when it is not certified organic). And, due to lectures about naturally-raised meat and animals' role on a family farm, I even started to question some of my beliefs about vegetarianism and began to think about eating certain kinds of meat again. (This is a question that continues to rattle around in my head and one where my practice changes over time.)

Perhaps even more important to my increasing radicalization was the presence of Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard. They planted a garden on the national mall complete with an outdoor pizza oven to demonstrate and a shady gazebo-like structure to welcome visitors to sit together. My son and I went everyday for two weeks, listening to folks talk about everything from the how-to's of gardening to the goals of the schoolyard project. The organizers got to know my young son so well that they pulled him on to the front and handed him a microphone so he could explain the purposes of mulching to newbie gardeners.

The Edible Schoolyard combines lessons in organic growing, healthy food preparation, community celebration of that abundance, and even a chance to practice a new language. (The school where the Schoolyard is located is middle school which includes a high number of students new to the US.)

At the end of the festival, the head of the Edible Schoolyard told my son that if he was ever in California, he should stop by for a tour. As luck would have it, we happened to be going to a conference in San Francisco just two months later! So we had the great fortune to visit the real schoolyard with its little chicken tractor and beautiful plants--and also the cooking-and-eating facility and the seed saving room. My son held chickens in his lap, collected and saved amaranth seeds, and help fold tablecloths in the dining room.

I came home from the summer festival understanding that food--in both its growing and its cooking as well as its distribution--is a way of combining the fight against hunger, the fight against corporate power and globalism, the fight for workers' rights, the fight for better health, and the fight for the planet.

I stopped hesitating: at that moment, I knew I was an environmentalist.

(continued from yesterday)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Journey to Green

I grew up during the 1970s.  My parents, who had been activists in the Civil Rights Movement, were in those years teachers at a liberal-progressive college in the small-town rural South.  Watergate and the first Earth Day and the early oil shocks are foundational memories for me.

Even more important to my world view, however, was my grandmother.  She was not a lefty--not political at all, really--but she cared deeply about the place where she lived.  Granny had lived through the Great Depression.  She had also been widowed twice by the time she was 40yo.  The two experiences combined to make her a very independent and resourceful woman.

Granny worked full time at the same department store for almost fifty years.  She went fishing and crabbing and clamming to feed us with the bounty of what surrounded us.  She had an enormous farm-garden in her backyard.  She had a compost pile and rain barrels set up around her house.  She brought home every plastic bag from her job and folded them carefully for reuse. She knitted ferociously.

Granny's sister raised animals (from chickens to rabbits to peacocks) in her yard (and snakes and huge spiders in her house), collected wild mushrooms and foraging greens, and crocheted ferociously.  The two of them were quite a pair.

So I grew up with liberal commitments to social justice, taught to me by my parents.  And I grew up with the influence of my grandmother's commitment to a life led simply and plainly using resources to their fullest.  But I never considered myself an environmentalist.

When I finished college, I moved into an apartment and began cooking for myself.  I had been a more-or-less vegetarian in college, simply because the meat was so poorly prepared in the cafeteria.  But reading Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet totally changed my thought process about choosing food.  She showed me that my daily choices were fundamentally linked to social justice--and even to Granny-style self-reliance.  Buying into industrial meat production seemed like using more than my fair share and simply wasting so much of the earth's abundance.

I still did not think of myself as an environmentalist.  I was in fact put off by the message of such environmental tracts as E - The Environmental Magazine with what I saw as its emphasis on a more pop-culture, consumer-driven image of life than I wanted to live.  I'm not sure this is a fair representation of the magazine then, much less now, but it was my reaction.  I put my efforts into the anti-war movement (responding to Gulf 1) and to the feminist and GLBT movements instead.  And I studied history as I slowly worked through graduate school.

