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


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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

Really "Tightening Their Belts"...

In a New York Times article today called "Leaner Times at Harvard," it was reported that due to the critical hit to the university's endowment, the school is making serious cuts: no more bacon will be served at weekday breakfasts for undergraduates, and no more cookies provided at faculty meetings.

I know things are actually much tougher, and the newspaper even admits as much. For example, a significant number of students live in the old Radcliffe dormitories--at the Quad, where I chose to live in the late 1980s. It is a bit of a walk to the main campus. The beautiful library there where I spent most of my evenings studying has been closed. Many staff members have lost their jobs, there is a hiring freeze, and salaries have been frozen as well.

At the same time, Harvard has prioritized their cuts to ensure students have $9 million more in financial aid than they did last year. This move has allowed some students to remain enrolled who otherwise would have been unable to afford it in these difficult times.

I'm feeling awfully torn: really wanting to put Harvard's financial situation into the context of a world hit by true suffering, yes--but also really irritated that the New York Times would not only trivialize the cuts necessary but treat undergrads as if they are all smug rich kids who feel entitled to the best all the time. While I am sure there are students who fit that profile that are enrolled at Harvard, I met precious few of them while I was there.

And yet--here I am, typing into my laptop, uploading pictures from my new camera, and eating a hot breakfast. Maybe we are too educated, too privileged, and too entitled to even notice how overfed our culture is.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Are You Game?

We've been having lots of fun and studying homeschool math at the same time with a wonderful game called Equate.It is a game very much like Scrabble but instead of using letters to build words, players use numbers to build equations.

Beginning several years ago, we used the Junior tiles. After using the Junior tiles for a while, players are ready for the regular tiles.

Recently we've started playing with the Advanced tileswhich include negative and positive integers, integer exponents, and more fractions.

It took me a while to get in the swing of thinking about negative exponents again...


For those looking for homeschooling mathematics fun and games, we also love ThinkFun Math Dice.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Living in Booths

A repost of an entry I wrote for that marvelous blog Green Phone Booth:

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

...and Mandan Bride corn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us reach out our hands.


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