When in 2001 I started spending all my time with David, I began to hear more about environmentalism from him.  I was still resistant, honestly.  I've always cared a lot more about humanity that about the planet, if I'm going to be honest--and so doing things right for society seemed more relevant to me.  Cleaning up a stream in order to allow native peoples to fish there safely was one thing--but making things pristine, apparently so middle class hikers could enjoy nature, did not.  The idea of preventing indigenous people from continuing to live in the rain forests of the Amazon--all in an effort to protect the environment--seemed wrong to me.

Of course, now I see how social justice and environmentalism go absolutely hand in hand.  I'm sure people back then understood that as well, but I did not.  On the other hand, what I did know is that David was deeply involved in both movements.  The other thing I knew is that my instincts towards plainness and towards social justice often meant the two of us were heading towards the same place of personal action.

David and I fell in love.  We eventually decided to have a child.  But I was reluctant to make that step until we had really confirmed that our dreams for the future were reconcilable.  Before we even started dating, David had told me he wanted four children.  I, meanwhile, had decided at the age of seven that I would have only one.  (And as any of you who know me realize, I am incredibly stubborn once I have made a decision.)

In an effort to convince David that 'onlies' are perfectly happy and normal people, I started reading up on raising only children.  One of the first books I ran across was Bill McKibben's Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families.  This book changed my life in the way few books have.

First, it tapped into the issues of deep importance to David and convinced him that our future was definitely going in the same direction childwise.  Within just a few months, we were staring at two little pink lines and dancing around the room.

Secondly, it transformed how I saw environmentalism.  It was scholarly (something I have a weakness for), non-materialistic, and full of emotional honesty.  McKibben introduced me to a world of green thinking that was rooted in both social justice and deep kindness.

Knowing that Bill McKibben has been such a powerful moral voice within the environmental movement since the year I graduated from college (from the same college from which he graduated!) makes it seem remarkable to me that I stumbled across his work through the back door of parenting choices.

Parenting choices led me further down the environmental path.  I made the choice to have a homebirth with a midwife because it was a self-reliant low-resource option.  We used cloth diapers because they felt luxurious compared to a plastic bottom, but also because they are lasting and use fewer resources.  (In fact, our son's old diapers are still being used by others, a full decade later.)  The luxury and ease of cloth diapers led me to start using cloth menstrual pads, and then to start using cloth bathroom wipes.  We breastfed because it was the natural thing to do, because it was healthier for mother and baby, because it was both cheaper and easier than formula feeding, and because it seemed like the responsible use of the resources we have. We coslept--which avoided the crib.  We carried our baby in a cotton sling rather than a complex large stroller.  The idea of simple plainness motivated many of my choices--but by this point I was recognizing that being plain and being green often went hand in hand.

There was one more step that totally pushed me over and made me into a card-carrying environmentalist.  I'll share that story tomorrow.

*  *  *

Thanks to Erin for raising such a fabulous issue for this month's APLS carnival.  What a lovely time of year to play over our pasts and see what led us to where we are today.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Local Thanksgiving: Dark Days Challenge

We had a wonderfully quiet, almost 100% local Thanksgiving this year--following on the heels of a combination of travel to various conferences by both the adults in the family, work crises that took a lot of time and emotion, and lots of random busyness and its attending crankiness. It was lovely to take a day off just to cook, play games, and eat.

We have a tradition of splitting our Thanksgiving feast into two meals. This plan works well for both cooks and eaters.

For lunch, we made a thick apple-butternut squash soup enriched with local onion, cream, and hot pepper as well as some non-local spices such as ginger and cumin.

soup

David fried up some fritters made with wild rice and frozen corn. The rice, while not local, is sold by the sustainable White Earth Land Recovery Project, an American Indian organization dedicated "to preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage."

native fritters 2

It seemed especially fitting to recognize the importance on native harvests--like wild rice but also corn and winter squash--as well as American Indian cooking traditions. The recipe for the fritters can be found in the beautiful new book, Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions.

* * *

At suppertime, we had our main meal of local turkey, pickled lemon cukes, pickled garlicky green beans...

turkey with pickles in bowls

...roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes-and-turnips, and cherry jam (instead of cranberries--which we could not find locally).  The dressing was made from cornbread (the gorgeous Indian corn we grew in our backyard!), assorted winter greens from our backyard garden, CSA carrots, sage and rosemary from our herb plot, local eggs, lots of local mushrooms--plus local oysters!  We ran into them at the very last moment--and it was absolutely kismet.  Oyster stuffing may become a tradition in our family.

thanksgiving table

The meal was served with a local white wine. When David first handed it to me, I misread the variety and honestly thought it said it was Vinegar. Luckily, it was a delicious, perfect-with-turkey Viognier.

To end the feast, David made a not-pumpkin pie using the recipe on the back of canned pumpkin. He made a few exceptions: first, he used pureed butternut squash and carnival squash which he baked himself. Second, he replaced the canned evaporated milk with a mix of milk and cream from our Amish dairy supplier.

pie

The pie was fabulous--a little yellower than pumpkin pie but sweet, light, and delicate. We served it warm with whipped cream.

We enjoyed the rest of the evening in front of a fire in the fireplace, sipping our wine and reconnecting.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Buy Nothing (tm) Day

Celebrating Buy Nothing Day?




Be sure you check out this brilliant advertisement from Amazero. (And be sure to pronounce that adVERTizment while you read.)

Check out the customer comments at the bottom, such as this one: "I bought my daughter NothingTM for Xmas--and now suddenly I'm the world's best mum! If you're a parent, take my advice and make sure you put NothingTM in your kids' stocking this Christmas."

Even the "people who liked this also liked..." section is hilarious.

(And thanks to Fake Plastic Fish for steering me to this site!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't Peek, if you expect to get a present from me...

Green Bean over at Green Phone Booth is way ahead of me when it comes to getting her holiday handknits ready to present. Check out her adorable presents and the excellent rhyme she's concocted to keep us entertained and inspired.

Me? Everything is still in the works. Nothing is finished. And that is where you can join me--in holiday crafting, in medias res, and in a complete panic.

First up is a present for my mother-in-law, a delicate woman who loves sparkly things and is one of the most appreciative recipients of handknits I know. For the last three years, I've knitted her incredibly detailed shawls with silk and beads. This year, I figured she needed something different. When I saw the pattern for the Scallop-Edge Beaded Necklace in 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders,I knew it would be perfect for her.

grandma's necklace

What I did not expect it that it would only take a few hours to make! I immediately whipped up one for my own mother:

mom's necklace

Of course, neither of these necklaces have clasps sewn on yet...

My mother has gotten some fairly labor-intensive knitting presents for the past three years but both my father and brother have gotten the shorter end of the stick. They've gotten simple scarves and the like. This year I'm determined to use the time I've got on making up a little bit of the difference.

For Dad, I've made a Hemlock Ring Blanket from designer Jared Flood at Brooklyn Tweed. While the knitting is finished, it is very much unfinished. I can't imagine that this lumpy blob will turn into the lovely blanket of the pattern--but I am always amazed by the magic of wet-blocking wool. I'll keep you posted.

dad's blanket

For my brother, who I do hope has taken the instructions above and has not continued reading, I'm making perhaps the most complicated thing I've ever made--although I certainly did not realize that when I started it! I won't give away what it is, just in case (unless you are on Ravelry). But it involves two lines of provisional cast-ons, colorwork ribbing combined with cabling without a needle, picking up stitches in the round, grafting, and a bazillion kinds of increases and decreases. Here's what it looked like this morning, after at least three aborted attempts following utter failures:

brother's gift

I have a little thing finished (except for sewing in the ends) for my partner David. Can I actually keep it a surprise until the holidays? (I assume he did not heed the instructions in the title since he never gets anything handknit by me now that he can do his own beautiful knitting.)

But much is still left to knit. On top of my brother's present, my 10 yo son has requested I make him the balaclava-like Black Prince Hood for Hanukkah. I have something in mind to knit for an additional little present for my mother (one of these?).

Wish me luck!

I'm looking forward to seeing all the handmade gifts folks come up with for the season!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eating Local during the Dark Days of Winter



This year's celebration of the eating local during the Dark Days begins this week. While finding local produce seems easy during the abundant harvests of late summer and early fall, the pickings start getting slim once the temperatures drop and the amount of light lessons. The annual challenge put forth by the (not so) Urban Hennery helps motivate eaters to keep up the work and realize that what sometimes seems hidden is in fact its own kind of abundance.

Eighteen months ago, we started a tradition of Eco-Shabbat, or Sabbath for the Earth--a continuation of Earth Hour. We were originally inspired by Melinda at One Green Generation to have an evening off the grid. We've enjoyed the candlelight dinners every fall, winter, and spring--but during the summer, we usually loose our way when the sun provides the light to allow us to continue full speed ahead. Darkness doesn't point toward a slowing down until it is almost time for bed.

But now that the "Dark Days" are back, we've started again. Our No Impact Project helped us adopt the practice again more regularly this season. The official project guide gives a variety of helpful suggestions for ways to mark one day a week as an eco-sabbath.

For our recent Eco-Shabbat, we pulled the only successful spaghetti squash out of our garden and baked it up.  We served it with a sauce made of red peppers (from our amazing CSA), which we dehydrated last summer.  Dried peppers simmered in water--just as simple and plain as that, and yet it was astoundingly delicious.

For a side, we cooked up some mixed greens with an onion and some garlic from our CSA and from the farmer's market in town.

We also served a home-canned jar of "Not-So-Sweet Bread and Butter Pickles." The recipe can be found in the excellent canning guide The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market.

For our dessert beverage, the adults at the table sipped our sickeningly sweet but oddly charming homemade Rhubarb Liqueur.  This little taste of preserved summer was a lovely ending to the evening.

dark days 1

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DIY : Green and Thrify Shopping Bag Tutorial

For a while now I've been fascinated with Transition Towns and especially the concept of "reskilling"--and I've been hard at work to learn new things to make our family and community more independent of oil. I've also tried to be active in the environmentalist movement, greening my daily life as we work towards both small individual changes and larger political efforts which can respond to the climate crisis and to environmental degradation.

Of course, many of the things I've tried to learn in the last few years have to do with food and fiber. Everything from fermenting sauerkraut to spinning alpaca, from learning how to can to learning how to weave have been on my agenda.

Today's new skill: basic sewing, using a sewing machine.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

While I was completely intimated for months by the machine sitting in a corner of our finished basement, when my 10yo son and I pulled it out and pored over the instructions, it suddenly seemed quite straightforward.

Following the diagrams in the manual, we threaded the bobbin and the top needle. And honestly, although it only took us seconds, THAT was the most complicated thing we did.

Last time we went to the local thrift store, everything was on sale for 50% off the usual thrift store prices. In addition to a queen-sized quilt for our bed, assorted dress-up goodies for Halloween costumes (including a pair of very cool women's boots for our son's musketeer get-up), and a metal file box perfect for storing seeds, we picked up a handful of tank tops in a variety of sizes.

When we picked up the shirts, we were thinking about the t-shirt bag my son made at the Green Festival in DC last year. It is just a gray t-shirt with the arms cut off by a 9yo, sewn together on the bottom by the adult coordinator. He then drew a picture of a cornucopia on the front to decorate it:

green festival bag

Every time we use the bag at our local co-op, the grocery store, or at the farmer's market, someone comments on how clever it is. Many people have told us over the year that we should sell them. (Well...that would require actually making them.)

Since last year when my son made the bag, I've seen the idea online everywhere from No Impact Man to Martha Stewart. But I kept staring at the sewing machine in fear. Could I do it by hand, I wondered? Would the seams be strong enough?

Finally, the pile of tank tops hanging on the chair in the dining room pushed me to haul out the machine, steel myself for the task, and finally try it out.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

And you know what? It was FUN--and incredibly fast and easy, and totally addictive. Within the hour, my son and I had made a huge collection of bags.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

All we did was turn the t-shirts inside out, then line up the side seams of the tank top. We were very casual and simply used the thread we had on hand rather than trying to match the shirts. We sewed once across the bottom of each tank top with a straight stitch and once across with a zigzag. (I'm sure that sewing twice across with straight stitch would work perfectly, but we wanted to play around with different stitches.) We sewed the lines immediately above the line where the shirt's hem ends. For brand new sewers, this works very well because the seam lump lines up with the side of the sewing foot to keep you going forward in a very straight line. Remember to start and end your lines by stitching backwards just a few stitches in order to anchor the ends. After the sewing is done, clip the end threads and turn the bags right side out.

We chose to use tank tops to avoid having to deal with the top at all--but if you have t-shirts in hand, simply trim the sleeves and scoop the neck enough that you have something to hold onto. No need to sew anything or hem anything. Check out the links of instructions above if you have any additional questions.

Some of the shirts we used were women's petites. Some were men's extra-larges.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

Some of the shirt we sewed inside out to get a smooth bottom (like the pink bag), and a few we left right side out before sewing (like the blue one):

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

We also played around with a few fancier tops, just for fun.

One is a more delicate stretchy tank which I used to carry my knitting today:

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

I love the lacy camisole! I decided to hem it from the outside in order to let the lacy trim at the bottom remain a design element. (My naughty brain imagines filling it with two huge and juicy cantaloupes.)

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

Some of these bags will become "wrapping paper" (or rather, gift bags) for presents this holiday season. After they do their duty as present holder, recipients can use them again and again as they do their shopping.

These bags are a fabulous way to learn to sew--fast and laid-back enough that if you make a few mistakes, it really won't matter. And at the end of your sewing practice time, you're left with reusable bags great for shopping or gifting.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

After days and days of clouds and rain, the sun has emerged and our neighborhood seems to have escaped from the encroaching fingers of winter for a few more days.

We've been celebrating these moments of sun by cooking meals with with our solar oven:

solar oven

Yesterday we managed to squeeze two meals out of the brief hours we had.

First, a lunch of pita pizza--small pitas left over from a hummos fiesta the other night, some leftover spaghetti sauce, a topping of mozzerella and parmesan cheeses, and a liberal sprinkle of dried oregano.  A very easy lunch that basically just needed to heat up.

solar lunch

For dinner, we cooked some pre-soaked dried limas in the solar oven and served them with spicy sauerkraut we made last year.  A very plain but wonderful meal, meeting the need for non-fussy preparation while "Papa" is away at a conference for almost a week.

Of course, the problem with solar cooking dinner during this season is that it is basically dark by 4pm and therefore the meal has to be finished cooking by then.   Although we held things for a little while, we had finished our leisurely meal by 6pm and really could not imagine anything but reading in bed and going to sleep early.

Today we reheated some chicken for lunch.  My son was eager to bake something sweet in the Sun Oven--cookies or pumpkin bread or something--but the clouds began to roll in a little in the afternoon.

Tomorrow, the two of us are headed to a talk about making school lunches healthier.  My homeschooler laughs as he points out that at HIS school, lunch is almost always fairly healthy for the student, the teacher, and the planet.  Do you think the public school system might be interested in investing in a few Villager Sun Ovens?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Dinner Diaries

I recently read Betsy Block's wonderfully entertaining book The Dinner Diaries:Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World. Although I was initially drawn to the book because I had heard that it was a funny food memoir, I found it to be a much more useful book than I had imagined.  Yes--it is charming and warm--but it also engages food politics on many levels and will make readers think more seriously about the ramifications of our decisions about eating.

Block writes the book as a memoir of her own personal quest to improve her family's diet.  She lets us know her struggles and her families, and she allows us to celebrate with her.  This narrative style allows the author to pass along a great deal of information without it ever seeming the least bit moralizing or preachy.

Block introduces her readers to all sorts of food issues.  Should we cut down and/or elminate meat?  Should we remove dairy from our diets?  What should we do about sugar?  How can we handle our own uncertainties about the answers in the face of social/community resistance to change?

My favorite section is her discussion of fish.  While eating more fish is initially on her list of things to do to improve her family's diet, she then learns more about the mercury content of most fish as well as other pollution issues.  She then discusses overfishing and endangered varietes.  Block winds up with an effort to find sustainably-raised local fish.  It is a tying together of many of the concerns raised throughout the book.
 
The book is not without its problems.

Block tells an absolutely wonderful story about Gandhi--one I had never heard before.  When a mother brought her young sugar-obsessed son to the master in order to have Gadhi himself correct his eating habbits.  Gandhi told the family to come back again in three weeks.  When they did, he told the boy simply not to eat sugar.  When the frustrated mother asked why he couldn't have just told her son those same words three weeks before, Gandhi responded: "Because three weeks ago, I was still eating sugar."

I love this story with its message that we need to live up to all we expect our children to be.  But what Block says after this story is that while it is important that we be role models, her chosen way is to eat candy (fair-trade chocolate) with her husband after the children are in bed.  Her reasoning?  "We're the parents here" and "some things in life should be adult only."  In other words, she chooses to be a good role model to her children's faces but not a good role model after dark.  As she says, "We'd rather lie than argue."  I'm not sure Gandhi would approve.

There are a few other places where I disagree with Block.  For example, I do not believe that our vitamins should be coming from either pills or foods "fortified" with added chemicals.  Real food grown in real soil seems like a better answer for our health as well as for our planet.

I was also a bit irked by the often-contrived efforts to make nutritional advice seem to be riddled with contradiction and conflict.  She paints the nutritionists and the locavores are actively working at cross purposes.  As she writes early on, the two groups are in opposite corners of a boxing ring and what the first group says are fighting words.  For example, the locavores are "telling us to eat locally and in season,, which obviously rules out most of what the nutritionists advised"--which is to eat less meat and more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  The Ethical Eaters are in another corner altogether.  While this portrayal of people at odds makes for a great story, it just doesn't work like that very often.  Yes, sometimes you have to choose between a sprayed apple from down the road and an organic one from China.  But that doesn't mean the basic ideas are not in harmony.

Despite these reservations,  The Dinner Diaries is both an entertaining and informative read.  Check it out!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where You Have Been

My father's most significant bookwas published twenty-five years ago. To celebrate, the publishers released a new edition and the professional organization of which he has been active for many years held a special session during its annual conference to honor his contribution.

This particular annual conference has been important to my father for almost fifty years.  He has even served as the organization's president. And as he says, Dad has even given his two children to the profession.  Both my brother and I are in the same field of academic study.  This conference is always a family reunion for us.

Unfortunately, Dad has been quite sick for the last two annual conferences. In the fall of 2006, we wondered if he would be able to attend at all, ever again. After a diagnosis of cancer followed by a complication-ridden treatment period, this year Dad was able to return this year in full and healthy glory.

He participated in several sessions honoring living presidents of the organization and remembering influential historians who died this year. This kind of personal relationship-based story-sharing is definitely one of my father's strongest suits. But he also was active in the academic scholarship side of the conference--something he really has not been able to participate in the same way in recent years. It clearly brought him great joy, but I think it meant even more to his friends.

The meeting was a homecoming--and a goodbye--all wrapped into one.

During the session about his book, Dad laughed and said that one always hopes that any acknowledgment of lifetime achievement is premature.

He also said that after listening to other academics laud the book he wrote and praise the impact his scholarship has had on the field for the past three decades, he felt a bit like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral.

Dad ended his comments saying he wanted to be able to say, like Tom Sawyer, "I ain't dead yet; I was only off being a pirate!"

And just as Tom's Aunt did, we all laughed and cried and hugged him, hoping to hold on to him for a long time coming.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ma and Pa

ma and pa

On October 30st, 1993, David and I had already been friends for a couple of years and very very close friends for several months. We studied together (he learning anatomy while I read about hegemony) and cooked together, walked to school together and stayed up late together. But we were not dating.

We figured it out the next morning--October 31st.

On Halloween, we attended a party together in costume. I (always a witch) held hands in front of my friends with Paddington Bear. No one said anything. I gloated to some friends that we were now together--and the answer I heard from everyone was a sarcastic, "We've known that for months!"

Ever since, David and I have celebrated our dating anniversary on Halloween. We always love handing out goodies in costume while drinking champagne by candlelight.

This year David and I decided this year to dress as Ma and Pa Ingalls.

In our neverending quest to hand out non-candy, non-plastic goodies, we passed out large jingle bells to trick-or-treaters this year. I filled my apron pockets full so I would be prepared for every knock on the door.

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After the evening revelries ended and our son went up to bed, David and I celebrated together for a few more minutes, dancing in the dining room to Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel."

So rock me momma like a wagon wheel,
Rock me momma any way you feel
Hey... momma rock me
Rock me momma like the wind and the rain,
Rock me momma like a south bound train
Hey... momma rock me


The jingle bells in my apron pockets and our squeaky floor boards combined to punctuate the music.

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Here's the slightly racy video from OCMS, which always instantly transports me back to my childhood in rural North Carolina. (I was always shooed away from booths like this which came to the traveling fair.) Thanks to Sharon for sharing it with me and her other readers.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

coming together

My family headed to downtown DC for the 350ppm rally and march on Saturday. We hung out and listened to some traditional DC-style go-go music as well as a few inspiring speeches, including one by Takoma Park hero Mike Tidwell.

At 3:00, rally participants began to line up for the march to the park across from the White House.

And at that moment the skies opened, absolutely completely.

David brought an umbrella and I brought my rain jacket, but our 10yo son had decided not to carry rain gear. After twenty minutes of marching through the pelting rain and splashing through puddles, we were all soaked. Eventually, we peeled off from the crowd and went to a cafe for hot chocolate.

* * *

The three of us took the Metro back to Takoma Park in time for the annual Boy Scouts pancake supper. Although I am not a huge fan of the Boy Scouts (since I'm an atheist and a strong supporter of gay rights), this dinner is a show of community support.

Because of our No Impact experiment this week, we toyed with taking reusable plates with us to the dinner. I finally decided that this minor bit of personal earth-saving might seem like a major bit of holier-than-thou face-slapping. Who was I to be holier when we bagged on the march just because of a little rain?

We confidently decided this would be a time to just use what we were given and be appreciative of togetherness.

Imagine my thrill when I walked in the church gym and saw all the reusable plates, cups, and silverware--along with both organic cream and raw cane sugar to go with the coffee!

And who else was lined up for pancakes? Many other rally participants--including Mike Tidwell, enjoying fellowship and pancakes--dry and warm.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

350!



We're off to the big march in downtown DC today, braving the rain. Where are you going to mark 350ppm?

Check out 350.org's list of actions if you don't have something already planned.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Local Harvest: Foraging for Acorns

Inspired by Euell Gibbons Stalking The Wild Asparagus, we recently harvested acorns to make delicious acorn pancakes.

acorn pile

See the full post here.

acorn pancakes

Monday, October 19, 2009

Going No Impact

My 10yo son and I are participating in the No Impact Project this week. Although for many years my family has been  involved with the environmental movement (as well as committed to lessening our own ecological footprints), the No Impact Project gives us an opportunity to talk about these issues more, learn to take more extensive steps, and make connections with other participants. I certainly felt that way during Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week.

Isn't this mass experiment just hype, a stunt?  Isn't it in some ways counterproductive since it leads the "consumer" (formerly known as the citizen) to feel responsible for climate change rather than the government and large corporations acknowledging their profound role and responsibility in this problem?

Perhaps so. I will end this week by talking more about the problems of personal versus political action.

But for now, I am taking Bill McKibben's words to heart: "The first step, clearly, is to take personal responsibility--to cut your own impact." He goes on to explain why personal action is not enough. As he writes, "If we want to have as little impact as possible on the planet, we must have as much impact as possible on its politics. At this point we're not going to solve this one lightbulb at a time--we're going to solve it one planet at a time if we're going to solve it at all." He recommends No Impact Week as not only a way to "minimize your personal [impact]" but to form a community of people actively making not only changes in their lives but changes in the culture that will then allow our politicians and other leaders to step up to the plate, that is, to "maximize your political impact."  Personal change turns us into actors.  When we see ourselves as effective people, we can have much more powerful voices for political change.

In addition to doing right by the planet, going "No Impact" is truly the way to do right by ourselves. By pushing ourselves to live up to what we say we believe, we're asking ourselves to face up to ourselves. Instead of letting ourselves get by with easy rhetoric, we are allowing ourselves to grow, to bloom into more responsible and effective people--on this issue but also on all other issues.  It is a way of celebrating the potential of humanity--and the potential of ourselves.

(Check out the reference to this essay on the Huffington Post!)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Time for Action

During the second week in December, world leaders will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark at the United Nations Climate Change Conference with the goal of putting together a new global climate treaty, replacing 1997's Kyoto Protocol. It is essential for industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, for major developing countries like China and India to limit the growth of their emissions, and for poorer countries to get financial help adapting to the impacts of climate change which many already feel.

In the run-up to Copenhagen, many individuals and groups have helped set the stage for citizen action.

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Today is Blog Action Day, an annual call for bloggers to discuss one issue of crucial concern to the world. This year's topic is Climate Change. Bloggers across the world, regardless of the normal topics of their blogs, are writing about the crisis facing our environment.

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Join me at <a href=

Coming up on October 24 is the '350' Day of Action.

As 350.org explains, "350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere." Although for most of human history levels have hovered around 275ppm, we are now at 390ppm–-and this number is rising by about 2 parts per million every year. As NASA's Jim Hansen has pointed out, above 350 we will no longer have a planet "similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted."

As long as we stay above the 350ppm border, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.

The brilliant Bill McKibben puts it this way: "It's not as if we have a choice. The most useful thing about having a number is that it forces us to grow up, to realize that the negotiations that will happen later this fall in Copenhagen aren't really about what we want to do, or what the Chinese want to do, or what Exxon Mobil wants to do. They're about what physics and chemistry want to do: the physical world has set its bottom line at 350, and it's not likely to budge."

To help our world leaders understand how essential it is to come up with a climate plan that includes cuts significant enough to reach that 350ppm boundary, 350.org has organized a Day of Action. Groups all over the world will participate, representing their support for this target. As the organization says, "We're calling on people around the world to organize an action on October 24 incorporating the number 350 at an iconic place in their community, and then upload a photo of their event to 350.org website. We'll collect these images from around the world and, with your help, deliver them to the media and world leaders. Together, we can show our world and it's decision-makers just how big, beautiful, and unified the climate movement really is." Check out some of the creative ways people have gotten together before on this issue.

Using this map, you can find a group near you to join on the 24th.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eat at Mom's

First there was the 100 Mile Diet.

Then there was the 100 Foot Diet.

And now, the 100 Millimeter Diet!



pic from the Pa Dept of Health

* * *

As a long-time breastfeeding activist, I am very pleased to see the Green movement beginning to embrace the environmental importance of nursing children. After all, there is nothing more sustainable than breastfeeding. It comes with absolutely no waste in the manufacturing process and no waste in the delivery system. It is free, making it accessible for all people. It is easier by far than filling up with formula (although this may not seem to be true when you're just starting out if you don't find great support). It even leads to lower consumption of medical resources over the entire course of life.

I was thrilled to hear Joel Salatin at the DC Green Festival proclaim these environmental virtues of breastfeeding. I was also pleased to see a vendor in the Green Festival merchant hall selling t-shirts with various green choices--including breastfeeding!

Even Michael Pollen, king of the food movement has spoken about the ecological importance of breastfeeding.

Be sure to click through this fantastic slide show, Infant Feeding Affects Climate Change. Also check out 10 Reasons Breastfeeding is Green.

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